A short critique of identity

I like to focus on the impact of capitalism on personal mental health. To be sure, it’s a massive, massive topic. The impact on capitalism (or the world you grew up in) on personal mental health is so incomprehensibly large you might as well ask what the impact on a nail would be if you hit it with a hammer the size of Texas. There isn’t even a definition of what capitalism is, aside from the business cycle itself. But there are cultural mainstays that if they do not cause capitalism, they have accompanied capitalism in developed countries. So if you are in the United States and are interested in capitalism’s impact on personal mental health, please keep on reading my critique of identity.

In capitalism, it often feels like you’re on your own. Being an individual seems to be the daily life of people living under capitalism. This insistence on being an individual, a self-made man, is a double-edged sword. On one hand, you are allowed to claim all of your achievements as a result of your own sense of self, but on the other hand all of your failures and shortcomings are yours as well. It’s within this context that the self-help and mental health industry positions itself: helping individuals fight their demons alone. Good mental health is living happily as an individual. Bad mental health is dissatisfaction from living as an individual. But this is how you help people, on the scale of individuals.

But we are not individuals, or if we are the term needs to surrender a lot of the power associated to it. We are people born into situations. Suburbanite parents on the hill say of young African-American boys “Well if I was born in the ghetto I would refuse to sell drugs.” No, you wouldn’t, because you wouldn’t be you then. The very act of saying “I” invokes your entire upbringing. Your very identity is constructed out of society. Society furnishes you with the raw materials out of which you make yourself. The proof of this is that we all identify with the word “I” but none of us invented it. We had to be taught it. At best, “I” refers to a mixture of your will and the larger environment, a compromise between the world you were born into and your desires for yourself that would have come true had it not been for the world. At worst, “I” is an amputation, a denial of the world that they exist in. This is where people like to play the same game as those suburbanite parents did: they like to imagine themselves as divorced from their circumstances, and able to jump into anyone’s life at anyone’s moment to cast judgment, like Agent Smith in the Matrix or something. This type of finger pointing has no bearing to actual reality: people aren’t moved by ethics, they’re moved by food. Matter of fact, food is people’s primary requirement. People need food. People don’t need ethics but they do need food.

Reworking what “I” means is a very important task to both revolutionary thought and personal sanity, and even here I didn’t go deep enough into how problematic the concept of “I” is. But for now, be assured that the world is not resting on YOUR shoulders. Take care of yourselves, lefties.


On the 4th of July

I never really wanted to be a radical. I don’t think anyone wants to come to the conclusion that the world they were brought up in and made to feel comfortable in is unsustainable or a downright lie. Children want to grow up in a world where their parents are wise, adults enjoy living the lives they do, and that this is a place where people want to be. I grew up in an upper-middle class white family. My grandparents were Holocaust survivors. When my Mom was being raised they would do their best to put the past behind them, and enjoy an America where the kids could go to school, make friends and wear pretty dresses, but the war took their innocence from them. As much as they tried to bring their children into a world without terror, they couldn’t escape what they actually felt about the world, that it was never actually safe. I think the concept of safe might have died for them. I never met them. My mom didn’t know her mother either, she committed suicide when she was ten. The theme of survival hardened in my mother, without someone to take care of her she picked up the reins of life herself and made life her bitch. My mother is the most accomplished person I’ve ever known, but deep down I know that it comes from a fear of helplessness and losing the people you love.

