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Back to the Subject of the Self By Frederick Luis Aldama
I want to reassess at length some assumptions about the basic property of our existence: the constitution of self. Here, I do not aim to have the last word on defining the self and its constitutive ethnic, sexual, and gendered elements, nor do I seek to replay those au courant abstract and obscurantist metaphysical formulations. Instead, I aim to refine an understanding of self by exploring how it is biologically and socially constituted. As such, I inform my discussion of the self with discoveries in neuroscience and biology (cognitive, neural, and evolutionary) as well as with the material facts that make up our reality (today and yesterday). As such, I depart from the common doxa that considers the empirically testable and objectifiable (biological, socio-historical) materiality of reality as de facto an ideological appendage to an oppressive Western hegemony. Instead, I propose that verifiable information and common sense hypotheses can provide the raw material needed for us to pour a solid foundation for the building of an understanding of what constitutes the self (ethnosexual or otherwise). Science (mostly pseudo) has certainly been used by oppressive elites to justify racism and bigotry, but the massive epistemological advances made as a result of scientific investigation have also allowed for subaltern subjects worldwide to prevent exploitation and oppression. It is in the spirit of this latter position that I wish to work.
To base an understanding of the self in the empirically verifiable and material conditions that make up our past and present reality doesn't mean that I seek to elevate to the level of science my interest literary analysis. Nor does it suggest that my analysis of literature and film will help advance--even transform--those scholarly fields I draw from such as cognitive and neuroscience, history, linguistics, and psychology.. Nor is it meant to level the playing field between science and that of, say, history or literary analysis in the manner of social constructivism that proposes all aspects of our reality to be equal. I intend such scholarly research outside of my primary field to serve as ancillary tools (a few of many others available) that will clarify and make sense (common) of how power, knowledge, and subjectivity really work in the real world. I turn to such tools as a way to lift a foreboding silence that has blanketed straightforward discussion of the subject of the self (subject/identity) as a result of in-vogue obscurantist, contentless, and regressively tautological formulations.
We must "look and go" (cf. Paul Celan) to those fields of inquiry anchored in verifiable fact to better understand how representation and characterization of ethnoqueer subjects in Chicano/a letters refer to something--and not the meaninglessness and indefinite deferral of meaning otherwise promoted. Here, we must hold two ideas in our minds: that narrative fiction is always a representation (while it refers to the real hors texte it follows its own rules of organization) that differs from those biological and socially instituted facts that make up the real world. As the French poet Mallarmé once wrote, "un coup de dés jamais n'abolira la réalité. He could have just as easily proclaimed, "jamais n’abolira la vérité." What follows in this introduction aims to shed light on the vérité (truth) of our many sociocultural activities: the making of and engaging with literature and film.
Subject of the Self
"The proper study of Mankind is man" declares Alexander Pope. My contemporary spin on this adage reads: The proper study of humankind is the socio-biologically constituted self. Indeed, as a result of the massive advances in science (biochemistry, genetics, neuro and cognitive science, linguistics, evolutionary psychology) and progress made in the fields of sociology and history we can have a "proper" study of "man"--a study that shuns older and contemporary behavioral and social constructionist (blank slate) paradigms that lead nowhere. Prima facie, the notion of the self implies the notion of individuality. At the most basic level, this means that the self is a bounded, living organism that envelopes billions of bounded cells. At this most basic level, the self is that body which distinguishes between what is in and what is out. This separate and bounded body is a first level of both sameness (our species specific universally shared biological blueprint that maintains a functioning internal state) and difference (me as bounded entity that is different to all that's apart from me).
