Values and Identity

By Colin Turfus

We hear much about “values” and “identity” in discussions in the media these days. Often the debate about values is specifically around so-called “British values”; and the discussion about identity is often in the context of what is referred to as “identity politics.” The discourse on both these topics in my experience tends to be tedious and unilluminating, so I would like to try and consider these topics from a fresh perspective, in particular to look at their relationship and consider what light the one can shine on the other.

What Do I Mean by Values?

In relation to values, it is often assumed that, to be worthy of the name, they need to be universal or universalisable, i.e. worthy or capable of being upheld by all people, conceptually at all times (although this last idea is rather difficult to square with the commonly held perception that values somehow evolve as the human race becomes more “enlightened”). One of the consequences of this approach is that the concept of “British values” becomes almost an oxymoron, and we tend only to list amongst them things like “fairness,” “democracy” and “respect for the rule of law” which we would advocate that all people in all nations should adopt on the basis of their self-evident merit, arguing to that end along the lines of Kant’s categorical imperative.

Personally, I consider Kant’s philosophy to be unduly influential in our public debate, not least in his insistence on universalisability as a means of determining rules for what constitutes the good. While such arguments are helpful if we wish to compel others to adopt a mandated value perspective, or at least to behave and speak in public as if they did, much of what we really mean by “values” is not really universal at all; indeed it is often quite idiosyncratic and personal. Not only that, I would even propose that idiosyncratic value perspectives are crucial in bringing people together in social groupings and enable the members thereof to see themselves as distinct from members of other groupings on the basis not only of what Aristotle would refer to as the telos, or intrinsic purpose, of the group but also of the values to which this telos gives rise.

What I am arguing, therefore, is that we should think of values as inhabiting intersecting spheres, mirroring the fact that as multifaceted individuals we ourselves inhabit separate spheres in our lives, such as work, family, sports clubs, choirs, and discussion groups, each with its own telos and its own values, some of which may be universal and others of which may be highly exclusive. What I want to emphasise is that those which are universal are not necessarily higher or more important than others. Indeed they probably only offer a lowest common denominator. Who would wish it to be said as their epitaph only that they always did what was required of them? Or that they never strayed even once into political incorrectness? Surely a life replete with value has to go beyond the mundane and be infused with some idiosyncratic personal passion?

Problems with Conflicting Values

Another common misunderstanding—and this brings me on to the question of identity—is the opposite one: that when we feel the values of some particular group are antithetical to our own, there is some onus on us to show respect for the values of that group and indeed for whatever is the object of their valuing. To my mind that is not just nonsense but dangerous nonsense. The group and their values are different precisely because they are idiosyncratic, not universal. To demand that we respect the values and the valuing of another group is to suggest that we should adopt in some measure their idiosyncrasies. But in order to do so, we must at the same time relinquish hold on some of those associated with our own group (and identity). Thus we are required to pay homage to the values of groups to which we do not belong, and so to sublimate our own values. Presumably the other group is expected to reciprocate. As can be seen, if we were to take this process to its logical conclusion, our very identity, shaped as this is by the groups we belong to and the aims and activities we share with their members, will be undermined.

Much of such discussion about respect for other people’s values revolves around the idea of rights, which of course are inextricably linked with universalisability. Human rights law does indeed protect freedom of expression and freedom of conscience. Consequently there is an onus on each of us to respect the rights of individuals and groups to hold and give expression to their values, but not necessarily to respect the values (or objects of valuing) themselves. Of course, if the expression of “values” is antithetical to universal rights held by others, or worse illegal, even the right of expression is curtailed.

In summary, “values” may by their nature and the role they play in our social lives divide us as much as they unite us, and to believe or wish otherwise is not just mistaken, but potentially dangerous as it may result in drawing groups into unnecessary conflict and undermining their ethos and the seminal role they play in underpinning civil society. Protecting spheres of value requires a judicious measure of separation to be maintained between social groupings. There can be such a thing as too much “unity”.

