Human Belonging

One current Brexit / Corbyn / Trump meme – the disaster that is 2016 politics the world over it seems – is the whole Citizen of the World vs Nationalism polarisation. It is perfectly reasonable to have national pride and interest whilst participating individually, collectively, actively, rationally and ethically in our environmental cosmos of course. Nothing to do with any fatuous post-truth meme, simply more of the needless polarisation of fictitious choices. A middle-way scarcely does justice to the infinity of alternatives beyond the two offered.

In fact when writing previously on identity politics I concluded, that it ultimately comes down to how we choose to self-identify across multiple “constituencies” and, of course, those many overlapping constituencies run across many dimensions on many scales from “me, myself, I” to …. well, the cosmos itself and all points between.

I’m looking forward to this year’s BBC Reith Lectures by philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah, covering colour, culture, country and creed under the series title “Mistaken Identities”. Sounds like pretty much my own agenda in the Identity Politics post above.

One reason I’ve been looking forward to it is some earlier tweets by @TheosElizabeth who attended the recordings. Today she made it the topic of her @BBCR4Today “Thought for the Day”

The full (brief) text captured below:

Elizabeth Oldfield – 11/10/16 – Good morning.

It was a huge privilege to be at the recording of this year’s BBC Reith Lectures last week, the first of which will be aired on 18th October. Given by philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah, the four lectures will cover colour, culture, country and creed. His overarching title is ‘mistaken identities’- the implication is that these identities are not and should not be absolute.

I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Globally, we are seeing a resurgence in strong shared identities, most visibly nationalism, but also class, region, race and religion. This has prompted many an anguished comment piece on the crisis of liberalism.

In *very* simple terms, the liberal project sought to make the individual more important than these shared identities. This has delivered a huge amount of good stuff- it’s rightly credited with much of our peace, order and prosperity, as well as personal liberation.

However, it has weaknesses. We know from wellbeing research that the ability to be a free individual isn’t all we need. We also long for community, for a meaning and purpose bigger than ourselves, for some kind of hope. Liberalism alone can’t provide these. Maybe we do need shared identities after all.

The need to find a way to acknowledge these longings, while also holding onto the good things liberalism provides, is now an urgent project for our best thinkers.

And Many of them, not necessarily religious themselves, are acknowledging that Christianity might have something to offer. Between tribal and divisive shared identities on one hand, and disconnected individuals on the other, there might be a third choice. Christianity provides for believers belonging, purpose, meaning and hope. We know this does have a positive impact on wellbeing. Crucially though, Christianity is not a shared identity that should allow you to retreat into tribalism. These positive benefits should instead be used to serve, not attack, those outside the group. None of which is to say that the church has anything like a perfect record on these things. Far from it. But for those seeking a new way forward, the ideal of an identity that’s both shared *and* outward facing might well be worth a look.

Tribalism tramples on the idea that good fences make good neighbours, the idea that “identities are not and should not be absolute”.

Ha, and completely unrelated, but somehow also apposite this morning from Julian Baggini.

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