Archive for the ‘identity’ Category

Some things I can do . . . .

June 27, 2017

Some things I can do and some I can’t

I’ve torn a muscle in my shoulder. It’s a ‘complete tear’ which means that I have no strength in my upper arm at all, while my forearm and hand are exactly as usual. This is really weird: when I need the hand, I pick up my arm with my right hand and put it where it’s needed, or else I can use my fingers to crawl it into position.

a selfie of my shoulder

So I thought it would be entertaining to make lists of what I can and can’t do. In fact, there’s not much I can’t do, one way or another.

A. Things I really can’t do.

– blowdry my hair
– swim (but I bet I could float about)
– drive the car
– open a bottle of fizzy wine
– put a clean duvet cover on the duvet
– use the garden clippers – the little box bush and the clematis montana are rampant
– carry out the recycling box
– get to the loo in time, while wearing jeans
– put on a normal T-shirt
– climb the loft ladder
– fix that bally curtain rail each time it comes out
– pick up my baby grandson Danny
– mow the grass
– chop an onion

B. Things I can do with difficulty and/or some ingenuity/patience

– pull up my pants evenly
– hang out the washing (in small amounts)
– read a heavier book for long (paperbacks are easier)
– groom the dog – he’s getting better at that: previously I had to hold him still with one hand
– do up my shoelaces
– put on a really loose T-shirt
– dress myself, in general
– peel a vegetable (in this case, a sweet potato)
– type on a keyboard
– clip on the dog lead
– sleep (except sitting up) – but that’s because of the pain, not the muscle weakness
– refill the bird feeder – actually, it’s hanging it back up on the tree that I can’t do
– refill the cold water dispenser in the fridge

C. Things I can still do pretty much as normal. It’s a really big category. It’s a category as big as life, as wide as being.  Beginning with:

– walk the dog
– vacuum clean the house
– wash up
– sew

read, think, talk, love, write, sing –

I can do everything, really.

ultrasound scan – I love it that they can look inside our bodies.

Shrink this for better resolution.

Identity and empathy: and student housing

July 15, 2015

The previous post was about poverty, biography and the past. You might see this one as a sort of continuation.

Suzanne Moore wrote in The Guardian (18th June 2015) – her usual interesting, thoughtful kind of piece about a current event (the case of a white American, Rachel Dolezal, who pretended to be authentically black) and from this Moore developed some ideas about identity and understanding that are fundamental to our common humanity.

Like Moore, I want to challenge the assumption that we need to have had an experience ourselves in order to know what it would feel like to others. This challenge involves a concept of what art is, and how we use art to show us how things are felt. Why else would we read Les Murray on his childhood poverty? Why else would we suddenly know that we need to see yet another production of Hamlet? Or read another 400-page Ferrante novel? Not because we have had those experiences – grinding poverty, murdered fathers, Neapolitan love affairs – but precisely because we haven’t. Like all broad assertions this one has its problems: there, are, perhaps, necessary hooks which we recognise in these works of art; familiar pathways we can follow into the unknown woods of new understanding. But I am tacking away from Moore’s drift.

I’ll italicise her stuff so you can see which is hers and which is mine. The piece is excerpted, because it’s not Dolezal I’m interested in, so much as what Moore makes of her.

What is at issue, what is eating away at our certainties, is this notion of authenticity.

It has been important that a political understanding of identity, whether around race, class or gender, insists on the primacy of lived experience. We literally need to speak for ourselves, instead of having others define us and speak for us. Experience matters. This woman, then, cannot know what it is actually like to have black skin; her privilege is enacted exactly through her insistence that racial identity is a choice.

She could instead have imagined what it is like to be black and spoken from that position. Why was that not enough? It seems to me that something quite disturbing is happening here that we are seeing more and more of, especially on social media and that is connection without empathy. There is now, on every level, unprecedented access to the lives of others but there is also something vicarious in this access. “I can feel your pain without going through it myself,” says the empathetic person. “I can feel your pain and speak for you,” says the psychopath.

Somewhere in the middle of all this is surely a position where one can acknowledge difference but express a desire to stand together: good old-fashioned solidarity. Something has become completely skewed if one can only ever speak for oneself and never anyone else. Actual politics becomes undoable. Instead it is replaced by the constant policing and bickering in a war of positions based on smaller and smaller identities. 

The personal is then seen as the only guarantor of the real and desire for the authentic is everywhere. The yearning of the Labour party right now to be represented by a real person . . . – is part of this.

Yet all of us are told constantly both to be ourselves and to make ourselves up. You can be anything you want to be and you must keep it real are the twin messages. However artfully constructed our identities are, they rub up against lived experience and actual biology. Dolezal can argue all she likes that race is a social construct, but it is a social construct with very real consequences.

The ability to imagine someone else’s pain or oppression is different to claiming it for oneself. This ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, to identify beyond the narrow realms of one’s own experience, is actually fundamental to any kind of political movement. This kind of empathy leads to action; this kind of empathy makes us human. Without it, we can watch migrants drown.

That’s the big picture – a global picture. What about here, in our own towns? Without empathy we fail to build practical housing in our locality, just because we are already well-housed. Should we really use the town’s houses and building spaces to accommodate well-heeled students, who already have other homes to go to? Will the forthcoming student Macmansions really bring in enough cash to build houses for our own poor?  I don’t think so – they just enrich the builders.  Money passes from the rich to the rich, via the housing stock.


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