“God created Darwin to test the gullible”

Amartya SenToday we discussed ‘Making sense of identity’ by Amartya Sen, Nobel Prize winner for economics in 1998. He discusses the way we construct our identity or identities, and argues against the belief that  identity is something to be discovered by searching for or returning to the ‘true self’ . His argument is that ones itentity is a matter of choice (and constraints).  In his view, we can simultaneously be be “a British citizen, of Malaysian origin, with Chinese racial characteristics, ….., a bird-watcher, an astrologer, and one who believes that God created Darwin to test the gullible”.

That last sentence had me smiling. Reminded me of the joke about Darwinism, when a very proper English lady was heard to say: “I do hope mr. Darwin’s ideas are not true, but if they are, I hope the servants won’t find out about it”.

As a small experiment, I made a list of my own ‘identities’ and organised them into a pie chart.  Start reading by the smallest red wedge, it refers to ‘European’.  As you can see, ‘mother of 3’ takes up rather a large part, then comes ‘art student’, then the rest. This does reflect my priorities rather well, also the fact that I have  a lot on my plate this year.

Mr. Sen gives a lot of great examples, making the article a joy to read.

Interesting statement: “The social world  constitutes differences by the mere fact of designing them”, meaning that dividing people up into categories may produce a difference where none existed.

What interests me also  is the paragraph about how we usually have an image in our mind about a person or about a class of people.   I have started to call such images ‘mental maps’ . Once we have a mental map in our minds of someone (or something, or some place) that answers our needs we stop looking and sort of fixate the map in our mind. When the map solidifies it becomes very hard to change- why?

By the way, did you know that Darwin was also a great gardener?  Check this out if you’re interested

pie chart identities

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