Solidarity vs Identitarian-Based Relationships

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Robert Hanna:

" I’ll assert two theses, each of which has several sub-parts.

First, all healthy, sane rational human animals need relationships of camaraderie- &-solidarity, insofar as these involve

(i) groups of people collectively organized for the pursuit of non-instrumental ends, that is, ends which have their value intrinsically and are pursued for their own sake, and not extrinsically and for the sake of other ends, especially including egoistic or self-interested ends,

(ii) who share not only these specifically non-instrumental ends in common, but also a larger set of closely-related and mutually-supporting strong value-commitments, strong emotional attitudes (both proattitudes and anti-attitudes), and other strong affects (including desires and feelings) in common, that the Brazilians call concordar or “shared heart” (aka “team spirit,” etc.), and

(iii) whose strong value-commitments, strong emotional attitudes, and other strong affects, as members of the these organized collectives, are generally non-egoistic. It’s extremely important to note in this connection that it is entirely possible to be engaged in non-instrumental, non-egoistic relationships of camaraderie-&-solidarity for the pursuit of ends that are non-moral and non-political in character, for example, purely artistic or aesthetic groups, non-athletic clubs of various sorts (say, for the pursuit of stamp-collecting, playing chess, trainspotting, bird-watching, etc.), athletic clubs and sports teams, etc. And it’s even more important to note that it’s also possible to be engaged in non-instrumental, non-egoistic relationships of camaraderie-&-solidarity for the pursuit of ends that are inherently bad and/or wrong, hence not necessarily ends that are inherently good and/or right. For example, massively most men in the Nazi Wehrmacht during World War II fought relentlessly, and continued to fight on relentlessly even after the Nazis were clearly going to be defeated, not because of hegemonic ideology, but instead because of Kameradschaft, i.e., camaraderie-&-solidarity.

Second, all healthy, sane rational human animals need identitarian relationships, insofar as these involve (i) our sharing some identity-attributes with people who are otherwise unique individual persons, and correspondingly, who are otherwise different both from us and also from one another, and (ii) in context, our abstracting away from, tolerating, and/or overlooking, those individual characteristics and differences, so that we’re able to cooperate with these people for purposes of our mutual aid and mutual benefit, and more generally, for our collective or public benefit.

Here it’s also extremely important to remember that identity-attributes are moreor-less adventitious, more-or-less involuntary physical, mental, or social human attributes that pick out various non-essential features of people (non-essential to their rational human agency or human personhood, that is), over whose original possession they had little or no freely-chosen control, for example, race, biological sex, birth-order, height, weight, body shape, specific abilities/disabilities, living in the same region or neighborhood, common language, nationality, ethnicity, economic class, religious upbringing, and so-on. Therefore, identitarian relationships are normally based on brute contingent, involuntary, unchosen facts about ourselves and other people: normally, we simply cannot help the facts about our having various identity-attributes and sharing them with others (for example, I can simply cannot help being white, male, and slightlymore-than-60-years-old, with a certain negativity of hair on the top of my head, and also sharing these adventitious, more-or-less involuntary attributes with a great many other old-ish white guys also called “Bob” who were also born in 1957), so we must just make the best of that for our mutual aid and mutual benefit. This is sometimes called “making a virtue of necessity,” but that’s an important misnomer: it is actually making a virtue of brute contingency. For example, normally we simply cannot help our having the nextdoor neighbors we do actually have, so we must just make the best of that, and get along with them as well as we can: that what is called “being neighborly.” Indeed, being neighborly is a highly everyday and humble, but also—since virtually everyone has nextdoor neighbors—virtually universal example of identitarian social relationships.

One fundamental difference between relationships of camaraderie-&-solidarity and identitarian relationships is that because identitarian relationships are entered into for purposes of mutual aid and mutual benefit, and more generally for our collective or public benefit, whereas relationships of camaraderie-&-solidarity are entered into for the pursuit of non-instrumental ends that are valuable for their own sake, then even when relationships of camaraderie-&-solidarity fail to deliver any collective or public benefits whatsoever, they can still continue unaffected. For example, it is one thing to be a member of a sports team (a relationship of camaraderie-&-solidarity) and a sharply different thing to identify with that sports team as a fan (an identitarian relationship). Normally, when sports teams fail to win—and especially when it is in a losing-streak—their fans are deeply disappointed and unhappy; but if the members of that sports team are properly committed to their athletic project, then their relationship of camaraderie-&-solidarity will continue unaffected by losses and losing-streaks, and in fact their “team spirit” might even be strengthened by their encountering such adversity and working through it together.

