Thursday, August 18, 2011

Identity Pride

This one seems simple to me. Over at Sully's, Andrew re-posts what must have struck some member of his Daily Beast team as a worthwhile question:

Lisa McInerney is happy to be Irish. This kindles Norm Geras' interest:

The question is this: how can one be proud or glad of one's identity without implying the judgement that 'your' people - Irish, Jews, Italians, whoever - are better than other people? Suppose you thought that the group you belonged to was worse than everyone else. How could you be glad to belong there? And if they were neither worse nor better but just different, what would be the source of your comparative feeling that belonging to this group was especially good?

That's the only rationale for pride? The implication that you are better than other people? I've never understood what it is about pride that implies a binary situation to people. What if you're proud because, against terrible odds, you managed to survive some threat to your very existence (yes, I suppose that could be viewed as making you better than other peoples who were made extinct, but...). What if you're proud because your nation, although not the most powerful or wealthiest in the world, has a rich history of art and culture that other people appreciate. What if you're proud because your nation stood up against the extreme pressure of other nations to join in a war that proved to be misguided? Pride is a multifaceted emotion.

It seems silly to reduce it to some all-or-nothing equation. Just because you're proud of what you have accomplished does not, to my mind, automatically imply you feel you're better than other people. Just that you're warmly pleased with your own contributions and/or results in this human marathon.

A more interesting question to me is what does it mean to feel shame about one's nation? Or even more interesting, a mixture of pride and shame.

I personally am quite proud to be an American. As that quintessentially proud Irishman, Bono, reportedly once said about my country, it has perhaps the best and worst of everything. But I've never been so proud as to be blind to America's faults.

I can't help but think this insistence on a binary approach to pride reveals a significant difference between progressive and conservative mind sets. I've always felt a bit bad for the "America: Love It or Leave It" crowd, pitying their inability to hold a more complex view of their nation in their heads. What's wrong with "America: Love It and Work to Improve It"?

Indeed, I find being blind to America's faults extremely lazy, if not un-patriotic. Asserting that you shouldn't participate in criticizing your own nation (i.e., participating in the ongoing work of forming an ever more perfect union) feels to me like the guy who insists he wants his lawn to look "wild" when he really just wants to have another beer and watch the game, rather than get up and push around the mower for an hour or so. But being "proud" of your unkempt yard isn't really fooling anyone. They can see it for what it really is.

A "comparative feeling that belonging to this group was especially good" doesn't to my mind suggest you're unable to appreciate why someone else would feel the same way about the group they belong to. And it's only by limiting one's thinking here to a lazy binary system that one could conclude it implies you look down on other people in any way that truly harms anyone. So long as you remain open to seeing your nation's faults, as well, a bit of pride is good and healthy.

Labels: Art and politics, identity


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I loathe blind patriotism and rampant nationalism, they are indeed the products of a lazy mind. Every country has its share of wonderful and horrible. The new trend here of American Exceptionalism is nothing more than sweeping our huge pile of crap under the rug.

The extremists always use that phrase "My country right or wrong." but the phrase is "My country right or wrong: when right, to keep her right, when wrong to set her right". Big difference.

---ondine nyc

8/18/2011 10:07:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

I can't help but think this insistence on a binary approach to pride reveals a significant difference between progressive and conservative mind sets.

Robert Hughes penned a bracing book called The Culture of Complaint. In it he posits that there are really two kinds of "PC" sentiment: political correctness among liberals, and patriotic correctness among conservatives. The "love it or leave it" line is classic patriotic correctness. The equivalent liberal examples show up as stilted displays of openmindedness. For example, I believe that someone has deemed "LGBT" insufficiently inclusive, for I am now seeing "LGBTQIA." Someone claims to have spotted "LGBTQIAOP." You think "love it or leave it" is a lazy binary? You must hate America. You think "LGBTIA" is sensitivity run amok? You must hate gay people. QED, after a fashion. The common thread is a conspicuous display of absolutism.

All political persuasions harbor embarrassing numbers of people who harbor ridiculous pieties instead of examining their assumptions. Progressives are no exception.

8/18/2011 12:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Identity pride? I'd rather call that psychological point of reference for individual person. If it makes positive mark on someone psyche, why not? The bitter and complaining part of humanity without i.e. identity pride need to be silenced. They are too annoying!
Mike M.

