Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Kwame Appiah on Social Identities, Identity Politics, and the Presidential Election

How are we to decide how to vote?

Should we study the policy positions of the candidates, determine to the best of our abilities which set of policies will have the best consequences for human well-being on the whole, and then vote for candidates supporting those policies?

Or should we consult with ourselves about which approaches to public problems best adhere to and symbolically express the social identities we find ourselves as possessing? For example, should we as men vote for the most manly candidate, or as women vote for a female candidate, or as African-Americans vote for an African-American candidate (or as a woman or African-American vote against a woman or African American candidate because he or she is not feminist or Black enough?)

Or, is it even possible to base our votes on rational consideration of consequences? And will we inevitably base our political decisions on our social identities?

And how have issues of social identity played a role in the primary battles between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, or between John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Mike Huckabee?

These issues are discussed in a fascinating 48 minute interview with Anthony Kwame Appiah, a Princeton philosopher and author of The Ethics of Identity and Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers, who for the last 15 years has been among America's most interesting commentators on social and cultural issues.

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