Huib Wursten, Public speaker, Author, and Consultant
We are in an identity crisis as a result of globalization. As a result of the frequent confrontation with other cultures, we ask ourselves: where do I come from, who am I, what role has my culture.
Many of the answers go back to national identity. This is not strange because most people feel a special connection with the immediate concrete environment: the place of birth, the language spoken, and the food. Usually, this gives a positive emotion of feeling at home. Moreover, it also creates a positive sense of “mastering” the surrounding community’s expectations and frequently subconscious “rules of the game.”
What is underestimated is the influence of national culture on other aspects of human life. According to Appiah 5C’s are influencing Identity: Creed, Country, Culture, Class, Color. .In this paper it will be shown that Country culture has a gravitational influence on all other C’s
Keywords: Identity politics, self-determination, individual rights, self-definition, the rhetoric of “differences.”
Introduction: Culture, Identity and “Identity wars”
In an earlier paper ( Wursten.H.2021), identity was explored in the context of the development of Individualism as one of the four fundamental cultural dimensions discovered by Geert Hofstede: Individualism (Hofstede 2001)
Six defining steps were mentioned.
The first three, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the Reformation, are shown to emphasize the individual as a critical autonomous actor. Who, as a result, was encouraged to investigate the world independently and look critically at what worldly and religious authorities were saying.
The fourth step is described as the big turning point that came about during the time of disruptive ideas—roughly between 1850 and 1930. People like Freud showed that the unconscious had an enormous impact on so-called conscious and rational behavior. Einstein made concepts of reality even more questionable by the relativity theory. As a result, people turned their interest from objective realism to the way individuals are subjectively experiencing reality. The 5th step in the development of Individualism is the ‘legalization’ of independent thinking and the legitimate right for all to demand equal treatment. as formulated in the “Universal Declaration of Human rights.” Repressed individuals realized that their condition was associated with the specific minority group they belong to and identified with the identity struggle of (for example) women, people of color, LGBTQ. communities, etc. As “identity groups,” they started to claim their right to be seen and recognized. The 6th step is therefore, the focus on “diversity” and “inclusion” of all repressed minority groups and their right to express themselves. This paper analyzes the consequences of this focus on identity leading to the consequent “identity wars”..
Diversity, Inclusion and identity wars.
Some years ago, Mark Lilla (Lilla.2016) wrote a thought-provoking op-ed article in the New York Times called “The End of Identity Liberalism.” He analyzed the current understanding of democracy. He asserted that instead of focusing on an expansive vision of how to create a shared future, politicians “slip into the rhetoric of diversity, calling out explicitly to African-American, Latino, LGBTQ, and women voters at every stop. “He warns about this approach: “If you are going to mention groups in America, you had better mention all of them. If you don’t, those left out will notice and feel excluded. Which, as the data show, was exactly what happened with the white working class and those with strong religious convictions“. The New York Times (10-03-21) recently wrote about another example: “The first time California’s Department of Education published a draft of an ethnic studies “model curriculum” for high school students, in 2019, it managed the neat trick of omitting anti-Semitism while committing it. More than a million Jews live in California. They are also among the state’s leading victims of hate crimes. Yet, in a lengthy draft otherwise rich with references to various forms of bigotry, there was no mention of bigotry toward Jews. There was, however, an endorsement of the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement, which essentially asks for the elimination of the Jewish state. There was also a positive mention of a Palestinian singer rapping that Israelis “use the press so they can manufacture” — the old refrain that lying Jews control the media. The draft outraged many Jews. And they were joined by Armenian, Assyrian, Hellenic, Hindu, and Korean civic groups in a statement urging the California Department of Education to “completely redraft the curriculum.” In its original form, they said, the document was “replete with mischaracterizations and omissions of major California ethnoreligious groups.”
Lilla: “This fixation on diversity in our schools and the press has produced a generation of liberals and progressives narcissistically unaware of conditions outside their self-defined groups, and indifferent to the task of reaching out to Americans in every walk of life. At a very young age, our children are encouraged to talk about their individual identities, even before they have them. By the time they reach college, many assume that diversity discourse exhausts political discourse and have shockingly little to say about such perennial questions as class, war, the economy and the common good. In large part, this is because in educational institutions it is a full-time job for all concerned” to deal with — and heighten the significance of — “diversity issues.”
