Tag Archives: identity

Thomas Barnett on post-national identity

Many thanks to one Gregory Lemieux for dropping me an email with a link to an article by political strategist Thomas P M Barnett, which he rightly identified as touching on “issues of post-national identity […] that are presented regularly on your site”*. It’s an interesting piece all over: Barnett is an advocate and defender of globalization, and he suggests that the push-back against it – what he calls the “friction” – is a function of “a fear-poisoned dialogue that frequently casts globalization’s expansion in zero-sum terms, when it is anything but.”

While I’m going to withold my judgement on that idea (as it’s a topic I just don’t know enough about at this point), the segment highlighted by Lemieux is very interesting… and, indeed, very Futurismic:

… while I do believe that “resistance [to globalization] is futile” in the collective sense, I do not believe that’s the case in the individual sense. In fact, the fundamental task I foresee for political leaders the world over is to foster a culture of what I call “progressive enclavism”: the ability of their citizens to lead lives of cross-cutting connectivity — across borders, cultures, industries, domains, etc. — while simultaneously retreating, however frequently they desire, into enclaved activities and lifestyles that nurture and sustain their preferred definitions of identity. In essence, I’m describing a personal resiliency based on balancing multiple-but-reinforcing identities.


I can foresee a future, for example, where my passport bears a resemblance to a stock portfolio, identifying me as majority-share American with minority shares in, say, China (where one of my children is from) and East Africa (from where another two will soon come). I’ll be willing to pay to maintain that portfolio, because I will find profound meaning in being able to say that my family’s blended identity connects me to all these enclaves — whether they’re called nations or unions or federations. My identity “shares” could logically also connect me to enclaves based on my religious preference, my preferred mix of technology, my willingness to alter my body to extend lifespan, and so on.

John Steinbeck famously said, “Texas is a state of mind.” I’d add that everybody has their own private “Texas,” which they want to add to their mix, whether they live there full-time or not.

Globalization as a planet of atomised but interconnected cultures that can be moved between freely, as opposed to a lockstep planet of monolithic corporate or state hegemonies… a science fictional idea, maybe, but one that offers an appealing alternative to some of the grimmer political futures on offer at the moment, at least from where I’m sitting.

[ * As a side note, that’s exactly how you pitch a link to blog editor, folks. I get maybe four or five “hey, check this out and link to it, PLZ!” emails every week here at Futurismic, but most of them are so wide of the site’s purview – if not ineptly written, or part of a bulk mailshot, or both – that they go straight into the trash folder. Word to the wise. ]

Virtual bodies, mutable genders

Here’s an interesting bit of research from sunny Barcelona: men wearing a virtual reality headset that allowed them to perceive themselves as a female avatar started to identify strongly with their temporarily-assumed gender.

… men donned a virtual reality (VR) headset that allowed them to see and hear the world as a female character. When they looked down they could even see their new body and clothes.

The “body-swapping” effect was so convincing that the men’s sense of self was transferred into the virtual woman, causing them to react reflexively to events in the virtual world in which they were immersed.

Men who took part in the experiment reported feeling as though they occupied the woman’s body and even gasped and flinched when she was slapped by another character in the virtual world.


Later in the study, the second character lashed out and slapped the face of the character the men were playing. “Their reaction was immediate,” said Slater. “They would take in a quick breath and maybe move their head to one side. Some moved their whole bodies. The more people reported being in the girl’s body, the stronger physical reaction they had.”

Sensors on the men’s bodies showed their heart rates fell sharply for a few seconds and then ramped up – a classic response to a perceived attack.

As expected, the body swapping effect was felt more keenly by men who saw their virtual world through the female character’s eyes than those whose viewpoint was slightly to one side of her. In all cases, the feeling was temporary and lasted only as long as the study.

Plenty of opportunity for further research there; I’m no expert, but that looks to me like a validation of the theory that gender roles are socially constructed… but then that theory has been borne out by my personal experiences in virtual worlds, in my own behaviour as well as that of others.

I’ve heard it suggested before that a way to break down some of the more persistent gender prejudices in modern culture would be for everyone to spend a month living the life of the gender they consider themselves “opposite” to – maybe VR and synthetic worlds offer us the closest approximation of that classic science fictional plot device (Stross’s Glasshouse, anyone?).

The self-made myth of Michael jackson

Jackson/Monroe/Warhol mashup posterI’ve never been a fan of Michael Jackson’s music, but I have something of a fascination with his status as a larger- (and weirder-) than-life public figure… a status that his recent death will probably do little to dull, at least in the relatively near-term, and possibly forever. [image by 416style]

As such, I heartily recommend you read this piece by Brian Dillon at The Guardian: “Michael Jackson: king of hypochondria” raises the point that some of the earliest weird tales about Whacko Jacko were in fact created (or at least authorised) by Jackson himself.

