In the News… Who Am I? Who are You? Mysteries of Identity

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In the News… Who Am I? Who are You? Mysteries of Identity

Identity both enriches human experience and diminishes it through prejudice, intolerance and violence. As we see every day, in the news, civilization is constantly under threat by the bad sort of identity

Identity both enriches human experience and diminishes it through prejudice, intolerance and violence. As we see every day, in the news, civilization is constantly under threat by the bad sort of identity

The theme of this issue of HP — Identity — has a close connection with Abuse of Power, the theme of two previous issue (HP215 & HP216). The relationship between these two ideas was explored in the 2005 book, Identity and Violence, written by Harvard economist and Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen. He wrote:

The sense of identity can make an important contribution to the strength and the warmth of our relations with others, such as neighbors, or members of the same community, or fellow citizens, or followers of the same religion. Our focus on particular identities can enrich our bonds and make us do many things for each other and can help to take us beyond our self-centered lives…  an identity with others in the same social community can make the lives of all go much better in that community; a sense of belonging to a community is thus seen as a resource… That understanding is important, but it has to be supplemented by a further recognition that a sense of identity can firmly exclude many people even as it warmly embraces others . . . . The adversity of exclusion can be made to go hand in hand with the gifts of inclusion.

Identity both enriches human experience and diminishes it through prejudice, intolerance and violence. As we see every day, in the news, civilization is constantly under threat by the bad sort of identity — identity that excludes, identity that often leads to violence.

Identity both enriches human experience and diminishes it through prejudice, intolerance and violence.

The United States, once thought of as a bastion of equality and democracy, has become a crucible for racial and ethnic hatred. The white supremacist movement, which once seemed but an absurd and ugly, but minor, carbuncle on the face of America, now has apparently grown, improbably, to a place of real influence in in both the political and private lives of Americans. The carbuncle has become a monstrous disfigurement.

The “Proud Boys,” and all of their kind, have manufactured an identity that gives them camaraderie and a refuge for like-minded people. Their identity provides them with the comfort and strength of a community, as identities can do. But, as Amartya Sen warned, it can be a dark and malign identity.