Identity is not a crutch.

I’ve finished reading a novel “Deutch for moderately advanced” (In Polish, I don’t know of any translations yet).  The author, Maciej Hen, spins a tale of an identity search from Poland, through Ukraine to Romania and back.  It’s a journey in time as well since the plot is about uncovering the hero’s ancestors,  needed for an inheritance claim.  It's a nice, smart read.  Bickering with the dead father, hints of time shifts and a sudden romance add to the mix of funny, poetic and reflexive. 

I found a polish interview with Maciej in which he says that: 

“identity is not to harden us, not to steer us.  Identity can lead us to feel obliged, to solidify us to the point that it will reinforce divisions between people.  That’s what I would warn against.  Identity is to move us a little bit, to allow reflection.  My hero feels a Jew but in…..a sentimental sense.”

I understand that the relocation of identity to the realm of sentimental softens its edge. It’s a beautiful, harmonizing notion.   I suspect it can be easier obtained and spoken of by somebody who can afford to treat his identity in a relaxed fashion.  Simply because he’s comfortably rooted in it.  On the other hand many searches (if not all) of ethnic identity spring from a strong internal feel or urge or lack that once obtained, filled and satisfied becomes rock solid.  Just look at the converts of many types.  How to navigate between the two ways to handle identity is a theme in itself. 

For me the book’s narrative somehow but not fully matches the conclusions (or a thesis) given in the interview.  Perhaps the meaning of the narrative given in the interview doesn’t fully and immediately spring out of from the book pages.   Perhaps it’s how a narrative should threat an idea.  To let it breath and not to be so "on the nose." 

The call to go easy on the identity’s role in forming our personality chimes with the ethical conclusions of Zygmunt Bauman (as the previous entry discusses).  In short: no rules or ethnic alliances should release us from the duties of constant self-analysis.  There are no ethical or identity crutches, only everlasting, individual struggle to get things right.


How to be moral

Thinking back about how my "Lawnswood Gardens" (about Zygmunt Bauman) turned out, I am reading his conversations with Peter Haffer.

Zygmunt Bauman: Making the familiar unfamiliar: a conversation with Peter Haffner. 
 (Zygmunt Bauman: Das Vertraute unvertraut machen: Ein Gespräch mit Peter Haffner. ) 

I am struck by the part about moral responsibility.  Here is how I understand what Bauman means:

Everything we do influences others.  We need to take responsibility for our responsibility.  In our existential dimension we are moral creatures.  Morality begins when we meed the other.  Since there is no easy way to determine the outcome of our actions we always face ambivalence. 

In the past the way to handle that ambivalence was to follow religion.  A bad deed or a bad decision was softened by the notion of sin and the subsequent penance. 

Nowadays, the rational world disposes off with the notion of sin.  The place of sin is taken by fault.  Judiciary became a response to fault. 

Traditional ethic required submission to the rules.  Modern ethic requires that each of us assumes responsibility for our deeds.  We have to decide what’s good and bad on our own. 

A moral action should not be conducted with a goal in mind.  In moral issues there is no (systemic) pressure because morality assumes free will. A moral deed can't be calculated, should be spontaneous and not thought out through.  Morality is innate. 

Levinas says that asking “why should I behave this way?” are the sighs of the end of morality.  Longstrup says that even if a certain rule assumes doing good, obeying it doesn’t make the action moral.  Moral actions have to spring from free will.  Morality belongs to the kingdom of uncertainty.  

Bauman is amazed by the fact that Levinas and Longstrup although coming from and working in radically different circles, came up with the same notion regarding spontaneous value of moral actions.  Longstrup says that Jesus couldn’t have formulated christian ethics because had he done that he would have created conformists and not moral creatures. 

(here I hesitate: isn’t the Bible a set of moral rules, haven’t Jesus tough how to live morally?  Or are the Bible rules for the weak while the true moral action has to spin from an individual assessment?  If so, there would be something scary and potentially dangerous in it - going in the direction of Nietzsche) 


Philosopher's Paradise

Below is the link to "Philosopher's Paradise", a 2004 documentary portrait of my dad, Janusz Kuczynski, a polish philosopher who worked hard to create a common philosophical platform for all.

The three decades of meanders, trials and tribulations of the group of academicians who,  gathered around my dad just after the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, is a story to be told. 

For now you can check out the beginnings: