Challenges to Comprehension Implied by the Logo
of Laetus in Praesens
Laetus in Praesens Alternative view of segmented documents via Kairos

8th August 2009 | Draft

Challenges to Facist Identity and Facial Identification

-- / --


Introduction
Extremes of bodily representation of identity
Facialization of identity -- enabling engagement with the soul?
Identification imperative
Confusions relating to facism
Face negotiation and loss of face
Requisite variety to encompass multidimensional identity (Annex A)
Collapsing the space of sustainable dialogue
Challenges to facist identity and identification (Annex B)
-- Possible covert agendas of facism: encoding the Great Games
-- Mono-sensorial vs poly-sensorial identity | Discrimination against the sight-challenged
-- Discrimination against the facially-challenged | Discrimination against the traumatized
-- Premature closure regarding the meaning of identity | Problematic history of dress codes
-- Passing conventions of fashion vs. fundamental, enduring cultural values
-- Quantitative measures of appropriate exposure
Faces of Citizens vs Fasces of the State: a legislative dilemma?
Justice and the burkha
Burkha as metaphorical mirror for imperious culture? (Annex C)
Conclusions
References


Annex B of Facism as Superficial Intercultural Extremism: burkha, toplessness, sunglasses, beards, and flu masks (2009)


Introduction

The arguments in the main paper (Facism as Superficial Intercultural Extremism: burkha, toplessness, sunglasses, beards, and flu masks, 2009) question capacity to associate identity meaningfully with the face -- effectively assuming the validity of its projection onto an essentially flat surface, as with any photograph. They also call attention to the dimensional complexity within which identity might fruitfully be assumed to dwell, the biases through which engaging with it might then be understood, and the dangers of oversimplification in collapsing such complexity to preclude continuing dialogue about the challenge it represents. These arguments alone justify reference to facism as "superficial intercultural extremism" -- or as "cognitive fascism".

Other factors also merit consideration.

Possible covert agendas of facism: encoding the Great Games

As implied by the previous section, there is every reason to question any argument in support of face-ism or body-ism, notably when articulated by males or in a society with unresolved issues regarding women or, more generally, "otherness". The potential biases of participants merit identification -- as with those of French culture (according to Hofstede) in comparison with those of Islamic culture. In any case the debate about the burkha and veiling of women may then be partly explored as a form of Trojan Horse. It offers a means of surreptitiously encoding other issues. A subtext may be presumed which merits highlighting.

There is every possibility, as implied by the original concerns of Jones with regard to problematic "rational" debate, that each of the axes of bias he identifies is in fact associated with a particular style or pattern of dialogue "game". Confused with such games are the following.

In a society challenged by multi-cultural immigration and integration issues, clothing offers a disguised means of discouraging some from arriving and staying -- or even encouraging them to depart.

For those with a need (however obsessive) to control the environment which they share with others, the inability to see another is frustrating in the extreme. It is a challenge to conventional assumptions that they are unable to reframe as a fruitful encounter with otherness -- however much their approval of fancy dress parties, masked balls and the media portrayal of those of other cultures -- and irrespective of any tolerance of heavily masked security forces. The degree of obsessive environmental control is of a kind with the spread of surveillance cameras. Any principled argument by government is difficult to disassociate from a need to be able to record the identities of protesters of any kind.

A related need is that of some form of voyeurism, whether through the use of hidden cameras, participation in environments involving a form of unilateral or bilateral undress (sex clubs, strip clubs, etc), even with a degree of dominance and bondage (S and M, etc). Voyeurism "lite" is of course a major factor in male appreciation of incomplete female body covering.

There is the curious possibility that use of the burkha might be seen by greedy commercial interests as setting a trend which deprives them of a portion of the market associated with fashion, cosmetics and the like.