Problems with Multiple Identities?

As I have suggested above, the idiosyncratic values we hold to are a reflection of the social groupings we belong to (or used to) and vice versa. These give rise in a natural way to our identity, which will naturally be multi-faceted. This state of affairs and the recognition of the ultimate incommensurability of diverse value perspectives has given rise in the modern era to the postmodernist narrative, or perhaps I should say multiplicity of narratives. (How this squares with the purportedly necessary Kantian condition of universalisability of values has never to my knowledge been elucidated.) In accordance with this perspective, no individual or group has the right to prioritise their perspective or values over any other.

Well that’s the theory. The reality in the UK and indeed across Western society in general is of course what has become known as the multi-cultural society, whereby non-indigenous communities are encouraged to hold fast to their separate identity and culture, express their grievances against the majority community and demand preferential access to resources; and are often permitted, encouraged even, to flaunt the law, such as with so-called sanctuary cities in the US and in refugee camps at Sangatte. Thus we enter the realm of identity politics in accordance with which the basis of this entitlement to assert one’s identity or culture is a sense of victimhood, or the experience of prejudice or microaggression at the hands of the “majority” community. We have veritable industries now established in our universities manufacturing theories and devising ever more ways to fan the flames and identify new injustices which had hitherto gone unnoticed. How this can be reconciled with the idea of a society of universal shared values is hard to fathom.

But it does not even stop there. Under the postmodernist agenda new minority communities are all the time being identified, for example through the agency of gender dysphoria which has gone within a matter of years from being a pathological psychological state to being the major battleground in the crusade to evict inherited/traditional values from their erstwhile home at the centre of society. What was previously referred to as the LGBT community has become a veritable alphabet soup where soon we will be running out of letters to represent all the rainbow of gender perspectives which the theory (or, absent that, the ideology) seeks to accommodate. And don’t get me started on the haves versus the have-nots debate (where interestingly it appears uniquely to be the minority who are deemed to be the oppressors!).

Under this narrative, the authenticity of the perspective expressed is deemed to arise not from any coherent philosophical perspective or historical narrative but from the grievances which are evinced, so civilised discussion is barely possible, only capitulation lest one be seen as manifestly part of the problem and labelled as embodying this or that phobia or -ism.

Where Does This Leave Us?

This whole business seems to me to be a misuse of the idea of identity. From the perspective I outlined above, this should be about shared values within a community or social grouping, not shared grievances and enmities. Interestingly I would see the new revanchist nationalism evident in the US and Europe (it was rarely if ever absent anywhere else in the world, so is seldom remarked upon other than in Europe or North America) as a reaction against the perceived injustice of precisely this privileging of minority over majority interests. Unfortunately the manifestation of this tends all too often to be again through the expression of shared grievances and enmities, which is not really leading towards a resolution.

It would appear there is urgent need to put positive values back at the centre of the concept of identity and indeed of our moral/societal/political discourse.

The Intransigence of the Absurd: the Discourses of Racial and Sexual Identity in ‘Identity Politics’

There has long been popular and scientific fascination with feral children, reared and cared for by animals and with no contact with human society, that behave like the species that they live among and, we assume, identify themselves as. Such behaviour is not limited to humans; there are many examples, particularly of domesticated animals, that are adopted by another species that come to assume some of the characteristics of that species. This suggests that what we call identity is a universal of higher intelligence and that it is fairly plastic.

Humans, though, as is often the case, test this theory to destruction. An American woman, Rachel Dolezal, was recently denounced for identifying herself as black and living as a black woman, when her parents were both white, yet men who declare themselves to be women, dress as women and even undergo gender reassignment surgery are increasingly celebrated and accepted on their own terms, such as the much-publicised Caitlyn Jenner. Those who do not react viscerally to this conjunction and implied equivalence may be as puzzled as I am; but even those who do should reflect why these two cases should be considered so different.

