A comment I read this morning has an insightful summary of what cultural identity is. And how it self-generates and self-perpetuates “…well beyond the control or foresight of anyone,.” (Source)
This complex of [cultural] ideas generates intense psychological pressures and allegiances and mobilizes some of the most primitive energies of the human psyche – safety, danger, clan, tribe, blood, status, power, domination – and leads to a clear pattern of behavior that is decentralized and not under anyone’s control but is still a very clear system that can be analyzed and identified. (Ibid.)
The entire string of comments is well-worth reading and can be found at the link above. [No permalink, so Ctrl F a snippet of the quote above to find the starting point.]
These comments are on Jewish culture and history but they apply just as well to any cultural “construct,” all of which are the stronger precisely because they are social constructs.
The commenter quoted above leans toward a negative appraisal of Jewish culture and history, which I largely agree with, but if it’s up to me I would say that virtually all successful cultures (“successful” being ones that perpetuate) have analogous negative features.
Incidentally, I believe a great deal of Buddhist practice and the practices of other religions are based on disentangling practitioners from cultural constructs to discover their authentic beings, souls, or the will of God.
Religions do this because in many ways cultures are toxic to the higher mind, the metacognitions of thusness and individual authenticity.
That said, cultures do teach us and raise us and we cannot develop without them. Religions are also cultures. And that said, we are capable as individuals of both learning from our cultures and growing well beyond them.
In this respect and in light of Buddhist practice, I am very leery of any and all kinds of cultural identities or individual identities fashioned as allegiance to a culture, especially an aggressive one. Sadly, it is also true that if you have no identity your culture will be lost or destroyed, so we all really do need some sort of “defensive identity.” In this respect, I can happily identify with most of the world Buddhist community and most of the traditional American Constitutional system interpreted conservatively. I also have a mild-but-strong-enough defensive white identity because that group is fast approaching eight percent of world population and I want it to survive.