Sunday, November 11, 2012

Uppity Identity



Identities, in a life time we juggle with multiple identities. We are actually a sum total of what our identities make us. All of us have a priority list of identities that we adorn depending upon the situation and circumstances. It is the same order in which these identities have the capacity to make us feel good or hurt us depending upon how other’s respond to them.

Nationality, race, ethnicity, religion, football club we love, cricket team we love, baseball team we swear our allegiance with, education we have had, institutions we have attended, profession, political ideology that we agree with, economic ideology we subscribe etc. are all various identities that make us. We are not born with all, definitely they don’t matter to us when we die yet, during a lifetime these identities are us and we are our identities. Identities are fragile malleable, ductile and continuously divisible. Hence identities are the source of both internal (within us) and external (in society) conflicts.

The multiple identities that we adorn, appear harmless; however a study of human history indicates that all major conflicts have always been conflict of identities. Identities need constant nurturing, constant appreciation, and constant acknowledgment. At any point if an identity is ignored, disrespected, devalued or threatened, then one tends to become extremely protective and sensitive about it and does whatever is needed to prove the relevance, value, superiority of it. Yes, under duress, some identities do tend to become dormant but, there is no indication of any identity ever becoming extinct.

Second world war witnessed how Hitler, who gave priority to the Aryan identity of his, went berserk to prove purity and superiority of this identity over the so called defiled identity of Jews and the results of such an effort is now etched in history for us to read and reflect upon.

Cold War was a conflict of ideological identities, capitalist trying to prove their superiority and relevance over communist. Again undoubtedly clash of identities, repercussions were quite drastic and it polarized people.

9/11 incident indicates how an identity that feels threatened, disrespected and condescended upon, reacts, despite loss of civilian lives involved and severe repercussion on how the world would perceive both the identities involved in this conflict.

And we can go on and on, from large scale wars to the riots that break out in football stadiums, all bear testimony to how identities have the power to dictate action. This also means that as an individual if we keep removing and travel backwards in order of importance from one identity to the other we probably might know who we really are and how many of our identities really deserve the importance we give them.  On the other hand as a society we understand that if peace is a real and essential objective then one has to appreciate and accept all the multiple identities that exist without paranoia, propaganda or parochiality. Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen in his essay ‘Identity and Violence’ says ‘Perhaps the worst impairment comes from the neglect—and denial—of the roles of reasoning and choice, which follow from the recognition of our plural identities. The illusion of unique identity is much more divisive than the universe of plural and diverse classifications that characterize the world in which we actually live. The descriptive weakness of choiceless singularity has the effect of momentously impoverishing the power and reach of our social and political reasoning. The illusion of destiny exacts a remarkably heavy price’


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Uppity Identity



Identities, in a life time we juggle with multiple identities. We are actually a sum total of what our identities make us. All of us have a priority list of identities that we adorn depending upon the situation and circumstances. It is the same order in which these identities have the capacity to make us feel good or hurt us depending upon how other’s respond to them.

Nationality, race, ethnicity, religion, football club we love, cricket team we love, baseball team we swear our allegiance with, education we have had, institutions we have attended, profession, political ideology that we agree with, economic ideology we subscribe etc. are all various identities that make us. We are not born with all, definitely they don’t matter to us when we die yet, during a lifetime these identities are us and we are our identities. Identities are fragile malleable, ductile and continuously divisible. Hence identities are the source of both internal (within us) and external (in society) conflicts.

The multiple identities that we adorn, appear harmless; however a study of human history indicates that all major conflicts have always been conflict of identities. Identities need constant nurturing, constant appreciation, and constant acknowledgment. At any point if an identity is ignored, disrespected, devalued or threatened, then one tends to become extremely protective and sensitive about it and does whatever is needed to prove the relevance, value, superiority of it. Yes, under duress, some identities do tend to become dormant but, there is no indication of any identity ever becoming extinct.

Second world war witnessed how Hitler, who gave priority to the Aryan identity of his, went berserk to prove purity and superiority of this identity over the so called defiled identity of Jews and the results of such an effort is now etched in history for us to read and reflect upon.

Cold War was a conflict of ideological identities, capitalist trying to prove their superiority and relevance over communist. Again undoubtedly clash of identities, repercussions were quite drastic and it polarized people.

9/11 incident indicates how an identity that feels threatened, disrespected and condescended upon, reacts, despite loss of civilian lives involved and severe repercussion on how the world would perceive both the identities involved in this conflict.

And we can go on and on, from large scale wars to the riots that break out in football stadiums, all bear testimony to how identities have the power to dictate action. This also means that as an individual if we keep removing and travel backwards in order of importance from one identity to the other we probably might know who we really are and how many of our identities really deserve the importance we give them.  On the other hand as a society we understand that if peace is a real and essential objective then one has to appreciate and accept all the multiple identities that exist without paranoia, propaganda or parochiality. Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen in his essay ‘Identity and Violence’ says ‘Perhaps the worst impairment comes from the neglect—and denial—of the roles of reasoning and choice, which follow from the recognition of our plural identities. The illusion of unique identity is much more divisive than the universe of plural and diverse classifications that characterize the world in which we actually live. The descriptive weakness of choiceless singularity has the effect of momentously impoverishing the power and reach of our social and political reasoning. The illusion of destiny exacts a remarkably heavy price’


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