When pictures of his visit to the hospital for that purpose made their way to the National Enquirer, Jackson seems to have seen an opportunity to make himself appear more enigmatic in the public mind. It was a curious change in attitude, considering his previous anguished responses to rumours about his personal life: his alleged homosexuality, his supposed decision to have a sex change in the late 70s and the initial media reports that his obvious recourse to plastic surgery was spurred by a desire to look like his mentor Diana Ross. Whatever led Jackson to court notoriety now, the ruse certainly worked; it prompted just the first and perhaps least disturbing of the many bizarre stories that would emerge about him in the years to come.

Though it was not true, the “oxygen tent” story now seems to presage so much about Jackson’s decline that it is hard not to read the image that accompanied it as an emblem of his eventual predicament: reclusive, ailing and unable to reverse his toxic reputation for eccentricity and worse. For the young man in the photograph – whose skin is still brown, whose face has changed since his early 20s but not yet taken on the inhuman aspect of his middle age, whose dancer’s body is not yet emaciated – already resembles nothing so much as a sacred or royal corpse.

Almost every book I’ve read on postmodernism cites Madonna as the quintessential self-made multi-myth, shrugging symbolic identities on and off in order to surf the Zeitgeist and keep the punters interested. That’s somewhat similar to David Bowie’s perpetual reinvention of himself as a symbol (of himself, and of other things), though I’d suggest that Bowie was less interested in being a pop sensation than exploring new avenues that interested him, with a very variable success rate (Tin Machine, anyone?)…

But Jackson just kept grafting new bits on to the same image (literally as well as figuratively), and as such became something bigger than he or his organisation could truly control. I can’t help but feel that, as such, he somehow presaged the uncontrollable runaway meme phenomenons that are such a feature of global internet culture.

Furthermore, it makes him – to my mind at least – an intensely science fictional phenomenon, as well as a postmodern one (if there’s any serious difference between those two things, which I’m less and less sure of as the days go by). The story of Michael Jackson is inherently mediated by the preconceptions of the person reading him as a text, and by the choice of references they use in that reading. The “real” Michael Jackson eventually became such a tiny and insignificant part of the maelstrom of images and stories that surrounded him that he could probably have died long before he did without costing that story any weight or momentum.

There are so many riffs to play around Michael Jackson: riffs of identity-as-narrative (and narrative-as-identity), of the power of PR and dis/mythinformation, about our willingness to believe falsehoods if they tell us what we want to hear, about the increasingly intangible border between a product and its marketing, about becoming the story you tell about yourself, and about that story mutating once it’s too big to control, about self-fulfilling prophecies, about the lonely frightened people sat at the centre of the images we create of ourselves in the public sphere.

The story of Michael Jackson is a very sad one, however it’s told and whoever it’s told by… and it’s all the more sad because his story is, to a greater or lesser extent, our story too.


After his excellent study of gender politics in “Fluidity” last autumn, Eric Del Carlo returns to Futurismic with another look at the unanswered yet imminent questions of posthuman identity. Short, sharp and timely – enjoy!

Out Walking The Streets

by Eric Del Carlo

I’m ravenous for sights and sensations, for the leathery creak of the seat beneath me, for the subtle reassuring hum in the metaplastic hull of the train car.  I feel the speed; I record in my mind the tug of force against my body, basic physical principles acting upon me at every moment.  It is new.  It is all worthy of my acute attention.

It is not new.  I am thirty-four years old, and the laws which oversee reality are as familiar–and discountable in day to day life–as the thump of blood in my veins.

I exert the effort not to make a spectacle of myself.  I’m hardly alone on the train, but no others, I feel sure, are as mesmerized by the cityscape streaming past both rows of windows.  I want to, but do not, press my nose to the clear ‘plastic and cry out at the pearlescent architectural wonder on display.  They’ve put me on this train, among regular people.  I’ve promised to control myself, and my promises have convinced those who needed convincing. Continue reading NEW FICTION: OUT WALKING THE STREETS by Eric Del Carlo

Augmented Reality tattooing

Keen to get some serious ink, but not so keen on spending hours under the needle? Not to mention fielding the reactions of your family, friends and colleagues? Well, good news – draw a basic QR barcode on your arm with black marker, and everyone will see it covered with whatever fierce and gnarly tattoo designs you specify. Provided they’re looking at it with the right filters and layers activated in their AR headset, of course…

Obviously very crude and basic at the moment, but the potential for complete appearance changes is easily extrapolated… and there’s the advantages of non-permanence to consider, too. Tattoos and the more adventurous forms of elective surgery have a tendency to hamper one’s progress in mainstream life (if there can be said to be any such thing any more)… this way, you can show your colours to them who’ll appreciate (or respect, or fear) them without having to watch the corner-store cashier flinch for the emergency button every time you go in for a bottle of milk.

Actually, once you start thinking about it, you realise that appearance will become almost as mutable and fluid as identity itself, once AR becomes as ubiquitous as phone handsets already are. The terminal corrosion of objective reality continues apace…