Some Thoughts About The Essentialist Theory Of Being

“I enjoy all types of music, but the music of my own flesh and blood goes right to my heart.”
—Nelson Mandela, Long Walk To Freedom (1994)

Definitions of Definition

What does it mean “to be”? I feel as though I exist as I write these words; it seems as though there is a table at which I sit, and a glass of water to my side. What does it mean for an object to be a table, or a glass, or water, or me? What does it mean to be an object?

The identitarian project takes as a foundation a particular answer to these questions, as they relate to being human: to be human is to be a composite of an array of innate, permanent characteristics, such as one’s birthplace, ancestry, skin colour, gender, sexuality, and less commonly other such characteristics. This theory has much in common with the concept of a “natural kind” [a grouping that reflects the structure of the natural world rather than the interests and actions of human beings, SEP]. Though there is much debate in philosophy over whether natural kinds exist at all, let alone as biological or social categories, what is of relevance to identitarianism for the moment is that identitarians act as though there are such natural kinds, that essential human traits fall into that category, and that these traits are the primary bases of which being is composed.

We can break down definition into three basic types. These are often treated by binary thinkers as if only one can be true, and the others rejected. Scalar thinkers will recognise immediately that each will have its uses in different contexts, even for the same term.

Intension
Descriptions of the properties of a class of things. Are you describing what a thing or class is in words, with a phrase or group of phrases? If so, then you are probably defining ‘definition’ intensionally. For example, 'a bachelor' is “an unmarried man”. This is especially well-suited to abstract concepts or words that are short-hands.
Extension
Referring directly to the set of entities in a class of things. Are you pointing at or listing examples of a thing or class in order to explain what they are? If so, then you are probably defining ‘definition’ extensionally. This is especially well-suited to concrete entities, especially those with vague definitions.
Natural kinds
These are primarily physical scientific categories such as molecules or species. In my view, these are best understood as patterns in the structures of types of entity.

Identitarianism is a fractured creed. Imagine a group of them in a room together: they all agree that identities exist and that identities impart moral status, but they have no agreement on which identities exist, how identities are defined, how an ontological identity could impart a moral status, or which moral status is imparted by which identity. And then, non-identitarians also have views on these natural kinds, which sometimes overlap with identitarian views, but are frequently very different. I have observed five key families of stance about the natural kinds essentialism (NKE) viewpoint. [Not philosophical stances: stances among the general population.] These are: intensional; spiritual; idealist; structural; functional.

Intensional essentialism
An individual y belongs to a natural kind x because for all (or sufficient) traits, if y has those traits, then y is a member of x. By itself this is quite a primitivist, naturalistic viewpoint, and tends to be held by low-information identitarians and non-identitarians alike.
Spiritual essentialism
y belongs to x because y's spiritual essence is that of x. This is a religious or woo-woo view. It is again very primitive, characteristic of low-information, and currently skews towards the left of the identitarian spectrum, though certainly many right identitarians have been such woo-woo spiritualists too.
Idealist essentialism
y belongs to x because y asserts that y is x. This view represents the triumph of the will. In former times this was a far-right position, opposed to the materialism of the left. Today it is almost exclusively a left-identitarian position.
Structural essentialism
y belongs to x because y's molecular structure is characteristic of that of the set x. In philosophy of language, this is broadly the view of natural kinds held by Kripke and Putnam (though theirs is more convoluted as they are academic philosophers), and it is also the view of natural kinds to which I primarily subscribe from a formal perspective. (Every philosopher of language must have a view of natural kinds: this does not imply support for basing ontology on them.) This is not very commonly held by the furthest-left identitarians, who tend to be philosophical idealists, but becomes increasingly common as one edges up the scale towards right identitarians.
Functional essentialism
y belongs to x because it is useful for us to describe y as belonging to x. This is generally just pragmatic good sense, and is thus usually a characteristic of non-identitarians. When limited to natural kinds, I endorse this view alongside structural essentialism: the patterns we identify in natural kinds' structures are chosen because they correspond to macro-traits that it is useful for us to distinguish between. (Again, this linguistic stance on natural kinds does not imply support for basing ontology on them.)

In practice, multiple of these arguments are often deployed simultaneously, regardless of context and regardless of contradiction, in a fuzzy barrage of bestial illogic that seems intended to overwhelm rather than to prove.

As suggested in the list, the most obvious, primitive way to define a natural kind is through an intensional characteristic, yet most of these traits are contingent. Of course there is nothing in practice stopping identitarians from defining their group using primitive intensional characteristics. Thus we have the “true Scotsmen”, who eat haggis and wear kilts and quote Burns and vote SNP. Likewise “true women” who are consensual and liberal (as many feminists suggest the world would be if it were run by women), “true gay men” who mince or have radical politics, etc. These contingent traits however are unsustainable as the basis for natural kinds: they always face the problem of their failure to correspond to reality. These “true x” definitions are used because they are useful to someone, and so parallel words are coined, or sometimes the core word is used ambiguously to define the subset. But they are not able to sustain preëminence as a definition of the broad natural kind.

Natural kinds can also be explored through an aretaic hybrid of intension and extension: a virtue ontology. We can see this in the importance placed in identitarian culture on lists of great individuals from one's demographic. There are countless lists online of "great blacks" and "great women" and "great this that and the other". The principle underlying it is that, as the individual writing or reading the list shares an essential characteristic with the great individual, they must therefore also share the great individual's other characteristics, which made them great, because essential characteristics create the rest of one's being and reality. So for example, because Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great were brilliant and successful bisexual men, other bisexual men could be (weak essentialism) or must be (strong essentialism) brilliant and successful as well.

The paradigm cases of such traits then are invariant, exclusive, and real. Invariant: every member of the set has the trait. Exclusive: only members of the set have the trait. Real: the trait is measurable, specific, and ideally physical. We could say of structural essence that it simply picks one such intensional characteristic—pattern in molecular structure—and declares without sufficient justification that that intensional characteristic and that one alone is the valid ground for defining a natural kind. I think this is only a valid critique if one insists on thinking binarily: accepting structure as a basis for natural kind reference does not preclude using other forms of reference for other terms, or even for the same terms in other, non-natural kind contexts. This is likewise the response to criticisms that this model allows for multiple patterns to be found (good, and of course: we use the patterns that are useful to us) and that these patterns often have hazy edges (so what, the patterns hold well enough for them to be useful to us).

Location at a given point in time (for these purposes, usually at birth or in the present) is, by the laws of physics, an invariant, exclusive, real characteristic: you were either born in Identiland or you weren't; you either live in Identiland or you don't. So that is not a primitive intensional argument, whereby you include all sorts of contingent characteristics like "eats the same food as Identilanders", "wears the same clothes as Identilanders", etc. Really it is a natural kinds-style argument, in that it relies on an invariant, exclusive, real type of intensional characteristic. As such, location has been a major source of identitarian focus throughout history. We will see that other quasi-natural kinds can be adduced as essences when they likewise behave like them.


Essential Essences

The importance of this idea of natural kinds, of essential characteristics, is evident from the type of categories that are in practice used as the primary bases of identity. The two most important categories of identity – race and gender – are mostly-rigid characteristics that cannot be changed, because they relate to one’s DNA (albeit, in both cases, a very small part of it, and in a fuzzy way consistent with structural natural kinds). These differences are then interpreted as major discrete groupings.

It is important to realise that identitarianism is not only a left- or right-wing phenomenon. Rather there is a classic doublethink operation, where partisans loudly and symmetrically attack each other for being so focussed on identity. Historically, a combination of extreme power differentials and limited communication technology meant that only dominant identities could be exercised, especially those focussed on a local self-sustaining community. Today more previously subservient or submerged identities have emerged, but they are all united by adherence to the doctrine that essence-as-identity is the real and proper (i.e. descriptive and prescriptive) foundation of socio-political organisation. This principle of essentialism makes for (and explains) some interesting divisions among identitarians. This division is also important for reminding us that individuals, even from within the identitarian spectrum, will disagree vigorously about whether certain identities are valid or exist at all. From a philosophical perspective, I think it best to take a broad view of the whole spectrum of identity, especially as edge cases are often the most useful for helping us to identify and test our theories on a subject.

