January 21,2000 (Ira Pilgrim)


Identity is not something to be proud of, it is something to get over.

Edward W. Said, 1999

Many a child has come home from school crying because someone has shamed him because he is different from most of his classmates. He may have a dark skin, while his classmates are white; or occasionally vice versa. He may talk differently from his classmates because his parents come from a country that speaks a different language. He may be exceptionally short or fat, and on and on. He may think or act differently from his classmates. His likes and dislikes may be different. He may be much sharper or duller.

Many people believe that the remedy for this is to teach the child who is being picked on to be proud of his race, religion, nationality etc. This is like trying to cure the flu with leprosy. Not only doesn't it work, but it is the root not only of individual problems, but of world problems. It has been responsible for murders , genocides and great misery.

Many nations routinely brain wash their children into believing that their nation, religion or cultural group is something to be proud of, despite the fact that there is little or no justification for that belief. If I am proud to be a member of the same tribe as Albert Einstein, shouldn't I be equally ashamed to be a member of the same tribe as the gangster Mickey Cohen? If I am proud of the things that have been accomplished in my country, shouldn't I be equally ashamed of the terrible things that have been done here? To my mind I have no right to be either proud or ashamed of things that I have had nothing to do with; in other words, most things that I have been exhorted to take pride in.

In Northern Ireland people have been killing one another because some are Catholic and some are Protestant. That combination of ethnic, racial and religious pride, combined with greed has led to the massacre of over 10 million Jews, Gypsies, Poles and Russians; over a million American Indians, over a million Caribbean Indians, over a million Armenians. Hutus killed Tutsis and Tutsis killed Hutus, Croats killed Serbs and Serbs Killed Croats, and many other historical examples of attempted genocide.

Every time that someone is killed or injured, their relatives and children become committed to a bloody struggle to preserve themselves, which is often translated into preserving their own ethnicity and destroying someone else's. The end result is what is seen in Northern Ireland and the Balkans, where people are perpetually at war with each other.

Pride and shame are fundamental human emotions. When a person does something that he believes he should not have done, he is ashamed. When he does something good, he feels proud; and well he should. Pride is that lovely feeling that you have when you have accomplished something. Most people can be justly proud of their accomplishments which can range from a child being able to read, to adult craftsmanship, to having raised good and independent children. There is no shortage of things that a person can do that will give him a feeling of pride without resorting to pride in things that he had absolutely nothing to do with. In contrast, a person can feel ashamed, not because of something he did, but because of some accident of birth. He can also feel proud, not because of something he accomplished, but because of an accident of birth; something he had nothing to do with.

People who do good things should be justly proud of what they do. They are probably too busy doing things to be proud of things that they didn't do. In other words, a person is often proud of his race, religion or nationality because he has little else that he can be proud of. Voltaire said that "The infinitely little have a pride infinitely great."

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