about pride and identity

Many times have we had this conversation, my husband and I. The one about national pride and the impossibility to rationalise it. He says he is proud of being Dutch. That he cannot help it, he is proud of the history, of the spirit, of the resourcefulness, of the heritage of art, of the mentality that made him what he is. And, having lived there, I can see how you would be proud of a functional and prosperous society, of the freedom to think and of the level of trust that makes it all work. However, ask him and he will tell you of how the great history that led to the Golden Age of world-famous painting is also colonial history, and not always one to be happy about. Ask him about the word `apartheid` and he will grin sadly and say `yes, one of our international words we are least proud to have exported`. Ask him about current politics and he will start muttering. Ask him about Dutch-colonised holiday resorts and he will almost cross his fingers at you in horror – as in never-ever will we ever go to such places! But essentially, he is this… thing that he is… proud of.

The reason I myself have trouble with this concept is mixed. Primarily, I suppose I am heavily influenced by the last 23 years of Romanian history and the very necessary deconstruction of all propagandistic national identity toposes that we had been fed before ’89. Perhaps to such an extent that I have gotten to the point where I threw out the child with the bath water and felt that the simple construct of national identity has such harmful potential that I need to distance myself from it as far as I can.

Related to the same period of history, aside from the meta effort of deconstruction, I suppose the disillusionment with the apparent inability of the people inhabiting my country to build anything for a `together` and to see farther in the future than the day after tomorrow brought a layer of `very little to be, objectively, proud of`. (Which is a partial truth, of course: apart from the political hell, there are enough people and projects to love in that country, but I find it difficult to inscribe them in any `national` logic).

However, these two considerations are sort of… contextual influences on why I have trouble with the pride concept. I’m afraid that, in a more general sense, I have come to believe (and I hope to stand corrected if this proves to be wrong) that the assumption of any kind of group identity as an essential, defining element of one’s personal identity is inherently risky. (Which might be seen by oh so many religious people as extremely individualistic and lacking humility in the highest degree, I am the first to admit it. But…) Somehow assuming collective identity above one’s own identity seems an abandonment of one’s own critical spirit, a surrendering of one’s responsibility for the things one cannot/would not want to control, it seems comfortable in a dangerous way, it seems mind-closing in a `wir haben es nicht gewusst` way. In-groups are never wide enough for my taste, they are always defined as an `us` opposed in some fundamental way to `others`, whom we might, at some point, choose to feel less than tolerant of. Especially if anything goes wrong for us. It’s the `purpose bigger than myself`, and implicitly, bigger than my personal accountability, that seems to me to be dodgy. Do I make any sense?

I realise at the same time that the way I am thinking right now might just be the exact reason for which no national project is feasible in Romania right now. What if everyone is doing exactly that, using their own critical spirit in overdrive and refusing to feel any connection to a collective entity that would need developing and working together? And still, in-group arguments (often sustained with tons of stereotypes) and pride for things that one is not personally responsible of give me the creeps…


later edit: I found out that my argument is flawed due to the so-called Slippery slope fallacy. Which consists of mistrusting a moderate position because of the fact that the extreme position on the same continuum is unacceptable. I am still chewing away at the obviousness of the distance between moderate and extreme, but I thought it was important to acknowledge the point.

5 year later edit: historically, the slope seems to have been exactly as slippery as assumed.


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