On The Psychology Of Identity
    By Fred Phillips | May 2nd 2010 12:15 AM | 22 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    After a dozen years as a market research executive, Fred Phillips was professor, dean, and vice provost at a variety of universities in the US, Europe...

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    1. “Arizona Legislature Passes Bill Banning Ethnic Studies Programs.”

    I thank my Alliant University colleague Eduardo Morales for an email summarizing that story:
    “After making national headlines for a new law on illegal immigrants, the Arizona Legislature sent Gov. Jan Brewer a bill Thursday that would ban ethnic studies programs in the state that critics say currently advocate separatism and racial preferences. The bill, which passed 32-26 in the state House, had been approved by the Senate a day earlier.... The new bill would make it illegal for a school district to teach any courses that …[among other things] 'advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.'

    “State Superintendent for Public Instruction Tom Horne called passage in the state House a victory…. ‘Traditionally, the American public school system has brought together students from different backgrounds and taught them to be Americans and to treat each other as individuals, and not on the basis of their ethnic backgrounds,’ Horne said.”
    Won't that surprise every kid who’s ever been ground down at school because of national origin, religion, skin color, or whatnot other irrelevancies!
    Horne continued, "This is consistent with the fundamental American value that we are all individuals, not exemplars of whatever ethnic groups we were born into. Ethnic studies programs teach the opposite, and are designed to promote ethnic chauvinism."
    It always amazes me to hear the words “individualism,” “family values,” and “patriotism” emitted from the same mouth in pritmuch the same paragraph. Here’s where I ask knowledgeable SB friends for help with the psychology of it. If America is just a collection of individuals, atoms without valence, in what sense are we a nation? Isn’t some element of taking care of each other – as opposed to taking care only of oneself – a minimum requirement for a nation? And doesn’t that include taking care of you, even if I happen to personally dislike you? Doesn’t it include taking care of Arizona senators, even if I dislike them as a group?

    Well, that last question was a lob. All Arizonans take care of their senators, who are paid from the public purse.

    If on the other hand there are pockets of valence – some shared values among Americans – is it not legitimate to study who shares what? And mightn’t one such investigation be called ethnic studies?

    How can rugged individualism jibe with family values? Families must sometimes decide and act as a unit; members must sacrifice for each other and for the whole. Which individual in the unit gets to decide? Individual or family values – can’t have it both ways! Unless the whole thing is a thin cover for adult males getting to be individuals while wife and kiddies must suppress themselves. And in fact, housewife anomie was the theme of several great novels of the 1950s and 60s.

    As long as rugged individualism, family values, and patriotism are the simultaneous battle cries of folks on the far right, their position won’t have logical integrity. The rest of us quietly muddle through to some complex balance of devotion to self, family, and country. This may not be logical either, but it sure seems less hypocritical.

    2. Cultural identity

    Given what I’ve written above, you may be surprised to know that my university’s “cultural identity ceremony” fills me with horror.

    I wrote a book on Zen and decision-making. It includes this passage:

         Isn’t it odd that the English word “business” literally means busy-ness, and doesn’t seem to imply anything about making good products, making a profit, or building a lasting enterprise? It stems from the Puritan notion that the idle mind is Satan’s playground. In any case, plenty of people cannot stand to be idle. They always have to be doing something. Indeed, they define their identity in terms of doing. When they spend a quiet day by a river, they call it fishing – even if they will be happier not to catch any fish!
         Other people define themselves by what they experience. Sensory input is essential to their identity. The radio is always on, or the TV. Entertainment must be a movie, a performance, or an exhibit.
         Zazen, obviously, takes us away from the doing and experiencing modes, and causes us to examine how central these things really are to our identity.
         Artists define themselves by their creations. Neurotics by the little bundle of tensions they assemble for themselves each morning. Hypochondriacs define identity in terms of their ailments, always pleased to give an “organ recital” should you be so foolish as to inquire about their health. Still others define themselves by their family relationships, their hometown, or their tribal affiliation.
         Zazen is an experience all our own, that returns us to the well of creativity, lets us drop our tensions, and improves our health. Only you can know what is essential to your selfhood. As you cannot recognize the essential while you cling to the non-essentials – your tensions and pretensions – a path of non-attachment is the best way to find out who you are.
         Sitting zazen may lead you to the point of view that you are, at bottom, a point of view. In Mexico, you can buy a ten-inch square construction of sticks and yarn called an “ojo de Diós,” an eye of God. A person who is meditating, calmly observant, well-connected to the universe but with neither attachment nor aversion to doing, consuming, or creating may well be called an ojo de Diós. This, though, is whimsically poetic, and from a Zen perspective, just another idea to get past.
         Freud categorized people as anal-retentive, oral-assimilative, and so on. In contrast, as we shall see in coming chapters, a Zen adept eats when hungry, shits when needful, and can pay full attention, with an attitude of acceptance and equanimity, to each.
         A child psychologist once asked a variety of children to draw pictures of themselves. Suburban kids of European descent tended to fill up the paper with drawings of their faces. Navajo children, instead, drew a tiny human figure surrounded by outlines of mountain and desert scenery, animals and plants. These diverse views of identity are wonderful. Each is valid, and each is limiting.
    I love cultural celebrations. All of ‘em. The diversity of styles in food, music, and dance – and learning how they got to be the way they are, and hearing about the role this song or that dish played in my students’ lives – fascinating and enlightening. But cultural identity? Nope.

    The Zen lesson above – which is an important part of my life – leads me to ask: Why is persuading a young person to define his identity (for example) as Cuban-American, or as a Mayflower descendant, less harmful than telling him he is nothing but a slave, or an untouchable, or a stupid person?

    And it leads me to answer: It is not less harmful. Pride in one’s heritage? Absolutely – it’s admirable and empowering, as well as interesting. Wrapping up one’s identity in it? Damaging and limiting.

    If we encourage our students and our offspring to embrace cultural identity, we are circumscribing their mental perspectives and lowering a glass ceiling over their sense of their own potentialities.

    Will a majority of these young people attain anything like Zen enlightenment? No – but you and I don’t want to be the reason they didn’t. And I hasten to stress that I am not pushing some vapid “world culture” where everyone is the same. The message is, ethnic pride, yes; ethnic identity, no.

    A woman colleague recently tried to convince me that femaleness is a culture. I found the notion a bit odd, but if it’s true, it proves my point: Young women have historically been told, you are a girl, and girls do not do this, nor do girls do that. The woman who grows up to say “I am a female scientist” has also subtly put four walls around her behaviors and perceptions. Contrast her to her labmate, who describes herself as “a woman, a scientist, a voter, a former Navy lieutenant, a Chicana, a gardener, and many other things” and who, through hard experience and open-minded introspection, has learned which of her daily habits and norms are dispensable (when a situation calls for it) and which of them form the essential core of her nature.