There is the obvious probability that use of the burkha, and vigorous protest against it, is merely part of the "clash of civilizations" between those of different religious and cultural perspectives -- constantly in search of any "high ground" from which to continue their eternal war. In this sense it is interesting to reflect on other groups which have deliberately used highly distinctive styles of religious vesture -- notably in European societies:

The full-body covering of the burkha is clearly a direct provocation to those who have struggled for the rights of women with regard to clothing and in relation to men -- as previously evident in the case of obligations to wear a brassiere (or a corset). As stated by the President of France: it's a problem of liberty and women's dignity... a sign of subservience and debasement. The strong point made is that women wearing the burkha are constrained to do so by communal pressure in ways that are an infringement on their right to choose and to their rights as women.

The difficulty of such an argument is that it is not one that has been fully resolved in other contexts so that any focus on wearing the burkha by a small minority is a dubious distraction from a larger issue that is carefully set aside. Particularly confused is the debate on the nature of freedom that is so apparently infringed by the conditions under which the burkha is worn. There would appear to be three aspects to this:

Given that the burkha is worn only by a small minority in France, the issues it evokes in relation to the rights of women can usefully be compared with those of domestic violence against women -- a much more widespread problem. Is one of greater significance than the the other, perhaps meriting greater attention, especially when perpetrated within the culture offended by the burkha?

As noted above, there is currently a difficulty for governance to demonstrate capacity and decisiveness with regard to any issue. To what extent is the burkha merely a way of creating a semblance of such capacity by acting against a minority that is not in a strong position to resist? Is this then the creation of a pretence that some fundamental issues have been resolved -- when they only have in the light of particular biases.

Mono-sensorial vs poly-sensorial identity

Commercial marketing is recognizing the limitations of the visual image in enabling fruitful identification of commercial products and services in an increasingly competitive environment. This enrichment is now recognized in "extra-sensory marketing", otherwise known as neuromarketing (Martin Lindstrom, Brand Sense: build powerful brands through touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound, 2005; Vladimir Djurovic, Sensorial Branding: the future of brand building, EzineArticles.com. 15 August 2008).

There is therefore a strong case for applying those arguments to the identification of individuals -- surely a worthy case for such subtlety. Indeed the challenge of product identity is now seen to be one of polysensorial marketing, namely taking account of senses other than the visual which together offer more comprehensive identification of the individual. Whilst this may appear a mysterious and elusive notion from a bureaucratic or legislative perspective, it is far from mysterious to many. People associate others with odours (hence the perfume industry), sounds (hence "they are playing our tune"), tastes (and hence the communication challenges of the food and wine industry), and touch (and hence the marketing of textures and materials).

A poly-sensorial approach also has implications for strategies of governance, as separately argued (Strategic Challenge of Polysensorial Knowledge, 2008; Polysensorial pattern-breaking, 2008). In such a context, the visual preoccupation with the burkha might be deprecated as mono-focal, lacking stereoscopic perspective -- effectively "cyclopean" (Cyclopean Vision vs Poly-sensual Engagement, 2006).

Discrimination against the sight-challenged

The wearing of the burkha is primarily, if not solely, a challenge to the sighted. Arguments against the burkha stress the importance to them of being able to recognize the identity of others through the face. Little is said of those who are sight-challenged -- quite possibly exceeding the number who wear the burkha (in France, for example). Is it to be assumed that their capacity to recognize others in their neighbourhoods is a matter of indifference -- or even a challenge to their membership of a community?

The argument for visual recognition surely depends on bilateral recognition -- and does not rely on the needs of those who have an obsessive need visually to control their environment -- irrespective of the capacity of those so controlled within it. Perhaps most problematic in the association of such visual inspection with "seeing the soul" is the implication that the blind are either to be considered soulless or have no capacity to engage with the souls of others.

