Commonplace Book #1

Hence the concept of identity as it is now understood would not even rise in most traditional human societies.  For much of the last ten thousand years  of human history, the vast majority of people lived in settled agrarian communities.  In such societies, social roles are both limited and fixed: a strict hierarchy is based on age and gender; everyone has the same occupation (farming or raising children and minding a household); one’s entire life is lived in the same village with a limited circle of friends and neighbors; one’s religion and beliefs are shared by all; and social mobility–moving away from the village, choosing a different occupation, or marrying someone not chosen by one’s parents–is virtually impossible.  Such societies have neither pluralism, nor diversity, nor choice.  Given this lack of choice , it did not make  sense for an individual to sit around and brood over the question “Who am I, really ?”   All of these characteristics that make up an inner self are fixed.

–Francis Fukuyama, Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment.

2 thoughts on “Commonplace Book #1

  1. I come from a long, long line of farmers. I know that one’s reputation for honesty, industriousness, and other positive traits was critical. If you weren’t honest you would have trouble dealing within your community. It was pretty much a matter of survival.
    In these days, excepting the little remaining truly rural areas, its different. You can be found to be dishonest at one business and just go to any number of others nearby.
    You can stir up trouble in your church and switch to one of many others if you have worn out your welcome.
    Use of the internet pulls us out of a lot of interactions with others in person.
    These things and others reduce the need to maintain a good reputation and goes hand in hand with the American tendency for independence.


  2. I have not read the book but Mr. Fukuyama appears to be “onto something” here. American society today is obsessed with individual expression and distinctive identity. Many citizens are wont to characterize themselves first and foremost by ethnicity, gender, sexual expression, or political affiliation, Furthermore, these same people consider these identities to be a badge far more important than their deeper character traits.


Comments are closed.