What does it mean to be...

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Re: What does it mean to be...

Unread postby Shikanosuke » Tue Nov 24, 2009 12:58 pm

agga wrote:
you're right in your general argument that social identity is a specific thing that can change over time. but also, you have to remember that individuals are capable of a good deal of self-deception and can tolerate a lot of cognitive dissonance. there are public and private, or conscious and subconscious if you like, parts of social identity. the fact that certain behaviors are proscribed publicly, or consciously, doesn't mean that they are no longer part of the identity - open racism may be proscribed in the US today, but it is still very present, and in a very particularly American form - it certainly is part of the national identity, possibly in a complex form such as a struggle over racial concepts, etc..


I agree with this to the extent that racism is still prevalent in society today, even if some embedded form. However, conversely, I also think American ideas openly speak to rights and freedoms in contrary to this very idea. So sure, racism may still exist in a variety of places and kinds, but that isnt too different from how racism exists worldwide due to historical reasons.

you also presume a sort of a wholeness to 'Americanism' that may not actually exist, or which may exist in an extremely reduced form, one which could hardly be called an 'identity'. is a national identity a set of ideals which are held in common by all members of the nation? how many members must reject an ideal in order for it to no longer be considered a part of the identity?


How many individuals would it take to remove the proscribed ideas, embedded in the Constitution, which have shaped our modern American identity? Probably a whole lot, if not the whole entirely. We are a very rights-centered nation, and none of the is really able to even grasp how much the average man doesn't daily speak of legal rights. The ironic thing about America is even though those who reject it's traditional values and identity-markers are typically unconsciously utilizing just those traits they reject.

for that matter, if a certain part of the national identity exists beyond individual beliefs, can people who are *not* members of the nation help to define it? if most foreigners *think* that Americans are secret racists, does this contribute to our identity?


No. Only in the sense that we know are judged from the outside, and perhaps we judge ourselves because of our past. If you're referring to immigrants, then I may have misunderstood you and it may be another discussion.

i would certainly say that a part of the American identity is for individuals to believe that they aren't racists when secretly, subconsciously, they actually are... 'normative behaviors' often have dark sides, which are no less valid, and may be more so..


Eh, modern speaking sure. We'd like to think we're not racist and we are. We've also had plenty of times to the opposite. However, I think you're allowing race to play too large a role in deciding whether or not we have a nation identity.

For that matter, I don't really understand either of you two's arguments are against us having a national identity. You speak of the fact that we have racism in our culture, but that is irrelevant. If it something we exclusively have that is unique to us, then it is part of our national identity. Now, we can debate whether or not it actually does exist.

Furthermore, I think none of you are focusing on the key tenants of American identity. You can't ignore the Constitution or the notion of the American relying on that document when speaking of our national identity. It shapes us and how we interact.
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Re: What does it mean to be...

Unread postby agga » Tue Nov 24, 2009 11:14 pm

Shikanosuke wrote:For that matter, I don't really understand either of you two's arguments are against us having a national identity. You speak of the fact that we have racism in our culture, but that is irrelevant. If it something we exclusively have that is unique to us, then it is part of our national identity. Now, we can debate whether or not it actually does exist.

Furthermore, I think none of you are focusing on the key tenants of American identity. You can't ignore the Constitution or the notion of the American relying on that document when speaking of our national identity. It shapes us and how we interact.


really, i'm not arguing against the idea, just in favor of complexifying the discussion of it. i wasn't trying to define the 'identity' either, just jumping in re the argument as to whether it should be expected to contain proscribed things like racism.

as to something unique to a nation being a part of its identity, this is a truism i guess; but if some trait is found in more than one nation, and isn't truly unique to any one of them, it can certainly still be a part of the social identity. the unique bits are kind of like chrome, silver linings on something which is actually much more complicated. social or national identities can overlap.

if you want to start pointing out specific factors like "the USA Constitution", you could also throw in things like "growing up in an American State", "speaking American English", etc. but, you must also include the unique racial conflict that has existed, and still exists in a developed form, in the USA - principally, descendants of black slaves endure the scorn and suspicion of the descendants of white immigrants. some individuals might be safely insulated from this conflict and deny its primacy in the American experience, or they might deny their participation in it - and, clearly, it's not just a conflict of white-on-one-side and black-on-the-other. but I'm sure that the existence of this conflict is at least as important an influence on many American lives as the Constitution, or the difference between Minneapolis and San Diego.

short story, I vote "American Identity does Exist, and a Principal Component is Racism". but it's complicated.
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Re: What does it mean to be...

Unread postby WeiWenDi » Tue Nov 24, 2009 11:58 pm

agga wrote:short story, I vote "American Identity does Exist, and a Principal Component is Racism". but it's complicated.


I wouldn't disagree with you here, necessarily, but if racism is still a component of the American identity, it is one that historically speaking is finding ever less ground to claim. If racism is a component of the American identity, it is at best a contradictory one which cannot identify itself as such without being stigmatised. The nature of the values held in what is left of mainstream popular discourse is such that racism has to be couched in strategically coded language and FOXspeak for it to gain any currency in the society.
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Re: What does it mean to be...

Unread postby Shikanosuke » Wed Nov 25, 2009 12:11 am

Fair enough Agga, but I maintain that race is not as prominent a characteristic of national identity, as the Constitution or the general notion of freedoms and rights. I am not denying racism hasn't played a part in shaping our national identity, but even for those effected by racism, it plays a backseat to the rights afforded under the Constitution.
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