The underlying identity discussions lead to a polarized atmosphere, according to Lilla. In “healthy periods,” the debate should not be “about “difference,” but about communality.
Lilla blames the liberals in the USA for “not recognizing how their own obsession with diversity has encouraged white, rural, religious Americans to think of themselves as a disadvantaged group whose identity is being threatened or ignored.”
The way out is to focus on commonalities and the notion that people are “part of a nation of citizens who are in this together. A post-identity liberalism would also emphasize that democracy is not only about rights; it also confers duties on its citizens, such as the duties to keep informed and vote.”
The Dutch political commentator Martin Sommer (Sommer 2017) remarks: “We are experiencing a reversal from the slogan from an earlier time of feminism “everything personal is political.” Now it is: “everything political is personal.” Politics must appeal to you at the level of your authentic self; otherwise, it does not count. Radical politics evolves directly from your identity.
Identity-driven politics is nowadays a “movement.” The attributes of unique groups policies shape a struggle for recognition of increasingly smaller and aggressively determined groups. The focus is less and less on shared destinies but following self-defined autonomous choices.”
Identifying the playing field
To analyze the influence of Identity issues, we first must define it.
Identity is defined in the dictionary as “the state of being the same in substance, nature, qualities, etc. Absolute sameness.
How to reconcile this absolute sameness with a song on a recent album of Nobel prize-winning songwriter Bob Dylan (Dylan 2020):
“I contain a multitude.”
He is referring to the multitude of identities making the person we know as Bob Dylan. He sings:
I’m just like Anne Frank, like Indiana Jones
And them British bad boys, the Rolling Stones
I go right to the edge, I go right to the end
I go right where all things lost are made good again
I sing the songs of experience like William Blake
I have no apologies to make
Everything flowing all at the same time
I live on a boulevard of crime
I drive fast cars, and I eat fast foods
I contain multitudes
Listening to Bob Dylan I recognized this attitude towards identity as shared by many highly educated people worldwide. They vehemently deny that they can be put in “boxes” by a fixed identity. Especially if identity is related to nationality, they claim to be “a citizen of the world” and cosmopolitan in their thinking. “We are autonomous and authentic beings,” they say. “We make up our own opinions and independently make decisions.” They claim to be at home everywhere and to be able to relate to people everywhere. Like Bob Dylan, they point out that they have different identities because of the various roles they have in life. In the same person, they combine being a parent, partner, consumer, co-worker, belonging to a belief system, having sexual preferences, etc.
These arguments refer to their conviction that one aspect of an individual’s identity does not necessarily determine other categories of membership. Delgado and Stefancic explain, “Everyone has potentially conflicting, overlapping identities, loyalties, and allegiances. In other words, we cannot predict an individual’s identity, beliefs, or values based on categories like race, gender, sexuality, religion, nationality, etc.; instead, we must recognize that individuals are capable of claiming membership to a variety of different (and often seemingly contradictory) categories and belief systems regardless of the identities outsiders attempt to impose upon them.” (Delgado, Stefancic 2017)
This point of view raises the question: what about the “absolute sameness” of the definition. Is there no consistency in the different roles?
A reflection on the unified concept of self
Identity is a multi-faceted issue. It makes it difficult to grasp the “unified concept of self.” A critical point here is if there is an essence that defines us apart from what we do.
The medieval church fathers already struggled with this question. Is essence preceding existence, or is existence preceding essence. Later a philosopher like Sartre was convinced that existence, our choices, show our essence. It is easy to have incredibly positive ideas yourself in theory. But only by looking at actions and choices is it possible to see the real identity of somebody. Kwame Anthony Appiah says: Identity is revealed as an activity, not a thing. (Appiah 2019)
Freud offers a creative solution for finding the essence of somebody: projection. If we let people react to an ambiguous situation, they project their own personal “hang-ups” rather than saying something objective. Nice test: ask someone at a dinner party to say something about “the women of today,” and it is incredible what they reveal about their personality.
