If you land on this post and want to read the other parts first they are here: one, two, three. If you’re like me, you might want to read this one first, either to see whether it’s interesting, or, even better, to trick yourself into reading something long by starting at the end.
And now we’re at the beginning. Where the fuckyff-f-f-ff-kkkkk-k-k-k do I go from here? It’s not an idle question. I nurture the desire to employ an exploration of sex-and-gender as a means to learn about identity thinking and how to teach each other to stop doing it. That’s like getting a £40 refund travel voucher (after you get stuck at Liverpool Street for 45 minutes) and saying, ‘Cooooool, I’d think I’d like to see Asia, and the Americas’.
Okay then I’ll start with a recap. Identity thinking is the linguistic mistake – a mistake embedded in language – that we all make every day. Sometimes it makes it hard to find the wood for the trees, sometimes it condemns millions to death. It consists of forgetting what we are. We are not linguistic beings, we are beings that use language. We discovered it, crafted it, embedded it, came to depend on it, hopelessly. We are addicted to it, high on it, killed by it. Daily, we are in pieces because of it. It fragments us, all too easily. We evolve it, riddled with its profound untruths and errors, over millennia, so that every being born into its fabric is, quite literally, torn apart by it. Now I hate misuse of the word literally as much as the next rabbit, but as beings, we are not only bodies. We are minds too. While the mind and the body of a single human can and will never be separated, the mind has limited independence from the body (Adorno).
It is not this independence that makes us vulnerable to language however. We might readily imagine that the unfortunate, word-bound mind is in thrall to language, while the body frolics in the sea, rides a horse, eats some scheesecake (yes that’s a real fucking word), makes out with some guy/ess, plays the drums, does some cartwheels, has a hot bath, takes up Forro and then sits under a tree for a month. But No. The body is run by the mind, and the mind has absorbed all the rules it was told to make the body live by – and it metes out the punishment when the body disobeys. The body is a slave to language. It starts young, but we are not born enslaved. We can break free, but we can’t reverse time.
The mind has the power to develop its ‘limited independence’ by noticing that the body rebels for a reason. The body says No. The mind says Why not? The body always gives an honest answer, even when the mind has gone full-throttle-nuts. If the mind listens carefully enough to the body and what it ‘says’, it can (not only work with the body to reassure it that its basic needs can be met without it getting sent to prison, it can also) develop a dialogue whereby the partnership can begin to distance itself from the damned lies and accidental untruths of language.
Before that can happen substantially, the mind apparently needs to experience some really bending forms of suffering. And so I say again, every being born into our current language system is literally torn apart by it. Our identities fall apart if we properly examine the totalitarian role which language plays in them. If we muddle through with only average amounts of suffering, it may be because we have obeyed enough of the rules, including getting lucky with being in the upper-middle zone of many of the categories which are poised (by language) to enjoy success – in the form of having hung onto our textbook identities. If we get through this life feeling that we really know who we are, then we have been torn apart, and we have put ourselves back together differently, and we have integrated.
Okay, I’ve strayed off identity thinking a bit here. Remember it’s the process of forgetting that some thing is not the same as the words we use to describe it (or of not knowing in the first place). No thing is the same as a word. No thing is a word. It’s an invisible habit. The way to spot it is to stalk it in everyday conversations. Whenever you notice two people starting to disagree, heatedly, ask yourself ‘What is the central concept they are disagreeing over? See if you can detect one – maybe it’s how to cook pasta, maybe it’s whether somebody is racist, maybe it’s when the world started or how best to soothe a child to sleep. Maybe what each of them means when they say that word is subtly different. Maybe by being the third person, listening to both without joining in, you can discern what the difference is. If you catch that little vermin by the tail, call it out. Tell them nicely what each of them means. Probably not good to intervene until you’re sure you can. Possibly necessary to run away afterwards, until the heat drops.
That’s homework. Share below when you have started trying this experiment. If you practice, you will find yourself becoming able to inject this awareness into your own conversations sooner or later, and then my friend, you stand a chance of getting beyond identity thinking. It takes a long time and it may take longer than we have. I’m going for it, and I’d love not to go alone.