Category:Identity Politics

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Section started in August 2019. It is specifically dedicated to critical approaches the authoritarian identitarianism that is related to Group Identity Theory (now also called Critical Social Justice), not on the older emancipatory movements such as the women's movement, the gay rights movements, civil rights for minority populations, etc ..., which operated under a egalitarian ethos within the bounds of universalism. This section is exclusively concerned with movements that reject universalist egalitarianism and pose particular dangers to peer to peer and commons approaches.

Context

In order to learn a critical and self-reflexive approach in this subject, you may look to critique and contextualization from various sources:

  • on the radical left, current critics have been the people working around Jacobin magazine; with people like webcaster Michael Brooks (identified as 'integral left'), and from the black African-American left, with researchers on class and race such as Adolphe and Toure Reed. Also radical philosophers and journalistic commentators such as Slavoj Zizek and Matt Taibi belong to this broad camp, which was initiated with the Vampire Castle essay of Marc Fisher, listed below. (see also Dyab Abou Jahah). There is also strong critique emanating from the radical feminist camp.
  • on the center left (in the U.S. often called the 'liberal left'), there are several groups active: 1) the group of Grievance scholars, i.e. Helen Pluckrose, James Lindsay and Peter Boghossian which focuses on the genealogy of the current identitiarian ideology (New Discourses; Aero magazine); 2) the group around Brett Weinstein, Heather Heying, and Eric Weinstein (Dark Horse Podcast, the Portal); 3) the group around Rebel Wisdom documentary network and journalist David Fuller.
  • some pluralistic alliances cover broader political ground. This would be the case for the Intellectual Dark Web nebulae, for magazines like Quillete, and for a loose alliance of African-American scholars such as Coleman Hughes, James McWhorter, etc .. There is a group of critics that originated from the left but moved to the conservative camp as a result of their free speech commitments, for example Michael Rectenwald.


Quotes

Short Quotations

"If you can't control your own emotions, you have to control the behavior of others"

- Robert Skinner cited by John Cleese


Long Quotations

Identity is the least important thing about us

"Our identity is the least important thing about us. And yet, it is the thing we have become most committed to talking about. From the standpoint of a left politics, this is a profound mistake since what it means is that the political left -- increasingly invested in the celebration of diversity and the redress of historical grievance -- has converted itself into the accomplice rather than the opponent of the right. Diversity has become the left's way of doing neoliberalism, and antiracism has become the left's contribution to enhancing market efficiency. The old Socialist leader Eugene Debs used to be criticized for being unwilling to interest himself in any social reform that didn't involve attacking economic inequality. The situation now is almost exactly the opposite; the left today obsessively interests itself in issues that have nothing to do with economic inequality. And, not content with pretending that our real problem is cultural difference rather than economic difference, we have also started to treat economic difference as if it were cultural difference. .. if we can stop thinking of the poor as people who have too little money and start thinking of them instead as people who have too little respect, then it's our attitude toward the poor, not their poverty, that becomes the problem to be solved, and we can focus our efforts of reform not on getting rid of classes but on getting rid of what we like to call classism. The trick, in other words, is to stop thinking of poverty as a disadvantage, and once you stop thinking of it as a disadvantage then, of course, you no longer need to worry about getting rid of it. More generally, the trick is to think of inequality as a consequence of our prejudices rather than as a consequence of our social system and thus to turn the project of creating a more egalitarian society into the project of getting people (ourselves and, especially, others) to stop being racist, sexist, classist homophobes. The starting point for a progressive politics should be to attack that trick."

- WALTER BENN MICHAELS [1]


Quote on the darker sides of group identity theory and practice

Selected from Diane Musho Hamilton:

"As we move towards greater inclusivity we’re also seeing some unintended consequences, such as:

  • Oppressive rules around speech and “political correctness”. There can seem to be a hypersensitivity to language and behavior that can create a culture of fear.
  • Endless processes of blame and accusation that don’t seem to ever resolve.
  • A victim-oppressor framework that doesn’t allow any other narratives to come forth.
  • The inversion of power hierarchies instead of their transformation (with a new group of oppressors at the top instead of no oppressors there).
  • A monoculture that only values a narrow range of attitudes, politics, personality types, and communication styles.
  • The demonization of those with differing views."