    Though it makes university administrators squirm, I believe our job as teachers is to help students remove their blinders, not make them fit tighter. Never fear, it will not lead to social chaos. Let's give students every chance to find themselves, whether it be within their ethnic customs or without. In my university’s case, one possible tactic is simple: Change the name of the Cultural Identity Ceremony to the Cultural Pride Festival.

    Many of my students find the Zen argument rather advanced and difficult. If you get it, great, and if you don't, that's OK too. Note, though, that despite superficial similarities it has little to do with the kind of individualism Arizona school superintendent Horne espouses. I quote again from my book:
    Cutting away attachments does not turn one into an unfeeling robot. On the contrary, because the ego is an imaginary wall between our “individuality” and our fellow humans, loosing the attachment to one’s own ego enables a more selfless love for others. 


    America as salad bowl or melting pot?    The melting pot is made what made the country the place people wanted to be.   People left their old countries for a variety of reasons - economic and cultural - and came to a new place where they could keep old traditions but it was going to have new laws and a new language.

    Somewhere in there it became de rigeur that every minority be a pocket of its old land or, in the case of people who have been here hundreds of years, even pockets based on skin color - a salad bowl.  The very definition of societal selfishness is forcing the world around you to adapt to your language and customs in the name of 'respect' (except dogfighting - when a football player got busted for that and said it was his heritage, we seem to have drawn the line) so 'femaleness' can certainly be a culture in that sort of closed system.

    But it isn't a closed system and that's why we won't truly have equality until everyone has their own 'awareness' month or no one does.

    You and I are around the same age.   A show like "All in the Family" did more to end bigotry than any college awareness program that simply feeds suspicion about cultural distrust.

    I don't think AZ is wrong for tackling illegal immigration, though they seem to be getting protests for it from people who are here perfectly legally, any more than they would be wrong for cracking down on illegal music downloads or black market food.   And I don't think AZ is wrong for not using taxpayer money to endorse racism, even if it's in the guise of encouraging cultural identity.

    I love cultural festivals too.   Last week I was at a Scottish one.  Did they get taxpayer money?  I certainly hope not.    And I guess I can take a 'Scottish ethnic studies' program at a local college, but it would be called a history class.

    Given our modern skewing toward artificial barriers, I can't describe how many times I have had people asked me my 'heritage' and even if I know what they mean I pretend not to.  My family has been here 150 years.  I am as American as it gets.
    Fred Phillips
    Thanks for your comment, Hank, which spurs these thoughts:

    Canada’s model is the salad bowl, rather than the melting pot, and people of all ethnicities emigrate there as well as to the US – most usually, I’d guess, making the choice based on where they have relatives or a visa, rather than on which model they prefer.

    Is there any evidence that ethnic studies programs preach separatism and hate? Show me.

    I suspect there is little evidence of it, if any, and that what’s really going on here is the legislature’s attempt to whitewash (double entendre intended) American history, to pretend that any number of real atrocities did not happen. After all, if people of color can’t learn about such events, they can’t resent them, can they? Call me paranoid, but it doesn’t seem a far toss from that to Holocaust denial.

    When these discussions are allowed to continue in history classes, as you suggest, but banned in ethnic studies classes, doesn’t it tell you something about the legislators’ true underlying motive? I wish they had watched more "All in the Family." (I mean the irony of that last sentence in the gentlest possible way. I agree that the show was a great achievement with far-reaching effects.)

    The state’s demographics are changing – probably the legislature’s real concern – and the state needs to know about the wants and characteristics of the future electorate. Ethnic studies answers that need. Particle physics does less to respond to the state’s immediate needs. As scientists we’d protest the banning of particle physics from Arizona. Why should scientists not be equally upset about the banning of another legitimate discipline? Regardless of whether it’s more properly a subdiscipline of sociology or history.

    And from the demographic realpolitik evolutionary point of view, the people who have the most babies “win.” (A principle which has served the Catholic church quite well!) Our grandchildren will have to speak better Spanish than we do, no two ways about it. I don’t personally see this in any way as cause for alarm. It’s just one more way in which the world is changing, and a quite benign one, compared to e.g. global climate change or nuclear proliferation.

    (Here’s a recent Chronicle of Higher Ed article about a U.Kansas prof who tells American Indians it would be healthier for them to eat foods that are native to the Americas. She seems to forget that people are not native to the Americas.)

    Perhaps it’s mean of me to point it out, but the Arizona legislators and their fearful constituents could have had more babies, but didn’t. Now they feel that this silly bill, and its ilk, is their only remaining alternative. I think AZ is using taxpayer money to endorse racism, or will be, if this bill is made law and then enforced.
    I think you are mixing separate issues; one part of AZ legislation is trying to curb illegal immigration, not protect WASP culture.   And then ... 
    Is there any evidence that ethnic studies programs preach separatism and hate? Show me.
    I agree that no ethnic studies teacher is copping to promoting ethnic chauvinism - the people excluded certainly feel that way and other teachers complained, including Latinos who were accused of being sellouts for teaching English.  Tom Horne has two degrees from Harvard University and was in Martin Luther King's 1963 March on Washington and a career education guy so he isn't a nobody but he recommended a change based on what he saw.   Either expertise matters or it does not but, if it does not, a whole lot of writers here are going to be concerned that we are advocating that expert knowledge means nothing if someone disagrees for cultural reasons.

    My point is that mainstream social studies classes should be teaching the struggles of everyone throughout American history.   There should be no hyphens in American history.

    But there are.  In AZ, the reason for this recommended change was

    "disturbing reports about the program in the Tucson Unified School District. He said he found evidence that ethnic studies courses were teaching Hispanic students a separatist political philosophy that called for them to distrust and resent whites."
    An English teacher, Hector Ayala, reported that a Raza studies teacher at Cholla High School had accused him of being "the white man's agent" and that students had said they were being taught "not to fall for the white man's traps." 

    "The problem with these [ethnic] studies is they have a tendency to be very separatist," Mr. Ayala said. "They tell kids their failures and shortcomings are not their own, that white men are putting obstacles in their way."

    In 2006, Deputy Superintendent Margaret Garcia Dugan came to speak to students at Tucson High Magnet School in response to a previous speaker, United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta, who told students that "Republicans hate Latinos."

    Mrs. Dugan, whose father was an immigrant mine worker, told the students, "I'm Latina, and I'm Republican, and I don't hate myself." A small group of students stood up, raised their fists and walked out.
    This may not have been the goal of ethnic studies when progressives came up with it, but idealism has to give way to reality.