Though it has yet to map the brain's complex bio- chemical, neuronal, and affective processes completely, scientific research on the brain can help us refine this initially crude formulation of the self. Its advances poco a poco have provided a solid, material basis for understanding the self's constitution and function. I think here of the scientifically grounded and testable hypotheses formulated by those scholars included in The Self from Soul to Brain (2003). Such path breaking scholars and scientists as Antonio Damasio, Erik Kandel, Naomi Quinn, Henry Moss, Jacek Debiec, and Joseph E. LeDoux further establish how the brain's total cognitive and affective processes (the neuronal, synaptic, and bio-chemical activity that allows for the selection, storing, retrieval of memory and emotion) constitute the self. This and other such scholarship identifies the importance of the brain/body's necessary engagement with objects and organisms other than itself both at the cellular (metabolic regulation and basic learned response mechanisms) and at the more general social level; the self is the result of the complete workings of hard-wired activity in the brain and simultaneously the result of engagement with that outside of itself. Our individual mind/body's engagement with the world leads to different behaviors and habits unique to each one of us; this is what we commonly call personality. Morphological and phenotypical variation aside, this is why every person we encounter is different to an infinite degree as each of us can behave and subscribe to ideas in an infinite number of ways. I don't mean to posit that personality (individual behavior, opinion, and so on) is a phenomenological manifestation of the self, but rather that it results from that cluster of traits (good or bad, and so on) that constitute the self of the person.
Although there are many differences (personality traits) from person to person, there is much that remains stable and the same in the organic blueprint of the self. We are individual, unique, and changing (even at the cellular level), but we are also biologically and socially constant. That we are predictable provides practical everyday advantages. If we were to behave in unpredictable and inconsistent ways, we would face some serious survival problems. Would we risk driving a car if we couldn't predict the behavior of others? So, while we might experience personal epiphanies and transformations of opinion or might change chameleon-like within different social spheres (the way I act at work is not the same as at home) such transformations don't alter fundamentally the blueprint of our biogenetic (cognitive and neural) self. Stability at the social and bio-chemical level supersedes individually willed self-transformations.
The sociobiological self experiences a constancy in change. In The Feeling of What Happens (1999) Antonio Damasio further elaborates, identifying the interaction between a "core self" that is a "transient entity [that is ceaselessly] re-created for each and every object with which the brain interacts" (17) and the "autobiographical self" that is "a nontransient collection of unique facts and ways of being which characterize a person" (17). In Homo sapiens sapiens, both core and autobiographical selves work seamlessly as one self as a result of our higher order consciousness, which is in turn formed by our engagement with the social; that is, our sense of a coherent narrative unit as both ceaselessly regenerative and bounded as a self-reflexive (acting) agent in a past, present, future world.
For our discussion of the human self (core, autobiographical, and higher consciousness) to mean anything, it must be distinguishable from everything else. Simply identifying it as different doesn't make the self a self, so what we must do is make a distinction between the self and that which is not the self that matters. For example, we can distinguish the chemical property of oxygen from that of, say, hydrogen, but we don't refer to oxygen or hydrogen as having a self. That is, in understanding what constitutes the self we must focus on how its difference makes a difference (cf. Leibnitz's principle of identity). That is, we must take into account not just distinctiveness and separation (isolation), but in the case of the human self, the notion of agency and responsibility. The action of, say, bacteria that causes another organism like ours to have a digestive problem is not an action with agency; hence, we never refer to the "self of a bacteria" because while it acts, its actions lack the component of agency and responsibility central to the constitution of the human self. When we do identify an amoeba as a pathological "agent" for dysentery we use the word in a technical sense that excludes any attribution of moral responsibility: No amoeba will be condemned in a court of law for causing dysentery.
Agency and responsibility are the difference that make a difference in determining the constitution of the human self. In the concluding essay to The Self from Soul to Brain Jacek Debiec and Joseph E. LeDoux have identified this central property not only as an adaptive function that arises out of our being social animals but that gives rise to higher order consciousness that becomes our guide to "authorship of action"--and authorship of emotion" (309). They elaborate, "The person who feels well for action typically then feels responsibility for that action, and so will also be susceptible to moral emotions such as pride or guilt depending on the action's effects" (309). Our self is biologically constituted and it has agency (responsibility) and the capacity for knowledge of self. So while our organic biochemical make up differs from other "minded organisms" that regulate life functions in response to the outside world, what makes a difference is how our biological organism develops necessarily within the social. Yes, our self is grounded in our organism's specific biological, physical, and chemical components. However, the way these elements work together determines the engagement (and sense of belonging) with the material (physical,, chemical, biological) and social world. Without appropriate and adequate neural stimulation, gene expression doesn't occur and so those elements that constitute extended or higher-order conscious selves don't develop. This is why child rearing practices share much in common cross culturally: all seek to create social environments that will most effectively trigger cognitive and emotive responses to allow for the healthy development of a sense of higher functioning self (self-reflexive, responsible, and so on). Without stimulus reinforcement and other conditioning responses (at the neuronal level), necessary gene expression would not occur; the growth of synaptic connections necessary for learning, for example, might not develop. And, likewise, the self of the person who suffers from chronic depression might experience a diminished will to live; the bio-chemical and the social interact in such a way as to create a less than vital experience and engagement with the world.
