Friday, June 24, 2005

Today I started on Charles Taylor's somewhat massive Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity. Despite it being a philosophy book, I'm enjoying it immensely. Since reading Habits of the Heart and a few works on ancient anthropology, I've become very interested in the nature and problems of modern wetern notions of identity, and in alternatives thereunto.

In chapter 2, "The Self in Moral Space", Taylor has been speaking about the american "tradition" of independence. He traces this back to the Connecticut puritan teaching that children as they grow older must come to their own conversion experience and develop their own, independent, relationship with God. This has evolved into the "tradition" of leaving home to establish one's individual identity, building the virtue of self-reliance.

In order to see that the cultural shift to the ideal of self-reliance makes a difference, even in its debased form, we have only to compare it to a quite different culture. It matters that american young people are expected to be independent of their elders, even if this is one of the demands of the elders. Because what each young person is working out is an identity which is meant to be his/her own in the special sense that it could be sustained even against parental and social opposition. This identity is worked out in conversations with parents and consociates, but the nature of the conversation is defined by this notion of what an identity is. Compare this with Suhir Kakar's account of the upbringing of young Indians: "The yearning for the confirming presence of the loved person . . . is the dominant modality of social relations in India, especially within the extended family. This 'modality' is expressed variously but consistently, as in a person feeling of helplessness when family members are absent or his difficulty in making decisions alone. In short, Indians characteristically rely on the support of others to go through life and to deal with the exigencies imposed by the outside world."

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