I Am Not a Brand

Michael Onsando
11 February ,2014

Identity, I have been told, is impossible. And it is increasingly getting harder with the globalization of life. It is interesting to see the language(s) that emerge to define exactly what is going on in this place we call home.

I, however, find it hard to accept the personal brand. No matter how impossible identity is, the one thing all is agreed upon is that identity is complex. The nuanced nature of how we define ourselves in certain spaces and differently in others is not to be disputed. If identity is so complex, why would we want to reduce ourselves from nuanced beings to corporate entities?

In The Rise of Neoliberal Feminism, Catherine Rottenberg writes:

Neoliberalism, in other words, is a dominant political rationality that moves to and from the management of the state to the inner workings of the subject, normatively constructing and interpellating individuals as entrepreneurial actors. New political subjectivities and social identities subsequently emerge. One of the hallmarks of our neoliberal age, Brown proposes, is precisely the casting of every human endeavor and activity in entrepreneurial terms.

Companies exist for one purpose – to make profit. This can be coloured by words like “change the world,” “innovative” and “products”, but companies’ existence is purely for monetary purposes. And that’s fine. I’m just wondering when it became that human beings existed for the sole purpose of amassing wealth. The “get your money and get out” attitude seems to be everywhere.

Paper money was first traded in China, sometime in 806. They didn’t really have the principles down, so too much was printed, inflation soared and they forgot about it. Then came the promissory notes by gold merchants. The notes basically said “I have X amount of gold, I will give it to you for this.” Soon enough, the gold merchants learned that they could give out more notes than they had gold. Slowly, legislation was made and the ratios of gold to promissory notes kept increasing. The banks always wanted to create more money – or at least get maximum value from their gold deposits.

Then came the Great Depression. Somehow, after this kerfuffle, the US Dollar, Sterling Pound and Japanese Yen came out as currency reserves. Now central banks could give promissory notes on the number of promissory notes (because in effect, that’s what the dollar is) they have.

Somewhere in our history money moved from being the means to a certain end to being the end in which we find meaning.

When this happened money became a part of our identity. Thus the rich and the poor were created (this is not to argue that everyone was equal pre-money – disparities definitely existed). It became a desirable trait to want money. So more people wanted money. The more the people who wanted money, the more power the people with money had. Once the people who had the money had the power, they controlled the stories.

Stories run the world.

Stories are how we are taught. Stories are the tools that are given to us earliest in life to use to navigate our way around. Characters in the stories were now “lazy” if they were poor. Only the hardworking people managed to make it to the top of their fields. The assumption is then that there is a certain industriousness to having money. And, more importantly, that it is the only type of industriousness we want in the world. This, of course, leads to only one kind of aspiration – to be rich.

The reward system for this is very much in place. I think about our president and his family owning over 70% of our milk industry, or about the billions we lose to scandal after scandal each year. Somehow, we fail to see these people as criminals. It is for the same reason that our penal code will heavily punish a petty thief but give a white collar criminal a few years. Having money ensures that you will not be punished. The examples of this disparity are several. Especially if you look at Kenya, where we have this corruption thing going on. Money will definitely fix any problem you have going on.

The worst thing about these stories, and these rewards, is that they fail to recognize how certain things have been institutionalised and internalised. They assume that there are no socioeconomic boundaries for people born in different circumstances. Even when this setback is acknowledged, it is always in a “post” nature – as if the problem was eradicated eons ago. Words like “post colonial”, “post feminism”, “post racial” et al are thrown around to show that, if one can’t make it to a certain standard of wealth they are, intrinsically, failures.

So we have people – day after day – throwing themselves at the world hoping to be the millionaires, billionaires (there are only 1,000 billionaires in the world – may the odds be ever in your favour), and pegging their (our) value on the size of their bank accounts. And, because there can only be a certain number of multi-millionaires, we have a large chunk of the population disillusioned. After all, the promise was made – if you work hard enough you will be rich.

I am not a brand.

I’d rather not buy into this train of thought. Sure, having money does give one space – this is the folly of the system – not everyone has space. However, I will not participate in the reduction of the entire complexity and impossibility of identity, to the shilling. Even more importantly, I will not take part in the amount of erasure that is brought about by such a reduction. The erasure that happens when life is suddenly centred around the creating, and multiplying of wealth. This burden of chasing whispers I leave to someone else.

Instead, I choose to be a human being whose identity is impossible.

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