Identity Politics

Nick Williams
7 min readSep 13, 2023
Image — 4kwallpapers.com

In our mass-minded culture we are completely obsessed with this thing called ‘identity’ and the problem with this is that the identities which we are so obsessed with have nothing to do with who we actually are. No matter what identity we might pick to take shelter behind it’s never going to be anything even remotely connected with our actual nature. They couldn’t be further away from it. We’re talking about fake identities therefore; we’re talking about mistaken identities, misleading identities , manufactured identities — anything thought identifies as ‘us’ is always going to be a ‘false identity’ and — therefore — it is always going to be a dead end. As Alan Watts has so often said, ‘who we are’ is a negative thing not a positive one. We can only say what we’re not, not what we are — to say ‘what we are’ is to hand ourselves over to the tender mercies of ‘the Great Labelling Machine’! When I identify myself as this, that or the other then I confuse myself with an image, with a category of thought…

When we say what something is (or what we are) then this is simply the action of thought. We’re ‘identifying with the label’ in other words, we’re identifying with a mind-created description, we’re fitting in with a purpose-made category. We don’t get this at all however — our understanding is that the label or description stands for something in the real world. This is the very essence of what it means to be ‘unconscious’ — that we relate to our thoughts, our ideas as if they were the things that they supposedly represent. This is Baudrillard’s ‘realm of the hyperreal’ in a nutshell. This is the world of abstract ideas, the world of ‘dissociated or disconnected literal signifiers’ that we are compelled to adapt to if we are to be taken seriously by our fellow human beings; it is the game we’re obliged to play along with if we’re not to be shunned by all the other game players.

When we talk about ‘playing a game’ this doesn’t necessarily sound like such a bad thing but in psychological terms playing a game translates as ‘avoiding reality’, which — as we might suspect — isn’t a move that’s going to do us any good. There are consequences to avoiding or denying reality — burying one’s head in the sand doesn’t mean that ‘everything’s going to be fine’, it just means that we’re convinced everything’s going to be fine when — actually — it isn’t. This isn’t a playful game, therefore — there’s nothing cheery or light-hearted about it. It is — on the contrary — deadly serious; there’s no humour here at all, only ‘obeying the rules’, only ‘doing what you’re supposed to do’. This is — in other words — The World That Fear Made. We’re not denying or avoiding reality ‘for fun’ but because we are frankly terrified to do otherwise. We’re following the rules like machines because that’s the only way safety is to be found. It’s the only thing we can do if we’re to escape our fear.

The other way of putting this is to say that the social game is all about control — things have to be controlled because otherwise they will stop being what they’re supposed to be and they will start to be something else instead. And this is the one thing that can never be allowed to happen — not when we are afraid of ‘the unforeseen circumstance’. Life has to be controlled every step of the way; the basic gist is that our lives have to be strictly regulated to prevent ‘the bad thing’ from happening. We don’t exactly know what this bad thing is, but that only makes it more frightening! It’s a nameless fear and nameless fears are by far the worst kind…

If we didn’t control then then things wouldn’t get to be defined anymore — the meaning things have for us would drift and who knows where this could end? ‘Out of control’ is scary precisely because it is ‘out of control’ — it’s scary because we are no longer in the position of being able to say what will happen next… For us — in our everyday mode of consciousness — the meaning of things is very much something that needs strictly controlling at all times, therefore. It can’t be allowed to get away from us. This is absolutely crucial — the world must be a blank canvas for us to paint our meanings onto, it cannot be allowed to turn the tables on us and tell us that what we think is true isn’t. When we’re in Unconscious Mode and the world starts manifesting its own meaning then this is very disturbing for us — we don’t in the least bit like it. No one likes to wake up, as George Gurdjieff says — no one likes their dream to suddenly start falling apart…

Definitions (or literal descriptions) are another way of talking about the control of meaning therefore — we ourselves say what things mean, we ourselves impose the order that we wish to see in the world. We speak ‘on behalf of nature’, as James Carse says. We have silenced the gods and put ourselves in their place. If we were not to control the meaning of things then this artificial setup of ours would disappear without a trace, and so this is where the necessity for ‘joined up controlling’ (controlling with no break or pause) comes in — once nature has been successfully subjugated then we’re left to take charge of everything ourselves…

We end up therefore in this position where we are obliged to be controlling all the time — thought has created the world that is made up of rigid narrow literal meanings and it is our job to maintain it. We’re obliged to maintain the artificial world that thought creates precisely because it is artificial, precisely because it isn’t a naturally occurring thing, and the driving force behind our incessant controlling is fear. Fear doesn’t represent itself as fear however — represents itself as ‘free, volitional activity in the service of a genuinely good cause’ (i.e., the upholding of some extremely important principle or value). There is no important principle of value here however — only the undeclared need to hide away from the truth.

Identity or self is thus our way of hiding from the truth, curious though this may sound. This ‘truth’ includes the truth about ‘who we actually are’ of course, and the truth about ‘who we actually are’ is just as frightening to us as the truth about anything else! It’s the same truth, it’s what Buddhists call ‘the truth of emptiness’. This doesn’t mean that there is ‘no content’ involved but rather that this content, which is endless, can never be defined. Our labels are hollow (or empty) but the potentiality which they arise from isn’t — potentiality isn’t empty or limited, but anything that is pulled out of the undefined state of potency (or latency) inevitably is. To reify a phenomenon is to make it redundant — we end up with appearances which seem to be solid, but which have nothing at all behind them. Things don’t have to be said to be true in order to be true, in other words; the irony is that when we assert our truths in a concrete or literal fashion (as we very much like to) then they automatically become lies — to seize hold of something is to lose it.

Our longing for identity is our fear of our own incomprehensible potential therefore — we’re fleeing from the nameless unspeakable depths, we’re fleeing from the ‘infinite bewildering expansiveness of reality’ for all we’re worth and we find refuge from it by latching limpet-fashion onto some two-dimensional identity or other and ingeniously claiming that this ‘ten-a-penny cheap-ass identity’ is ‘the whole of who we are’. We could also say that our obsession with identity (which is our fear-driven avoidance of our true nature) is our way of ‘not taking on any responsibility’ but instead of seeing this dereliction of responsibility as being the result of fear we see it as a glorious achievement, we see it as something to be proud of, something to shout out triumphantly from the rooftops…

To live in a culture which is all about identity is to live in a culture where consciousness has been outlawed and where everything is seen backwards. We’re putting all our money on the wrong thing — we are energetically promoting the causes of misery, ignorance and confusion whilst at the same time claiming to be experts on everything under the sun! We could say many things about ‘the failings of society’ — we could say that it is based on the principle of inequality and exploitation, we could say that it’s full of corruption and power games, we could say that it’s all about striving for superficial values like money and status, but we are missing the point when we make these arguments. The point that we’re missing is that — as a culture, as a society — we are 100% dedicated to promoting distractions and avoiding the truth. That’s our game, that’s what we’re all about, and the thing about this is that when we are ‘100% dedicated to promoting distractions and avoiding the truth’ then there is clearly no way we are ever going to admit to this!

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