Do people such as schizophrenics whose biological functions do not allow for a sense of agency and responsibility lack a self? This is not so much an ethical or ontological question as it is a question of the presence or not of a higher consciousness self. Organisms that have a basic "mental concern over the organism's own life" (Damasio 25) in their regulation of metabolism and conditioned learning exhibit what Damasio identifies as "core consciousness"; we might identify this as a protean self where the organism is aware of the absolute "now" of itself only in the absolute now of time and space. While this might be the case in schizophrenics (and other non-normal functioning people), this is not the normal functioning, evolutionarily speaking, of Homo sapiens sapiens. Our organism's normal functioning is not that of a "minded organism" (cf. Damasio), but rather that which includes the full development of cognitive modules such as language, memory, and reason that make up our higher consciousness self--a self aware of itself in a present, past, and future as well as with an awareness of self-agency within a world beyond its boundaries (our imaginative capacity). It is a self that has developed a capacity for imagining (worldmaking), grammar, memory, empathy (that amplification of feeling for those separate from us), and to create maps of its own maps (as delineated in these pages, even). Our organism's normal functioning self is of a higher order; that those whose biological hard-wiring or social development has precluded this possibility doesn't mean a lack of self, simply a lack of this higher order self. It is this difference that makes a difference between us and other organisms as well as between those selves functioning as per a healthy evolutionary (reproductive) trajectory and those selves that have been left behind in the adaptive order of things.
As discussed, we are both a "basic-minded" (our habitual and "unconscious" biological functions like homeostatic regulation, metabolism, breathing, and so on) and a "higher-minded" organism (self-reflexive, imaginative, responsible, and so on). We have evolved a protean minded self that regulates and monitors everyday biological functions and that is an emanation of the body much like urine and mucus, as well as a higher-minded self that is the product of our engagement with the material and social world. I will turn to a discussion of those differences that make a difference in terms of this latter, higher minded self as developed in the social.
One way or another, many fashionable formulations of the self (subject/identity) theorize it as boundaryless (dis-embodied) and/or self-written/written upon; one way or another, they formulate the self as either willed or written into existence and/or as occupying all that exists in the universe. According to the basic principle of discernibility, this leads us nowhere in further refining our understanding of the self. Rather, as I've begun to formulate, the human minded self is distinguishable from other organic and non-organic entities, and it is so not just biologically (as discussed above), but because of this important and necessary element of the social. The human self that is one way or another unable to have a healthy engagement with the social never develops what we've identified as a higher minded self. We don't need to look to the example of schizophrenics to see this. We know from Piaget's work with children that those who are precluded from healthy social patterning (parenting, reward/punishment systems of learning) fail to develop healthy neurochemical brain functions (memory and language) that in turn allow for the development of a higher minded self. The age-old case in point, Caspar Hauser, who was raised completely in isolation from the social world, never developed some of those necessary elements (symbolic representation) that would allow him to develop a higher minded self. Of course, the mind/body's development of a higher-minded self begins much earlier in our development. We know from children conceived in countries where there is a shortage of food and basic health care, that even before the child is born it has been deprived of the basic nutrients necessary for it healthy biological development. It is our species' blueprint that determines that we can only exist, develop, and evolve as organisms intimately tied to other members of our species. Hence, in the case of the fetus developing in social conditions of insufficient nourishment, the social has already influenced the biological architecture to such a degree that once the child is born, its development of self has been already marked by such social conditions. So, while it is our organism's evolutionary strategy to develop a higher minded self, the social conditions do not necessarily guarantee its formation.
