Friday, November 15, 2019

Identity and Labeling

In my posting "You Can't Ever Be Famous", I noted that many people have no problem with the fact that the only part of them that can ever be famous is their name tag. I suggested that such people buy some parakeets and train them to screech their names for much the same effect. I also noted that many people - otherwise sane, normal people - do something similar by training their uncomprehending toddlers to rotely utter "I love you, mommy/daddy."

Those are far from the only examples of humans taking odd pleasure in rote positive pronouncements not directed toward them as actual persons (I find this eerie, so I wish my brain would quit slow-brewing further examples, but it has a mind of its own).

Anyone who's ever claimed authorship of a ghostwritten book and feels genuine pride in its success (Trump and Trump Jr, I'm looking at you, though a slew of intelligent non-grifters do likewise) is doing the same move. "I didn't write it, but I'm delighted and honored by the pleasure you've gotten from it! Why? Because it has my name on it. My name did this!"

The first time I heard someone describe a mediocrity as "meh", I beamed with delight at the construction, assuming she'd just come up with it. And she beamed at my beaming. It's deeper than "falsely taking credit" (though there was obvious credit-taking). It's hard to parse the psychology that leaves someone basking in delight at positive reaction to something mindlessly uttered (I love you, mommy!). I can't say I've never stolen a joke from a professional comedian, but I couldn't imagine concluding, from the laughter, that "I'm funny and they like me!"

You're in trouble when you start buying into your own cons, no?

And back up the camera. You know how just about everyone is one of a few dozen "types"? The husky-voiced impetuous smart girl, the chill even-keeled amiable dude, the perennially infuriated cranky Fox news watching older guy? A few adjectives can't quite cut it; these are richly functional clone identities people wholly adopt. It's the oddest thing.
Yet it works; if you don't wear a recognizable identity cloak, no one will have the slightest idea who you are or where you're coming from. You'll fall into the "outcast" category of indiscernible type, where everyone projects their fears and neuroses onto your blank canvas. I shouldn't curl my lip at people engaging in the behavior that averts the worst possible social fate. It's not odd at all.
When people register the telltale traits of husky-voiced impetuous smart girl, HVISG feels seen; her unique quirky characteristics duly registered and appreciated (in the 60s, millions bought VW bugs to express their nonconformity). "They get me!"

We are all pretending. I think I've persuasively shown this over the years, here. But I'm continually surprised at how thin the pretending is. Identity is so very thin. It all really does hang on name tags; on the wispiest strands of pretense. It's no wonder people are so anxious, when their entire house of cards is built!

Here's how it happens. Fish swim, birds fly, and humans identify with characters and stories - i.e. act in dramas. That's why we're able to immerse so deeply and easily into films, novels, and stories, memories, and fantasies. We plug right in, easily buying the name tag and selling the pose. Most of all, we make ourselves believe it. As any video game fan knows, it's no fun if you don't believe it.

There's a woman I've known since her birth who, at age 11, saw someone act a certain way in a movie and from that day forward has molded her voice and mannerisms - her entire personality - on that. To this day she remains that person. And she doesn't realize she did this. On the contrary, she feels most truly herself when she's squarely enmeshed in this role-playing. At least she doesn't realize it consciously. Whenever I get close to gently bringing up the issue, some inner truth detector fires and she becomes cross and changes the subject or concocts an argument or walks away. I sometimes glimpse her raw, uncomposed self in my peripheral vision, and it's very raw indeed. Trembling, unformed, disoriented, and hypersensitive.

The thing that most terrifies most people is the recognition that this role they're playing (when not lost in a plethora of other roles, absorbed by movies, novels, stories, memories, or fantasies) is a flimsy and arbitrary facade; an illusion they've made themselves believe. This is the kernel of all human fear. We sense this truth, and we don't like it, because we've got massive sunk cost in being this person with certain preferences and a certain backstory. If I'm not that person, then who am I?

If you imagine you're exempt - that you're above rote name tag identification - consider this: John Q. Reader (swap in your name) doesn't get lost in identifying with movies, stories, fantasies, etc. JQR is just another role to be lost in.

Ok: now do you have some sympathy for "If I'm not that person, then who am I?"

The answer is fantastically good news. What you are is pure awareness. Behind the curtain of the pretending, we don't have the slightest problem with anything. We blithely enjoy the video game; the Sturm und Drang; the varied and entertaining movies of this world, including the scary and sad ones. It's lovely. The water's fine.

The pretending is fun (we're here to immerse in fun dramatics, just as fish are here to swim) until you forget you're pretending and start to get all grippy about it, rejecting your natural impulse to periodically remember your freedom, and fearing, above all, any pause in the pretending.

I will now reveal the core 24 bytes of code serving as the underlying basis for the entire human experience: Fake It Till You Make It.

1 comment:

Display Name said...

The brain has a mind of it's own comment made me smile Jim. "their entire house of cards is built! As is mine. magic the gathering cards. But I have an elderly clhichuaha too. Going to a tournament soon. A gamer friend once told me people don't know what to make of you. I took it as a compliment. I do love my fellow gamers. Tonight no one at the shop will ask what Conan and my relationship is. No one will ask about my skin cancer.I'm an older middle aged woman who gets into the mosh pit and plays duels to the death. Not much politics lets enjoy

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