- Esteban Tollinchi
As the topic of identity occupies a special position in today's world, complicated by cultural and economic globalization, the transformation of political paradigms and the increasing scale of massive immigrationimmigration: Population movement consisting of the arrival of people to a country or region other than their homeland in order to establish themselves there., the task of systematically approaching the topic of identity becomes a very difficult mission to achieve. Such difficulties are not only fostered by the magnitude and ubiquity of the issue- as evidenced in a voluminous multidisciplinary and multigenerational world literature, but also because today's world is connected to a new planetary logic, labeled by Zygmunt Bauman as the political economy of uncertainty.
The effect of this new trend regarding institutional decay, as social protections traditionally associated with the State disappear, represents an enduring anemic condition of uncertainty that substitutes the links of modern natural identity like guarantors of authenticity, replacing them with a new homogenous power of extraterritorial market, or a supranational and global market.
However, identity is a mandatory topic of deliberation to understand and interpret the world in which we're living and be able to imagine futures of self-realization. With this in mind, this essay presents an approach to the topic of identity, pondering about some aspects that could contribute to penetrate its labyrinths, as "architectonic" as well as puzzling labyrinths.
The problem of identity is a byproduct of modernity. It comes from the rupture of the traditional and natural notion of belonging produced by the energy of a disenchanted, laic, mobile and individualized universe. The modern humanist world invents the notion that the human being does not have to be attached to the circumstances borne from birth; its natural, creative capacity provides the intellectual and spiritual resources to generate change in its environment, which transcend the limits of tradition. One discovers the possibility of ameliorating the quality of life, that is, the idea of progress emerges. Under this new humanist philosophy (ethos), the human being does not reflect in the mirror of a universal identity validated by institutions and the authority of tradition, but in an image of the future, an opportunity idealized in time as different. And it is this progressive notion of the future that gives birth to the problem of identity. As stated by Bauman: "people wouldn't consider having an identity if the sense of belonging would continue to be its destiny and a condition without alternative. They will start to consider a similar idea only as a task to carry out continuously, instead of just one time."
1 The demise of the ancient regime, a system of extraterritorial states and empires governed by absolute (or limited) monarchies with the structural support of religious (ecclesiastical) powers and indemnifiers of a commercial order of economic relations, rendered necessary in the western world the creation of a new social and political order incorporated into another institution of State. The introduction of this new order, which we know as modernity or illustrated modernity, is due to a historic, violent revolutionary process that, as such, was as destructive as it was innovative. The French Revolution and the U.S. wars of independence (and later Latin America) are events that have become the representation of the advent of a new political order: the new republican order. It is the beginning of the republic, as the governing political structure of modernity and organized around national states, what transforms the notion of national identity into the supreme topic of public life.
2 Nationality is a term that in it-self constitutes identities. The nation, as a historic modern project, is sustained by the idea of nationality; in other words, by a national identity that shall occupy the empty space created by old identities, and in this way comply with the transformational imperative of incorporating new loyalties in another political region. From the 19th century on, individuals were no longer subjects of kings and queens or residents of territories, but citizens of freedom and equality united by a Nation State established under a modern, republican and capitalist philosophy. At the end of the 18th century and beginning of the 19th, the ideas of the Enlightenment served as the cornerstone to legitimize the political revolution and wars of independence in the United States and Spanish America. This means that the idea of free and republican national states proliferated throughout the entire American continent to replace monarchies and empires. The call was not arbitrary; it was based on the citizen's inalienable right to politically organize according to its particular cultural and geographical identity.
The most successful institution in realizing this transformation- becoming the most representative myth of the illustrated modernity - was precisely the Nation State in its republican structure. But creating a new institution of the State was not enough. The cohesion needed to maintain this new order of citizens, to preserve the new nation states and the principles that shaped them, would depend in great length on the strengthening of the perception of national identity as an instrument and a requirement of progress, as a symbol of individual and collective prosperity. For this reason, the 19th century was witness to a constant stream of public policies and proselytist expressions with the sole purpose of creating and promoting those national myths that would later standardize as an idea and strengthen as a source of patriotic emotion the newly created state institutions.
