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Hardcover Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny Book

ISBN: 0393060071

ISBN13: 9780393060072

Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny

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Book Overview

Profound and humane, Amartya Sen's Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny examines some of the most explosive problems of our time and shows how we can move towards peace as firmly as we have... This description may be from another edition of this product.

Customer Reviews

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A prayer for freedom of identity

Sen is so eloquent it's overkill. To a global but divided world he speaks of identity as a multi-layered matter of personal choice: "The same person can, for example, be a British citizen, of Malaysian origen, with Chinese racial characteristics, a stock broker, a non-vegitarian, an asthmatic, a linguist, a bodybuilder, a poet, an opponent of abortion, a bird-watcher, an astrologer, and one who believes that God invented Darwin to test the gullible." (p. 24) Sen notes several popular ways of dealing with identity. One he calls "identity disregard", and another is "singular affiliation". In "identity disregard" we dismiss all shared identity, and treat each person as an economic self-interest group of one. As some proponents of this view argue, "If it's not in your interest, why have you chosen to do as you did?". Sen notes that this assumption, "makes huge idiots out of Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela, and rather smaller idiots out of the rest of us." (p. 21) "Singular affiliation" on the other hand, defines people by their membership in one (only one) of their many social circles. This can be an externally imposed label, as in stereotypes of what Westerners are, or in can be self-imposed general conformity -- as when Oscar Wilde said, "Most people are other people. ... Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation". Feeling both social and an individual, Sen launches his excellent exporation of identity in the modern world. He visits the great "West VS Non-West" divide, where he dispenses with the usual hoopla: "... in disputing the gross and natsy generalization that members of the Islamic civilization have a belligerant culture, it is common enough to argue that they actually share a culture of peace and goodwill. But this simply replaces one stereotype with another, and furthermore, it involves accepting an implicit presumption that people who happen to be Muslim by religion would be similar in other ways as well." (p. 42) In many corners of the world Sen shows the subtle handicaps which delimited identy can impose. He mentions South African doctor and anti-apartheid activist Mamphela Ramphele, who describes the impact of polarized identity on the AIDS crisis: The "mistrust of science that has traditionally been controlled by white people" hampers medical efforts; open discussion of the problem is often suppressed by "the fear of acknowledging an epidemic that could easily be used to fan the worst racial stereotyping". (p. 92) Always sounding magisterial, Sen wades into the home-town issues of British multiculturalism, political correctitude, and the struggles of "globalism vs anti-globalism". He distinguishes between the desire for ethnic groups to leave one another alone, and the desire for a freedom to choose among many cultural options. To those who urge funding schools for each religion he is blunt: "It is unfair to children who have not ye

identity need not mean violent destiny

Amartya Sen, Harvard professor and winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Economics, still remembers the day sixty-three years ago when a Muslim day laborer named Kader Mia stumbled through the gate into his family's yard in Dhaka, bleeding from knife wounds and begging for help. His father rushed him to the hospital where he eventually died. Kader was a Muslim who was murdered by a Hindu thug, and was but one of the thousands of people who died in Muslim-Hindu riots that erupted in British India in the 1940's. Although most of the rioters shared an economic class identity as poor people, partisans demonized each other with a lethal, singularist "identity of violence," in this instance a diminution of their humanity to religious ethnicity: "The illusion of a uniquely confrontational reality had thoroughly reduced human beings and eclipsed the protagonists' freedom to think." Sen's book is an exploration of this memory of his as a bewildered eleven-year-old boy. Far too much violence in the world today is fomented by the illusion that people are destined to a "sectarian singularity." Stereotyping people with a singular identity leads to fatalism, resignation, and a sense of inevitability about violence. It partitions people and civilizations into binary oppositions, it ignores the plural ways that people understand themselves, and obscures what Sen calls our "diverse diversities." In particular, he objects to the "clash of civilizations" thesis made popular by Samuel Huntington. Along the way he explores the implications of his thesis for multiculturalism, public policy, globalization, terrorism, anti-Western rage, democracy, and theories of culture. Sen argues against identity violence caused by the illusion of destiny in three ways. First, he appeals to our common humanity; everyone laughs at weddings, cries at funerals, and worries about their children. More important than any of our external differences, even though these are powerful and important, is our shared humanity. Second, he makes the obvious point that all people enjoy plural identities. To understand a person one must consider factors of civilization, religion, nationality, class, community, culture, gender, profession, language, politics, morals, family of origin, skin color, and a multitude of other markers. Plus, these diverse differences within a single individual depend on one's social context, whether the trait is durable over time, relevant, a factor of constraint or free choice, and so on. Finally, Sen urges us to transcend the illusion of destiny and identity violence by what he calls "reasoned choice." Instead of living as if some irrational fate destines people to confrontation with others who are different, a person needs to make a rational choice about what relative importance to attach to any single trait. Although Sen never explains why rational people succumb to the irrational violence of identity instead of choosing enlightened self-interest, econ

Some people don't like reading these thoughts

Amartya Sen's "Identity and Violence" is an excellent, perceptive and penetrating book. The reviews by the Washington Post and Publishers Weekly are rather obtuse. There is nit-picking to avoid the reality that Sen has shown Huntington's clashes of civilisations thesis to be fatally flawed, for example, and the reality of Maimonides' flight from Spain to refuge in Islamic lands rather than to jew-hating Christian Europe, and the reality of others of Sen's examples. Saying that his writing style is dry (I didn't find it so) simply suggests the level of literacy of the reviewer and perhaps most of the reviewer's audience. Some of the negative reviews by individuals are obviously written by people pre-determined to not like what this author says. Saying that Sen's thesis about multiple identities is no good because the Islamic terrorists don't think that way rather neatly avoids his point that far too many in "the West" think the same way as the Islamic terrorists in this regard. The attitude of many of the reviewers simply illuminates Sen's point that too many people on both of the artificial "sides" actually WANT to scream at each other across their imagined single-criterion divide. I urge everyone to bypass the more negative of the reviews posted here, and to go read this book and judge for themselves. I was certainly enriched by reading it. Perfect? No, but immensely worth reading. I wish it was required reading in schools around the world.

For Every Rational Being

This is a work that is at once literate, insightful, and witty. Dr. Sen discusses how the narrowness of self-definition has and does lead to violence among groups who, if they but thought more critically about it, have far more that binds them in common concern than that divides them into antagonistic camps. He also discusses how over generalizing can also dismiss the legitimate concerns especially of minorities. He does this in language that is a pleasure to read and with a mind that is at once incisive and also compassionate. The humor comes from recognition of how easily humans are led away from finding common ground by those who benefit most from keeping peoples divided. This book is a necessary read for anyone who still prizes the ability to think critically and broadly.

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Creating awareness and spreading the message conveyed through this book, would bring us a world devoid of most of the problems we face today.
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