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.