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Thursday, January 10, 20081200002770

Identity, who needs it?

My good blog-friend Isaac (who I had the wonderful pleasure of meeting at Boyd '07 at Quantico) sent me "Fighting Identity: Why We Are Losing Our Wars" by Micahel Vlahos. Don't worry Isaac: I won't hold it against you. ;-)

Vlahos' article essentially is an abridgment of In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong by Amin Maalouf. Violence is seen as an outgrowth of Identity, a non-defined term that is a hidden hand in human relationships. While neither Maalouf nor Vlahos bother to defnie their term, the term "identity" is typically used in one of two ways:

  1. metacognitive awareness of one's own preference schedule

  2. an in-group/out-group marker

This raises the question: Does America need an identity?

By the first definition, not really. Maybe, but it's not going to happen, and if it did it might not be good. Hence the importance of 5GW.

By the second definition, sure. That's why we bother have passports and visas.

The rest of the article is a mish-mash of other European fads, including a belief in the state as a monopolizer of force, the view that globalization is essentailly a destructice force, and other boobytraps for the mind.

16:06 Posted in Doctrine | Permalink | Comments (9) | Tags: identity


Theory to put out there before leaving the Internet for the night; maybe what America needs isn't a metacognitive awareness of its own preferences so much as its own non-preferences? Not what it is so much as what it isn't?

Posted by: Michael | Thursday, January 10, 2008

Dan, in skimming my way yesterday through the 1st vol. of Christopher Alexander's 4-vol. set The Nature of Order, I was riveted by his thesis that life is that which is rooted in structure/order, and thus that conventionally non-living things in the universe may be alive given their order. When you posted about America and identity, I immediately asked myself the less exceptional question: what is the structure/order of America, i.e. that which makes it a living system? I think any American identity would be more easily derived from a study of America as a living structure. (Or so Alexander's thesis would have me believe.)

Michael, I gotta wonder if there is an element missing from the set you imply. What comes between preferences and non-preferences? Is it possible that America's indifferences (readily apparent or not) outweigh both its preferences and non-preferences?

Posted by: Moon | Friday, January 11, 2008

I meant to thank you for the Vlahos/Maalouf references. I will take read through Vlahos to see if he sends me before I seek out Maalouf.

Posted by: Moon | Friday, January 11, 2008

Also skimmed it (just drove from Albany to LI, and soon it continues) but its a great article. Michael's caveat is right but doesn't make Dan's first point wrong. We have to use identity as something that blends group boundaries, we need to use it as something that includes rather than excludes. As we 'interact' with different group identities in the world, we have to find some common ground with those identities, where our metacognitive preference schedules (telling us how to survive) can agree.

Moon's thinking about structure is right on too. In the context of globalization and maybe a global society, a 'global' identity may emerge that is consistent with an open, living system that has to absorb or at least be compatible with newly encountered group or national identities to survive. In a world of 4th Generation actors who seek to develop their own group networks (using identity) 5th Generation war could be seen as countering such identity-building, and preventing or undermining hostile, exclusive group identities. So maybe 5GW maintains and sustains the open, living global identity system from 4GW attempts to build exclusive group boundatries.

Posted by: Stephen Pampinella | Friday, January 11, 2008

Or, more to the point, we need to manipulate and co-opt identities rather than fight them, by controlling what they perceive of us.

Posted by: Stephen Pampinella | Friday, January 11, 2008

You may be right about that. Mainly, our history going back to colonial days seems to be one of people expanding their idea of what it means to be one of US.

Several of the colonies were founded as havens for people who didn't fit in in Western Europe; I can think of two (Conn. and RI) which were founded for people who didn't fit in in Massachusetts! Independence from Great Britain was marked by those colonies overcoming their differences to found 1 new nation instead of 13. The 19th Century was marked by the gradual process of non-WASPs (including former black slaves, to an extent) being accepted as Americans; the 20th was marked by non-whites being accepted more fully as Americans.

Over time, in short, we saw fewer and fewer things as disqualifiers to full citizenship and belonging in our society. As long as this process continues, we WILL have an identity worth possessing in wartime; our enemies, far from defeating us, will BECOME us.

Posted by: Michael | Friday, January 11, 2008

I found the Vlahos piece to be somewhat over the top and suspect more than a little cribbing from the blogosphere without attribution. If you dial down his points about 30 %, some of them are reasonable.

The United States is an Enlightenment country - one of just two - founded by the most perpetually rebellious peoples of the British Isles; the East Anglian dissenting protestant sects, the quarrelsome Scots-Irish and the rootless proto-lumpenproletariat of London, York, liverpool etc. who came over as indentured servants or convicted criminals ( Georgia colony).

We have a cerebral, ideological, identity welded to a ferociously individualistic historical culture and social mores. The only people confused about their identity are our self-absorbed bipartisan political elite who ingested too much PC crap from university marxists and ethnic studies authoritarians in college between bong hits and flipping their Jimi Hendrix records.

Posted by: zenpundit | Friday, January 11, 2008

You talk like Jimi Hendrix records are a bad thing *hurt pouting voice*

Seriously, I've heard over the years that identity crises are common amongst the children of immigrants. Not because they went to the wrong colleges, but because they often feel like they're being asked to pick between their parent's old culture and America's. Watch or read JOY LUCK CLUB for one example (as well as an example of what Oliver Stone can do when he isn't being political).

Posted by: Michael | Friday, January 11, 2008

Great discussion!

Going through the comments, by the most recent ones..


An "identity crisis" is Erik Erikson's term for what James Marcia a "moratorium," a "status of a person who is actively involved in exploring different identities, but has not made a commitment." [1]

In Marcia's formulation, nothing's unusual about moratorium -- indeed, it's a part of normal development.

In other words, it's normal to go through a process of determining one's own preferences. In situations where a broader range of behaviors is naturally available (say, where a parents' culture varies more with the general culture), one has more possible behaviors to pick from.

(Joy Luck Club was a great book, btw.)


Agreed [2]. Well said.

Stephen Pampinella,

"Or, more to the point, we need to manipulate and co-opt identities rather than fight them, by controlling what they perceive of us."

A brilliant 5GW analysis!


"Michael, I gotta wonder if there is an element missing from the set you imply. What comes between preferences and non-preferences? Is it possible that America's indifferences (readily apparent or not) outweigh both its preferences and non-preferences?"

Agreed. If America had a rational preference schedule, this implies having an indifference curve [3]

[1] http://psychology.about.com/od/theoriesofpersonality/a/identitycrisis.htm
[2] http://tdaxp.blogspirit.com/archive/2006/01/22/liberal-education-part-i-the-petty-troika.html
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indifference_curve

Posted by: Dan tdaxp | Saturday, January 12, 2008

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