Debating IR

Probing the philosophical underpinnings of the international system and anything else of interest.

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Jonathan Berman Responds to NW: Identity vs. Interests

It's clear that NW and I disagree whether interests or identity is more important. This is a welcome occurence considering the blogs are supposed to be an opportunity to debate each other. If I have it right I believe NW feels that interests transcend identity. If this is so then I will proceed to lay down an intellectual smackdown.

First, allow me to respond to his example of the individual with a gender-identity crisis. As I contended in class I think it is clear that there is physical, objective reality. The question then is how do human beings interpret it? It is clear that one of the parameters of how we interpret the physical world is through our identity. Our physical selves our part of that reality too. In the case of the gender confused individual mentioned by NW it is clear his physical self has changed his interest in sexual partners. Nevertheless, that individual's reaction to their shift in sexual orientation depend on their identity.

In class I mentioned the Greeks and Romans, who clearly had different views on homosexuality. A person finding out they were a homosexual during this time period would probably not have any qualms about it since the practice was accepted. Compare that to a person who found out they were gay in the Dark Ages or even in the 1950's. They would probably react to their gender crisis a lot differently, just because the societies they were part of viewed homosexuality as evil and wrong. Potentially, they might even embark on a self-destructive path because their new identity conflicted with their ideas of what an ideal member of their society was.

I don't think that constructivism minimizes the importance of interests it just decries taking them as a given. Interests have to come from somewhere and since we can only know the physical world through our perception, whatever shapes that perception needs to be taken into account before interests are developed. I believe this explains why two states, faced with the same pressures from the international system and of similar power and size can have such different foreign policies. Identity is the wildcard.

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