Friday, August 3, 2012

12. Tracing identity

Do Europeans have more shared mental categories within Europe than outside? They also have a number of things in common with the US, though perhaps not to the same extent. They share a penchant for individualism, change rather than stability, and the idea that we can shape our environment. That leads to entrepreneurship and innovation. And to pollution and excessive consumption.

More than many Americans many Europeans have a sense of tragedy, in the classical Greek sense, and an awareness of the danger of overconfidence (hubris). That makes Europe less inclined to intervene in the world. Americans see that as indecision and lack of moral courage, and Europeans prefer to see it as wisdom. What Americans see as fatal relativism Europeans see as beneficial tolerance of difference.

In the emergence of the Netherlands a war with Spain was central. Do the Dutch still defne themselves as enemies of Spain? How does one decide that the Netherlands does and Turkey does not ‘belong to Europe’? Must we take into account history, and how far then does one go back?

Far enough back in evolution we all, humans and animals, were a kind of virus. Later we became animals and next as mammals split ourselves off from birds. However, in the platipus there still is an intermediate species. Evolutionary scientists trace the identity of a species along paths of branching in descent, with nodes where new species split off from a common ancestor. Along that branching the Neanderthal was not an ancestor of Homo Sapiens, but they had a common ancestor.

In a similar way we might trace cultural identities. We might look where for Turkey the points of contact lay, with the Netherlands or another European country, in time, place, and type of contact, including war, domination, alliance, trade, migration, and other exchange of people or ideas. There have been contacts between the Netherlands and Turkey for 400 years. Tulips originally came from Turkey. As points of contact arise more frequently and more recently there is more similar identity. In de 16th century the Turkish Ottoman empire included the Balkans and Hungary and reached up to Vienna. The French made a pact with the Ottomans against emperor Charles of Habsburg and a joint fleet bombarded the Riviera.

Part of European identity lies in the fact that in varying coalitions there have been so many wars within it. The Dutch will no doubt be closer to the Flemish than to the Hungarians, but a shared essence there is not. Whether Europe has more of a shared identity with the US than with Turkey would have to follow from further scrutiny. And for the Netherlands as the home of the Pilgrim Fathers that will turn out differently from Spain, as the home of a moorish-catholic civilization.  

1 comment:

  1. Don't we get infected by the last country that wins the last war we are in? And how long in history did that last?