Monday, November 19, 2012

Identity politics and the left.

Via: FineArtAmerica

The traditional liberal left focus on individual autonomy and freedom is eclipsed by the drive for power by identity groupings.

 Identity politics begins with an awareness that you along with others who share a certain gender / ethical / sexual / social characteristic are being unfairly discriminated against by some other group. In other words 'they' have something 'we' want or 'they' are preventing 'us' from actions 'we' want to perform or achieve.

Equality understood in this manner translates as 'we want what they have'.  Even the negative liberty (freedom) of opportunity is not enough because such freedoms are useless if the positive liberty to embrace opportunity does not exist.  Witness the drive to increase the numbers of women in politics and science or positive gay role models in the media.

Thus equality of opportunity is insufficient for movements engaged in identity politics. What is needed is more of 'us' in high positions to prove 'we' can compete with the patriarchy or the white capitalistic elite.  The argument behind gender quotas in politics for example is such quotas are temporarily because once more women gain power, the system becomes more welcoming and more women will naturally seek office.

The problems though lie in the explicit embrace of social hierarchies and division. 

The left is almost completely paralyzed with division. Even a fledgling atheist movement split over feminism and feminism itself is split into several fractions. Socialists think all oppression has its roots in capitalism, feminists think all oppression has it's roots in the patriarchy, black movements blame white oppression and on and on.  The traditional class struggle has shattered into several shards based around gender, race, sexual identity and is apparently incapable of reforming into a coherent movement.

The more serious problem though is the embrace of social hierarchies.  As mentioned, positive liberty is needed: role models, encouragement, glass ceilings shattering etc.  I find this a fairly dubious assumption, a sort of social trickle down theory where having eg more women in board rooms will make life better for female cleaners. Does having more queens make life better for the female peasants?

Having embraced cut throat capitalistic systems to rise to the top,  you are then part of that system and  locked into the darwin-like struggle for ever increasing profits and survival in competitive markets.  Women at the top are just as ruthless as men in the same position.   Yes, they may feel vaguely sympathetic for the conditions of the lower paid women but business is business.  Take for example  the claim that more women in advertising will change the beauty industry.  This is not possible because the entire purpose of advertising is to sell pointless crap. If a female ceo refuses to accept a client, her company will lose revenue and another company will just step in. The last 20 years has seen men targeted by the same pressures traditionally applied to women. This is because the free market is excellent at equalizing vice but terrible at promoting virtue.
This post is rambling and it changed focus several times during writing but it helped focus my two main objections to the politics of the left : the divisiveness of identity politics and the constant equivocation between equality and social hierarchies. The collapse the communism and the embrace of post modernism resulted in the left being stranded with a semi-coherent framework and almost accidently embracing the economic policies of the right through well meaning concern for minority rights.  
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