When she was raising me she pretty much did what her parents did, and to the same effect: idyllic household where nothing is wrong, where everything goes wrong. Having a daily routine to her and for us was pacifying to her. She’d wake up early in the morning to go to the gym, come back, pack our lunches, drive me and my sister to school, go to work, come back, make dinner, watch the news, read the newspaper, and then go to sleep. She couldn’t escape her past no more than her parents did, and these rituals could not be disturbed without her becoming very angry. She was so wedded to this idea of idyllic stability and peace that she didn’t really see us as people, almost as symbols for the story of her life first and foremost before we were people. Yeah, Indra’s Net, happens to everyone. (It’s a Zen Buddhist concept that people are so steeped in their own thoughts that whatever they take anything to be says more about their outlook on it than it actually says anything about it. So people think plastic cups are garbage when they’re done using them, in reality they are engineering marvels made from the liquefied bones of dinosaurs, processed through an industrial Odyssey just so they could be used for some cookout and then thrown away.) But this was a delusion, when I started to develop and get into situations that didn’t jive with this cookie cutter format of life she imagined, it took a lot more work to for her to accept it than for somebody else. Other parents, I imagine. And my Dad? He was escaping his own trauma. I think the two of them got married to keep each other safe. It’s really sweet when I think about it, but combined the effect they had on me was ruinous. Because they couldn’t acknowledge their own trauma they didn’t have the hearts to acknowledge other people’s trauma, so when it happened to me I left was completely alone in the world.

I’m wondering whether or not I should go full circle now and tell you the full story of why I have the political opinions I do. The blog that I made for myself is on how politics informs myself and how myself informs politics, so you might be able to see how important the subject is to me. I guess you can say that I see ‘what happened to me’ on a larger scale throughout society, or another way of putting it is that the social rules that justified my suffering still go unspoken and unrecognized. But even this is not good enough, because what are my political opinions? I think so far you guys have a very flimsy understanding of who I am and what I think, I think so far the blog posts I’ve made could come from another college lefty howler, out to be angry at something just to be angry at something. I guess I should lay out my opinion package. I would really like to use bullet points here, but honestly, I’m glad enough I have this platform that I don’t care enough about prettiness.

* We live in a hierarchical, abusive, non-compassionate society that assumes that the world is fair, and what happens to people is mostly the result of their actions. In the human world, white men are considered the embodiment of everything that’s best, followed by white women, black men, black women, and all of the people of the world fighting to climb up a social pyramid. Regarding the ecosystem, this pyramid still exists. After all of the people of the world come the mammals, after the mammals come the reptiles, after the reptiles come the insects, and after that come the plants, those suckers who just let other creatures eat on them all day long. (Hell, I even heard my boss said the other day that we add value to trees, the oxygen making, food and shelter providing miracles, by turning them into paper!) And after that, inanimate objects like rocks, dirt and water.

* Human beings are compassionate, but what keeps us from being compassionate to other humans and the planet as a whole is a blockage in that compassion, what I call societal callousness. The organizing principles of society are blocking us from seeing what we are doing to each other. In the human world, we are so driven by the idea that money is value that we refuse to see value in things that don’t have a monetary value. It’s this reason why we have an ecological crisis, blindly destroying things we don’t see as valuable, like the Amazon rain forest, the lungs of the planet. So in this case the monetary value restricts our ability to see only to that which makes money. This callousness extends from human to human and human to the natural world. This is a false consciousness as Marx would put it. It’s not just simply a lack of empathy that we just need to overwhelm with love and sunshine and happiness, the problem is that we’re not often aware of this gap between us and the real world. Capitalism is more than just a system that turns people against each other, its functioning requires philosophical premises that need to be brought into the light, critiqued and dismantled.

* Responses to economic, political and environmental crises NEED to think deeply about the massive systems of thought that block this compassion, otherwise we risk falling back into our delusions of what ‘ought’ to be rather than what is. These crises are philosophical in nature, and the problem of the world is that we are mistaking what we think reality is as reality itself.

* But what we need is not just a response to these pyramid, hierarchical systems but a complete inversion. Value does not come from above, it comes from below, from the earth, to the plants that make the raw materials possible, to the workers who put society together, to the engineers, scientists and dreamers who imagine new ways to create, to the poets and philosophers who make it all worthwhile, and then FINALLY to the ‘survival of the fittest’ people at the top, convincing everyone that they are worthless unless they are like them.

I mean I am 24 and don’t know shit but if I need a epistemologically mindfucking to get a more refined theory of power and change I’ll let you know, but this is what I got so far.