    There should be no taxpayer-funded schools with "an ethnic studies theme" precisely because it promotes separatism - but there are 3 just in Tucson alone.   Instead, it should be insured that American social studies and history teach the entire scope of that experience.
    Fred Phillips
    Facts, Hank? You’re giving me facts? That takes all the fun out of baiting a conservative. No, seriously, it’s great, it helps us zero in on underlying issues, and I thank you.
    I think you are mixing separate issues; one part of AZ legislation is trying to curb illegal immigration, not protect WASP culture.
    No, I’m not. The first and more infamous bill to come out of the Arizona legislature had to do with the local police demanding to see immigration/residency papers. I didn’t even address that in my blog (though I will later in this comment). The second bill has to do with banning ethnic studies programs. As we can assume that community college and university students are, for the most part, here legally, the second bill is not directed at illegal immigrants.

    You cite evidence from high school ethnic studies programs, where the students are probably a mix of citizens, legal immigrants, and some illegals. But the thrust of that evidence was about outspoken, and perhaps racist, teachers – not about the residency of the students. And in any case, banning a high school program would do nothing to expel illegal kids from the school.

    Each state has its own rules about primary/secondary school curriculum. They’re all politicized, I think it’s fair to say. University curriculum is not supposed to be politicized at the state level (I’m being an idealistic Pollyanna here); it’s supposed to be set by faculty committees. The state should not target university ethnic studies programs specifically. That’s a violation of academic freedom.

    A university instructor who says something intemperate, including something like what the Arizona high school teachers apparently said, is protected by academic freedom. As a paid-up member of AAUP, I’m bound to come to the defense of academic freedom. Including the right of students and other faculty to tell the instructor s/he’s an idiot.

    Anyway, bigmouth teachers are not found only in specialized newish academic programs like ethnic studies. They are ensconced also in mainstream departments. UT psychology prof Devendra Singh, who stood on the campus mall for three days and nights in 1969, arguing against every pro-war yahoo who came along, eating what students brought him and going to the bathroom God knows when, is still my hero. Dumping ethnic studies won't get rid of guys like him.

    Mr. Horne’s qualifications are impressive, but his remark about traditional education treating students as individuals is fatuous nonetheless. This week the Chronicle of Higher Ed said, “Black students…generally view their campus's racial climate more negatively than do their white counterparts.” On balance I suppose I agree that we should not be hyphenated Americans. But there remain serious differences of opinion and different senses of aggrievement among Americans of various backgrounds. These differences are going to have to be addressed, if not in ethnic studies programs then in some other forum, before we can all lose the hyphens.

    The Chronicle also noted:
    Arizona State University will merge or eliminate several programs and cut 98 support staff and administrative jobs to deal with a $5.4-million state budget cut in the coming school year…. The changes, approved by the Arizona Board of Regents over the weekend, include eliminating the university's department of kinesiology, School of Health Management, and School of Design Innovation, and merging its teacher-education programs into a single college.
    So if programs are being eliminated anyway on budgetary grounds (and I hope ASU is following due process in cutting the programs), how politically stupid is it to single out ethnic studies in separate legislation? This is going to be an exception to the rule that there’s no such thing as bad publicity!
    not protect WASP culture.
    Sorry if I misled you by painting my “remembering history” rant in inter-ethnic terms. Here are two examples that are not in those terms:
    1. NPR, on this week’s 40th anniversary of the Kent State shootings, interviewed a survivor who was wounded and has been wheelchair-bound ever since. He now teaches at a community college. He told NPR that his administration has told him not to tell his students about the shootings!

    2. Second, an email that came in yesterday from Maastricht School of Management, my former employer:
    Dear Sir/Madame,
    We the Rwandan students at MSM, would like to request the honor of your presence at an event to commemorate the Rwandan genocide.

    The Rwandan genocide is commemorated every year from April-June (100 days of genocide). The event will be graced by MSM managing director and Rwandan Ambassador. MSM staff and faculty, students and UM staff and professors will be also attending.
    During the event we will also enlighten you on Rwanda's post genocide era ''Rwanda's renaissance'' and a film on the genocide ''Some Times in April'' will be screened.
    The event will be held on Tuesday evening, May 11th, beginning at 17:00. Your presence will be of great importance.
    Thanks and Regards,
    MSM Rwandan Students
    Well, OK, the Rwandan tragedy pitted Tutsis against Hutus, but my point stands: Other countries are better than we are at facing up to unpleasant sides of their own histories, and we ignore their example at our peril.
    Instead, it should be insured that American social studies and history
    teach the entire scope of that experience.
    Right you are!

    Now as to the first Arizona bill. The Austin American Statesman, which I read on my Kindle, carried a column by Art Acevedo, Austin Chief of Police. Acevedo describes a natural experiment that goes a long way toward invalidating the intent of the Arizona bill:
    At a time when state and local law enforcement agencies are facing budget cuts and unfunded mandates by politicians reacting to the frayed nerves of a populace frustrated by our depressed economy, this law imposes a burden law enforcement agencies can ill afford.
    The pursuit and arrest of community members by state and local law enforcement officials based solely upon their immigration status is counterproductive to the maintenance of our collective safety, and it is an unjustified waste of our limited law enforcement resources. Arizonans need look no further than to Maricopa County and the City of Mesa for proof of the shortsightedness of the approach the new law mandates.
    During his tenure as chief of police in Mesa, George Gascon, now the chief in San Francisco, focused the efforts of his police officers on the reduction of crime through the COMPSTAT process — the use of historical and real-time crime data to deploy resources and fight crime — and resisted calls to have his officers engage in immigration enforcement.
    On the other end of the spectrum, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio ordered his deputies to aggressively conduct immigration enforcement operations. Arpaio publicly chided Gascon for refusing to adopt his approach. Results of these divergent approaches speak for themselves: During the same three-year period, Mesa residents experienced a 30 percent reduction in crime and Maricopa County residents were subjected to a marked increase in crime, especially violent crime.
    Acevedo adds that most illegal immigrants intend to be law-abiding, except for the fact of their illegal entry, and generally do a pretty good job of it. Thus, he says, if Arizonans want to fight burglary, theft, and assault, they should legislate against those crimes and not against immigrants.

    It’s reminiscent of San Diego outlawing alcohol on its beaches because, it was said, the beaches are the site of too many brawls. This ticked off every retired couple that likes to enjoy the sunset and a glass of wine on the strand. Why not directly outlaw brawling? I guess the psychology of that will have to wait for another blog.
    Gerhard Adam
    I think the point about a "melting pot" and hyphenated Americans has become more pronounced over the years, precisely because I don't think there's anything definitive that could be called an "American culture".  Far too many individuals view others as foreigners, and it's become clear that the U.S. tends to identify most strongly with Europe (despite obvious squabbles).

