The kind of world we want, the kind of people we want to be, is all about permission.
“The human age will be no Eden or dystopia, but an everlasting struggle among different people seeking different futures,” Erle C. Ellis writes in his article, “What Kind of Planet Do We Want.” “Seeking” is a generous term. What we will be doing is arguing—and that is okay. Part of the curricular experience going back to ancient times was teaching students how to argue a point (See Aristotle and the Egyptian Mystery Schools). Why? Societies were forming. Folks needed to agree on a couple of things.
Fundamentally, what Ellis is discussing in his article is—environmental consensus. We have to make a decision about the kind of world we want to experience. What will be our modernity?
This might come as a bit of shock, but we share a planet. Any agreement we make has to, first, at its basis, be founded in the agreement that we are all inheritors of this gorgeous place we call Earth. The planet is facing massive and life-altering challenges, as Ellis notes: habitat loss, global climate change and widespread extinction . We have a moral imperative to act as stewards of the planet. That means, however small or large, there are some things we need to do. We are, again, back to society building, social formation. There’s a democracy in that—a voting by doing.
"What will be our modernity?"
With social organization, comes social responsibilities. Another way to say that is—jobs. The complicated thing about working is that what we do shapes who we are. What if we are so entrenched in our identities—and the interplay of location, environment, parentage and so forth that engendered them—that have not found a way to respond to the newly emerging society?
As the Earth changes, we will be changed by it. That is an opportunity—okay, that can be framed as an opportunity since much of these changes are scary. It helps to find a constructive way to think about the new challenges we are facing.
In deciding on the kind of world that we want, we inadvertently decide not only what we are going to do but the “who” of who is going to do it. We are deciding on the division of labor in society either by accident or on purpose, implicitly or explicitly. I’d rather do so explicitly, to the extent that I can. I rather do some of the choosing. I presume there are others who’d like to do so as well. To begin, we have to argue. [Again, remember rhetorical debates from high school? It can be fun.]
Let’s say, it is determined (agreed) that yoga instruction is good for the planet. Having people less stressed out is a desired thing, yes? Okay, yes. Then a logical extension, I assert, would be to say that yoga instructors are good for the planet. “Why?” you might ask? Well, they tend to be health-conscious consumers  and according the article “5 Ways Yoga Is Making the World a Better Place,” they “combat toxic stress.” Given those now thoroughly researched and substantiated claims, you then agree that yoga instructors are good for the planet. Yes? Okay, good.
Next, who is allowed to be considered a yoga instructor? Jessamyn Stanley, the author of Every Body Yoga takes on this very question in this past weekend’s New York Times Sunday Review. She writes, “As a fat-bodied, queer, black practitioner, I have been dealing with this kind of discrimination literally my entire life in every single arena.” Implicit in what Stanley is saying is that in some spaces, she is not afforded the sincere permission needed in order to comfortably practice her developed skillset because of prejudices regarding how she is bodied.
Who confers licensure on paper is one things. [By the way, Jessamyn Stanley has been Yoga Alliance certified by Kimberley Puryear of Asheville Yoga Center’s 200-hour Teacher Training Program].There is another kind of, more elusive conferral process. “By whom?” you ask? The court of public opinion and her students. Stanley is keen to point out that as a proclaimed practitioner she does not have to be recognized by every audience. Know thy audience, essentially.
"Who is allowed to be considered a yoga instructor?"
None of our positions are fully static, and we can choose whether or not we continue to participate in any social situation we find ourselves in. We can choose what we give credence to or not by voting with our feet. In her New York Times fitness, ask-the-expert column, a reader writes in, “How do I get over being the biggest body in the room?” Stanley responds, “You do not have to explain or apologize for who you are,” and that, “You can leave in the middle of the class without explanation.” What that shows is Stanley’s recognition that the space of identity is contentious, and we can pick and choose our battles. That is what it means to create and recreate the societies, the planet we want.
This is why I assert that while Kwame Anthony Appiah argues against over-prefacing statements with the common refrain “as a [insert the identifier],” he crucially overlooks the contentious space of identity. Our society is trying to understand who it is, again. America is in a crisis of legitimacy, not only around the world with our global partners but here at home. With the anniversary of the Charlottesville march this past Sunday and the advent of the #MeToo movement, the rise of stay-at-home dads and Twitter becoming the official communication tool for the highest office in the land, America does not know who she is—or more precisely who she wants to be, anymore.
Appiah has a forthcoming book is titled The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity. That, learned from the bio blurb next to his article, “Go Ahead, Speak for Yourself.” Also in that same bio blurb are two social signifiers prefacing his name: philosopher and author. I found that ironic. His main argument is that “not every opinion needs to be underwritten by your race or gender or other social identity” . He, nonetheless raises important points, “Because people’s experiences vary so much, the ‘as a’ move is always in peril of presumption” . Appiah cautions against “the urge to underwrite our observations with our identities” .
His contention with the “as a” qualifier is well understood but missing something crucial about how interlinked what we do is with who we are. What we do is also coupled with whether or not we are allowed to be it. “By whom?” you ask, again? Well, the audience.
Thus, a person who is 6’5 and flat-footed who wants to be a professional gymnast has to stake a claim in order to hurdle the bar of legitimacy, of public opinion. He does so by qualifying statements, “As an over 6 foot-flat-footed gymnast, I am pretty badass at…[insert some kind of somersault, spin move].” Why? Because people will argue with him or with each other about the acceptability of his claimed position or ability to perform.
When legitimizing bodies (ex. the White House) are in a crisis of confidence (legitimation) among the American people, the “as a…” phrase may be all some subjugated bodies have as a way to legitimate their rights: To be a citizen, to be scholar, to be beautiful.