Friday, October 23, 2015

Identity Politics Makes You Stupid

One does not want to think about how many people have denounced the mindlessness of identity politics, but, however powerful their arguments, the beast still lives.

It doesn’t matter what you think, how you feel and certainly not how you behave… what really matters is race, gender, ethnic origin and sexual preferences. Identity politics says that these define you. As long as you are not a straight white male, they place you on the moral high ground of victimhood. You have nothing to lose but your mind.

Lizzie Crocker explains it in an excellent column in The Daily Beast:

Identity politics are increasingly replacing the politics of ideas, weakening the moral and substantive power of any argument on both sides of the political spectrum.

Surely, Crocker is correct. Identity politics is making us stupid and ridiculous.

A different story hits the news every day. Williams College, one of America’s preeminent educational institutions has cancelled a speech by one Suzanne Venker because the students might feel discommoded by her ideas. Apparently, Venker stands too far to the right of the political spectrum.

You might think that if the students would feel discomfited by her ideas they could skip the lecture. For these incipient Brown Shirts, that would not be enough. Her mere presence on their campus would so thoroughly corrupt the environment that they would not be able to escape it.

But, it’s not just college campuses. Crocker reports on a yoga studio in Seattle that offered a class only for people of color. Privileged white heterosexuals need not apply.

In her words:

Laura Dumpf, the owner of a yoga studio in Seattle, thought she was doing her community a service when she advertised a monthly class specifically for minorities.

In an email to a neighborhood distribution list, Dumpf heralded a “people of color space that is lesbian, bisexual, gay, queer & trans-friendly/affirming.”

The class would welcome people who “self-identify as African American/Black/of the African Diaspora, Asian, South Asian, West Asian/Arab/Middle Eastern, Pacific Islander, First Nations/Alaskan Native/Native American/Indigenous, Chican@/Latin@, or Multiracial/Mixed-Race.”

Shoehorned into this community-wide invitation was a gentle caveat: “White friends, allies and partners are respectfully asked not to attend.”

I cannot be sure about this, but I suspect that the name Dumpf is short for the German word Dummkopf.

It’s not just that Dumpf’s knickers are in a twist. Her mind has been completely contorted.

Once the politics of ideas is replaced by the politics of gender, race and sexuality, people no longer need to think, to reason, to consider, to deliberate, to reflect, to evaluate, to debate, to discuss or to decide. 

Crocker explains:

It seems that the more we define our politics with reference to our gender or race or sexuality, the more inclined we are to declare ourselves victims of discrimination or oppression—to interpret a relatively innocuous yoga class as an attack on our personhood, in Monson’s case, while his critics turn their noses up at anyone who ticks the “white privileged male” box.

As one has been wont to argue here, and as Crocker says well, it’s all about the narrative. If Jennifer Lawrence was paid less than Bradley Cooper on one film, the only reason can be, Crocker explains, that it fits the narrative that “Hollywood is sexist.”

No one, she continues, stops to consider that Lawrence and Cooper might not have done the same work. And no one is willing to consider the circumstances surrounding their respective hirings. One must ignore reality lest the narrative be exposed for the fiction that it is.

Crocker is pointing to the flaw in the equal pay for equal work argument. The fact is, no two individuals-- whatever their gender or race or sexual proclivities and declivities—ever really do equal work. No two people do the same work at precisely the same level of competence.

And why should we be induced to see Jennifer Lawrence, a woman of extraordinary talent who will be earning something like $20 million for her next film as a victim of Hollywood sexism?

Interestingly, and not so long ago, Lawrence really was the victim of a horrendous violation of her privacy. Regarding that event one would be justified in saying that she was assaulted and victimized. Yet, when everyone is a victim the pain of real victimhood is trivialized.

As it happens, Crocker continues, identity politics has infected the political process. What is the raison d'ĂȘtre for the candidacy of Hillary Clinton? Apparently it is: her chromosomal makeup. Not her accomplishments, not her achievements, not her experience. Not at all. She is presenting herself for the office of the presidency of the United States on the grounds that we have never before had a woman president.

To glance across the political divide one would be hard put to believe that either of the two leading Republican candidates at the moment are running on their experience and accomplishments in government service, their command of the issues or their extensive qualifications for the office.

In the past factors like race and gender were too often considered to be uniquely disqualifying. Now, we have gotten to the point where they are uniquely qualifying. Not only that, but uniquely defining.

After all, did anyone think that Barack Obama was the most qualified, the best prepared, the most accomplished candidate for the American presidency. Not at all. People voted for him because they had been told that it was a way to strike a blow against racism, to rid the nation of its original sin and therefore a way to assert our virtue.

