David Brooks is perhaps my favorite news columnist. He just has a way of understanding the heart of the matter. I don’t usually miss a Friday PBS Newshour show where he and Mark Shields discuss the week. In order to make sure I see all his articles I just started an e-subcription to the New York Times. Here is what he says about dominant identity:
We’re even seeing a wave of voluntary reductionism. People feel besieged, or they’re intellectually lazy, so they reduce themselves to one category. Being an evangelical used to mean practicing a certain form of faith. But “evangelical” has gone from being an adjective to a noun, a simplistic tribal identity that commands Republican affiliation….
The only way out of this mess is to continually remind ourselves that each human is a conglomeration of identities: ethnic, racial, professional, geographic, religious and so on. Even each identity itself is not one thing but a tradition of debate about the meaning of that identity. Furthermore, the dignity of each person is not found in the racial or ethnic category that each has inherited, but in the moral commitments that each individual has chosen and lived out. Getting out of this mess also means accepting the limits of social science. The judgments of actual voters are better captured in the narratives of journalism and historical analysis than in the brutalizing correlations of big data…
But there has to be a rejection of single-identity thinking and a continual embrace of the reality that each of us is a mansion with many rooms.
I have to admit up front that the word Evangelical is a very negative one for me. It means only caring about one issue and abandoning everything that Christianity really means to me. Being an Evangelical, like the word liberal, was once a noble label to wear proudly but it has now come to mean a completely different thing.
I am a person of many labels. I could probably fill up the rest of my 500 word limit on this post with them. Yes my labels are primarily things I am passionate about; I will simply not be defined by any one of them alone. But as David Brooks says above too many have done just that and almost hang their total being on one label. Are they just intellectually lazy as he suggests? I kind of think so.
When we fix labels to people it is just easier to put them on one particular cubby hole and disregard the rest of the person.
- If you are deaf you must therefore be dumb. I run across this one quite frequently.
- If you are a liberal you must be a Communist or at least a Socialist.
- If you are a Christian you must be anti-science.
- If you voted for Trump are either a narrow minded Evangelical or a card carrying member of the KKK and bent on the destruction of our country.
Labels allow us to put each other into very small boxes that are easier to despise and hate. To identify with a dominant identity is to belittle ourselves. It takes work to step back and see the total person. The intellectually lazy will never make the effort. But I hold out hope that most of us can see beyond the labels people attach to us.
I am a dreamer in that, and many other regards I guess….