Finding a National Identity in an Age of Micro-Cultures
As of recent, I’ve encountered some politically and philosophically minded people who have found intriguing ways to bring up interesting and controversial topics. I’ve heard identitarians, nationalists, and libertarian-inclined folk state why their ideologies were seemingly the most sensible way not only to govern a people but also being more sensible landscapes for individual freedoms to be utilized. I will likely write on the other ideas that were discussed when I spoke with these people, but for now, I want to focus on identity on a national scale.
I particularly want to examine these questions:
- What is the current state of American identity.
- What could a national identity look like in present America?
- Is it worth pursuing?
Let’s dig in!
The Current State of the American Identity
I view the American identity as being divided up into actual segments and marketed segments. The actual segments are the aspects and people of the culture as they are. What distinguishes this from the marketed segments is that these parts are usually only seen known by those within the culture and often not portrayed in the media. The marketed segments are the aspects of American cultures (micro and macro) that are commodified and then given to us via the media. This practice can lock groups into specific ways of being viewed. This could be for better or worse. If a group within the commodified culture begins to subdivide itself based on those within the group who conform to the media-established identity and those who do not conform to that standard, then the identity within that entire culture will be fractured. If this occurs on smaller and smaller levels within America, then how could this possibly be turned towards forming an identity on a larger scale? I believe that this fractured identity is what exists within many of present America’s micro-cultures. This leads me to wonder how a national identity would exist presently.
What Could a National Identity Look Like in Present America
At a first glance, I would view a modern American identity as all-encompassing while maintaining respect for its micro-cultures. The micro-cultures would feel more like spokes of a wheel that contribute to the stability of the entire wheel (the wheel in its entirety would be the macro culture). Currently, the micro-cultures are groups of people that sit in a liminal threshold occasionally affecting other groups from afar. Some of these effects are permanent, others aren’t.
If an American identity were to utilize a wheel model, then I would imagine each micro-culture having a similar stake in national affairs. The state of America immediately following 9/11 is a prime example of this. Patriotism was high and the national identity was strong. The American was now united against the largest threat to the larger America and the smaller American. Over time, the enemy and the overarching goal would become obscured. With this in mind, I feel it is too easy to claim that we simply need a clearly defined adversary to unite Americans. I think there are better methods than this. Maybe healthy competition between other nations could foster this (i.e. the Olympics). I would love to see Americans rally around the idea of becoming the most educated country or the best in a specific quality. That’s a very general idea, but it hits at what I want to get across. It seems that a national identity in America would find a balance between patriotism, nationalism, and a real target/goal/adversary that constantly shifts its level of intensity. The target must be real. If it were fake and then later exposed, this would cause Americans to feel disillusioned. An example of this is how Americans feel about the war on terror.
Is it worth pursuing?
This depends on the unifying force. If we rally around becoming the most educated country on the planet, then I would say yes. I say yes because I feel that this is a goal that can be opened up to the majority of Americans. Pouring public funds into education is a long-term payoff that ultimately benefits the country. Helping communities with fewer educational opportunities obtain more opportunities to effective schooling will help those communities gain autonomy and would allow for less government involvement in their daily lives. This could allow the federal government to focus on larger-scale issues while smaller forms of government handle smaller-scale problems.
Now, if the unifying force is based on war, then I would say the moments following the conclusion of that war would be almost more important than the war itself. When the unifying force fades there will be a moment to salvage the national identity formed by it before its completely gone. This would mean rallying the fervor of the people and focusing it into a goal that only exists as a result of the war being concluded. This is almost like taking care of a stray animal. Once the animal is safe and in a happy home you then have the responsibility of providing a good life for the animal over a long period of time. This is mostly due to having a love for the animal because of the time you invested in taking care of them. After the investment of war, which is ultimately owned by the sacrifices of those fighting the war, we are left with the peace that follows. Because that peace was hard-fought, I would like to believe that we would rally around the need to maintain it (but hopefully without going so far as to unnecessarily start another war to maintain that peace).
These are my thoughts so far on national identity. I’m sure there are a bunch of historical examples of things like this being fought for and then going wrong. Aside from the obvious ones (World Wars), please drop comments below that pick apart these ideas. Thanks for reading.