Identity is the question of today's generation of politics. The Left criticizes the class identities particular identity they perceive as oppressing other communities identity groups within society. The Right blasts away at the left's fluid use of gender, sexuality, race, religion and everything else as "identity politics" to gerrymander political support.
There is some truth in both of these criticisms, though they are not equal relative to each other. But the criticisms can leave the outside observer with the distinct impression that identity can mean anything, or nothing at all.
Identity is not nothing, and as such, cannot be formed from just anything. Identity is the shared foundation that binds us and connects us to other people, and it is these connections that give meaning to everything in our lives.
Men who have no collective identity -- who have no strong alliances or sense of belonging in a particular in-group -- are wanderers dependent on a larger system that rules from above. Humans are social animals. The loner who wants to be alone is an anomalous deviation -- however romantic the brooding archetype of the wandering individualist may be. The loner is essentially missing half of his identity. He has no orientation, no context.
Social identity is meaning. It is the "why" that follows naturally from the "we." Without a firm social context, humans are disoriented and actions become relatively arbitrary and meaningless. Social identity is social orientation. It is the starting point from which the spear extends.
Identity is a rootedness that provides a rationale for action.
-- Jack Donovan, Becoming A Barbarian
All identities revolve around some shared characteristic, purpose, or action. But not all identities are equally meaningful. Some make you feel alive, while some feel fake. They feel empty, artificial, and inauthentic. Most identities offered to us today, like lunch options in a school cafeteria, are available to everyone, and do not provide a meaningful context to justify action, or even living.
Consider: A retail job; a TV personality; a Chinese take-out dinner; a quick fuck. None of these feel authentic. A pilot's career; a developed taste; a home-grown meal; a ten-year marriage. All of these feel authentic.
What is the difference?
Authentic identity requires sacrifice. It feels real because the individuals within it have invested themselves into the role, and cannot simply leave. Authentic identities are stable, immune to the flimsy fads and mercurial trends of the day. They don't leave you feeling like you've wasted what little time you have on this earth.
On Saturday, December 9, our members made a sacrifice of time, money, and comfort. What they gained was not merely the feeling of participating in an authentic identity, but the feeling of creating one.
We initiate for the same reason that every group worth being in initiates their members. Groups are trustworthy because they are stable, and they are stable because their members are invested.
Initiation is an act of creation. By participating in the rite -- whether it is the hazing of military boot camp, years of schooling, or fighting in a war -- you endure suffering and personal cost to prove that your membership in the group matters, that it isn't temporary. You didn't "just feel like it." Enduring the trials of initiation creates trust, and with the creation of trust comes the possibility of an authentic identity.
For a shared purpose, through shared action, and from shared sacrifice, the Cascade Legion has taken another step towards becoming something real, something authentic. It is not the last step, and it does not make us equivalent to groups that have more collective time and sacrifice. But it is an acknowledgment of what is required, and it is a step on the right path. It is more than most groups will ever do, and we have more to show for it than most groups ever will.
Like the founding fathers, we want authentic lives for ourselves and our posterity. We initiate to feel alive, to make use of the time that we have while we are alive, and perhaps -- if we are lucky -- to help ensure a similar opportunity for those who come after us.