Americans’ Identity Crises

 

As we look for solutions to the problems that plague the country, I think it’s sometimes helpful to look past the surface and dig deeper to what might be called indirect causes. That’s what this offering attempting to do. Certainly, no big problem is caused by just one thing, but could there be one or two common indirect causes to more than one problem. I kind of think so. Here, I want to suggest one of those possible indirect causes.

I hope you didn’t misread the title of this little of this post. I’m not suggesting that our nation has an identity crisis, though that may be the case. I suspect that hundreds of millions of our fellow citizens (and probably all of us to some degree or another) are suffering from a personal crisis of identity. People of not sure of who they are and what they are supposed to do, and in their grasping for identity, they engage in certain behaviors, some of which are benign, and others that are damaging.

A person’s self-identity, in my estimation, comes from two primary areas: a sense of belonging and a sense of purpose. We all desperately want to matter to someone, be it through a relationship or through an accomplishment. While mattering to others has at times been a tenuous prospect, our society makes our mattering even more challenging than in the past. The breakdown of the family has contributed, as have the emergence of isolating technologies and the changes in how people earn a living. What has emerged is a nation of underemployed and isolated people who are lonely and bitter.

The results run from the innocuous to the dangerous. Results all along the spectrum may include sports fanaticism, racial division, the rise in people getting tattoos, gangs, drug and alcohol dependence, a dropping birth rate, gender dysphoria as a trend, hyper-partisan politics, mass shootings, and conspiracy theories.

People need to know that they matter. They need to know that they have intrinsic value, but they also need to find a place where they can belong and make a difference. As with so many things of tremendous importance, government is largely powerless to help. Solving this problem will come from us. Our families and our churches and our communities must rededicate ourselves to the simple tasks of respecting, serving, and welcoming others. Maybe then, people will become less isolated and less desperate, and less angry.

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  1. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    First post?  It’s a good one.

    • #1
  2. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    Someone in an aviation magazine observed that ‘If you do anything with your airplane that is inconsistent with the Pilot’s Operating Handbook, then you are a test pilot.’

    In a society, the POH is comprised not only for formal laws, but of customs, implicit understandings, shared history, common literary and musical references, etc.

    Some pilots like being test pilots, and thrive on the role. But many perfectly good pilots would want no part of the job.

    Similarly in a society…some people like and can handle a life of self-definition, of being a ‘test pilot’.  Others think they would like this, but find out that they do not. And others find it disorienting and unpleasant.

    • #2
  3. Kirk Spears Coolidge
    Kirk Spears
    @Kirk Spears

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    First post? It’s a good one.

    It is my first. Thanks.

    • #3
  4. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    Although government is largely powerless to help people with their need to belong and to make a difference, government can do (and has done) a lot to harm people’s interests in belonging and making a difference.  

    Government policies have told women they don’t need husbands (government will send a check instead), so young men lose their roles as providers and family leaders (and even family members).

    Excessive government licensing rules put barriers in the paths of people who want to participate and to contribute. 

    In 2020 (and beyond in many places) governments sent messages that many people heard as, “Do not participate in society. Your participation adds nothing to society, but does create an unacceptable level of health risk.” Governments also sent people money to get them to stop contributing to society. Many people have not recovered their interest in belonging and contributing, and I fear some will never recover.

    Governments told groups in which people were participating to stop letting people participate in group activities. 

    Government cannot provide purpose to a person who lacks it, but government do a lot to prevent or to discourage a person who seeks it.

    • #4
  5. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Kirk Spears: A person’s self-identity, in my estimation, comes from two primary areas: a sense of belonging and a sense of purpose.

    Mine derives from a sense of satire. That is why I identify as a dragon of color.

    Kirk Spears (View Comment):

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    First post? It’s a good one.

    It is my first. Thanks.

    Welcome, Kirk!

    • #5
  6. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Too many people have decided they are most comfortable making their primary relationships with the government, not with family, friends and neighbors. Government makes few demands and offers less risk. It will continue to drive us apart unless we make a concerted effort to re-establish our relationships with each other.

    Welcome!

    • #6
  7. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    Kirk Spears:

    I hope you didn’t misread the title of this little of this post.

