You ever go through a midlife crisis? Or endure the awkward evolution of adolescence? Surely at least one of those things – blogs aren’t really for the Tik Tok crowd. Coming to grips with who we are, who we want to be, and who we definitely are not is often a painful experience. When we search for an identity, it can be difficult because we don’t even know exactly what it is we’re looking for. What is an identity? How would I even go about getting one?

Be the Pokémon you want to see in the world

A good place to start is to list some identities, and one of the easy ways to do that is to make “I am” statements. I am a brother. I am a friend. I am a work colleague. There are other “I am” statements that I’m just going to ignore for now because I want to focus on the relational identities that my list has obviously focused on. I am who I am to the people around me. There’s something important to note here, though. If I have a kid, but leave early in that kid’s life to get some cigarettes and never come back, can I really say that I am a father? Biologically, sure, but biology does not an identity make. In a relationship, the way I relate determines the extent to which I can identify myself within it. Identifying as being a part of a relationship that you haven’t actually committed to in any meaningful way is what is commonly called a “red flag.”

Another example: if I identify as my race, or as my sexuality, that is likely because I am using that as a means of connecting to a larger community of that race or sexuality; perhaps both for the intersectional in the crowd. That’s why those in the dominant group are better off avoiding using their dominant traits as an identity; it creates relationships based solely on that trait. Those in minority groups need the solidarity that a healthy relational identity provides. Because of the redundancy of solidarity in a dominant group, identity within it becomes inherently oppressive. To be clear, identifying as an ethnicity in a relational way is usually done through connecting to a historical people, to a local community or neighbourhood, or to the people in a particular homeland. Also, it usually expands beyond the purely relational too. It typically involves the things that you do.

In searching for Waldo, do we ultimately discover ourselves?

An “I am” statement you might have been thinking of previously was your employment. I am a butcher. I am a baker. I am a candlestick maker struggling for business ever since electricity became a thing and now only serve a niche market. However, the same identity issue applies as before: if my job is to push papers, and the measure of my work is the amount of TPS reports I complete in a day, I’m not going to identify as my employment. As much as it might put food on my table, it won’t be who I am as a person. We have to connect to the things that we do in order for them to define us. We need to be able to have autonomy over what we do, see the results of our labour, and be challenged in ways that build our skill. Of course, what we do and who we know aren’t everything.

Tell me child, in what way would you like to make a profit for your employer?

Exuding certain characteristics or principles is also an identity. I am honest. I am brave. I am compassionate. This is the identity that navigates the way we engage with our relationships and our work. I am honest with my friends. I am brave in my dangerous career. I am compassionate with strangers. These qualities don’t even necessarily have to be abundantly positive: I am a tough guy when it comes to connecting to others emotionally – which means that expressing myself would not only go against social expectation, it would go against who I am. We very often cling to our harmful attitudes quite dearly because giving them up means giving up a part of who we are. These identities can even come into conflict. For instance, I am “reliable” and a “hard worker” who doesn’t spend any time with my children.

For those who have read Viktor Frankl, you may be noticing a pattern. Frankl posits that the ways in which humans find meaning in their lives are through our relationships, our work, and our attitude. Now I’ve just gone and described identity as those same three categories. Identity, who we are, is simply the ways we find meaning in the world.

“Hey Boo Boo, let’s go get us a pic-a-nic basket”

Unfortunately, the modern world has lain a trap for us. For example, we can connect to the characters in the Star Wars universe. We can go on all the Star Wars rides at Disneyland, lovingly bedeck our laptop with Star Wars paraphernalia, and we can be loyal to our franchise in a way that no loser Trekkie would ever understand. Every fundamental attribute of identity exists, and yet, for those fans whose identity rests solely in some form of consumption, be it television, film, sports, novels, etc., life seems awfully hollow. These are typically called parasocial interactions – when the way we connect to something only goes one way. We’ll never be able to ask Luke Skywalker to help us move (and that would be amazing because force powers would make it so much easier), and that’s because he’s a fictional character and force powers aren’t real.

Modernity has twisted identity in a way that is particularly sinister because consumption identity is often determined by sociopathic corporate interests that don’t care how broken and lonely we feel, they’re just happy to milk whatever pseudo-identity we have to their product for everything it’s worth – literally. Parasocial interactions are often exploited to sell figurines, novelty items, and an infinite supply of Marvel films.

We need reciprocity in our identity. We need to experience growth in our work. We need to experience recognition in our relationships. If we don’t, we will only ever be half of a person. There’s no problem with liking Star Wars or the Green Bay Packers or whatever else, but when it becomes an identity, then it means that something is fundamentally missing from who you are.

If your childhood is genuinely ruined by a capitalistic cash grab in the form of a shitty remake, then you probably didn’t have a particularly fulfilling childhood. It’s time to start over, friend.

