The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity

The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity

From the best-selling author of Cosmopolitanism comes this revealing exploration of how the collective identities that shape our polarized world are riddled with contradiction. Who do you think you are? That’s a question bound up in another: What do you think you are? Gender. Religion. Race. Nationality. Class. Culture. Such affiliations give contours to our sense of self...

DownloadRead Online
Title:The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity
Author:Kwame Anthony Appiah
Rating:

The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity Reviews

  • Steve

    Liked this book so much! Reminded me of his Cosmopolitanism book. Very good discussions of things like race, nationality, sex but I most of all liked his treatment of religions and cultures.

  • Robin Friedman

    A Nightmare A Body's Got To Live With In The Daytime

    Robert Coover's, recent novel "Huck out West" carries the story of Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn and related characters through the Civil War to 1876. The story is told in Huck's voice with many observations, some cutting but some insightful. Among the latter sort, Huck says in this book discussing what contemporary readers would recognize as the concept of identity:

    "Tribes"... They're a powerful curse laid on you when you get born. They ruin y

    A Nightmare A Body's Got To Live With In The Daytime

    Robert Coover's, recent novel "Huck out West" carries the story of Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn and related characters through the Civil War to 1876. The story is told in Huck's voice with many observations, some cutting but some insightful. Among the latter sort, Huck says in this book discussing what contemporary readers would recognize as the concept of identity:

    "Tribes"... They're a powerful curse laid on you when you get born. They ruin you, but you can't get away from them. They're a nightmare a body's got to live with in the daytime." ("Huck out West", p. 215)

    I was reminded of Huck's pithy observation in reading philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah's thoughtful and learned book, "The Lies that Bind: Rethinking Identity" (2018) which is based on lectures he delivered for the BBC in 2016 titled "Mistaken Identities". Huck's statement could almost serve as a theme for Appiah. Appiah recognizes the importance of identity to individuals in terms of growth and self-understanding. Individuals are born into groups and we rely on one another in particularized surroundings to meet needs. Still, identities can turn into nightmares of rigidity in thinking of oneself and one's own group or "tribe" and in separating oneself and one's group from others, sometimes demonizing them.

    Some philosophies and religions are skeptical of concepts of personal identity and would try to do away with them, but that is not Appiah's way. Instead, Appiah tries to loosen but not eliminate ties of identity and to reformulate the understanding of identity in several critical areas of life where identity thinking is at its highest. Broadly, Appiah encourages the reader to eliminate views of essentialism and fixity in understanding one's identity commitments in favor of a more fluid view that recognizes change in what otherwise might seem as a fixed identity and continuity rather than otherness between oneself and others. The approach is broadly cosmopolitan. At the end of the book, Appiah quotes from the dramatist Terrence: "nothing human is foreign to me". Showing a commendable openness, Appiah says the aim of his book is to "start conversations, not to end them". More importantly, he tells the reader that "philosophers contribute to public discussions of moral and political life, I believe, not by telling you what to think but by providing an assortment of concepts and theories you can use to decide what to think for yourself. I will make lots of claims; but however forceful my language, remember always that they are offered up for your consideration, in the light of your own knowledge and experience."

    The book opens with a chapter discussing among other things the nature of labeling and essentialism in human identity formation. The chapters which follow discuss and try to modify understandings of identity in five broad areas: religion/creed, country, color, class, and culture, each of which is a sensitive subject for many people. Appiah tries to show problems in common essentialist understanding of identity in each area and often ties these problems into various developments in thought in the 19th century which have outlived their usefulness.

    Although not receiving a chapter of its own, Appiah discusses throughout perhaps an even more pervasive identity concept: the nature of gender and of one's sexuality.Although Appiah stresses what he sees as mistakes in understanding gender and in maleness and femaleness, I found this the weakest portion of the book and less convincing than the discussions in the remaining five chapters.

    For me, the most persuasive and important identity discussed in the book was creed and religion. Appiah does not try to persuade his readers for or against religion or a particular religion. Rather he points out insightfully and well that people tend to overestimate the importance of belief and creed to religion. He finds that religion is more a shared, changing practice of a group over time even when this shared practice facially involves elements of a creed, such as the recital of articles of faith. Appiah suggests how understandings may change while practices remain shared. He wants to discourage a heavy investment of personal commitment to creedal content and to a fixed separation of oneself from others. The discussions of the remaining four identity components, country, color, class, culture, also are important and worthwhile, although the section on religion had the most to say to me.

    The book proceeds in various ways, and Appiah's writing is often passionate, personal, and beautiful. The book offers argument and various forms of analysis, but it is more effective on a personal level and in its use of the work of other writers. Appiah uses many details from his own life, as the child of a British mother with ties to peerage and a father from Ghana with ties to Ghana's elite and to Ghana's winning of its independence. His own life shows the nature of loosening but not eliminating ties of identity in favor of a breadth of human understanding, where possible.

