Societies are powerful things that shape our world. While we might never travel the full length of our home nation or meet the minority of our fellow citizens, we still feel a powerful connection to society.
Outside of our families, societies are primary groups that we pledged loyalty to where we are willing to fight or sometimes even die for them.
In our daily lives, we don’t give much thought to the society we are part of. However, humankind organized into society over thousands of years, influenced by our beliefs and how we behave.
But what are societies and how to change society for the better?
What are societies for humans and animals
Human societies can be similar to animals.
Meerkats care for infants outside their immediate families and even tidy each other caves, and provide delicious insects to the babies in their care.
Similar to humans, meerkats live together in societies where they benefit from mutual cooperation. Many other animals do, too, like the wolves or birds, are based around cooperative child caring. Cubs in wolf packs even help their partners and others to raise newborns.
Cooperation can bring benefits when it comes to protection and security because living in a society means more eyes and ears to spot rivals. And threats and more paws and claws to fight back against them.
For example, elephants work together to safeguard their young by forming a shield to protect them against lions. Horses cycle their foals and kick outward when wolves approach.
So a society offers benefits to its member but only exclusive to those that are bound groups. It is obvious when outside is in their circle. For instance, Vervet monkeys in Africa can tell that individuals are foreign to their group. They can even tell which tribe the foreigner belongs to.
Most animal societies are built around recognizing and knowing each individual in a tribe in the same way humans recognize the people in their office or class. These features limit the size of most societies. It is the reason why we don’t see thousands-strong pride of lions roaming around. Nor do we see an apes uprising like in the movie Planet of the Apes.
The animal’s brains are too small to recognize all the individuals in such large groups. That is why ape societies have a maximum of around 200 members.
Humans live in far larger societies because we have broken free of the need to recognize each individual member of our own group. To better understand how we have done this, we need a species that resemble us more like ants.
There are some parts of the world where humans drive on the right side of the road while others are on the left side. But marauder ants in Asia found a different solution for their busy highways. Inbound traffic flows down the center of the road and the outboard stream of ants on both outside lanes.
While humans may share more genes with monkeys, they don’t deal with traffic management, assembly lines, or waste management like ants or humans do.
The reason is ants are also highly populated and anonymous societies. For example, with their large nests, the leafcutter ants build gardens that are the size of a baseball or even a football field. There they break down leaves into a pulp used to grow the fungus that is their food.
Leavecuttter settlement can be huge. There can be hundreds of gardens growing in chambers connected by meters of tunnels that go up to six meters below the ground. Scaled to human dimensions, ant’s subways would be several kilometers deep.
The ants don’t just build the infrastructure. They also organize their societies with a unit that any business owner would be proud of. The largest ants in a society, the soldier ants, guard nest, perform heavy-duty work like clearing the highways to allow other ants and resources to flow smoothly.
Medium-sized ants cut leaves and pass them to smaller ants that carry them along the highways to the nest. Even smaller ants mince the leaves into smaller pieces, and yet smaller-sized ants mush those pieces into pulp. The even tinier ones mush into the garden with their legs, plant pieces of fungus, and prune them as they grow. The tiniest ants weed the garden and remove inedible fungi.
Of course, these systems of mass production in ant similar to humans generate ways. The leafcutter nest not only has a full-time waste disposal team they also build their nest to ensure the circulation of fresh air. Perhaps even better than human ants know the benefits of investing in clean air and recycling.
While most animal societies have been limited in scale by their need for individual recognition, ants are able to work together in such large societies. The key lies in makers something that explains not only ant societies but also human societies.
How ants identify group members
Think back to the last you were in a busy coffee shop or on a bus. You might not really recognize it, but unknown members of your species surrounded you, and nothing bad happened. But if a chimp encountered a stranger, let alone a whole group of them, he would have to fight or flee. Only a female chimp could survive such a meeting peacefully, but only if she is in the mood for sex.
On the other hand, humans live relative peacefully in societies in which they don’t get recognized by other members personally. So are ants.
Almost anywhere in California, you can find Argentine ants, billions of which live in the state. They are peaceable creatures who are happily swarming around each other without a care in the world. If you pick one up, move it in any direction, and put it down, it will likely be happy where it left off.
Just as we move to a new city and ride a subway without indicates, ants can be accepted in a new home elsewhere as long as the home is still in the ant’s society. Around 60 km north of the Mexican border, two different Argentine ant societies meet to fight instantly to the death.
