” A forest bird never wants a cage. »
Do we need a collective identity for subverting the Existent? Sometimes in the midst of a more or less large group, we get to lose sight of our own identity in favor of the collective identity. For many, the group is the only way to socialize, communicate, to confront ourselves, but within the group our conducts become ritualized, then we acquire a common language, and often we end up identifying to the group itself.
For as long as the individual persists in having an open view on knowledge, sourced in their own experiences, perceptive and cognitive capacities in their perpetual evolution, the endeavor with one or many groups does not represent a problem. But it is when we seek to stabilize ourselves in our belonging to a collective with a shared, determined ideology that arises the problem of the identitary. To define identity is difficult; it can easily become an artificial exercise. It is a concept which holds a multitude of meanings, differing for every one of us, and is therefore impossible to understand in a unequivocal manner. I do not seek to risk such an enterprise of definition, but will rather attempt to distinguish at the level of personal identity, proper to every individual.
I mean by individual identity what encompasses all the characteristics and particularities that belong to us and that allow for describing ourselves to the rest of the world. We construct our own subjective identities by absorbing what surrounds us and through our experiences; we integrate this to what we are.
Collective identity, on the contrary, appears when we are focusing primarily on the elements that unites us with or differentiates us from others, including and excluding, accordingly with commonly shared categories. When the character of a community is designated as “identitary”, this implies the ignorance or inacceptance of diversity internal to this community. A group provides with a uniform which makes us conform to the protective cocoon, and so we defend the truth that the group is dispensing us.
The fact of being a member of a same nation, a same social class, cultural level, ethic group, gender, profession, religion and so on, may either include us within a collective identity or being a common character among many others. Within the collective dimension, the individual identity remains in the shadow, for eventually rallying to something that assimilates it to others, and allows to be part of a characterized collectivity. Nationalism, may it be perceived as an ideology of liberation for the oppressed, as the product of propaganda by the ideology of a State’s supremacy on another, is an example of this.
A collectivity is considered to be depositary of the typical, consolidated values of a cultural and spiritual heritage of a people or ethnic group, to an extent where it renders its commutable members as all “equals”. In such identitary construct we so all equally see ourselves as Italians, Spanish, Sards or Basques.
The very fact of belonging to a same gender within a same nation, having the same age or social role within a family, or within a same social class, may be a push for an identification to a more minimal common denominator; it can be built upon the verifiable premises of identification, based on the distribution of a section of a bigger, more complex whole. Collective identity only pretends to be one of the several aspects of our totality, and then we make it into a bulwark to be defended. The properties that can be used to associate anything around a common definition are defended and exarcerbated for building an identity, then it will then safekeep its adherents from those who are different.
As I was saying at the start, a collective identity is therefore seen as a socialization process based on the will of a “being part of”, therefore a “being like everybody else”. We support the bulk of actions and practices put in the game by the individuals on the basis of reciprocal emulation mechanisms via the systems of beliefs, opinions, representations and values that united them. Within such a construct we demand, more or less explicitly, a professional of faith from the collective being that is non-negotiable. The identitary adhesion claims the suppression of personal liberty, and equally the exclusion and annihilation of the one not willing to share.
Hence we identify what represents a specific collective identity, where the members would distinguish from those that aren’t, but identical with each other, as they were carrying the uniform of the collective, or signs which carry an implicit imperative leading to the orthodoxy of homogeneity. An identitary mentality then develops, which aspires to supplant free thinking, substituting it with a dogma that’s been internalized as truth, as an untouchable ideal, where every disagreement is preemptively condemned.
Anyone part of such collective identity, even when alone, shall no longer be left to themself, but appreciated by their belonging to the collective, taken as a characteristic personal trait. And then arises the notion where the community represents a world of values that exist independently form the will and rational choice of individuals; a community permeated by racial, linguistic, cultural and even territorial tradition, in which the individual is expected to acquire a consciousness of their self, functions, rights and goals to align with their personal choices.
Through belonging to a community, with its own rules, every component locates themself as an availability they are finding, thanks to the frontiers and demarcations with everything in the outside world, that reassures and confers them with a kind of consolidation, considered both common and oneself. Whoever is part of it will rest assured within in it, and will feel as its valiant knight, standing up to every new threat looming over the horizon. Whoever is part of it will be ready to struggle by feeling involved. If we adhere to the collective cause to defend by making common choices we can count on the assumption of not being left behind in the storm or in the claws of repression. Support will be enabled on the condition where each member avoids saying things that depart from this contractual “we” defined by identity.
According to this reasoning, for fighting isolation, competitiveness, frustration, productivity, alienation and the survival conditions exacerbating these, or just for fighting the opposite team, all that is required is to join a group: anyone would feel afflicted by regret, misfortune, power abuse, or just threatened by the otherness that pushes them to share their own destiny with their peers, but the poor abandoned creature will find themselves reinforced through being a protagonist in this common identity.
