Identity as opression / Truth as liberation


Since entering the MSW program at the University of Michigan, it has become abundantly apparent that “identity” has taken stage and is the official University of Michigan School of Social Work buzzword. Students are awash with discussions and assertions regarding the need for sensitivity and awareness of intersectionality of identities, identity based oppression, identity based philanthropy, identity based safe spaces, and privileged identities, just to get started. Outside of the school as well, in the greater cultural discourse, we are seeing a surge in identity politics with the example of the Black Lives Matter movement and the alt-right’s white nationalism taking center stage; there are identity based immigration policies, the rise of populism and the political prominence of religious identity, sexual identity, and the political hackery of party based identity clinging that seems to just take bundles of these identities and create a super meta-identity out of them.

All of these phenomena certainly deserve their time in the spotlight, and need to be respected and reflected upon by all of us, not only for the social utility that an awareness and competence in these phenomena represent, but for the personally liberating insights which lay hidden within the intricacies of their reflective scope. This being the case, I cannot help but feel as if there is something lacking in this charged and emotionally raw discourse. I see all of this discussion about identity relative oppression as critical, but also as based on some pretty profound assumptions, and subsiding on some rather robust blinders, of course, this is always easiest to see when looking across the debate stage at an opponent, and difficult to see when looking inward. Blinder based dialogue, is it worth asking, is this happening?


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All Pervasive Conditioning: Cultural Assimilation and the Suffocation of Individuality

Culture is the context within which all human interconnectedness occurs, and the intersections of those interconnections is where we find all meaningfulness and all sense of identity. Identity is relational, and relationships necessarily happen within a cultural context; blurred lines delineate the border between the cultural context within which the relationships that shape identity occur, and where those relationships are the very culture within which identity is formed. Relational cultural context, and the actual intersections of relational being are the source of the very notion of identity, which itself needs culture like lungs require air.

Language is the vessel of culture, and culture is the context of identity, so it follows that language informs identity at a very fundamental level.


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Realizing Dependent Designation: The Buddha's Middle Way


“If you perceive the existence of all things

In terms of their essence,

Then this perception of all things

Will be without the perception of causes and conditions.


Effects and causes

And agent and action

And conditions and arising and ceasing

And effects will be rendered impossible.


Whatever is dependently co-arisen

That is explained to be emptiness.

That, being a dependent designation,

Is itself the middle way.”

- Nagarjuna 1



The above verse is a rather dense, or concise, explanation of the Buddhist principle of Emptiness in terms of Middle Way fundamental philosophy. The author, Nagarjuna, is considered by many to have expressed what is known as the 2nd turning of the great Wheel of Dharma, or truth, of Buddhist thought. His school founded what eventually launched all of Mahayana Buddhism, which includes the school of Buddhism that is His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s own branch of Tibetan Buddhism, and also spreads out to include Thich Nhat Hahn’s particular brand of Zen Buddhism.

Nagarjuna, as foundational as his work is, can be a head scratcher, for sure. This post takes a close look at what he is trying to tell us here, as it's understanding is garaunteed to be rewarding, if not merely intellectually entertaining.


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