Moreover, the widespread popular confusion between on the one hand,

(i) relationships of camaraderie-&-solidarity on the one hand, and on the other hand,

(ii) identitarian social relationships on the other, is greatly abetted and primed by the fact that the systematically ambiguous term “empathy” — meaning the affective and imaginative bonds we share with people with whom we enter into relationships of either camaraderie-&-solidarity or identity—is indiscriminately applied to both kinds of relationships, by ordinary people and social scientists alike.

As the term “identitarian social relationships” indicates, these social relationships are closely related to the psychological, moral, and sociopolitical doctrine of identitarianism, which says

(i) that people are defined primarily in terms of their falling under a certain social group-type and/or their social group-allegiance (for example, race, ethnicity, gender-&/or-sex, sexual preference, national origin or citizenship, language, economic class, social roles of all kinds, social institutions of all kinds especially including religions, etc., etc.),

(ii) that special moral virtues and special positive moral value, or goodness, are attributed to all members of that social group and to that social group itself, call it The WE, aka The US, and

(iii) that special moral vices and special negative moral disvalue, or badness, are attributed to members of certain other social groups and to those groups themselves, who are then collectively intensely distrusted, or even excoriatedand-vilified, as The OTHER, aka The THEM.

As everyone knows, identitarianism is a very widely-held doctrine.

Nevertheless, from a broadly Kantian dignitarian point of view, it’s self-evidently a violation of sufficient respect for human dignity to regard and treat yourself and others as individual tokens under group-types, since you thereby regard and treat persons as mere things under that group-type. Moreover, especially in its contemporary liberal-progressive, nationalist, religious, and neo-fascist versions, identitarianism is also a hegemonic ideology. In that connection, a fundamental pathology of identitarianism occurs when the creation of the OTHER/THEM leads to intense or even obsessive fears that the WE/US will be corrupted, infiltrated, and miscegenated by the OTHER/THEM culture, members of which are then perceived to exist both covertly inside (as potential or actual carriers of disease, impurities, or sedition) and also overtly outside (as potential or actual invasive threats) the WE/US culture. Relatedly, identitarian social relationships are often originally created, and can also be especially strengthened, by the actions of people belonging to a WE/US-group who systematically discriminate against and oppress innocent people who belong to an OTHER/THEM-group, simply by virtue of the latter’s possessing more-or-less adventitious, more-or-less involuntary physical, mental, or social identity-attributes such as sex, gender, sexual preference, skin pigmentation, ethnicity or national origin, language, religious affiliation, class origins, and so-on and so forth, almost ad infinitum.

But although such identity-attribute-based discrimination and oppression is always and inherently bad and wrong, and always and inherently a direct violation of sufficient respect for universal human dignity, nevertheless it doesn’t follow that the innocent identitarian victims of such discrimination and oppression possess any special moral value or special moral virtues merely because of their being discriminated against and oppressed—although, of course, not only are they to be pitied by us, but also they fully deserve our moral protection and sufficient respect for their human dignity. In a contemporary context, this fallacious attribution of special moral value and special moral virtues to innocent identitarian victims of discrimination and oppression, in turn, leads to what Anthony Appiah has correctly identified as a fallacious source of identitarian moral authority, which, again in turn, can easily turn into a coercive moralism that’s also a special case of coercive authoritarianism. And in this way, paradoxically but also tragically, the fallacious belief that the victims of identity-attribute-based discrimination and oppression possess special moral value or special moral virtues merely because of their victimhood, inevitably contributes non-trivially to a spiralling increase in conflict, tension, and coercive authoritarian/ moralist violence between members of the WE/US- group and members of the OTHER/THEM-group (and sometimes also members of different sub-groups of the larger WE/US group). Race relations in the USA, from the collective original sin of slavery, through the John Brown Rebellion, the Civil War, and Emancipation, through the Jim Crow era, through the two World Wars, the new Jim Crow era, and the Civil Rights era, through the end of the 20th century and into the 21st century, via “structural racism,” “mass incarceration,” and “White rage,” right up to the latest brutal police homicide/lynching and its righteous Black Lives Matter pushback protest— i.e., right up to 6am this morning—are not only an exceptionally immoral history of virulent racist oppression and violence against Black people, but also a particularly tragic example of this identitarian paradox. They fuck you up, your identity politics.

