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24. (Irish) Identity: Call for Objectivity

Identity and Governance

If “Irish identity” does not actually exist (GKIS Essay Part III here), perhaps the notion of “European identity” is one step closer to aligning national thinking with the true nature of our real (i.e. universal) identity. The problem with this perspective is: it misses the point.

EP_Strasbourg

European Parliament Strasbourg: existing to serve or be served?

“Identity” defines who we are; not how we are governed. Identity is fixed; how we live it or express it is fluid. Nonetheless, it seems intuitively logical to conclude that global governance would coincide fully with and reflect our universal identity. In other words, as we are one people, we should be governed as one.

Not necessarily.

Without going too deeply into the world of politics, it’s appropriate to point out that the geography of governance worldwide has its roots in the past. History defined our geopolitical divisions and gave rise to the institutions that govern within them. However, in our contemporary world, which is changing rapidly and is undoubtedly more interconnected, new super-national governing forces are at play beyond the nation state. This situation has both benefits and downsides.

In the Name of a Greater Good

The two main bodies that represent the trend towards super-national governance are the United Nations (UN) and the European Union (EU). These institutions are ultra sensitive to demands to be inclusive, but this tendency leans heavily in favour of “identity politics”, which, as we have seen (article #23 GKIS), is encroaching on free speech and causing worrying polarization of society on both sides of the Atlantic.

With the exception of Britain, society in Europe tends to be influenced and controlled increasingly, albeit indirectly, by the EU at the expense of national governments. The core problem associated with the trend towards a concentration of power beyond the nation is the potential for abuse.

It is naive to think that totalitarianism of the future will arrive with the jackboot as National Socialism of the 1930s did. It is far more likely to occur gradually and in the open by means of laws and regulations that strangle individual freedoms in the name of a greater good.

Could this happen? Is it happening?

Could this happen? Is it happening?

 

According to a number of observers there are disturbing signs that this is already happening in super-national institutions. For example, Todd Huizinga (former US diplomat), in his book The New Totalitarian Temptation: Global Governance and the Crisis of Democracy in Europe states that … [The EU] is meant to be the harbinger of a new era, in which a cosmopolitan and harmonious Europe provides the model for a worldwide system of supranational governance. … power is to be wielded not primarily by national governments on behalf of national electorates, but by an ever-thickening web of international organizations administering a growing body of international law and regulation, purportedly in the interests of a global citizenry.[1]

Huizinga hones in on, perhaps, the one outstanding element that distinguishes legitimate and suspect governance: namely, the importance that is attached to objectivity, particularly in the social sphere. Huizinga warns: If there is no such thing as objective truth or unchanging human nature, then, in principle, citizens cannot claim truly inalienable rights – rights that are rooted in human nature and objective truth … [If this is the case then] … the human person is not the shaper of his own destiny … [Furthermore] Once one has given up the idea of objective truth to embrace relativism, power can be attained and held only by coercion, since there is no generally acknowledged objective basis for persuasion.[1]

Another modern soothsayer is Ryszard Legutko (Polish philosopher and politician) who wrote The Demon in Democracy a book that points out the many disquieting similarities between the repressive communist system of the former Soviet Union and the dominant political philosophy of the modern West.[2]

Existing to Serve

As in "identity politics"

As in “identity politics”

Both Huizinga and Legutko raise the alarm about current trends. Huizinga, in particular,  reiterates the fear that despotism is easier to promulgate and is more likely to surface under the influence of institutions like the UN and the EU—that, ironically, were originally designed to maintain peace—than by political coup organised by stormtroopers.

A major problem is that, what occurs in these institutions is carried out in the name of human rights. Their integrity is, therefore, taken for granted. But, being under the radar, their activities may not be as benign as the surface view would indicate.

If the super-national institutions are not guided by objective principles they are, in theory, open to abuse and could easily be taken over and steered by a small number of elites who are motivated by desires other than serving the good of all. And, if citizens hand over governance to bodies that are open to this type of domination, then a drift towards totalitarianism is almost inevitable.

Unfortunately, objectivity is often the bane of the social sciences. Nevertheless, an important inroad against subjectivity can be achieved in the humanities by applying, universally, an objective definition of “identity”. This shift in paradigm may not solve worldwide threats to democracy, but it’s a step in the right direction. Besides, confining the word “identity” to its objective meaning would have far reaching and overwhelmingly positive outcomes because identity as a concept touches so many facets of human life.

The Call Goes Out

The word “identity” is in runaway mode and has gathered a plethora of meanings to itself, thus becoming overused, misused and abused, rendering it no longer useful as a sensible term of communication. The only way to regain its meaning is for the expression to be confined—rigorously and specifically—to its objective definition.

The challenge of overcoming deeply embedded habits should not be minimised or dismissed. In Shelter and Shadows Raymond Keogh states: Sadly, I foresee a long and thorny intellectual battle ahead because so many in the humanities have become comfortable with a non-objective approach to the subject. Despite the difficult road facing us, in time objectivity is sure to trump the confusion caused by loose and subjective uses of “identity”.[3]

It may be difficult to root out imprecise habits in the short term. “Identity” will continue to be used in a slovenly manner because it’s part of common usage. In practice, confusion may be avoided by distinguishing clearly the objective use of the word (i.e. by initialising the first letter in upper-case and all letters in italics as in: Identity). From henceforth the Identity Series will follow this rule.

Save Identity

Furthermore, it’s possible to combine the present call for objective Identity with the proposition, made by Brubaker and Cooper, to corral all loose uses of the word to several alternative groups of meanings. In other words their strategic approach is to “… unbundle the thick tangle of meanings that have accumulated around the term “identity,” and to parcel out the work to a number of less congested terms.”[4] These terms include: “identification and categorization”; “self understanding and social location” and “commonality, connectedness, groupness”.

In other words, whenever identity is not used in its objective sense, its meaning falls into one of these less congested terms. In this way, a harmonized solution to the current dilemma over inappropriate usages of “identity” can be achieved. Please support!

Refs

[1] Huizinga, T. 2016. The New Totalitarian Temptation. Global Governance and the Crisis of Democracy in Europe. Encounter Books.

[2] Legutko, R. 2016. The Demon in Democracy. Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies. Encounter Books.

[3] Keogh, R. M. 2016. Shelter and Shadows. An Awakening to Our Common Identity. Our Own Identity. here

[4] Brubaker, R. and Cooper, F. 2000. Beyond “Identity”. Theory and Society. Vol. 29: 1-47.

 

Acronym GKIS Gerald Keogh Identity Series

Images

Wikimedia Commons: European Parliament and Portrait of Benjamin Franklin by Donkeyhotey (here) published by the Detroit Publishing Co.

Next 

Identity: Antidote to an Age of Anxiety” here