Kwame Anthony Appiah: The five C’s
What we learned from the above is that we are talking about a unified concept of self. Several elements influence that concept. According to Kwame Anthony Appiah (Appiah 2019), identity is shaped by five c’s Creed, Country, Culture, Class, Color. However, based on the analysis here above, one can say that all 5 Cs are influenced by the programming system called culture. Earlier, we showed that country culture strongly influences the expression of the first C, Creed. A Dutch Catholic is different in the expression of his/her values and religion than a Bolivian one.(Wursten 2017) Country culture is defined by the dimensions and the 7 Mental Images. And class consciousness is a fundamental economic significant issue but also influenced by the values of national culture. Color does not predict the value system of people. Many people looking for the roots of their immigrant parents discover that they have more in common with their compatriots with a different color of skin than with people of their own color but from another programming system.
The same can be said about professional culture.
A strong example of a specific professional culture is the Military.
The influence of national culture is apparent in a reaction on the drama in Srebrenica of the “ New York Times”. The heading on the first page says:
“ Dutch conscience Stung by Troops’ Bosnia Failure’ (New York Times 1997) Citation:
“ Some critics are questioning not only the conduct of the Dutch Battalion in Srebrenica but also the relevance of Hollands’ traditionally peaceful “ consensus oriented” approach to world affairs” A Dutch diplomat is quoted comparing Dutch and American attitudes “We don’t back up our diplomacy with a big stick”.
Conclusion: even in military interventions the Dutch mindset is prominent.
Let’s go back for a moment and look at some other roles Bob Dylan was referring to.
Is the role of the parent apart from other identities? Is it the same everywhere? Or might it be something related to national culture?
In a recent article in the New York Times (Barry Allen 2019), there was astonishment about a ritual in The Netherlands. The Dutch scouting tradition “dropping,” in which groups of children, pre-teenagers, are deposited in a forest and expected to find their way back to base. It is meant to be challenging, and they often stagger in at 2 or 3 in the morning. To make it more difficult, adult organizers may blindfold the children on their way to the dropping. The journalist compares this with the parenting style in the US: “Far from the land of helicopter parenting, getting ‘dropped’ in the forest is a beloved scouting tradition.
‘If this sounds a little crazy to you,’ the New York Times says, ‘it is because you are not Dutch.’
“The Dutch — it is fair to say — do childhood differently. Children are taught not to depend too much on adults; adults are taught to allow children to solve their own problems. Droppings distill these principles into extreme form, banking on the idea that even for children who are tired, hungry, and disoriented, there is a compensatory thrill to being in charge. Droppings are such a normal part of Dutch childhood that many there are surprised to be asked about it, assuming it is common to every country. ”
.In preparing for a speech for UNESCO on “Women’s day,” I looked at the keywords used in personal ads describing the qualities of a prospected partner. I compared the keywords in newspapers in a masculine culture like the US with those in feminine cultures like Denmark and The Netherlands. The surprising finding was that the keywords were different and the opposite of what might be expected. In the USA, the keywords were “Warm and Supportive,” while the keywords in The Netherlands and Denmark were “Companion” and “Honesty.”
Apparently, in the USA where the outside world is competitive, people want to have a partner who is not competing at home, but a partner where one can find relaxation. On the other hand, in feminine societies where the outside world is not that competitive, people are looking for “a sparring partner.”
Seemingly this is in contrast with the value preferences around MAS/FEM but can only be understood by the consequences of this dimension.
The hard way, the manufacturers’ world discovered that consumer needs are not the same everywhere.
As an example, the marketing of expensive watches and Mineral water. I used this example before in a paper on Culture and Art. (Wursten2021)
A decisive cultural element is the importance of status symbols. In large power distance cultures, status is important to show how important you are in the hierarchy. For example, in comparing Finland and Portugal, the first country is far more prosperous based on GDP per capita. And yet, because of the large power-distance culture of Portugal, the penetration of expensive watches is twice as high in Portugal than in Finland.
