Is knowing when and where to stop, but also HOW. I’m not sure that anyone really knows how to stop.
In this article the phrase “class-based treatment” refers to the treatment of all members of some identifiable group simply because they are a member: Examples could be Women, Blacks, Latinos, Whites, etc.
Identity politics begins with awareness of an injustice done to a class of people and the recognition that they deserve the same protections and freedoms granted ALL citizens. It’s all about recognizing our common humanity and the sacred value of “Equal justice for all”. What’s not to love about any of this? This is all good and ethical behavior. None of this is the problem, and all of this is completely in the wheelhouse of being a Liberal.
An American citizen’s rights are theirs as an individual and when these rights are denied because of race, religion, sexuality or culture, a false filter is being applied. Justice will be done when that filter based on membership in some group is stripped away, allowing their natural individual rights to flow to them, unobstructed. The filter of identity is an illogical red herring containing two very bad but very human ideas:
- That human rights can be stripped for identity reasons.
- That a different identity group with more power can do this because of course, that is exactly what happened.
Whatever the specific identity issue was is irrelevant to the person’s rights, therefore it must be knocked down and rejected as a specious argument. Identity issues are likely deeply relevant to them as people. That piece of their story may be a HUGE part of how they see themselves and understand their lives, and there is nothing wrong with that. It’s simply irrelevant here. We need to remember that that piece of identity, no matter how essential it feels, or how much we cherish it, is never the justification for our rights, it simply can’t be used AGAINST US to deny our rights.
An identity group whose rights are under attack will necessarily organize politically to seek redress of wrongs. They develop ways of being noticed and negotiating with power. Gradually some political clout is earned, all based on the defining identity. That’s OK too, it was needed to fix things. At this point, the “accepted activists”, are recognized as identity class representatives by the powers that be. They now have some political power, even if the battle is still uphill.
Keeping this power depends upon:
- Having injustices to correct.
- Keeping the issues before the public.
- Maintaining the borders of the identity.
This too is reasonable, equal rights are not won over the weekend. If society backslides it wouldn’t be easy organizing all over again… and not having any big obvious problems to discuss is exactly how you get society to stop paying any attention to you. “We’re fine, thanks” is the OFF switch for any further potential advantage to the group. And this is where things begin to go bad.
First, a disclaimer: Some, but not all* of the people pursuing justice via identity politics are the problem. I am talking here about how and why a movement gradually goes negative and ultimately causes larger not-directly-related-problems if it continues expanding down this road. Fired up supporters of the identity class will take the three steps I listed above to extremes that bend away from the issue of equal rights and justice which initially triggered society’s healthy response of caring.
The problem is that if things continue to improve for the group, that leads to a de facto lowering the volume of their general concerns as heard by the rest of society. The culture tunes out and the group’s political power fades before their eyes.
Here is the vulnerability in the process of righting the original wrong: When the injustice suffered by the group becomes political currency, victim-hood becomes a path to power. In the most extreme political left of the moment, what we could call the “University grade” left-wing politics, victim-hood achieves a near-sacred status, and a kind of inverted hierarchy of power appears with an aristocracy of suffering: A Lowerarchy. “Privileged white males” are duly rotated downward into position as a detested lower caste that can be mocked and despised without qualms. In the economy of victim-hood, greater suffering and oppression confer rank. That, along with a kind of “rock, paper, scissors” of political purity settles any number of disputes. Outrage is Red Bull in these realms and resisting the One-True-Message in any way that strikes a spark can generate a swarm style attack of truly disproportionate viciousness. There are high levels of coercion and bullying in these behaviors. Finally, this movement fully embraces class-based treatment as a solution, not a problem even though they are fighting injustice CAUSED by class-based treatment. They are simply picking up the weapons dropped by the enemy and pointing them in a new direction.
Where they are influenced by the most extreme voices of the left, the three steps for holding on to power in identity politics continue, but they mutate and swell as if infected:
- Continuing to have injustices to correct. Moves from an idea of progress and reconciliation to the idea that injustice is permanent and static. There is no notion of anyone ever moving past it. Talking about how things have improved is insensitive, and thinking of someday when injustice is no longer the defining characteristic of the group is seen as dis-empowering and dismissive. It also mutates into more nebulous complaints. Micro-aggressions, for example, which are left up to the victim to define, assign and interpret as they see fit. These are essentially “You lose.” cards to be handed out when someone needs to be taken down a peg or marked as an outcast. These are “Ether Crimes” and understandably a larger section of society is not sympathetic or inspired to take up the cause. They understood the original injustice and bowed to a need to correct it but you’ve alienated them because you’ve created new, subtler problems… apparently in order to have things to complain about.
