Attempts: Some thoughts on identity and politics

I find confronted with the actual mask-like nature of most people’s political posturing, people start to avoid the question: people who are inclined to dislike you, dislike you more, and people who are inclined to like you think you are asshole but its better just to not response. I used to wonder why. I know why. It is not that you are questioning their politics. People actually can accept that. Politics is by nature deliberative when it is not about violence. Those are the two most common modes, after all, a state is the normalization and regulation of both modes of deliberation and modes of violence. It’s most basic functions: how do you make decisions, and how do you violently deal with those decisions. That isn’t what the silence is about. It is that you are calling into question a performative aspect of the self. You are denying people an identity. Look at most politics. They are not remotely coherent: values conflict, virtues conflict, virtue signaling one thing is done at the expense of another that actually is in the same mode of ethics or economics. No, when you expose someone’s political theology/ideology, you are ripping off their clothes while also showing them the water they swim in. They didn’t realize they were in the water and now they have nothing to protect their skin.

To give an example: A friend tells you that x-injustice that effects a specific minority community made by specific people is caused by x-demographic privilege.  You say, fine, that is structural racism, but how is structural racism caused by privilege?  How is saying that it this is privilege of x-demographic ignores that while all of x-demographic group may get tangential benefits, they don’t get all the benefit equally.  However, even given this blaming of an entirety of x which seems to get very specific people an out is legitimate, you can’t explain the structural oppression but pointing out its results.  X is caused by privilege which is the result of X.  The tautological nature of that is hiding something as much as it is pointing something out.   This is both why I have always find privilege talk to be not helpful or, often, serves to protect the powerful.  However, this talk does reify an identity.   Conversely, complaining about people pointing out is reifying a different identity.    It is unfair to say that people don’t care about “justice”–they do.  What they don’t want to do is actually question what justice is, or more importantly, who they are.

In race and gender, this is fascinating.  The move to stay that these identities are socially normative more than biological, but yet we must reinforce them even in the pretense of breaking down the oppression that has buttressed them.  It’s obviously a precarious and somewhat contradictory position. It’s easy for opponents of “social justice” or the “the left” or “liberals” to make fun of, but the making fun of it actually is premised on the same game but going back to the innateness of the positions too.   Instead of society, it is turned to biology or “human nature.”  Often, however, with no proof either of what that is. Both end up being motte and bailey tactics.   Why do them?

For most people politics is their social being when they have little connection to less ideological modes of community.  Instead of a place or a tribe being who you are–this ideology gives you justice.  It is important to remember, most community is actually attempt to symbolize kinship relations–kinship, more than family the way most of thing of it, being what does drive most primate traps and humans ability to abstract that into more abstract ideas seems unique to us–and stabilize our means of life.  It is abstraction of the two most practical and social ideas around us: how we eat, who we have sex with, and who has our genes.  This is the reproduction of social life.  This is the basis of our identities in societies where these things are obvious.  The motte and bailey tactics of identity politics and counter-identity politics are  based on the same impulse but skewed, and largely hidden from us.  We don’t want to believe our virtues are that simple. Indeed, they actually aren’t that simple, but this still is the basic driver of who we think we are.

This is not just true in “identity politics” either.  That is actually an unfair, but commonly made, assertion. When people say “pragmatist” they either mean, I don’t know, or they mean, I already feel that know but don’t want to argue for it. The pragmatic of course just can assume position because of it’s value to you. It just won’t openly adjudicate between values. As such, when used this way, it is either circular–this is good because it is good–or it is avoiding the question of premises in the first place.  Not-knowing is actually a hard place to be. It is alienating. It is a transitional identity-state.  So saying a position comes form ignorance or incompleteness is harder than saying it comes from pragmatism. The pragmatist has a community of other pragmatists.  It can be tribe.  Uncertainty can’t.




13 thoughts on “Attempts: Some thoughts on identity and politics

  1. I don’t entirely understand all that you’re saying here. But I get some of it. I’m not sure what I think.

    “For most people politics is their social being when they have little connection to less ideological modes of community. Instead of a place or a tribe being who you are–this ideology gives you justice.”

    I couldn’t say what mostly forms my identity. A sense of place and community is central.

