Identity Politics Is a Dangerous Dead End
Accidents of birth are nothing to be proud of.
Assumptions are always dangerous, but implicit assumptions are even more dangerous. One of the most prevalent implicit assumptions in current American society is that identification–with a racial or ethnic group, with a gender, with a sexual orientation, with a political outlook, with a nation–is a good thing. But is it?
We constantly hear references to certain people being “proud women of color,” or “proud Latinos” or to “gay pride” or “patriotism” or to any number of other categories, and the sheer number of categories of which we are supposed to keep track seems to grow by the day. Yet what is the basis of all this “pride” in what amounts to nothing more than accidents of birth? Does it ever actually make sense to be proud of a roll of the genetic or circumstantial dice? More important, what is being sacrificed in all this concern with competing human groups based on external factors rather than with carefully evaluated and carefully chosen noble and transcendent values?
The central claim of this essay is that identity politics is not only a dead end in terms of the higher development of both society and individuals, but also truly dangerous for a variety of reasons, not least of which is that concentration on identification with human groups is contrary to a more universal morality.
Identity politics is contrary to universal morality
Human groups exist in order to gain advantages for members of the group. This is true of families as well tribes as well as fraternities, businesses, unions, political parties, ethnic and religious groups, and all groups scrabbling for advantage within the current realm of identity politics. One need not resort to examples involving the mafia to understand the truth of this fundamental principle; human groups tend to suppress the conscience of their members toward those outside the group. “Morality” within a group is defined as what benefits the group, and insufficient conformity to this social and psychological norm can easily result in loss of status within the group, or even expulsion from the group.
Identity politics weakens individual morality
Individuals within a human group may have a conscience to one degree or another, but all human groups are motivated to suppress the conscience of individual members if the operation of such conscience would interfere with the advantages the group is trying to gain. The more cohesive a group, the more intense is the experience of membership within a group, but the more the group will attempt to suppress the individual conscience of its members. Cults impose cohesion, but at the expense of perspective and ultimately at the expense of morality. Of course not every group fighting for advantages within identity politics is a cult, but on a spectrum ranging from individual conscience to cultish suppression of conscience, groups involved in identity politics are more toward the cult end of the spectrum in terms of suppression of conscience.
Identity politics drives out deeper concerns and values
It is easy to bring to mind concerns obviously much more weighty than whether any particular group gains a particular advantage, and just as easy to observe that human beings generally do the opposite, concerning themselves with an endless list of advantages they seek for their group or groups. Identification with a group warps perspective, and scrambles priorities. To put the matter in stark terms, consider whether the probably evanescent minor advantage of a particular human group is more important than whether all of human society makes a genuine transition toward a sustainable relationship with nature, or continues to poison the natural systems of the planet. Yet the clamor of grievances by groups gains far more attention than clearly much more important issues, of which there are many.
Identity politics is a training ground for destructive anthropocentrism
It is no coincidence that those most concerned with advantages for their particular human group are also the most anthropocentric, in many cases completely unable to even consider an ideal of balance between the human species and the millions of other species on Earth. Identity politics amounts to a training ground in which human beings become accustomed to considering only their own group, and unable to establish a healthy balance with other considerations, first of other people, and then of other species.
Identity politics is systematic superficiality
Again, accidents of birth are nothing to be proud of. It is no accomplishment whatsoever to have been born with a particular skin color, or sex, or sexual orientation, or have been born into a particular country, or to possess any characteristic at all that is essentially random. To identify strongly with an accident of birth is the ultimate expression of superficiality, particularly when actual ideals of true value go by the wayside as a consequence. Thus identity politics is an extended and systematic form of socially enforced superficiality.
Identity politics is always tied to the grievance hierarchy
Is there any human group whatsoever that does not believe it has been treated unfairly? Even older wealthy white males in America now participate actively in the self-pity party that is identity politics. While participation in identity politics is generally encouraged, always without an explanation as to why, an ideal of allocating more time and effort toward responsibility and positive action is neglected. As an expression of just how strongly tied to the grievance hierarchy identity politics always is, consider whether there is any human group that has treated others with gross and brutal injustice that would ever acknowledge the nature of its actions. Even the groups committing the worst oppression of others feel sorry for themselves.
The positive and productive alternative to identity politics
A single word describes the positive alternative to the vicious circle of identity politics:
Note how strange it is that an almost universally accepted way of dismissing another person’s noble views is to call them “idealistic.” This compulsive opposition to even a discussion of ideals has its basis in the clawing for advantage of human groups. Members of human groups know implicitly that attention toward ideals and particularly toward moral ideals may interfere with exclusive concentration on their efforts toward gaining advantages. Thus the thoughtless, compulsive and all too common denigration of ideals.
Yet it is precisely noble ideals, and a deep commitment to noble ideals that offers a path out of the dense, stabbing thicket of identity politics.
One final observation, in the form of a question:
Had Mahatma Gandhi been nothing more that a Hindu partisan, would he even be remembered today?