Tuesday July 05, 2022

The paradox of identity politics

March 17, 2017

A recent piece on      Voices of the Revolution, ‘The Siren Song of Identity Politics’, properly attempts a critique of liberal identity politics, but rather than effectively addressing the issue, veers disastrously towards the basic operating assumptions of white supremacists. This is a shame; the question is a very important one. The Democratic Party has yet, after all, to properly account for the inability of their candidate to beat a troglodyte like Donald Trump.

Given the horror show that Trump’s ascendency to the Presidency has very quickly become, it would seem incumbent to prevent further repeats of same. This is truer again when we consider that his win was less a popular endorsement of his campaign than a loss for the Democrats, who banked – mistakenly as it turns out –          on identity politics to get Clinton across the line.

In fact, fifty-three percent of white women voters in disagreed that Clinton’s gender was her main selling point, or more surprisingly that Trump’s ‘grab ‘em by the pussy’ misogyny and ringing endorsement of sexual assault wasn’t enough for him to be roundly rejected. If the possibility of having the first woman president or the markedly sociopathic tendencies of the successful candidate weren’t enough to decide the election, then a rethink is well nigh.

In the name of such, Frank Doyle argues that basic problem with modern liberalism lies in a paradox apparent in the dynamics between the “Black Lives Matter” movement and the “counter-cry,” ‘All Lives Matter.” This paradox, he claims, derives from the fact that ‘cultural attention is a zero-sum game, and that since ‘the news can only push so many stories,’ and ‘the public only has so much time to think about societal problems,’ the necessary result is that, ‘For one group to get more attention, another must get less.’

The upshot of this, says Doyle, is the resentment from whites that forms the basis of the “All Lives Matter” movement. ‘Why,’ he asks, ‘should a single demographic receive such focus when there are problems that affect everyone?’ While the government ‘must triage these problems,’ the fact appears to be that ‘no course of action here would do justice to all those involved.’

This being the case, he continues, we should focus not on who are affected by these issues, since this is ‘inherently divisive and a demonstrably losing proposition for the Democratic Party,’ but instead of turning ‘criminal justice reform into a “black people problem,”’ and ‘Midwestern job loss to automation and outsourcing into a “white people problem,” should rather ‘bring the focus back to the issues themselves.’

Progressives must return the public focus to the universal validity of progressive policies and principles, not to the inherently divisive issue of who gets the most out of them.

Identity politics on the left operate much the same way. Actual political arguments will acknowledge the intersectional relationship between various hierarchies of privilege-based injustice and oppression, noting at the root of these a predatory and generally sociopathic gaze that sees workers, women, the flora and fauna and even the Earth itself as simple objects who exist solely to be used and abused as the predator sees fit and whose sole value resides in their exploitability for profit.

Identity politics invoked in the name of such arguments suggests that, because I belong to one of the categories objectified and targeted for exploitation, that I have the right to invoke the same kinds of attitudes and relations that oppress me for the sake of stealing a few crumbs from the table of coercion.

At this stage, the dysfunctionality borne of identity politics within the left seems to reach its zenith. Without hope of meaningful change, the primary source of value for anyone attaching themselves to activist politics is for the kudos and social brownie points to be gained from being politically ‘right on,’ even if the work of activism itself is little more than alienated roles of permanent protest or the even drearier and alienated work of trying to convince the voting public to believe in the system as it fails them for consecutive decades on end.


This article has been excerpted from: ‘The Paradox of Identity Politics’