    I think of myself as an ‘American’ because I’ve spent my entire life in the United States, traveling and moving around within its borders but never beyond. And my having spent most of my life in the Midwest defines me, specifically as contrasted and mixed with my experience of the Deep South.

    I’ve specifically have lived in the same town for most of my life and my closest friend I’ve known since third grade (I still hang out with him on a weekly basis). All of my immediate family lives in Iowa, my parents in the same town and my brothers in nearby towns. I see my parents almost on a daily basis. Most of the rest of my extended family is in Indiana, although there being near doesn’t lead me to visit them often. Family is important to me and I know I’m important to my family.

    This place is home to me. Family and place are closely intertwined. Even ideology means something different to me by region. A Midwestern liberal and conservative isn’t the same as in the Deep South or West Coast. My parent’s Midwestern conservatism informs my Midwestern liberalism, the Midwestern aspect creating more commonality than the politics creates difference.

    I don’t know how typical is my kind of identity.

    The last part I’m the least certain about.

    “Not-knowing is actually a hard place to be. It is alienating. It is a transitional identity-state. So saying a position comes form ignorance or incompleteness is harder than saying it comes from pragmatism. The pragmatist has a community of other pragmatists. It can be tribe. Uncertainty can’t.”

    I often find myself in a state of not-knowing. But I must admit that part of me fights against it. It sucks to feel that way, and for me it is associated with depression. Yes, it is alienating.

    I’ve never thought of myself as a pragmatist. In how you use it here, it is unclear to me. I despise empty rhetoric and do believe we know things by their fruit.

    For example, those who advocate liberty as negative freedom seem to be just spouting bullshit to me. It’s a meaningless abstraction. In the worldview of liberty, even the slave has negative freedom if on occasion a slave manages to buy his own freedom. Just the possibility of buying freedom, no matter how improbable, defines this abstract liberty.

    The other example is pro-life. How can someone be pro-life while supporting capital punishment, a brutal police state, torture prisons, wars of aggression, etc? That is a demented notion of ‘pro-life’ that is entirely disconnected from the actual lives of those who suffer the consequences.

    Does that make me a pragmatist? I just get tired of all the rationalization of suffering and oppression, as it is simply the way the world is and has to be. We should own up to the results of our actions as a society. Anyway, does this attitude form a social identity for me?

    I do like posts like this, even though I’m left a bit confused by the larger point your getting at. Identity is a hard thing to talk about.

      • I agree a lot is. But do you think that is most of what is involved in most cases? Is the average person so disconnected and alienated from organic relationships of family and home, community and place? Has what you describe replaced that as the dominant social experience and sense of identity?

      • Yes, absolutely. One, nuclear family is a smaller unit than most kinship bonds. Most American’s don’t know their neighbors. Even here in a city of 25 million and I don’t really speak the language, I know my grocers.

      • That is interesting. I guess that is another way I’m probably different from most Americans.

        I know my local grocer. In fact, my local grocer owns a small corner store that is on the same block that I live on and he is also my landlord. He works for a family-run business that has been in the family for generations. My landlord is awesome.

        Another nearby store I shop at is a co-op where many people I know have worked at over the years. Also a few blocks from me is the credit union I bank at, my city job, the downtown shopping and pedestrian mall, several book stores with workers I personally know, a public library with workers I personally know, etc.

        It isn’t a dinky town, but still has some of the feel of a small town. I know smaller towns are becoming less common. Even this town is growing rapidly and the small town feel will quickly disappear in the coming decades. The younger generation has the highest rate of living in big cities and crowded urban areas.

    • I’ve read a lot about authoritarian research over the years. The single most interesting study was that authoritarians tend to be left-wing in former communist countries and right-wing in capitalist countries, at least in terms of the European and Western world.

      • Authoritarians are followers. They just want something to follow.

        They sometimes will follow the leader of a cult or simply follow a strong spouse who tells them what to do. But most authoritarians probably want to belong to the largest power system and the most well established status quo around, typically a government. I think even in a functioning democracy authoritarians would be good followers and would seek to be the best, most loyal and subservient democratic citizens around.

        This is what I think many people don’t understand about ideologies. Ideology as disposition/worldview is very different from ideology as specific political rhetoric.

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