Location vs Inheritance (Race / Ethnicity / Family)

A rigid designator that applies to an individual is their location, and location seems to be a constant of identity throughout history. Location, especially at birth or in the past, is fixed and specific. The rigidity of location as an essential characteristic is what allows for civic nationalism as a less controversial nationalist platform than racial nationalism. But which location? Location of birth is often used as a criterion for automatic legal citizenship, and for moral citizenship. Current location is also used, be that location of residence or location of significant ownership. For right identitarians these factual definitions are the basis for their identitarianism, but this is not sufficient for the left.

A few years ago, Google ran an advertising campaign which posed the question, "What is Britishness?". The answer that Google gave was to show lots of photos of black and Asian celebrities, most notably a Somali athlete, resident in America, who registered himself as British because he could get better funding from Britain than from Somalia, but who is often held up by progressives as being the quintessential exemplar of British culture. Mohamed Farah, the Somali athlete in question, is on the frontline of the philosophical problem of national identity. He wasn't born in Britain. He doesn't live in Britain. He has no British ancestry. He is not especially fluent in the national language. He does not follow a traditionally British religion (Islam). He is known to be personally unpopular with other British athletes. Relative to his level of success (he has held all of the Olympic, World and European gold medals in both the 5,000m and 10,000m male running events), he has been one of the least popular athletes in Britain, always scoring aberrantly low in popularity polls.

But he considers himself to be British (or claims as much anyway, which is all we can go on in that regard), and therefore his claim to Britishness is ferociously defended by left identitarians. This is not an intensional Britishness of traits, or a locative Britishness of place, or a structural Britishness of genetic patterns. It is partly a pragmatic Britishness—there is cynical utility in allowing a champion athlete to pretend to be British—but the defence is more sincere than that. This is akin to a spiritual Britishness of the soul: an idealist Britishness of the will. He has declared himself British, and that assertion of will is sufficient to restructure the world around him. The basis of the left's civic nationalism is not location, but the triumph of the will.

There is therefore a fundamental clash between these two groups, both of which broadly accept the premiss that location is a valid socio-political basis. On one side, realists, who look to material grounds for rooting their identity; on the other, idealists, who root their identity in the power of their assertions. This is not even considering those who believe that other identities should be paramount, or even those of us who believe that identity would not be paramount in a utopian “kingdom of ends” at all. This is an unbridgeable divide between those who agree on the primacy of location. This explains the bitter conflict between the two camps. Yes, tribalism is a factor too, but it is tribal division arising from a real divide.

Closely related to location is inheritance. Low historical levels of transportation technology, and aids in adapting to counter-evolutionary environments, meant that for the most part, location and inheritance were highly correlated. But inheritance holds socio-political advantages and disadvantages relative to location. Among its disadvantages, it is a much fuzzier trait, and the fuzziness increases with the scale of the difference. This is both unhelpful and helpful: unhelpful because it becomes less accurate the more we would want to use it; helpful because the increased difference counteracts the reduced accuracy. Another disadvantage in theory is that it could make it more difficult to maintain cohesion in a multi-ethnic society—but as we will see, this is really an argument against multi-culturalism.

The main advantage of inheritance as a basis is that it is emotionally satisfying to the bestial nature inherent in all humans. Tangible affinity—looks, sounds, smells, etc—appears to be innate in all animal species, presumably as a survival mechanism for genes. Genetic patterns that select for affinity for themselves will ceteris paribus outcompete genetic patterns that do not. This may well be irrelevant in a naïve “Kingdom of Ends” utopia, but in the real world it has real implications that cannot be ignored without consequence. The most significant is that this descriptive reality voids the prescriptive disadvantages: if p is false, then it doesn't matter whether or not p would be useful or moral in a world where it were true.

As well as having innately fuzzy boundaries, the terms we use for these categories are also ill-defined. What counts as a “race” vs an “ethnicity” vs a “people” vs a “nation” vs a “tribe” vs a “clan” vs an “extended family” vs whatever else? These terms vary significantly by place and by time: if you think you know exactly where the boundaries are, you're only showing that you haven't taken a wide enough view of their usage.

Sex vs Gender

For sex / gender, the realist-idealist conflict has resulted in some tortuous specialisation of terminology. This different terminology is supposed to make the cases clearer, but unwitting and intentional misuse of and disagreement over the terms all result in more confusion and conflict. A brief précis of how I tend to understand the terms:

Sex
“Biological” status. Either structurally via chromosomes, or intensionally via possession (at birth) of functioning genitalia associated with males or females. These two groups cover around 99.9% of live human births, and an even higher proportion of functioning members of human society. The term is medieval in English, meaning a division (like “section”).
Gender
Social or psychological status. Most superficial intensional traits are linked to gender rather than sex. Traditionally, and still for most folks, gender and sex mapped fairly equally onto each other, with biological males treated as and thinking of themselves as social males, and vice versa. This started to change as “sex” gained erotic associations, and then feminists wanted to distinguish between the biological and social traits associated with sex/gender. The term is also medieval in English, meaning a type or kind (like “genre”).
Trans-
The state of being somehow a different sex or gender than would otherwise be expected. What can this actually mean other than a vague, meaningless aspiration? That will be covered in my forthcoming piece of trans-sexual metaphysics.
“Cis”-
The opposite of trans-. Despite the supposed cultural norm of allowing folks to self-identify, this word has been imposed on this group externally. Not that this is a great problem in itself—if there are to be trans individuals, then there needs to be a term for their antithesis, and this one is as good as any—but this act exposes the fundamental falseness and hypocrisy of progressives' claimed desire to avoid both oppression and the causing of offence.

Used consistently, joining the terms gives us “trans-sex(ual)” (and “cis-sex(ual)”), meaning a change (or continuation) in biological status; and “trans-gender” (and “cis-gender”), meaning a change (or continuation) in social status. I will tend to use the terms in this manner.

These divisions are in theory useful (the former more than the latter) for distinguishing between elements that are different in ways that are important to us. For example, it is useful to distinguish between those traits that are innate or near-universal to females by virtue of their biology, and those traits that are contingent upon social conditions, because the latter can be changed more easily, should that be desired. The slight changes from historical usage are not problems per se: words change constantly to reflect social need.

Additionally, biological sex in particular is a useful trait for an animal society engaged in asymmetric sexual reproduction to differentiate on. Whatever one may think about the tendencies exhibited by females and males—even if the supposed tendencies towards female empathy, male spatial awareness, etc, are real, they might be biological or social—either way there are some traits that are both biological and important in such a society. In particular, conception: only biologically female bodies can carry and birth offspring.¹

Sex and gender can be seen as crystallising the two main philosophical positions on natural kinds, structural and intensional. Gender, in this reading, is certainly intensional, as it covers socio-psychological traits like empathy or spatial awareness. Even if these are ultimately biologically influenced or even determined, we interpret them intensionally, as traits. Sex is slightly more ambiguous. In modern times it has become customary to associate sex with chromosomes², but sex is also used to refer to basic biological traits, especially genitals. Genes are firmly structural, but genitals are intensional. So “sex” is used ambiguously with regard to type of reference.

The spiritual and idealist approaches to identity map even less neatly onto the “sex”/“gender” binary. Both are conceived of as innate and immovable, suggesting that they are not part of the contingent social trait definition of “gender”, but they can also exist in sharp contradiction to the firmly material connotation of “sex”. This leads us to the thorny problem of trans-sexuality. A would-be trans-woman: still has an XY sex chromosome pair; is still susceptible to male illnesses; can never conceive; has experienced society as a male; but considers themself to be female, and acts in some ways that could be considered female. And the same applies in reverse for would-be trans-men.

Unlike for sex/gender itself, trans status is not at all structural³, even though structural essence is, I would say, the valid way of defining a natural kind. What’s more, pro-trans identitarians are not generally satisfied with the functional argument that a would-be trans-sexual is to be referred to as their preferred sex only out of polite respect for their choice: instead, the would-be trans-sexual is strongly asserted to be really and truly their preferred sex. The popular claim is that “trans-women are women”, not that “trans-women should be treated as women”, and polite pragmatists, such as JK Rowling, are ferociously cancelled.

