2017/07/18

Foisting Identities

So, this post is about something that I saw in both Atheism and Feminism communities. I'm sure it happens in others too, but those are the most I'm involved with (or was), so here we go!

Identity is important, and a lot has been said about clearly identifying what you believe about yourself. However, this is about the outward aspect of identity, namely what ideas everyone assumes you align with and who you're willing to be seen with. For instance, you may internally believe in broad philosophical free speech, but if you're not willing to come out and say it and be associated with both the idea and the (unsavoury) people who espouse it (i.e. associate with the label), you probably don't hold the "free speech absolutist" identity, however much you technically agree with their position. Certainly, back to the wall you're not necessarily going to stand up for "free speech absolutists".

Perhaps you can already see how this relates, but let's bash it out.

In the Atheism community, there's a fairly standard conversation about people who don't want to commit to the label "atheist", even if they fulfil the technical description of not believing in a god. In my own experience, people behaved as though there wasn't a god, and in that manner believed there was no god. This is coming after a bunch of thought about what it means to "believe" and its relation to behaviour in a psychological context. However, most people would say that there probably isn't a god as that is a more defensible position to that.

Colloquially, people saw the term agnostic as a softer version of atheist (and, in a use defines meaning way, it is), but that wasn't their identity either. The identity is to a part of group, and their answer is just an answer to give when put on the spot. So there'd be this same conversation which was largely about the semantics of "atheism" and "agnosticism".

In some ways, I thought this was helpful. In coming out of the closet or providing a more solid framework for an identity it allowed people to explore and solidify their thoughts. However, I also sometimes saw the conversation as a means to bully or cow someone into saying I am an atheist.

Feminist circles have the same thing with regards to the term "Egalitarian". Now, I identify as a feminist (depending on the situation), but the term has had a long history back and forth about issues, racism, workers rights etc. I have also seen some writing about how modern feminism is largely about white middle class rights and recognition (a far cry from being flatly about equality). Whether or not that's true, the point is the label feminist can be contentious even outside of the dude-bro speaking circles, particularly if you are versed with the history of the term (I'm not, I just read some stuff).

Perhaps I noticed it more on Tumblr than anywhere else. People would brow-beat identities on to other people who otherwise agreed with them but not as strongly. I found the behaviour rather alienating and a part of the spurious TRIPLE EXCLAMATION MARK OMG!!! culture that made me rather bored with the site.

I think there was some personal pride with the satisfaction of "being right", but I also think it's about numbers. When people do this, they want to feel like there's more of them. Maybe this conversation is more prevalent in areas where the group feels marginalised (whether they are or are not). e.g. Atheists in the deep south of the USA are more likely to want to bolster numbers than atheists in Sweden. But in the context of bolstering numbers, do you really want to count those people who don't want to hold your label?

This can have positive aspects too. I think, however, ultimately coming out and presenting your identity should be up to you and not groups of people trying to "recruit" you.

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