Our higher minded self is the healthy development and interplay between our biological make up and our social engagement. The social is all that is man-made and all of nature that we transform according to our given needs and concepts of our time. Hence, the configurations of the social change not just from place to place (the poor of Zimbabwe versus the rich of the United States), but also historically. The self is formed in history, beginning with our ancestors first organization into social units. There is a difference between the self conceived, born, and developed in the twenty-first century and the pre-agricultural self formed ten centuries ago. The self is not the same when free as it is when enslaved or when it exists in a feudal society. The self developed after the French Revolution swept away all remains of feudalism and the bourgeoisie rose to power is not the same self as that before the revolution. More generally, the self is not the same when living in a capitalist society where economics of private property determine everyday movement or restrictions of movement. The conception of self shifts along with the shifts of social transformation that make history and that result from the massive movements of people. So, in discussing the self, we must also keep an eye to its formation within the class struggle (to protect both one's individual and collective rights as worker and as owner of means of production.) For example, the self is not the same today in the U.S. where only 10 percent or less of the working class are unionized, as it was in the late 19th century. And, because the modern self formed within the framework of the modern nation-state that, as a result of the working class struggle, has had to guarantee rights and protections, to destroy this nation state, would be to destroy this self. The self under the tyrannical dictatorship of a Hitler, a Franco, or a Pinochet is one that, like the defenseless child to abusive parents, is one that exists in a total state of subordination. Finally, the self is not the same if one is a person bound to Mexico nationally then an Anglo bound to the U.S.; nor is it the same for the Mexican crossing borders for gainful employment today as it was for the homebound Mexican of yesteryear.
The understanding of the self (ethnosexual or otherwise) requires an understanding of the different ways that society has been organized in time and space. And each of these historical moments is shaped differently because of the different relations established between us in order to survive and develop as we metabolize nature for our survival; since the human being is part of nature, by transforming nature it transforms itself as nature. Moreover, we are unique in that our metabolizing of all of nature takes place necessarily in association with other members of the species: society. It this metabolizing of nature within the time and place of the social that allows us to establish that the self is constituted both biologically and socio-materially.
In understanding the self as formed in the social, we must further distinguish between society/culture and non-human world. As a part of nature, Homo sapiens sapiens is capable of reflecting on all aspects of nature as well as of modifying all of nature that surrounds him/her. This transformation is achieved through labor/work/practical activity that seeks to sustain itself and to perpetuate itself has to transform all the nature exterior to it, then you have a valid distinction between society and man, culture and nature, etc. Culture is the whole product of man's activities: language, cars, art, and bombs. The distinction between nature and culture is based on what is man-made and not man-made. However, all that is man-made is based on nature because man is a biological organism. This self-generating of man--that is, one part of nature--through his/her work produces what we call society and culture. Society being the specific form in which this part of nature can self-generate itself by association with other members of the same self-generating part of nature; in sum: society being simply the collective formed by individuals--humans--in order to be able to self-generate and self-reproduce. If man were not by necessity and therefore biologically hardwired to be gregarious; if man were an animal that had been hardwired to be isolated from the other animals, there would be no culture, no society, no man. Homo sapiens sapiens can only accomplish its self-generation and reproduction as a species by forming collectives. That which separates man from other animals in the animal kingdom is its specific mode of existence; its specific mode of self-generation and reproduction that leads to the production of what we call culture and society. Just as the spider is inseparable from its web (the mode of existence that allows it to reproduce and eat and continue living) so, too, does man have to spin out culture and society to live. When talking about the self of humankind, then, we are also talking about nature.
That the self is socio-biologically constituted means that the very conception of humankind (and even maybe our immediately pre-Homo sapiens sapiens ancestors) is that it is one fragment of nature. In order to subsist and to maintain our existence evolutionarily speaking, we self-generate and self-reproduce ourselves by producing society and culture. Just as spiders continue existing and reproducing themselves for hundreds of thousands of years by secreting, so, too, do humans secret society and culture to survive.
We have nature and only nature. Within this nature we have differentiation in the way that living organisms perpetuate themselves: the spider secreting its web and humans secreting culture and society to survive evolutionarily. If we diagrammed this as a series of sets, nature would be the largest circle and within this circle we would have the circle of animal kingdom (all living life from microbes to Homo sapiens sapiens), and within this smaller circle we would have mammals, and within the circle of mammals we would have mankind. All of these circles are included within the larger set: nature. Within this large set of living nature all living organisms manifest different ways of maintaining their existence (reproducing themselves) over time both individually and as a species. This is to say that the socio-biological self is formed within the social that is a part of this larger set we identify as nature. This is what makes us unique and individual (social beings) as well as what makes us a complete set as individual members that form the same species.