Something I read a few years ago struck me then – as it still does – as so outrageous that I struggle to convince myself that it was not an imagined memory rather than an actual one. It was a brief article in some sort of educational magazine, a serious article, not a spoof to the best of my knowledge. It stated, as proof of commitment to the principle of inclusivity, that a particular school was being kept open at night because one of the students, a girl – let us call her Samantha – was a vampire, and could only work at night. Putting to one side the issues of the veracity of memory, journalistic objectivity and the wisdom of local education authorities (their respective dysfunctions are legendary), the central issue is not whether Samantha was a vampire, because clearly she was not, but why some assertions have assumed the power of fact, when the only fact is the fact of assertion.

Throughout history people have always sought to establish and assert their identity, but this process is complex and its focus has shifted over historical time among the kaleidoscope of possible markers such as region, religion, wealth and education. However, the fundamentals of identity are always the same: a playing out of our twin desires for individual freedom, particularly that of expressing our individual difference, and belonging, in which we find and sustain our similarity with others. This process can occur at several levels, as part of our individuality derives from belonging to a hierarchy of in-groups, such as our specific family, neighbourhood, city, region and country, in distinction to a series of out-groups characterised by otherness. Importantly, the precise definition of the other – as outcast, rebel, stranger, outlaw, scapegoat or victim – has a role in our self-definition as not-other.

On the other hand, sometimes our individuality is itself a form of self-imposed otherness, where we alienate ourselves from the mass to which we implicitly belong, in an act of self-exclusion that arouses, at the best, a sneaking reflexive admiration for the outsider hero – oneself – or, at the worst, self-pity for the identification of oneself as victim. Paradoxically, this self identification can become the basis for delusional group identity, in which there is a curious but toxic admixture of feelings of inferiority and superiority.

On one level it is strange that race is such a sensitive issue. After all, the boundaries of race are rather fluid, and science has never managed to establish a consistent or agreed definition. There are genetically homogenous groups such as Icelanders, Ashkenazi Jews and Japanese, but this is due to geographic and cultural isolation, and these pools do not correspond to what we normally call race, but the more limited concept of ethnicity. Race and ethnicity are actually complex cultural artefacts, and this is no more so than when we talk about the labels ‘black’ and ‘white’. From an evolutionary perspective the terms are nonsense; the only people who perhaps have the right to a generic and widespread genetic distinction are aboriginal Africans, but not because they are black in colour – the !Kung bushmen of Namibia, for example, have a reddish skin – but because they do not have the 1-4% of Neanderthal genes that the rest of mankind has inherited from prehistoric interbreeding between the two  human species. Mixing of peoples in the West, particularly in the Americas, means that genetic makeup and skin colour is on a spectrum of continuous variation; a surprising number of white Americans have some black ancestry.

Nonetheless, we can discern that the problematic nature of race does not reside in biology but in history, and that what we call black culture is really a shared history, a history that includes slavery, prejudice, apartheid, persecution, ridicule, drudgery and social deprivation, but also the enormous personal, communal and political forces that have forged great social and cultural gains from such a disadvantageous position. What we see, in fact, is a historically subjugated part of a heterogeneous population seeking common cause to overturn past injustices, rather than a distinct and homogenous entity. But in identity politics the narrative has assumed the status of a categorical assertion, wherein being ‘black’ is recognised as a necessary and sufficient condition for identifying oneself as part of a wronged community, which has become, perversely if understandably, a badge of honour. In its most radical form it assumes that dangerous polarisation of simultaneous inferiority and superiority referred to above, in which the mantle of the suffering victim and outsider can symbolically be asserted, not on the basis of experience necessarily (although many young black men can testify to being the subject of police harassment, known as ‘arrested for being black’), but simply on the basis of the colour of one’s skin. This was Rachel Dolezal’s perceived moral transgression: she assumed a badge of honour to which she was not entitled.