The United States is a good example. The new federated nation, created at the time of its independence, immediately started a comprehensive process of nation building. As the structures of a central government consolidated and a territorial expansion to the Pacific was organized at the expense of other States (England, France, Spain, Mexico and Russia), a permanent internal campaign to create and expand the principles and national symbols of the young republic was launched. The creation of heroes or founding fathers; the celebration of national holidays; the glorification of the Constitution as the cornerstone of the new nation; the official historical memory as the basis of its education; the glorification of its centralized political institutions; and the notion of unification (i.e. one country, one military body, one coin, one nation, one State) were established as symbols of a particular identity, of being American. A State was created out of thirteen heterogeneous colonies, a nation made up of American citizens who in its most profound state of identity were different from the rest of the world, particularly from monarchical and anachronistic Old Europe. Following the pattern of justifying state policies with criteria of national identity, the new country launched its expansionist movement to the west based on an important myth: Manifest Destiny. This myth gave way to the idea that territorial expansion was not an imperial adventure but the nation's imperative; in other words, a national project originated from superior and inevitable forces.
After half a century of nation building, the first and maybe only constitutional crisis experienced by that nation occurred. Several states of the southern region who saw their political power in Congress decline due to the inclusion of new central and western states of the territory, thought that because their participation in the federal republic (the Union) was voluntary and a product of an act of sovereignty, it would also be a legal sovereign act to break the original political agreement and create, amid animosity, a new confederation. After all, they argued, the southern states were endowed with their own identity, different from the other states in the Union, it also followed that they could exercise their natural and sovereign right as true southerners to remain loyal to themselves and create their own Nation State: The Confederate States of America. The Union was conceptualized as one country, with one political body and one national identity, even if it was composed of regional variations and other peculiarities. The result, as we all know, was a bloody civil war. The central government won the battle, and to forever avoid the intent of separation, charged itself with the task of strengthening the concept of a single nation, legitimized by the legal and political indivisibility of the State. As time went by, the principle of e pluribus unum, which manifested the original concept of diversity, yielded to the indivisible concept of one nation, indivisible, under God.
But the political and bureaucratic unity, accomplished by the success of President Franklin Roosevelt's Benefactor State under the policies of the New Deal, did not fully recognize the diversity of social and ethnic identities that continually permeated the core of the country. At the height of the civil rights movement and the cultural revolution of the sixties, the call for individual identity challenged nationalism.
3 More than being one of the most talked about topics of modernity, identity has become one of today's most controversial and universal obsessions, both collectively and individually, in Puerto Rico and the world. Not only is identity a topic of concern amid anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists, politicians, salespersons, communicators, publicists, artists and cultural critics, among others, but also a topic discussed in the streets, found in the minds of ordinary citizens. That is why all organized political parties of the post-modern world position the identity issue as a priority in their political agendas, of both allies and enemies.
In addition, due to the fact that we live in a universe where intercommunication is more and more pervasive- sometimes described as fluid, liquid or hybrid, literature in various fields of study is filled with manifold reflections and investigations on identity, presented in different historical, political and cultural contexts. As we see everyday, the issue of identity is used to move progress in political, social, commercial, media, analytical, and even personal agendas. At times, obsession with identity reaches such an emotional height or angst that in certain cases it incorporates deplorable pathological features expressed in public disputes, partisan conflicts (including arguments between intellectuals) and hostility towards the other, the foreign. In extreme cases, albeit not uncommon, that hostility has led to xenophobic practices and spontaneous outbreaks of social violence. At worst, it has occasionally served as the breeding ground for State violence, including the adoption of official genocide and discrimination policies. There are plenty of relatively recent cases, for example: the systematic genocide of Jews by Nazi Germany and the fight for civil rights to eradicate racism in the United States; the ethnic cleansing wars in Europe, Africa and Asia, among others. The most sensitive pathological features of this obsession with identity are usually nourished by a fundamentalist mentality that encourages hatred against the other, against the one who is not part of the group identity (i.e. national, cultural, racial or religious), and classifies a person as an enemy, or at the very worst, as less than human.
4 Aside from the countless cases of extremism and violence, a quick look at the everyday language of political parties and the paparazzi offers clues as to how pervasive the obsession with identity and its multiplicity of expressions truly is. In this universe plagued with politicians and populist "artists", adhesion to symbols of identity- usually national symbols - is compulsory; the only variables of this universal alignment are the degrees of demagogic emotion and extremism. For example, it is no surprise to see that main national symbols, like national flags or anthems, are mostly found during in popular shows, official events and political campaigns. In the United States, for example, it is customary to play the national anthem at the beginning of sports events. Most recently, professional and college teams of all kinds of sports have embroidered the design of the national flag someplace on their uniforms. And in Major League baseball, God Bless America, with the participation of the audience, is now interpreted alongside the anthem during games. In politics, each time a media event is organized, such as a television message from the President or a political debate between aspiring candidates, there are always one or more flags serving as backdrop.
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