Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Palette Ponders: Identity Politics

I originally started this last week and it's blossomed into a monster, so I think I'm better off splitting this up into chapters instead of a single massive post. 

Last Friday, a question popped into my mind: Is Second Amendment activism a form of identity politics? I did not have a ready answer for this, and it troubled me deeply because I loathe identity politics (hereafter IDP) and consider it a scourge upon the political landscape. To answer my question, and to set myself at ease, I started asking questions and doing research, and in the end I learned a lot about my beliefs.

Before I could address that question, I had to make sure I knew the terminology, and I'm going to share that information with you.

What Is Identity Politics?
Put simply -- because if I don't put it simply, I'll be in the conversational weeds all day -- identity politics is the promotion of political beliefs that benefit a shared characteristic like race, biological sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, social class etc. Benefit is the key word, so far as I can see, because the entire idea behind IDP is to advance the cause of the concrete identity rather than political abstractions like those espoused by the parties.

Example: "Justice for LGBTQ Americans" is identity politics; "Justice for all Americans" is not.

A key point of IDP is a concept known as intersectionality, which is another rabbit hole but can be summarized as "being a black woman is more than simply being black and being a woman; the two conditions overlap and reinforce each other." While this certainly makes sense -- if you're a black man, you don't necessarily understand what it's like to be a black woman -- the problem with intersectionality is that it fosters a sense of exclusivity, i.e. "You can't possibly relate to our problems without being one of us."

In fact, exclusion seems to be at the heart of IDP: if your identity is based upon being a member of group X, then anyone not a member of group X is viewed as an outsider at best, an enemy at worst, and usually seen as someone who "just doesn't understand the struggle." As you can imagine, this makes it difficult to acquire allies, because no one wants to be told "You're just too... YOU... to understand what it's like to be me, and  if you don't understand then you have no stake in our fight." The concepts of sympathy and empathy take a back seat to identity.

To quote a friend of mine, Identity short-circuits ideology, because ideology is abstract while identity is primal and immanent. Questions of ideology can only be settled when no major questions of identity are pressing. 

This struggle of identity vs. ideology is a major source of political tension today, as I'll explore in later posts.

Next: Is Gun Rights Activism a form of Identity Politics?

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