An Integral View of National Identity

article by Valerii Pekar

Valerii Pekar is an author of a bestseller on integral dynamics, and more than 300 articles on management, marketing, IT, futurology. He is entrepreneur since 1992, a member of the board of directors of the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry (UFI).

Recent dramatic events in Europe, the Middle East and other regions led people to rethink the notion of nation and their relationships with the country and the state. Obviously, the causes of these events are rooted not only in geopolitical games of great powers as well as economic realities of globalization, crisis and phase transition, but also in the identity systems of the people inhabiting these territories. If we believe that everything is connected, that the world of ideas is as important as the world of things, if we believe in the freedom of will, then we have no right to consider hundreds of millions of people to be mere toys in the hands of great forces, be it explicit imperialists, secret world governments or blind market forces.

We are so accustomed to the present era, which is rather short relative to the history of mankind, that we are inclined to measure all objects and processes in current categories, including those that should definitely be attributed to other epochs. One of these seemingly understandable concepts is national identity. Misleading simplicity confuses and leads to incorrect political decisions, the price of which turns out to be too high. Catalonia and Scotland, Serbs, Croats and Bosnians, Ukrainian Donbas and Crimea, Russian Chechnya and Tatarstan, Kurds and Iraqi – all these stories, often bloody, are rooted in the systems of identity.

We already know that consciousness is evolving, and the various stages of its evolution generate different understandings of family and money, justice and labour, leadership and learning. Might identities also be prone to evolution? We argue that they are and consider the evolution of identity systems.

Humans have always deliberately and subconsciously divided the representatives of their own biological species into “their own” and “strangers”, and this program is rooted deeply, at the level of instincts. Strictly speaking, identity is a part of self-consciousness of a person, which is formed by a sense of belonging to certain social groups. The main factor in the formation of different systems of identity is values: after all, identity is foremost an answer to the question “Who am I?”. And this answer is given according to what the person considers the most important.

The beige (instinctive) paradigm of thinking, which represents a zero of evolution, does not even provide sufficient self-identification, not to mention the group identity: everything that a person feels is that he/she is alive. But the next paradigm, the purple one, begins to untwist the spiral.

The purple (magic) paradigm acknowledges only one identity, blood relations, or kindred. Kin, a set of people associated with traceable blood affinity, appears as the chronologically first system of identity. Anthropologists have repeatedly observed on different continents how strangers met on the trail and began their acquaintance with a difficult, intense and sometimes quite lengthy conversation with the aim to find common relatives and thus determine their community and mutual location in the system.

Note that people of an isolated village, which stays on the purple level, do not reflect on identity, answering question regarding identity simply with “we are locals”. In general, local territorial binding, which considers the land sacred, is very important for the purple paradigm. People born here will be considered to be locals, regardless of where their luck throws them and how they change internally and externally. And those who move there and live there for decades will still remain aliens for locals. Xenophobia is born on the purple level: the outside world is dangerous and incomprehensible, and strangers are not human beings at all.

The red (heroic) paradigm of thinking forms simultaneously with the first territorial expansions and the partial destruction of tribal relationships. Large nomad tribal unions, as well as the first settled cities required not only centralized power but also an explanation of why these people live together. Centralized power and local “gods of power” became such an explanation: in essence, a new identity is the identity of the “owner” (Baal in the ancient Middle East). New groups are predecessors of ethnoses. In such communities, it is impossible to observe kinship, and therefore there is a legend, a myth about an ancestor: all Romans are from Romulus and Rem; Türks descend from Ashina Khan, and so on. Strangers can be included if they observe the rules of the game, but in fact, simply if they are loyal to the leader.

The blue (ethical) paradigm is formed simultaneously with ethical religious systems (at this stage, philosophy, ethics and religion are merged). The community is united not by the past but by the present. It does not matter who you were before and where you came from, but if you share common rules with us, you are one of us. Historically, at that time cities were growing, empires were created and world religions were spreading. Therefore, the transition from the local gods to religious universalism was very important, since it allowed to include more and more people and territories in the system. This universalism is characteristic of both ethical and karmic religions.

At this level, the identity is multilevel. Let’s recall the times of d’Artagnan: there were the Gazonets, the Burgundians, the Normans, the Anjuts and others and everyone clearly understood their identity, but at the same time all of them were subjects of the French king, and at the higher level they were all Christians and differed from Muslims and Jews.