Third, all healthy, sane rational human animals need relationships of utility, insofar as these involve

(i) various kinds of transactions with others that satisfy various kinds of egoistic or self-interested ends, and

(ii) are freely-chosen, or at least rationally consented-to (whether explicitly or implicitly) by all parties to the transactions.

One crucial point about to recognize about relationships of utility is that because they are inherently instrumental and therefore inherently egoistic or self-interested, they are essentially distinct from relationships of camaraderie-&-solidarity, which are inherently non-instrumental and non-egoistic. At the same time, however, just because relationships of utility are inherently egoistic or self-interested, it does not follow that they are always morally bad-&-wrong. Here we can help ourselves to Kant’s profound moral insight that although regarding or treating people as mere means to our egoistic ends is inherently morally bad and wrong (hence it’s morally impermissible), nevertheless there is nothing inherently morally bad or wrong about our pursuing or satisfying egoistic ends (hence it is morally permissible) if at the same time they also inherently involve regarding and treating people as ends-in-themselves, i.e., if at the same time they inherently involve sufficiently respecting their human dignity. Or in other words, there’s nothing inherently morally bad or wrong with intrinsically receiving egoistic or self-interested benefits via our instrumental transactions with other people (i.e., it is at least sometimes perfectly morally OK to feel and act in a self-interested way), provided that these transactions also intrinsically express our sufficiently respecting their human dignity. For example, in order to have a tidy lawn while you spend your time on other activities that you value far more than lawn-mowing, you can at the same time intrinsically regard and treat the person you pay to mow your lawn with sufficient respect for his human dignity—but I’ll leave it as an “exercise for the reader” to fill in the details as to how a world of sufficiently dignity-respecting social institutions and social relations could actually be created and sustained.

In a slightly different way, relationships of camaraderie-&-solidarity can also be relationships in which we extrinsically receive egoistic or self-interested benefits from our comrades, provided that these relationships also intrinsically express non-egoistic motivations. Indeed, it is a necessary condition of such relationships of camaraderie-&- solidarity from which we are extrinsically receiving egoistic benefits, that even if, counterfactually, the egoistic benefits were to stop, then the relationship of camadaraderie-&-solidarity would still continue unaffected. Similarly, even if, counterfactually, collective or public benefits yielded by the relationship of camadaderie- &-solidarity were to stop, then the relationship would still continue unaffected—as we saw above in the example of the sports team that is in a losing streak yet fully retains or even strengthens its “team spirit.”

By contrast, in relationships of utility, if the egoistic or self-interested benefits were ever to stop and/or turn into disbenefits, then necessarily either that instrumental relationship in the proper sense would thereby go all pear-shaped and dissolve, fail, or lapse, or at least it would be morally bad-&-wrong. And if such pseudo-instrumental or messed-up instrumental relationships were to be continued, or compelled to continue, under conditions of actual symmetric or asymmetric non-utility, then they would count as either pathological or morally bad-&-wrong cases under relationships of utility. A perfect example of this is the widespread phenomenon of wage-slavery in a contemporary world filled with neoliberal democratic or undemocratic nation-States and dominated by advanced/big capitalism, scientism, and technocracy, all operating under the demonstrably false, dogmatic, and seemingly unshakeable belief that this catastrophic and essentially interconnected set of social conditions is eternal and immutable.

Similarly, since identitarian relationships all inherently involve purposes of mutual aid and mutual benefit, then if that mutual aid and those mutual benefits also intrinsically or extrinsically happened to be egoistic in nature, as of course is very often actually the case, whenever such pseudo-identitarian or messed-up identitarian relationships were to be continued, or compelled to continue, under conditions of actual symmetric or asymmetric disutility, then it would be either a pathological case or a morally bad-&-wrong case under identitarian relationships. For example, if your next door neighbors are constantly making a terrible racket at night, so that you can’t sleep and it’s making you feel sick-unto-death, but you never even ask them politely to stop making all that noise at night, and never even try to improve matters by reasonable negotiation with them, but instead simply suffer, just because they are your neighbors and you think it is “neighborly” to put up with their outrageously disrepectful behavior, or even worse, just because you live in the contemporary USA, and they own semiautomatic weapons, and mass-shootings are happening virtually every single day, all year-around, so you are scared shitless about how they might react, then those would be pathological or morally bad-&-wrong cases under identitarian relationships.

Generalizing now, we can also see that

  • imposing the guiding principles or normative structures of either identitarian relationships or relationships of utility onto relationships of camaraderie-&-solidarity, will naturally yield pathologies or cases of morally bad-&-wrong social engagement."