Discrimination against the facially-challenged

Many in society do not have the same facial advantages as a few -- of which models are upheld and promoted as highly visible exemplars. Whilst many may aspire to some approximation of such advantages, however relative their success in using cosmetics and other devices, there are many others who are to some degree tortured by their facial inadequacies when compared to the exemplars. These may derive from genetic factors, birth defects, accidents, or disease -- or may even arise only by comparison with current fashions. Some inadequacies may be purely imaginary -- however real they are to the sufferer.

How discriminatory is it to deprive those sensitive to their inadequacies with means of disguising them to the extent they consider appropriate? The capacity to do so through veiling has a long and respectable history. As noted above, some masking is considered appropriate, if not necessary, for motorbike riders and security forces. What is this social need to oblige people to expose their facial inadequacies for the judgement of all? This need bears a strong resemblance to the deliberate humiliation associated with the public pillory of the past, especially where there is the intention to impose it by legislative measures.

Discrimination against the traumatized

The requirement of facial visibility may be a most brutal invasion in the case of the psychologically traumatized, especially for those suffering from deep uncertainties about their identity -- irrespective of whether it is assumed that the face provides a window into it. In such a case it may be appropriately required as the institutionalization of psychological rape. The example offered by R. D. Laing (The Divided Self; a study of sanity and madness. London, Tavistock, 1960, pp. 214-7):

Even when one felt that what was being said was an expression of someone, the fragment of a self behind the words or actions was not Julie. There might be someone addressing us, but in listening to a schizophrenic, it is very difficult to know " who" is talking, and it is just as difficult to know "whom" one is addressing...With Julie it was not difficult to carry on a verbal exchange of a kind, but without her seeming to have any overall unity but rather a constellation of quasi-autonomous partial systems, it was difficult to speak to "her". However... even this state of near chaotic nonentity was by no means irreversible and fixed in its disintegration. [more]

An extreme example is provided by any form of facial graft as noted by J S Swindell (Facial allograft transplantation, personal identity and subjectivity. Journal of Medical Ethics 2007):

Recipients of facial allograft transplantation have the potential to feel that their identity is a mix between their own and the donor's, and the donor's family is potentially likely to feel that their loved one "lives on".

Mistakenly inferred identity

Given the highly problematic recent European history relating to judgements regarding identity based on facial characteristics -- often leading to the gas chamber -- it is a wonder that suppositions regarding identification should be advanced without greater precaution in a society such as France.

Premature closure regarding the meaning of identity

Bureaucracies devote considerable effort to achieving closure on "identity" through paperwork, notably accompanied by photographic images. For the security services, this may extend to DNA profiling or retinal images. Interviewers may assume a degree of closure by supplementing any encounter with CV details.

Face-to-face conversation may indeed provide a sense of identity -- to the satisfaction of one or both parties. On the other hand all such information may leave others with a high degree of uncertainty as to who someone really is. This may persist through long-term relationships. Moreover the person concerned may indeed be challenged, even traumatized, by any understanding of their own identity -- despite having lived with themselves for a lifetime. What indeed is the identity that is not associated with physiognomy and physique? What is the identity beyond that which is an outcome of the "identification imperative" (above)? What is the identity later determined, possibly controversially, by biographers and historians?

One's own identity may fruitfully remain a mystery -- a strange attractor -- as with that of one's elective affinities. It may encourage a longterm quest -- as advocated by the injunction at Delhi: Know thyself. Premature closure may be avoided in one's own thinking -- as advocated by the Sanskrit adage Neti Neti (Not this, Not that).

The assumptions and conclusion of others may be variously resisted, rejected or challenged (Am I Question or Answer? 2006). There is even a case for applying the arguments of apophasis -- not saying or unsaying -- to one's own identity (Being What You Want: problematic kataphatic identity vs. potential of apophatic identity? 2008). For society the nature of individual identity may well remain a fruitful challenge for the future, especially to the extent that it may come to be understood through a multidimensional dynamic (Emergence of Cyclical Psycho-social Identity Sustainability as "psyclically" defined, 2007).

