As we mature, it’s not hard to see identity as a fool’s errand. In the light of self-realization, identity may at first seem like shoddy construction work, a house built from erosive materials on a sandy foundation, but really its great crime against our growth is its reductiveness. We aren’t building something from nothing, but strangling the unlimited potential of ourselves with limiting frameworks. The one constant within is our unbounded conscious self, and reducing the essence of who we are to our status, possessions, relationships, or any other feature of existence means demanding this constancy from something that won’t deliver anything but dissonance as it carries forth its innately transitory design. Of course, many of these identifiers we impose on ourselves are abstract concepts, projections of a mind that by now we know has a proclivity for bullshitting itself. And when we finally acknowledge that life has been repeatedly pounding us with invitations to get a new job, new group of friends, new lover, new worldview, we eventually say yes to change – albeit after experiencing more pain than necessary during the process of letting go. Spiritual practices like meditation and yoga allow us to see these invitations before they get less polite, and letting go becomes more fluid, allowing us the position of enthusiastic witness to this natural process. And as we observe the shores of our dependency recede, they reveal what we thought was our ego’s bedrock as more akin to those translucent sea-dwelling invertebrates, gelatinous and inert, no longer propped up by our investment in them.
Admittedly, this might be easier to do with symbolic things and more difficult to do with the more hardcoded aspects of our individuality like gender, race, body type, sexuality, etc. Manifest features of the body. And making peace with these things as fixtures, rather than attempting the onerous (and often futile) task of shaking them off, generally proves to be the way towards health and happiness. Note how saying something like “I am black/gay/trans/endomorphic and proud of it” is considered self-love and saying “I am my career and I am proud of it” is considered self-delusion. True, the more abstract the attachment, the sillier you seem, however it’s important to understand that being fine with whatever body nature commissioned you is not wholly self-love, it’s body-love. And body-love is a very important resolution to make, but not the be-all-end-all of self-actualization.
Body-love trumps idea-of-self love not necessarily because it’s more expressive of who we are, but because it is a feature of ourselves that is harder to change. Body-love means using our energy on more important and more malleable aspects of our lives and society. Body-love means being amiable towards our little biosuits, bringing tremendous benefits if we carry that love into concern with its health, well-being, and full-cylinder operation. However, there is a growing population that considers body-love to be not an inward-seeking matter of health, but an outward-seeking matter of political vindication: the notorious Social Justice Warriors. Their campaign reveals how politicizing bodily acceptance so baldly contradicts this entire spirit of self-love.
To understand Social Justice Warriors (SJW’s), we must understand the ego, our individuality’s own Department of Homeland Security. The ego is the custodian of boundaries and the physical body is the most explicit boundary we have, so by default, the bulk of this department’s budget goes into concern for the continuity of this body. As a result, it is very easy for the ego and the body to get entangled to the point where we over-identify with it.
One cannot deny the value of the body since it is after all the vessel our consciousness drives around in, making it our most primal metric of worth. Only recently in our evolution have our minds become part of the equation. Our mental aspect has contended with our physical one, pressing our natural, flower-petal-perfect physical form against the hierarchical thinking of the social sphere. And the body gets subjected to the absurdity of its politicization. This has caused unimaginable egoic harm to our civilization for centuries and only recently have remedies been applied. Bodies of all varieties have fought for their value most explicitly since the 1960s, and society has made room accordingly. The SJW appetite for vindication has swelled beyond simply attaining equality and their demands have become more extreme – not just for autonomy, but a status of preciousness given to their bodies and the whole lineage of marginalization and pain attached to that domain. This activity has been localized on University campuses, where the youth seem to have the most freedom to ethically call the shots. Having been thus enabled, their expectations have soared to the point where they now expect their environment to engineer itself around the pain they harbor, censoring things that cause even the smallest emotional stir, i.e. “trigger warnings” and “micro-aggressions”.
Little do they realize that if they could rewrite the scripting language of society such that everyone behaved in perfect accordance with their increasingly parochial codes of conduct, they would still not be happy. Because if our identification of ourselves goes no further than our bodies, then we have sentenced ourselves to a skin-and-bones prison, because when the body and the ego collaborate, we can never hope to keep up with its demands for validation. And, inevitably, the body will work in direct opposition to these demands – malfunctioning, deteriorating and eventually dying. And although certain features of the body seem fixed while we remain alive, the perceptions of it will change along with the politics and ideas around it, just as they have been with increasing velocity. How can we so vigorously wrap our sense of ourselves around something so unstable? It’s ego’s love of a good battle. And if the battle ended, and everyone suddenly stopped offending the SJW militia, their specialized victim status would become compromised, which is probably becoming a more horrifying prospect than non-acceptance from society. Notice how the ego will form a dependence on the continuity anything, including its own discontinuity.
Like everyone else, I could question the validity of the SJW existence and dismiss them as seeking nothing more than a padded room for the ego, but I don’t think it warrants such investigation since the sheer existence of something authorizes its validity. The psycho-spiritual reality of SJW presence is of much greater interest to me – something no one cares to observe in their pre-occupation with how annoying they find them. SJW’s are an allergic reaction to wheels we have been turning for millennia and must be understood if we are to understand our humanity.
