The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Identity Politics

As mass hysteria sets in, the reasoning ability of far too many progressives has been warped by unfocused hatred of boogie men that morph in form and substance on a weekly basis. Donald Trump is their primary target—a man accused of every "ism" imaginable, an elected official who is, according to many on the left, a "Russian stooge" and a "white supremacist, a "misogynist" and an "Islamophobe," "insane and unhinged," a "war-monger" and an "incompetent," a "failed president" (already) that is somehow still a danger to them. But Trump is only one boogie man. Anyone who dares to question the progressive narrative is to be condemned with ad hominem attacks. And now, the crazy Left has moved beyond people to objects. They're going after statues of civil war figures who lived 150 years ago. Have they considered how all of this plays for those of us who are not finely attuned to progressive thought?

Peter Berkowitz comments on a book written by Mark Lilla, who he characterizes as "a [liberal] professor of humanities at Columbia University and a regular essayist at the New York Review of Books."
Liberals, [Lilla] argues, must repudiate the politics of identity because it undermines the pursuit of the common good to which American liberalism is properly directed. Identity liberalism divides Americans into groups—women, African-Americans, Latinos, LGBT Americans, Native Americans, Asian-Americans, and on and on. It nourishes a “resentful, disuniting rhetoric of difference” that defines membership in terms of distinctive narratives of victimhood, and confers status in proportion to the magnitude of the oppression one claims to have suffered under the hegemonic sway of white, male structures of power. Propelled by America’s colleges and universities—which, Lilla observes, have replaced political clubs and shop floors as the incubators of liberal political leaders—identity liberalism has abandoned the political mission of bringing fellow citizens together in favor of the evangelical one of extracting professions of faith and punishing heretics, apostates, and infidels.

Disappointingly for an author whose purpose is to rouse fellow liberals to action, Lilla offers no proposal for reforming our colleges and universities, which he blames for indoctrinating students in identity politics dogma. But he does sketch the larger political goal: a “more civic-minded liberalism” that cultivates a shared appreciation of the rights and responsibilities that all America citizens share and which encourages individuals to undertake “the hard and unglamorous task of persuading people very different from themselves to join a common effort.”
Lilla also writes about the effects of identity politics in the classroom:
[Identity politics] turns the encounter into a power relation: the winner of the argument will be whoever has invoked the morally superior identity and expressed the most outrage at being questioned. So classroom conversations that once might have begun, I think A, and here is my argument, now take the form, Speaking as an X, I am offended that you claim B. This makes perfect sense if you believe that identity determines everything. It means there is no impartial space for dialogue.
But who defines which identity is "morally superior" and by what criteria is that definition established? Those questions sit at the center of all of this. Progressives tell us that they, and they alone, can establish the definition of who or what is "morally superior" and that any alternatives are unacceptable. It's interesting that the Left doesn't seem to realize that tens of millions of people find that position to be intolerant and those same millions do not want an intolerant ideology to guide the future path of our country.

Identity politics is toxic—for our country and also for progressives. An ideology that implicitly encourages division and at the same time suggests that each of the "tribes" it defines are somehow victims of "white privilege" cannot succeed over the long-term. Identity politics resulted in significant election losses throughout the Obama years and culminated with the crushing, upset defeat of a Democratic presidential candidate who should have won easily. It alienates the broad center of our electorate, who is offended by accusations of racism, bigotry, misogyny, blah, blah ... blah.

In their mass hysteria, progressives don't seem to realize that questioning the morality of half the country is not a solid political strategy.


William Voegeli also writes about Lilla book and concludes that identity politics is here to stay:
Rather than gratefully accept this [progressive] enlightenment and path to redemption, ... the unwashed [in this context, the "deplorables"] are likely to demand an identity politics of their own. “As soon as you cast an issue exclusively in terms of identity,” Lilla warns, “you invite your adversary to do the same.” Thus, Donald Trump’s victory and Lilla’s book, which grew out of a New York Times op-ed he wrote the week after the 2016 election. He [Lila] was “sick and tired of noble defeats,” Lilla told interviewers then. Lilla’s article prompted many denunciations, the most venomous coming from a Columbia law professor who compared him, unfavorably, with David Duke.

Such reactions give strong reason to doubt that we will soon see a post- or anti-identity politics emerging the Democratic Party. And yet, an even stronger reason exists. The feasibility of Lilla’s project depends on the plausibility of his analysis. If identity politics is an affliction that happened to liberalism, as he sees it, then it’s realistic to activate Democratic antibodies to reject the pathogen. If, however, identity politics is a condition to which liberalism is inherently susceptible, or even disposed, then identity politics is not the Democrats’ problem but their destiny. Unfortunately for Lilla, the evidence points in this direction.
It's almost as if progressives cannot stand to even consider the possibility that their embrace of identity politics is toxic for them. Suggesting that Lilla, a Columbia University humanities professor and a liberal, is someone akin to David Duke exemplifies the unhinged response to honest and constructive criticism by far too many progressives. As I've written many times in this blog, they're in a hole, and they just keep digging.