It is possible that the premature closure implied by presumptuous inferences from looking at the face are subject to a form of uncertainty principle. In effect the more it is believed the the identity of another has been grasped with certainty by such means, the less their nature may have been effectively understood (Garrison Sposito, Does a generalized Heisenberg Principle operate in the social sciences? Inquiry, 1969).

Such points argue for the right to relief from the judgemental eyes of others. But they also raise the question as to whether those making the case for facial exposure are precisely those with the greatest tendency to be judgemental.

Problematic history of dress codes

The concern regarding the wearing of the burkha by women must necessarily be seen within a context of a very long history of interplay between dress codes and fashion. Prohibition needs to be viewed in the light of what has been considered reasonable and appropriate to be worn as illustrated by the following:

Consideration of dress codes and the burkha can fruitfully be explored in the light of the frequently cited example of missionaries imposing clothing to cover the traditionally naked breasts and genitalia of the indigenous peoples they encountered. Nakedness was variously associated by the missionaries with shamefulness and sinfulness -- and this continues to be the case. This has not prevented such tribal peoples from being enthusiastically filmed for widely distributed documentaries -- or visited as part of a tourist experience. This is framed as quite acceptable.

Nor have such ambiguities prevented those offended by the burkha from visiting such countries as tourists with the expectation that they should be able freely to bathe topless, or possibly naked -- whether or not this is considered provocative or offensive amongst the local population. Such toplessness has become fashionable amongst Europeans over past decades -- ironically the same period over which the missionary approach has been increasingly deprecated. The irony of sending missionaries to encourage locals to cover up and then arranging to visit them topless is not discussed. This irony is all the greater when those from such cultures are expected to uncover themselves to a degree specified by current fashions when they are in the countries that promote toplessness.

In the best seller celebration of the counter-culture emerging in the 1960s, Charles A. Reich (The Greening of America, 1970) highlighted "Consciousness III" as representing a worldview focusing on personal freedom, egalitarianism, and recreational drugs -- notably embodied in clothing style -- and exemplifying a fundamental shift in world view. It is appropriate to ask whether the freedom to wear the burkha is consistent which such emergent consciousness or is rather an echo of a worldview widely held to be outmoded (perhaps as Conscious I or II).

Passing conventions of fashion vs. fundamental, enduring cultural values

Any comparison of the fashions of today in a culture (in comparison with those of the past) raises issues regarding the extent to which such fashions can be considered to reflect the fundamental values of that society.

The passing pressures of fashion imply that society is not as free as it might claim to be -- especially when many feel obliged to maintain "lock step" conformity with whatever is considered "in". That fashion then effectively becomes a form of "uniform" whatever its variations. Are people then as "imprisoned" by fashion as is claimed are the wearers of the burkha? Does this suggest a degree of commercialization of identity analogous to that challenged with respect to religious pressures or political pressures?

Quantitative measures of appropriate exposure

The existing methodology for measurement of face-ism versus body-ism, with respect to coverage as represented in the media, might be extended to various indices of coverage. What degree of coverage is then to be considered appropriate or decent in public spaces, taking into account situations such as the following:

Any such indices of decency might also consider issues of age, sex, and corpulence. However there is a question of whether any consistent policy of any coherence can be developed that is governed by anything other than nthe passing dictates of fashion. The challenge might be sumnmarized by the followinbg:

In such a context there would seem to be every probability that a case will be made for reintroduction of codpieces (braguettes / cache-sexe) for men, previously sported by European heads of state (most notably Henry VIII as depicted by Holbein). What a wonderful photo opportunity at a meeting of the G8 or the G20 -- perhaps with each appropriately enhanced in size as an explicit quantitative indication of GDP! The codpiece could otherwise be framed as a valuable measure of hygiene and a supplement to the needs for public identification of men -- if not a means of communication with their soul. Whether they should be required as the sole form of beach attire -- as in some traditional cultures -- is a question for the future.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

For further updates on this site, subscribe here