That happens because ants identify outsiders through markers specified through smell. While odor doesn’t help recognize individuals, it tells them whether another ant is from the same society or a foreigner. If an ant’s smell is the same as the genetic code of the rest group, it is instantly accepted.
But variant genetics indicated by the smell of invading ants are instantly detected and attacked. Another species uses a marker to identify society memberships and build even greater complex anonymous socies than ants: human beings.
How markers help to identify members and outsiders
In the Inglorious Bastards movie, a British spy in disguise in German bar orders three beers. But he raises his three-mill fingers instead of the thumb, index finger, and middle finger as a true German would do. He instantly reveals that he is an outsider, and a huge fight occurs after that.
Humans have a large variety of markers that symbolize our membership in a society and allow us to identify members and outsiders. Some markers are obvious, like a passport, waving a national flag, or wearing your favorite sports team jersey. Others are related to food like the Indian custom of eating with one hand or Thais’ habit of eating with a spoon, not chopsticks.
Other markers are less obvious, like the cliche about Italian waving their hands while talking.
Identity markers have evolved for a simple reason they help us with judgment and protect our and well-being. They put people and things into categories and alter us to those who are not members of our society and are potentially dangerous.
Also, animals have such skills. Take the elephants in Kenya; they can differentiate between humans of different tribes. They recognize the distinctive cloth of the Maasai people and will attack them, having learned that Maasai will spear elephants. But they won’t attack the Kamba people because they are no threat to them.
Markes allow us to live in a larger and more complex society by giving us means of instantly identifying fellow members and outsiders who can be a threat. They also have a large impact on how we think about other people.
Consider the equilateral cross with its arms hooked forward at ninety degrees, which caused many people’s deaths, the symbol of Nazis.
Markers make it not only easy to identify wherever someone belongs they have a powerful meaning. And we humans are hardwired to use and react to them.
Before humans can read or even comprehensively speak, we categorize and judge based on skin color markers. Conducted research by anthropologist Elizabeth Cashman indicates that 1-year-olds assume that people who speak their language like similar food to those the child likes and people with other ethnicities like different food.
Since markers tell us whether people belong to the same society, they also influence how we feel about people. It made sense to identify a foreign or outsider a thousand years ago because their behavior could be unpredictable or hostile. We still have this bias with us today, and it shows how we relate to strangers.
We pay more attention to people who are like us. Often people are more recollect when they are of the same race. So a sad consequence is that there are many faulty eyewitness statements made by people of different races from the accused.
We are less emphatic to outsides. When participants in a study watched a person get a hypodermic needle injected, there was less neurobiological activity(indicates empathy) when the injected person was of a different race. We are similar to apes in this example. Chimps will yawn in response to their own community yawing but not to the yawns of strangers.
Makers helped humans distingue each other for hundreds of thousand years.
In human history, our hunter-gathers ancestors lived very differently from our own lives. That had no agriculture. They depend on food that nature provided them with a little help from poison arrows and other basics.
Hunter-gatherers worldwide, from Inuit in the Artic to Aborigines in now Australia, had defined societies called band societies. These bands were small groups that consisted of a few unrelated three-generation families. Bands traveled around and set up camps as bases where they sought food and water, and resources when in danger.
While the band was an important unit, there is evidence that hunter-gatherers identified clearly with wider society as they and their band were part.
Few hunter-gathers still exist in more recent history that members expressed a feeling of security while with their own kind. When you ask them who they are, they would state the name of their society and not the individual band but the wider group that belonged to.
Like any society, band societies had clear markers they used to distinguish their own members from outsiders. In old cowboy and Indians movies, when a cowboy sees a Native American in warpaint, he shouts, “The Apaches are coming.” It is a stereotype but could also be another band like the Cheyenne, Ojibwa, or Crow.
Noways we identify with our nation-state identities. It appears hunter-gatherers also had strong affinities to their societies. Having an own society is superior, and it reflects a feature inherent in all human societies.
How we view outsiders
A key feature of societies is that they have collectively believed in their superiority. When a person insists he is the bravest, smartest, or most gifted human on earth, most would think he is ridiculous. But he says, “we are the smartest or most gifted people on earth. He would be enthusiastically applauded as a patriot.
It is true that society has profound characteristics. For instance, the British are more reserved than the louder Americans.
Whatever a particular characteristic of society is, the member will put a positive spin on them. Like the Americans take pride in their national love of individualism.