Interestingly, the older generation of radical feminists, such as Germaine Greer, apply much the same criterion of exception to transsexual women, as pretend women who have no right to assume the innate moral superiority of real women achieved through resistance to male domination. Now they find themselves sidelined and – in a recent neologism – ‘no-platformed’ by the younger generation of activists. This disparity in the reception of the trans-racial and the transsexual is hard to explain on the surface. It may be partly due to the great strides that have been made in women’s equality in the last generation, which have defanged the political radicalism of the earlier feminism, whereas racial equality lags behind, but I do not find this a persuasive answer.

I believe that underlying  this phenomenon is something that we could call the intransigence of the absurd, that is the assertion of something for which there is no scientific evidence, but which must be uncompromisingly defended by rhetoric and the layering of myth, most forcefully, naturally, by those who seek political leverage. A prototypical example of this is the assumed historical destiny and moral superiority of nationhood by nationalists of all stripes. The notion of race is one such absurdity, including that of being ‘black’ or ‘white’ or ‘Asian’, which must be vociferously perpetuated by all those seeking to take advantage of individuals who need to ground their tenuous sense of self by ascribing identity or otherness to individuals who bear a passing similarity or difference to themselves, a notion, moreover that must then be imposed on those who wish to make no such distinctions.

The reception of transsexuals into the community of women is based on a different narrative logic. The status of male and female sexual identity is so firmly established in biological reality, that a man believing himself to be a woman (or vice-versa) and acting the part is a patent absurdity recognised as such by everyone. Therefore, the deception has a theatricality that is acknowledged on all sides, as it has been throughout history in many different cultures. There is a twist to this, however. There is no political leverage in mere acceptance of this theatre; therefore, human sexual differentiation has been mythologised in the notion of gender, a radicalised state of indifferance and a socio-political chimera that fuses two notions of moral transgression: that of non-acceptance of the myth; and that of the traditional boundaries of the sexes, which must be preserved in order to be wilfully flouted.

The exact sociological function of race and gender finally diverge. Race is about belonging and exclusion, while gender has become about inclusion and freedom, specifically the freedom to define one’s sexual identity. Both notions are part of the narrative of how we establish social identity in a complex world, and should be tolerated on that understanding. However, we should never lose sight of their fundamental absurdity in inverting reality. That absurdity correlates strongly with an intransigent defence of the absurd; having abandoned evidence, it is not too great a step to abandon reason, openness and a willingness to entertain alternative viewpoints.

Asserting identity should be – as the word implies – about seeking universality above all, as a basis for accepting diversity. Identity politics does precisely the opposite. By repeatedly invoking historical injustices and incubating the fragmentation of human experience to create new forms of victimhood, it promotes belligerence as the essence of the shared social space, inclusion as a tool of exclusion, and the eternal past as the future.

(Note: the term ‘indifferance’, a play on Derrida’s concept of ‘differance’, denotes the prescribed ignoring of difference, distinction or differentiation, leading to moral indifference, rather than toleration, which recognises both difference and moral boundaries.)


Identity, Conflict and Peace

Current events in, or emanating from, the Middle East, as well as dozens of other – highly publicised or relatively obscure – conflicts around the world are deeply troubling, not only for the inevitable loss of life that they incur, but for the various degrees of barbarity and depravity they reveal and the existential threat they pose to our hopes and expectations that human history will be marked by ineluctable progress towards a more peaceful world.

This raises the question: if peace is such a desirable state, why does it prove to be so elusive? There are two common stances on this: one is that the nature of peace is not understood to a sufficient degree that would enable it to be realised, following the Platonic adage that ‘to know the good is to do the good’; the other is that we do understand but do not really desire it, or that we desire other things more, and that we see its non-realisation as more of a moral failing, or simply view conflict as an intrinsic part of our nature (Gray, 2003). In this essay, though accepting that conflict is incipient in all human interaction, I am going to take the view that at least dispelling some misconceptions about peace may be a useful contribution and will analyse the nature of peace and its relation to conflict through a phenomenology of identity.