    Have no fear—you did not over-estimate the reading level of your new collaborators! I would wager that between one and three of us didn’t.

    I did. Twice. But I re-read it again just now after a few hours’ break and a glass of red wine, and was able finally to read it correctly.

    • #7
  8. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    Sebastian Haffner, who grew up in Germany between the wars, wrote an invaluable memoir of his observations and experiences.  He notes that when the political and economic situation began to stabilize significantly (credited to Gustav Stresemann), most people were happy…but not everyone:

    A generation of young Germans had become accustomed to having the entire content of their lives delivered gratis, so to speak, by the public sphere, all the raw material for their deeper emotions…Now that these deliveries suddeny ceased, people were left helpless, impoverished, robbed, and disappointed. They had never learned how to live from within themselves, how to make an ordinary private life great, beautiful and worth while, how to enjoy it and make it interesting. So they regarded the end of political tension and the return of private liberty not as a gift, but as a deprivation. They were bored, their minds strayed to silly thoughts, and they began to sulk…

    To be precise (the occasion demands precision, because in my opinion it provides the key to the contemporary period of history): it was not the entire generation of young Germans. Not every single individual reacted in this fashion. There were some who learned during this period, belatedly and a little clumsily, as it were, how to live. they began to enjoy their own lives, weaned themselves from the cheap intoxication of the sports of war and revolution, and started to develop their own personalities. It was at this time that, invisibly and unnoticed, the Germans divided into those who later became Nazis and those who would remain non-Nazis.

    We have a lot of people in America today who seem to need the entire content of their lives…all the raw material for their deeper emotions delivered by the public sphere.

     

    • #8
  9. Kirk Spears Coolidge
    Kirk Spears
    @Kirk Spears

    David Foster (View Comment):

    Sebastian Haffner, who grew up in Germany between the wars, wrote an invaluable memoir of his observations and experiences. He notes that when the political and economic situation began to stabilize significantly (credited to Gustav Stresemann), most people were happy…but not everyone:

    A generation of young Germans had become accustomed to having the entire content of their lives delivered gratis, so to speak, by the public sphere, all the raw material for their deeper emotions…Now that these deliveries suddeny ceased, people were left helpless, impoverished, robbed, and disappointed. They had never learned how to live from within themselves, how to make an ordinary private life great, beautiful and worth while, how to enjoy it and make it interesting. So they regarded the end of political tension and the return of private liberty not as a gift, but as a deprivation. They were bored, their minds strayed to silly thoughts, and they began to sulk…

    To be precise (the occasion demands precision, because in my opinion it provides the key to the contemporary period of history): it was not the entire generation of young Germans. Not every single individual reacted in this fashion. There were some who learned during this period, belatedly and a little clumsily, as it were, how to live. they began to enjoy their own lives, weaned themselves from the cheap intoxication of the sports of war and revolution, and started to develop their own personalities. It was at this time that, invisibly and unnoticed, the Germans divided into those who later became Nazis and those who would remain non-Nazis.

    We have a lot of people in America today who seem to need the entire content of their lives…all the raw material for their deeper emotions delivered by the public sphere.

     

    I can definitely see parallels in what you are saying. I think it’s not just the young, in our contemporary situation.

    • #9
  10. Ansonia Member
    Ansonia
    @Ansonia

    Wow.

    ”We all desperately want to matter to someone, be it through a relationship or through an accomplishment.”

    Kirk Spears, this is a phenomenal post. Thank you.

    • #10
  11. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    Excellent post. Perhaps, though, if I may tweak your thought, it’s not in a lack of identity, but grasping onto identities that are no good. I don’t know if it’s humanly possible to lack identities. But grasping onto detrimental identities- drug culture, rap culture, for example – does effect a person’s soul. 

    • #11
  12. Cassandro Coolidge
    Cassandro
    @Flicker

    Manny (View Comment):

    Excellent post. Perhaps, though, if I may tweak your thought, it’s not in a lack of identity, but grasping onto identities that are no good. I don’t know if it’s humanly possible to lack identities. But grasping onto detrimental identities- drug culture, rap culture, for example – does effect a person’s soul.

    I agreed with you at first.  I thought personality might be better.

    But identity, person, personality, and identify are all related.

