Pride and Identity Politics

There is much exaggerated talk today of collective forms of “pride”. Gay pride, racial pride, national pride, etc are trumpeted in the streets through public marches, parades, and demonstrations.

Typically, such great public displays of pride only occur in the context of an equally deep-seated and pervasive sense of humiliation and distressed identity. In the case of gays and lesbians it is understandable how the attempt to recoup a sense of dignity and self-worth becomes socially enacted in pride parades, carnivals, and festivals of solidarity. It doesn’t detract from the fact, though, that such exaggerated public displays of pride arise from an undercurrent of wounded dignity and identity. And in that sense, such festivals can be healing and liberating.

It is perhaps less transparent in the present historical context why cases of exaggerated “race pride” or “national pride” have arisen, which often take pathological forms as cultural philistinism and reactionary politics — a trend also noted by Judith Timson in The Globe & Mail. The last great widespread historical outbreak of such exaggerated national and racial “pride” occurred in Europe and in those nations that experienced a humiliating defeat in the First World War, or which were victims of colonialism. In the case of Japan’s humiliation, it was Commodore Perry’s earlier gunship diplomacy that was experienced as a collective deep loss of face and a national humiliation which very much paved the way for Japan’s later turn to nationalism, fascism, imperialism, and a supremacist pathological “master race” doctrine that infected both Europe and Japan with devastating consequences for the world.

Nietzsche’s psychology of ressentiment is very much the issue here, and is worth the effort to understand. It is also worth noting the very wise, conscientious, and laudable role of then US President Roosevelt — and perhaps following him, his successor Truman — to ensure that the grievous mistakes of the past were not repeated following the surrender of the Axis powers. There were to be no further humiliations for the defeated nations that might give cause for a renewed sense of collective grievance or resentment. I know that conservatives tend to elevate and mythologise the role of Winston Churchill in all this, but Roosevelt actually dictated terms to Churchill and blunted Churchill’s desire to restore the British Empire for “a thousand years”. In that sense, Churchill had to surrender much, for it is the nature of war in the planetary era, as Rosenstock-Huessy pointed out, that all wars now become civil wars within the one body of humankind. Roosevelt announced an end to the age of empire. But this did not sit well with either Churchill or the French, nor their vindictive (and opportunistic) attitudes towards the defeated Japanese and the Germans as well as their former colonies (the Suez Crisis, for example).

So, I find the current tendency amongst conservatives to lionise and mythologise Churchill, and downplay Roosevelt and the “New Deal”, a bit self-interested, very often counterfactual, and even somewhat pathetic.

Identities under stress and in distress is the essence of the so-called “post-modern condition” and the post-modern deconstruction of self (in other terms, called “nihilism”). That is the nature of the “malaise” that has become practically the by-word for the present crisis. The French word “malaise” means much the same thing — “dis-ease” or “dis-stress” or “suffering”. Although over-exaggerated “pride” is typically an over-reaction to an undercurrent of humiliation (correspondingly, a sense of powerlessness or helplessness) and loss of sense of personal self-worth, it can also be a reaction to identity-crisis, a loss of a social self, or loss integrity and coherence, particularly where one’s sense of identity and self (ego) is defined (narcissistically) through race affiliation or as something provided by the nation-state (typically through public education, which the sociologist Jacques Ellul once called “pre-propaganda”).

It’s probably safe to say that everything today is “identity politics” because identities (collective or personal) are confused and in distress in the emerging planetary era, and this is the very essence of what is called “the post-modern condition.” It is this distress (or malaise) that gives rise to misguided and reactionary salvific politics of race or nation-state through “pride” as an attempt to adhere or cling to an identity or self that no longer functions satisfactorily in the post-modern era. In the deeper sense, this loss of self is the meaning of the post-modern process of “deconstruction”.

Many experience this deconstruction as an existential threat. Others experience it as a liberation. For the former, it is a devaluation of pristine values associated with the Modern Era. For the latter, it is the emancipatory smashing of idols — idols of race or state that no longer have power or relevance in the transnational, planetary era. As the Psalmist put it…

Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands.
They have mouths, but they speak not: eyes have they, but they see not:
They have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not:
They have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat.
They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them.

The reason why pride is very often given as “sinful pride” has only to do with the fact that it is a major impediment to transformation, for it tends to reify and fixate the ego-nature. In the New Testament Jesus even gave some practical exercises for overcoming such arrogant pride: if a Roman soldier compels you to carry his pack a mile, carry it two miles. If a man demand your cloak, give him your shirt also. This is not about morality. It is about self-overcoming. Pride tends to lockdown the ego-nature into a “position,” a “stand point,” or a fixed “point of view”. So we could just as easily call “sinful pride”, narcissistic pride. This kind of pride tends to make an idol of the ego itself, which distorts and perverts its actual function in the overall psychic ecology, for it then becomes a blockage to that which Jesus taught as his the main purpose of his public mission: “I am come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly”.

That is the real nature of what is called “humility”, and the point that Castaneda’s teacher also brings home to him in describing the path of the warrior on his way to knowledge….

A man of knowledge chooses a path with heart and follows it; and then he looks and rejoices and laughs; and then he sees and he knows.  He knows that his life will be over altogether too soon;  he knows that he, as well as everybody else, is not going anywhere; he knows, because he sees, that nothing is more important than anything else.  In other words, a man of knowledge has no honor, no dignity, no family, no name, no country, but only life to be lived, and under these circumstances his only tie to his fellow men is his controlled folly. (see full context)

Very much the same teaching.


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  1. Controlled Folly | Essential Knowledge - 5 October, 2011

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