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Unformatted text preview: d. Sim plification als o works by
trans form ing groups into es s ences , abs tractions endowed with the capacity to rem ain unchanged through tim e.
In s om e cas es , people actually act as though the group has rem ained unchanged and talk, for exam ple, about
the his tory of nations and com m unities as if thes e entities s urvived for centuries without changing, with the
s am e ways of acting and thinking, the s am e des ires , anxieties , and as pirations .
Paradoxically, precis ely becaus e identity repres ents a s im plifying fiction, creating uniform groups out of
dis parate people, that identity perform s a cognitive function. It enables us to put nam es to ours elves and others ,
form s om e idea of who we are and who others are, and as certain the place we occupy along with the others in
the world and s ociety. The current ups urge to as s ert the identity of groups can thus be partly explained by the
cognitive function perform ed by identity. However, that s aid, people would not go along as they do, often in large
num bers , with the propos itions put to them , in s pite of the s acrifices they entail, if there was not a very s trong
feeling of need for identity, a need to take s tock of things and know "who we are", "where we com e from ", and
"where we are going".
Identity is thus a neces s ity in a cons tantly changing world, but it can als o be a potent s ource of' violence and
dis ruption. How can thes e two contradictory as pects of identity be reconciled? Firs t, we m us t bear the arbitrary
nature of identity categories in m ind, not with a view to elim inating all form s of identificationâ€”which would be
unrealis tic s ince identity is a cognitive neces s ityâ€”but s im ply to rem ind ours elves that each of us has s everal
identities at the s am e tim e. Second, s ince tears of nos talgia are being s hed over the pas t, we recognis e that
culture is cons tantly being recreated by cobbling together fres h and original elem ents and counter-cultures .
There are in our own country a large num ber of s yncretic cults wherein m odem elem ents are blended with
traditional values or people of different com m unities venerate s aints or divinities of particular faiths . Such cults
and m ovem ents are characteris ed by a continual inflow and outflow of m em bers which prevent them from
taking on a s elf-perpetuating exis tence of their own and hold out hope for the future, indeed, perhaps for the only
pos s ible future. Finally, the nation-s tate m us t res pond to the identity urges of its cons tituent com m unities and to
their legitim ate ques t for s ecurity and s ocial jus tice. It m us t do s o by inventing what the French philos opher and
s ociologis t, Raym ond Aron, called "peace through law". That would guarantee jus tice both to the s tate as a
whole and its parts , and res pect the claim s of both reas on and em otions . The problem is one of reconciling
nationalis t dem ands with the exercis e of dem ocracy.
40. According to the author, happines s of indi...
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This document was uploaded on 03/23/2014.
- Summer '14