(https://tendirections.com/inclusion-2-0/?)


Denying the Individual, denying the universal

"Oppressed group identities ... are constantly in conflict the way classes were always in conflict. And in this worldview, individuals only exist at all as a place where these group identities intersect. You have no independent existence outside these power dynamics. I am never just me. I’m a point where the intersecting identities of white, gay, male, Catholic, immigrant, HIV-positive, cis, and English all somehow collide. You can hear this echoed in the famous words of Ayanna Pressley: “We don’t need any more brown faces that don’t want to be a brown voice. We don’t need any more black faces that don’t want to be a black voice.” An assertion of individuality is, in fact, an attack upon the group and an enabling of oppression.

Just as this theory denies the individual, it also denies the universal. There are no universal truths, no objective reality, just narratives that are expressed in discourses and language that reflect one group’s power over another. There is no distinction between objective truth and subjective experience, because the former is an illusion created by the latter. So instead of an argument, you merely have an identity showdown, in which the more oppressed always wins, because that subverts the hierarchy. These discourses of power, moreover, never end; there is no progress as such, no incremental inclusion of more and more identities into a pluralist, liberal unified project; there is the permanent reality of the oppressors and the oppressed. And all that we can do is constantly expose and eternally resist these power-structures on behalf of the oppressed."

- Andrew Sullivan [2]

See also: Andrew Sullivan on Truth and Power in Group Identity Theory


There are no identities, our struggle is with capital: Marc Fisher and Joe Corbett

1. Mark Fisher:

"“So what can we do now? First of all, it is imperative to reject identitarianism, and to recognise that there are no identities, only desires, interests and identifications...The bourgeois-identitarian left knows how to propagate guilt and conduct a witch hunt, but it doesn’t know how to make converts. But that, after all, is not the point. The aim is not to popularise a leftist position, or to win people over to it, but to remain in a position of elite superiority, but now with class superiority redoubled by moral superiority too. ‘How dare you talk – it’s we who speak for those who suffer!’ ...

The rejection of identitarianism can only be achieved by the re-assertion of class. A left that does not have class at its core can only be a liberal pressure group. Class consciousness is always double: it involves a simultaneous knowledge of the way in which class frames and shapes all experience, and a knowledge of the particular position that we occupy in the class structure. It must be remembered that the aim of our struggle is not recognition by the bourgeoisie, nor even the destruction of the bourgeoisie itself. It is the class structure – a structure that wounds everyone, even those who materially profit from it – that must be destroyed. The interests of the working class are the interests of all; the interests of the bourgeoisie are the interests of capital, which are the interests of no-one. Our struggle must be towards the construction of a new and surprising world, not the preservation of identities shaped and distorted by capital. ...

"We need to learn, or re-learn, how to build comradeship and solidarity instead of doing capital’s work for it by condemning and abusing each other. This doesn’t mean, of course, that we must always agree – on the contrary, we must create conditions where disagreement can take place without fear of exclusion and excommunication.""

- Mark Fisher [3]


2. Joe Corbett:

"What we see in the postmodern cultural identity politics of the SJW's is not “cultural marxism”, not only because it lacks any semblance of a marxist analysis or emphasis on working class solidarity, but also because it is fully compatible with the capitalist agenda of full consumer representation of all potential demographics, not by demands for a living wage or a green new deal but by demands for reparations for slavery, removing the glass ceiling and other barriers to full participation in capitalist markets by minorities, including equal representation on the boards of corporations to exploit and oppress the masses of workers. Rather than “cultural marxists” a more appropriate term for these “radicals” would be cultural liberals."

- Joe Corbett [4]


3. Adolph Reed:

"Even as a program for addressing racial disparities, antiracism is not much of a remedy for inequality. If the racial wealth gap were somehow eliminated up and down the distribution, 90 percent of black people would still have only 25 percent of total wealth, and the top 10 percent of blacks would still hold 75 percent. And this is only to be expected because in a society with sharp and increasing overall inequality, eliminating racial “gaps” in the distribution of advantages and disadvantages by definition does not affect the larger, and more fundamental, pattern of inequality."

