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Identity by Massimo Raveri

An interesting article by Professor Massimo Raveri, Cà Foscari University of Venice, about identity:

Every culture forms a complex, always dynamic, system, which lives on a deep tension between phases of opening and closure to other cultures.

On the one hand, there are phases of coherence, where symbolic and regulatory structures tend to agree with foundational choices and traditional values. On the other hand, there are phases of transformation and divergence from the views of the past.

On the one side, this is due to those endogenous factors – such as the generational turnover, the economic dynamics of redistribution of wealth, the mobility of the social power –  which generate new ideas and different values.

On the other side, there are exogenous factors – such as immigration, or colonial rule – that create a double social perception of both euphoria and confusion.

The latent danger is that hybridization mechanisms may be too risky, and innovative processes too fast, overcoming as a consequence the control strategies and the social conformism, and that the inconsistency of the cultural system masy go too far and collapse.

This is exactly what happened in traditional African societies when they fell under the colonial rule.

In this process, the need for an ideal of an “identity” that might reinstate the coherence of the cultural system becomes a fundamental need.

The identitary discourse is a symbolic, abstract and fictitious construction: it is a myth.

Nevertheless, it is thanks to this “illusion” that many fast-developing societies were able to “see” and find themselves, making sense of the events which disrupted the usual cultural landscape.

The past is re-read by way of  manipulating the memory and the oblivion.

Ideas and concepts, which are useful to the present we live in, are extrapolated and deprived of their historical dimension in order to reassemple them in a very semplified vision, coherent and atemporal (fictitious, but credible), as if this vision has always been the foundation of that culture, despite the vicissitudes and the changes in history.

Furthermore, the identitary discourse is very often based on a religious vision in order to exacerbate the power and the immutability of the identity, as if the identity of a people or of a nation were the product of a divine action and the heart of a strategy of the Absolute in the world.

And at the end of this process of symbolic elaboration, it is said that this is the only and true nature of “our” people.

That is not true: a society has multiple “identities” that are intertwined and that change over time.

But in a period of change, it is useful to believe in a mithological vision of one’s own country, a clear and unchangeable vision to hold on to – not with the aim to understand the past, but to make sense out of one’s own future.

The topic of the uniqueness is fundamental.

It creates a reassuring perception of strenght, of comprehensibility and coherence.

But the distinct, strong identity is a symptom of weakness and deep-rooted fear.

This dream of a “uniqueness”  is the price to pay, not a prize.

Asserting the uniqueness of one’s own “identity” generates big self-representation and estrangement problems. That is because the identity is based on process which distinguish, divide “us” from “them”, by way of collocating “us” on the pedestal of an absolute, eccentric and one reality.

That is a wrong self-perception, without that balance which comes from the generalisation and comparison processes with regard to values of “normalcy” which link all the men, beyond differences.

The construction of a perfect model of “who we really are” it is not the product of a memory of reconciliation. It is legitimized by a catharsis: the invention of an otherness that threatens because is “spurious”, “mixed”, “crossbred”. They are different from us, they are those people who are rejected, marginalized and then treated as outsiders and enemies.