It is also difficult to describe this as intensional, based on attributes, because so many of the real traits of the would-be trans-sexual are still those generally associated with their structural sex. Even within those traits, the more concrete the traits are—bodily organs, procreation, disease susceptibility—the less plausible they are as trans traits. The traits relied on by trans activists, for example in the ubiquitous “I knew my trans-daughter was trans because she liked...” lists, tend to be the most superficial—wearing dresses, playing with dolls, etc.

Trans status is then one of the two remaining options. Either it is a spiritual essence, the idea that, regardless of the material evidence, this individual is female “inside”; or, it is an idealist essence, an essence of the will, where the individual reforms the world around them with their mind. This drastic ontological difference, between how trans activists are obliged to view their identity (since the other options are unavailable to them, given their defining prior ontological commitment) and how many traditional feminists have viewed their identity, is at the heart of the conflict between trans activists and so-called “TERFs”.

Sexuality

Another important example of the primacy of essence in identitarianism is the importance that most identitarians place, from both pro- and anti- directions, on whether homosexuality is innate or a choice. From a standpoint that was liberal but objective, it should not make any difference whether homosexuality was innate or a choice: it doesn't cause anyone direct harm other nebulous harms of "offence" and "discomfort". But if homosexuality were a choice, then it would be harder to fit it into an essentialist schema, and if it could not be fitted into an essentialist schema then it would not be an appropriate category of identity. Parallelling this, conservative identitarians, who value their identity as heterosexual and often also their religious identity (see below), need for homosexuality to be a choice so that they can reject it from within their essentialist ontology. It is not enough for them simply to cite ills they suppose to be associated with homosexuality, because their prior commitment to essentialism obliges them to pay at least token respect to essential traits.

Probably because homosexuality is more precariously placed as an essence, as discussed above, its advocates tend to steer clear from the idealist model. As before, identitarian advocates also do not countenance the functional model, whereby homosexuality is essential only insofar as it is useful for us to describe it as such. After all, the identitarian model of politics, which uses the essentialist theory of being as one of its bases, demands special privileges based on essences, on the basis that they are fundamental to individuality.

Queer activists often place high priority on structural essence, the idea that sexuality is determined by one's genes. This might seem odd, given that there is very little factual evidence for a clear genetic basis for homosexuality at all. However, the motive becomes clear once one understand the essentialist theory of being that underlies identitarian politics. Because homosexuality is harder to affirm as being innate, since sexual orientation is fluid across a lifetime, it becomes more important to emphasise the most concrete measures of essence. In its own way, this tendency by queer activists is an affirmation of the primacy of the structural model of essence. The identitarians are aware that structural essence is the gold standard for natural kinds, and though they will use other measures where that seems more convenient, when pressed they return to structural essence.

The remaining two types of essence are used sporadically. Intensional essence used to be popular with low-information identitarians, and many homosexuals and heterosexuals still identify in practice as having very different interests and behaviours. But now, the former tales of “I knew my son was gay because he liked dolls instead of football” have become “I knew my trans-daughter was trans because she liked dolls instead of football”. As the fashion has changed, as trans-sexual children have become liberal parents' trendy accessory instead of gay children, so has the emphasis on intension over structure.

Spiritual essence is not much used directly for sexuality in modern society, as those who prioritise their heterosexual identity tend to believe heterosexuality to be universal, and those who prioritise their homosexual identity tend to be atheists. However, it is implicit in thoughts about the spiritual process of reïncarnation: when considering who one will love in a future life, one imagines a partner of the same sex that one is attracted to in life. (The mentally ill individuals who believe themselves to be “multiple systems” [see Otherkin below] also often ascribe a distinct sexual orientation to each of their residents, though this may be more to do with the fetishistic nature of their mental illness.)

It is worth mentioning here the intra-identitarian debate over whether identity of sexuality is actually a form of identity of gender. This is distinct from the usual dismissal of whether an identity axis is valid, because it recognises sexuality as essential, but only as part of the gender essence. This debate comes from both sides. On one side, conservative and religious identitarians often believe that sexual orientation is properly a trait of biological sex, whereby females are oriented towards males and vice versa. On the other, some feminists believe that sexual orientation is only relevant because of that conservative / religious viewpoint. This is interesting in this discussion because it relates to the views of essence adopted by the two groups: both tend to view sex as structural but differently causal, conservatives to suggest that the fixed structure of sex determines sexuality (or ought to), and this subset of feminists to suggest that the fixed structure of sex is what matters, so contingent traits, such as sexuality, are less important.

Otherkin

Having mentioned Otherkin, who may not be familiar to all readers, I will proceed to discuss them briefly here. Bluntly, some individuals claim to believe themselves to be of species other than human, including species that are not real. Generally, individuals who claim to be something they are patently not are either attention-seekers or mentally ill, and otherkin are no exception. As such, this group is not widely accepted by other identitarians, but as discussed at the outset, this is not really important: they believe themselves to have this identity, and they tend to strongly support other forms of identitarianism as well, even if that support is not (yet) widely reciprocated. Their terminology and theories are extremely varied to the point of incoherence, but they can broadly be classed as follows

Therians / Animalkin
Individuals who believe they are actually animals, commonly wolves and generally other charismatic megafauna.
Otherkin(-proper)
Individuals who believe they are actually of a fictional species, commonly dragons and elves.
Fictives / Fictionkin
Individuals who believe that they are actually a specific fictional character, commonly from Japanese anime.
Multiple systems / Polykin
Individuals who believe that they are actually lots of different entities somehow existing simultaneously in one body.

The otherkin pathology has arisen alongside the growth spurt of identity politics in general, because it takes those claims at their word, and to their inevitable conclusion. If a biological male can actually be female, be that through surface traits, spiritual nature, or bald assertion, then why can a human not be a wolf, or a dragon, or Naruto? Once one accepts the trans-sexual argument, or even accepts the identity argument in any form other than purely structural natural kinds, there is no logical reason to reject the claims of the otherkin. The case is obviously strongest for animals, but even for, say, dragons: if there are unseen souls that exist distinctly in human bodies, and these souls need not relate in their essences to those human bodies, then what ground has the spiritualist identitarian to argue that there are no souls available that are of essences that they have not seen? I, of course, would argue that this is the Principle of Explosion working its brutal and inexorable logic on the flawed assumptions of non-structural essentialism.

Looking directly at otherkin essences, although there are a few otherkin who claim to be genetically of their other kind, this is, like the equivalent for trans-sexuals, mostly a grievous failure on the part of the education system rather than any systematic theory. Banal intensional essence is popular, at least as a supposed evidence base (e.g., “I must be a fishkin because I like swimming”), and spiritual essentialism is, as discussed, very widely accepted as a necessary part of otherkin ontology.

However, it is interesting to note that otherkin also make significant use of both idealist and functional essentialism. This is a fascinating contrast to the reaction of homosexual activists to their tentative natural kind status, where they insist, against evidence, on a structural, genetic basis. Otherkin who wish to avoid spiritualist woo-woo do not even have the option of claiming structural essence plausibly available to them (what would it even mean to have “dragon DNA”, let alone before moving to the inorganic otherkin, such as stonekin or voidkin?), and must thus retreat into more defiant territory. One can find otherkin who believe they are otherkin because they assert themselves to be so, and otherkin who say, of their own identity, that it is not real as such, but a functional status that they find useful because they enjoy it.

Age

A welcome return to a rigid designator after our increasingly wild detour, age is another non-structural invariant, exclusive characteristic. Like location, it is indexed to a fact about how you relate to reality. No matter what you may wish, you were born x days ago. Age is also useful as an identity criterion because it correlates strongly to traits that are importantly useful for us to distinguish between, that is, old folk behave differently to young folk, and have different physical characteristics, in ways that are non-deterministic but strongly correlated.

Again like location, there is no purely structural way to understand it—age is not a natural kind. Nor can one plausibly assert oneself to be a different age any more than I can assert myself to be currently on Mars.. Nor does age seem particularly a quality of spirit, though depictions of ghosts of children often have them continue to act and think childishly, even if they have been ghosts for many years, and should therefore have been continuing to develop their faculties.

No, age is an intensional essence of the special kind that is rigid at any given moment, like location. This might change in the future if space-travel takes off, though. Time progresses more slowly at relativistic speeds, and progresses faster far from gravity wells. Could a child qualify for a pension, or be legally married, if they are put onto a spaceship travelling near the speed of light for a while? As with much else, our societies will need to adapt to changing technological capability.

