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Reader's Reflection: The Lies That Bind

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Perhaps the most important lesson here is that 'identity' is not just something we acquire and act from, but is also a marker (or signal) for how others treat us. Our identity determines what we do and also determines what others do to us. So identity is both personal (unique) and group (and therefore stereotype). Appiah takes pains to explain the dangers of essentialising identity because - whatever creed, country, colour, class or culture - this is almost always false because there isn't some innate inheritable quality about a person that determines his or her behaviour. To put it another way, a person's colour or class does not fully explain why a person does what he does. But our mental habits always make the mistake of thinking that this is the case. We essentialise.

Appiah writes as a seasoned lecturer, always ready to give examples so that the reader may understand and relate. In a section on Meritocracy – a term he uses witheringly – he speaks about the situation in Singapore with our CIMO classification and our insistence on a society built on the idea of (doctrine of?) meritocracy. Appiah reminds us that the term Meritocracy was coined by sociologist Michael Young who was trying to paint a dystopian future (based on Meritocracy) in a satirical work of literary fiction.

My take home point is this: Culture is something you acquire and transmit. It is not a racial, class, or credal inheritance. A culture is ours only if we care about it. In other words, the values of a culture represent choices to take. It is a process you join, in living a life with others.

 

The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity
by Kwame Anthony Appiah
Profile Books

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