As it turns out, the president of Russia has been taking Obama for a chump. So, for that matter has the ayatollah in Iran. This can only mean, to those who worship at the altar of identity politics that Putin is unenlightened. The gods will doom his Middle Eastern adventure, just as they doomed his Crimean incursion!!

It’s almost as though Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping and the other world leaders who are filling the vacuum left by America’s abrogation of leadership are not in on the joke. 


Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Identity politics is easy. That's why politicians love it. That's why journalists love it. That's why demagogues love it. You don't have to think.

In the end, it represents the contempt politicians feel for others' intellectual capabilities. Perhaps because they have none of their own. We are all victims. The greatest sub-industry of modern politics is victimization, driven by the insatiable desires of the legal profession and its superhuman mission to eradicate discrimination.

Identity politics is more pronounced now because of big data and thin-slicing that data. People are no longer voters, nor even citizens. They are statistics. Identity based on immutable characteristics is one of humanity's greatest cohesive bonds, yet we have spent many decades convincing ourselves that such wicked considerations must not matter. Until we are politicians who need votes. Then it is all that matters.

Both political parties do this, but the Democratic Party has turned it into it's raison d'ĂȘtre. The racist, sexist, etc. babble that Democrats get away with for their own gain is remarkable. Look at the criteria for being a delegate at the Democratic National Convention. It's not about ideas. It's about potpourri, a kaleidoscope of colors for TV. They're still talking about Willy Horton, while baiting their own constituencies with fear on a daily basis. The KKK has been greatly subdued as a terrorist club, yet around election time it is supposedly legion, seemingly everywhere... at least in Democratic fundraising letters.

I'm afraid we've gotten what we deserve because of our institutionalization of digital gerrymandering in the form of modern congressional districts like the Illinois 4th congressional district. The 4th is designed to produce a Latino representative, ostensibly so Latinos can be represented by Latinos and feel better about their Latino selves when they have a Latino voice in Congress because otherwise Latinos would be subsumed by the racist white majority. Or something like that. The only way you can create such district is if you find a way -- using right angles -- to create a maze that produces a citizen pool that is 71.8% Hispanic. Fascinating logic: we'll eliminate racism by making sure we get results based on race.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

The level of pandering people will stoop to -- all the while claiming they are "deeply concerned" about all the chic social isms -- in order to appeal to people's most base desires is astounding. We are supposed to be moving to a color-blind society where immutable characteristics like race and sex are no longer valid criteria for overt discrimination. But in the interests of building voting blocs, we now have lifted immutable characteristics to preeminence, and expanded them. Homosexuals have same-sex sexual attraction, and perhaps this preference is "unchangeable, entrenched or innate." But it is not a physical attribute, per se. It is a behavior, and we have discretion as to when we will exhibit or demonstrate said behaviors. Women cannot hide that they are women, and black people cannot switch off their pigmentation at will. Those are immutable characteristics. Yet there is tremendous political gain to be had from strong identities like homosexuals and their interest groups. And it expands now to the transgender variety, and we get campaign positions declaring citizens should be compelled to pay for sex-change operations through taxation. That's pandering in a nutshell.

It's hard to think. It's easier to point at what's the same or different. A two-year-old can do it. When we look at our education system, and it's infatuation with identity as the source of everything, do we really wonder how we got here? Everyone wants to be part of a victim class because everyone wants to feel aggrieved because then they can trump other peoples' arguments with their aggrievedness. You don't have to think. And this is allowed. At places like Williams College. More than that, it is encouraged. This kind of earnestness is the harbinger of "caring" and "a sense of justice." Please. Even more, it is now institutionalized through our legal system. We are all victims, and we can choose from an endless menu of criteria or social history.

And that's what our politicians think of us. And the interest group industry keeps growing.

We believe in social science and neuroscience until it tells us there's nothing we can do about discrimination except through choice, driven by the intellect and the better angels of our nature. So we love the feel-good prose and language until we have to work at it, using our minds. Then we change the subject to why change is impossible, and the only way to beat racism is to marginalize or eradicate certain "privileged" races. These are heralded as "thoughtful" and "complex" arguments for the solution to this vexing problem. "Science says..."

David Foster said...

"Identity politics is more pronounced now because of big data and thin-slicing that data. People are no longer voters, nor even citizens. They are statistics. Identity based on immutable characteristics is one of humanity's greatest cohesive bonds, yet we have spent many decades convincing ourselves that such wicked considerations must not matter. Until we are politicians who need votes. Then it is all that matters."

Yes, it is very easy to identify the ethnic mix of a particular district, and develop appeals targeted to the assumed beliefs and preferences of that electorate. This may be defeatable, though, by harder but more intelligent targeting based on thinner slicing that goes beyond skin color and ethnicity and looks at real needs. For example, a direct mail campaign targeted at inner city residents who have kids in awful public schools and who should be attracted to a candidate who seriously wants to do something about the K-12 debacle. For example, a campaign targeted at women who operate small home-based businesses.