But we are quick to regard outsiders as inferior to us. Humans tend to imagine a hierarchy of beings that starts at the top with the person’s own society, and other humans are placed scaled downwards. Those at the bottom are sometimes seen as no better than beasts.
Society’s tendency to see outsiders as beasts rather than people can lead to dehumanization and unequal treatment.
But our view of outsides isn’t all bleak.
What makes human society unique
Integrating a captive chimp into a new community is very hard and can require months of carefully handled introduction and a whole load of fights. Chimpanzees only adapt because they lost their original society; they have no choice.
So it’s a remarkable achievement that despite our inborn favoring of insisted over outsiders, human society has become relatively good at accepting and incorporating newcomers as long a few conditions are met.
- Outsiders have to find a way to be useful. Some immigrants have been welcomed because their qualifications were needed and valued. In Rome, Julius Caesar gave teachers and doctors citizenship because they were short in supply at the time.
- They must endure a certain loss of identity. Members pay less attention to the detailed characteristics of outsides than to those of their own group members. A proud member of Mozambique’s Tsonga tribe that emigrate to Europe is likely to be seen as Mozambican and more likely as simply black categorization, which has little meaning across Africa.
- Successful integration requires a little flexibility for society’s insiders. This is often possible when insisted can maintain their dominant position. For instance, in the early twentieth-century Italian immigrants to America were subject to racial discrimination. So they changed some of their distinctive cultural behavior, which led to Italians being increasingly regarded as more American.
Clearly, coexistence is imperfect. But next time you are in a crowded place, look around and see people of different races, groups, or nationalities living in a society together. Take a moment to refer that it is a unique achievement for the human race.
Societies are not permanent
Whatever society you live in one day will be gone. Societies have never been permanent and never will be. The archaeologist Joyce Marcus showed that societies had a clear life span of between two and five hundred years in ancient times. After acquiring territory and people, they often splintered along with ingrained ethnic or territorial lines.
When you visit the dramatic ruin of the Mayan building in Mexico, you might think that the once-great Mayans simply collapsed, fast and catastrophically. But in the reality of what happened, it was more due to fracturing than an implosion.
Only look to the Soviet Union to see similar processes occur in modern times too. While each individual society may be doomed and eventually fail, the need for societies of humans will endure.
In the modern globalization world, some speculate of the possibility of single human societies and a world without borders. But humans experience the success we need more than a society of our own we need another society to contrast ourselves.
The only hope for creating a single human society might lie in a radical reinterpretation of what “outside means to us. The former US president Ronald Reagan once asked, ” How quick might our differences as humans disappear if an extraterrestrial threat confronts us?” Though our individual societies would likely endure just like the distinct aboriginal societies that survived the arrival of Europeans.
A cosmopolitan world in which society has a universal connection among humans will probably stay just be a dream.
Societies are not a purely human invention. But human society has grown size to the point where we move through them like ants in an anonymous swarm. We connect with them emotionally through the use of identity makers that are ingrained with us to identify outsiders instantly. Societies are inescapable and a necessary part of human conditions.
What is an impulse society?
Nowadays, to be an individual is the right time.
We have endless possibilities with a wealth of products that suit our each and every need perfectly, like a smartphone to high-tech cars to even our own neighborhoods.
This increase in personal power carries a great social cost. We now live in an impulse society that is dominated by self-interest desire which must be addressed immediately.
Not only does it shape our everyday attitudes, we see this toxic status quo in our most vital institute, whether social economy or political.
The impulse of society is not a way of life we should strive for. It is a problem that needs solving, But how do we get to this point, and what step do we need to take to expand our impulse society and to build a healthier life with long sustainable goals for everyone.
A young person wearing the latest streetwear, the iPhone glued to a hand styled with “bad head” hair, is probably a hipster. While these seem irritating, it goes deeper than you might think they are reflections of today’s impulse society.
There are limitless possibilities to design your own identities and personal space through the constant use of goods and services. The search engines and smartphones anticipate our needs, and we find the need for our moods through music and drugs as we customize our bodies with surgery or move to a neighborhood that aligns with our personal values.
We are constantly seeking to make the world our world, and this is an impulse society.
For example, Americans today use their economic power to free the have-it-now reflex and not address long-term issues that are truly important.
The American economy delivers the most benefits to a majority of people by creating wealth with innovation and individual adeptly. It doens´t sound so bad.
