Associative Identity Disorder

Submitted into Contest #55 in response to: Write a story about a meeting of a secret society.... view prompt


Mystery Creative Nonfiction

The summer meeting of the Guerrilla Psychology Society (GPS) is taking place right in the open, as they always do, at an IHOP just outside of Omaha. The members are all influential players in the field who have joined forces to correct social psychological trends before they threaten the fabric of human civilization, which happens far more often than the average Josephine is aware of. Included in the meeting are luminaries like Rebecca Mulhooney, who created the empath craze - and Jason Swelte, the man who had put the term 'narcissism' on the mind of anyone with an internet connection. The members of GPS are able to psychologically maneuver the minds of the masses simply by passing information to the media, who then sensationalize it like they do everything else, thus influencing the perceptions of the masses.

Janice Chen presses a final fork full of syrupy crepe into her mouth and chases it down with a large gulp of milk and then begins her speech before anyone else is finished eating and has a chance to interrupt. 

"The greatest problem facing humanity today is nothing new. In fact it has evolved from the very mechanisms which allowed our species to develop such highly social traits. However, as a result of how social media and other internet platforms are constructed, the utility of these traits has been eroded by compulsive elements now attached to them. I am calling this problem Associative Identity Disorder."

Her colleagues shoot her curious looks as they stuff bacon, french toast and greasy hashbrowns into their gullets, but do not say a word.

"You are no doubt familiar with Dissociative Identity Disorder..."

"Multiple personalities," Jason interrupts, as a drop of blueberry syrup falls from his lip and onto the lightly colored khakis he is wearing. "Horse balls!"

"Dissociative Identity Disorder occurs when a person's personality becomes fragmented into multiple selves. It is the inability to maintain a strong, single identity. Associative Identity Disorder is when a person's identity concept becomes so strong that all ideas and actions must conform to it."

"Interesting," Agembe Eritrea gives her an expression of intense interest. "I have been thinking along these lines myself. Please go on, sorry to interrupt."

"I believe," Janice continues, "that it will be easier to explain by providing an example."

All six of her colleagues nod in unison.

"Subject has become a very active supporter of Black Lives Matter. Over the last several months he went from claiming that policing was a necessary good to calling for that institution to be abolished. This is not the concerning part. What concerns me is the reasoning which led subject to change his mind. It was not a newly formed understanding of policing, or a rejection of the principles or logic on which policing has been constructed. Subject is not concerned about how victimless crime laws erode self-ownership and criminalize harmless individuals to feed the multi-billion dollar industrial prison complex. He has no complaint with the threat of aggression being used to control people. He has simply come to associate policing with racism, and since his identity requires he not be associated with racism, he must now reverse his position on policing to accommodate it."

"So what's the problem?" asks Petunia Axelrod. "It seems to me that subject has come to the right conclusion."

"I agree. But how he got there matters," Janice responds. "His position is not based on any fundamental principles. There is no underlying moral premise or consistent logic involved. Subject has arrived at his stance in order to give performances which seek to portray his self-image to others."

She pauses to take a drink of her coffee and let the information settle in a bit. As she looks around she does not sense any disapproval from the other members of the GPS, so she continues.

"Eighteen hours after writing a lengthy screed on institutional racism and the need to abolish policing, Subject reacted to news of the lynching of a black man in West Virginia by claiming that every law enforcement officer in America should be assigned to the case. As soon as it became expedient to his identity as anti-racist, Subject reversed his position on policing on the grounds that they could be used in a way that he found acceptable."

"Isn't it possible that anti-racism is Subject's central, guiding principle, then?" Mulhooney asks with genuine curiosity.

"My thoughts exactly," Nitish Patel adds.

"I investigated this possibility, but I do not believe Subject adheres strictly to his anti-racism stance in other situations," Chen begins to clarify. "There are a few examples, but most notable is his stance on the plight of Palestine. Subject views Israel as a symbol of racial tolerance, as a result of how he has interpreted Germany's genocide of the Jewish people. He therefore supports the right of Israel to maintain an independent nation, free of historically Muslim and Christian cultures and states."