Why talk about all of this? Much of the theoretical formulation of the self circulating in the humanities today is completely devoid of a social materialist (historical) purview; many believe that the motor for historical shift is an abstracted movement from one idea to the next; others believe that a performative self can resist oppressive hegemonic master narratives. The human (higher minded) self is a self as formed in a society that is itself formed in history, which has been in recent times formed by the class struggle. So even before the self is ethnic or gendered, it is formed in relation to the class struggle (that has guaranteed rights and laws opposite to the interests of a ruling class) within the framework of the modern nation-sate. To understand today's self is to subordinate gender and ethnicity to an understanding of it as formed and developed within a capitalist society. It is also to see that capitalism is not a determined element of a natural (biologically determined) human self. It is to see it historically and as arising within these social conditions.
Does Identity Matter?
The question of the self and its identities is complex and yet very simple. When we speak of queer Chicano/a selves, we identify aspects that make up an individually and socially constituted self. Here, however, when talking of the self and its identities, I want to sidestep formulations of the self as performative and in-flux because to get to this point one must necessarily believe that everything that exists in the world is indeterminate. That is, there would be no difference that makes a difference in this infinitely regressive formulation: "borderland", "hybrid" and so on can be infinitely mixed and matched when talking about gay Chicano identity. Instead, I want continue to follow the basic principle of discernability to refine our understanding of queer Chicano/a identity.
Of course, as I've already discussed regarding our cellular and atomic constitution, nothing remains fixed and identical in the universe. However, this doesn't mean there isn't coherence and the a sense of permanence. Not one single atom that made up my bounded self at moment of writing this book will exist when it is finally in print, yet we can still identity me as Frederick Luis Aldama constantly. If there weren't a sense of coherence we wouldn't be able to refer to me as Frederick Luis Aldama, nor drive a car, nor study matter (the distinguishing between A and B in biology, physics, chemistry), nor use language and writing to make a study of queer Chicano/a literature and film. At this most basic level, then, we must be able to identify the difference between A and B not subjectively--as a notion that is invented and that depends on my existence--but objectively.
Let me clarify further. For the human being to survive and to exchange information with the world (its vital function as a biological organism) it has to develop a sense of self. This development includes the forming of an awareness of the difference between its self and rest of world; as this sense of difference develops we also develop a purposeful and intentional sense of acquiring and giving back information directly to the world. This world is constituted by all that exists outside of the human self; that is, if we were to disappear altogether as a species, rocks would still be rocks and they would still be different to water that would still be different from fire, and so on. The existence or disappearance of that outside the self doesn't depend on my existence nor on my higher minded self making distinctions. Even at this most basic level of understanding, we know then that there is a material and objective basis to establishing differences and therefore to identity.
Following this principle, then, we can't assert that, for example, it is biology that determines a queer Chicano/a identity. In the mapping of the human genome, we've determined genes for blood-group, skin and eye color, and so on, and we've even been able to follow from such genetic information ancestry: the genetic composition of a Native blood type in Northern American corresponds to that of a group in Asia, and thus we trace a line of descent for Native North Americans back to Asia. However, such a study doesn't alter the way the human race is characterized by a single genome that singularly characterizes our species and that first came out of Africa thousands of years ago. Namely, subordinate to my identification as queer and Chicano (or right handed with dark hair and of medium build) is my sociobiologial self as determined by genetic composition as a member of the human race.
Identities matter, of course. How they matter, however, varies greatly depending on whether we are talking about identities that have become socially instituted like ethnicity and gender or talking about the biological. From a nuts-and-bolts bio-evolutionary perspective, the identity that makes a difference is sexual. Here, I mean sexual in the sense of sexual reproduction, and not sexual preference. That my sexual preference might be for those of the same sex, but that if I choose to reproduce biologically, then I will necessarily have to involve (in vitro fertilization, say) a member of the opposite sex. So, sexual identity--that which identifies a man as different from a woman in terms of differently evolved and functioning sexual organs--is an identity that makes a difference in the evolutionary scheme. To reproduce the species, we must have the exchange of XX and XY chromosomal information and subsequent mitosis, whether in sexual copulation or other means. There is no way around this as biological fact; this is how evolution has taken place. It is a material reality that pre-exists human beings; it pre-exists society. In this sense, then, the sexual--overtly identified by physical differences that mark every individual member of Homo sapiens sapiens--is an elemental identification that, in the case of evolution, matters.