But such scenery lets society’s real need for social, economic, and environmental sustainability be often forgotten. Important social necessities like education or infrastructure we don’t deliver.
Tom Wolf and other social critics predicted the growing self-absorption 40 years ago, and this wasn’t even pessimistic enough.
How the impulse society started
To understand where the impulse society came from, we have to look back through history to the one invention that changed everything.
Producing cars was incredibly slow and expensive until, in 1900, Herny Ford developed the moving assembly lines to build the famous Model T.
With The newfound efficiency, the price of a dropped almost 70 percent, which allows almost every citizen to be able to afford one. Similar assembly lines made other items like telephones and radio much more affordable.
Eventually, the novelty of inexperienced cars died down, and sales slowed, so General Motors president Alfred Sloan used sale psychology. He knew consumers wanted to feel comfortable about spending their wages, so he introduced cheap financing through an in-hose bank so customers could buy now and pay later.
Soon cars and private goods became incredibly popular and also very profitable, in fact, more profitable than public goods such as roads and bridges. It made personal needs, not societal needs, the economy’s biggest priority.
This trend was further incubated by increasing the wages in the 1960s of the American white male. They earned now more than their grandfather did and worked two-thirds of their hours. This newfound wealth and collection of affordable goods encouraged Americans to become consumers rather than producers.
But meanwhile, social and environmental consequences went unnoticed. At the booming of the 1960s, the automobile industry created a safety crisis on America’s highways. At the same time, the air pulsion and oil imports got worse.
It was the start of society’s decline in America.
Why does the financial sector dominate society?
While the impulse society was born in the 60s in America, it grew and thrived thanks to the influence of the global sector
The financial industry is characterized by short-sighted and often questionable methods and strategies aimed at generating profit as quickly as possible.
For instance, the practice of stock buybacks emerged in the 1980s. Companies found that the fastest way to raise their stock prices is to buy up their own shares. This would restrict share supply increasing demand, and raise prices to give executive bonuses.
It was previously regarded as illegal share price manipulation until President Ronald Reagan legalized it in 1982. By the 90s, almost a quarter of American company’s earnings were spent on buybacks.
This short-sightedness is even more frightening because the financial sector slowly dominates society. Cities now inject capital into banks instead of medications; it offers faster and higher returns.
Meanwhile, the talent that we need in fields like medicine and science is going to finance. Math and science graduates abandon their academic pursuit for Wall Street, where the wages of brokers skyrocketed and much faster than in any economic sector.
Why politic divides society
The impulse society may worry you, but there is one institution with such egocentric decay than in the governments. Politics often operate the same way the consumer economy does.
Self-interest has infected political policy. Today’s impulses politicians focus on short-term goals like campaigns to get votes while struggling to solve important problems such as unemployment, health, and climate change.
Political parties often use many of the same tactics as big businesses do. To win finical donators and voters, parties became brands themselves. They stress their difference, so people are able to only identify with one or the other party.
With microtargeting through social media, candidates no longer need to tone down their message or craft something that would appeal to a wider audience.
This business-like approach of brand politics has a broad effect on society by dividing and polarising people.
How the future of society look like
When things are as fraught as they are now, what will our future society look like?
Economist Tyler Cowen’s prediction is unpleasant. He sees society divided into two classes. One group of the wealthy and high qualified that enjoy success in specialized and technologically dynamic industries. The other masses are societies less fortunate.
While the financial sector is booming, it doesn’t provide plenty of jobs. Instead, companies increase profit further by cutting costs most of all people’s jobs.
A new dominant figure is a corporate raider who buys struggling companies and restructure them. This means cutting the majority of employees and selling the company for profit.
Also, computers and the internet have given people access to almost unlimited information, so jobs like travel agents, telephone operators, and editors have been lesser and lesser.
The trend continues now and pushes even the most prestigious professions to extinction the lawyer.
QLP (Quantitative legal prediction is a computerized process that turns information it receives into a prediction of a courtroom decision with 75% accuracy. Compared to a human prediction rate of 59%, the average lawyer might lose their job in the near future.
The problem with our ego
The impulse society gives more power to the individual what at first doesn’t sound as bad.
But the center of everything, the bonds that hold us together as a community or culture, has weakened. The power of individuals is a serious social issue.
We can already see the effect in cultures. Now many asked about a book or music instead of “Is this good or bad”? They rather asked, “What does it do for me”?
Cultural consumption simply is food for own ego. The personal world is basically the only world we exist in these days. We only keep people in the society around us who align with our ideas and beliefs.
