identity and populism begone! the role of philosophy in healing a shattered and divided world.

laurance joseph splitter


Populism and tribalism are increasingly prevalent characteristics of so-called democratic societies. In this paper, I shall explore some of the reasons for this trend, including conceptual confusions about the nature of identity and the collectivist/individualist dichotomy; the decline of legitimate media outlets and their replacement by social media and their attendant narratives which have little regard for truth telling, consistency or moral norms; and the failure of voters to uphold their responsibilities as democratic citizens. I shall argue that while populism presupposes a formal democratic framework, it is actually incompatible with and, accordingly, a genuine threat to, democracy. I shall propose an epistemological and ethical framework based on the unifying concept of personhood which overrides the various tribes, groups, collectives and associations with which we identify, and which are, mistakenly, taken to constitute our actual identities. I shall also juxtapose notions of narrative and dialogue to suggest ways in which tribalism and polarization can be challenged. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most effective form of challenge is prevention, which underscores the importance of teaching children, from a young age, to be powerful thinkers. Powerful thinking is not merely an important educational tool; it is key to becoming persons who are self-aware, aware of others like them, and mutually aware of the world itself. Our identities as persons may be regarded as preconditions for asking and responding to what I call “the Big Questions” (including “How should I live?” “What are my responsibilities and obligations to others?”, and “How can I contribute to making the world a better place?”). It is here that philosophy for children and the community of inquiry have important roles to play.


Populism; identity; democracy; person; narrative; dialogue; powerful thinking

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