The Words We Use

The limits of my language are the limits of my world. – Ludwig Wittgenstein

A recent discussion tickled me. It revolved around an individual’s identity and stemmed from the statement “I’m [x] by blood.”
This intrigued me because the [x] offered is cultural, neither biological nor genetic, and once we get beyond culture and avoiding physiognomics, our [x]’s are matters of choice.
Someone offered that all [x] carry certain genetic markers which give them identity.
Well…first, not all [x] do and second, in a landscape where genetic therapies are increasingly available and where CRISPR technology gives people the ability to change their genetic makeup in the womb…I wondered if the speaker had ever read Nancy Kress’ Beggars in Spain or seen GATTACA (both highly recommended).
The modern landscape culturally allows gender – perhaps the most basic biologic marker – fluidity and dynamicism. Further, gender identity is often a matter of how an individual chooses to define themselves, not their natural biology or reproductive design.
If nothing else, we as a species should be anxious…
And note in the above: “…how an individual chooses to define themselves…” I don’t know any emergency room doctors who check how a person chooses to self-identify before performing life-saving surgery.
But it’s been a while since I was in an emergency room and things might have changed since then.
CRISPR, genetic manipulation and surgical techniques allow us to increasingly design what we are and definitely what are children will be. Consider a future where Beggars in Spain and John Crowley’s Beasts are the norm.
And notice I didn’t use “who” in the above. “Who” is a matter of choice. It must be in a world where “what” can be altered at an online pharmacy or from a back alley dealer.
Genetic testing is a wonderful thing…so long as one understands what is being revealed versus what is being hyped. Indicating someone is “[x] by blood” is good marketing, not good science. Genetic variants are determined by environment and evolution. Indicating someone is “[x] by blood” actually indicates where their ancestors dwelt for a predetermined time, and that predetermined time generally covers only a few thousand years. Go back to the mid-1100s and Europeans and Asians are related due to the Mongols. Go back to the late 700s and all Europeans are related. Thank goodness our deep history ancestors shifted from hunter-gatherer to agrarian societies. At that point people stopped migrating. We know from archeological evidence Europe was swept by seasonal migrations back as far as 25,000BC.

Caitlyn Jenner is really a poof, right? Because Bruce really just wanted to wear women’s clothing, right?
Does Ms. Jenner know what she’s done? Surely she remembers Olympic glory. But according to the definitions of [x], she can’t. She’s no longer the person who won all those medals.
When shall we go ask for them back?

Don’t forget, No Sabo people are not Latin(x, y, or z) because you can’t claim to be South or Central American unless you speak Spanish. I hope someone tells the Brazilians!
Who decided Spanish is the main language spoken across Latin America, or that you can’t claim Latin origins unless you speak Spanish hence have no right to claim that identity. But I think that’s a huge misconception because there are so many languages that are spoken across Latin America. Spanish isn’t even native to Latin America, right? And so to use it as, like, a metric of Latinidad is really – it’s pretty ridiculous.

Someone offered that [x] is a based on ethnicity, education, culture, … One raised a certain way is a certain thing.
I wonder what Henry the 8th would say to that. So he’s still a catholic even though he founded Anglicanism? I hope all members of affiliated churches bend their knees at the right altar.
And Siddhartha Gautama. Is he really Shakya royalty who faked enlightenment? Perhaps we should let Buddhists know their enlightened path is based on the teachings of someone who doesn’t know who they really are.
Mohammed will forever be an Arab orphan raised by paternal relations, correct? He may have founded Islam but really, let’s be honest, he isn’t one.
And we should let Christians know that all of Christ’s teachings are based on material which was in circulation from the Mediterranean to the Indian subcontinent, up through much of what is now eastern Europe and western Asia, and down through much of eastern and northern Africa, and all centuries if not millennia before Christ’s PR and marketing people got a hold of it.
I mean, they’re not really Christians, they’re Pereanites!
Talk about repackaging and rebranding!
Or that the holy books of judiasm are based on written work compiled before judiasm was judiasm?
I know good authors borrow and great authors steal, but come on…

And while we’re at it, I’m pretty sure Li Po and a few others have something to say about how the word Tao is being used these days…

In the end, me thinks, it all comes down to self-identification (and again recognizing certain physiognomic factors come into play).
To that point, I wondered why Othello never suffered racial and/or ethnic prejudice and bigotry.
The reason is simple, really. There simply weren’t enough individuals of his racial and ethnic heritage to warrant prejudice and bigotry.
I mean, when you do violence to the only individual of a group because no others of that group are around, the violence is personal, not racial, not ethnic.
But let’s face it. Isn’t all violence personal?

So how do you self-identify, Joseph?
I believe Jiddu Krishnamurti is correct:

When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European, or anything else, you are being violent.
Do you see why it is violent?
Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence. So a man who is seeking to understand violence does not belong to any country, to any religion, to any political party or partial system; he is concerns with the total understanding of mankind.

And I detest violence in any form.

I also believe Rick Turcozy is correct when he says “I am not defined. I am a vessel of unlimited possibilities.”
(I’ll bow out of the unlimited part, though)

Several of my teachers and mentors used the phrase “To learn anything you must learn everything.” They said it in different languages and it all came down to pretty much the same thing. Stephen Hawking said it more definitively, me thinks, “To truly create an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.”
Richard Feynman, mentioned above, also offered “You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you’re finished, you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird… So let’s look at the bird and see what it’s doing — that’s what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.”

You’re Avoiding the Question, Joseph
Okay, alright.
As mentioned above, I self-identify in a way most people don’t or wouldn’t: I’m boring and dull.
Why do I do so?
Because I know me, and as far as I can figure, it’s true.
Remember, folks. Don’t be easy to define, let them wonder about you.