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Friday, June 15, 2007

Identity and Violence: 2nd Post

Amartya Sen's book, Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny, Chapters One and Two.

The illusion of destiny is the fallacy that our lives are determined by identity with a particular group. Sen argues that there is always a choice. The role of choosing, making a decision, can be obscured by taking the false position that one and only one aspect of identity is all-important. Gender, class, religion, language, neighborhood, nation, vocation, arts, sports, and more become aspects of identity.

To divide the world into monolithic "civilizations," such as Western civilization, Islamic civilization, Hindu civilization, Buddhist civilization, and then to behave in politics and person as though every member of a "civilization" is the same, ignores our intimate knowledge that the members of our own "civilization" are very, very different.

Such language is part of the ascription of identity onto someone by other people. This may be benign, or simply lack of thought, but it is also part of covert and violent racism, and all the other "isms" that bring injustice and destruction to relations among peoples.

Remember all those movies in which brother is pitted against brother in the American Civil War? It is agony to choose between identity as a brother, and identity as a soldier for a cause. Drama calls for confrontation. Either one brother kills the other, or refuses to shoot and is court martialed. Another favorite scene in the movies of my childhood: during WWI or II, a Britisher or an American dives into a bomb crater to escape artillery barrages, finds a German soldier already taking shelter, and after a tense moment, they both let each other alone. I guess that one is "Identity: Human."

More later.

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