Wealth vs Class

Wealth and class can be thought of as like sex and gender: an invariant material characteristic that non-deterministically informs a set of social traits. Wealth itself is a material trait that cannot be changed instantly. Class has two main meanings: first, the “set of traits” meaning analogous to gender, which is how the word is popularly used; and a family of meanings in post-Marxian sociology, perhaps the clearest of which is that class is about the individual's relationship to the means of production, primarily ownership of them (capitalists), management of them (bourgeoisie), use of them (proletariat), or parasitism of them (lumpen).

As an identity, these elements are hybridised into what one might call “poorism”: the fetishisation and glorification of poverty and the cultures it produces. There is a pervasive belief that the poor live lives that are somehow more “authentic”, a word with powerful essentialist connotations. The popular image of the happy poor and the miserable rich is belied by every piece of research and survey data that demonstrates time and again that the rich are consistently happier than the poor, yet this entirely intuitive finding is somehow denied by popular culture. Instead, a Nietzschean Sklavenmoral of passivity and low quality is reified into an “identity” and placed at the centre of ontology. It is important to note that the essentialist theory of being characteristic of the identity model of society is so closely tied to Sklavenmoral, and hence to the palatabilist theory of truth. This is why the identity model of society has become more prevalent as technology has pushed the secular cycle beyond its normal limits, with a surfeit of population skewing culture towards Sklavenmoral. It is also why it is so much more prevalent among groups that have been historically weak. Even in the early stages of identity politics, it was not coincidental that early twentieth-century nationalism found more fertile soil in the second-rate empires of Italy, Germany, and Spain than in the superpowers of Britain and France.

(Dis-)Ability

By ability, I mean physical, mental, and emotional disability, which is another commonly cited identity or “protected characteristic”. These can often be structural, if they are from a genetic cause, but even when they are not structural they are generally invariant designators: an amputee can't grow new legs. For our immediate purposes examining how they relate to the essentialist theory of being, there is an interesting division between physical and emotional disability that mirrors what we have observed before (with mental disability somewhere inbetween). Because physical disability is visible and obviously invariant, especially over short periods, its advocates do not tend to need to discuss its validity as a site of identity. Emotional health is however not invariant—it does recover sharply, or with sufficient extrinsic motivation. As such, emotional health activists are very vocal about their disability being supposedly invariant: usually to do with their genes, or their biochemistry; at a bare minimum, “I can't help it”. Yet there is very little direct evidence that any given emotional disability is caused by a given genetic structure or biochemical reality, and every theory that is mooted is promptly disproved, with the serotonin theory of depression the most significant recent casualty. Despite this, emotional health identitarians are unambiguous in placing the blame for their suffering on invariant traits.

This will become more important when we examine the palatabilist theory of truth and Sklavenmoral in more detail as they relate to the identity model of society. For now, it is significant, like with homosexuality, that the more tentative essential nature of emotional disability leads to a defensive emphasis on unproven and spurious structural explanations, in order to justify its status as an essence, and thus its position in the social order of identity.

Religion

Is religion an identity? For the religious, they often experience their religion as an absolute of their existence, that they could not change even should they want to. Many atheists and agnostics disagree: many of those who have never had a religion don't understand why a religion could inspire such feelings in the first place; many of those who abandoned their religion think that everyone has a choice about it in the same way that they did. There are two important exceptions to this trend: some religions are explicitly racially based (i.e. racist), such as Judaism, and others that are not explicitly racially based have strong connections to a particular ethnicity, such as Islam to Arabs; and left identitarians, influenced by palatabilism and Sklavenmoral, treat any “oppressed” and/or exotic religions as being valid identities, but are unwilling to make the same allowance for “oppressor” or domestic religions. The case is also complicated by the legacy of the European Wars of Religion, which were resolved by making personal religious choice out of bounds for public policy.

Religion, precisely by being an outlier case, helps to make clear some of the dividing lines over essentialism. Those who see identity as being about structural natural kinds, or at least invariant, exclusive, real characteristics, get baffled that anyone would even consider religion an identity. Those who see identity as being about spirits, or idealism, or even just functionality, can understand religion as a basis for identity. And this is why a widespread understanding of the essentialist theory of being is essential for understanding identity politics. Once you understand that identity is about essences, and the five main types, most other problems of identity resolve themselves.


sum θoətiz abaʊt ðiiy esenʃəlist θiəriiy ov biiyiŋ [wip]

“miiy enjoiy oəl taipiz ov myʊʊzik, but ðə myʊʊzik ov miis oʊn fleʃ and blud goʊ rait tə miis haət.”
—nelsən mandelə, loŋ wʊək tə friidəm (1994)

definiʃəniz ov definiʃən

kwes wot miin ðis “tə bii”? mii fiil az ðoʊ miiy egzist az mii rait ðiiz wuədiz; ðeə siim az ðoʊ ðeə biiy a teibəl at wic mii sit, and a glas ov wʊətə tə miis said. kwes wot miin ðis foər an objekt tə biiy a teibəl, oər a glas, oə wʊətər, oə mii? kwes wot miin ðis tə biiy an objekt?

ðiiy aidentiteəriiən projekt teik az a faʊndeiʃən a patikyələr ansə tə ðiiz kwescəniz, az dii rileit tə biiyiŋg hyʊʊmən: tə bii hyʊʊmən bii tə biiy a kompozit ov an areiy ov ineit, puəmənənt karaktəristikiz, suc az um-iis buəθ-pleis, ansestrii, skin kulə, jendə, sekʃʊʊwalitiiy, and les komənliiy uðə suc karaktəristikiz. ðis θiərii hav muc in komən wið ðə konsept ov a “nacərəl kaind” [a grʊʊpiŋ ðat riflekt ðə strukcər ov ðə nacərəl wuəld raəðə ðan ðiiy intrestiz and akʃəniz ov hyʊʊmən biiyiŋgiz, s.e.f.]. ðoʊ ðeə bii muc dibeit in filosəfii oʊvə weðə nacərəl kaindiz egzist at oəl, let aloʊn az baiyəlojikəl oə soʊʃəl katəgriiyiz, wot biiy ov relvəns tʊʊw aidentiteəriiənizəm foə ðə moʊmənt bii ðat aidentiteəriiəniz akt az ðoʊ ðeə bii suc nacərəl kaindiz, ðat esenʃəl hyʊʊmən treitiz foəl intə ðat katəgriiy, and ðat ðiiz treitiz bii ðə praimərii beisisiz ov wic biiyiŋ bii kəmpoʊzəð.

wii kan breik daʊn definiʃən intə tii beisik taipiz. ðiiz biiy oftən triitəð bai bainərii θinkəriz az if oʊnliiy um kan bii trʊʊw, and ðiiy uðəriz rijektəð. skeilə θinkəriz rekəgnaizil imiijətlii ðat iic havil hiis yʊʊsiz in difrənt kontekstiz, iivən foə ðə seim tuəm.

intenʃən
diskripʃəniz ov ðə propətiiyiz ov a klas ov θiŋgiz. kwes yii diskraibin wot a θiŋg oə klas biiy in wuədiz, wið a freiz oə grʊʊp ov freiziz? if soʊ, ðen yii probəblii difainin ‘definiʃən’ intenʃənəlii. foər egzampəl, 'a bacelə' biiy “an un-mariiyəð man”. ðis biiy espeʃəlii wel-sʊʊtəð tʊʊw abstrakt konseptiz oə wuədiz ðat bii ʃʊət-handiz.
ekstenʃən
rifəriŋ dairektlii tə ðə set ov entitiiyiz in a klas ov θiŋgiz. kwes ðii pointin at oə listin egzampəliz ov a θiŋg oə klas in ʊədə tʊʊw eksplein wot dii bii? if soʊ, ðen ðii probəblii difainin ‘definiʃən’ ekstenʃənəlii. ðis biiy espeʃəlii wel-sʊʊtəð tə konkriit entitiiyiz, espeʃəlii ðoʊz wið veig definiʃəniz.
nacərəl kaindiz
ðiiz bii praimerilii fizikəl saiyəntifik katəgriiyiz suc az molikyʊʊliz oə spiiʃiiziz. in miis vyʊʊ, ðiiz bii best undəstandəð az patəniz in ðə strukcəriz ov taipiz ov entitiiy.

