Thursday, August 25, 2011

Your identity is constructed by your body, not your mind

I felt like taking the time to write another one of our patented non-metal metal posts, again about a more philosophical/psychological issue that might resonate with some of you reading this. In this case, I wanted to talk a little bit about identity and how it's formed- definitely the sort of question you see brought up here and there in the metal scene. How many threads on metal forums have you seen like this: "Are you a metalhead?" "What's real black metal?"

Well? Are you a metalhead?

The answer to the question's always seemed pretty clear to me: yes, you are. A metalhead is, at its most base level, a person that listens to heavy metal music. If you listen to heavy metal music, you are a metalhead. You don't get to redefine what a metalhead is, you don't get to rationalize that you're not even if you do listen to heavy metal- you simply are. If you want to change that, you don't change it by repeatedly stating that you aren't, in fact, a metalhead- you do it by not listening to metal.

As western culture has become more and more infatuated with choice, individuality, and simple statements of identity, it has become more and more distant from the idea of identity arising from itself, growing organically from the decisions a person makes and the actions they take in life. Look, for instance, at modern views of gender: all that's required for me to state that I am, in fact, female, is to say that I am. There are no qualifiers, there's no demands or guidelines as to what female is, hell, there's not even a concept of authenticity in the statement itself. It becomes a matter of self-definition: because I state what I am, everyone around me is forced to appreciate it, because the self is the inherent end of all things.

Unfortunately, this does not functionally work in everyday society, and acting as though one can be self-defined through cognition alone points to a massive sort of cognitive dissonance. You can tell the people who act this way from others because they suggest that all sorts of things are outside themselves. For instance, if such a person is caught shoplifting in a store, they will repeatedly state that "Yes, I did that, but I'm really not that sort of person." But you are, aren't you? You shoplifted, thus -> you are a shoplifter. You don't get to make the acceptance of that title a matter of your own decision-making- you do it by no longer shoplifting if you don't want to be considered a shoplifter by the people around you.

The refusal to allow identity to grow from one's own actions points to a few things in a human's personality:

1. Immense dissatisfaction with the self. People who are unable to accept the choices they've made that lead to titles and descriptions that they dislike are those who seek to redefine themselves manually. By describing themselves repeatedly as a certain kind of person, they truly believe that this will make them that ideal- of course, this is an inevitable recipe for self-loathing and intense personal dissatisfaction, which is the road to crippling depression and a deranged, dissociated sense of self. The solution to this: let your actions state by themselves what sort of person you are. If you do that, you'll never have any trouble knowing your own identity.

2. An extreme degree of selfishness and self-centeredness. On top of a need to control one's own identity, these people also firmly believe that they're CAPABLE of determining their own identity. The biggest lie we tell ourselves on a daily basis is that we don't care how others perceive us; this is fine, but it becomes a problem when we refuse to face the reality that others' perceptions have a great impact on our own lives. The narcissistic types who believe they can self-determine identity staunchly refuse to believe this, and are firmly convinced that anyone with a different view of who they are are simply ignorant or misguided. Why this ends up being destructive doesn't need to be elaborated upon.

3. This sort of thinking creates an inability to change. When one's own thought processes usurp one's actions in their relative importance, this sort of person makes their whole life about cognitively identifying and reidentifying themselves rather than taking steps to actually change what they do. As this pattern becomes more and more firmly ingrained in the person, their narcissistic obsession with self-identification slowly takes over their lives, forcing a person into desperately affirming that they're okay when they and those around them know that there's something deeply wrong with them.

Self-identifying is okay when it comes in the pursuit of actual change; after all, to stop being an alcoholic, one has to redefine themselves as the sort of person who doesn't drink anymore. However, after that affirmation must come immediate action, or the affirmation itself spirals out of control and becomes poisonous to one's own goals. I'll paraphrase another writer: "Never tell anyone else what you're doing, or they'll encourage you to death." The only thing I would add to that statement is to never tell yourself, either.


  1. I liked this post. You touched on some things that interest me.

    "If you listen to heavy metal music, you are a metalhead."

    It might be the case that listening to heavy metal is a necessary but not sufficient condition for being a metalhead. So the people who listen to heavy metal but refuse to self-identify as metalheads might be having some thought like "I'm just a person who listens to heavy metal. In order to be a metalhead, I would have to accept a bunch of other subcultural baggage, and I do not." And such a person might be speaking truly, if their definition of "metalhead" is correct. I don't really see a clear way of adjudicating this sort of dispute. I mean, judging from my experience, it seems clear that there is this divergence of usage of the term "metalhead" among the people who listen to this stuff. I think that, as is the case with a lot of semantic disputes, settling this issue would be more like making a decision than actually *discovering how the world really is*.

    "You shoplifted, thus -> you are a shoplifter."

    I don't know, am I? I once shoplifted when I was 11 years old, but... A lot of these kinds of terms seem to correctly apply to individuals only if the individuals in question have certain dispositions and habits. A clear example of this would be "guitar player." The term "shoplifter", on the other hand, seems less clear to me in this sense, and I guess there is a use of that term along the lines of what you're thinking of. The example would have been better, in my opinion, if it were something like "If you listen to a bunch of metal music all the time, you're a metalhead, just like if you frequently shoplift, you're a shoplifter. No question about it." I don't think this unclarity really affects the overall point you're making, but it's something I just had to nitpick about.

  2. if you shoplift, you are a shoplifter until the point in time in which you prove through your actions that you are more responsible, truthful, and trustworthy than a shoplifter is. yes, it is abstract and unclear and nonspecific. but such is life.

  3. yes


    talk with a fist than with a lipstick