After all, disagreements with people are time-consuming and exhausting. So humans often move to a neighborhood with a particular demographic to surround themselves with people just like them.
The local community has become just another arena of consumption in competition for engagement on social media services. Despite the constant online presence, we get more insecure about our interactions with others than ever before. Parents get anxious when a child doesn’t respond to a text immediately, and friends get sad when you don’t like their newest picture on Instagram.
This bizarre phenomenon can be labeled as “clinical narcissism,” a condition that is growing rapidly as other health problems such as comparing to others.
How the impulse society affects Americas Health care
The purpose of government-supported health care would be to help citizens when they are ill. This is at least the other for the US health care system, which is another self-interest institution. The US has one of the most expensive health care systems in the world, and not because they care so well for the citizens.
Instead, they make big investments in cutting-edge medical treatments that offer no practical benefit. For instance, the proton beam therapy for tumor treatment is around five times more expensive than standard treatments and has no advantage. But the government invested in over 30 proton treatment centers.
It shows again the ugly side of the impulse society where Americans and other countries are selfishly keeping their own health expense low instead of improving care for everyone.
The impulse society needs to change
While your lifestyle might be customizable and comfortable, it is still a symptom of a social disease. Our impulse society needs a radical change.
From economy to government to health care, the narrow self-interest has spread to the most vital institution. Society needs an overhaul now.
The financial sector, as mentioned, fuels the impulse society. So a first step would be to reduce its influence by refocusing the economy on long-term goals like ecological sustainability, income equality, and human happiness.
A carbon tax would be a good idea to reduce consumption and encourage companies to use energy-friendly technology.
Corporate buyback should be made illegal as they once were. It would reduce market manipulation by short-sighted businesses that seek a fast path to profits.
There also needs to be a broader political shift that focuses on a social issue like unemployment.
When we start recognizing common interests, we can come closer together as a community and be motivated to act generously. Politicians could bring people together again instead of splitting them apart.
It is not impossible. A short-sighted and self-centers society shouldn’t be the best we can do.
While we might be attached to our hyperpersonal lifestyle, we must remember that living in individual bubbles isn’t true freedom. Instead, a community that serves us all is the ultimate goal.
Craving for worth and dignity
Today’s society has some serious problems. The Black life movement brought attention to police racism, and brutality and the #MeToo movement is against sexual harassment and changed some workplaces for the better.
The people who live in a modern liberal democracy appreciate how we are because racial discrimination is technically illegal. The acceptance of homosexuality is at an all-time high, and women can pursue higher education and careers. Two-generation ago, this wasn’t the norm.
But there are still many issues around today’s identity politics. And serious s injustices that can divide society and prevent us from building coexisting communities.
If you ever won a sporting competition, got an award, or finished a project, you probably felt very proud. You gained joy from being recognized and valued. It is one of life’s great feelings and a natural reaction we all share.
We all crave positive judgment about our worth and dignity. If we receive positive judgment from our community, we become happy and proud. If not, we feel angry, undervalued, or ashamed that we don’t live up to other expectations.
The greek philosopher Socrates called the desire for recognization and dignity thymos. It is crucial to understand today’s identity politics the tendency of people to form political alliances based on membership in a particular group. Identity politics are rooted in thymos because it revolves around a group’s fight for dignity and recognition.
For instance, the supporters of gay marriage are fighting for equal recognition. While many governments allow gay couples to be together legally, they still imply it is different from a heterosexual one. The support wants that their government recognize the equal status and dignity of same-sex couples.
Thymos helps us understand that recognition is a human desire, but our understanding of identity is newer.
The birth of individualism
Today there are many ways to express our identity, from the music to clothes we wear, the food we taste, and small decisions we make build up a mosaic of our identity. It is such an ordinary and unconscious part of modern life that we barely recognize it even if it has always been this way.
There is a philosophical principle that spotlight the “inner self” within each of us. While Luther believed the individual needs to accept the grace of God, Rousseau presented another version of individualism. He argues that the internal self is independent of the external society and sees the outside world as a web of rules that make the growth of inner happiness and potential harder.
That Rousseau placed our inner selves over society convention was an important step toward modern views of identity. The growth of individuals was connected to the service of social and economic changes in the process of European modernization.
Combined with Luther Reformation the modernization gave normal people a new amount of choice and opportunity in their lives. So no wonder this environment was the birth of individualism.
