Amartya Sen’s Identity and Violence – A Review

by Vinaya HS on April 3, 2006

in General Stuff

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“Identity and Violence – The Illusion of Destiny” is Amartya Sen’s latest work. I first discovered Sen’s writing through one of his recent works “The Argumentative Indian.” I find his writing worth reading because he always backs up what he writes with facts and figures. Plus his usage of the English language is exemplary. I certainly learnt a lot from reading “The Argumentative Indian.”

Identity and Violence is no different in style. In this book Sen writes about some of the contemporary problems that plague the world. He writes about the plurality of human identity and the importance of choice and reason in recognizing the same. The book also explores the consequences of suppressing one’s identities, the dangers of imposing an unwanted identity, the current – and often politically motivated – practice of using religion and civilization as the only dividing line among humans, and other related topics.

The book is peppered with gems of information. For example:

While discussing democracy, Sen writes:

There is a long history of public discussion across the world. Even the all-conquering Alexander was treated to a good example of public criticism as he roamed around in northwest India around 325 B.C. When Alexander asked a group of Jain philosophers why they were neglecting to pay any attention to the great conqueror (Alexander was clearly disappointed by these Indian philosophers’ lack of interest in him), he received the following forceful reply:

“King Alexander, every man can possess only so much of the earth’s surface as this we are standing on. You are but human like the rest of us, save that you are always busy and up to no good, traveling so many miles from your home, a nuisance to yourself and to others! … You will soon be dead, and then you will own just as much of the earth as will suffice to bury you.”

And, did you know that the principal engineer behind the tubular concept of structural engineering used in the The World Trade Center was Fazlur Rahman Khan, a Chicago-based engineer from Bangladesh, who did the basic work underlying this innovation? Fazlur Rahman Khan is also the brains behind the 110-story Sears Towers and the 100-story John Hancock Center in Chicago, and also the Hajj Terminal in Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.

There’s more to come in the book. I’ll keep this posted updated as I progress through the book.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Yogeeta April 6, 2006 at 8:08 PM

Regarding Alexander’s example, the anecdote must always have been quoted as coming from Alexander’s lide, why do you think it isnt quoted as coming from the Philospher’s life who asked that question?

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