Manufacturing Identities

Dysphoria everywhere
Sunday, 29th October 2017

Humanity has always had a wide range of cultures, vocations and two biologically defined sexes. For most of our history we identified with our family, our tribe, our gender and our vocation. We had no choice over family and gender, seldom switched tribes and had a limited window of opportunity to find a vocation within the cultural and technological paradigm of the era. To the above list we may naturally add status , something we traditionally acquired from a mix of our family’s social standing and any natural talents we can exploit in a socially advantageous or entrepreneurial manner. One assumed, rightly or wrongly, that your family bore the primary responsibility for your success either by endowing you with a better-adapted brain and body or by instilling in you their acquired customs, knowledge and wisdom.

Long before biologists discovered DNA and sociologists undertook detailed studies on the influences of culture, class, ethnicity and gender on intellectual and professional performance, we knew both nature and nurture affect outcomes. In the real world nature and nurture do not so much compete with each other to affect our personality, intelligence or economic success, as they interact with each other in a continuous feedback loop, e.g. culture and behavioural patterns play key roles in determining who gets to mate with whom.

However, these days not only are our three core identities (gender, vocation and ethnicity) considered infinitely variable, but our behaviour, personality, desires and learning patterns also form key components of our personhood subject to endless categorisation and psychoanalysis. So nowadays people do not just identify as a woman, man, girl or boy, as an Irishman or a Thai or as a mother, a father, a farmer, a nurse or a blacksmith. All of a sudden, within just a few decades, we have come to identify with our erotic proclivities, our favourite pastimes, our brand loyalty, our personality profile, our medical conditions, our fatness, our relative handicaps and increasingly by our assigned mental health label. Someone may well identify as a mathematically challenged, obese, bipolar, gay and diabetic Xbox gamer. Rather than pinpoint and try to overcome someone’s relative weaknesses, we celebrate a diversity of equally valid traits. The afore-mentioned identifiers are naturally a mixed bag. Mood disorders interact with narcotics, diet and medication. For instance, an emotionally insecure person with an imperfect body unable to find their ideal partner might succumb to recreational drugs, which in turn trigger sudden mood swings with psychotic episodes, which lead to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and the prescription of antipsychotics, which cause weight gain through binge eating, leading to a type-II diabetes and a sedentary lifestyle of online gaming. Without a strong focus on work or family as breadwinners or housewives, people can easily descend into a puerile state of monitored play and endless victimhood.

Traditional personal identities make practical sense. Your anatomical sex identifies your potential role in procreation and raising the next generation. Your vocation identifies your primary purpose in life. Your ethno-religious identity determines the essential ethical rules and customs by which you abide. Yet today we’re blurring the boundaries of all three core identities. Rather than emphasise different aspects of our main occupation, we assume many different roles and identities at home, with our friends, with our neighbours, with our colleagues and as consumers. Someone may identify as a Manchester United fan, as an iPhone aficionado, as a diabetic, as a vegetarian, as a hiphop fan, as a disco dancer, as bisexual, as gender-fluid, as a keen online gamer or as a sufferer of mild obsessive compulsive disorder. All but the first of these identities would have bewildered past generations. The question is to what extent do these modish labels determine who you really are and to what extent are they malleable? Supporting a sports team is usually a way to bond with other members of your wider community and express your tribal loyalty in a controlled environment. Your choice of team would reflect your background. If you grew up in Merseyside you may support either Everton or Liverpool. Today spectator sports are run as sleek commercial operations whose only connection to their home city is their stadium’s geographic location.

As the consumer age took hold in the 1950s, social marketers realised that if peer pressure can influence the sports clubs people support, then media promotion can affect our association with emerging musical genres and cultural scenes. By the early 1960s we had street fights between Mods and Rockers, identifying with rival commercialised countercultures. By the late 60s we had more middle class hippies experimenting in drugs and challenging traditional views on sexuality. In the 70s youthful rebellion found an outlet through the medium of Punk Rock, Reggae and Ska music. In the 1980s youth culture moved more to the narcotised Techno and House music scenes. Pop culture had come not just to dominate our lives way into our 30s and beyond, but to normalise a set of irrational behaviours in a regulated social context.

In the affluent West these new cultural identities mingled with the ethnic identities of new migrant communities. This set the stage for a new era of identity politics based on diverse characteristics, only some of which were inherited and thus immutable under normal circumstances. All of a sudden activists would equate prejudice against lifestyle choices and behavioural traits with racial or sexual discrimination. We don’t choose our parents or, until recently, our biological sex. We do not really choose our personality either. It just evolves gradually through symbiosis of our neurological hardware and environmental software. Not everyone will be equally gregarious or equally conscientious, but social stimuli can certainly guide us towards more successful outcomes.