Building a new identity is hard. The drug addict who quits their drug of choice is not just giving up drugs; they are abandoning the relationships they made in their addiction, the routine of their daily grind, their entire lives. Those who cannot build something to fill that void will relapse because the emptiness that remains is far more painful and scary than an unending fight against withdrawal symptoms. The early stages of recovery are a desperate search for meaning that, if unaddressed, will cause more relapse than any insatiable urge or temptation. “Boredom” is one of the biggest killers of recovery.

Identity is a huge part of our lives. It’s the entirety of who we are, in fact. If we don’t like our identity, or if we’ve lost large chunks of it through recovery, retirement, disability, or other identity-altering experiences, then we have to find a new way to find ourselves. Relapse is not the worst thing that can result from a loss of identity; the stakes are pretty high. But if we know the foundations of who we can become, then we can build on something solid. We can strive to love well in our relationships, find purpose in the work that we do, and exude qualities and principles that we can be proud of. Who we are is how we find meaning. What’s meaningful to you?

The war in Afghanistan began with the oppressive, theocratic Taliban in power, and ended with the oppressive, theocratic Taliban in power. Sisyphus rolled his Katamari Damacy boulder up the mountain, and it rolled right back down again. The absurdity of the war is obvious on its face, but there is a desperation to find meaning within it that would make Camus blush. Though it’s somewhat old news by now, during the American withdrawal, there was all sorts of noise about how Western forces were abandoning their Afghan comrades to the brutality of the Taliban.

I am not trying to diminish the severity of what the Taliban has done and will continue to do with those dissenting under its rule. My glibness comes as a result of the crocodile tears shed over the bodies of those slain during the withdrawal from the war that ignore the over a hundred thousand bodies that accumulated preceding it. Losing a war is bloody; that’s the reality of war. If you don’t like it, maybe question the war itself rather than the means of its end.

The realities of war

The tears come from the bipartisan desire to create meaning in a pointless war: if there are good Afghans to save, it means that the war produced good Afghans worth saving. Nobody would have given a shit about them otherwise; the West would be much more inclined toward taking refugees if there was a heartfelt belief that we need to create a safe haven for those fleeing violence and persecution. The sad irony is that those whose freedom from the Taliban was being demanded were those who had aligned themselves with the invaders, cementing the linking of a “good” Afghan with their complicity in the war.

Another central tenet that the war in Afghanistan was meaningful is the women’s liberation that the war provided. Some women were able to go to school, and therefore 20 years of death, torture, and war crimes are vindicated. Those women are worse off now than they were before; again, no argument, but finding miniscule acts of success to justify what is otherwise 20 years of pointless war is incredibly ignorant. In actuality, using war to generate feminism is more likely to produce a nation of incels who see feminism as cancer than an Islamic Feminine Mystique.

Thanks, Betty Friedan!

Using feminism as justification for the war in Afghanistan, and gesturing loosely toward the mostly urban women who benefited, pointedly ignores the majority of women who live in rural settings where most of the war took place. Afghan women were certainly not benefitting from the war when they and their families were dying from it. The quick rise of the Taliban points to a nation hungry for incel-logic; Afghanistan may actually be worse off than it was 20 years ago from the perspective of democratic and liberal reformation due to the brutality used allegedly in its name. Sisyphus’s boulder fell back down the mountain and into a ravine. The West tried to viciously impose liberal secularism in Iran with the Shah, and he too was violently overthrown by a virulently religious fundamentalist group. Any positive regard held for Western ideals is just as dead as all the rest of them.

The war made Afghanistan worse, and for what? The bipartisan narrative adopted in much of the media paints the picture of a blundering but ultimately benevolent force trying so hard to do good but occasionally failing in simple but horrific ways. Like if Rocky Balboa knocked out Apollo Creed in the first round, but because his eyes were all bruised up and he couldn’t see, he wandered into the crowd and begun striking civilians at random. At home we’re watching and thinking, no! Rocky! If only Mickey had cut you so you could see! We are helpless as Rocky bludgeons old women and children in his missteps. Then, after the crowd boos too loudly for too long, we lament Rocky leaving, shaking our heads at the blows he receives on his way out the door. Meanwhile, Apollo Creed has gotten up and dusted himself off, and being the only one left standing in the ring, claims victory.

YO AMERICAAAAAAAA!

We could still love Rocky after such a blunder. It’s forgivable. But that’s not how war works. The better analogy would be if Rocky was at a bus stop where Apollo Creed was reading a newspaper, and Rocky was like, “I heard you hate women!” and then pulled out a gun and shot him. Then he wandered away from the bus stop to a nearby wedding reception and shot up the guests. And he did so with eyes wide open.

The West knew what was going on in Afghanistan. They’re actively preventing themselves from being held accountable to international law. We’ve had whistleblowers point out the war’s criminality to us repeatedly and they’re all being punished for it by both American political parties. And for what? For what? For literally no reason. Terrorism didn’t go away; Al-Qaeda evolved into ISIS-K. Afghanistan is fully red pilled. America wanted war instead of justice, the rest of the West went along with it, and this is what we’re left with.

Cartoons make the villains easy to spot!