    Therefore you tend to find that most European immigrants don't feel compelled to use the hyphenated description while others that would normally be considered "foreigners" will tend to coalesce and continue to support their native cultures, since there isn't one in the U.S. that could be considered unique to the U.S. which would absorb such diversity.

    Much of this is a natural byproduct of different cultural groups, which tended to be more hidden when the majority seemed to be European, but which was always part of the U.S. system.  It is no coincidence that despite suspicions during WW II, there were Japanese internment camps and few German or Italian ones.  Despite our stated desire to be "color-blind", the truth is that we aren't and aren't likely to be. 

    Certainly as people become more integrated within a society, we see more people less concerned about some previous differences, with a shifting focus on new differences.  While many people may indicate that our racial viewpoints have softened over the years, we have now found a new target; religion (i.e. Islamic fundamentalists).

    If the U.S. is truly going to be a "melting pot" then it must represent something other than 200+ year old European culture.  At some point it must begin to embrace diversity and find it's own culture that truly would be American.  Simply being the world's smart ass just isn't enough.  
    Mundus vult decipi
    Fred Phillips

    In that 2nd to last paragraph, I do not advocate giving all illegal immigrants a free pass. Much of the drug-related crime is due to gang members with the resources to cross the border back and forth freely (and thus are not "immigrants"), and to mules they have blackmailed into carrying the goods. The point is, the interaction between drug crime and violent crime on the one hand, and immigration on the other, should not make us act as if they are all one problem.

    As Acevedo says, the police can't afford to have their crime-fighting capacity vitiated by this kind of legislation. He notes, "This could be the end of community policing in Arizona." So, the feds should continue to look after immigration, and the police should keep looking after crime.

    The Arizona-Mexico border was open for nearly 100 years after Arizona became a territory. People on both sides entered the other freely, often to commit crimes or hide from the consequences of same. The border's been "closed" for 60 years. Has closure "worked"? If you think things are worse than 60 years ago, in terms of crime, then maybe it hasn't worked. Don't say things are different now because of bigger populations; Arizona is a drug route because of the huge empty expanses along the border.

    Sure, every nation has the right to defend its borders. But should we defend that one? Phillips' first rule of ethics is, the worst reason in the world to do something is just because you can.

    And actually, it seems, we can't.

    This is of course a straw-man argument, meant to show that we're not using evidence and logic to identify and solve the "real" problem. Which might be drugs, might be poverty in southern Mexico, might be racism, etc.

    My family also came to the USA well over 100 years ago. Like many at that time, my forebears risked a lot to get here, and upon arrival were handed a plate of sh--, er, that is, lemons for their trouble. They made lemonade. Since then it's been a central part of our family story that we help newbies make their own lemonade. So central that my daughter did her senior thesis on it at Texas.

    Even Meg Whitman, the marginally less rabid of the Republican candidates for California governor, asserts that legal immigrants make great contributions to our economy and culture. And she does not say that illegals don't - only that she wants illegals sent back to whence they came.
    Gerhard Adam
    ... only that she wants illegals sent back to whence they came.
    Empty rhetoric, as if anyone has the slightest idea of what such an effort would actually take.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Fred Phillips
    “To deport the 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States en masse, it would take more than 200,000 buses, stretching more than 1,800 miles, according to a Center for American Progress report. The cost would be nearly $300 billion over five years.“ Thus saith Foreign Policy magazine, May-June 2010, p.94.
    I believe the idea is that when people have a strong sense of identity/ego/self, then they are better functioning human beings in all respects including being better citizens. An anecdote will illustrate. Frank Laubach and his program, Laubach Literacy, are credited with teaching 60,000,000 people to read. (I apologize as I do not have ready access to the book reporting the events, but the gist of the story is on target; it was in a Laubach book about the organization and its history.) His approach to literacy was to enter a village and ask the people what it is they wanted to do, what was important to them. If they wanted to read, he would set up the programs to teach them. But if what was important was to build a road to the market, or dig a well, or establish a medical clinic, then he would help them with that project. The philosophy was that the community needed to be personally invested in the endeavor for meaningful results to be achieved.

    One year, several decades ago now, they held a national convention with all the village leaders in a South American country--I believe it was Bolivia or Colombia. Laubach had some funds to disperse to the national group that had been raised through charitable donations, and he asked the leaders to decide what they wanted to do with it. They deliberated and then responded they wanted to have traditional celebrations and festivals. Laubach diplomatically and kindly responded that this was not what they had in mind, could they consider building some roads or clinics or reading instruction programs, all of which there was great need for. But after several back and forths, the village leaders persisted, and Laubach's commitment to his democratic philosophy was such that he relented, and disbursed the funds to the leaders. The villages held their celebrations and festivals.

    What ensued was that the roads got built, the clinics constructed, the wells dug, and reading programs instituted.. The villagers had always been able to do all those things, but, (the suggestion was), what had been missing all along, in a national culture celebrating cars, and blue jeans, and televisions, was their sense of who they were, their identity/ego, whatever you want to call it. I have also heard comparable reports from Native American reservations.

    This, as I understand it was the impetus behind ethnic studies programs, transmuted a bit because, well, what schools do is teach classes. But then you throw in academic independence, and no clear agenda, and at least one independent teacher tells them to watch out for institutional racism and whatnot.

    As scientists we all know that anecdotes are dangerous, that well-designed studies can evaluate what is effective, and what is not. There is no reason in my mind that an ethnic studies program could not accomplish the kind of cultural self-esteem that was accomplished (I am supposing) by the cultural celebrations in South America. (And I would be very happy to have my tax dollars spent on programs designed to that end.) Done right, my hypothesis is that the right program will build the citizens with meaning in their lives that we are all working for. And maybe the celebrations Mr. Phillips mentions would be a more efficient and effective means to accomplish this end. And maybe all ethnic studies programs are divisive. But this is not a storytelling contest; it's an empirical matter, and as scientists we have the tools to sort it out.

    To briefly address the Zen ideal, my judgment would be to view the youths progress in terms of Loevinger's theory of ego development, that the youth (this side of latent Zen masters) need to go through the developmental stages, with group conformity being typically central in adolescence. I don't share the view that, "If we encourage our students and our offspring to embrace cultural identity, we are circumscribing their mental perspectives and lowering a glass ceiling over their sense of their own potentialities." I do not find a strong ethnic identity at odds with an American identity. But again, this is an empirical matter.

