Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The illusion of destiny

I have been reading Amartya Sen's book "Identity and Violence. The Illusion of Destiny." It is an essay that explains the diversity of identities that each of us has, and the dangers of focusing attention on only one of these identities. Sen argues that even moderates who try to fight identity fanatics often make the mistakes of accepting that there are separate identities, that the world can be partitioned into identities, or even worse into civilizations. An example of this is the theory of the "clash of civilizations," where it is claimed that the world can be explained more and more by the west and its values centered on freedom fighting its enemies from Islam and other anti-democratic identities in other latitudes. Sen makes a strong case against associating the west with freedom and democracy, by pointing out many examples in which the west has been associated to the opposite of them (the Inquisition, the Holocaust), and by giving several examples of democratic traditions in Asia, the Middle East or Africa. Amartya Sen's words: "To be sure, the assumption of singularity is not only the staple nourishment of many theories of identity, it is also (...) a frequently used weapon of sectarian activists who want the targeted people to ignore altogether all other linkages that could moderate their loyalty to the specially marked herd."

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