For thoughts about data in politics, see my post Catalist, "The 480," and The Real 480:

For thoughts about going beyond simplistic demographics in business marketing, see Christensen & Raynor's "The Innovator's Solution," which I reviewed here:

Sam L. said...

"As it turns out, the president of Russia has been taking Obama for a chump. So, for that matter has the ayatollah in Iran. This can only mean, to those who worship at the altar of identity politics that Putin is unenlightened." To the rest of us, it's because Obama wants to be their chump.

Ares Olympus said...

I confess this topic confuses me. The breadth of examples don't seem to add up to anything to me. I'd better start with a definition to help me.
Identity politics are political arguments that focus upon the interest and perspectives of groups with which people identify. Identity politics includes the ways in which people's politics may be shaped by aspects of their identity through loosely correlated social organizations.
The term identity politics has been used in political and academic discourse since the 1970s. One aim of identity politics has been for those feeling oppressed to articulate their felt oppression in terms of their own experience by a process of consciousness-raising.

So if a few individuals feel personally oppressed, and powerless, then their power may be increased by identifying others under the same oppressive conditions, including people who don't personally feel oppressed, but whom can be convinced of their oppression, then in a position of a united collective, power can be wielded.

And where the problems occur is when an individual or collective see an external oppressor, they emotionally can't allow themselves sympathy that oppressor, because that would threaten to weaken their resolve to force the oppressor to change immediately.

And this also takes me to my only good quote from Rush Limbaugh, "Don't trust the facts of people with causes." So basically people with causes feel their cause is negelected, and they end up cherry-picking facts and distorting facts to fit their narrative. And this process also requires an "echo chamber" where you only listen to people who agree with your point of view, and dismiss all facts presented outside of that echo chamber.

And the problem with this "stupidity" is it means once you're individually or collectively brave enough to try to assert your point of view outside of your echo chamber, you're representing a corrupt narrative that is pretty easy to dismiss from anyone who doesn't follow the same misrepresented reality. And then you have proof that "people don't care" about something so obviously wrong, and you go back doubly determined to your echo chamber to demonize your opposition again, so you can regain your centering as oppressed.

For example the Black Lives Matter groups apparently are caught up in such a "identity politics" so every claim of police brutality against blacks requires prejudgement against the police, that blacks are never belligerent or act badly, and police are just looking for excuses to beat on someone. And because such individual cases of police bruality exists and have not been properly punished, you can assume ALL new cases carry the weight of not only the current perhaps unknown facts, but all previous cases where facts might be better known. So its a witch trial where you know someone is guilty, and you know the opposition is guilty, and therefore any act of punishing the opposition is fair, even if the facts of this specific case are not 100% known or accurate, but they also carry the weight of all previous injustices.

And perhaps the NRA benefits by a different sort of "identity politics" promoting another example of stupidity, where every time someone says "Obama wants to take away your guns" promotes a new round of Pavlovian gun and ammo purchases.

The cases are surely endless, and complex because real injustices and oppressive laws and behavior exist, and many will go unpunished, but as long as everyone is living in their tribal echo chambers, the real facts can't even be agreed upon and no one needs to listen to anyone who isn't on the home team.

But if that's all it is, its just old fashioned tribal thinking, just more stupid now because your tribe isn't people you know personally, but people who have the slightest common interest to you, even if they disagree on everything else.

Anonymous said...

Ares says: nothing. Lots of words, still nothing. Lots of words to explain something he says he's confused about. -$$$

Ares Olympus said...

Poor Ms. $$$, I did my best in 600 words.

The topic also reminded me of that Mary Poppins song Sister Suffragettes, about the good old days when women were legitimate victims of patriarchy, and where white women could get together and stand up to their oppressors, and get the right to vote, after 100 some years.

They really did try to be "fair and balanced" singing "Though we adore men individually, We agree that as a group they're rather stupid."

Soon Hillary will help us see if the fairer sex is up to the task of saving the free world from itself.
We're clearly soldiers in petticoats
And dauntless crusaders for women's votes
Though we adore men individually
We agree that as a group they're rather stupid
Cast off the shackles of yesterday
Shoulder to shoulder into the fray
Our daughters' daughters will adore us
And they'll sing in grateful chorus
Well done, Sister Suffragette
From Kensington to Billingsgate one hears the restless cries
From every corner of the land womankind arise
Political equality
And equal rights with men
Take heart, for Mrs. Pankhurst has been clapped in irons again
No more the meek and mild subservients we
We're fighting for our rights militantly
Never you fear
So cast off the shackles of yesterday
Shoulder to shoulder into the fray
Our daughters' daughters will adore us
And they'll sing in grateful chorus
Well done
Well done
Well done, Sister Suffragette