aidentiteəriiənizəm biiy a frakcərəð kriid. imajən a grʊʊp ov diiy in a rʊʊm təgeðə: diiy oəl agrii ðat aidentitiiyiz egzist and ðat aidentitiiyiz impaət morəl steitəs, but dii hav noʊw agriimənt on wic aidentitiiyiz egzist, hoʊw aidentitiiyiz bii difainəð, hoʊw an ontolojikəl aidentitii kʊd impaət a morəl steitəs, oə wic morəl steitəs biiy impaətəð bai wic aidentitiiy. and ðen, non-aidentiteəriiəniz oəlsoʊ hav vyʊʊwiz on ðiiz nacərəl kaindiz, wic sumtaimiz oʊvə-lap wið aidentiteəriiən vyʊʊwiz, but bii friikwəntlii verii difrənt. miiy əbsuəviv fi kii familiiyiz ov stans abaʊt ðə nacərəl kaindiz esenʃəlizəm (n.k.e.) vyʊʊ-point. [not filosofikəl stansiz: stansiz amuŋ ðə jenrəl popyəleiʃən.] ðiiz biiy: intenʃənəl; spiricwəl; aidiiəlist; strukcərəl; funkʃənəl.

intenʃənəl esenʃəlizəm
an indivijwəl y biloŋ tʊʊw a nacərəl kaind x bikuz foər oəl (oə sufiʃənt) treitiz, if y hav ðoʊʒ treitiz, ðen y biiy a membər ov x. bai hiiself ðis bii kwait a primitivist, nacərəlistik vyʊʊ-point, and tend tə bii hoʊldəð bai loʊw-infəmeiʃən aidentiteəriiəniz and non-aidentiteəriiəniz alaik.
spiricwəl esenʃəlizəm
y biloŋ tə x bikuz y-iis spiricwəl esəns bii ðat ov x. ðis biiy a rilijəs oə wʊʊ-wʊʊ vyʊʊ. ðis biiy agen verii primitiv, karəktəristik ov loʊw-infəmeiʃən, and kurəntlii skyʊʊ təwʊəd ðə left ov ðiiy aidentiteəriiən spektrəm, ðoʊ suətənlii menii rait aidentiteəriiəniz biiyiv suc wʊʊ-wʊʊ spiricwəlistiz tʊʊw.
aidiiəlist esenʃəlizəm
y biloŋ tə x bikuz y asuət ðat y bii x. ðis vyʊʊ reprizent ðə traiyəmf ov ðə wil. in fʊəmə taimiz ðis biiyid a faə-rait pəziʃən, opoʊzəð tə ðə matiəriiəlizəm ov ðə left. tədei ðis biiy oəlmoʊst eksklʊʊsivliiy a left-aidentiteəriiən pəziʃən.
strukcərəl esenʃəlizəm
y biloŋ tə x bikuz y-iis molekyələ strukcə bii karəktəristik ov ðat ov ðə set x. in filosəfiiy ov langwij, ðis bii broədlii ðə vyʊʊw ov nacərəl kaindiz hoʊldəð bai kripkiiy and putnəm (ðoʊ diis bii mʊə konvəlʊʊtəð az dii biiy akademik filosofəriz), and ðis biiy oəlsoʊ ðə vyʊʊw ov nacərəl kaindiz tə wic mii praimerilii subskraib from a fʊəməl pəspektiv. (evrii filosofər ov langwij must hav a vyʊʊw ov nacərəl kaindiz: ðis implai not supʊət foə beisiŋg ontolojiiy on dii.) ðis bii not verii komənlii hoʊldəð bai ðə fuəðist-left aidentiteəriiəniz, hʊʊ tend tə bii filosofikəl aidiiəlistiz, but bikum inkriisiŋglii komən az um ej up ðə skeil təwʊəd rait aidentiteəriiəniz.
funkʃənəl esenʃəlizəm
y biloŋ tə x bikuz ðis bii yʊʊsfəl foə wii tə diskraib y az biloŋgiŋ tə x. ðis bii jenrəlii just pragmatik gʊd sens, and ðus bii yʊʊʒwəliiy a karəktəristik ov non-aidentiteəriiəniz. wen limitəð tə nacərəl kaindiz, miiy endʊəs ðis vyʊʊw aloŋsaid strukcərəl esenʃəlizəm: ðə patəniz wiiy aidentifaiy in nacərəl kaindiz-iis strukcəriz bii cʊʊzəð bikuz dii korispond tə makroʊ-treitiz ðat ðis bii yʊʊsfəl foə wii tə distingwiʃ bitwiin. (agen, ðis lingwistik stans on nacərəl kaindiz implai not supʊət foə beisiŋg ontolojiiy on diiy.)

in praktis, multipəl ov ðiiz aəgyəməntiz biiy oftən diploiyəð simulteiniiyəslii, rigaədləs ov kontekst and rigaədləs ov kontrədikʃən, in a fuzii baraəʒ ov bestiiəl ilojik ðat siim intendəð tʊʊw oʊvəwelm raəðə ðan tə prʊʊv.

az sujestəð in ðə list, ðə moʊst obviiyəs, primitiv wei tə difain a nacərəl kaind bii θrʊʊw an intenʃənəl karəktəristik, yet moʊst ov ðiiz treitiz bii kəntinjənt. ov koəs ðeə bii nuθiŋg in praktis stopiŋg aidentiteəriiyəniz from difainiŋ diis grʊʊp yʊʊziŋ primitiv intenʃənəl karəktəristikiz. ðus wii hav ðə “trʊʊ skotsmaniz”, hʊʊw iit hagis and weə kiltiz and kwoʊt burnz and voʊt s.n.p.. laikwaiz “trəə wʊməniz” hʊʊ bii kənsenʃʊʊwəl and librəl (az menii feministiz sujest ðə wuəld wʊd biiy if hii biiyid runəð bai wʊməniz), “trʊʊ gei maniz” hʊʊ mins oə hav radikəl politiks, ets. ðiiz kəntinjənt treitiz haʊwevə biiy unsusteinəbəl az ðə beisis foə nacərəl kaindiz: diiy oəlweiz feis ðə probləm ov diis feilyə tə korispond tə riiyality. ðiiz “trʊʊ x” definiʃəniz bii yʊʊzəð bikuz dii bii yʊʊsfəl tə sumum, and soʊ paralel wuədiz bii koinəð, oə sumtaimiz ðə kʊə wuəd bii yʊʊzəð ambigyʊʊwəslii tə difain ðə subset. but dii bii not eibəl tə sustein priiyeminəns az a definiʃən ov ðə broəd nacərəl kaind.

nacərəl kaindiz kan oəlsoʊ biiy eksplʊərəð θrʊʊw an areteiyik haibrid ov intenʃən and ekstenʃən: a vuəcʊʊw ontoləjii. wii kan sii ðis in ðiiy impʊətəns pleisəð in aidentiteəriiən kulcər on listiz ov greit indivijʊʊwəliz from um-iis deməgrafik. ðeə bii kaʊntləs listiz onlain ov "greit blakiz" and "greit wʊməniz" and "greit ðis ðat and ðiiy uðə". ðə prinsipəl undəlaiyiŋ ðis bii ðat, az ðiiy indivijʊʊwəl raitiŋg oə riidiŋ ðə list ʃeər an esenʃəl karəktəristik wið ðə greit indivijʊʊwəl, hii must ðeəfoə oəlsoʊ ʃeə ðə greit indivijʊʊwəl-iis uðə karəktəristikiz, wic meikid hii greit, bikuz esenʃəl karəktəristikiz kriiyeit ðə rest ov um-iis biiyiŋg and riiyalitii. soʊ foər egzampəl, bikuz jʊʊliiyəs siizər and aliksandə ðə greit biiyid briliyənt and suksesfəl baisekʃʊʊwəl maniz, uðə baisekʃʊʊwəl maniz kʊd bii (wiik esenʃəlizəm) oə must bii (stroŋg esenʃəlizəm) briliiyənt and suksesfəl az wel.