The problematic meaning of ‘peace’

One way in which to begin to understand peace is to start by recognising one way in which it is defined, unhelpfully in my opinion; that is the definition of peace as the absence of war, which, even if true, would be virtually a tautology: it would not tell us what peace is, only what it is not. Additionally, the problem with defining it negatively is that, not knowing what its positive attributes are, it is difficult to determine a strategy for its realisation. However, as so defined, it is probably not true, at least in any absolute sense. Even in war, some aspects of life continue normally, that is peacefully; war can even bring communities closer together, increasing peace locally. This is even clearer if the statement were made more general: ‘peace is the absence of conflict’. This is clearly not true, for peace in the broader global sense can co-exist with degrees of localised conflict, as it does generally in free societies.

Nevertheless, the view that peace and conflict are mutually exclusive is commonplace. It gives rise to two further false stances regarding peace, that of unrealistic idealism and that of unfounded pessimism. The former is exemplified by the belief that some external agency (God, Jesus, History or perhaps even an alien race) will usher in a peaceful world, but also includes the secular belief that by solving an existing and immediate problem – one frequently associated with an emotive issue and subject to highly partial interpretations – a state of peace will come to exist. The second of these fallacies is typified by the ‘Realpolitik’ school of thought on international relations, exemplified by Samuel Huntington’s (1996) notion of the ‘Clash of Civilizations’, which is marked by scepticism that lasting peace can ever be realised, and the best we can hope for is a temporary convergence of interests.

Strangely, given the apparent psychological gulf that separates these positions, they are frequently held by the same people. A fundamental schizophrenia underlies many of the diplomatic efforts to forge peace in areas of conflict, a seeming hard-headed realism allied with a narrow view of what peace requires. This is unintentionally betrayed in the language chosen, such as the innocuous-sounding ‘path to peace’ or ‘roadmap to peace’. Peace and conflict are seen metaphorically as separate places, separated not only spatially but also temporally. Logically, within this paradigm, peace can only ensue once conflict has ended, but since the route to peace is contained within the confines of conflict, and there is no interrelationship between peace and conflict, there is no real prospect for peace. This is not to denigrate the importance of diplomatic efforts and the real differences they can occasionally make in some conflict zones; it is to argue, though, that a conceptually narrow understanding of peace and its relationship to conflict may hinder the establishment of lasting peace.

A more useful understanding of the relationship between peace and conflict than that seen in a Manichean opposition of a moral good and moral evil may be given by analogy with the relationship of health and sickness. Clearly health and sickness are related, even though they can be considered opposites. We could define health as an absence of sickness, but this would be a very impoverished view of health. It is of greater benefit to have a positive definition of health, independent of illness, to understand what constitutes good health and what can be done to promote it. Health has inherited characteristics, but has also a lifestyle component. Health, in this sense, is closer to our sense of self, and can be good or poor almost independently of sickness or injuries, which on this model are external environmental factors. However, susceptibility to sickness or injury is clearly related to overall health and has consequences for health: a mild illness or injury will have no lasting impact on our general health; a severe one may result in death.

The dynamic between health and sickness is a useful analogy for thinking about the relationship between peace and conflict. And in the same way that health and sickness impact our sense of self, so peace and conflict are bound up with questions of identity.
This is relatively easy to see when conflict is considered. Even when conflicts are over very tangible things, such as land and resources, issues of identity always come into it. Humans are innately social, and it may be this very sociality that make the lure of tribalism so seductive, and where even the smallest differences between ‘ourselves’ and an ‘other’ renders us susceptible to the malign influence of demagogues. However, I intend to argue that peace, as much as conflict, needs to be seen as an issue of identity, but in the process outline a fundamental difference in the logical attributes of peace and conflict.

