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[Xmca-l] Re: Political constructions of self vs politicalconstructions of identity



Dear all,

There is something in an earlier post on this topic well worth thinking through more thoroughly. It was said that Trump places his stress on an artificially created unity, while Clinton hers on distinction and categories of people, who should be united as members of distinct categories rather than on a primordial platform. This seems to be very true, but I wouldn’t say that either approach is itself inherently better than the other. For example, universal human rights are also an ideological construction that stresses unity, while dictators worldwide, beginning with Putin, whose orthodox clerics have devised a uniquely Russian human rights’ version, and the Chinese, Singaporeans etc etc are stressing that “human rights” is a Western (read: colonialist) invention that their cultural structures reject. The problem with categories is that your identity is being bestowed on you by a group, and some critics of multiculturalism argue precisely that cultural groups are fostering ghettoism, even though only very few theorists of multiculturalism support cultural determinism. (But there are some, such as Bhikhu Parekh.) 

What seems to be the problem with both approaches is essentialism in a structuralist mode. They both say that a certain part of a person’s identity is essential (the “message”) and the rest is negligible (“noise”). Their differences arise from where they locate this essential part - whether in Trump’s oneness (or, conversely, the universality of human rights), or Clinton’s categories (or, conversely the ghetto-making determinism of cultural difference). From my point of view, the problem with this way of seeing identity is the necessity of the essential shared component itself. Monty Python’s classic take <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jVygqjyS4CA> on this has captured the problem most neatly (note the quiet dissenting voice at the end). I hope you don’t mind me quoting myself, but in an otherwise rather technical article <https://www.academia.edu/12805385/D%C5%8Dgen_s_Idea_of_Buddha-Nature_Dynamism_and_Non-Referentiality> I have launched the notion of “ity” as the sum total of what constitutes the identity of anyone and anything at any given moment: "an idiosyncratic quality that a thing has that makes it what it is, as a certain ‘reinraudity’ is what makes me, and no one else, Rein Raud at any given moment. As I am not totally identical to myself at every given moment, this ‘reinraudity’ is obviously not an immutable essence. On the other hand, it does also not consist of a limited set of ‘essential’ properties that I have, but necessarily refers to the sum total of all the characteristics that pertain to me, however fleeting (p.3). We all change. This is normal. There is nothing, repeat, nothing, in any set of beliefs and feelings we entertain at one moment that absolutely has to be retained so that we would remain the same persons at another. We change rather in a way the Thesean ships do.

All essentialisms, positive and negative alike, can thus act as infringements on the ity of an individual. However, what we should watch out for is whether they add something (as human rights discourse does) or suppress something (as Trump’s discourse of sameness does). Categorial essentialism, turned into a political tool, is unfortunately even more likely to suppress the individual ity than universalism is.

With best wishes,

Rein Raud