    Fred Phillips
    Mr. Frank, thank you for the thoughtful comment. Your point about developmental stages is especially interesting, though it makes me doubt even more whether 'ethnic identity' meets the needs of mostly post-adolescent university students, much less graduate students.

    The Laubach-South America example is striking, but it blurs, somewhat, the distinction between individual identity on the one hand and team-building and group cohesion on the other.

    As a recovering mathematician, I'll offer just one more disagreement. When we say A is identical to B, then A=B, and B is not identical to anything that is not A. The word's Latin root, idem, means ”same.“ Identity is therefore ”exclusive,“ and this is why I say it is limiting.
    I do not find a strong ethnic identity at odds with an American identity.
    The dictionary definitions below allow a certain looseness in vernacular uses of the word, but I'll surmise that young people without highly developed critical thinking facility or ambiguity tolerance (and not necessarily to say teachers of ethnic studies) will gravitate toward the simpler, more exclusive definition.

    i·den·ti·ty identity pronunciation

    1. the state or fact of remaining the same one or ones, as under varying aspects or conditions: The identity of the fingerprints on the gun with those on file provided evidence that he was the killer.

    2. the condition of being oneself or itself, and not another: He doubted his own identity.

    3. condition or character as to who a person or what a thing is: a case of mistaken identity.

    4. the state or fact of being the same one as described.

    5. the sense of self, providing sameness and continuity in personality over time and sometimes disturbed in mental illnesses, as schizophrenia. 6. exact likeness in nature or qualities: an identity of interests.

    7. an instance or point of sameness or likeness: to mistake resemblances for identities.

    8. Logic . an assertion that two terms refer to the same thing.

    a. an equation that is valid for all values of its variables.

    b. Also called identity element, unit element, unity. an element in a set such that the element operating on any other element of the set leaves the second element unchanged.

    c. the property of a function or map such that each element is mapped into itself. d. the function or map itself.

    i·den·ti·calidentical pronunciation<
    1. similar or alike in every way: The two cars are identical except for their license plates.

    2. being the very same; selfsame: This is the identical room we stayed in last year. 3. agreeing exactly; identical opinions.

    Paul Frank
    Dear Mr. Phillips,

    Thank you for your attention and care with the language.  I do not know that I am up to the standard that you have set, but I will proceed anyway and give it my best.

    This actually touches on a topic I got interested in, so I come to it with a lot of other ideas and/or baggage.  The relevant definition of identity is number 5, the sense of self.  It is the same thing being talked about by Jane Loevinger as ego, by Harry Stack Sullivan as the self-system, and by Freud as das ich (though commonly translated as ego, and possibly further subdivided).  I actually use the term ahamkara from the Sanskrit used in both the Buddhist and Vedic traditions.  As I was taught ahamkara is the deepest level of individual mind.  Ahamkara is the story that we have incidentally constructed about the qualities of our selves, but also includes morals, basic politics, religious beliefs, and worldview paradigm.  I think of it as the defining level in the sense that things here define the material out of which we construct the rest of our experience.  Things here are relatively set and are very resistant to change; how resistant will depend on the individual ego development stage to use Loevinger's language.  As the Buddhist and Vedic teachers I have listened to have described it, it is the story that you keep telling yourself and you spend most of your thinking life repeating to ourselves, often defensively--"I did take out the garbage"--justifying that we are indeed a good husband, (if that is something that we "decided" that we were).  Most anger is a response to an attack on ahamkara.

    In my view, ahamkara/ego/self-system/das ich are central to psychological good health as that is understood in the West.  (In the Eastern sense, psychological good health is enlightenment.)  It is what we mean when we say life is meaningful and fulfilling.  My take is that this is what happiness research is looking at.  And on balance, when this part of our life is going well, we are productive, well-functioning citizens, basically realizing the goal of our education system. 

    To the extent that my understanding is correct that ahamkara is a central component of the psychology that builds good citizens, then a healthy ahamkara is an appropriate social goal.  If this means that I feel good about being a man or woman, about being a good bowler, cricket player, or first baseman, or about being a Latino or African-American or Irishman, then so be it.  Feeling good about being a man does not mean that I denigrate women in any way.  It is not zero-sum, or a competition.  And while most of us could get along quite well being indifferent about our cricket-playing ability, it is more difficult in our culture to avoid dealing with our ethnic identity if we are Latino or African American.  This is particularly so in the predominating conformity developmental stage, where the world is seen by and large in categories.  As a white American I can get away with just being an "American." 

    I don't see ethnic identity enhancement as divisive, but rather as strengthening a difficult-to-avoid facet of personal identity, and hence improving psychological health.  Part of the apparent differences between us come from a lack of precision in our communication.  I do not support any random curriculum that might fairly be called ethnic studies.   I am specifically talking about curriculum, events, celebrations, anything that enhances individual's sense of cultural worthiness.   I am not married to the idea that this is necessarily best achieved by academic study.  I do feel that it is essential that this be addressed.  In general, until there is relatively complete assimilation, it is my hypothesis that failure to address this will result in a Latino subgroup that is either feeling rebellious or subjugated.  Neither is acceptable.

    I am wondering if behind your comments you have had experiences or contact, or read something where things went badly.  Again, this is not a story-telling contest.  Our discussion is an important part of the scientific process to the extent that it leads us to construct useful models/theories that generate hypothesis which are then tested and evaluated, ultimately leading to practical policies that makes us a happier and better functioning society. 
    Fred Phillips
    Mr. Frank, you have added good ideas and heartfelt content to this discussion. I agree with you about empirical verification, was just urging us to get our categories straight and our research question clear, before going out to look for data.

    You are taking a less exclusive definition of ‘identity’ than I am, and perhaps showing more faith in people, trusting that they’ll base their speech and actions on the more sophisticated and less exclusive sense of the word. I have reservations, because simpler ideas are easier to grasp and easier to sell.

    A shame if a young man, for example, believes, “I am a Basque, and nothing else.” One could take a Jungian view that in this lifetime, my role is Orpheus and yours is Ulysses, but I think each of us is many things, and plays many roles, throughout our lives.

    In the 1980s a new bar opened in my neighborhood, billing itself as “An Exclusive Drinking Establishment.” Ready to be indignant, I asked, “Just whom do you exclude?” The waitress’ answer was, “Nobody, it’s just marketing.”

    Exclusivity in cultural identity means, unfortunately, excluding those of different cultures from being an intimate or even an ordinary part of one’s life. The overpaid and overbonused CEOs, and the Wall Street “Masters of the Universe” showed the classic in-group/out-group syndrome: They made it hard to get into the group, protected fellow in-group members beyond all reason, and showed contempt for those not on the inside. It’s still uncertain whether our economy will recover from their depredations.