- Keeping the issue before the public. Imagine a therapist working with a horribly abused client and defining a successful course of treatment as the patient maintaining a triggered near panic attack for as long as possible and bringing up the subject of the abuse she suffered as often as possible. This is a course of treatment that hates to see a wound begin to knit.
- Maintaining the borders of the identity. The “correct” political stance is derived and disseminated within the group. The culture is policed from within (against acting “white” and such) and from without via the concept of cultural appropriation, a 4-star bullshit idea which, taken to its logical conclusion, could be paraphrased as “No Race mixing”. Every liberal knows that Trump’s idea for a giant wall separating us from Mexico is idiocy. Creating huge walls to divide cultures is the same kind of thinking. This is where the left-wing disappears, as Tom Wolfe said about modern art, up its own fundamental orifice.
You see, there’s a moment in the struggle where the goalposts move and the rules shift. The original injustice to correct was about equal opportunity and equal treatment under the law. The social justice warriors don’t recognize justice as equal opportunity, but as equal outcome. Society can achieve something roughly like equal opportunity, but it cannot and should not pursue equality of outcome, it is simply impossible. The lethal poison within the extreme left is the incoherent deconstructionist theory at its heart. Ordinary good-hearted liberals often have no idea that this system was grafted onto the tree of progressive thought and is steadily redefining it in a very bad way. This extremism is innumerate, irrational and actually despises the western tradition of free thought and speech. It also embraces the ugliest primate behaviors of mob rule and contempt for those who disagree. It is not looking for an exchange of ideas and a sensible getting along together, it wants to crush and remove “the contagion”. If you don’t believe me, watch this horrid video.
This is the stage where identity politics steps away from sweet reason and rationally desirable outcomes. In a sense, this step is rejecting the classic “the melting pot” or even the “mixed salad” view of citizenship in favor of an American “Ice cube tray” of frozen isolation. This is the spot where the mainstream left should show some courage and discernment. Moderation isn’t a rejection of those in need of justice, it’s a rejection of the miserable and ugly cultural fugue state sought by the extreme deconstructionist left wing. Moderation would mean embracing a more optimistic view of where our path should take us. The fact that it would make a liberal stance more acceptable to mainstream voters shouldn’t be overlooked.
There is no class-based solution to class-based oppression
“Manspreading” and “Mansplaining” both MIGHT be slightly real things, but might equally be ordinary human behaviors that MEN have to put up with every bit as much as women do. The answer given is that with economic inequality*, women are unfairly down in the power hierarchy and are therefore forced to listen to pedagogic assholes puffed up on their own glory.
Not really gender-based conflicts: Most men are not in charge, most men are low on the hierarchy. Some are white, some are black or Latino, etc, and I promise you, they have to listen to pedagogic assholes high on their own supply… A LOT. Some of the people they have to listen to are women, who despite all evidence to the contrary, are capable of being a bit annoying themselves. If you are a woman, imagine for a moment that you may be as blandly unaware of your own vaguely, just possibly sex-linked irritating behaviors as men are. We’re human, and we are naive and abundantly supplied with blind spots about the ways that we suck.
Annoying people take up too much room on the subway. Do you think a woman never tucks a big damn bag right beside her on the seat, dominating just as much real estate as the man-spreader across the aisle? These are not sex-linked traits. But these words indict ALL men with a class-based guilt IN ADVANCE, then merely waiting for the inevitable, biologically determined reveal. It also creates a verbal landscape where the exact same behavior performed by a woman is without sin. The words Mainsplaining and Manspreading share an essential nature with the phrase “woman driver“. Just consider how stupid and old-fashioned that sounds. In classifying all men as typified by a flaw (some but not all) women are idiotically legitimizing that option to be used against themselves and other classes of people.
I suspect that women are pretty pissed off about how intimidating and controlling some (but not all) men can be and you know what? You are right, and I hate it too, but these phrases feel like an indiscriminate way to get out of some of the social heavy lifting involved in negotiating with the irritating people who outrank us (or simply bother us) in the uneven, unfair world we live in…by flashing a card capable of shaming them into silence. That card is simply not valid. I remember Camille Paglia talking about how American women need to learn to yell or at least push back – because rude assholes are a fact of life and nobody can wish them out of existence.
