Facebook and Identity

I am not a fan of “identity”. Identity connotes belonging to exclusive groups such as a nation, religion or race. I believe your identity should come entirely from your personality (which is, no doubt, created mostly by the groups you belong to), meaning that, rather than being proudly and irrevocably bonded to a group, you choose your friends and affiliations with your values, not your “identity”, in mind. Your definition of identity is probably different from mine, but this is the one I disturbingly find most common.

A recent book by Amartya Sen called Identity and Violence: the Illusion of Destiny shows us the arbitrariness of collective identity with an example. Right now, if you are born within the confines of a set of borders, you become a member of an exclusive group. Well, with a little imagination, suppose that, instead of location of your birth, humans grouped ourselves based on shoe size. All the world’s size 9 people would form a nation and would possibly be contemplating war with the evil size 12 people across the border. But don’t people from the same country share values? Yes, because of their socialisation. If all size 9 people lived in one country and size 12s in another, they would be just as different as two different countries. I am just as opposed to identity based on national association as that based on shoe size.

That is one thing I love about the huge online networking site, Facebook. On Facebook you will find an incredible number of groups based on any common ground one could possibly find. People are linking together not over race or religion but on groups with names such as “Lisa Simpson for President” (334 members), “Blues dance keeps away my blues” (543 members) and “Addicted to Tim Horton’s” (4,600 members and counting). There are some thousand groups for fans of Grey’s Anatomy. There are plenty of serious causes, organisations, languages and so on, but I am intrigued by the other groups, the groups that, until the advent of Facebook (or at least, the internet), were not groups at all. And though they are not particularly serious groups on Facebook (“I wear glasses and therefore I’m cool” is not likely to replace England, Islam or African-American as a source of primary identity anytime soon), I believe they reveal, on a global scale, the futility of national, racial or other forms of identity. What this tells me is that the traditional, exclusive ideas of identity are collapsing all over the world and are not being replaced. I, for one, rejoice at the prospect.


I have been called judgemental by three people in my writing about China. At first I accepted it but I have since decided that I have been labeled with unfair abandon.

I will admit to being judgemental if you admit that anyone with an opinion is judgemental. Sometimes I am called judgemental for disagreeing with others’ actions or values, which may be fair; but can’t I complain about anything without being called judgemental? Or am I only allowed to complain about things from “my country”? Judging something means saying if it is good or bad. For example, am I judgemental because I believe that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s tight grip on power in China is wrong? So call me judgemental. So I think dictatorship is wrong because it tramples on universal human rights (which China signed up to) like freedom. The only people who do not value freedom are those who take theirs for granted or those who have not experienced it. (Incidentally, I would have posted this on my blog earlier but in China I am not allowed to use or view blogs.) This may also be a good time to mention that my values are not supplied by “my country”, since I don’t think of myself as having a country, but by my experiences. So are yours, actually. Go get more experience and then challenge your own views a little more.

Hate it or love it, I am a very opinionated person with strong ideas of what is right and wrong. And I am not closed minded, either. My beliefs are firm enough that I feel I know what is right and wrong and yet fluid enough that I continually challenge even my most basic principles. Next time don’t be so quick to throw around a label like “judgemental”. If you read this blog, you will have heard me judge many things and I am not about to stop saying what I think because I’m afraid of offending a few billion people. Instead of getting insulted, consider that I might be right.

The Hypocrisy of Modern Warfare

This post is directed at the American people who, popular jokes notwithstanding, hold their representatives in Congress and the White House accountable for their actions. Right now their actions are disastrous and the people have none but themselves to blame. The war in Iraq—and Afghanistan, but Americans seem to have all but forgotten about that one—whether justifiable or not, are not over and the people should stop their Congresspeople’s reckless, populist and myopic moves to end US involvement in those two countries.

Reckless: Pulling the troops out would confine the Iraqis to the civil war the extremists are so desperate to impose. An American presence can, if given time and suitable strategy, bring order. And I understand, you’re impatient. You live in an impatient culture. The United States is the country of drive thru fast food and seven minute abs, where every product promises instant success or satisfaction. Your reckless abandon in the wake of a terrorist attack led to a major war and since the Bush administration’s promises of instant success were unfounded, you didn’t get the McWar you were expecting. Too bad. If there is one thing the American people should have learned in their more than two hundred years as a nation, it is not to believe anything their government tells them. You fell for the lies, despite all protests and evidence to the contrary, so now you must deal with the mess you made.