How the French Revolution influenced identity politics
When you think about the French Revolution, you might get graphic images of guillotines and bloodthirsty mobs in mind. But before this violence, it was based on a set of progressive and admirable principles. They have influenced how we think about government and how we think about ourselves.
The French Revolution can be viewed as a struggle over dignity. It was an uprising that demanded form liberty, equality and that the elite classes officially recognize ordinary people’s basic dignity. It was a cry from the masses that they are also people and worthy of sharing political power.
An effect that can be seen in today’s world is liberal democracies which are based on the principle of freedom and equality and are essential to human dignity. Everyone has a right to take part in government and is equal before the law. Discrimination that is based on gender, race, or class is illegal.
The French Revolution made this thinking possible, as well as the two types of identity politics.
The first one is the individualism merger with the belief that individuals have the right to freedom and equality, which began to be applied to the political arena. It was no longer enough to feel as an individual people also demand their basic dignity be recognized by government officials. This is still true. For example, the German Basic Law states, “the dignity of man is inviolable.”
The second type from the revolution was that the dignity of collective groups should be recognized.
A problem with radical individualism it destroys shared values and undermines social cooperation. When society cannot agree on a basic common culture, they can’t function effectively. The communities break down, and everyone becomes self-serving and protective of their own interest.
Some people search for a common identity that unites the self with society and makes them feel emotionally and morally invested in a group. The French Revolutionaries felt this, and along with their demand for individual rights, they also had the Tricolor flag of France and defended the new republic from foreign invaders.
The collective identity in a certain group
The French Revolution transformed the demand for recognition from a personal struggle into a political project. It also created two forms of identity politics, one for the recognition of individual dignity and the other for the dignity of a certain group.
For the second campaign, the German philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder was crucial for shifting the struggle of recognition toward collective communities based on national and cultural traits. While he didn’t like when authors argued certain races were superior to others, he did believe every community is unique.
His writing states that geography heavily influences the culture and tradition of different groups, each expressing its own genius depending on its surroundings. Herder’s thinking encouraged nationalism, the belief that political borders should enclose cultural commuting with the same language. This is not particularly problematic.
But nationalist sentiment allows persuasive speakers like Hitler or Mussolini to sweep to power with an appealing vision of a “true” Germany or Italy to commit unspeakable crimes.
Religious beliefs are another form of collective identity which has been used to justify extremisms. Some of the Muslim youth that grows up in Europe often face profound identity crises. Many need to balance home life with traditional religious beliefs to the desire to conform to their Western environment.
Many European countries fail to help these young people to integrate. Youth unemployment is much higher in the EU for Muslims and less represented in higher education. Under these conditions, it is understandable that Muslims seek membership in large religious groups that will recognize their identities and dignity.
The government recognized mental health issues
Mental health issues finally get recognized as many countries and governments take psychological issues more seriously and funding over psychiatric services increases. Today current liberal democracies should help us discover our inner potential by increasing our self-esteem and supporting our mental health.
Self-esteem is related to public recognition, and governments can grant public recognition through the way they talk and treat their citizens. They started to use liberal demography states to raise the self-esteem of citizen groups.
Classic liberal democracies are based on the equal recognition of the dignity of their citizens. The therapeutic turn that came from our modern concept of identity extends the concept of dignity to include it in individuals’ citizen well-being. The government felt obliged to include it in their health policies. It helped make individual citizens self-esteem the responsibility of the government.
So the states needed to provide psychological support and public recognition to outsider groups. The therapeutic turn explains the growth of modern identity politics from the government side.
The new form of group identity
The 1960s had social movements dedicated to equal recognition of sideline groups. It is a movement that emerged in the liberal democracies of Europe and North America, which already thought about identity thanks to individualism and therapeutic turn.
Until the 1960s, people mostly thought of their identities as individuals. The Second World War was still in many people’s memories, and nationalism as a collective identity was feared.
But it changed with the cultural decade that brought new forms of group identity. People began to view their value and dignity to the different groups they belonged to. It led to different social movements like the civil and gay rights movements. Each represented a group that had been criticized and suppressed.
With this movement, two approaches became common. Either member could demand to be treated identically or promote separate identities and demand respect for uniqueness. Over time the second approach was the norm.
Many groups emerged in the late 1960s that encouraged black people to take pride in themselves and dismissed the idea of being suppressed by the dominant society.