    Identifying oneself too closely with a group also implies having to deal with all the status-seeking, dominance behavior, and gossip that insiders cannot escape when outsiders are not present. Yes, ethnic identity can be a warm feeling, involving favorite foods and familiar holidays that bring a community together, but often, a price is paid in social stress.

    Ethnicity is not automatically noble. Ethnic life can counterbalance the abstracted and seemingly soulless consumer culture that has swept America, but there’s a trade-off between the comfortable structure and the in-group stress of the former and the freedom and anomie of the latter. Different people will want to locate themselves at different points on that trade-off spectrum at different points in their lives.

    Ideally, from my Zen perspective, I’d like each person to have her/his kensho, then decide on any sense of group affinity deliberately, rather than compulsively – neither because of the external compulsion of other group members, nor because of internal, psychological compulsive urges.

    Ego can engender confidence and energy, and that energy can result in social good. And I admit some Zen communities can be annoyingly passive, not wanting to “create karma,” which I think is a nonsensical attitude. However, an ego-driven person doing good deeds is still trapped by ego. Better to do good by doing well, rather than vice versa.

    My mind keeps returning to your very powerful Bolivian village story. There, to be sure, a certain amount of group identity and exclusivity generated the energy to build the roads and schools. That kind of cultural identity – the culture maintaining its distinctiveness as a means to survive collectively – is again different from the question of any one individual deciding whether or not to identify him/herself with the group.

    Are there personal stories behind my views? Sure. One of them is 35 years as a teacher of Zen martial art, after which I habitually focus on the enlightenment of my students. Another has to do with my two inter-cultural children, kids that those who still believe in race would call inter-racial. Now grown, my kids have been lucky never to have experienced much angst over ethnic identity, despite occasional confusion in school. (During cultural identity exercises, my kids’ schools, I recollect, let the unclassifiable kids play happily in a corner until the unit was over. And there was one day when they sent student records home and I was surprised to learn that I officially had one Asian child and one Caucasian.)

    In sum, I don’t mind my taxes being spent on ethnic studies, but I don’t want kids being shoe-horned into unreasonable views of identity and left straight-jacketed therein. Or being excluded if they don’t fit any of the ethnicities a particular school celebrates. I don’t mind public money spent on celebrating diversity. In fact, I would love it if it were spent the way it is in Brazil, where billboards simply announce “Racism is Wrong.”
    Paul Frank
    One of the reasons I prefer the word 'ahamkara' is that it does not come with the baggage that the term 'ego' comes with; our conversation makes it clear to me that the the term 'identity' offers its own set of unwanted associations.  And I suspect that were our conversation ever to gain an informed Vedic or Buddhist audience, things could be much worse with 'ahamkara.'

    Identity is just a component of ahamkara as I understand it.  The correlations between Kohlberg's moral stages and Loevinger's ego developmental stages that some of my professors have referred to are one piece of this puzzle.  I would also typically include fundamental political and religious views, and our scientific/epistemological/nomological paradigm.  In general, I think we need to stop being a prisoner of the common language use of these terms, and focus on the elements thereof that turn out to be important components of psychological health appropriate to any given individual's developmental stage, and note those manifestations of ethnic pride that are socially divisive, (and, I would submit, typically indicative of a defensive ego/identity/ahamkara).  (If you had on hand an antidote for run-on sentences, I should probably be in the market for that also.)

    From the Buddhist perspective as I was taught it, pride is a sin, or I think the better translation here would be vice.  In the Buddhist/Vedic views, staying caught up in our ahamkara, this story that we have made up about ourselves, and defending it with our actions, ruminating on it in the running conversation that is playing in the theater of our mind, this is the source of our suffering. 

    The blue jeans and TV culture were a subtle attack on the Colombian/Bolivian villagers, and their village leaders were at some deep level wise enough to sense that.  My take on it is that there is both a conscious and subconscious level of ahamkara--the man who will go to war and venture his life to defend the Bible/Koran/Torah, and the same man whose actions clearly demonstrate that he does not believe the words of his holy scriptures.  I place no intrinsic importance on a vibrant ethnic identity per se, but in a world which this is a major defining category of who we are, to the extent that we are participating members of that culture our psychological well-being requires that we that we have a healthy sense of this socially ascribed identity. 

    Mr. Campbell's foray to the Scottish games was fine, but not necessary in contemporary USA; a young Latino's celebration of Cinco de Mayo may well be.  If I can reformulate the old bromide, our history and culture can give us our roots which are necessary for us to fly.  In a mass educational system sorting out exactly which students benefit from such a program is tricky.  I do not think that it is important that your children have an ethnic identity.  The fundamental goal is psychological well-being, and only to the extent that ethnic identity contributes to that is it important in the context here.

    We haven't pursued your allusion to meditation.  There is research showing that Transcendental Meditation is associated with progress in ego development.  From their theoretical perspective, (and I think the research is consistent with this thesis), it would be important that any meditation used for this purpose promote transcending, a psychophysiologically identifiable state.  I believe successful Zen meditation will do this, though the group data has not always indicated this.  And according to the Vedic tradition out of which TM comes, regular transcending in meditation will loosen the grips of ahamkara.

    From a theoretical viewpoint, ahamkara provides a window to understanding many more things: clinical depression, how contemporary Republicans have gotten a class of people to vote against their own self-interests, suicide bombers, Calvin Klein ads composed solely of sultry figures, Galileo's imprisonment, and much more.  I have a few more anecdotes on this if you are interested.  I have debated presenting them in the blog here, but they are not in a well-developed form typical of most scientific presentations. 

    This is not as well constructed as I would like, but I trust you to compensate for my deficiencies.  Thank you for entertaining my thoughts.
    Steve Davis
     "how contemporary Republicans have gotten a class of people to vote against their own self-interests,..."
    Not just Republicans Paul, but all politicians!
    I enjoyed your comments very much, thanks.
    Paul Frank
    Fair comment.  I had a more limited example in mind. 

    There are probably other words, but what I have heard it called in politics and sales is framing, and what they are framing it with are popular constituents of what I am referring to as ahamkara.  I do think Republicans as a group are better at it.  I think all politicians would like to "control the frames" that their public discourse is made in.  How nimble a politician is will vary from person to person, but I think that the Republicans are better at the research of figuring out what the relevant constituents of ahamkara are, and then using that information skillfully.  (Possibly their advantage is better contacts in the business world.) 