Collective identity does not support anybody else than one’s self; its worldview must be determined, closed and exhaustive, most of the time unmovable, as it fears and fights heresy. To define yourself as feminist, antiracist, antifascist, ecologist, precarious, unemployed, student, unionist, evicted, NoTAV, member of the Party, indignado or animalist; to assume a label that makes you identifiable means to feel represented by the customs related to the chosen definition, within its limitations. This also means to have an enemy in anyone who fails to support or hinders the shared ideology. Who carries a common identity, and defines themself on the basis of a belonging, has a tendency to amalgamate the inner characteristics to their own identity-building. This results in a system that is structured accordingly with the categories of identify and otherness, and their irremediable oppositions.
In order to become part of these groups, too often we renounce to our own identity for internalizing a collectivity, and through this we see ourselves marked by a social role, united with other people within a relation of identification with this same object we perceive as oppressing. I am not saying that occupying a particular theme means that we’ll fall within an identitary trap, there are individuals that risk engaging in struggles without needing to completely cancel themselves through the thought and action common to members of a similar cause. The individual may remain present within these groups, but we’re having a glimpse of them when we decide to abandon this kind of identity uniform brought upon them.
A collective identity reacts to contradictions, to problems, and has the means to uniform the responses or non-responses to these, deresponsibilizing in this manner those affiliated with this united collectivity; a collective identity to immunize from the critiques and sabotage from others; it is capable of overcoming the fear of the unknown, to balance the good and the bad aspects, the inclusions and exclusions. Within such a common identity, we feel comforted inside the walls of this impregnable fortress erected to protect us from the threats of the different.
An individual with a cold is an individual. Hundreds of individuals with a cold are individuals who due to an epidemic or a sudden climate change are affected by this cold. Hundreds of individuals that define and defend themselves as “the cold” are therefore a collective identity.
In the movie V for Vendetta inspired by the Alan Moore comic book, it is evident that the masks aren’t used for covering faces as much as they are about manifesting a collective identify. The mask of Guy Fawkes, the man who has lived at the turn of the 17th century, has become a symbol for protest movements around the globe. As we all know it’s been worn in several movements such as OWS; then in the Million Mask March in protest against cyber-spying programs in the US as well as the power of the banks. When this mask becomes a common iron-branding, an easy placard for expressing dissent, up against tyranny, it carries along with it an ideology which reeks of sectarianism; then come the shouted slogans, and then the logos and names that’ll recuperate on these different movements scattering around, using their own strategy and homogeneity of judgement.
Even the Invisible Committee, author of The Coming Insurrection pamphlet, undergoes the promotion of an identity-building that gathered a lot of success with anarchists, among others. This pamphlet, published in 2007, was an unprecedented commercial success, just like the comic book cited above. If there wasn’t as many readers of this book than spectators of the latter movie this might be only be because images are also touching those that don’t read. This book offers a political project with an existential alternative that calls for the constitution of ideologically-marked commons where the “I”, weak and confronted to thousand adversaries, can be substituted by a “we” or “us”. A “we” empowered by the same fact of being a “we”, capable of clearly manifesting itself, making individuals invisible and mutually indistinguishable, and equally by a common identity. Their disguise is that of the ordinary man, without any distinct traits. Their language is the most popular they can afford, that of bistros, the one that commands the commonplace to be more orderly. Their gregarious form is that of bands, mafias…
Unicity has to be refused, for it is not easily controllable; even if the one who wrote this book is not aspiring to be part of this herd, he seeks to be the shepherd. The writers have love for anything that can hold a gregarious character, as this allows for having a sufficient mass at their disposal for the insurrection to come, all is needed is to hold on to their instructions. The book is in fact a follow-up to a call made in a previous text (itself named The Call), a call that already contained the idea of a common identity, as remedy to all the ills, of which this apology was served as the only solution for freeing ourselves from oppression.
But these are only a few examples.
Going back to the initial question, and realizing that I find to be confronting myself always more to diverse identity offers, thought as life projects, or as carrying struggles or resistance, I’m asking myself whether those have to be thought as necessary for a subversion of power.
Alas, on my part, or “fortunately” as some others would say, it is undeniable how some people are resenting the need for a collective identity with all that implies; such as these identity groups currently proliferating there and there, at individuality’s detriment. The indigest, mythified unicity in itself seems to be wanting to be rejected; where individuality becomes synonymous with isolation when it is not disposed to adapt to a given common sense, to flatten itself for finding a more incisive force within the collectivity.
Always according to others, the lonely individuals are frail, and above it, not prone on ceding to collective will, they are not presenting with a sufficient workforce at their disposal. Thus, the shepherds don’t like the individual, to a point that they’ll make us believe that the latter is bad, for themself if they do not blend, and for the collectivity, quantitatively impoverished from their absence.
I therefore conclude by asserting that collective identities represent the negation of the potential for upheaval, or at least its momentary shelving, basing itself on an authority while seeking to subvert only the authority of the other.
(published in ” Blasphemia », May 2014.
Translated to French by Diomedea in ” Hérésie », n° 1, Winter 2017
Translated and adapted to English by Fauvenoir, Summer 2020),
Found on Bourrasque