How much of our lives are spent displaying markers of who we are? How many decisions do we make about others based on their outward appearance? Flag lapel pins, AIDS walk ribbons, driving a Lexus, wearing a suit or a tie-dye, sporting some ink, flashing actual gang signs, genuflecting or making the sign of the cross, wearing a yarmulke, adding a “fish” to your business card, being branded by your frat, alumni stickers in back windows, class rings, wedding rings.
There may be some personal satisfaction in the gestures, but the vast majority of the power is in identifying to others what gangs we belong to. Who you affiliate with. Who you’ve been accepted by, and who you support. Are you one of us, or one of them. Who are you “down” with, and whose back do you have when the stuff hits the fan?
The more I look, the more stunning it is to me how much we do it, and (perhaps more stunning) how much of our social relations are driven by this superficial book-cover judging…how much a person’s success is driven by how well he or she flashes the signs. It is somewhat a poker game: Which of my cards should I show to elicit the desired response from the person I’m dealing with? Which of my gang affiliations will make this person more likely to do business with me, to trust me, to be open to my ideas? Or do you not play the cards like that? Do you just “show the world the real you” and let the chips fall where they may?
In spite of technical or intellectual prowess we have evolved through the millenia — skills that allow us to exceed our basic nature, and do things no other animal can achieve — humans remain deeply tribal; deeply driven by affiliations and signs of those associations.
No action plan suggested. Just an observation.
“What I am is what I am, are you what you are or what?”
— Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians