Quotes on Identity Politics

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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."


Quote on the darker sides of group identity theory and practice

1. 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."


2. Erich von Neumann

"As is demonstrated by a wealth of historical examples, every form of fanaticism, every dogma and every type of compulsive one-sidedness is finally overthrown by precisely those elements which it has itself repressed, suppressed, or ignored." - Depth Psychology and a New Ethic

"The shadow, which is in conflict with the acknowledged values, cannot be accepted as a negative part of one's own psyche and is therefore projected--that is, it is transferred to the outside world and experienced as an outside object. It is combated, punished, and exterminated as 'the alien out there' instead of being dealt with as one's own inner problem." [2]

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 [3]

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 [4]

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 [5]

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 [6]

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 [7]

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 [8]

Matthew McNatt on the 'transmodern' critique of the postmodern concept of 'White Privilege'

"Because transmodernity is an ongoing synthesis between the best of modernity (including standards of investigation and verification) and postmodernity (including the importance of countering alienation and prioritizing adaptability), there are multiple examples of transmodern philosophy. Given that, yes: it's likely that at least one transmodernist is dedicated to preserving—as among what he or she thinks are the best aspects of postmodernity—the leverage it gives demagogues to direct discontent against all that is European and male. Even so, no: the transmodern philosophers who most interest me carry forward a lot more nuance.

They might, for instance, point out that:

The postmodern claim that "as a white person, you benefit from white privilege" assumes that every person with white skin wants access to modernist command-and-control institutions more than he or she wants to build viable alternatives alongside trusted colleagues and friends, regardless of skin color. In command-and-control institutions like investment banking, white skin—yes—confers privilege. In community organizing or intercultural dialogue, in contrast: it is not a privilege to be assumed a racist, expected to identify with and embody guilt feelings on behalf of imperialist anti-heroes, or disavow your expertise for an organizational role if a person of color, regardless of his or her experience, wants the same role. None of these are privileges.

Moreover, if we're to create a better world together, it's vital that people with white skin (among others) retain the rights

(a) to be judged not by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character;

(b) to draw motivation from whatever heroes we choose, perhaps including historic white anti-imperialists; and

(c) to work to create a world in which our progeny are included, rather than expected to self-censor because of their skin color.

The postmodern claim that "you can't punch up" assumes every person with white skin is part of a monolithic oppressive presence, against which any minority violence is appropriately directed—so, for instance, "the knockout game" (in which some black youth were sucker punching random white people) was not and cannot be racist, while any white-on-black violence was and is necessarily racist. A transmodernist can reject this and insist: if you react violently to a person based on the color of his or her skin, you're racist, and you need to stop—whether you're "punching down" or "punching up."

The postmodern claim that "the concept of 'whiteness' was invented by whites to keep non-whites down" ignores the frequent use of the concept of "whiteness" to discourage poor whites and poor blacks from uniting forces against the 0.1%, who historically have bribed legislators and judges for preferential treatment, co-oped religion to nurture blind obedience, busted unions instead of trusts, and pit poor man against poor man in an accelerating "race to the bottom." Alienation—especially from oneself—is toxic. We are significantly less likely to build a better world by fostering self-hatred among people with white skin than we are by nurturing a commitment to the common good among the masses.

The common postmodern narrative in which "access to power = white" and "being disenfranchised = black" is de facto not liberating. It routinely undermines broader black achievement by strengthening the sense that "achievement" = "abandoning one's culture," "acting white," or "being an Uncle Tom."

To move forward, it's vital that we label "access to power" as something

(a) possible to use for good,

(b) practical to distribute among oneself and others, and

(c) accessible—to the degree that the Top 2% of wealth is accessible—by people of any race or ethnicity.

Today, people are "kept down" from their parents' lack of preparation for children before having them (especially, by being born to unmarried parents and growing up without a father present), their parents' or their own inability or unwillingness to access and leverage educational opportunities (staying in school and pursuing training that is in demand in the market), and their parents' or their own inability or unwillingness to work full time (if necessary, in a so-called "dirty jobs"). Yes, some difficulties in these areas are inter-generational, even cultural—but blaming a reified "whiteness" doesn't remove them. These difficulties get removed—household by household—as we take both personal responsibility (stepping up to the plate) and, also, interpersonal responsibility (being our brothers' and sisters' keeper, even when doing so is difficult or costly)."

- Matthew McNatt [9]

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 [10]

"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 [11]

"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 [12]

Why language policing is emerging now

", I sketched the rise of a new normative kind of selfhood in the West, that of “psychological man.” I also suggested that understanding this development is an important element in understanding the times in which we live, because it lies behind so many of the seemingly disparate developments which are transforming our society, from sexual ethics to current concerns about racism. In today’s essay, I want to focus my argument on how this development is reshaping our cultural values: first, it has shifted attention to the use of language as central in discussion of oppression; and second, it is transforming traditional social virtues into political vices.

To return to my grandfather whom I mentioned in yesterday’s essay: for him oppression was a matter of not being able to find work, of not being paid a fair day’s wage for an honest day’s work, of not being able to provide for his family. For today’s psychological self, oppression is a far broader concept with far less tangible, stable content. Oppression involves making people feel bad about themselves, less than fully human, or preventing them from being outwardly that which they are inwardly. In practice, this means that much of what is now considered oppression is linguistic in character. Words become all-important because words are speech-acts by which we acknowledge or deny the identity of another. We all intuitively understand this: to use a racial slur is not to describe someone but to denigrate them, to do something to them, to put them in their place. Words are, to use the hyperbolic jargon of our cultural moment, instruments of violence because injury is conceptualized in psychological terms. This is why speech codes are now so important. Even the accidental use of an inappropriate pronoun can be seen as an assault on someone’s person because it is seen as a denial of their identity.

Policing language thus becomes central to a society constituted by psychological selves. The net result of this is that matters once considered basic social goods such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion become problematic. They may have been virtues to the American Founders, but today they are rapidly coming to be seen as vices. Where the psychological self is normative, speech becomes violence and freedom of speech thus a license for violence. This in turn creates the strangest of situations: a society built on the notion of radical individual autonomy where the policing of language by the authorities becomes a vital part of the social contract. Individual freedom perversely comes to require political authoritarianism."

- Carl Trueman [13]

How the purity spiral is weakening activism from the inside

"I feel compelled to do the same things as an activist a decade later. I self-police what I say in activist spaces. I stopped commenting on social media with questions or pushback on leftist opinions for fear of being called out. I am always ready to apologize for anything I do that a community member deems wrong, oppressive, or inappropriate- no questions asked. The amount of energy I spend demonstrating purity in order to stay in the good graces of fast-moving activist community is enormous. Activists are some of the judgiest people I’ve ever met, myself included. There’s so much wrongdoing in the world that we work to expose. And yet, grace and forgiveness are hard to come by in these circles. At times, I have found myself performing activism more than doing activism. I’m exhausted, and I’m not even doing the real work I am committed to do. It is a terrible thing to be afraid of my own community members, and know they’re probably just as afraid of me. Ultimately, the quest for political purity is a treacherous distraction for well-intentioned activists."

- Frances Lee [14]

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 [15]

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)."

- [16]