However, the first level of blue identity is the social position. French nobles had much more in common with English and Italian nobles than with their own peasants. And the peasants did not feel they were Frenchmen at all (in fact, there were no Frenchmen, this notion arose simultaneously with the awareness of the political nation after the French Revolution, see below). Thus, class identity proclaimed by communists is a rudiment of the blue paradigm, and the eminent theoretician of nationalism Eric Hobsbawm said that the so-called “proletarian internationalism” is not internationalism but a sub-political consciousness of a smaller scale.

The blue paradigm focuses on the “we,” on unity, and therefore often manifests itself in the inability to break down the identity (see below), to show one’s “self” and see “myself” in another person.

The orange (rationalist) paradigm formed together with the national states and political nations. When empires collapsed, the parade of sovereignty of former colonies generated new nations, followed by the same process in metropolises. This process at first emerged in Europe, where socioeconomic changes occurred earlier, as well as in overseas sprouts of European civilization. At the same time, when empires exited from regions where there were no socioeconomic changes, independence of former colonies was not accompanied by the creation of nations, and therefore identities remain the same (modern Africa gives a lot of examples). The creation of political nations and national states is always a part of the process of modernization.

According to the integral vision, modernization happens as a number of parallel and interconnected processes (not necessarily simultaneous) in all spheres of life: in economic relations, technologies, political systems, paradigms of thinking and systems of values, culture and language, and, of course, in systems of identities. Therefore, the emergence of nationalism and the formation of political nations is an immediate part of modernization. Gale Stokes directly connects the emergence and spread of nationalism with the emergence of abstract logical thinking (orange paradigm).

That is why the Soviet communist intentions to create a “new historical community, the Soviet people” were doomed. The huge masses of the carriers of the blue paradigm, of course, were captured by the idea of a gigantic imperial identity. However, the spread of the orange paradigm and accelerated technological modernization had created the preconditions for the birth of political nations. Only complete inhibition of modernization could freeze the blue paradigm and imperial community.

The system of identities based on nationality is much more complicated. If previously existing identities (ethnos, citizenship and religion) were “on different floors”, now the identity is supposedly composed of two halves, identity of the organic (by birth) and identity of the institutional (for socio-political institutions). A simple example: a person is a Georgian and a Russian at the same time. Georgian by birth, by inner feelings, by many behavioural stereotypes and habits; but a Russian man, in the language that he thinks and sees dreams, in the culture he belongs to (and often makes a significant contribution to); the list of such “Russian Georgians” is extremely large and the same goes for the lists of “French Armenians”, “American Jews”, etc.

As a result of the gradual complication and increase in the diversity of social roles, simple identity, which at the early stages includes in a “packed” manner such different relationships as blood affinity, tribal affiliation, unity of beliefs, social status, the power of a single ruler, etc., is ostensibly “unpacking” or splitting. Sociologists call this process differentiation. From ethnocentricity identity begins to gradually shift to world-centricity.

An important role here is played by the formation of a personal identity separate from the state. Adrian Hastings emphasized that even if a nation is created by the state, it becomes a nation only when it feels its superiority over the state. Such an identity independent from the state is forming in the process of modernization in the civil society.

Obviously, the number of political nations will grow as more and more communities move to the orange paradigm of thinking. For example, major changes are expected in China, where the expansion of the orange paradigm will lead to the manifestation of new regional identities (languages are significantly different), and in imperial Russia, where there are more than a hundred of nationalities. Currently existing nations will also split, even in the old Europe. At the same time, the mosaic of political nations will grow with an increasing number of stable diasporas forming.

An important aspect here is the discrepancy between language and identity. National identity is, above all, the self-identification, which is quite complicated, as we saw above. A person may not even know his/her native language but confidently define himself/herself as a member of the community (ethnos, political nation). That is why the Ukrainian political nation draws people of different ethnic backgrounds, including those who speak Russian only. The domination of Russian language in many large Ukrainian cities, as it turned out, has nothing to do with being Russian, just as Americans and New Zealanders are not Englishmen. And also Russian language will not be able to prevent the emergence of, for example, a separate Siberian identity in large cities, if the preconditions for this appear.

And here we come to the understanding that systems of identity of the orange level originate at first as intellectual constructs. German, French, Czech, Ukrainian and any other political national identity (regardless of the existence of a historical mono-ethnic or poly-ethnic state or several such states) aroused originally in the writings of philosophers and poets and then manifested in the socio-political environment (the poetry of Goethe and Schiller is a good example).