    *Identity is the condition of being the same as something else, OR psychologically
    personal identity means a person’s being the same through various phases of existence, or continuity of personality.
    *Person means an individual human being.
    *Personality is the unique characteristics or qualities which make a person what he is, as distinct from other persons; individual character.

    *But to identify means to make identical, in thought or reality, to consider, regard, or treat as the same.
    *Identifying means to make one, in interest, feeling, principle, or action; to associate inseparably.

    And thus the use of “I identify as…”  This means to unite with someone or something specific, and to regard oneself the same in feeling or principle the same as another.

    So it makes great sense for Kirk to say that people “are suffering from a personal crisis of identity”, in that they want to be recognized, and to recognize themselves, as part of a particular group which will give them “a sense of belonging and a sense of purpose.”

    Using “identity” to mean an individual human being regarding himself (or herself) as one with others in feeling, principle, and action, seems just right.

    • #12
  13. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    Cassandro (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):

    Excellent post. Perhaps, though, if I may tweak your thought, it’s not in a lack of identity, but grasping onto identities that are no good. I don’t know if it’s humanly possible to lack identities. But grasping onto detrimental identities- drug culture, rap culture, for example – does effect a person’s soul.

    I agreed with you at first. I thought personality might be better.

    But identity, person, personality, and identify are all related.

    *Identity is the condition of being the same as something else, OR psychologically
    personal identity means a person’s being the same through various phases of existence, or continuity of personality.
    *Person means an individual human being.
    *Personality is the unique characteristics or qualities which make a person what he is, as distinct from other persons; individual character.

    *But to identify means to make identical, in thought or reality, to consider, regard, or treat as the same.
    *Identifying means to make one, in interest, feeling, principle, or action; to associate inseparably.

    And thus the use of “I identify as…” This means to unite with someone or something specific, and to regard oneself the same in feeling or principle the same as another.

    So it makes great sense for Kirk to say that people “are suffering from a personal crisis of identity”, in that they want to be recognized, and to recognize themselves, as part of a particular group which will give them “a sense of belonging and a sense of purpose.”

    Using “identity” to mean an individual human being regarding himself (or herself) as one with others in feeling, principle, and action, seems just right.

    Some deep thoughts in there Cassandro. I’ll have to think about it. 

    • #13
  14. Cassandro Coolidge
    Cassandro
    @Flicker

    Manny (View Comment):

    Cassandro (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):

    Excellent post. Perhaps, though, if I may tweak your thought, it’s not in a lack of identity, but grasping onto identities that are no good. I don’t know if it’s humanly possible to lack identities. But grasping onto detrimental identities- drug culture, rap culture, for example – does effect a person’s soul.

    I agreed with you at first. I thought personality might be better.

    But identity, person, personality, and identify are all related.

    *Identity is the condition of being the same as something else, OR psychologically
    personal identity means a person’s being the same through various phases of existence, or continuity of personality.
    *Person means an individual human being.
    *Personality is the unique characteristics or qualities which make a person what he is, as distinct from other persons; individual character.

    *But to identify means to make identical, in thought or reality, to consider, regard, or treat as the same.
    *Identifying means to make one, in interest, feeling, principle, or action; to associate inseparably.

    And thus the use of “I identify as…” This means to unite with someone or something specific, and to regard oneself the same in feeling or principle the same as another.

    So it makes great sense for Kirk to say that people “are suffering from a personal crisis of identity”, in that they want to be recognized, and to recognize themselves, as part of a particular group which will give them “a sense of belonging and a sense of purpose.”

    Using “identity” to mean an individual human being regarding himself (or herself) as one with others in feeling, principle, and action, seems just right.

    Some deep thoughts in there Cassandro. I’ll have to think about it.

    Having more time to think about it, let me try to simplify my thinking.  Identity means finding or asserting sameness.  Personal identity means sameness of individual human being over time.  But identity also means to attribute sameness, or to regard as the same, or to regard as one (which also involves an outside observational awareness).

    I think it’s fair to say that people who look to be regarded as the same as others, a desire to fit in, are asserting or assuming a particular identity that they didn’t have before.  This has holes, but it seems the best way of looking at it — they go from having no identity to having one.

    (And I haven’t even gotten into spiritual identification and the empty vessel.)

    • #14
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