Personal identity is your concept of yourself. It evolves over the course of your life. This may include aspects of your life that you have no control over, such as where you grew up or the color of your skin, as well as choices you make in life, such as how you spend your time and what you believe.
Social identity is a person’s sense of who they are, based on their group membership(s). Tajfel (1979) proposed that the groups (e.g. social class, family, football team etc.) which people belonged to were an important source of pride and self-esteem.
A sense of belonging is a human need, just like the need for food and shelter. Feeling that you belong is most important in seeing value in life and in coping with intensely painful emotions. Some find belonging in a church, some with friends, some with family, and some on Twitter or other social media. Some see themselves as connected only to one or two people. Others believe and feel a connection to all people the world over, to humanity. Some struggle to find a sense of belonging and their loneliness is physically painful for them.
This post is not about politics or even political parties. It is about the importance and wonderfulness of feeling we belong. It is about how our political party affiliation is not particularly important to our personal / social identities and to our sense of belonging. It is about when it dawned on me that what political party one belongs to actually tells us very little about that person and what they stand for.
It was a happy hour with some friends of Linda. A couple very pleasant hours spent with ten nice people. One of them explained that recently she felt more connected with her past having gotten one of those Ancestry.com DNA tests. Which led to a discussion of various social, ancestral, professional, interest, sports loving, etc. groups by which we define ourselves. No mention was made of political affiliation. We talked about what types of things made us feel connected and gave us a sense of belonging. It was polite conversation with intelligent people. It was fun.
The next day I was reflecting back on the previous night’s conversation when it hit me like a ton of bricks. Yes, many things define who we are such as age, gender, education, experiences, roles, disposition, ethnic background, social connections, beliefs, etc. However, political party affiliation has become a different thing. Somehow, in the past 15 – 20 years, belonging to a political party presumes that a member of the party (group) is somehow inherently different from the people of the other party. It is time to call bullshit. Political party affiliation does not tell us much about a person. Party affiliation does not define us well.
Each of us are associated with many groups and circumstances. We are old, young or in-between. We are educated to some level or another. Our ancestors come from this place or that. We have our personal religious views. We are relatively rich or poor. We live here or there. We have health issues. We may or may not have kids. If we do have kids, they are at different stages of their lives. We are urban, rural or suburban. We use connected technology to varying degrees. We have hobbies, jobs and relationships. We are not just either a republican or a democrat. We are not mainly just any one thing. We are many things.
All humans are the same species: Homo sapiens. While no two humans are genetically identical, in terms of DNA sequence, each human is about 99.5% similar to any other human. We have individual differences, none the less we are biologically more similar to each other than most of us thinks. That said, each of our individual life situations are different from the life situation of others. We each have a wide variety of life circumstances, the combination of which are unique to each individual person. The key here is not that any single circumstance of our life is unique to you. Being age 65 is not unique to me. There are after all, many people are age 65. Many people also live in St Paul MN. Many people have a degree from a University. Many people have kids and grandkids. The list of experiences and groups each of us is associated with is long. Many people share individual aspects of our circumstance. However, the unique combination of each of our individual circumstances makes each of us unique. It also rather defines our identity.
Being a republican or democrat might be a small part of who we are but we are many other things also. Take away the label of democrat or republican and the reality is that it would barely change the definition of whom that person is. I am still a 65-year-old man living in St Paul. I am still married. Virtually no aspect of my life changes whether I am a republican, democrat or neither.
That said, once you become an adult and choose a political party; very few people actually ever change or denounce their political party. It happens, but does not happen very often. The weird thing is that people will stick with their political party even when they disagree with much of what the party stands for. For most people, party affiliation helps give them a sense of civic belonging that is far more important to them than the nuance of public policy. It binds you to something bigger than yourself.
That is why it was such a shock when I realized that party affiliation was not a big part of what defines me, even in a political sense. I have opinions, some of them informed, that define me much better than which party I align with. Healthcare should be available to everyone; we should focus on reducing the cost of providing healthcare for everyone. Rural America needs broadband badly. We need to replace the billions of trees cut down to build this nation. Education is more important than ever but we need to come up with a more cost effective approach to attain an education. I like Amazon but I worry it is getting too entrenched in the core of our lives. We live in a connected global world, pretending we do not is not good policy. The list goes on. None of these positions is very controversial outside of the context of party politics. All of them are controversial inside the context of party politics.
Humans are tribal. Not anyone of us humans can survive alone. We need others and others need us. There is a good reason a sense of belonging is such a powerful feeling. Feeling rejected or a sense of not belonging is devastating. It might be good politics to define the world as us versus them but the reality is we all are the same species and genetically unbelievably similar to each other. Our species literally cannot survive if we do not work together. Our genetic differences result in trivial things like height, skin tone, eye color, and the like. What makes us unique is the circumstances of our lives. The circumstances of our lives make us interesting.
It would serve us well not to define others and ourselves primarily by party affiliation. Governance requires compromise and cooperation. Moderation should be our mantra. The political parties should help us work through the nuanced details of governance. Political parties should not define us; we should define the political parties. We are all trying to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” The goal is not winning an election so we can force our will on others. The goal should be to work together for the common good.
We are all in this together. We need to work together. If our political parties are dividing us, they are not providing the function we need them to provide. We need to work together to survive.
Finally, our species originated in east Africa. Ancestry.com DNA will always thus have some east Africa indicators. Over tens of thousands of years, our species slowly migrated over a couple different paths. Virtually everyone’s DNA will indicate their ancestors came from the regions they passed through along the migration path. However, know that once humans obtained the ability to travel relatively rapidly (past couple hundred years) the slight ancestral regional differences in our DNA is often combined DNA from a different migration path. A generation is about 25 years. With each passing generation, we are ancestrally from everywhere and less and less from a particular somewhere.
What DNA actually looks like from; The Atlantic.