In mineral water, the determining factor is Uncertainty Avoidance, an indicator of how comfortable a culture is in dealing with unfamiliar risks. The higher the score, the more certainty that culture requires. Drinking tap water is considered risky, also in advanced, rich high UAI cultures. A comparison between Germany, Belgium, and Spain scoring high on Uncertainty Avoidance and the UK and Sweden scoring low showed that more mineral water was sold in the three first mentioned countries by a factor ten and higher.
But what we can learn from these examples is that national culture is an important explanatory factor.
National Culture as a source of priorities and preferences.
The Hofstede dimensions of culture (Hofstede2001, Hofstede et al. 2010) represents a well-validated operationalization of differences between the cultures of present-day nations as manifested in dominant value systems.
The definition of culture: it is about the collective “programming” of the mind that distinguishes one group or category of people from another.”
This definition stresses that culture is (1) a collective, not an individual attribute; (2) not directly visible but manifested in behaviors; and (3) common to some, but not all people. We are talking about the preferences of most people most of the time.
The dimensions are not a random collection of factors that emerged from particular items; instead, they reflect the basic dimensions of culture from value systems.
In repeated research, validated over more than 50 years, Hofstede identified fundamental issues every society must cope with.
What we call cultural difference is determined by how the dominant majority in a country addresses those issues.
The first four dimensions in Hofstede’s model (power distance, individualism versus collectivism, masculinity versus femininity, and uncertainty avoidance) reflect those issues.
Each country has a ‘score’ on each dimension. These scores, in turn, provide a ‘picture of a country’s culture. Hofstede’s approach is clear, simple, and statistically valid.
Layers of identity
While each Dimension is independent of the others (each explains something distinct about a country), the most important questions are answered by analyzing how each country’s scores on each dimension interact with each other.
There are over 200 countries in the world. But, happily, we do not have to understand 200 distinct cultural types.
The 50 years of research by Geert Hofstede with regular repeats trying to falsify the outcomes show that nations differ on fundamental independent dimensions.
Applying these findings resulted in the insight that though the dimensions of culture are independent in real life, they interact. They constitute a “Gestalt,” The sum of parts is something new.
Happily, this diversity in “Gestalts” is not endless. Constant confrontation with real-life consequences showed that it is possible to describe seven combinations. We call this the seven grammar systems of culture. These grammar systems have a tremendous influence on (political and societal) issues. For example, to understand the differences in how leadership and democracy work out, go back to these seven grammar systems. I call these seven mental images because even the “picture” people have in their minds if they think and talk about their society is different.
Each of the seven has a different procedure for decision making, control, etc.
But we are not talking about everybody. We are talking about the preferences of most people most of the time.
In all cultures, one can find segments of the population that are different motivations and preferences. As a result, they can be interested in products ignored or even disliked by the majority.
Again, exploring the “sameness” the conclusion it is not the role that is creating identity. Instead, the majority values of the nation of origin have a significant role in defining the “content” of the roles.
Identity and emotions
Meet someone for the first time. We usually ask questions about where they come from and what they do. In such situations, we are trying to find out what makes up this person and what makes them the same as us – what we have in common – and what makes them different.
Identity is related to the emotional choice of groups you identify with. Therefore, it is a vital marker of identity
. Sharing an identity is emotional and can happen on various levels:
It can be on the level of seeing somebody wearing the logo of their favorite sports club. It can happen on the train seeing somebody reading a preferred newspaper or book. In all these cases, you feel both a sense of recognition and belonging.
I will illustrate this with some soccer examples. For several reasons:
- Because I am a sports fan
- Because soccer is the most popular sport in the world
- Because the media highly cover it. If a coach or a player is making a mistake, it is highly publicized
- Because most people think they are an expert and have an opinion
about the game
A few soccer examples:
Coming from the same environment
Some years ago, at a sports conference, I met a famous Dutch soccer coach. We talked to each other, discovering that we came from the same quarter of The Hague in the Netherlands. We discussed that in a small town like The Hague, you can identify by the accent people have from which part of The Hague they come from. There are sharp differences between “posh” accents of the higher class and very aggressive sounding accents from people from the working class. People coming from our own quarter can be easily identified by how they emphasize the second part of the word “Moerwijk” (Moer-Quarter), in contrast to everybody else. We discovered that this created an immediate sense of shared identity by understanding words completely unknown by other Dutch people outside The Hague. Words like “freedikeetje” and “klaks” (friendly game and sperm). Also, the immediate understanding of the word “landje” (a small meadow in our neighborhood where we played soccer games) made it very easy to connect.