"Is that racist?" Swelte asks.

"Oh, it is definitely racist," Petunia agrees. "Definitively and in spirit. The eradication of Palestine represents ideas of superiority and entitlement evident in the reasoning of all forms of racial supremacy."

"As I said," Janice continues, "there are other examples which betray Subject's claim to being fully committed to anti-racism. But racism is not the point here. The point is that Subject is doing what I see almost everyone doing these days, which is picking and choosing their position on all things based solely on how they believe that choice makes them appear to others."

"I completely agree," Eritrea gives a knowing grin. "And not just because my perceived identity is affirmed by doing so."

"But how is this a problem?" Patel asks. "To some degree individuals have always conformed to positions which represent how they want to be viewed by others."

"To some degree, yes," Janice agrees. "I believe I mentioned that right up front. This is nothing new. However the difference is how much this identity game is reinforced by digital social structures. The like button and upvotes have provided greater impetus than ever conform to that which superficially affirms identity. The same with negation. Do you think Trump would be president if people were making reasonable choices, rather than just conforming to whatever symbolic gestures negate or affirm the appearance of self they prefer?"

"The death of authenticity," Eritrea shakes his head mournfully.

"Precisely," Janice confirms. "Associative Identity Disorder is shaping our decision making process and emptying it of complexity and nuance. It is leading to a new form of tribalism which is constructed around false dichotomies. It has replaced substance with spectacle. It is leading to cognitive habits which are so superficial that they threaten our intellectual and social evolution, and instead lead backwards into primitive identity games."

Alric Forge, whose charisma and intellect have made him the unspoken leader of the group since they formed a decade earlier, finally breaks his silence.

"Your concerns are valid, Miss Chen. I have been grappling with similar thoughts, as I am sure everyone here has," he pauses for a moment to make eye contact with each of the others, one-by-one. "The question is, what can we possibly do about it?"

The table becomes dead silent. A few of the GPS members stare down at their plates and nudge uneaten food around with a fork.

"Absolutely nothing," Janice responds with all the authority she can muster. "These habits have become woven into the entire social fabric of humanity, online and off. At first I thought that maybe dissociative experiences could reverse the course, but it would be impossible to drug the whole world. And even if we did we would return to the same social structures and the old habits would quickly re-emerge."

"Miss Chen, this is out..." Forge is cut off.

"I quit. I'm out. This is the end of the line for me. No more Guerrilla Psychology Society. In fact I will be leaving my psych career and moving to Tibet to isolate myself from the extreme absurdity that humanity has stooped to. If you are all as wise I believe you to be, you will do the same. Humanity cannot be saved. Does not want to be saved. It is engaged in a performative feedback loop that can only end in our descendants throwing feces at each other and crawling back into the trees."

Janice throws a twenty dollar bill on the table as she stands up, takes her coat off the chair and walks away dramatically, leaving the other six members of the secret society slack-jawed and silent.

"Are you gonna eat that?" Axelrod asks Patel, as she grabs a sausage link from his plate without waiting for him to answer. "Anybody else wanna go get a drink?"

August 20, 2020 18:30

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James Johnson
15:34 Aug 27, 2020

Hi Joshua! I was chosen to review your story. I really liked the concept of it, it really portrays today's culture. The way you told a story within your story also got me, you had a well written and interesting dialogue that brought out the personalities of the characters. Then on top of all of that, you had the message about today's culture built into it. I especially liked the line where Eritrea says: "The death of authenticity" That was one of the big lines in this story. Overall, great job!


Thank you very much, James! I wrote nonfiction stuff for years, including philosophy, politics, culture, activism, etc. Associative Identity Disorder is an idea that was born over many years, starting with critiques of memes, reductionism and social media behaviors. During 2020 I saw all of these trends coalesce into a single psychological issue, but nobody seems to be listening, since it does not affirm their identity posture. I hoped fictionalizing it might make the idea more easy to swallow, but to be honest I think we are past correcting...


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