In Yogic as well as Buddhist language, the residue of painful experience is called “Samskara” (translates to “impression”). These impressions essentially pockmark the individual body/mind as well as the collective one and pattern all subsequent behavior. Samskaras collected by our individual selves can be felt more overtly. On subtler levels we feel the Samskaras of our familial and cultural lineage, as well as whatever collective struggle we have opened our sensitivity to. Counterparts of this phenomenon have been found in modern biological discoveries like epigenetics, as well as more controversial theories like Rupert Sheldrake’s morphic resonance. He performed a brilliant series of experiments, which revealed that entire global populations of a species to some degree inherit the discoveries of just one of its members. On a practical level, this system furnishes the passage of skills and instinctual wisdom through the generations in a less limited and localized manner. However, with this passage comes pain and fear, something we would now rather do without as a species, but as things like the SJW movement reveal: pain and fear can be a great teacher.
I teach meditation, my favorite antidote to the Samskaric condition of being human as it connects us with that part of us beyond the Samskara-laden body. And an in-built phenomenon of meditative practices is the release of Samskara, leaving more room for our true unbounded selves, less hooked to our physical memories of life’s (apparent) attacks on our ego. Samskara’s restriction of us is relieved, but its lessons remain available.
If, as a meditation teacher, I were commissioned to provide the SJW archetype with guidance along this kind of path, I would doubtlessly have my work cut out for me. They exist in shrill opposition to these Eastern ideas of health, harmony and personal power. They seem to embody an exaggerated form of ego-fragility, seeking to construct a twisted heroic identity around attachment to Samskara rather than liberation from it. This kind of self-imposed victimhood is one of the most indicative symptoms of spiritual weakness. But although I see a lot of very clearly wounded souls in their ranks, they can only be diagnosed with something that most of us have always had, but are too proud to wear on our sleeves with such gusto: some sense that our bodies are no good – dysfunctional, unattractive, and generally unfit to be around all the other bodies.
It takes a long time to feel comfortable in our bodies, a sense of integration with our skin only just beginning in University (interestingly, the site of the SJW boiler room). Our limitless nature has to squeeze into something that almost violently restricts it, taking lifetimes of spiritual work to build a tunnel back to this unbounded self. So many never even see the mouth of that tunnel in their lifetimes, or even accomplish any sustained comfort in their skin, especially in this savagely surface-oriented American life. The connected age we live in has both aggravated this feeling and provided a barracks for its militarization, Social Media platforms propelling the SJW outcry against the dissonance between their egoic self-image and how they believe society perceives their individual bodies. And even though the connected age may seem to “connect” us by placing us in a larger digital community, this panoramic view of the world also engenders a solemn individualism, revealing just how many slots our bodies don’t fit into (or at least seem to on the surface). There is now just as much opportunity for finding non-acceptance as there is acceptance. So no wonder those who consider themselves more socially anomalous than the average Instagram darling are crying out – how can you not resent a society that makes the already daunting task of body-love even more difficult?
And this online community has been relentless in its criticism of the SJW sensibility. In fact, what is even more interesting than the spectacle of the SJW movement is how obsessed the much older and seemingly more collected members of the Western intelligentsia have become with scrutinizing their latest tantrums. Sure there are definite institutional problems here, for example the implications of how SJW influence will encroach on American sacraments like free speech, but why is their flawed rhetoric all anyone with a YouTube channel can seem to talk about when there are far more pressing social issues than the ideologies of minds that haven’t yet developed past Amygdala-dependency?
I think one feature of the age we live in is an intense need to seem reasonable, going to great lengths to prove a certain intellectual level-headedness and realism. In extremely confusing times, we have a growing need to prove to others and, especially, ourselves how sensible (read: sane) we are. And what better way than to point to shining examples of the opposite? What better way to neutralize the nagging voice of our ego that seems to regularly make the very unreasonable demands that SJW’s so dazzlingly externalize?
So often our flow through life twists into a knot. Things veer out of sync with our comfort level and we find ourselves indulging in that delicious inner comfort food of victimhood. It doesn’t take much. Often the pettiest offense, more minuscule than one could accuse the average SJW of leveraging, could launch us into epic tales of our plight at the hands of an unjust external reality. The only difference is that the audience size of our victimhood narratives is often restricted to the lone observer of our own internal witness.
But I think the SJW role goes beyond just revealing how and why it doesn’t serve to be a victim. They also show how much our conduct towards others really counts. Resilience and stoicism have a certain value, but may not do as much to shake up our collective ignorance.Is their approach so wrong-footed? Sure they aren’t doing anything to heal their personal Samskara, but their focus is intended to be outward, in the mitigation of society’s tendency to create Samskara. And if you’re wondering why it’s University students seeking Samskaric solvency over those that have experienced real struggle and degradation, it is their very privileged position that has allowed them the boldness to animate our collective damage. Where are the real victims promoting change? Well, truly heavy burdens of Samskara can often leave us too paralyzed to even approach them, and the oppressed classes are not always up to the task of real fighting. So other classes appoint themselves as advocates. And although its easy to see a somewhat fraudulent appropriation of victimhood in the SJW campaign, they are also a visible and vital host that the virus of our collective wounds have found refuge in. Ones with vocal chords as loose as their grip on their dignity, and most willing to sacrifice their respectability in the name of revealing our own tendency to create victims of others – and ourselves.
However, another example the SJW movement may supply us with is how little return we will get from controlling the world’s language. And we will get to witness a potential trade-off that has to happen when a fight for societal change is made: if the environment is called to change it means the individual doesn’t have to. Sometimes the onus lays on society’s side, which obligates it to catch up to the strength of its individuals. But here we get to see the lab results of a call for society to catch up to its weakness, and whether controlling our environment’s minutest challenges to the ego will lead to anything but habituated fragility. In part II, I will discuss the subject more deeply, along with potentially better approaches to creating social change than this clumsy dualistic game.