iron mask

Althusser revealed the meaningful link between ideology and identity[i]. Not only meaningful but also a potentially liberating discovery if we first accept identity as a mask, more precisely an iron mask. But even the iron mask can be removed, and so can all ideologies. Once we recognise our identity for what it is we can submit it to necessity: a process which will firstly require a stripping away of masks and make up in order to establish the true essence of what one is, and recreate our masks, more honestly, according to that essence.

If the essence of our species is sapiens, then our identity will have to be anchored in our ability to think and know things. This is a continual process. Our first honest mask is therefore a fluid thing, a painting on, a face make-up rather than the fixed appendage that is the iron mask that so many of us wear now.

If the nature of Sapiens is the flowing continuity implied by knowing things then ideological identities are dangerously anti-sapiens, and anti-human. Societies and cultures give us masks that inhibit the progressive nature of the sapiens’ thought-unto-knowing flow. The socio-cultural mask says: “This is it,” and allows for no further reflection. An identity made up of these elements on its own, or the identity of the tribe, the team or the club, is a perversion for Sapiens, who needs the capacity for continuity of thought. Society traps the sapiens nature in a rigid mask forged in the metals of ideologies.

The only healthy ideology for Sapiens therefore is the ephemeral face that is painted on us and can be easily rubbed off. In the same way that we can paint our face to be a clown tomorrow, a beautiful woman the next day or an absolute ghoul if need be – the identity of the continually thinking Sapiens must be a morphing one.

At first the idea must seem repulsive for it is anti-natural to our iron-mask ideologies and it could be accused of being an apology for superficiality. In the ideology-identity society there is a blind faith in the values of one’s identity that gives each one of us our own character. In this way we confuse strength with an anti-sapiens quality of firm, unbreakable convictions. In the system’s fiction the mainstream narrative can make a hero even out of an ethical cripple as long as he or she remains faithful to his or her convictions. And yet this is the most dangerous fiction of all and has led to all of humanity’s most tragic debacles. The debacle of fascism and Nazism, the human debacle of the communist state and the religious empires with their Inquisitors and fundamentalists.

Of course it is true that humanity has always been a mask-inspired species, and identity probably arose with consciousness itself. This is why we make the distinction between the mask as make-up that can be wiped away, on the one hand, and the solid iron mask that we are imprisoned in, like the king’s unfortunate twin brother in Dumas’ novel, on the other. A dual potential arises in humanity: the one allowing us to paint our own identity or, the submission to the mask that we are locked into. But only the former has the flexibility to allow Sapiens to properly evolve.

[i] Althusser’s Ideology Interpellates Individuals as Subjects – in Slavoj Zizek, MAPPING IDEOLOGIES, p. 82)



  1. Pingback: KNOWING THE LIE – CONSCIOUSNESS (2) | pauladkin

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