This is the logo of my favorite soccer club Ajax Amsterdam.
In 1991 it was introduced replacing an older one. The fanatic supporters did not like it. They created an action “give Ajax his face back.” They emotionally identified with what they called the classic logo, radiating warmth and strength. It was a symbol of the successful history of the club. However, the new logo was too cold and intellectual. It contains only eleven lines representing the eleven men team in soccer.
Below: old and new
In recent years, the soccer world slowly accepted the idea that defining and optimizing organizational culture matters. Club owners and managers who adhere to a philosophy, a particular set of beliefs, like Louis van Gaal did as Manchester United coach, are not anymore seen as “wimps.” It was the New York Times (Smith Rory 2021) making this analysis. They wrote: “It is understood, on some level, that possessing a clear sense of what you want your team to be, offers a competitive edge: It helps recruit the right players, it makes coaching them more effective, it offers a barometer of success and purpose that is not reliant on individual results. At an executive level, it can even, at times, ease the transition between one manager and the next.
Fans, increasingly, no longer see a manager talking about a philosophy and a vision as marketing jargon or corporate bunk. It is, instead, something to cling to and believe in, a reason to be proud.”
The notion of “difference.”
A central element in our mental programming is self-concept. Especially the Individualism dimension has a substantial impact. In collectivist countries, the in-group is the primary source of one’s identity and the only secure protection one has against the hardships of life. Thus, collectivist identity is to a substantial extent derived from Group/category membership.
The tradition-directed person hardly thinks about himself as an individual. Hsu (Hsu1971) argued that the Chinese word for “Man” (ren) includes the person’s intimate societal and cultural environment., which makes that person’s existence meaningful.
In a broad review of literature, Markus and Kitayama (1991) argued that our cognition, emotion, and motivation all differ depending on whether our culture has provided us with an independent or an interdependent” self-construal.”
Children in cultures with an Individualistic culture” learn to think of themselves as I. This I is an individual’s identity and is distinct from other people’s I’s, and these others are classified not according to group membership but individual characteristics. Playmates are chosen primarily based on personal preferences. (Hofstede2001)
In collectivist cultures, gender and religion are essential for their identity. Not so much in IDV cultures.
As an interesting example: In Individualistic cultures, the generic goal of psychotherapy has often been defined as “self-integration or “self-actualization.” Such goals would be condemned in Arabic societies, where collectivist identity is given precedence over the self. (Hofstede 2001)
Hofstede: “The in-group is the major source of one’s identity, and the only secure protection one has against the hardships of life.”
In communities before enlightenment, the question of who I am was not raised.
Identity and social status
Identity becomes a real issue in individualistic cultures because social status is essential for identity, says Prof Joel Walters (Walters 2005). The brain has a kind of thermostat constantly comparing your inner norms with the demands from the environment. Thus, it keeps you in equilibrium.
Gilman (Gilman 2000) also writes about this comparison. He focuses on how human beings construct images of others to define themselves. “All of us,” he writes, “man and women, poor and rich, black and white, spend a great deal of our psychic energy constantly defining and redefining who we are.” Gilman adds that one way people define themselves is by measuring themselves against those they perceive as different. And sometimes, he says, “people create a difference where there is none to throw their self-definition into relief.”
The question of difference is emotive; we start to hear ideas about ‘us’ and ‘them’, friend and foe, belonging and not belonging in-groups and out-groups, which define ‘us’ in relation to others, or the Other. He argues that the crux of cultural identity is that it is shaped not just regarding some other but also to another culture.
Identity, authenticity and expressive individualism.”