The Phenomenology of Identity

While there is a tendency to think of peace as simple, no one having reflected upon the meaning and nature of identity can think of it as anything but complex. Discussion about identity frequently focuses on the ephemera of identity such as documentary or biometric information, but a phenomenological approach proceeds with the analysis of the sense of self, for this is both universal and constant; every utterance concerning identity, even that made as a representative of a collective, is an expression of self-awareness. From such an analysis three features emerge: first, identity is differentiated into levels or types, which I have chosen to call existentiality, situatedness and connectivity; second, associated with each type there is a force or impulse through which selfhood is asserted; third, this force is contained or limited in some manner, which shapes both the expression and self-understanding of identity.

i. Types or levels of identity

The self can be described as having three fundamental orientations to the world, as self-existing, situated and connected, each of which has internal content and external form (1). The first and most fundamental type of identity could be called individual, but as all identity (as defined above) is individualised it is referred to as existential, that is awareness of the self’s existence as an individual consciousness distinct from others. It is characterised internally by needs and desires and externally by awareness of embodiment (2). The second type of identity is that of being emplaced or situated in a particular part of reality. Internally this identity is that associated with strong emotional bonds and ties within closed systems such as family, tribe, group, nation, religion or profession, which exclude as well as include. The third type is the ‘universal’ identity that comes through connection in open systems or networks, such as humanity, society, culture, spirituality, nature, and the economy, mediated internally by concepts and values.

ii. The force of selfhood

Because identity is so closely associated with the emotions, the self manifests a force, or emotive impulse (3) in each context. Being a vector, it has a direction; being affective, it requires satisfaction. Existentiality seeks the object of its desire and is satisfied by its appropriation; it is in this sense completely amoral. The force of selfhood is directed outwards in protecting itself, exploiting the environment for its needs, and making its presence felt in the world. The force of situated identity is directed towards the centre of the group in which one finds a commonality, or one at least in which the elements of commonality are greater than those of difference, and is satisfied by belonging. The force of the connected self turns inwards to seek detachment (4) from ties and seeks satisfaction through participation.

iii. The constraints on the self

Identity only has shape and emerges when the force of selfhood is contained or restrained in some manner, and this takes place at every level though in a different manner. At the level of existentiality this can be considered the limits of selfhood in the encounter with others and the realisation that the other is both similar and different. At the level of belonging there are limits to inclusion in the form of power relations and social status, depending upon the type of system. Just as important there are outer limits, the point at which the in-group ends and the out-group starts (Tajfel, 1974). At the level of connectivity the limits are more internal, depending upon the inner resources of the individual to reach out through a potentially infinite open network.

Peace and conflict understood through identity

The analysis of identity underlies the concepts of peace and conflict as manifestations of identity, and can be applied in order to understand the conditions under which they manifest themselves. Both peace and conflict can be categorised in terms of levels, impulses, constraints, and internal and external factors, although, as outward manifestations of identity in the social sphere, this involves moving from an analysis of selfhood to a consideration of the systems in which the self exists, and it is more appropriate to use the terms individual, group and network (for existentiality, situatedness and connectivity)

For example, at the individual level, for peaceful conditions to prevail the satisfaction of desire must be matched by the restraint of the individual, either self-imposed or societally imposed; at the group level, belonging, allegiance and solidarity must be matched by socially cohesive factors such as justice, opportunity, respect and so on; and at the network level, detachment must be matched by actual cooperation, development and progress.

The conditions for conflict can be similarly analysed in terms of an internal and external component at each level. For example, at the individual level, the frustration of desires corresponds to either excessive impositions or no restraint (5); at the group level, alienation corresponds to various social injustices and exclusions; and at the network level, anxiety, frustration and confusion correspond to non-cooperation or lack of progress.

More than these details, however, is the important difference in the nature of the relationship between these conditions. For peace the conditions are conjunctive; that is, each is necessary but not sufficient, so all must exist for peace to prevail. The conditions for conflict are disjunctive; that is, each is sufficient in itself and for any of them to exist is a condition for conflict.

Taken by itself this could be seen as a cause for pessimism, as it means quite simply that the conditions for conflict are much easier to achieve than the conditions for peace, and that other things being equal there is little prospect of us seeing a world without conflict, nor a society without conflict, nor a family, nor an individual. Conflict, simply put, arises wherever there is a perceived difference. As there is no prospect for a world without difference, and even if it were possible it would be undesirable, we are destined to live with conflict as a recurring aspect of human experience.

