Is there such a thing as a “right to self-identify”?

Here is Daily Kos describing the “right to self-identify”:

Do we have a right to self-identity and self-identification? Do we have a right to decide for ourselves the sexual, gender, religious, ethnic and other labels we go by, even if such labels deviate from or — worse! — subvert long-established conventions? I think the answer to this question from a leftist perspective simply ought to be, “Yes.”

How insulting for a bunch of politico liberals to claim to speak for all leftists. Talk about some fucking gatekeepers right here. The answer most definitely ought not to be “Yes.”

Words are not just random assemblages of sounds. They actually stand for concepts and are used in conversation to communicate information. This may be hard for liberals to accept but, while you can just claim you’re anything you want, that doesn’t make it true.

If you’ll permit me the arrogance of quoting myself, I’ve gone into more explanation in a previous entry about calling everything “feminist,” including pornography:

“Feminism” does not mean “believing that women shouldn’t be treated like shit.” That’s called “being a decent human being,” not “being a feminist.” To be a feminist entails a lot more beyond that; it entails wanting the elimination of gender roles, wanting to end the exploitation of women, and recognizing Patriarchy in our daily lives. A pornographic movie that doesn’t treat women like shit is not a “feminist porn,” it’s just a movie that was made by decent human beings. That’s nice, but not feminist. Calling anyone or anything “feminist” because they exhibit the most basic human decency is profoundly insulting to, well, pretty much everyone, including feminists.

Likewise, you wouldn’t call someone a “communist” because they believe workers should be treated like human beings. Again, that’s nice, but not communist. Communism, like feminism, designates a framework used to understand how human societies work. If you don’t agree with that framework, then you’re not a feminist or a communist, no matter how nice you are or how much you believe you “deserve” the label or how hard you believe in imposing your feminist/communist self-identification on others (“well, I call myself a feminist and you have no business telling me what I am or am not!”).

What is to stop some dude from calling himself a feminist, or some theetie-wheetie liberal from calling emself a communist? Really nothing. But to then feel angry because others point out the falsify of that proposition is disingenuous at best. Even if you have the right to self-identify, we have the right to call you on it when you’re lying.

More importantly, there can be no such thing as a right to self-identify, because there is no such thing as a right to lie. People who lie for considerable personal gain are criminals, pure and simple, and at least a few self-identifiers are in this category.

The image I posted as a header for this entry was inspired by this entry and its defense of the Christian self-identification against the evil atheists:

I believe one of the most sacred of human rights is the right of self-identification…

What struck me about this was Hitchens final conclusion: “you’re not in any meaningful sense a Christian.” It sort of tickled my funny bone that an atheist was now informing people of faith about who is and isn’t a Christian. What began to stir in my mind was an idea that Hitchens had no right to attempt to make such an identification for Sewell. Marilyn Sewell has chosen to identify herself as a Christian, which is her right…

Bringing this back to the original statement, what we’ve witnessed here are attempts at projecting identities onto other people. As we’ve seen, this is done primarily to serve our own causes in stealing individuality from people. The motto expressed is: “if you don’t fit my easy definition of ________, then you cannot be identified as such.”

It is the individual’s right to self-identify; if a liberal Unitarian Universalist wants to identify herself with the Christian narrative, that is her right. You see, when we voluntarily accept the mantle of a community narrative, we are practicing a uniquely individuated and communal rite.

How melodramatic. One would think the “most sacred of human rights” would be something more important than some narrower version of free speech. Oh well.

But I also think there is an interesting process of projection going on here. Hitchens did not define what a Christian is, Christians did. So this attempt to state that Hitchens is the one making “such an identification” and that atheists are “projecting identities onto other people” in order to steal “individuality from people” is a reversal. It is the Christians who constantly and without fail “project identities onto other people” in order to steal their individuality and turn them as props in the divine comedy that is Christianity. You are saved or you are a sinner, you are godly or condemned to hellfire, you conform or do not conform to God’s laws, you are a true Christian or a heretic, you conform or do not conform to gender roles as proscribed in the Bible, and so on.

So again, who defined what a Christian is? Christians did, not atheists. Christians defined a Christian as someone who believes that Jesus (a character in a book of fiction) is their personal savior. Hitchens was merely using established definitions to identify who is and is not a Christian, a proper use of concepts which any mentally healthy person masters when they’re less than a year old. These “labels can mean anything” morons are trying to reduce your cognition to that of a baby, so their nonsense can stand unrefuted. Talk about juvenile!

