Rethinking Identity

​Kwame Anthony Appiah is probably most well known for his book Cosmopolitanism (2006). His most recent book, "The Lies that Bind: Rethinking Identity" (2018) explores forms of identities (gender, religion, race, nationality, class, culture), on a chapter-by-chapter basis. The arguments deconstruct these identities, ultimately leading toward a cosmopolitanist case in the conclusion. Essentially, each chapter seeks to cast a sufficient amount of doubt about any Truth claim relating to identity, such that it would be questioned, contested, and to an extent negated as a Truth claim (and held as a truth claim amongst many equally true truth claims). Each deconstruction is rooted in post-modernist relativism. At the outset, the foundation is described as follows: "The French sociologist Pierre Bourdie put it this way. Each of us has what he called a habitus: a set of dispositions to respond more or less spontaneously to the world in particular ways, without much thought. Your habitus is trained into you starting from childhood. Parents tell you not to speak with your mouth full, to sit up straight, not to touch your food with your left hand, and so on, and thus form table manners that are likely to stick with you all your life." (21) From this, analogies are drawn to all forms of identity. 

The cosmopolitan conclusion is: "Once we abandon organicism, we can take up the more cosmopolitan picture in which every element of culture - from philosophy or cuisine to the style of bodily movement - is separable in principle from all the others; you really can walk and talk in a way that's recognizably African-American and commune with Immanuel Kant and George Eliot, as well as Bessie Smith and Martin Luther King Jr. No Muslim essence stops individual inhabitants of Dar al-Islam from taking up anything from the Western Civ. syllabus, including democracy. No Western essence is there to stop a New Yorker of any ancestry taking up Islam." (207) "When it comes to the compass of our concern and compassion, humanity as a whole is not too broad a horizon. We live with 7 billion fellow humans on a small, warming planet. The cosmopolitan impulse that draws on our common humanity is no longer a luxury; it has become a necessity." (219) 

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