Fighting for justice within the machinery of identity politics is often seen as a “given” virtue in current cultural conversations. I’d like to call that virtue into question.
Basically, it’s about seeing the human race as being made up of factions.
- Political Affiliation
- Socio-Economic Level/Caste
Let’s say that Buddhists in Wisconsin are experiencing oppression by the majority. So, then the Buddhists organize, and engage in consciouness-raising within the group (getting them “woke”). Then they use the leverage of the group, now mobilized, to demand more fairness in society.
Here is the problem. Let’s take the example of nationalism. Fascist leaders convinced Germans and Italians in the 1930’s that the global deck of cards was stacked against them. They raised awareness (got them “woke”) and bullied their way into power. Nationalism simply is another form of identity politics (us vs. them), and it usually does not end well.
There exists generally, within any faction which is shooting for more power (legit or not), a marked lack of self-critique among the leaders. And the messaging used to raise consciousness (whether is it nationalism, feminism, or whatever) becomes ever more slanted. This heavily-spun, ultra-biased thinking clouds reason and action, and provides an easy target for opponents. Sometimes the oppressors use this (all-to-common) lack of reason from the protestors to nullify the (sometimes very legit) claims of those seeking more fairness. It’s easy to make fun of simplistic jingoism, even if it’s for a good cause.
This cycle can accelerate into endless name-calling, resulting in societal stagnation. Polarization and echo chambers become firmly fixed, and reasonable people stop getting engaged in politics.
In almost every case, the differences between “us” and “them” get so magnified by identity politics, that they obfuscate our obvious human similarities and commonalities. We have a lot more in common with every human being on earth than most of us realize. But identity politics, by exaggerating the gulf between groups, can allow hatred of all opponents, and in extreme cases, it can de-humanize them. E.g. the absurd propaganda posters of WW2 which showed the Japanese as monkey-like creatures. It’s always “OK” to injure, insult, or kill someone who “isn’t as human as we are.”
Current progressives are rightly disgusted by such images. But they draw the same kind of caricatures of Trump, Neo-cons, and the like. A progressive once said to me (as we watched a NASCAR race on TV): “It’s OK if they go to these races, as least they won’t be breeding.” How is that different from WW2 dehumanizations of the Japanese (one of the most advanced cultures on earth)?
Those who cling to “progressive” identity politics fail to see that white supremacy movements or militant nationalism are outgrowths of the same dynamics and methods which they practice:
- The same lack of self-critique.
- The same demonization of enemies.
- The same inability to see complexities and nuances (which exist in all people and all movements).
Those promoting identity politics often create rigid litmus tests for loyalty. For instance, pro-life feminists are often forbidden to show their signs at women’s marches. Republicans are looked at suspiciously if they don’t want to spend even more on the military. In order to “fit in,” one best consider “virtue signaling” to one’s group by putting down the humanity or intentions of any opposition (in a joke, slogan, etc). One is almost expected, publicly, to express strict adherence to details of your faction’s platform.
Jesus talked about “loving our enemies,” but very few Christians hold themselves to this wise maxim. Especially during the heat of the culture wars.
One of the big challenges for identity-politics progressives has been their inability to put forth an actual economic model that works better than the free market (with its crazy-clever information system called voluntary exchange and pricing), which they often demonize. Marxism tried to propose a second economic-model option (based on identity politics), but that was one of the biggest failures of human history. So all the progressives do now is try to propose all kinds of regulations and limits on the market, which do nothing but hamstring its (remarkable) ability to provide prosperity for the greatest number of participants possible. I find this lack of economic imagination on the part of progressives to be nothing but intellectual laziness. The free market has brought hundreds of millions of people out of poverty in the last generation–multiples of anything coerced wealth-redistribution has accomplished.
Some suggestions for discussion:
- Nothing wrong with seeking fairness between groups, in fact it is admirable. But history has shown that any person or group seeing a secondary identity (gender, race, etc) as primary and more important than “human” is committing an error that will lead to more errors.
- Demonizing the opposition always leads to a blurring of facts and other gross distortions of perception which often manifest themselves in inaccurate assumptions about the motives of others. Those deeply into identity politics often convince themselves that they understand the motives of their opponents better than the opponents know their own minds. E.g. “Obama’s just trying to ruin this country…” I doubt that thought ever entered his mind.
- Let’s be honest about the fact that one can make a living/vocation out of manipulating identity politics. The more one whips up one’s base, the more one can be rewarded with “yes men,” revenue, leverage, and power.
- For leaders, projecting hate on an external “lighting rod” can unify your people and minimize criticism that might come your way. Do you have the wherewithal to lead without misleading your followers into such distortions designed to keep the heat off of yourself?
- Do you have the courage to stop someone from socially punishing someone else for not adhering to the full platform of an activist’s cause? Even if you believe in the basics of that cause?
- Spiritually speaking, I believe strongly that it’s true that we share a sort of cosmic unity with all living things and with the Creator God. Do we not, in the end, harm ourselves when we do not recognize this oneness we share with others; not just those in our tribe or faction? The human family enjoys a common partaking in the miraculous gift of consciousness and even the gift of existence itself. Shouldn’t that over-ride identity politics?
I’d love to respond to your comments and questions below.