    And thank you for your kind comments.  It is an interesting article and discussion.
    Fred Phillips
    I agree. In this blog entry, I wrote:

    The result has been a mythos of self-reliance that middle-class
    "conservatives" parrot even as their own economic hearts are being cut
    out by the transnational corporations. This is the big con.
    Gerhard Adam
    In considering many of the points made, it makes me wonder to what degree do other ethnicities promote such identification by their residents?  It seems that in many other cultures the presumption is that as an "outsider" it is incumbent on you to conform, rather than being accommodated.  For example, it would be difficult to imagine such a conversation as this occurring in a Middle Eastern nation.

    In addition, it is not difficult to imagine many cultural values that are completely inconsistent with the prevailing views in this country and that should not be accepted nor honored. 

    So it becomes a fair question to ask why should other cultural values be important when the individuals no longer reside within the original culture?  In addition, it is also legitimate to question what cultural values are supposedly being replaced?

    It would seem that our social values need to take precendence over those of other cultures in order to retain any meaning.  It does little good to proclaim ourselves a haven for religious freedom while another culture (existing within ours) may seek to to freely express its hatred of other religions.  It's part of the inconsistency that accompanies the notion of cultural expression.

    In many ways, discussions of culture are often thinly veiled proxies for discussions about race, which is a completely different agenda.  However, when it is exclusively culture that we are interested in, by what rationale should any society be induced to promote such diversity?  It seems that one of the fundamental problems in the U.S., is not the diversity, but the lack of an actual American identity that someone may aspire to.

    My own background is simply German, so there's nothing too unusual there.  However, when we came to this country, my parents would certainly speak of my German heritage, but were also quite clear in the fact that we were now Americans.  Whatever elements of my German heritage would be preserved, would be the result of family traditions.

    Hank made the comment earlier that his family had been here for 150 years, so he's about as American as they come.  I would go a step farther and argue that anyone that's here is an American and not subject to social recognition of any other status.

    In a different but slightly related vein, as a resident of southern Oregon, I live in a more rural area.  However, one of the ongoing issues that keeps surfacing is that of Californians moving north for retirement and suddenly wanting to change Oregon to be more like the California they left. 

    In any case, I don't know if what I've said is incoherent or too rambling, but my point essentially comes down to the fact that I don't believe there is any obligation to promote cultural diversity in any official manner, any more than it being appropriate to suppress such diversity.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Paul Frank

    " It seems that in many other cultures the presumption is that as an "outsider" it is incumbent on you to conform, rather than being accommodated.  For example, it would be difficult to imagine such a conversation as this occurring in a Middle Eastern nation."

    While I am not sure I want to have "Anonymous Middle Eastern Nation" setting the standard for us, I thought that it was an interesting suggestion to look elsewhere.  So I decided to do a quick Google of Dubai which has a strong immigrant work force.  In an Wikipedia article titled "Indians in the United Arab Emirates," I found this:

    "The large segment of Indian migrants, along with comparatively lenient laws in the UAE[7] have allowed Indian communities to more or less practice their native cultures in the country. Middleclass Indians in the UAE have established a network of cultural associations which cater to their needs. Cultural associations such as the India Club, Indian Association, Goan Cultural Society and numerous Keralite associations support cultural networks of the Indian sub-communities in the UAE. Additionally, schools such as the Abu Dhabi Indian School and The Indian High School, Dubai  provide Indian curricular education to expatriate students. Dubai is the only emirate in the UAE with a Hindu temple and Sikh Gurudwara. Non-Muslims are allowed to conduct their religious ceremonies in their private homes without interference. Dubai and Sharjah are the only emirates with operating cremation facilities in the Emirates. Official permission must be obtained for their use in every instance. Churches exist in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah. In 1998, the government of Dubai donated land for the construction of a facility to be shared by five congregations, four Protestant and one Catholic. Non-Muslims may practice their religions but may not proselytise publicly.[19]" (

    Dubai is in many ways a more progressive Middle-Eastern country, but that may make it a more appropriate comparison.  (I am also guessing that you did not have Israel in mind.)

    I know that Iran has Jewish communities, so I did a quick Google check there.  In a Wikipedia article on Persian Jews I found the following two excerpts.

    Ayatollah Khomeini met with the Jewish community upon his return from exile in Paris and issued a fatwa decreeing that the Jews were to be protected. In the Islamic republic, Jews have become more religious. Families who had been secular in the 1970s started keeping kosher and strictly observing rules against driving on Shabbat. They stopped going to restaurants, cafes and cinemas, and the synagogue became the focal point of their social lives.[15]
    Haroun Yashyaei, a film producer and former chairman of the Central Jewish Community in Iran said:
    "Khomeini didn't mix up our community with Israel and Zionism- he saw us as Iranians."

    Today Tehran has 11 functioning synagogues, many of them with Hebrew schools. It has two kosher restaurants, an old-age home and a cemetery. There is a Jewish library with 20,000 titles.[15] Iranian Jews have their own newspaper (called "Ofogh-e-Bina") with
    Jewish scholars performing Judaic research at Tehran's "Central Library of Jewish Association".[51] The "Dr. Sapir Jewish Hospital" is Iran's largest charity hospital of any religious minority community in the country;[51] however, most of its patients and staff are Muslim.[52]

    There are a couple of small enclaves of Jews in Yemen, but many Yemeni Jews have recently been experiencing troubles with many Muslim fundamentalists.

    Europe now has large immigrant groups including some very fundamentalist Muslims.  The attitude their has been to support multlculturalism, understanding it as a basic tenet of democratic principles, and there have been some significant challenges there.  In search of more of a contrast, I thought I would take a quick look at China while I was at it.  I found this at 

    The Chinese government has promulgated the Provisions on the Administration of Religious Activities of Aliens Within the Territory of the People's Republic of China. China respects the freedom of religious belief of aliens within Chinese territory and protects their friendly contacts and cultural and academic exchanges with Chinese religious circles with respect to religion.  Aliens may participate in religious activities at recognized sites for religious activities within Chinese territory. They may also preach at the invitation of Chinese religious bodies at or above the provincial level.  Aliens may hold religious activities attended by aliens at sites approved by people's governments at or above the county level. They may invite Chinese clerical personnel to conduct such religious rituals as baptisms, weddings, funerals and prayer meetings, and may bring with them printed religious matter, audio-visual religious material and other religious articles for
    personal use while entering Chinese territory. Aliens who conduct religious activities within Chinese territory shall abide by Chinese laws and regulations. (

    And I incidentally stumbled on an article on Chinese in Burma in The Atlantic finding this

    . . . there is, of course, complete freedom in religion and educating children . . .
    . . .
    They have their own schools and temples, their omen [sic] cultural activities.  (

    I have no idea how representative these results are; even given that I was quite frankly surprised by what I found.  I expected less tolerance and accommodation.  It is at least consistent with the idea that diverse political perspectives and cultures have found some importance to providing a place for immigrants to pursue their native religion and traditions, at least at some level.