    The book is perhaps even more impressive in the range of learning Appiah shows and the use he makes of the lives and work of others. Appiah calls many other writers and books as witness to his development of a fluid concept of identity, including, for example W.E.B. DuBois, Matthew Arnold, Cavafy, Sir Edward Burnet Tylor, and Philo. He discusses at length Anton Wilhem, a distinguished philosopher and the first African to earn a PhD in philosophy from a European university. But the figure who appears closest to Appiah's heart in this book is the novelist Italio Svevo (Aron Ettore Schmitz) whose novel "Zeno's Conscience" is a modernistic classic. With a background in both Judaism and Christianity and ties to many nationalities, Svevo developed a cosmopolitanism and an openness to shared identity that appears to be a model for Appiah's own. In one of several passages discussing Svevo and "Zeno's Conscience", Appiah writes:

    "Although he once referred to Trieste as a crogiolo assimilatore -- an assimilating crucible, or melting pot -- Svevo knew how much remained unmelted. His Zeno is, above all, a walker in the city, a boulevardier and rambler, moving from one neighborhood to another. He is also a man always struggling with his own irresolution, always smoking his 'last cigarette', always betraying his ideals, and forever scrutinizing his own prejudices and preferences like a quizzical ethnographer. He wants to confront uncomfortable truths -- to side with reality, however much it stings." (p86)

    Appiah clearly writes from the more liberal end of the political spectrum, but enjoying and learning from this book does not involve a commitment to a political creed. Appiah has written a provocative, thoughtful account of the nature of identity and of hot-button issues in identity that helped me and may help others with this treacherous subject. Perhaps, with modification, loosening, and thought, identity does not have to be the "nightmare a body's got to live with in the daytime" that Huck found it to be in Coover's novel.

    Robin Friedman

  • Chris

    When I read Cosmopolitanism, it was exactly what I needed; finally somebody was making sense, finally someone with global morals. Here, Appiah comes very close to Cosmopolitanism (which I consider his best statement, and which I’ve loaned to friends and raved about). However, The Lies that Bind covers a LOT of ground, and I found some strawmen in his arguments and is dismissive of European enlightenment & reformation cultural innovations in a way that would have Will and Ariel Durant, or Ken

    When I read Cosmopolitanism, it was exactly what I needed; finally somebody was making sense, finally someone with global morals. Here, Appiah comes very close to Cosmopolitanism (which I consider his best statement, and which I’ve loaned to friends and raved about). However, The Lies that Bind covers a LOT of ground, and I found some strawmen in his arguments and is dismissive of European enlightenment & reformation cultural innovations in a way that would have Will and Ariel Durant, or Kenneth Clark, rolling in their graves. However, he concludes his argument so strongly that I can’t help giving it top marks. Appiah’s remarks on identify are what we need right now, lest we fall into endless tribal identify wars that will endlessly and pointlessly divide us.

  • Sam

    One of the better philosophy books I've read in awhile. It's well written and easy to comprehend (which says something for the philosophy genre) and the ideas are interesting and thought provoking. I wish I had more than three weeks to think about the ideas and research some of the references (perhaps I need my own copy...).

  • Sara

    The author is a Ghanian/ British philosopher who has spent most of his career in the US. He gets a little academic at times, but does a brilliant job of dissecting and debunking ideas of identity around "creed, country, color, class and culture," showing how too much of our thinking about those things are left over from bad 19th century ideologies.

    He doesn't think we can get rid of identity in the sense of social groups, but "the problem is not walls as such but walls that hedge us in; walls we

    The author is a Ghanian/ British philosopher who has spent most of his career in the US. He gets a little academic at times, but does a brilliant job of dissecting and debunking ideas of identity around "creed, country, color, class and culture," showing how too much of our thinking about those things are left over from bad 19th century ideologies.

    He doesn't think we can get rid of identity in the sense of social groups, but "the problem is not walls as such but walls that hedge us in; walls we played no part in designing…walls that block our vision and obstruct our way." Rather than use our identities to separate ourselves, we can use them to define our own freedoms and connect ourselves with the larger world. If "identity politics" and the fragmentation and polarization of the world trouble you, this is worth picking up.

  • Jo

    I enjoyed this book. It was broad ranging and 'introductory' in nature - if you have specialised experience of some of the particular areas then it wouldn't take you into new territory - but the whole thing was joyfully disruptive, and I found some areas of Appiah's discussion rather helpful in clarifying my own 'broad brush' thoughts. Especially around class and culture: the questioning of any and all kinds of essentialism that undermine the overlapping complexity of our messy human realities.

    I enjoyed this book. It was broad ranging and 'introductory' in nature - if you have specialised experience of some of the particular areas then it wouldn't take you into new territory - but the whole thing was joyfully disruptive, and I found some areas of Appiah's discussion rather helpful in clarifying my own 'broad brush' thoughts. Especially around class and culture: the questioning of any and all kinds of essentialism that undermine the overlapping complexity of our messy human realities. Also questions about whether cultural products should ever be conceptualised as Intellectual Property, as if everything human can be fixed, owned, and have a price. I particularly enjoyed what Appiah's own multiple identities brought to the table, the naturalness with which he drew from and brought together sources and resources from across the world, which enabled familiar points to be made in less familiar ways and to push outwards the edges of my thoughts. Thank you!

  • Mythili

    Reads like a series of undergrad lectures. I generally agree with him and enjoyed the board range of references he drew from but didn’t feel challenged or pushed or particularly surprised by anything in this book (and sometimes felt he oversold his argument). I would be very interested to read more about the life of Anton Wilhelm Amo Afer, though.

  • Jennifer Fredin

    Very good. Most identities are vague at best. One should reflect the identities one claims.

  • Salvatore

    A good primer on the subject. Identities are necessary to growth, to self-awareness, to challenge. And yet identities/groups/sub-groups don't explain the nuances. It's a delicate balance, a continuous push and pull of which we really need to be consistently aware. Appiah has some good examples, especially when it comes to class (the race and country chapters also dive deeper). But on the whole this is more of an introduction than a thorough investigation.

Best Free Books is in no way intended to support illegal activity. Use it at your risk. We uses Search API to find books/manuals but doesn´t host any files. All document files are the property of their respective owners. Please respect the publisher and the author for their copyrighted creations. If you find documents that should not be here please report them


©2018 Best Free Books - All rights reserved.