In a recent article in America, Ronald E. Osborn described Donald Trump as “the president of expressive individualism” and a master at playing the “ethics of authenticity.” (Osborn2020)
In his latest book, Fukuyama pictures the history of concepts like “expressive individualism” and “authenticity“ to show how they have come to dominate today’s politics. (Fukuyama 2018)
The desire to authentically express oneself is at the heart of today’s identity politics. Identity is a “powerful moral idea” because it presupposes a conflict of values. It “tells us that we have authentic inner selves that are not being recognized and suggest that the whole of external society may be false and repressive.” In other words, modern identity privileges the individual’s capacity to express himself over the demands of tradition or society at large. The contemporary notion is that one must break free from tradition and convention to discover one’s true identity.
However, with the collapse of a shared religious horizon, the burden of constructing one’s identity based on one’s chosen values falls entirely on the individual. The main consequence of this has been the proliferation of unstable, fluid identities and an increased nostalgia for the community. With the freedom of constructing one’s identity without traditional constraints comes paralyzing anxiety: figuring out how to do this all by yourself. Again, this goes back to the assumption of a unified concept of self.
Core issue: (lack of) recognition
Identity politics stems from the tension between individual expression and longing for community. It does this by mobilizing a particular identity’s struggle for social recognition.
Two different factors can create the feeling that this recognition is out of balance.
- In international communities, if people have the feeling others do not recognize their (subconscious) rules of the game.
An example is the reaction of the Dutch on the Belgian politician Verhofstadt. Peter Vandermeersch, a Belgian national, previous Editor in Chief of the Dutch newspaper NRC was interviewed in De Morgen, a Belgian equivalent (Vandermeersch,2019). He analyzed the differences in attitudes of top-down Belgians and consensus-driven Dutch in attitudes towards the EU. His observation was: “The Dutch think that Verhofstadt is the devil. And Rightly so.”
- If competition is happening as perceived between the different identity groups and the feeling is that other groups are too much in the spotlights.
This is of course, something specifically happening in individualistic cultures with the focus on equal rights. However, a difference can be observed between Individualistic, Masculine cultures on one hand and Individualistic, Feminine cultures on the other hand. In the more Masculine cultures, one can see resistance in accepting that compensating is sometimes needed for certain deprived groups. This is a minor issue in Feminine countries. We will come back to this difference in the chapter on meritocracy.
The need for recognition
People want to be themselves and to be recognized in the eyes of others.
Identity politics stems from this desire. It does this by mobilizing a particular identity’s struggle for social recognition.
Taylor (Taylor 1994) points out that one’s inner self is not just a matter of inward contemplation; it must be intersubjectively recognized if it is to have value. Increasingly, however, universal recognition based on shared humanity is not enough, particularly for groups that have been and are discriminated against. Hence modern identity politics revolves around demands for recognition of group identities—that is, public affirmations of the equal dignity of the formerly marginalized groups.
Michael Ignatieff (Ignatieff 2018) identifies an additional tension. On the one hand, we want to be recognized as equals, but we also want to be valued as individuals with unique selves. On the other hand, we want our group identities — as women, as gay people, as ethnic minorities — acknowledged as equal. Still, we also want them uniquely entitled to reparation and redress. As Ignatieff says: “It’s not obvious how a modern democracy can meet all these demands at once — in which individuals are accepted as equals, their unique selves respected as special, and their group claims all receive equal recognition.”
