The self was a good idea but its time has come to fade away

Identity is the new Holy Grail. Everybody is looking for something that does not exist, and still would somehow magically transform their mediocre existence into the golden rule. The quest for identity responds to the post-modern question of belonging. Whether they are patriotic nationalist or universal subcultural causes, we constantly contrive collectives within which to identify with other people. This is post-modern because it is a melancholy for modern times when belonging belonged to the self-evident, except for those who self-evidently did not belong – the gays, the displaced, the ill, the Western Easterners, the out-of-luck. It’s the excluded who shaped these post-modern times because they frantically started a quest for being included ‘somewhere’. This was, for them, of the essence because not-belonging was the essential problem they experienced in modernity.

The rule is that the exception always has a tendency to become the rule. The exception is entropy, and it causes energy to shift to keep it under control. This is how in modern times the excluded discovered this problem of identity, that quickly became the post-modern problem for everyone. The meaning of life was transformed into the meaning of me and here we are trying to resolve our selves in an identity with others. This can’t ever succeed because mathematics is unforgiving: when an identity is established then a me can no longer be. We cannot belong because belonging denies us the self which we cannot do without as we all are still too modern and thus have been led to believe our individualism is essential too. It’s a conundrum. We blame the excluded for creating these complex, post-modern times. We want to feel great again. Tough luck, that ship has sailed. The future may not be better but the past is past.

The basic problem is – of course and as always – the creation of exception, as unavoidable as it may (have) be(en) – anchored in the need to feel included. The modern era of norms and values is the era of the constant normalization and valuation of people which has led to this most hideous of concepts: human capital. Never have there been created as many unwritten rules for people as in these supposedly liberal times. As our external appearance and behavior have become less determinant of who we can be, modernity led to legislating who we internally need to be as productive and efficient people who ‘keep calm and carry on’. Nowhere is this as abundantly clear as in the modern mode of (social) networking and its corollary of coolness. If you want to be in you have to participate in a world-wide web of kissing ass. We all live the constant terror of procuring our proper place in some mediaeval court. Only the envied few can find the royal place of being independent. They are called our (thought) leaders and have found their place by exploiting network dependencies – by being found cool, by their family(‘s) ties and a level of ruthlessness as is expected from the capitalist part of  human capital.

We might be thus free but we’re also so fragmented because every ‘in’ creates an ‘out’. It really is the tyranny of bourgeois society where all your life is an entrance examination; a constant evaluation of performance on the networking front. We will gladly pay all our capital to procure the right connections (the best, of course and as always, being born into them). That’s the modern meaning of life: to be liked. The logic of combining identity with self-expression is that everybody feels out just as much as everybody feels the need to be in. Networking is the capitalism of humans in that it spirals out of control and controls all of us all the time as in Foucault’s view of the panopticon. The fact of the matter is that we hate it. We hate to be post-modern, but we can’t be modern anymore and simply belong to the middle class. Nobody is as effective in destroying the middle class as the middle class; it simply isn’t enough. The problem is not being dreary and dull (we’re all dreary and dull), the problem is being perceived to be so; specifically being perceived to be so by the self. So we look for the Holy Grail and can’t see the joke in that story of ours.

And then comes the shouting; the lack of self-criticism; the lack of self; more quest for identity; fighting, shooting and blaming the past of religion because we’re unable to find fault with our self even if it vanishes in our essential individual set of identities. That’s the neurosis we suffer in trying to belong and knowing it will never be enough whatever walls we build around these castles of our identities; nobody can be trusted, everybody has their own allegiances. Suspicion reigns.

The solution is simple: let go of identity and self and embrace our differences. Capitalism convinces us that we’re individuals so we can better serve the collective. There is only one way out: stop feeling individual and stop acknowledging the need for collectives. The self is a modern invention and, as something which once was not, we can let it go again, on the condition we understand whence it came from. It didn’t come from science and from the exploration of the brain; the latter is a consequence and not a cause. It did come from the vanity of forgetting how we came to be at all. We forgot we were all once infants, literally not speaking, and became selves, all, only by speaking. Only speaking sets us apart, it is the only real difference that does not make a difference between us. We forgot this, and think we were created divine individuals like once we thought we were divinely created as human beings. But, No!!, it took a good deal of love from countless people to get us to talk. We were not created as selves to look for a collective to identify with like the poor children who stand in line to be picked for the best soccer squad.

We find our selves because there’s a collective of people who take the time to talk to us, no matter how much time it takes for us to give something back; no matter, in fact, whether we give anything back except maybe a word or two. So to hell with the self and to hell with identities that are stuck to the back of our heads as if they were car bumpers shouting out our mediocrity at everybody who is driving behind us. To hell with exclusion knowing we came to be – every single one of us – because others tried to include us instead of minding the differences, enjoying the surprise of them and the hope they invariably entail. A lot of people still wonder whether this diversity of ours is an inherent good; I fear they’re people dying of uncritical self-love who can, insincerely, believe that that they’re in on the secret of success. Theirs is the despair of frantically finding the Holy Grail and making a joke of themselves thinking that the joke is on us.

Without diversity, no evolution. This is not just a fact of biology and of physics; it is first and foremost a fact of a language without which none of science would be. Just like with biological evolution, linguistic evolution – and our culture – doesn’t evolve because of that couple of magnificent genius selves created by the great romantic capitalist myths. Our language evolves because people talk to each other here and there, in bars and bedrooms. Language is the miracle of human love – and once it was it could not have been otherwise. I don’t believe that my opinion counts more because I’m somehow special or unique. My opinion counts because it’s based, as yours is if you listen, on the tones that I hear being played on this organ of language development where each and every new voice is special and unique. It is always the common people who discover how false previous truths have become. They’re not content with one identity, they don’t understand an exclusion based on tradition and they despair of being valuable and being normal.

Language is the universal democracy. It isn’t because it can be temporarily bent to suit the few that the power of the many won’t wash away these barricades of bigotry. It isn’t also because somebody invents the hate term ‘politically correct’ that we won’t find it to be a bogus term denoting something fundamentally incorrect. This knowledge is already being prepared in the public I. It’s just a matter of time before somebody describes it forcefully enough to be picked up. Then we can move on from selves and identities and the whole world wide web of capitalism woven around it. Just like nature’s genes, culture’s words come and go with an internal logic that’s indefeasible in the following way: what’s right stays and what’s wrong dies away. This is not an argument but a statement of fact. I do not doubt it and have no desire to control it. It happens and the only thing I can do is spend my love in talking to others and in trying to understand them so we can together make sense.

The logic of language is an evolutionary logic which works in four steps. First there is a new insight generated by people trying to understand each other. Second this insight is translated into works of art (whether it’s scientific, artistic or philosophical) of relevance to the great many. Third this insight – when right – takes hold and forms the substrate on which to discover new insights. Last, we are back to first and ever new insights are being generated. There is no end point and the only origin is love and the only conduit is art which is love made public (copyright Sense8). It is what it is and it is good as long as we appreciate the difference of the new as good and accept the repetition of the cycle without impatience to get to an end where there should and can be no end. Some will say this is too hard on our selves which is why we should drop them and the pretenses coming with them. The self was, no doubt, once a good idea – as was identity and tradition – but its time has come to fade away like a dying note in a beautiful musical piece written by all of us in past, now and future. Let’s honor the people who invented the self by letting it go just like they let God go.

Time to relax and do as we please, knowing that what we want is to please each other. Time to be naïve. Finally.


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