ðə paradaim keisiz ov suc treitiz ðen biiy inveəriiənt, eksklʊʊsiv, and riil. inveəriiənt: evrii membər ov ðə set hav ðə treit. eksklʊʊsiv: oʊnlii membəriz ov ðə set hav ðə treit. riil: ðə treit bii meʒərəbəl, spəsifik, and aidiəlii fizikəl. wii kʊd seiy ov strukcərəl esəns ðat ðis simplii pik um suc intenʃənəl karəktəristik—patən in məlekyələ strukcə—and dikleə wiðaʊt səfiʃənt justifikeiʃən ðat ðat intenʃənəl karəktəristik and ðat um aloʊn bii ðə valid graʊnd foə difainiŋg a nacərəl kaind. mii θink ðis biiy oʊnliiy a valid kritiik if um insist on θinkiŋ baineəriliiy: akseptiŋ strukcər az a beisis foə nacərəl kaind refrəns priklʊʊd not yʊʊziŋg uðə fʊəmiz ov refrəns foər uðə tuəmiz, oər iivən foə ðə seim tuəmiz in uðə, non-nacərəl kaind contekstiz. ðis bii laikwaiz ðə rispons tə kritisizəmiz ðat ðis modəl alaʊ foə multipəl patəniz tə bii faindəð (gʊd, and ov koəs: wii yʊʊz ðə patəniz ðat bii yʊʊsfəl tə wiiy) and ðat ðiiz patəniz oftən hav heiziiy ejiz (soʊ wot, ðə patəniz hoʊld wel inuf foə dii tʊ bii yʊʊsfə tə wii).

loʊkeiʃən at a givəð point in taim (foə ðiiz puəpəsiz, yʊʊʒəliiy at buəθ oər in ðə prezənt) bii, bai ðə loəriz ov fizikz, an inveəriiyənt, eksklʊʊsiv, riil karəktəristik: ðii aiðə biiyid beərəð in aidentiland oə ðii biiyid not; ðii aiðə liv in aidentiland oə ðii liv not ðeə. soʊ ðat bii not a primitiv intenʃənəl aəgyəmənt, weəbai um inklʊʊd oəl soətiz ov kəntinjənt karəktəristikiz laik "iit ðə seim fʊʊd az aidentilandəriz", "weə ðə seim kloʊðiz az aidentilandəriz", ets. riəlii ðis biiy a nacərəl kaindiz-stail aəgyəmənt, in ðat hii rilai on an inveəriiyənt, eksklʊʊsiv, riil taip ov intenʃənəl karəktəristik. az suc, loʊkeiʃən biiyiv a meijə sʊəs ov aidentiteəriiən foʊkəs throughout history. We will see that other quasi-natural kinds can be adduced as essences when they likewise behave like them.


Essential Essences

The importance of this idea of natural kinds, of essential characteristics, is evident from the type of categories that are in practice used as the primary bases of identity. The two most important categories of identity – race and gender – are mostly-rigid characteristics that cannot be changed, because they relate to one’s DNA (albeit, in both cases, a very small part of it, and in a fuzzy way consistent with structural natural kinds). These differences are then interpreted as major discrete groupings.

It is important to realise that identitarianism is not only a left- or right-wing phenomenon. Rather there is a classic doublethink operation, where partisans loudly and symmetrically attack each other for being so focussed on identity. Historically, a combination of extreme power differentials and limited communication technology meant that only dominant identities could be exercised, especially those focussed on a local self-sustaining community. Today more previously subservient or submerged identities have emerged, but they are all united by adherence to the doctrine that essence-as-identity is the real and proper (i.e. descriptive and prescriptive) foundation of socio-political organisation. This principle of essentialism makes for (and explains) some interesting divisions among identitarians. This division is also important for reminding us that individuals, even from within the identitarian spectrum, will disagree vigorously about whether certain identities are valid or exist at all. From a philosophical perspective, I think it best to take a broad view of the whole spectrum of identity, especially as edge cases are often the most useful for helping us to identify and test our theories on a subject.

Location vs Inheritance (Race / Ethnicity / Family)

A rigid designator that applies to an individual is their location, and location seems to be a constant of identity throughout history. Location, especially at birth or in the past, is fixed and specific. The rigidity of location as an essential characteristic is what allows for civic nationalism as a less controversial nationalist platform than racial nationalism. But which location? Location of birth is often used as a criterion for automatic legal citizenship, and for moral citizenship. Current location is also used, be that location of residence or location of significant ownership. For right identitarians these factual definitions are the basis for their identitarianism, but this is not sufficient for the left.

A few years ago, Google ran an advertising campaign which posed the question, "What is Britishness?". The answer that Google gave was to show lots of photos of black and Asian celebrities, most notably a Somali athlete, resident in America, who registered himself as British because he could get better funding from Britain than from Somalia, but who is often held up by progressives as being the quintessential exemplar of British culture. Mohamed Farah, the Somali athlete in question, is on the frontline of the philosophical problem of national identity. He wasn't born in Britain. He doesn't live in Britain. He has no British ancestry. He is not especially fluent in the national language. He does not follow a traditionally British religion (Islam). He is known to be personally unpopular with other British athletes. Relative to his level of success (he has held all of the Olympic, World and European gold medals in both the 5,000m and 10,000m male running events), he has been one of the least popular athletes in Britain, always scoring aberrantly low in popularity polls.

But he considers himself to be British (or claims as much anyway, which is all we can go on in that regard), and therefore his claim to Britishness is ferociously defended by left identitarians. This is not an intensional Britishness of traits, or a locative Britishness of place, or a structural Britishness of genetic patterns. It is partly a pragmatic Britishness—there is cynical utility in allowing a champion athlete to pretend to be British—but the defence is more sincere than that. This is akin to a spiritual Britishness of the soul: an idealist Britishness of the will. He has declared himself British, and that assertion of will is sufficient to restructure the world around him. The basis of the left's civic nationalism is not location, but the triumph of the will.

There is therefore a fundamental clash between these two groups, both of which broadly accept the premiss that location is a valid socio-political basis. On one side, realists, who look to material grounds for rooting their identity; on the other, idealists, who root their identity in the power of their assertions. This is not even considering those who believe that other identities should be paramount, or even those of us who believe that identity would not be paramount in a utopian “kingdom of ends” at all. This is an unbridgeable divide between those who agree on the primacy of location. This explains the bitter conflict between the two camps. Yes, tribalism is a factor too, but it is tribal division arising from a real divide.

Closely related to location is inheritance. Low historical levels of transportation technology, and aids in adapting to counter-evolutionary environments, meant that for the most part, location and inheritance were highly correlated. But inheritance holds socio-political advantages and disadvantages relative to location. Among its disadvantages, it is a much fuzzier trait, and the fuzziness increases with the scale of the difference. This is both unhelpful and helpful: unhelpful because it becomes less accurate the more we would want to use it; helpful because the increased difference counteracts the reduced accuracy. Another disadvantage in theory is that it could make it more difficult to maintain cohesion in a multi-ethnic society—but as we will see, this is really an argument against multi-culturalism.

The main advantage of inheritance as a basis is that it is emotionally satisfying to the bestial nature inherent in all humans. Tangible affinity—looks, sounds, smells, etc—appears to be innate in all animal species, presumably as a survival mechanism for genes. Genetic patterns that select for affinity for themselves will ceteris paribus outcompete genetic patterns that do not. This may well be irrelevant in a naïve “Kingdom of Ends” utopia, but in the real world it has real implications that cannot be ignored without consequence. The most significant is that this descriptive reality voids the prescriptive disadvantages: if p is false, then it doesn't matter whether or not p would be useful or moral in a world where it were true.

As well as having innately fuzzy boundaries, the terms we use for these categories are also ill-defined. What counts as a “race” vs an “ethnicity” vs a “people” vs a “nation” vs a “tribe” vs a “clan” vs an “extended family” vs whatever else? These terms vary significantly by place and by time: if you think you know exactly where the boundaries are, you're only showing that you haven't taken a wide enough view of their usage.