I’ve purposefully avoided talking about the military-industrial complex and how the reason for the war is obviously all the money that was made by the defense contractors and weapons manufacturers. It’s not that I disagree, it’s that we don’t have a smoking gun pointing to that level of Machiavellianism, and I want to be as convincing as possible. The war is provably pointless in a way that ought to make us reflect on why it ever happened in the first place. When there is no justification for a war, it’s a lot easier to compare it to straight-up murder. The war in Afghanistan was criminal. Those who participated in it are criminals. Anyone saying otherwise is covering up a crime.

While maybe not surprising to long-term readers who have been following since I wrote an article defending communism, I am now writing an article about how maybe we could all use a little less freedom. George W. Bush was right: we hate your freedoms, and we’re coming to take them away. Sorry America, but the terrorists just had the better argument. Blame the free market of ideas, and then marvel at the irony.

The thing is, freedom is actually a paradoxical ideology. Universal freedom is necessarily contradictory. The current “debate” about masking during a pandemic is case-in-point. If you are free to disregard masks and parade around mouth-breathing your aerosol droplets all over me, my freedom to avoid getting sick from Covid is reduced. There are millions of examples you can come up with: my freedom to be verbally abusive limits your freedom from verbal abuse. If you are free to make puns, it renders my freedom to live in a world without puns sadly utopian. If you believe yourself free to cheat on your monogamous partner and your excuse is, “I thought this was America!”, you will quickly discover that people aren’t super thrilled when your alleged freedom impinges on their own.

Kill me.

Am I entitled to mature and well-developed humour? Maybe not. Am I entitled to health? This point becomes harder to argue against. Am I entitled to health that is not being actively damaged by the choices of others? It would probably be a good idea to have a society that adopts that mentality, yeah. The issue is that the debate never focuses on the issues impacted by the free actions of others, and the freedoms they might be reducing in turn. It typically focuses on ‘freedom’ as an abstract, unexamined concept that just has that certain je-ne-sais-quoi that most people find appealing. Even those denouncing the demands of those freedom-loving anti-maskers won’t condemn the concept of freedom itself, but you heard it here first: freedom the way most people imagine it is a masturbatory fantasy.

Freedom advocates would argue that freedom should not exist completely deregulated, but that the only reasonable regulations are negative ones: you can’t murder, for example, but you shouldn’t be compelled to act in any particular way. Hence, you can’t make me put on a mask, you commie! However, the limits on negative regulation are arbitrary. Being forbidden from making puns is a negative regulation, but I have yet to come across a libertarian seriously making this argument despite its expansive merit. The distinction between negative and positive impositions on freedom is completely meaningless, and doesn’t address my original point that all the actions we take are going to be affecting those around us in ways that may well reduce their freedom. While this is a small case of conjecture, I can speculate that the ‘true believers’ would say that those who are negatively impacted by their free actions should just suck it up; they should content themselves with having less freedom than others. Sounds completely reasonable and not at all systemically oppressive.

Those kids should be free to do whatever they want, and if she doesn’t like it, she has the freedom to start her *own* school!

Freedom is a pretty great idea. I like being able to do things, but I also recognize that I am one individual among many with equal entitlement to the things that I ought to be entitled to. I want to be healthy, but I have to recognize that everyone else wants to be healthy too. I want to live in a world without puns, but I have to recognize that other people have the wrong sense of humour, and I just have to live with their wrongness. If I begin to act in a way that limits the puns of others using my own freedom to coerce their behaviour, I am limiting their freedom to make awful “jokes.” I would appreciate the same consideration when I make delightful and well-timed fart jokes from the plebeians that simply don’t understand the nuance!

When we recognize the needs of others as equally requiring consideration, we recognize that we must be responsible to those needs and our freedom must be curtailed. If we disregard the needs of others, we are not actually advocating for universal freedom, we are demanding selfish preference. Freedom is not generalizable, but the great thing about responsibility is that it is! Everyone is capable of shouldering equal amounts of responsibility to their neighbour. An argument could be made that some parties may be more responsible than others (more polluting nations are more responsible for reining in their carbon emissions to address climate change, for example), but aspirational responsibility is not as contradictory as aspirational freedom.

I may have lived long enough to see myself become the villain, here

Viktor Frankl is quoted as saying that America needs a Statue of Responsibility to temper its Statue of Liberty, and his worries are coming to deadly fruition today. Politicians and pundits that espouse and proselytize freedom can only be pandering to the selfish ego of their followers, by the very nature of the ideology they are spouting. The purposeful disregard and neglect of one’s neighbour is the disregard and neglect of their freedom. I guess the point is you’re not supposed to give a shit about your neighbour because your freedom is the only freedom that matters.

Let’s instead work toward a universal responsibility. It’s not particularly difficult because it’s something that can be adopted in every action. We can be responsible to others as individuals; it can be foisted upon our politicians and other macro-level actors sure, and adopted by corporations and those on the mezzo level too. Everyone can be responsible. The less we focus on a pointless concept like freedom, the more we can focus on taking care of one another. I think the world would be much better off, and we’d probably have fewer Covid cases too.