I went to buy coffee today. The employee took my order and asked my name. When I give people my first name, I usually have to repeat it, so I gave him my last name, which is more common.
Sometime in High School, I became obsessed with the concept of authenticity.
At that point in life, identity feels essential, but your life experience is too limited to create something unique, so every choice is both deeply personal yet inescapably shallow.
Honestly, at that age, trying on different personalities is a natural and probably healthy development. Still, I developed a distinct mistrust for any person whom I felt was leaning too heavily into a prepackaged identity.
I thought college might offer some respite from socially-mandated roles. That was what the movies promised – a place where the social facades of high school faded away. A place where people were just people, not a collection of labels.
Perhaps I was naive.
I had always considered myself a liberal, but I simply could not relate to the identity politics which dominated the cultural narrative in liberal higher education at that time. It seemed every legitimate philosophical point had to be wrapped in a toxic, exclusionary tribalism. No idea could be trusted to stand on merit. Any challenge, no matter how minor, was treated as sacrilege to be burned and censored and excised from reality.
A clear social hierarchy began to emerge. I had genuinely believed that, within the realms of college, ideas would be valued over race, class, or gender. And to be fair, in the classrooms, they usually were. But outside the classroom, a clear social shift was occurring. The more oppressed you felt by society, the more legitimate your opinion was. You need not make the clearest argument, you only had to be offended. The more offended you were, the more seriously your opinion was taken. So of course you were now incentivized to be offended, to draw fourth and nurture as much vitriol and disgust for your ideological opponents as possible. People wanted to fight racists and bigots like in the history books, but such blatant villainy was hard to find in the modern era.
So the definitions loosened.
This may reinforce the theory of my nativity, but up until college I genuinely believed there was an intellectual consensus that skin color and gender were the least important characteristics in determining a person’s worth, and any contrary notions were historical remnants lodged in the minds of the misinformed and uneducated.
It played to me like a comic farce: large groups of people my own age, smart enough to receive a college education, demanding segregation, characterizing individuals solely based on race, and the rigid censorship of any conflicting information, regardless of factuality.