Finally, let’s talk about the use of the word “subvert.” Daily Kos was trying to establish the “labels can mean anything” position as subversive, as if being deliberately irrational in order to believe whatever you want is somehow subversive. It is not. Not only is there nothing subversive about lying to yourself, but that’s what they want you to do. They are counting on you denying your true self. No part of this system could exist if we were not lying to ourselves at some level and giving it our tacit approval. Christianity would buckle and crash if CINOs stopped identifying as Christians. Gender roles would disappear in a puff of smoke if everyone who didn’t completely agree with their gender role would simply stop identifying as a gender.

Now why should leftists, who are interested in actually subverting the state of affairs, not changing the state of affairs by lying to themselves, be interested in this ideology? Being able to name the victims and to name the perpetrators is an important part of radical work. What destroying labels does is make us unable to do this naming.

For another detailed analysis of self-identification, see Elizabeth Hungerford’s entry Socialization Matters: Why “Identity Libertarianism” is Failed Politics. She goes into so much detail that there isn’t much point in me quoting any specific part of it, and I heavily recommend you read it.

4 thoughts on “Is there such a thing as a “right to self-identify”?

  1. […] is not subjective. Who is a service worker, a factory worker, an IT worker, is not determined by subjective self-identification. We don’t take scam artists at their word when they say they’re doctors, businessmen or […]

  2. […] Again, I will not take a lot of time on this point because I’ve already argued that we don’t have a right to self-identify. […]

  3. vyechera September 29, 2014 at 20:17

    Hello Mr. Tremblay,

    We may perhaps have met at Cambridge?

    I am a worker, a proud member of the proletariat, though I was raised a bourgeois and do keep a trust account tucked away for bad times, and there is always my American doctorate if troubles come. But the point is I have always felt like a worker. I like how workers act, their stoicness, the wabi-sabi simplicity of it all, their focus on survival, their strong shoulders and scythes cutting through the wheat, their plank dining tables, their rosy-cheeked women, their laughter and tankards and candles and fires in winter, their generally being a LOT cooler than the boring class I grew up in. it’s all very attractive, I have to say, and it’s the class I feel most comfortable identifying as though I was assigned at birth to a couple of rather wealthy people.

    I keep running into distressing hostile reactions from other workers that hurt me a lot, though. Some say my overalls and red bandanna are a parody of a worker’s clothes, and others treat me badly when I sit around the fire with them and explain about philosophy and such as they unfortunately don’t know much about it. They are so inarticulate and need me to rephrase and complete their sentences and so on. There is a pretty young woman I would like to marry, a champion of the workers as I am, but she resists me because she knows I was born a bourgeois and my brother is the mayor. It’s terribly unfair. How can I succeed as a worker when they look at me so suspiciously, as though I am a spy, not vested, when I do my best to look just like them and to be hearty like them and try to marry someone? Why won’t they accept me? I’m even willing to distribute flyers about inequities and such.

    I wonder if they know I took a little break and went to the Riviera last spring to re-charge my batteries? It was May and the Cannes Film festival was in full flower. My uncle came as always and we took in the films. Deneuve was there. It was just a break, everybody needs one now and then. And then I was back line-dancing and singing the blues and wearing flannel lumberjack shirts because I love how lumberjacks have that strength about them, that’s the real me.

    But they threw me out of the local bar last night. Literally, on my ass. I feel like suing somebody. Like writing many articles and starting a movement. Oafs! I can be whoever the fuck I feel like being and you people can’t deny me. I am in severe emotional distress at having my right denied to self-identify. I want to be of the earth and you don’t own the fucking earth, anyone can enjoy the plowing and such when they want to be farmers or berry pickers or I don’t know, ironers. Everything is fluid; we move in and out of identities, it’s natural. My brain is that of a worker’s. Today.

    To be denied, as she has denied me, on grounds that I am a hypocrite, deluded, strange! I can’t bear it. I think I shall die. I think I shall go into counseling. I shall stand with my compadres in the Home Depot parking lot for a week or even two, looking about for rich gringos to hire me for gardening and such. The common man! That is myself!

    But no. They too have ejected me. They speak to me in their neocolonial Spanish, which I can’t understand even after my junior year in Salamanca.

    The injustice, the violation of my identity, my civil rights…it is hardly to be borne…

    Thank God it is May again! Thank God for Cannes! I shall take a break.

    Meantime, my dear Francois, please, reconsider. My worker feelings go deeply into the sod. Who I am is up to me. We are individuals, free! A person is but a stream, a rivulet actually, that wanders hither and yon amid human possibilities. there are no classes, really, and there is therefore, I hesitate to say this but it is true, nothing to fight for…

    In solidarity,


    • Francois Tremblay September 30, 2014 at 00:15

      vyechera, I am quite sure I have never been to Cambridge. Also, it doesn’t seem like your self-identification is going very well for you so far. You might want to reconsider that. :)

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