- Adolph Reed [5]


Helen Pluckrose on Ideological Possession

"Throughout history, groups of humans have become filled with a self-righteous, burning fervor to uphold a moral order and rid society of corrupting influences. In so becoming, they have often also become possessed of a kind of collective ideologically-inspired madness and thereby inflicted great cruelty on their fellow men and women. This is a part of humanity that must be acknowledged and mitigated. Modern, secular, liberal democracy, which is rooted in reason, evidence, freedom of speech and tolerance, has done rather well at channelling these impulses into more productive courses."

- Helen Pluckrose, James A. Lindsay and Mike Nayna [6]


Dyab Abou Jahah on choosing for solidarity

“It is time to "shut up and listen" you would hear them say. At other times they will ask you to "use your privilege" and "speak up".

If you say something they don't approve of, they will tell you to "educate yourself", or even propose to educate you. "Stop being toxic", "stop being fragile", stop these crocodile tears of "innocence". Sounds familiar?

If you are white and you have another approach to the fight against racism than what a "person of colour" is saying, you will very likely hear this. If you are a man and you try to make a point on gender equality you are very likely to hear it too. If you are heterosexual and you have a point to make in the fight against homophobia that does not please a gay activist, some version of this narrative may come your way. The problem we are facing today is that the debate on equality is transformed into a debate on identity. An identity that is not seen anymore as an expression of cultural realities, linguistic diversity or religious doctrine.

Identity from a minority perspective is nowadays focalised around two central characteristics: colour and gender.

Do not get me wrong, I am aware of the importance of colour and gender in the debate on equality. And I am not going to reproduce the classical leftist analysis claiming that inequality results from class differences and nothing else. That analysis is reductionist. It is also often used to keep oppression forms based upon racism and sexism in place.

Nevertheless, we are facing a big problem with the rising minority identity politics paradigm, and the intellectual intimidation tactics its adherents are using in the debate. This is risking to jeopardise the struggle for equality altogether.’

- Dyab Abou Jajah [7]


Wokeism as the corporate religion of late stage capitalism ?

"It’s not a coincidence that corporate human resources departments love to contract diversity consultants like DiAngelo to do anti-bias trainings. Trainings more than pay for themselves if they can demonstrate a commitment to an inclusive workplace in the event of later anti-discrimination lawsuits. They’re also a lot cheaper than paying workers better and addressing structural inequalities. The more that blame for discrimination can be shifted on to individual racist “Karens”, the less onus there is on powerful corporations, and the politicians who defend them, to make real changes.

We do know, for example, of a tool far more useful than unconscious bias trainings in creating respect and equality: unions. Recent work in the American Journal of Political Science notes that union membership reduced racial resentment among white workers and made them more likely to support policies that benefit black Americans.

Where writers like DiAngelo focus on the privilege that all whites, including the poorest, have, unions offer the prospect for multiracial organizing and the pursuit of collective gains."

"The approach of generations of labor organizers hasn’t been to deny privilege, but to bind people together in a common project".

- Bhaskar Sunkara [8]


"The reason Wokeism is so easy to adopt into a corporation is that it is also a product of late-stage capitalism; a last gasp of a system running out of steam. Its doctrine can now be found in most major companies. As Matt Taibbi has pointed out, the emphasis Robin DiAngelo and others place on ‘lifelong vigilance’ of power and privilege creates a situation where Wokeism can perpetually insert itself into the workplace– there can never be enough sensitivity trainers to cleanse the sin away. Just as our economies are based on the erroneous idea of infinite growth, Wokeism preaches infinite sin; the unholy union between the two is terrifying."

- Alexander Beiner [9]


"The principles of secularism hold that, no matter how strongly you believe your belief system to be true or how essential you think it is that all of society holds it to be true and lives according to its moral dictates, you do not have the right to impose it on anyone else. We currently live in societies that do a pretty good job of applying this rule to religion, but which have not yet recognised Critical Social Justice as the same kind of thing. Instead, Critical Social Justice is largely misunderstood as a continuation of the liberal civil rights movements, which worked to reform laws and to open up all opportunities to everyone, regardless of their identities, and whose principles can still, quite reasonably, be expected to be upheld by employers. This is a misunderstanding of Critical Social Justice. As shown above, Critical Social Justice is a very specific belief system, which revolves around several core truth claims, which have not been shown to be true."