Note that during the emergence of a political nation of the history is rewritten and new myths are created, and without this a modern nation can’t appear. Sometimes in this process amazing artificial objects are created, for example, Scottish national clothes or modern Israeli culture as a mix of literary, dance, linguistic and culinary traditions from completely different regions of the world, or many examples of the national pantheons of heroes of small European nations. At the same time, these myths, pantheons and other things are directed less to the bearers of the future orange paradigm and more to their blue followers, who need proof of antiquity and authenticity.

The green (ecological) paradigm reveals the new, next system of identity which is already noticeable around the world. These are new cosmopolites that think globally and are not bound by national ties, at least in our conventional notions of organic and institutional identity. They themselves choose who they should be and in which country (national state) to live. Such people feel a community with those who share with them common ideas and interests. This system of identities can be called value-centric.

Further development of mankind will generate new, ever more complex systems of identities. The yellow paradigm is juggling with identities (a kind of salad where everything is available, and you can choose tasty bits), and the turquoise paradigm is the identity of a planetary human being in general, because all people are parts of a single organism.

Note that each subsequent system of identities is fundamentally more complex than the previous, and this is natural, since each subsequent paradigm of thinking includes and transcends the previous one and leads to a higher degree of structural complexity (i.e. lower entropy).

Since various contemporary communities are at different stages of development, their identity systems, of course, are different. That is why, when these communities interact, there are often confusion and misunderstanding. In the modern world, people with different identity systems live in one city, but in absolutely separate worlds. And the carriers of older systems are mostly unwilling to assimilate, for example, Arabs in Paris, Pakistanis in London, Turks in Berlin and Tajiks in Moscow. The complication of the social structure is accompanied by the disappearance of the dominant discourse of social life (for example, religion), which makes it impossible to accept this dominant discourse, i.e. to assimilate.

Thus, many phenomena that at the first glance are similar and appear in the newsfeed as separatist movements or national liberation wars are completely different. In places where modern nations are formed, these events are certainly aimed at creating a national state as a prerequisite for the completion of modernization. (However, this process depends on the surrounding political environment: we can’t compare European framework for regional autonomies with highly centralized authoritarian states like Russia.) At the same time, in places, where modernization still did not come, as the Arab world, not national states, but, on the contrary, new empires like Islamic State will appear.

Once again, we emphasize the interconnection of national identity with economy, politics and religion. The destruction of kins, the formation of states, replacement of “ancient nameless gods” by the “gods of power”, as well as the appearance of the rent of power in the economy (slavery) are all mutually connected with the spread of the red paradigm of thinking and the corresponding identity system of “here and now” power groups. In the same way, the blue paradigm of thinking and “socio-ethnic-religious” identity are directly related to the development of universal religions and the corresponding legal political systems, as well as the formation of economic systems of the rent of status, namely feudalism and its later varieties (socialism, oligarchic “capitalism” and state “capitalism”). We have already written about the relationship of economic, political, technological modernization with the modernization of the mental and cultural sphere, accompanied by the emergence of political nations. Perhaps it might be worth to mention here the religious modernization, commonly known as the Reformation, in which nationalist trends are accompanied by the translation of the Bible and the liturgy into national languages. Well, today’s wave of green thinking and its corresponding cosmopolitism, of course, are directly related to the formation of the sprouts of new economic relations and with the spread of green cosmopolitan political structures (for example, e-citizenship), which soon will capture millions of people.

In conclusion, it should be noted that purple identity is based on the past (blood affinity means common ancestor), red identity is based in the present with an appeal to the past (leadership here and now plus a myth about the ancestor), blue identity is based in the present (inclusion in the system and common rules), orange identity is based in the present with an appeal to the future (a nation and the progress), while green is aimed at the future.

About Valerii

Valerii Pekar is entrepreneur since 1992, a member of the board of directors of the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry (UFI). Lecturer of Kyiv-Mohyla Business School (kmbs) and Lviv Business School (LvBS). Author of a bestseller on integral dynamics and more than 300 articles on management, marketing, IT, futurology. More than 200 seminars on integral dynamics were held since 2010. Member of the National Reforms Council (2014-2016), adviser to the minister of economic development and trade (2014-2016).