Sex vs Gender

For sex / gender, the realist-idealist conflict has resulted in some tortuous specialisation of terminology. This different terminology is supposed to make the cases clearer, but unwitting and intentional misuse of and disagreement over the terms all result in more confusion and conflict. A brief précis of how I tend to understand the terms:

Sex
“Biological” status. Either structurally via chromosomes, or intensionally via possession (at birth) of functioning genitalia associated with males or females. These two groups cover around 99.9% of live human births, and an even higher proportion of functioning members of human society. The term is medieval in English, meaning a division (like “section”).
Gender
Social or psychological status. Most superficial intensional traits are linked to gender rather than sex. Traditionally, and still for most folks, gender and sex mapped fairly equally onto each other, with biological males treated as and thinking of themselves as social males, and vice versa. This started to change as “sex” gained erotic associations, and then feminists wanted to distinguish between the biological and social traits associated with sex/gender. The term is also medieval in English, meaning a type or kind (like “genre”).
Trans-
The state of being somehow a different sex or gender than would otherwise be expected. What can this actually mean other than a vague, meaningless aspiration? That will be covered in my forthcoming piece of trans-sexual metaphysics.
“Cis”-
The opposite of trans-. Despite the supposed cultural norm of allowing folks to self-identify, this word has been imposed on this group externally. Not that this is a great problem in itself—if there are to be trans individuals, then there needs to be a term for their antithesis, and this one is as good as any—but this act exposes the fundamental falseness and hypocrisy of progressives' claimed desire to avoid both oppression and the causing of offence.

Used consistently, joining the terms gives us “trans-sex(ual)” (and “cis-sex(ual)”), meaning a change (or continuation) in biological status; and “trans-gender” (and “cis-gender”), meaning a change (or continuation) in social status. I will tend to use the terms in this manner.

These divisions are in theory useful (the former more than the latter) for distinguishing between elements that are different in ways that are important to us. For example, it is useful to distinguish between those traits that are innate or near-universal to females by virtue of their biology, and those traits that are contingent upon social conditions, because the latter can be changed more easily, should that be desired. The slight changes from historical usage are not problems per se: words change constantly to reflect social need.

Additionally, biological sex in particular is a useful trait for an animal society engaged in asymmetric sexual reproduction to differentiate on. Whatever one may think about the tendencies exhibited by females and males—even if the supposed tendencies towards female empathy, male spatial awareness, etc, are real, they might be biological or social—either way there are some traits that are both biological and important in such a society. In particular, conception: only biologically female bodies can carry and birth offspring.¹

Sex and gender can be seen as crystallising the two main philosophical positions on natural kinds, structural and intensional. Gender, in this reading, is certainly intensional, as it covers socio-psychological traits like empathy or spatial awareness. Even if these are ultimately biologically influenced or even determined, we interpret them intensionally, as traits. Sex is slightly more ambiguous. In modern times it has become customary to associate sex with chromosomes², but sex is also used to refer to basic biological traits, especially genitals. Genes are firmly structural, but genitals are intensional. So “sex” is used ambiguously with regard to type of reference.

The spiritual and idealist approaches to identity map even less neatly onto the “sex”/“gender” binary. Both are conceived of as innate and immovable, suggesting that they are not part of the contingent social trait definition of “gender”, but they can also exist in sharp contradiction to the firmly material connotation of “sex”. This leads us to the thorny problem of trans-sexuality. A would-be trans-woman: still has an XY sex chromosome pair; is still susceptible to male illnesses; can never conceive; has experienced society as a male; but considers themself to be female, and acts in some ways that could be considered female. And the same applies in reverse for would-be trans-men.

Unlike for sex/gender itself, trans status is not at all structural³, even though structural essence is, I would say, the valid way of defining a natural kind. What’s more, pro-trans identitarians are not generally satisfied with the functional argument that a would-be trans-sexual is to be referred to as their preferred sex only out of polite respect for their choice: instead, the would-be trans-sexual is strongly asserted to be really and truly their preferred sex. The popular claim is that “trans-women are women”, not that “trans-women should be treated as women”, and polite pragmatists, such as JK Rowling, are ferociously cancelled.

It is also difficult to describe this as intensional, based on attributes, because so many of the real traits of the would-be trans-sexual are still those generally associated with their structural sex. Even within those traits, the more concrete the traits are—bodily organs, procreation, disease susceptibility—the less plausible they are as trans traits. The traits relied on by trans activists, for example in the ubiquitous “I knew my trans-daughter was trans because she liked...” lists, tend to be the most superficial—wearing dresses, playing with dolls, etc.

Trans status is then one of the two remaining options. Either it is a spiritual essence, the idea that, regardless of the material evidence, this individual is female “inside”; or, it is an idealist essence, an essence of the will, where the individual reforms the world around them with their mind. This drastic ontological difference, between how trans activists are obliged to view their identity (since the other options are unavailable to them, given their defining prior ontological commitment) and how many traditional feminists have viewed their identity, is at the heart of the conflict between trans activists and so-called “TERFs”.

Sexuality

Another important example of the primacy of essence in identitarianism is the importance that most identitarians place, from both pro- and anti- directions, on whether homosexuality is innate or a choice. From a standpoint that was liberal but objective, it should not make any difference whether homosexuality was innate or a choice: it doesn't cause anyone direct harm other nebulous harms of "offence" and "discomfort". But if homosexuality were a choice, then it would be harder to fit it into an essentialist schema, and if it could not be fitted into an essentialist schema then it would not be an appropriate category of identity. Parallelling this, conservative identitarians, who value their identity as heterosexual and often also their religious identity (see below), need for homosexuality to be a choice so that they can reject it from within their essentialist ontology. It is not enough for them simply to cite ills they suppose to be associated with homosexuality, because their prior commitment to essentialism obliges them to pay at least token respect to essential traits.

Probably because homosexuality is more precariously placed as an essence, as discussed above, its advocates tend to steer clear from the idealist model. As before, identitarian advocates also do not countenance the functional model, whereby homosexuality is essential only insofar as it is useful for us to describe it as such. After all, the identitarian model of politics, which uses the essentialist theory of being as one of its bases, demands special privileges based on essences, on the basis that they are fundamental to individuality.

Queer activists often place high priority on structural essence, the idea that sexuality is determined by one's genes. This might seem odd, given that there is very little factual evidence for a clear genetic basis for homosexuality at all. However, the motive becomes clear once one understand the essentialist theory of being that underlies identitarian politics. Because homosexuality is harder to affirm as being innate, since sexual orientation is fluid across a lifetime, it becomes more important to emphasise the most concrete measures of essence. In its own way, this tendency by queer activists is an affirmation of the primacy of the structural model of essence. The identitarians are aware that structural essence is the gold standard for natural kinds, and though they will use other measures where that seems more convenient, when pressed they return to structural essence.

The remaining two types of essence are used sporadically. Intensional essence used to be popular with low-information identitarians, and many homosexuals and heterosexuals still identify in practice as having very different interests and behaviours. But now, the former tales of “I knew my son was gay because he liked dolls instead of football” have become “I knew my trans-daughter was trans because she liked dolls instead of football”. As the fashion has changed, as trans-sexual children have become liberal parents' trendy accessory instead of gay children, so has the emphasis on intension over structure.

Spiritual essence is not much used directly for sexuality in modern society, as those who prioritise their heterosexual identity tend to believe heterosexuality to be universal, and those who prioritise their homosexual identity tend to be atheists. However, it is implicit in thoughts about the spiritual process of reïncarnation: when considering who one will love in a future life, one imagines a partner of the same sex that one is attracted to in life. (The mentally ill individuals who believe themselves to be “multiple systems” [see Otherkin below] also often ascribe a distinct sexual orientation to each of their residents, though this may be more to do with the fetishistic nature of their mental illness.)

It is worth mentioning here the intra-identitarian debate over whether identity of sexuality is actually a form of identity of gender. This is distinct from the usual dismissal of whether an identity axis is valid, because it recognises sexuality as essential, but only as part of the gender essence. This debate comes from both sides. On one side, conservative and religious identitarians often believe that sexual orientation is properly a trait of biological sex, whereby females are oriented towards males and vice versa. On the other, some feminists believe that sexual orientation is only relevant because of that conservative / religious viewpoint. This is interesting in this discussion because it relates to the views of essence adopted by the two groups: both tend to view sex as structural but differently causal, conservatives to suggest that the fixed structure of sex determines sexuality (or ought to), and this subset of feminists to suggest that the fixed structure of sex is what matters, so contingent traits, such as sexuality, are less important.