    Paul Frank
    Additional comment

    I don't want to speak here for Professor Phillips, but at least with regard to my discussion about ahamkara I want to separate the empirical/scientific statements from any normative or policy positions.  My proposition is that activities that promote a healthy ahamkara in individuals will also be positively associated with those individuals being both more productive and better citizens.  And in places where there is significant devaluation of a culture, religion, etc., an important contributor to a healthy ahamkara for members of the affected groups will be activities that strengthen their cultural identity/ahamkara.  I hypothesize that cultural celebrations, rituals, and activities would on balance contribute to that healthy sense of identity.  I also believe that ethnic studies courses have the potential to contribute to that positive sense of identity in a way that constructively contributes to a multicultural society.  (But I also believe that there are courses that could rightly be described as ethnic studies courses that would be absolutely destructive to a well-functioning local culture; some of the examples discussed above by Mr. Phillips are candidates for this negative category.)  These are empirical claims, (if not yet clearly defined), and I may be wrong.  And if I am right, it still a separate policy decision how and when this information would be used.  I do believe--another empirical claim--that failure to counterbalance a cultural group's identity under attack will result in adverse consequences in crime, school performance, work performance, physical and mental health, civic participation, and more.  And I may again be wrong.

    As an American citizen I have an interest in policy decisions in addition to my scientific interests.  Mr. Adams raises some important concerns.  I experience the fundamental American moral values as sacred and I would include respect of other religions among those fundamental values.  We should certainly not be promoting such religious hatred anymore than we should promote Latino hatred of white citizens.  Where there is disagreement with a fundamental American value as I understand them in a school system I am involved with, there is no discussion—core American values trump the others.  I take the Bill of Rights, and racial equality as examples reflecting core American values.  I discuss this topic with some trepidation considering the recent actions of the Texas State Board of Education, and I do not have a simple bromide to sort this out.  Unlike some of the Texas board members, I think McCarthyism is un-American, and I think Thomas Jefferson is very American.

    I am trying to think of any Latino values that I find un-American, and I am coming up blank.  Perhaps others have some suggestions.  I see fundamental conflicts in Europe with some of the fundamentalist clerics promoting Sharia law.  That's as close as I come.  What I would see in a useful ethnic studies course would be customs, history, celebrations, traditions cultural heroes, and possibly some art and crafts.  The celebrating Colombian/Bolivian villagers were not doing anything un-American from my perspective; but they were becoming more productive and better functioning citizens.

    Maybe at the bottom of the concerns here is the idea that if we are going to be multicultural, then all cultures, including their values, come in with equal weight--sort of a democracy with ideas as citizens instead of people.  To the extent that that is underlying any of the concerns here, I would flatly reject this approach.  Mr. Adams comments have well illustrated there are significant problems with that.  I think there is a sense that America has its own ahamkara, with a core set of fundamental values, and it is important that anyone seeking citizenship accept that at some level.  But I flatly reject the idea as a false choice that it is all or nothing.  There is plenty of room in America for different customs, traditions, celebrations, and even different moral values, within some basic boundaries.  Indeed, in the classrooms I grew up in, that is how America was formed, (with apologies to the original inhabitants), and that is what America is.

    Fred, what a wonderful article. I just discovered it. I hope it is not to late to comment.

    I especially love the "Eye of God" description of the identity one might discover in oneself (as oneself) while meditating/praying. The "Eye of God", hmmm... one might even call it the "I of God". Beautiful. Thank you for that pearl.

    Your article certainly stimulated a great deal of thoughtful and insightful comments, all of which I enjoyed reading as well. Let me start by acknowledging Hank, the self-described defender of conservative values in the sea of liberalism that is the academic community. While I might disagree with many of Hank's political positions, I cannot praise enough his initiative in making this venue possible, the tolerance extended to the expression of alternative views here, and for the civility with which he engages in vigorous debate. I am reminded of an older school of conservatism that used to play a prominent role in this country - a form of conservatism for which I have a great deal of respect.

    Unfortunately, most political debate these days is anything but respectful. Uncivil discourse has replaced civil discourse for the most part. Winning the debate has become more important that reaching a deeper understanding. As a result, we often end up saying some pretty silly things with great passion, not realizing the absurdity of our words. Let me take your quote from Tom Horne as an example:

    "...Traditionally, the American public school system has brought together students from different backgrounds and taught them to be Americans and to treat each other as individuals, and not on the basis of their ethnic backgrounds..."

    Don't see the irony yet? Let me paraphrase, "We don't believe in classifying individuals according to some group identity - we're Americans!" I am reminded of the predictable stage in a child's life (maybe early teens) where he or she confronts his or her parents with all seriousness and passion and says, "Stop treating me like a child! I'm not a child anymore." It is tempting to just laugh at the absurdity of the logic, but the wiser response is to recognize that there is probably some deeper issue that needs to be addressed. So I believe it is the case with much of today's polarized political debate. The real issues are buried somewhere beneath the, mostly illogical, rhetoric. Getting to those issues takes some work.

    I think Paul is on to something when he raises the question of developmental stages. I think developmental stages of identity apply both to individuals and to groups. I understand the concept of letting go of one's ego/self in many of the spiritual traditions, but it is also my understanding that you have to develop a well formed ego or sense of self before you can let go of it - individuation proceeds transcendence. I have heard the process of enlightenment described as a successive series of disillusionments. I believe this to be true and I believe it is important that they occur in the right order. That is to say, developing an individual identity and a group identity has its proper place. I'll punt (for now) on the question of whose job it is to help make that happen.

    Let me end with a comment about attachments. I believe it was William James who said something to the effect that my identity is the sum total of everything I call mine. The Buddha said attachment was the source of all suffering. If I am attached to my sports car, if it is part of who I am, then it pains me should something happen to it. So I have to agree that attachments of all kinds are limiting and by letting go we become more liberated. Somethings are easier to let go than others. I have been trying to sit down and write my first blog entry for this site for several days now. I am finding it psychologically difficult. I think I am too attached. I am going to have to work on that (or maybe not) :-)

    Thanks, Fred, for your stimulating exploration of this perennial and timely question of identity.
    Citizen Philosopher / Science Tutor
    Fred Phillips
    Thanks for the complimentary words, Steve. Are they a test to see how much ego I still have?  ;0)

    Never too late to comment on a post.

    I look forward to seeing your first blog here on Science 2.0.
    Just a quick update. I did overcome my writer's-block/ego-attachment and posted my first article/blog here: Entropy Is Not Disorder

    It's not about identity, but it is about diversity, sort of. :-)
    Citizen Philosopher / Science Tutor