I recently read an interview by a writer Mark Lilla in Exberliner, in which he observed the following about America: ‘Identity had been undermining the universal democratic ‘we’ on which solidarity can be built’…Its rhetoric is that we don’t share anything…Back then there was that ‘we’ that transcended personal identities…We need a ‘national narrative’ that brings people together for common purposes.’
Coming from a society where there was one norm — which was the ‘cultural norm’ and either you fit into the norm or you didn't, I found the multiplicities of norms in America liberating. Whatever sexuality, religion, race, ethnicity you were, you could be yourself without having to ‘hide’ the truth of who you were in order to be accepted by the society. Difference was no longer an outlier, but a value to be celebrated and appreciated by the society.
While a breakdown of one dominant norm into multiplicities of norms and the shift from homogenizing difference to celebrating difference was undoubtedly a ‘progress,’ when we had a choice to express the truth of who we were, we clung to one of the group identities available and willingly adopted the norms that came with it.
There was a difference between individuals gathering voices to fight for group rights and group representation as a political tool to push for more equality and inclusion — such as gay rights, women’s rights and minority rights AND individuals blindly subscribing to a group identity and willingly adopting the norms that came with it in the way they spoke, dressed and walked — individuals subsumed under a group identity, in which individuality is lost.
What started as asserting group rights in a push for more equality and inclusion seemed to have become blindly subscribing to one of the group identities and subcultures available, which ended up fracturing, rather than uniting the society in a shared pursuit of equality and inclusion. While each group seemingly wanted different things, what got lost in sight was that they were all fighting for the same thing, which was the civic values of equality and inclusion.
And what we sought in claiming an ‘identity’ was a group to belong to, for the fear of not belonging anywhere. Why were we so desperate to find a group to belong to rather than being an individual? Given American cult of individualism, it was ironic that the society was comprised of a series of group identities, rather than a series of individual identities.
The direction of progress in America was clear: there was a breakdown of one dominant norm into multiplicities of norms driven by the values of equality, inclusion and tolerance. Moving beyond where we stand now is overcoming the fear of being an individual and asserting ourselves as individuals, rather than blindly subscribing to one of the group identities available. A society that embraces difference values individual difference, rather than group difference, because everybody is different. The irony was that it was a society comprised of individual difference, rather than group difference, that would give solidarity to the society — the source of solidarity based on the civic values of equality and inclusion.
What has been driving the progress in America has been singularly the civic values of equality and inclusion — which was what served as the ‘the universal democratic ‘we’ on which solidarity can be built.’ A ‘national narrative’ that brings people together for common purposes was a nation that continues to strive for the civic values of equality and inclusion.