What does sexual (biological) identity mean on an everyday level? As already mentioned, it means that if one desires to be with those of the same sex as well as to reproduce biologically, one must contend with biological fact. It means that to declare sexuality a performative construct neglects the biological material facts. It means that to replace "gender" for "sexuality" in an effort to emancipate women, or to "trouble gender" by performing constructs of the feminine, changes little for ordinary people like a farmer in Mexico or a factory worker in the U.S. Evolutionarily speaking, my identification as Chicano doesn't matter; what matters is whether or not I function to reproduce the species. From an evolutionary perspective, sexual reproduction is the biological backbone to continued survival and development of the Homo sapiens sapiens self.
What of identification of the self based on what sex we desire? Again, from an evolutionary point of view, we must strip down desire--the sexual drive--and understand its biological function. Human beings have in-built sexual instincts (sexual drive) like other animals (although ours is perennial and theirs seasonal) that include a corresponding excitation of sexual organs. Evolutionarily speaking, this excitation happens for the purpose of reproduction and so has a sexual drive evolved that directs an attraction toward those of the opposite sex. Sexual drive, arousal, and this feeling of desire are parts of a very primitive biological mechanism that has evolved since our distant ancestors transcended the uni-cellular stage of cell reproduction. This doesn't mean that there is anything morally wrong when one desires someone of the same sex. It means simply that desire is not a difference that makes a difference in evolution and therefore in terms of the biologically constituted self.
For human beings everywhere, to exist is to reproduce existence not just biologically but socially. As already discussed, we exist and in our existence we transform nature, which process in turn transforms us. So while biological reproduction is the minimum condition for survival of the human species this doesn't meant that how we have sex or who we desire, for example, is evolutionarily predetermined. What is predetermined is the machinery that we need in order to biologically reproduce.
As I've begun to establish, the social and biological are intimately intertwined in the development of the human self. Today we have arrived at a stage in our evolution where we have created social institutions (the census, for example) that identify us as Chicano, Caucasian, African American, Filipino, Native American, and so on. Ethnic identity is the product of our transformation of the social. We see this with the official census forms that determine demographics that in turn determine public and social policy. Within this context, we have established many ways of identifying social differences; some have led to the instituting of racist and homophobic exclusionary practices--one can say that those born in Mexico and their descendants will not have the right to sell their capacity to work, for example--and others that aim to reform such practices; within a capitalist system where exploitation and oppression are the rule, much political organizing and action have helped advance otherwise exploited groups of people. Take, for example, the effects of the working class based civil rights movement, which has led to Affirmative Action programs and the founding of scholarships by institutions like the Ford Foundation that award those historically suffered as a result of institutional discrimination such as Alaska Natives, Black/African American, Mexican Americans (Chicanos/as), Puerto Ricans, Native American Indians, and Native Pacific Islanders. It's also opened doors for erstwhile socially discriminated against groups to finally have equal access to education. In this positive sense, it's because of social identification that I can write a book that focuses on queer Chicano/a literature and film.
Identity and Identity Matter. . . By Degree
Many literary and cultural critics (Chicano/a or otherwise) have explored the race/class/gender nexus. And many do base their understanding in material fact. For example, Chicana lesbian scholar, Alicia Gaspar de Alba, sums up, "Sex and race are biologically determined, the genitalia and racial DNA with which we were born" (ix). For Gaspar de Alba, gender and ethnicity are socially constituted and only inflect the biological facts of our differently sexed bodies. As Gaspar de Alba suggests, we must identify ethnic and sexual preference categories precisely because they've become institutionalized; that is, to fight oppression and exploitation based on these socially instituted categories, we must necessarily make visible such categories. At an even more basic and necessary level of self identification, however, we must identify the self as it exists within today's society characterized by an economic system of capitalism: the making dependent of all peoples and all relations on the market for its most basic needs that require the bourgeoisie to maintain social order and conditions favorable for the accumulation of profit by means of exploitation. Class is thus a fundamental identification of self and an identification that makes a difference. Namely, without identification of class, we can't identify that huge portion of society made dependent on this economic structure that include all exploited minorities: working class, women, gays, lesbians, Mexicans, and so on. It's what allowed women and gays, lesbians, and Chicanos historically to struggle effectively against institutionalized exploitation of women in the demand for equal pay, access to health care and so on. A brief look at the women's struggle for equal rights--the right to vote, the right to work, and hold property, to divorce, for example--demonstrates its concrete link to the workers' general movement. In the U.S., we have the anarchist Emma Goldman and in Germany the suffragette, Clara Zetkin. Women have had to organize themselves within the labor movement to demand not just job security, social security, as well as equal pay and health benefits, but also basics like day care centers.