Fukuyama (Fukuyama 2018) explains the consequences by going back to the Greek concept of Thymos. According to Plato, the soul contains three parts:
- the seat of desires. Desire is the emotional need of a man who blindly drives human lust. If desire were the only component of the soul, inevitably, a man lacking opinions and driven only by his desires wouldn’t make much progress. 2. another part is rational. Thanks to reason, one can control or regulate one’s emotions to some extent. Therefore, the emotional need in the form of desire is complemented by reason, which seems to be behind human progress. 3. But the third part, Thymos, is independent of the other two and is the “seat of both anger and pride. Thymos, as a desire for recognition. Thymos is central to Fukuyama in his thinking about society’s political decision-making. According to Fukuyama, Thymos was behind the birth and spread of democracy in the 19th and 20th centuries. The French Revolution and its related events have increased the feeling of importance in the broad masses of the population. Ordinary citizens have ceased to think of themselves as subjects who were passively accepting this role
It also causes the current problems that democracies are facing worldwide. For “every person recognized as superior, far more people are seen as inferior and do not receive any public recognition. The problem is that Thymos can take two different shapes.: The first one is defined as Isothymia. It occurs in individuals whose need is to be recognized as equal to other members of society. It is associated with concepts such as solidarity, belonging, humanism, consensus, etc. Isothymia is not radical and is found in most societies. The second component is Megalothymia. Unlike Isothymia, it is present in individuals whose need is to be superior to others. Groups compete about who needs the most attention. Or they present themselves as superior to other groups. This is especially problematic when they describe themselves with closed categories like Race, ethnicity, or gender. “White supremacy” is an example.
White supremacy as a reaction
Identity manifests itself especially if it is creating a problem. The problem often begins with stigmatizing, mainly because the people involved belong to a group that others see as inferior because of race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion. In that case, ascription can be hurtful because it does not align with how people want to present themselves.
But not only minorities are stigmatized.
As a result of the “identity wars,” members of the dominant white majority group in “Western” countries can feel threatened. This is happening because they think that their trusted “way of life” is under fire with the arguments of the Universal Declaration.
Visible minorities in the Contest, Network, Machine and Solar system countries are rightly claiming their rights, sometimes taking the shape of accusing the majority culture of “crimes” committed in the past. Crimes like colonialization and slavery.
The confusing thing is that, in principle, these crimes might be recognized by the majority culture. But at the same time, they feel uncomfortable being held accountable for events that happened in a distant past driven by a separate set of convictions from that time. Some of their memories of the visible reflections from that past are positively charged. Black Peter in The Netherlands is connected to memories of the family being together in a warm room, drinking hot cocoa, singing, and exchanging gifts. In their memory, the celebration taking place in an environment where neighbors were called Uncle and Aunt, in streets named after Naval Heroes from a perceived glorious past.
Suddenly being accused of racism and celebrating heroes that in hindsight are called mass murderers is uneasy.
The problem is the unease for many people of the majority group to be forced to change Symbols, Heroes and Rituals rapidly and to be held accountable for wrongdoing in the past without consideration for the positive emotional associations. Also, without recognition that ideas from the past should be seen in the context of that past. The culture of white majorities in nation-states is rooted in history. The Symbols, Heroes and Rituals originate in history and are highly emotional: the “mores” are ways of thinking, doing, and feeling. They precede laws, are unwritten and are difficult to “catch,” but not any less important. The mores are rooted in the past and have an emotional context: “This is how we do things here.” If core values conflict with the mores, it is correct and legal to criticize them, but the emotional context should be considered. “Tradition is the democracy of the dead,” as G. K. Chesterton formulated it. The world was not invented yesterday. Why close your eye for this? (Chesterton 2008)
It is a matter of empathy to be careful with the historical background of the symbols, heroes, and rituals at hand. Change is difficult to achieve by force or aggression.
But the layers of the onion are not hammered in stone. The values are consistent over time but not static. The more remote from this core, the more superficial the elements of culture are. Status symbols for the younger generations change because of worldwide “youth culture” Soccer players can be heroes for fans in the entire world. Rituals are closer to the core and are more resistant. That is why traditional celebrations are more sensitive and emotional. Here all known advice around the management of change should apply.
For some politicians, the way out is a meritocracy. They are trying carefully to ignore every identity marker — race, class, gender, credentials. and value only individuals separately from their group identities —
In The Contest countries, this is an important concept. The belief in the value of free competition is a fundamental issue as a result of their Masculine score. The expectation is that if there is a level playing field for everybody, the market’s invisible hand will make everything balanced. This belief is a powerful force in Contest cultures where there is a tendency to be reluctant to compensate for inequality in starting positions. It is even experienced as unfair and in contrast to equal treatment. In this way, the dominant elite group is defending their position. They claim that their success is all due to their individual effort and that everybody if they put their mind to it as they did, they could have achieved the same. Therefore, they tend to ignore the disadvantaged starting position of some minority groups and are very much against compensation programs.
