The Right to Self-Identify

By Cyberquill 11/26/20156 Comments

We live in a society that places ever more importance upon respecting the way individuals self-identify.

If someone refers to herself as a woman, it’s not in our place to question her femininity simply because she lacks certain assets traditionally associated with being female, or because, as per our blinkered expectations, some of her anatomical appurtenances squarely contradict her claim to womanhood as we’ve been conditioned to define it.

And if someone is 90% one race and 10% another, the progressive and hence enlightened stance is to regard that person as whichever race he or she identifies with, not whichever race we may intuitively assign him or her based on percentages and stereotypes. (This goes so far that we’ve had a somewhat serious debate over whether an all-white lady ought to be granted her wish to be accepted as black because that’s how she views herself.)

Yet then we’re told that violent jihadists aren’t really Muslims no matter how much they profess to be.

But if they say they are—and assuming that self-identification is indeed to be respected—whence our authority to gainsay their claim?

Sure, these people pick and choose which tenets of Islam to follow and which to violate or ignore, but so do many “moderate” Muslims (i.e., the kind we like and feel safe around) whose adherence to Islam appears limited to observing Ramadan and abstaining from pork and hard liquor—the Qur’an surely looks a lot thicker than that.

Strictly speaking, you can’t be a “moderate” anything without violating or ignoring certain requirements the adherence to which would make you a full-fledged member of that group—otherwise, what, if not cafeteria-ism, is it that makes you a “moderate”? The question arises, if you’re a moderate, do you hold a legitimate claim at all to being that which you practice only moderately? If your diet includes vegetarian foods in moderation, does that make you a moderate vegetarian or not a vegetarian?

So why are we to recognize the claim to genuine Muslimhood of the so-called moderates but not the so-called extremists (who are themselves but moderates when it comes to following Islam) such that we presume ourselves entitled to declare the former practitioners of and the latter perverters of Islam?


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  • Richard

    I struggle to come to terms with this excellent post and seek some distinction which might enable me to to do so.

    First, I need to determine what constitutes a group. Is one half of the human race a group? I am not satisfied that it is. I am tempted to use Venn diagrams though I emphasise that I do not use the term in its mathematical sense. Let us say, then, that if the sum of those who belong to a section of humanity and those who do not is less than the whole, that is a group. In fact it is likely to be substantially less. This implies that there is a third group that belongs to neither or both. I call the third group “the Indifferents”. For these purposes “the Section” and “the Group” are now mutually exclusive.

    A particular gender is not therefore a Group. If you wish to consider hermaphrodites, you say they are a Section, not a Group, and adapt the foregoing accordingly.

    Second, to what extent may a human being choose to belong to a Group? There are two possibilities. Either he belongs as a result of the the Group’s own definition or as a result of the definition of the Indifferents. The individual’s choice is therefore relevant only to the extent that the Group or the the Indifferents allow. The definitions of the Group and those of the Indifferents may conflict. Self-determination is not therefore possible for membership of a Group. Contrast membership of a Section where there are no Indifferents to decide. The definitions of the Group or the Indifferents might, of course, permit self-determination.

    Finally, what is the significance of a label attached to a group? It has no significance and nor does it have any significance if the same label is attached to different groups: the groups are still different.

    This leaves the individual free to determine his own gender. Those required to make an objective decision set their own separate parameters.

    • Cyberquill

      Thank you for your comment. Sounds compelling, although, I must say, rarely have I read this much and understood so little. I now feel like punching up the Wikipedia entry on quantum statistical mechanics just to relax and clear my head.

      As to the word in question, my original choice was “club,” but then I changed it to “group,” a term I use loosely, as in, e.g., there are five groups of living things: humans, animals, plants, fungi, and bacteria. In that sense, not only half but all of humanity constitutes a group, which, in turn, splits into myriad sub-groups: men and women; cat people and dog people; raisin lovers and raisin haters; gays, lesbians, and bisexuals; Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, and agnostics; etc.

      • Richard

        I rocked with glee at your observations.

        It all boils down to this. Those who subscribe to certain beliefs are to be judged by the rest of us according to their actions, not by the labels we attach to them or that they attach to themselves.

        On the question of gender, if purely physical attributes are to be sidelined in favour of individual choice, we are all either feminine, masculine or neuter and cannot judge.

        You have now had a peep at the agonies of this inferior mind as it struggles to reach even the most mundane of faulty conclusions.

      • Cyberquill

        If someone declares him- or herself to be x, but in our humble estimation they’re not x, how are we to know whether we’re guilty of bigotry and intolerance unless we agree to adjust our assessment of them to reflect their own? That’s what I struggle with.

        • Richard

          You aren’t a bigot. That’s all that matters.
          If that’s not enough to satisfy you, just self-identify.

          • Cyberquill

            I hesitate to openly self-identify too much lest I find myself forcibly committed some day.

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