“Language itself, the very tool with which we communicate with one another, is distorted by the rise of narcissistic identity construction…This public acquiescence to the person who says ‘I identify as’, the rearrangement of university life, political campaigning, passports, health and numerous institutions around those who declare themselves to be something that by any basic, reasoned, humanistic measurement they are not, highlights one of the least appreciated aspects of what the NYT calls the new ‘obsession with identity’ – and that is the profound and historic crisis of public life; of meaning; of the Enlightenment ideals of reason and objective understanding; of the very idea of what it is to be human…This explains the angst-ridden nature of much self-identification, the feeling of being under siege, of being at risk. Whether it’s trans campaigners trawling for evidence of transphobia and insisting that their very ‘right to exist’ is constantly being called into question, or student-union officials erecting safe spaces in which no Islamophobia, transphobia or any other phobia may be expressed, these supposedly free and easy new identities feel anything but free and easy. They’re tetchy, needy, defensive, ugly even. They need validation, and they seek it everywhere. Gay-identity campaigners hunt down the remaining handful of cakeshops that refuse to bake for gay weddings and insist they make them a cake; trans activists myopically peruse the press for any hint of anti-trans criticism and demand retractions or censorship; campaigners demand that schools, colleges, hospitals, everyone change their language and admission forms and behaviours to account for the feelings of infinitesimally small numbers of ‘two spirit’ people or ‘men’ who want abortions. And it’s never enough: for the fragile identity, validation is a constant necessity.”

The crisis of character

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