There are several factors, however, that mitigate this bleak inferance:

1. While conflict is generally seen as destructive, it can also be a force for change and development; indeed, it is doubtful whether there can be any meaningful change without a certain degree of conflict. Even war may sometimes – as a last resort – be a necessary condition for something new and better to emerge. Individual, institutional and national narratives all rest on the assumption of a conflict between ‘good’ and ‘evil’.

2. There is a difference between the conditions of conflict being present and the outbreak of real conflict, brought about usually by a complex concatenation of events. In the build-up to any such crisis there are basically three strategic options: to manage the conflict, to ignore the conflict, and to exacerbate the conflict. This means that under most conditions there is a space for conflict to be managed and limited if good choices are made.

3. There is no reason that managed conflict cannot co-exist with real and actual peace, though not with some imaginary, idealistic notion of peace. After all, this is what is generally accomplished in liberal democracies. We seem to be in a constant state of tension in which innumerable conflicts of interest arise, but to remain in a state of general peace. Taking a systemic view means that peace and conflict can be hierarchically viewed.

Therefore, the prospects for peace are in fact much better than might be imagined. Peace is complex, as the analysis above has shown, requiring the matching of internal and external factors at several levels; but it is this complexity that can imbue peace with a robustness that conflicts do not have. Conflicts tend to be very narrowly focused and to have, with some exceptions, a short lifespan. Peace, though difficult to achieve, as the long historical genesis of peaceful democracies from tribal societies has shown, once achieved is difficult to extinguish (6).

What this suggests is that we should be less concerned with conflict resolution, though this is frequently an important short-term measure, and more concerned with the long-term process of putting in place the conditions which make for peace. These are well-attested through historical experience: territorial security, constitutional government, free and fair elections, the rule of law and an independent judiciary, a free press, universal education, and the promotion of a free market economy, social justice and civil society. I would stress among these the free flow of information, which the advent of the Internet has further facilitated, for nothing is more important to the eternal vigilance needed to maintain the integrity of these conditions, and nothing so destructive of tyrants’ and demagogues’ ambitions.


1. The status of ‘orientation’ in this case can be understood through the Husserlian concept of noema, apparent intentional objects (Husserl, 1913).

2. The concept of embodiment as a mode of lived-experience was developed in the phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty.

3. The sense of an ‘emotive impulse’ follows the affective conceptualisation of Freud. Ricoeur (1970) refers to Freud’s ‘hydrodynamic psychic apparatus’.

4. The themes of detachment and participation are explored by philosophers as distinct as Hegel, Husserl and Santayana, with different meanings. Santayana’s view of detachment – which is the closest to my usage here – as a prelude to immersion in the here and now owes much to Schopenhauer’s reading of Buddhism (Brodrick, 2015).

5. Gray (2003) discusses the seeming paradox that morality aids the sense of transgressive enjoyment, and that a society with no limits is one in which pleasure is emptied of meaning.

6. This does not mean that it is impossible, but it requires a sustained determination, or extraordinary incompetence, to unpick all the complex elements that make peaceful coexistence a reality. It has happened, and as long as there are significant grievances that go unaddressed and can be exploited by demagogues, it will continue to happen.

Brodrick, M. (2015). The Ethics of Detachment in Santayana’s Philosophy. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Gray, J. (2003). Straw Dogs: Thought on Humans and Other Animals. London: Granta.

Huntington, S. P. (1996). The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Husserl, E. (1962 [1913]). Ideas: General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology (trans. W. Boyce Gibson). New York: Collier Macmillan.

Merleau-Ponty, M. (1962). Phenomenology of Perception. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Ricoeur, P. (1970). Freud and Philosophy: an Essay on Interpretation (trans. by Paul Savage). Yale University Press.

Tajfel, H. (1974). Social identity and intergroup behaviour. Social Science Information, vol. 13, pp. 65-93.