Most societies reward functional behaviour and penalise dysfunctional behaviour. They merely differ in their interpretation of which behaviours may be acceptable in which circumstances. Madness is simply unmanageable misbehaviour that is seen to pose a threat to social stability and may lead to heightened conflicts and cultural decadence. However, in the early 21st century the game has changed. As only a small minority of workers are responsible for providing essential goods, infrastructure and services, the powers that be are more interested in micro-managing people’s moods and behaviours as subservient guinea pigs of a giant social experiment than promoting traditional values of diligence and self-reliance. Indeed many now view extreme interdependence as a virtue. The trouble with interdependence is some players contribute much more than others, thus empowering technocrats and bureaucrats at the expense of the underclasses unable to exert any real control over their techno-social ecosystem. In the emerging world of consumer slaves who depend either on insecure temporary jobs or welfare handouts, an interlocking diversity of identities is now seen a virtue that justifies more invasive surveillance and social intervention over an atomised populace.

Transgenderism serves mainly to blur traditional boundaries between well-defined types of people and create new subjective and infinitely variable categories. It conspires to normalise non-traditional families and to disassociate in the public mind the biological link between procreation and motherhood. Lastly, it may also helps redefine many complex psychological problems in terms of non-binary gender identities. Many youngsters may not identify as either males or females because they fail to meet the exacting standards of stereotypical alpha masculinity or femininity. However, divergent gender assignments may be only one of myriad alternative identities that may explain someone’s inability to fulfil their personal ambitions.

Welcome to the World of Neurodiversity

Traditionally we viewed any kind of mental disability as unfortunate and reserved psychiatric diagnoses for extreme cases of dysfunctional behaviour. Today, we champion neurological diversity with celebrity endorsements of new-fangled mental health labels. Any human emotional or intellectual challenge can now be reassessed as a medical condition that requires some form of treatment and supervision. Any psychological traits that stray from an arbitrary range of normality now warrant attention, creating an almost infinite variety of problematic personality types in an age of self-obsession. The much trumpeted claim that one in four adults suffer from a mental illness at some stage in their life has served to normalise the concept in the public mind.

While nonconformist behavioural patterns and thought processes have now been pathologised, the NHS has ceased to classify gender dysphoria as a mental illness. So let us get this straight, if a young woman falls into a despondent state following a series of personal setbacks, spending more time alone in bed and failing to socialise with friends, an NHS psychologist may assess her as clinically depressed and thus suffering from a mental illness. If, however, the same woman believes her relative lack of femininity means she should assume the identity of a man and be allowed to take life-changing hormones or undergo genital mutilation, public funds should assist her in pursuing her delusion that her anatomically female body is at odds with her self-perception as a man rather than help her come to terms with her biological reality and deal with the real psychological causes of her identity crisis. We are literally normalising insanity, while redefining perfectly normal thought process as somehow insane. However, identity crises do not only concern gender. A German woman, now calling herself Martha Big, has invested tens of thousands of Euros in cosmetic surgery and tanning injections to transform her complexion and facial features to resemble a black African lady. While Ms Big’s appearance may fool some, Rachel Dolezal from Philadelphia has only undergone a modest transformation, but nonetheless identifies as African American. Of course, many will remember Michael Jackson’s expensive skin whitening treatment to give him more Caucasian features. More disturbingly, a growing number of able-bodied people now identify as disabled, a condition known as Body Dysmorphic Disorder. In 1997 Scottish Surgeon Robert Smith amputated a perfectly healthy lower left leg of an Essex man, which naturally impeded his mobility and personal independence for the sole purpose of emotional relief. The patient reported feeling complete and at ease with himself after the procedure. More commonly this disorder causes people to have a distorted self-image as too fat, too thin or with exaggerated imperfections and may lead people to undertake dysfunctional cosmetic surgery. How does body dysmorphic disorder differ from gender dysphoria? There are naturally rare cases of hermaphroditism or ambiguous genitalia, in which case any psychological problems reflect a biological reality that may require corrective surgery. Likewise many people have defective or diseased body parts, which may often affect their body image.

What’s wrong with a society where more and more people cannot come to terms with their natural selves and wish to assume identities that are either at odds with their biological reality or upbringing? Rather than create more cohesive and tolerant communities of people with a diverse range of practical experiences and skillsets, current trends have produced an atomised collection of victim groups at the mercy of external agencies. Unlike traditional categories, identities based on behaviour or self-perception require some sort of social or medical intervention to ensure a person’s viability, something only possible complex collectivist societies. To some these assertions may seem oxymoronic. How can we be both atomised and reliant on collective organisation? A troubled young man suffering from social anxiety unable to hold down a well-paid job may well be both isolated from his wider community and yet concomitantly dependent on remote organisations for his livelihood. More and more individuals in our increasingly interdependent world fail to get along with their neighbours, extended families or colleagues. Rather than find a practical niche within a small close-knit community, many now prefer the safety of virtual communities in which many dysfunctional lifestyle choices become the norm.

In our emerging brave new world of constant transmogrification of human identity, I suspect the boundaries between sexual orientation, transgenderism, transableism, neurodiversity and eventually transhumanism will blur until only a upper caste of intellectually superior technocrats and social engineers retain true freedom of action.

+