Monday, June 15, 2009

Collective Identities, Part II

As we have discussed in Part I of this post, part of the price we have to pay for collective identification is the renunciation of reason in favor of emotion. But, of course, this isn't all. Violence against ourselves or others is the most wide-spread way of marking our belonging to a group. Those who feel the most difficulty integrating themselves into their group will need to engage in the loudest, the strongest, and the most painful ways of proving their allegiance to the group. Verbal violence, physical violence, as well as emotional, intellectual, and physical self-mutilation serve as means to declare one's belonging. The apotheosis of collective identification is, of course, one's willingness to die for the imagined community, for a piece of painted fabric, for the sound of a song, for a line drawn on a sheet of paper.

So, why do we agree to pay the ultimate price for the illusion of identity? Obviously, nobody would engage in all these violent and self-mutilating practices for nothing. The most evident reason is that collective identity frees us - at least momentarily - from our cosmic loneliness. The illusion of not being alone in the universe is so precious that giving up reason does not seem such a huge price to pay.

However, this isn't all. I believe that the strongest lure of collective identity resides in the fact that it liberates it from the painful burden of our individuality. Subscribe to a group agenda and - voilà, no need to think, elaborate your own position, struggle with contradictions, etc. At the same time, the group will shoulder the responsibility for everything. You can have a point of view, a discourse, an agenda, and a ready-made enemy. And you will not even have to bear responsibility for any of it. No wonder that people would defend their collective identifications hysterically.

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