The Price for Identity

Your identity is valuable.  I’m not just talking about your Social Security number or your Facebook password.  I’m talking about the collection of things you identify with.  Maybe you’re a vegetarian, a Rotarian, a librarian, or a Libertarian.   Each of us feel a belonging to a number of groups, the sum of which makes us individuals.

Humans have always gone to great lengths to define some way to differentiate us vs. them, and among the strongest delineations in American culture are hometowns.  In reality, many of us have multiple “hometowns”.  The one we grew up in, the one we live in, maybe even the one we went to college in, or the one we used to live in.  Those are concrete immutable anchor points in our psyche.  This is primarily why people have such a deep visceral reaction to the notion of redrawing village, town, school district, or other identity based boundaries.

In my own hometown (the one I grew up in), they are currently entertaining the dissolution of the village for economic reasons.  The town would simply reabsorb the village.  There are lots of practical reasons to entertain the dissolution of the village, and lots of emotional reasons to oppose it.  Not that the opposition is entirely emotional, but that side has an emotional component the other side lacks.  And that emotion is largely fueled by identity.

Note that election districts are redrawn all the time and no one cares.  This is because no one says, “I’m from District 28, ” or asserts, “I’d never live in District 30!”  But we identify with our villages, schools, and other local boundaries.

Once upon a time, it was two hours by horse to the next village, now it’s a seven minute drive.  In a very real sense, the world is smaller than it was when all of these local entities were formed.  There are absolutely economies of scale to be had by combining villages, towns, and schools into larger regional organizations.  But it feels wrong.  Still, in this economy, paying taxes to the village, the town, the school district, the county, the state, and the fed really hurts.

All of which begs the ultimate question, how much are we willing to pay for that sense of identity?

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