- Helen Pluckrose [10]

The Tactical/Strategic Critique

"This is a near perfect crystallization of my problems with the modern "woke" left and it's approach to the problem of racial inequality. Another good example of this idea is the overly racialized rhetoric of police misconduct. Substantial evidence exists that this is not a problem exclusive to the black community. And while it undoubtedly affects blacks disproportionately, much of that is attributable to socioeconomic differences and the correspondingly higher rates of violent crime and police interaction.

This is not to say that attributing such disparities to racism per se is entirely invalid, and the visceral reaction of the polity to the abundance of visual evidence of blacks being brutalized by police (coupled with the media's startling negligence in covering similar instances involving white victims) is certainly understandable. But in failing to develop a non-racialized (or a less exclusively racialized) movement against police brutality, we deprive blacks and their allies of an expanded, strengthened political coalition better positioned to make real gains. Potential allies attempting to make this case are at best turned away, and at worst persecuted as trying to "erase" black pain by decoupling the problem from the prevailing narrative of anti-racism.

Furthermore, we place undue faith in the ability to directly counteract the subtle racial bias that is an inevitable *result* of social disparities (as much or moreso than it is the cause), without addressing those disparities themselves as primary. This leads to endless well-intended but ultimately futile efforts at "anti-bias" training, with it's ritual ablutions to confront one's privilege and "fragility" that ultimately serve as more of a self-help regimen to manage white people's feelings of guilt than an actual corrective to racial inequities."

- Eric73 [11]

The Class and Political Psychology Dynamics behind Political Correctness

Wesley Yang:

"Political correctness .. has become: a mode of exercising power within an intramural contest between rival elites. In this contest, the fetishistic invocation of the “marginalized” is a tool the powerful use to increase the power of a given group, often to the detriment of the very people they purport to represent. The study shows that virtually no one who does not directly benefit from the exercise of this power (in the form of sinecures, professional advancement, or the destruction of rivals within liberal institutions) supports it.

Political correctness can thus be defined as the ideology of a distinct class of petty officeholders and office seekers within the therapeutic state. Their dogmas inexorably point in the direction of, as Henry Louis Gates Jr. put it back in 1991, “a regime so heavily policed” as to be “inconsistent with democracy.”

PC also refers to the specific means that this faction has adopted of attempting to police dissent out of existence in pursuit of what it calls justice. Their ideology draws on the sometimes brilliant and penetrating, and often exasperating and pretentious, work of critics of Western concepts of truth, reason, and law who can broadly be classified as “postmodernists.” Their ideology metastasizes a complex and rebarbative set of critiques of power into an active parapolitical program seeking to transform the world along, as Gates put it, “sweepingly utopian” lines. Gates was writing before the microaggression reporting systems, the compulsory implicit bias training, and the social media agon had even been dreamed up. But he foresaw all of it.

What matters most about this faction is not that they are annoying. It is that institutional power increasingly defers to them. That deference makes them potent, despite their small numbers and unpopular opinions, and the lack of grounding for those opinions in American custom and law.

The politically correct exploit two aspects of group psychology to dominate what is in fact a far more numerous group. They exploit the power that intolerant minorities, whose energies are focused on a single issue, have over majorities whose preferences and attachments are more diffuse. They benefit from what social psychologists have termed “the false enforcement of unpopular norms,” a phrase that describes the tendency, as observed in both experimental settings and in the wider world, of widespread conformance to unpopular norms out of social pressure, and the accompanying desire to signal the genuineness of one’s conviction by out-competing all others in zealous enforcement of norms in which they do not themselves believe.

Since political correctness is above all about an intra-elite battle among elites—a form of nonelectoral political struggle for hegemony within ruling institutions—it is there that the battle will be contested." (https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/news/articles/political-correctness-minority)

Is Wokeism a sign of "green hegemony", or not ?

This is using the ideas of Clare Graves, and the colour coding of Spiral Dynamics:

"Cowan & Todorovic advise caution in relation to people claiming to be certain levels, for example Turquoise (H-U), or D-Q (blue) or E-R (orange) which may be masquerading as F-S (green):

…we see the relationship that has confounded so many bright people – green-sounding ideas slid back into an absolute, authoritarian, dichotomous way of thinking about them, maybe even into an aggressive and rigidly dogmatic form. That’s not FS in operation, but it can certainly look Green at the surface. Sometimes, people may have developed a broader way of conceptualising (such as R/orange), but be in a situation where they are coping with life of prior levels (such as C/red)."

