The underlying problems with identity politics
Humans, as social primates, require membership and responsibility in groups to feel a sense of belonging and meaning. It is a reality embedded deep in our psyches, stretching back to the days of painting in caves. And yet I feel that in some ways, these ancient motivations are at odds with what modern society currently offers. People are increasingly isolated, devoid of meaningful relationships and membership in meaningful groups. Social media’s prevalence has served to erode the social competence of a generation. Many people go broke just to educate themselves sufficiently to land a job that they hate. Anxiety and depression rates are skyrocketing. It seems that we are no longer living, we are enduring. Thanks to this new modern and depressing world we live in, we look to superficial replacements to provide us meaning, yet they only serve to damage us. One of the manifestations resulting from this increasing chaos and quest to fill a void of meaning is identity politics.
Identity politics refers to the tendency for people to form exclusive political alliances based on a particular aspect of identity, and to lobby and work for achieving the perceived goals of the social group with which they identify. The result of this has been a widespread fixation on what separates us as people from one another, as people reduce their ability to think critically to the frame provided by their group. Combine this tendency with the already present shortcomings of modern life for some people, and it is a recipe for ideological extremism. This rapid breakdown of a cohesive national identity into sub-identities is eating away at rationality and causing mass polarization.
White supremacist, social justice warrior, radical feminist, postmodernist, racist, sexist, alt-right, alt-left, communist, neo-marxist, etc. These are labels which, if you pay any attention to the political spheres, you have heard applied to people in the news, on social media and in conversation. Undoubtedly there are times at which certain labels such as these are warranted. However, perhaps you consider that these terms are also applied ubiquitously to individuals and groups alike in order to disarm and delegitimize them for benefit of another group or individual.
Individuals in today’s identity groups are frequently static with their ideology and identify personally with it. This is unideal at best. When political discussions arise among ideologues, it is much more likely to devolve into an emotionally charged argument if someone’s ideology, their personal identifier, is being put into question. There is a shocking amount of confirmation bias, echo chambering, no exposure to opposing viewpoints and people who claim to speak for all of their ‘identity’. These bubbles are formed and can be hard to escape from. One should instead identify with the version of themselves which transcends understandings, beliefs and attitudes, never taking their status-quo for granted. It is easy to get stuck and comfortable in a given state, but this must be avoided. What is comfortable and easy is rarely worth doing.
Furthermore, the obsession with grouping and classifying everyone based on these identifiers creates an ‘us versus them’ atmosphere which only serves to breed resentment and deepen divisions. Everyone is different. People hold a collection of many different viewpoints, values and beliefs, some of which together may be at odds with a traditional ‘left and right’ spectrum. This shows just how arbitrary these groups actually are.
What transcends all these groups, divisions, and arbitrary differentiators is something that applies to everyone. Meaning. Belonging. Love. Responsibility. Purpose. We all inhabit the same planet, we all live what can sometimes be a tragic, malevolent existence. We should be working together to give our short time on earth new meaning, and that means breaking away the divisions of identity politics. Until we can listen to each other, until we can sit at the same table without yelling and until we can speak to each other on a wave length that will be universally understood, progress will be made for no one.
Some argue to be in the middle is to stand for nothing at all but in my opinion, to be stubbornly and unapologetically on either side is to not stand for one’s self.