Friday, June 11, 2021

Is it possible to fix identity conflicts?

At the end of the great book edited by Piketty, Martínez-Toledano and Gethin on political cleavages (so far, only in French), they argue that identity conflicts are more difficult to solve than conflicts based on social classes and income and wealth inequalities. Democracy and deliberation do not usually find a solution to identity conflicts, so that the only way to put an end to them, they argue, is by one group defeating or eliminating the other. Based on this, they express a cautious preference for class conflicts, because they believe these are easer to solve through deliberation and democracy.

I also prefer class conflicts rather than identity conflicts, but I do not think that identity conflicts are impossible to solve, or at least I think that they can be guided to an evoltuion that makes tolerance and coexistence possible. Certainly, it s not easy. But after all, big metropolis throughout the world in democratic countries show that coexistence between different religious communities is possible. Not without tensions, but communities with different religions and ethnicities share cities like Paris, New York City, London or Berlin.

I prefer class conflicts because I think it is more ethical to focus on this, and try to see that ethnicities and religions are superficial markers that are made important for social reasons. The markers we focus on are endogenous, and the result of social dynamics and interactions.

In other words, identity is social, and we should not apply to it a different set of values from those that we apply to class conflicts.

If one looks at the Middle East instead of the big metropolis of the world, it is tempting to conclude that identity conflicts do not have a solution. But perhaps people have just been wrong on how to solve the conflict between communities in Israel/Palestine. Two great intellectuals, one Jewish and one Palestinian, Tony Judt and Edward Said, expressed a similar opinion in their last years, an opinion that has recently been echoed by some participants in the debate, such as Peter Beinart. It is wrong, Judt and Said claimed, to try to promise freedom in a small piece of land by allocating one state to each ethnicity and religion. The only solution is to be able to share the land, as it is done in big cities, and focus on respecting individual rights, and this respect should be guaranteed constitutionally and if necessary by international protection, as de facto and de iure happens in big cities. That is, individual rights should not depend on which ethnicity has the majority.

Nothern Ireland's conflict was actually fixed by forging institutions that went beyond the logic of national sovereignty, with the Good Friday Agreement, only to be put in crisis recently because of an application of the logic of the nation-state (Brexit).

If the conflict of Northern Ireland found a solution through dialogue and consensus building, surely much lesser problems, such as the split of Catalonia due to the pro-independence drive, can be solved through similar means. Identity conflicts will not go away, but we can manage them so that we can focus on the much bigger social problems of our time.

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