Us are solitary

We Contain Multitudes

How was it, Sen asks about that murderous year, that “the broad human beings of January were suddenly transformed into the ruthless …of July”?

“For a bewildered child,” Sen remembers, “the violence of identity was extraordinarily hard to grasp.”

[Nobel-winning economist Amartya Sen] takes aim at what he calls the ” ‘solitarist’ approach to human identity, which sees human beings as members of exactly one group.”

This view, he argues, is not just morally undesirable, but descriptively wrong.

While “a Hutu laborer from Kigali may be pressured to see himself only as a Hutu and incited to kill Tutsis . . . he is not only a Hutu, but also a Kigalian, a Rwandan, an African, a laborer and a human being.”

Because all of us contain multitudes, we can choose among our identities, emphasizing those we share with others rather than those we do not.