- [12]

Key Resources

  • New Discourses: project for political dialogue by James Lindsay, Helen Pluckrose and Peter Boghossian


Key Articles

  • A must-read and one of the first progressive call to arms: Mark Fisher's Vampires’ Castle
  • The Myth of Class Reductionism. By Adolph Reed: "Centrist Democrats and left-identitarians are bound in shared embrace of a particularist, elite-driven politics .. This .. political vision, - at the expense of long-term, movement-driven, majoritarian strategies at all levels of government — threatens to preempt hopes of restoring the public-good model of governance that was at the heart of postwar prosperity and foundational to the civil rights movement." ; see also: The Argument against Race Reductionism ; By Adolph Reed; New Labor Forum 29(2):36-43 ; May 2020

Key Books

  • Toward Freedom. The Case Against Race Reductionism. by Touré F. Reed. Verso, : " the road to a more just society for African Americans and everyone else, the fate of poor and working-class African Americans is inextricably linked to that of other poor and working-class Americans."

Key People

Key progressive critics of identity politics:

  1. Paul Gilroy
  2. A.Sivanandan
  3. Anthony Appiah
  4. Edward Said
  5. Kenan Malik

Key Research

  • "A review of nearly 1,000 studies of anti-bias tools found little evidence that they have any impact. In fact, recent studies suggest anti-bias training's primary effect may be to encourage discrimination: Firms with diversity training end up with fewer minorities in management, and field research finds that training both reinforces stereotypes and increases animosity against minority groups." [15]


Key Statistics

1.

  • "If you look at how white and black wealth are distributed in the U.S., you see right away that the very idea of racial wealth is an empty one. The top 10 percent of white people have 75 percent of white wealth; the top 20 percent have virtually all of it. And the same is true for black wealth. The top 10 percent of black households hold 75 percent of black wealth."

- Adolph Reed [16]


2.

"Between 1968 and 2016 black Americans made significant advances into occupations and job categories to which they’d previously been denied access. Consistent with that expanded opportunity, in the paper we mentioned above, Manduca found that during that period black/white disparities in income rank—where median group income falls in the national income distribution, measured in centiles—narrowed by nearly a third. That was nowhere near parity but a definite improvement. (Black median income rose from the twenty-fifth centile to the thirty-fifth.) However, during the same period the overall black/white income gap was virtually unchanged. The reason was the extreme concentration of income at the top during that period. In fact, black median income at the twenty-fifth centile in 1968 equaled 55 percent of the national mean, but in 2016 income at the thirty-fifth centile equaled only 48 percent of the national income average. It’s not racism that was responsible for that relative decline; it’s neoliberal capitalism."

- Adolph Reed [17]


3.

  • “The overall racial wealth disparity is driven almost entirely by the disparity between the wealthiest 10 percent of white people and the wealthiest 10 percent of black people.” While Bruenig is clear that a discernible wealth gap exists across class levels, he explored the impact of eliminating the gap between the bottom 90 percent of each group and found that after doing so 77.5 percent of the overall gap would remain. He then examined the effect of eliminating the wealth gap between the bottom 50 percent—the median point—of each population and found that doing so would eliminate only 3 percent of the racial gap. So, 97 percent of the racial wealth gap exists among the wealthiest half of each population. And, more tellingly, more than three-fourths of it is concentrated in the top 10 percent of each. If you say to those white people in the bottom 50 percent (people who have basically no wealth at all) that the basic inequality in the U.S. is between black and white, they know you are wrong. More tellingly, if you say the same thing to the black people in the bottom 50 percent (people who have even less than no wealth at all), they also know you are wrong. It’s not all the white people who have the money; it’s the top ten percent of (mainly) whites, and some blacks and some Asians. The wealth gap among all but the wealthiest blacks and whites is dwarfed by the class gap, the difference between the wealthiest and everyone else across the board."

- Matt Bruening [18]

Key Videos


See also:


Documentaries

Pages in category "Identity Politics"

The following 112 pages are in this category, out of 112 total.