Identity politics has become a projection of an expression of a very obscurantist, retrograde, reactionary way of thinking. Instead of isolating myself as a Chicano, I would do better acknowledging that I am one member of many that make up a collective experience of institutional discrimination and therefore need to organize to form own political parties to struggle alongside all the other people that have a vested interest in overthrowing capitalism. While identity politics makes visible those who have become targets of institutionalized homophobic and racist policies, for social transformation to take place, we must reach beyond our particular experiences to form solidarity with others who experience exploitation and oppression. For real transformation to take place, the struggle needs be against capitalism. If we isolate our causes from one another, we simply supply capitalists with the weapons for our own destruction. Cesar Chávez knew this when he helped form trade unions to fight to institutionalize equal pay for all members of the working class.
Just as social identification matters because man is a social animal, so too do ideas matter. For example, Henry Abelove discusses how the same-sex eroticism and ideas--"to say what they wanted to say politically about same-sex eroticism and the global history of their times" (xviii)--circulated by writers like Elizabeth Bishop, Paul Bowles, William S. Burroughs, and Alan Ginsberg did feed into gay/lesbian struggles of the '60s and 70s. And Baldwin's Giovanni's Room, Abelove writes, allowed the GLFers to see "their own reflections, searched for the means to comprehend the ties imagined at the start of the book between colonialist conquest and the denial and betrayal of love, and searched too for the imitation of what they might yet need to learn to 'redeem sex' and, as they often put it, to decolonize America" (81). Abelove identifies how these writers and their ideas allowed the GLFers to see beyond their unique cause and to create bonds with larger communities of oppressed and exploited working class groups. More basically speaking, whether or not one's boss thinks a person is lazy and/or stupid because he or she is Chicano will not change if one decides to wear a Che Guevara t-shirt to work. They will continue to be exploited until the individual organizes along with other individuals to create the massive material force necessary to transform the capitalist economic system that exploits the working class worldwide. Ideas only really matter when ideas materialize in the massive unification of millions of people that create the material force necessary for transformation of the policies of the dominant class. So, while queer Chicano/a literature and film may encourage people in their struggles, they cannot be said to cause them or that they determine their outcome. We must keep this in mind when analyzing literature and when determining a real politics of social transformation.
According to the original caveat, concepts are objective and true when they correspond to reality, in the same way that a map’s adequacy is determined by its correspondence to a given territory, even when the features it picks out are selected according to particular purposes or interests. But in its postmodern (relativistic and constructivist) new guise the "territory" has lost all objective existence and the "map" is but an illusion; the world is no longer that which is out there, whether I or the whole human race exist or not, it is what I and the society I live in "make" of it and say it is. It is "that" which is "constructed" by society or "conceived" by language, through language, within the limits of language at a certain time and place. Accordingly, ideas are arbitrary in the sense that their contents are determined not by an independently existing reality but by the kinds of expressions authorized by language and society, which ultimately means that there is no escape from totalitarianism. For constructivism there is no objective truth, no objective reality, thus no universality of science: ideas are condemned to be perpetually held in a viselike grip by social, historical and linguistic constraints, and only those ideas can be formulated that society, tradition, language and the unconscious allow to be formed. Thus both Nietzsche's perspectival stand and postmodern relativism and constructivism are strongly "deterministic", notwithstanding their claims to the contrary, and inadvertently side with the political status quo. Everything man does is realized within society--therefore within certain social conditions.
--Frederick Luis Aldama