Friday, November 13, 2015

Thinking about Identity


Over the past couple of weeks I have been thinking about the relationship between identity, specifically identity politics, and the rise of the nation-state. Every year Remembrance Day reminds how uncomfortable I am around celebrations of nationalism and patriotism. Too often these celebrations which are intended to remember those who came before, those who died before their time becomes instead patriotic ceremonies for those who are left. 

Patriotism which is a product of nationalism, like any form of boosterism leaves me with a sense of foreboding and fear. As a queer male I have always feared the power of the mob which when incensed acts like a pack of wolves hungry for blood. Cue the Frankenstein monster fleeing the townsfolk wielding pitchforks and weapons. Nation-states have proved powerful political tools allowing communities to come together to celebrate a shared imagined past as argued by Benedict Anderson. Indeed my own discipline, history, has often been called the hand-maiden of the nation-state allowing national histories to be carved out of often heterogenous communities and pasts. In the twentieth-century we witnessed the zenith of the nation-state as it took over the lives of individuals through fascism and totalitarianism. 

What I have begin to wonder is how identity politics which developed as a form of political organization for disempowered groups may be related to either the zenith or death of the nation-state. After all, identity is just another form of nationalism, writing yet again another history, albeit one based on shared experiences rather than shared histories. Is it possible that the breakup of the nation-state in the face of increasing tribalism, be it ethnic, religious or social is just another form of an ideology like identity politics that has run its course? 

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