How the politic divided people
The British Empire used a highly effective but cynical strategy to govern and suppress resistance, divide and conquer. The focus was that internal division within a colony should prevent people from forming a powerful political block capable of challenging British rule. Suprisignsily this old colonial tactic similar to identity politics affects the political progress today.
Identity politics has split the political left, which now focuses on the recognition of smaller groups in society instead of fighting for wide change.
Back in the twentieth century, the left-wing politic was based on firmly class issues. Political parties and activists were concerned with economic equality and helping the poorest citizens better their life. Trade unions had far more power than today, and there was broad support for strong welfare states.
But during the 90s, left-wing political parties shifted towards the center and got more market-oriented. At the same time, inequality in many political parties skyrocketed. The top 10 percent of wealthiest in 1989 owned 67 percent of all US wealth; by 2013, it increased to 76%. While the EU member states also became richer in the last 30 years, this new wealth also ended up by the super-wealthy.
This economic situation went hand in hand with the decline of a political left focused on wealth inequality. But why is that?
Well, partly, the left’s attention has been parted among competing interest groups. For example, activists are now busy with gay rights and race issues. While these are crucial concerns identity, politics divided such groups into small units, each with its own distinct interest. The left is no longer a broad movement that wants to help the 90 percent.
If we want a large-scale change in our societies that benefits the needs, we should build collectives everyone can rely on. For instance, the working class includes women and men, gay and straight people, and racial minorities and majorities.
But identity politics have divided the people and allowed a class of rich to conquer.
Why strong national identities are important
There isn’t a single person on earth without an identity. So it is wrong to abandon our different identities or stop taking pride in the different communities we belong to. To combat division and infighting, we need to build strong identities that we all can be a part of.
A way to do this is to reinforce national identities. The national identity and patriotism of the past are indeed in a bad light because twentieth-century nationalism led us towards the horror of world war. But it doesn’t need to be this way as, most fundamental, national identity is about a shared belief in the political system and moral values.
It is based on liberal democratic principles and a commitment to universal human rights. Building this strong national identity has several important advantages.
- A clear security benefit. Because weak national identities bring out server security issues when they are highly divided and are vulnerable and prone to inner conflicts. That is why Russia, a country that seeks to undermine the power and security of many Western states, supports independence movements across Europe like the Catalonian independence movement in Spain.
- Firm national identities increase the effectiveness of governments. In corrupt nations, many politicians redirected state resources away from the public and towards their own families, political parties, or ethnic groups. But a strong national identity makes it less likely when a politician can identify with a wider community and collective well-being, it won’t land in their own pockets.
- A potent national identity builds trust, which is an essential element for a healthy state because it is the basis of economic exchange and encourages social union. Strong identities that are based on small groups decrease trust among different groups and reduce conflicts. Societies are based on trust like buildings have foundations.
If we have stronger national identities, it will benefit our countries. But what can we do to build those identities?
Commitment to integrate Immigrants
First of all, we need to eliminate gender, racial and religious discrimination. While identity politics has a negative effect on political action, it doesn’t mean the grief of these groups is not valid. If we can stop things like police violence against minorities and sexual harassment in workplaces. The activist campaign for recognition of their group’s dignity will participate in a campaign for national identity.
There should be a stronger commitment to integrating and naturalizing immigrants. It is okay to ask people moving to a country to learn that country’s national language and get a basic knowledge of its history and values. This can encourage immigrants to view their new country as a new home and identify further with the people and culture.
Once immigrants arrive, more need to be done to assist them. For example, France’s immigrant youth experience a level of 35 percent of unemployment. When France increases the hopes of a more successful future, the young immigrant will be proud of the opportunities the new country offers.
Also, we can make moves to better our school systems. Many European countries fund Jewish, Muslim, and Christian schools. To increase the understanding of other religions and build solidarity among diverse faiths government should establish a system of common schools with a universal curriculum.
Another approach is to introduce binding national services for all citizens like the right to vote and the freedom of speech.
Whatever we choose to do, there needs to be a rethinking of our concept of identity. We need to change the wrongs highlighted by identity politics and build broader, more positive group identities. It will bind our fractured communities together and create healthier, happier, and more stable societies.
Identity is part of a fundamental human desire that should be positively recognized and valued. But even if today’s identity politics confront some very real issues in our societies, it can also divide us and categorize us into small units.
To change and construct healthy and effective democracies, we need to rethink the concept of our identity and promote broad groups of people with shared interests.