I have seen so many women imposed upon by jerks, their personal space and privacy violated without recognizably objecting in a serious way. There’s a disturbing learned helplessness here or a self-imposed cultural expectation of smiling passivity and soft answers and it’s not surprising that there’s a desire to have others to clean up this problem for them… but that will never work. The first level of oppression here is “deer in the headlights” helpless passivity and that is an internal state. This is a hard internal battle to face but anyone that this applies to has to take personal responsibility for this first level of safety gatekeeping. I will happily have your back to assist with every higher level of insult and trespass, including how that person reacts when you tell them to fuck off but you are the first responder. You are the one who has to harden yourself and your words till they are unambiguous. A pushy, invasive jerk sees soft evasive answers as a green light because you would only use soft answers if you were actually soft, or might still be talked into something. You need to red-light call his bluff right away without giving ground. He may say nasty things but he’ll say them as he wanders off.
My specificity there drifted toward a digression, but we haven’t changed topics. Expecting to never be bothered by aggressive men is unrealistic in this world. These aggressive men are bullies, sexual bullies to be sure, but that doesn’t change the dynamic of “Person finds themselves with a bully”. Men as a class have nothing to do with this moment. Like most people, I’m in favor of high behavioral expectations: Decency, politeness, respect. Guess who thinks that’s for suckers? Bullies. Oh, and all bullies aren’t men.
Let’s get really awkward!
Lots of liberal white people know that tense feeling that can arise around some (but not all, remember?) black people sometimes when the conversation can feel like a minefield of grievances, crimes, and misdemeanors which we might at any moment suddenly turn out to be guilty of, revealing ourselves as terrible people after all. It’s a class-based, spring-loaded guilt trap that lacks clear-cut rules (past the most obvious) for not offending. Most black people I know don’t have time for this shit but it does happen especially when someone wants or needs to shift the old power dynamic. Sometimes it’s a demand for a virtual bow of submission: “Black lives matter” routinely talks to people with this attitude. They made Bernie Sanders curtsey as a Presidential candidate to prove that they could. They crashed LGBT gatherings, and many others acting like Trump doing his Alpha dog dance. This is how the farther left occasionally dominates the middle left by making it publicly display submission to more intense PC truisms. It’s a public shakedown to politically roll over and expose your belly.
Black people have been MASSIVELY fucked over, we all know that: The injustice is still glowing and hot. But “tremble before me, the true representative of history” Doesn’t work. At this point, you are just some person and so am I. Class-based guilt is not the answer to class-based cruelty, it’s a funhouse mirror extension of it. And class-based guilt is not the answer to sex-based injustice. I think the silly-sounding “Mansplaining” and such is an accusation made against half the people on earth, intended to make them demur in shame on demand. As such, it’s a bully game played mainly against those nice people open-minded and sympathetic enough to care how you feel and take your word for it that possibly they’ve wronged you.
The original injustice of denied rights came from one group having enough power to throw its weight around and bully other groups. The problem with identity politics, when extended too far, is that it tries to further isolate each identity group and arm it with bully powers of its own. The idea that black people can’t be racist or that women can’t be sexist because each struggles against injustice is simply permission to behave as awful people who feel justified in any action against outsiders. The problem is not that we don’t have enough bullies or people generalizing about other classes. The extreme edge of the left-wing can only exist in the self-contained cultures of academia. In that environment, it pursues an endless quest for the far edge of purity. While doing so, it tests its strength by picking out non-compliant professors and staff and even students to harass until they submit, resign or run away. Shaming and ostracizing is nasty and fueled by the sick joy of mob, not by a love of justice. This is frankly appalling behavior and shouldn’t be accepted as a moral compass by anyone. By accepting the voice of campus extremism as a moral authority, liberals diminish their own authority and exclude a plethora or moderate American voters who sensibly think this self-devouring purity vortex looks like a shitty destination.
Identity politics start as a thoroughly understandable and well-intended movement, to relieve suffering visited unfairly on our fellow citizens. It seems like it would heal the gap and bring us together …but because we are all weak and bad and shortsighted when given any power over each other if this path is pursued, it leads to rigidly enforced separation and broken lines of communication. It alienates citizens from each other when their most important job is to cooperate to build a healthy country. The end game of identity politics is to enshrine forever the worst suffering of each group, locking it in and locking it down culturally. These divisions are easily manipulated by any who would play us for their own selfish reasons.
- The brilliant Robert Anton Wilson coined the word “Sombunall” to quickly handle this work but it didn’t catch on well enough for me to trust that anyone would know what the hell I meant.
– * Perhaps you completely disagree with alternative explanations of the pay gap, which don’t suggest that all is perfectly balanced and fair, but simply that things other than oppression and unfairness shape that gap to a significant degree. I want a good explanation of what makes all that data so unacceptable that we can sweep it off the board like a dust bunny and reclaim our original opinion whole cloth. Has not-liking the data become an accepted excuse for rejecting it?