8/18/2011 10:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Gam said...

boy i seem to have scary thoughts all the time now; This from Ars technica via petapixel comes this gem: (they were discussing canon vs nikon merits- but i think it might apply to the arts in general)

Those who had high self-brand connections (SBC)—that is, those who follow, research, or simply like a certain brand—were the ones whose self esteem suffered the most when their brands didn’t do well or were criticized. Those with low SBC remained virtually unaffected on a personal level.

so the pride we take in that artist we collect, researched and know so much about, may simply really be about -us.

8/19/2011 07:28:00 AM  
Anonymous M said...

Binary thinking, yes indeed. I've thought about this pride issue a lot of late because I am a Southerner. Born and raised here, now back to living here. When I first left the South, people would tell me I was really smart for a Southerner, like that was a compliment. Strangers hearing my slight accent would presume I was a racist. Hard not to get defensive. But tribal pride - whether it's based on nation, religion, language, skin color - is such a double edged sword. We do tend to see in black and white when in fact everything is both. Is this because we are mentally lazy or because our minds are still tied to basic animal friend-or-foe distinctions required for survival?

8/19/2011 09:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the point missed isn't a sense of a groups superiority, rather a rejection of another group's inference of inferiority. I would think a proclamation of Irish pride is a counter to an age old inference by the ruling British that Irish are inferior. Isn't that also the intent of the Gay pride parade? Not an expression of superiority, a declaration of equality.

Although I would say that the declaration of pride is also an acceptance of the shame, the way only a frightened person needs courage, courage is functioning despite the fear not the absence of it. Also the inference that another group is inferior is usually expressing a sense of their own fear of inferiority and attempting to gain self worth by demeaning others.

8/19/2011 11:15:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Wow, Anonymous 8/19/2011 11:15:00 AM

really great comment!

8/19/2011 11:17:00 AM  
Blogger Cathy said...

I was a substitute teacher in Boston during the tension surrounding forced busing - specifically busing black students to Irish neighborhoods like Charlestown and South Boston. I heard a lot about Irish pride and the result wasn't pretty. I imagine the wearing of the green was scary if you didn't belong.

8/20/2011 09:44:00 AM  
Blogger CAP said...

I like Gam's comment.

I think when people scratch around for some larger, collective identity, it's because their individual one struggles. When I'm abroad I'm certainly aware of my national identity, and in some ways I am proud of national traits or customs, in other ways embarrassed at 'our' international reputation. But I can't be just my nation, state, race or creed, at best these are crass stereotypes, only of use when combating/conceding another's.

Like all group politics, I think they're best regarded as short term strategems. Count me in, only on one issue at a time.

8/20/2011 11:28:00 AM  
Blogger J. Wesley Brown said...

I think of nationalism as misguided. After all, what did we do to deserve our Americanism - it's just dumb luck really that we were born here and not in, say, Chad, where we'd be walking two hours hoping to find a well with clean water so that our children don't die.

"God bless America" infers the qualifier, "above everyone else." Aren't we all humans sharing one planet?

8/22/2011 10:51:00 PM  
Blogger J. Wesley Brown said...

“Every nation,must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole.”

- Marin Luther King Jr.

8/25/2011 01:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

not completely on point but I think it is ridiculous that one is not allowed to burn the flag. IF one can only have freedom of expression to a point is that really freedom? I grew up in South Africa and racism can be veiled in the name of pride and the spread of strange thinking is very subtle but can spread really fast in the name of pride. I have relatives who supported lousy causes proudly but will now deny and believe they never did. Pride can shift and along with shame rewrite history and reality. Not sure that is real pride though. I have never felt pride

8/27/2011 08:00:00 PM  
Blogger Josh McCallister said...

Thanks for the post. Because my family moved around a lot, I never could grasp school spirit. As I got older, I thought nationalism is pretty similar - "We like it here because we're from here." Again, comparison is at play because folks haven't had roots in too many places to base their rating system.
I've tried to shift my thinking into gratitude rather than pride, since much of the pride is based on attributes I did not create. I am thankful for block parties in the summer. Shalom

8/30/2011 01:42:00 PM  

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