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Fabric of Identity

By Jay Taber
If the fabric of global society is analogous to a constantly shifting patchwork of cognitive
relationships between tribes, institutions, markets and networks, then the fabric of each
component of this weaving of narratives is comprised of the beliefs, opinions and views
of the individuals interacting with each of these basic forms of human organization. As
such, our foundational psychic identities, comprising ethnic or tribal origins and their
cosmologies, are the sole authentic basis of determining who we are.
This is not to say that other, superficial identities, like race or religion, cannot exert
powerful influences on our thoughts, words and deeds, but merely to point out that these
identities unlike our cultural heritage from original nations are transitory. Much like
ephemeral state boundaries arbitrarily overlaid on ancient lands and territories, coerced
identities associated with modern states are transferable, even when underlying cultural
characteristics remain.
Given the degree of disconnection today from our cultural and geographic roots, indeed
from historical awareness, the voluntary and coerced identities we assume are largely
superficial. But this doesnt mean they are unimportant, only that they are more tenuous
and vulnerable to subversion by dominant social ideologies. With few opportunities to
find genuinely supportive social structures and organizations, most of us are left to fend
for ourselves in creating an identity that both suits our needs and our understanding.
Absent the connectivity that defines relationships at a tribal or aboriginal level, we are
faced with crafting a persona that blends and distinguishes what Manuel Castells calls the
legitimizing identities of institutions, the project identities of reform, and the resistance
identities of excluded peoples, depending on our view of history. Economic and political
affiliations, of course, play a role in forming these views, but even they can be
transcended by strong, determined individuals whose identities are supported by
authentic philosophies and organized networks.
Fulfilling our various duties and responsibilities within this often frantic construct
requires that we seek an identity we can live with; otherwise, when tested by the
turbulence of social conflict, it will assuredly unravel.
Jay Taber is the recipient of the Public Good Project
Defender of Democracy award, and is an associate
scholar of the Center for World Indigenous Studies.
The author of five books, and associate editor of
Fourth World Journal
Jay spends considerable time mentoring writers and
activists throughout the English-speaking world. He
can be reached by e-mail at or through
his website