This is, of course, a lesser problem in for instance, Network cultures where the sympathy is not so much for the winners but the underdog.
Again, there is something contradictory about the identity discussion taking place. On the one hand, there is the recognition we demand for our identities these days. But. we also want to be valued as individuals with unique selves. We want our group identities — as women, as gay people, as ethnic minorities — acknowledged as equal, but we also want them uniquely entitled to reparation and redress. It is not obvious how to reconcile these demands. How to create a society in which individuals are valued as equals, their unique selves respected as special, and still respect their group claims.
To reconcile these sometimes contradictory demands two coping strategies can be identified:
- Adaptive strategy-development.
A Norwegian scholar, Jon Elstar (Elster 1989), explains a mechanism for better understanding the adaptation of ambitions to maintain self-respect. He calls this “adaptive strategy development.”
Explaining this mechanism, he refers to the fox from the fable of Aesop.
“Driven by hunger, a fox tries to reap some nice grapes hanging high on the vine, but the grapes are out of reach, although he leaped as high as he could. Disappointed, he goes away. The fox says, ‘Oh, the grapes aren’t even ripe anyhow, to accommodate his self-respect positively. I don’t need any sour grapes.'”
On the positive side, one could argue this is a healthy pragmatic solution to impossible challenges. However, on the negative side, it creates an alibi to position negative choices positively.
This adaptive strategy can take different shapes. However, the shapes have in common that it makes the minority groups less vulnerable to the esteem of the majority culture. The “esteem” issue is neutralized and even turned around by claiming: your criteria are not ours, and our criteria are superior to yours. This attitude satisfies the need for “respect,” a frequently used word in this context.
The respect they claim results from saying that they are not interested in the “esteem” ranking of the dominant culture. They have a different, not-related ranking for esteem. They create identity by claiming not to be interested in academic subjects, schooling, a career, reading, etc. because those are the criteria of the mainstream group, the Caucasians.
In this context, two strategies are most common:
-Acting conform to the ranking of respect by the street culture: muscles, tattoos, times in prison, possession of weapons.
-Affiliation to (sometimes extreme) religious groups.
In both cases, this new identity is attractive because it satisfies the need for respect; and they get extra attention because many mainstream people see them as threatening.
Elster observes that this adaptive strategy can be helpful to the extent that it reduces the pain of failing to get what we once wanted. However, on the negative side, “sour grapes” may stop us from trying to get the grapes when they are within reach, while refusing to adapt may spur us to effort and (if the trait is general) make for social progress.
- Narcissism of the small difference
One way people define themselves is by comparing themselves with the ones in their immediate environment. But, unfortunately, sometimes people create a difference where there is none to create their self-definition. This can lead to the “narcissism of the small difference.”, a concept introduced by Freud. (Freud 1930) Especially people that are very much alike tend to create identity by emphasizing minor differences. Mostly it is a matter of style, musical preference, cooking and dressing. Of course, this is superficial and can sometimes lead to style surfing, wearing a suit and tie during working weeks, and wearing leather biking suits during the weekend.
Solution: broader and more integrative identities
Identity politics thus divides “societies into ever smaller, self-regarding groups.” But, by that very same token, the fluidity of modern identity makes it possible “to create identities that are broader and more integrative.” This is Fukuyama’s thesis: We need broader identities rather than narrow ones. “We need to promote creedal national identities built around the foundational ideas of modern liberal democracy and use public policies to assimilate newcomers to those identities deliberately.”
The populists have been inciting the resentments of minorities while doing nothing to bring together a coalition. The celebration of diversity cannot get a society together polarized in the rhetoric of victimization. Diversity may be a fact of life but only becomes a value in common if diverse peoples actually live together. A new inclusive definition is necessary of “Shared” Identity.
To do so, we need to balance Individual needs and rights with a feeling of a shared future.
In a second article on Identity this idea of a shared future will be discussed
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