The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity
Kwame Anthony Appiah is one of the most lucid philosophers of the 21st century. His willingness and almost magical ability to think on topics that, though complex, are in no way esoteric, but rather of paramount importance to our everyday understanding of our world, is much needed in our time of five second sound bites and flippant responses. In this book on the nature of identity and the necessary lies we tell ourselves in order to establish and maintain our various identities, Appiah explores identity from six major points of view. He looks at identity with respect to our classification (mainly sexual), creed, country, skin color, class, and culture. In this exposition and investigation of these facets of identity that all humans share, and compare and contrast each other by, the author delves into history (ancient and modern), science, literature, philosophy, and religion. He exposes the flaws in our current thinking on and assumptions about identity.
Appiah’s writing is almost poetic and along with a formidable knowledge base, he brings, his own personal experiences, which have allowed him to straddle country, creed, culture, classification, color, and class, to bear on the problem. Though this is certainly a heavy philosophical topic, the author makes it understandable and does not obfuscate like many other philosophers. He consistently elucidates the topic without dumbing it down or sacrificing accuracy and specificity.
I learned a great deal from this book and it has changed how I think about some components of identity, in that I now find myself stopping before declaring I am one thing or another. I watch more carefully for the way that identity affects the thinking and reactions of the people I interact with. We clearly have more than just the six dimensions of identity that Appiah explores, but in this towering work he provides a set of magnifying lenses with which to view other aspects of identity.