miércoles, 30 de septiembre de 2015

Identity and institutions go hand-in-hand

How Choice Replaced Human Nature

by James Kalb

The age of Jenner, Obergefell, and #BlackLivesMatter puts issues of identity at the center of public life. As Catholics and citizens we need to understand what that means.

Personal identity orients us in the world. As such, it has both individual and social functions. It enables us to order our lives by telling us what we are and how we fit into the world. And it greatly eases social functioning by telling people how they connect to institutions and what they owe them.

For a Catholic his identity includes Catholicism—his membership in the Church and orientation toward God and the world. It also includes his sex, state in life as married, ordained, or vowed, and basic family connections such as parentage. We can’t rightly abandon such things, they are fundamental to who we are, and they determine our most basic relationships and duties, thereby supporting the Church and the natural family as fundamental social institutions.

Other aspects of identity are less basic and more dependent on social conditions. More distant family relationships and the cultural networks into which we are born, for example, are less important today than in the past. Instead of relying on them for learning how to live and dealing with the practical problems of life, people rely on markets, bureaucracies, formal education, and mass culture. If Pete Muldoon goes to Harvard, people identify him more as a Harvard man and someone of his generation than as Irish and a Muldoon. They think those things account for more of his social position and how he acts.

Many people have come to view traditional dimensions of identity as irrational and oppressive and want their suppression: to give weight to family is seen as snobbish, and to do so with inherited cultural community is thought racist and therefore downright evil. That view contrasts with a more traditional Catholic view that sees traditional connections as valuable within limits.

The reason for wanting to suppress such things is that promoting some elements of identity means suppressing others. If your school becomes more important, your family becomes less so. The result is that identity and institutions go hand-in-hand. National identity provides an example. It became important because of its usefulness in strengthening the state at the expense of local and religious ties. In pre-revolutionary Europe a man living in France was more likely to think of himself as a Picard than a Frenchman, and Russian peasants habitually called themselves simply “Christians.” Events such as the Tudor break with Rome and the great modern secular revolutions changed that situation, radically enhancing national identity at the expense of local and universal attachments.


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