Allegiance to Social Identity

“Allegiance,” as I’m seeing it, is about a deeper affinity that mere alliance, and it’s a bit different from relationship.  Relationship would be that your life (or fate, or destiny) is tied to the life of another.  A child has a relationship with parents, a CEO has a relationship with the corporation.  But relationship does not necessitate allegiance, or even mutual interest.  A child can’t eat without the approval of parents, a CEO might embezzle funds to support a lavish lifestyle.

Allegiance, then, is not just affinity or affiliation, but rather the inner conception of oneself as having a vested interest in the promotion of a specific ideology.  For example, in science, we talk about the scientific method – at the same time, there are “big names” in science who may disagree with certain findings from new research.  A young scientist may then be torn between allegiance to the scientific method, or allegiance to the scientific theory built by her mentor – a theory that she has then used to establish her own sense of authority within the scientific community.  It’s not that the scientific method is “wrong” – it’s that in some cases, adopting the findings of science can mean the loss of personal position or authority within the scientific community.  Allegiance, then, is how one prioritizes.  Does one vigorously promote the old theory?  Or does one stand with the procedural identity of the scientist who follows the data, whatever the consequence?

This, i think, is why false narratives prove so permanently damaging to credibility.  Take Brian Williams for instance – from his past exaggeration of being shot down over Iraq (CITATION) and seeing a dead body in the French Quarter following Katrina (CITATION), we have seen that his allegiance was less to the ethical reporting of the news and more to the sensationalist expression of narratives of personal suffering.

In politics, we see these kinds of bargains all the time.  Unfortunately, most cases of hyperbole and fabrication are not as easily investigated as we’ve seen with Brian Williams.  For example, if we take the vaccine controversy, we’ve recently heard that Ben Carson feels that we may be giving too many vaccines in too short a time (CITATION).  Epidemiology studies have shown that this is not the case (CITATION Offit; Mnoomkin).  So Carson, as a retired neurosurgeon, should presumably understand science and medicine, but does that mean he has read the studies and dismissed them?  Is he echoing anti-vaxxers and “vaccine reform” as an appeal to the Republican base?  Impossible for me to say. And the the answer does matter.  If he disagrees with many of the conclusions of science on fundamental ideological grounds, as indicated by his remarks disagreeing with evolution (CITATION), then we have someone with a strong allegiance to his Christian faith and other means of evaluating knowledge.  He may be aligned with Jenny McCarthy and Andrew Wakefield, showing an allegiance to the concerns of parents who are worried that vaccines could cause autism.  On the other hand, it could be that he’s read the studies, understands the data, accepts the data, and then publicly disputes it anyway.  That kind of behavior would indicate an allegiance to personal gain (i.e. winning votes) that supersedes any allegiance to public health.

Note that it is impossible for anyone other than Ben Carson to know which is the case.  This is where Trilling’s concepts of sincerity and authenticity become so fundamentally important, but we must understand that we can only perceive the performance of these qualities in an individual, not the actuality.

This is where autobiography comes in.  Since we can’t tell what is going on inside the mind of another, we must judge behaviors.  Do a person really care about children?  Does that person hug babies in the crowd?  Or does that person also volunteer to chaperone school field trips?  Has this person donated a kidney to a ailing student (CITATION)?

Autobiography, then, becomes the means by which individuals provide the narrative of interest, or the narrative of affiliation – the narrative that is supposed to indicate the individual’s true allegiances, so that others may judge if that individual’s allegiances are compatible with the allegiances of the country / hiring committee / awards committee.  And a single lie or fabrication – depending on the scope of and motives for the deception – irrevocably establishes the presence of an allegiance that supersedes the social need for genuine reports of reality.

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