Populist: Just because the people want to bring the boys back home does not make it a good idea. In 2003, the majority of Americans supported the war in Iraq; now they want it over. Congress is, of course, nothing more than the servants of the people, so they are ready to vote to bring the troops back to the US. Troops are dying in Iraq—so what did you expect? Did you really think that, just because they were American they were invincible? That only a small handful would die in a few weeks of fighting before democracy suddenly sprang from the ground to save everyone? I liken the US’s efforts in Iraq to a man stung by a bee who runs into the hive with a shotgun. The man is not equipped for fighting bees and will get harshly stung in his lust for revenge. Or to take the analogy further, the man was stung by a bee and attacked his cat. He picked the wrong target and is having his eyes scratched out. That is the price he pays for revenge.

On the populist note, many in the US wear little yellow ribbons and put similar symbols on the bumpers of their cars. “Support our troops” is very easy to say but no one seems to know how to do it. Everyone is in favour of supporting the troops and yet they approve of the tax cuts that cut the troops’ funding for the best equipment, their pay and their pensions. Support the troops—easy to say, inconvenient to do.

Instead of the two parties without any principles, consider voting Libertarian for a change. The Libertarian Party is one of principle that does not endorse costly and foolish military adventurism.

Myopic: Congress can’t see forward and is equally incapable of seeing behind it. Perhaps the politicians have forgotten that many of them heartily endorsed going to war in the first place. Now they advocate leaving? You fight a war until it is over. The two weeks it took to get to Baghdad were obviously not enough to finish the job. Leaving now would be only to have removed Saddam Hussein’s regime and killed thousands of people with no positive results. When Afghanistan was abandoned and forgotten after the end of the Cold War it became the place in which the biggest terrorist attack in history was planned. Iraq will be next if it is abandoned.

And with equally poor foresight, many are pushing for a withdrawal timetable and deadlines. What a boon for the extremist militas. All they would need to do is lie low for a while, perhaps gathering followers, wait for the US to leave and then come out of hiding and do their worst. As usual, innocent people and moderates who want peace will get caught in the middle and will be killed. Is that what you want? Or do you simply not care?

My proposal (though not just mine) for Iraq is to divide it. Like most countries, Iraq was demarcated by imperialists who did not understand the places they were drawing borders around. Iraq’s borders are archaic. Divide it along ethnic lines into smaller, more viable states that are easier for governments to control. There is very little national unity, the elected officials and security forces think only in terms of their ethnic groups, the Kurds have been pushing for independence for decades, and majority rule could exacerbate ethnic tensions. My fear with this proposal is a repeat of the horribly bloody partition of India; but could it be worse than what is already happening?

And even if I am wrong, even if there is no hope for security in Iraq for the next 100 years, the basic problem remains. Incensed after a terrorist attack or similar provocation, a populace will approve a war anywhere in the world; but the minute there is a chance that its soldiers will die, it thinks twice. It is extremely irresponsible to begin something as serious as a war and not finish it. Public approval is essential for a war. Supporting a war must be carefully considered and then not simply reneged. Sadly, we are fickle humans with fickle morals that shift with the news reports, and when things don’t go our way we change our minds. But when we throw our cheap but essential support behind a war we must not forget the goals of that war when the body bags come back, as they inevitably will. Anything less would be reckless hypocrisy.

I was considering ending this post there, but I feel compelled to continue. I have heard a number of arguments for recalling troops from Iraq and the best came from Richard Holbrooke, former US ambassador to the United Nations and columnist for the Washington Post. Read his article here. He reminds us that, not only are there not enough troops available to secure a victory, as poorly envisioned as that is (so let us envision order and democracy), but, most importantly, the White House is incapable of taking us there. An administration with no military experience thought it knew better than the generals in the field and dismissed their advice and all proposals they received out of hand. A defense secretary with a penchant for breaking the rules allowed (and perhaps approved) torture of Iraqis, no one prevented the post war looting of Baghdad or any of the destruction and violence that followed. As much as I would like to believe the words I wrote in the main body of this post, I have no confidence in George W. Bush, his team or Congress to judge what is best for Iraq. The only point I made that I feel needs reiterating is the following. If you are going to support something as serious as a war, do so with commensurate seriousness. ANYTHING LESS WOULD BE RECKLESS HYPOCRISY.