Otherkin

Having mentioned Otherkin, who may not be familiar to all readers, I will proceed to discuss them briefly here. Bluntly, some individuals claim to believe themselves to be of species other than human, including species that are not real. Generally, individuals who claim to be something they are patently not are either attention-seekers or mentally ill, and otherkin are no exception. As such, this group is not widely accepted by other identitarians, but as discussed at the outset, this is not really important: they believe themselves to have this identity, and they tend to strongly support other forms of identitarianism as well, even if that support is not (yet) widely reciprocated. Their terminology and theories are extremely varied to the point of incoherence, but they can broadly be classed as follows

Therians / Animalkin
Individuals who believe they are actually animals, commonly wolves and generally other charismatic megafauna.
Otherkin(-proper)
Individuals who believe they are actually of a fictional species, commonly dragons and elves.
Fictives / Fictionkin
Individuals who believe that they are actually a specific fictional character, commonly from Japanese anime.
Multiple systems / Polykin
Individuals who believe that they are actually lots of different entities somehow existing simultaneously in one body.

The otherkin pathology has arisen alongside the growth spurt of identity politics in general, because it takes those claims at their word, and to their inevitable conclusion. If a biological male can actually be female, be that through surface traits, spiritual nature, or bald assertion, then why can a human not be a wolf, or a dragon, or Naruto? Once one accepts the trans-sexual argument, or even accepts the identity argument in any form other than purely structural natural kinds, there is no logical reason to reject the claims of the otherkin. The case is obviously strongest for animals, but even for, say, dragons: if there are unseen souls that exist distinctly in human bodies, and these souls need not relate in their essences to those human bodies, then what ground has the spiritualist identitarian to argue that there are no souls available that are of essences that they have not seen? I, of course, would argue that this is the Principle of Explosion working its brutal and inexorable logic on the flawed assumptions of non-structural essentialism.

Looking directly at otherkin essences, although there are a few otherkin who claim to be genetically of their other kind, this is, like the equivalent for trans-sexuals, mostly a grievous failure on the part of the education system rather than any systematic theory. Banal intensional essence is popular, at least as a supposed evidence base (e.g., “I must be a fishkin because I like swimming”), and spiritual essentialism is, as discussed, very widely accepted as a necessary part of otherkin ontology.

However, it is interesting to note that otherkin also make significant use of both idealist and functional essentialism. This is a fascinating contrast to the reaction of homosexual activists to their tentative natural kind status, where they insist, against evidence, on a structural, genetic basis. Otherkin who wish to avoid spiritualist woo-woo do not even have the option of claiming structural essence plausibly available to them (what would it even mean to have “dragon DNA”, let alone before moving to the inorganic otherkin, such as stonekin or voidkin?), and must thus retreat into more defiant territory. One can find otherkin who believe they are otherkin because they assert themselves to be so, and otherkin who say, of their own identity, that it is not real as such, but a functional status that they find useful because they enjoy it.

Age

A welcome return to a rigid designator after our increasingly wild detour, age is another non-structural invariant, exclusive characteristic. Like location, it is indexed to a fact about how you relate to reality. No matter what you may wish, you were born x days ago. Age is also useful as an identity criterion because it correlates strongly to traits that are importantly useful for us to distinguish between, that is, old folk behave differently to young folk, and have different physical characteristics, in ways that are non-deterministic but strongly correlated.

Again like location, there is no purely structural way to understand it—age is not a natural kind. Nor can one plausibly assert oneself to be a different age any more than I can assert myself to be currently on Mars.. Nor does age seem particularly a quality of spirit, though depictions of ghosts of children often have them continue to act and think childishly, even if they have been ghosts for many years, and should therefore have been continuing to develop their faculties.

No, age is an intensional essence of the special kind that is rigid at any given moment, like location. This might change in the future if space-travel takes off, though. Time progresses more slowly at relativistic speeds, and progresses faster far from gravity wells. Could a child qualify for a pension, or be legally married, if they are put onto a spaceship travelling near the speed of light for a while? As with much else, our societies will need to adapt to changing technological capability.

Wealth vs Class

Wealth and class can be thought of as like sex and gender: an invariant material characteristic that non-deterministically informs a set of social traits. Wealth itself is a material trait that cannot be changed instantly. Class has two main meanings: first, the “set of traits” meaning analogous to gender, which is how the word is popularly used; and a family of meanings in post-Marxian sociology, perhaps the clearest of which is that class is about the individual's relationship to the means of production, primarily ownership of them (capitalists), management of them (bourgeoisie), use of them (proletariat), or parasitism of them (lumpen).

As an identity, these elements are hybridised into what one might call “poorism”: the fetishisation and glorification of poverty and the cultures it produces. There is a pervasive belief that the poor live lives that are somehow more “authentic”, a word with powerful essentialist connotations. The popular image of the happy poor and the miserable rich is belied by every piece of research and survey data that demonstrates time and again that the rich are consistently happier than the poor, yet this entirely intuitive finding is somehow denied by popular culture. Instead, a Nietzschean Sklavenmoral of passivity and low quality is reified into an “identity” and placed at the centre of ontology. It is important to note that the essentialist theory of being characteristic of the identity model of society is so closely tied to Sklavenmoral, and hence to the palatabilist theory of truth. This is why the identity model of society has become more prevalent as technology has pushed the secular cycle beyond its normal limits, with a surfeit of population skewing culture towards Sklavenmoral. It is also why it is so much more prevalent among groups that have been historically weak. Even in the early stages of identity politics, it was not coincidental that early twentieth-century nationalism found more fertile soil in the second-rate empires of Italy, Germany, and Spain than in the superpowers of Britain and France.

(Dis-)Ability

By ability, I mean physical, mental, and emotional disability, which is another commonly cited identity or “protected characteristic”. These can often be structural, if they are from a genetic cause, but even when they are not structural they are generally invariant designators: an amputee can't grow new legs. For our immediate purposes examining how they relate to the essentialist theory of being, there is an interesting division between physical and emotional disability that mirrors what we have observed before (with mental disability somewhere inbetween). Because physical disability is visible and obviously invariant, especially over short periods, its advocates do not tend to need to discuss its validity as a site of identity. Emotional health is however not invariant—it does recover sharply, or with sufficient extrinsic motivation. As such, emotional health activists are very vocal about their disability being supposedly invariant: usually to do with their genes, or their biochemistry; at a bare minimum, “I can't help it”. Yet there is very little direct evidence that any given emotional disability is caused by a given genetic structure or biochemical reality, and every theory that is mooted is promptly disproved, with the serotonin theory of depression the most significant recent casualty. Despite this, emotional health identitarians are unambiguous in placing the blame for their suffering on invariant traits.

This will become more important when we examine the palatabilist theory of truth and Sklavenmoral in more detail as they relate to the identity model of society. For now, it is significant, like with homosexuality, that the more tentative essential nature of emotional disability leads to a defensive emphasis on unproven and spurious structural explanations, in order to justify its status as an essence, and thus its position in the social order of identity.

Religion

Is religion an identity? For the religious, they often experience their religion as an absolute of their existence, that they could not change even should they want to. Many atheists and agnostics disagree: many of those who have never had a religion don't understand why a religion could inspire such feelings in the first place; many of those who abandoned their religion think that everyone has a choice about it in the same way that they did. There are two important exceptions to this trend: some religions are explicitly racially based (i.e. racist), such as Judaism, and others that are not explicitly racially based have strong connections to a particular ethnicity, such as Islam to Arabs; and left identitarians, influenced by palatabilism and Sklavenmoral, treat any “oppressed” and/or exotic religions as being valid identities, but are unwilling to make the same allowance for “oppressor” or domestic religions. The case is also complicated by the legacy of the European Wars of Religion, which were resolved by making personal religious choice out of bounds for public policy.

Religion, precisely by being an outlier case, helps to make clear some of the dividing lines over essentialism. Those who see identity as being about structural natural kinds, or at least invariant, exclusive, real characteristics, get baffled that anyone would even consider religion an identity. Those who see identity as being about spirits, or idealism, or even just functionality, can understand religion as a basis for identity. And this is why a widespread understanding of the essentialist theory of being is essential for understanding identity politics. Once you understand that identity is about essences, and the five main types, most other problems of identity resolve themselves.