Exploring Identity

Identity is not, despite the way that our language expresses it, found, discovered, or uncovered, but rather it is constructed. Through the normal process of life, our actions inform the people we become — We are our deeds.

Identity is not static. Once constructed, Identity remains in some way fluid. As young people, we experiment with identities like someone might experiment with hair styles — everyone remembers that regrettable Goth phase from their youth — but as time passes and we mature, these changes, this identity drift, tends to be slower, and, absent an existential crisis, less radical. Yet it does change. The people we are today are very different than the ones we were 5 or 10 years ago.

Identity is not autonomous. While ultimately, our identities are the results of our choices, those choices do not exist in a vacuum. Aspects of identity are imposed in the same way that our orlæg is imposed. Ask any African American how much self determination they have in constructing their own identities. Each person must balance the desires of their families, the demands of society, and their own often conflicting wishes when deciding who it is that they want to be. The tragedy of most identity is that for many people, if not most, those decisions are never made in the context of the character they wish to worth for themselves.

The spectrum of identity between imposition from outside to self determination is a pendulum. It swings between one extreme, where identity is entirely imposed by the community (such as with caste societies, for example) to the other, where identity is entirely self-directed (such as what we currently see in modern society). Right now, the pendulum is pretty far towards to the individualistic side of the spectrum. And it is only a matter of time before the pendulum swings the other way.

Extremes tend to be problematic, and those caught in the grip of extremism tend to be blind to those problems. In the past, a social model of imposed identity was problematic because it was often brutal to outlier cases, where individuals did not fit the spectrum of acceptable identity (soldier, worker, or priest, for example) or who wished to express an identity that they were not entitled to, such as a peasant aspiring to nobility, or a woman wanting to do something different from being a wife/mother.

The current trend of self-directed identity is not without its own problems. The first is to note that there is a sizable population of people who are better off having received their identity. They do not have the kind of personality nor disposition to make the honest self-assessments required for charting their own identity. They seek instead the kinds of communal affirmation that people have long sought out since before humanity was even homo sapiens. These people take the identity they are given and never stray very far from it. They thrive on the structure that a community given identity provides. Given clear expectations and directions, they live within that structure and do exceedingly well as productive members of society. Absent that structure, however, they flounder, unsure and unable to make the decisions necessary to craft their own identity. Popular culture, raised on the stories lionizing people who defied the status quo and made their own way in the world, would celebrate this lack of structure as fundamentally freeing. But to the great many people incapable of this level independence, such lack of structure is debilitating, a kind of slavery, and ultimately opens them up to predators and con artists who sense an opportunity and will step in to provide an identity where none exists.

Why does this, or even should this question matter? To the Heathen, even in today's socially permissive, individualized identity lionizing culture, Heathenry is transgressive. We rely on the individuals capable of independent identity to choose to create a community defined one. We are creating that community identity for our children, and the children of our co-religionists. And if we don't create identities that show a range between community and individual expressions, we will not create a culture that can perpetuate itself. Heathenry is more than just a religion. It is about identity and ethnogenesis. Understanding what identity is and how it works is paramount to being able to navigate the coming identity backlash, and being able to ensure that our peoples — nebulous and coalescing as they may currently be — can take this thing we're building from us and create things that we never would have thought possible, outshining us and become better heathens than we could ever be.

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