Amartya Sen brings to our generation a new and modern vision of how to obtain peace.
Sen is now Asia’s preeminent philosopher of freedom. . . . This is an indispensable book.
A Nobel Prizewinning economist who is equally fluent in social and political philosophy, Amartya Sen smashes stereotypical cultural assumptions in this dazzling rebuttal of identity politics. Rejecting the thinking that pigeonholes people into "little boxes," Sen draws on history, science, and literature to illustrate the diversity of so-called monolithic cultures. Briefly but elegantly stated, this treatise examines the violence that accompanies the assertion of traditional identities and suggests that peace can prevail if people are free to choose their own identity affiliations.
Nobel Prize-winning economist Sen deplores the "little boxes" that divide us in this high-minded but seldom penetrating brief against identity politics. Sen observes that ideologies of hate typically slot people into communities based on a single dimension that trumps the multifaceted affinities of class, sex, politics and personal interest that make up individual identities. This "reductionist" us-versus-them outlook is not limited to jihadists, he argues, but is a widespread intellectual tendency seen in Samuel Huntington's "clash of civilizations" paradigm, in postcolonial critiques of democracy and rationalism as "Western" ideals, as well as in efforts to "dialogue" with moderate Muslims. (These last, he feels, pigeonhole Muslims in purely religious terms.) Sen rebuts the "singular affiliation" falsehood with a cursory historical, literary and cultural survey of the diversity of supposedly monolithic civilizations (Akbar, a 16th-century Mughal emperor and champion of religious toleration, is a favorite citation.) Sen's previous work (Development as Freedom) injected liberal values into development economics; here, he argues that the freedom to choose one's identity affiliations is the antidote to divisive extremism. Stitched together from lectures, the book is dry and repetitive. While Sen's defense of humane pluralism against narrow-minded communalism is laudable, he never really elucidates the social psychology that translates group identity into violence. (Mar.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Why is the world racked by barbarity and violence? In this provocative little book, the Nobel laureate economist argues that the causes are as much distorted identities as nasty intentions. When people acquire a strong and exclusive sense of belonging to a single group, Sen notes, the conditions ripen for conflict and violence; when shrunken and shorn of its layered complexity, identity can kill Hutus massacre Tutsis, for example, when they no longer see themselves also as Rwandan, African, laborers, and human beings. Sen suggests that sectarian hatreds around the world in places such as Kosovo, Bosnia, Rwanda, Timor, Israel, Palestine, and Sudan are ignited or exacerbated by illusions of unique and choiceless identities, leading Sen to take issue with Samuel Huntington's "clash of civilizations" thesis. When civilizations conflict it is because of a failure often a cultivated failure to appreciate the true diversity of identities that infuse them. Sen eloquently describes the dangers of this flattening of human identity. He is less clear, however, about how to nurture a global environment where the richness and multiplicity of identities can thrive.
Next in Norton's inspiring ``Issues of Our Times'' series, this work by Nobel economist Sen proposes that much of today's violence stems from our misguidedly clinging to embedded concepts of identity. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.