I don’t know if the world was always this way or if it is indeed a new development. But then, it can’t be all that a new development since the field of semiotics has existed for some time. I talk, of course, about the use of placeholders, signs, and symbols as substitutes for a real understanding of the texture of the experience(s) of life – be it either in political, cultural, or economic milieus.
Watching the debate around Dangal unfold, this much became clear. But that’s a tiny bit. Even before it, watching the 2016 US Elections campaign unfold had been making it clear. But even before that, many years ago, I think I began to notice it within the Left itself, the so-called organisation…camp formation around concepts. Concepts like identities. And identities proliferate like concepts. Brahmin, Dalit, man, woman, radical, irradical, whathaveyou…Identity pins one’s suffering or lack of it. And more recently, pqr of “radical” left thought cannot buy xyz arguments because they were made by the person with the wrong identity. An identity not radical enough. An identity of the oppressor. Dare I say, an identity not exotic enough?…
I will of course take a beating for writing this but somehow we have come to inhabit what it truly an Age of Identities. We strive for authenticity, but even “being authentic” itself has become an identity. In other words, it means zilch. I’m authentic and I hang around with authentic people, and you’re inauthentic so I don’t deem you fit for a conversation with me. It’s amazing what the machinery of capitalist production is capable of appropriating. 2017 has even fashion magazines selling you authenticity. Ralph Waldo Emerson rolls in his grave.
This is however, not a critique of those poor unenlightened ones who buy into it. I’d even go so far to say that in many ways they seem more authentic to me than our radical friends who try to be politically correct. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to undermine the achievements of leftist movements in the last 300 years or so in any way. But it grieves me to see the absence of human conversations because of whacko reasons. Reasons like, because abc voted for Trump, def said something sexist on 01 October 2009, qwe did not do her doctoral thesis on Dalits when it is such an obvious burning issue. That historical figure opr must be disregarded because he kept mum on racism. Hey, none of this is to say that sexism, racism, Nazism, casteism, or blah are okay or to even claim that there does not exist ignorance, privileged ignorance, about the experiences of these “Other”. But what’s the response to that? What should be the response to that? That the “Other” construct the “Self” as the “Other”? Creation of more identities by the negation of the other? I mean, you’ll probably say no, and say no this is of course not what is happening, but I will differ. I see it happening all around.
Someone claims the other day Gandhi wasn’t “radical” so can’t have him on my reading list on Indian political thought, which questions Enlightenment thought. Hah okay. Since we’re making lists. Listversing. Categorising. Classifying. How’s that not an Enlightenment value, heh.
People seem to increasingly live and perceive their whole lives in terms of identities. This includes those rads. I lament this turn of events. That our perception of reality is increasingly reduced to a set of foregiven ideas. A set of pre-constructed ideas. Heck, even “not pre-constructed” has become an identity. Welcome to hipster culture. Welcome to most “enlightened,” who will now refrain from a friendly conversation with the guy who protests against refugees in Europe or one slip of a good word about Julian Assange. Note I support neither of these political positions, but my point is this is no different from fashion, trends for identity come and go. One another term for identity is demographic.
When Rohith Vemula died, he didn’t leave a Treatise on Multicultural Identity Society for a suicide note. He left a beautiful note about his personal frustrations and how he had seen life. The note had no identity terms. Yet at the end of the day, and I hate to think this, he was reduced to an identity. In politics. Not just by the right, or by political opportunists but by the so-called left who deeply cared.
I’m not saying don’t acknowledge roots. But identity is reduction. Life is richer, complicated, way more fucked up and beautiful than reducing people/entire lives to symbols. That’s exactly what the modes of capitalistic reproduction and production do. I thought radical left was supposed to be different. But seems like, the lure of this structure of control and the desire to feel like we’re getting somewhere “organising” “making progress” trumps everything.
Maybe I am naive. I don’t care. I’m tired of your pretension. Your sophisticated ideas to mould, to educate. It’s got nothing to do with my lived reality, my inner life. Maybe that’s how you live it, but I don’t. And I don’t want to. And many people, I believe, don’t want to. Which is why good storytellers, populists, like Trump are winning. You don’t have a story to tell, radical left. Sadly, all you have is ideology and principles and ideas. You’re a hollow shell. A facade of academic papers and cold reason. You’re not the same person I met in the 1850s. You’ve no soul. You’re as much an automaton as the fucked up system you claim to fight.