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Paolo Futre was known at some point in his career as the Portuguese Maradona. This is no small compliment and the footballer had some splendid years at Atlético de Madrid between 1987 and 1993. Reviewing his career on a TV show he burst into tears recalling how at some point he was offered to play as a national Spanish player (at the time only three foreign players could do that). He loved his club, but he was offended by the idea. In several occasions a tearful Paolo Futre erupted: “Fuck that, I am Portuguese. I am Portuguese, do you hear me?”.

This was an angry man defining himself. He identified himself as part of a group. He was Portuguese, and don’t you doubt it because for all the money he was offered, he rejected it.

That was a time when identifying with a group meant something completely different to what it means today. The identity Futre was talking about was a rather permanent one. He was proud of being a Portuguese citizen, something one is born into and something that will define you for the rest of your life.

What a horrible prospect for the new identity warriors of today, those living in our post-modern, Western and neo-liberal societies. Their idea of identity is that of “not belonging”, not being anything in particular, or maybe being too many things at the same time (to the point of contradiction). The theory behind the so-called “fluidity” goes in this direction. Many people tend to identify with things they do not truly belong to. Think of campaigns like Me too, Black lives matter, We are all Ukraine, etc. In the end, it does not really matter because that identity will soon shift and mutate into something else: We are all trans or We are all Malala Yousafzai.

What is really important in this “identity culture” is not having a strict set of values. What is right today can be wrong tomorrow and vice-versa. This applies to almost any aspect of our lives: fashion, relationships, make-up, politics, food, parenting, education, etc.

In this permanent flow, in this going from here to there without a fixed course of direction, necessarily the supreme ideal is “freedom”. We have the freedom to choose who we want to be or how we identify ourselves. The enemy is the one that opposes this goal, whether it is an individual, a corporation or an institution like schools, hospitals or the State.

In the past, freedom came with responsibilities and consequences. There was a moral debate about the implications of our actions (a big part of all the existential philosophy deals with this topic). Today, however, freedom is understood in the opposite way, we want freedom to quickly change our opinions, our tastes and our identities. It is none of your business how I identify myself, and I can do that because I am free to choose. We live in a democracy, don’t we? Young students constantly use this argument in schools. Any teacher would confirm that.

This situation is only possible, to a certain extent, in Western societies that value individualism. It is not the case in many parts of the world because individual choices have a deep influence in the country as a whole. The likes of China, Russia or Nigeria can not tolerate this openness towards change or identity because there is always something more important than personal freedom, namely the stability of the whole society.

It is obviously something more complex than this, but in its most basic form the formule is: The state of a society's economy and technology has a direct influence on its moral values and ideological principles. We are, as members of Western societies, under the influence of liberal capitalism and the rule of phones, computers and social media. We have no alternative but shifting to a more fragmented and atomised society where individuals have the option to identify themselves with many different groups. In a way, we want to translate the freedom of the market and the internet to every other aspect of our lives. I can choose (and change) my identity the same way that I choose and change my favourite breakfast cereals. This isn’t in itself good or bad, just what defines our time.

Another myth worth debunking is the idea of unity within the identity. In any identity group there are always smaller groups, schisms, fractures or dissidents that question the supposed unity. If I were to identify as Christian, I would face conflict with other Christian denominations, whether Catholics, Protestants, Calvinists, Baptists, Evangelicals or some others. Conflict is everywhere and an essential part of any society. The identity politics of today might not be as liberating as we imagined as it fragments society in a myriad of opposing options and shifting alliances.

Far from being a reactionary conclusion, a lot of criticism comes from the left. They criticise the fragmentation of society in micro-groups of power competing against each other, forgetting the principles that shape the political ideology of the left: unity and equality.

Overall, the contrast between Futre's unyielding national identity and the current trend towards fluid and constantly evolving identities highlights the complex and changing nature of identity in today's post-modern society.

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