Identity Politics and the Politics of Identity: A Primer

“Identity Politics” might just be one of the most oft quoted and utterly loathed political phrases of 2016, a trend which has, thus far, continued into 2017. The phrase has a fairly extensive history and, like most words, has undergone a rather radical and interesting process of transmogrification. Originally, the phrase simply referred to politics which cater largely or exclusively to a particular group of people, whether that group delineated itself from others along the lines of religion (or lack thereof), race, ethnicity or class. However, what Identity Politics has come to mean is a bit more specific – now it means: A politics which is exclusively concerned with identifying perceived oppression. 

It is for this reason that the phrase Identity Politics is, in common usage, typically deployed as a defamatory tool by conservatives and political centrists (classical liberals) against the establishment Left and, more recently, the Sanders/BLM crowd of neo-Marxist agitators who have been so vociferously decrying free speech at colleges the nation over. Identity is the crux of the debate and has splintered the nation into two distinct camps, firstly, those who, like the Progressive Leftists, see identity politics as a necessary measure for the preservation of the rights of minorities and as a remedy for past historical injustices – a pathological altruism which declares: Two wrongs DO make a right! Secondly, there are those, such as the Mainstream republicans like Ben Shapiro, who declare that identity has nothing to do with politics because politics is about merit and as such one’s heritage, race, class, ect. should have no bearing whatsoever.

It may not be readily obvious, but both camps are woefully incorrect, the conservatives most of all. The reason for this is simple: Identity is the basis for all politics. For classical liberals this is quite confounding as they would insist that they utterly reject identity politics because they want to judge people by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin or the things they create rather than their placing in some oppression hierarchy. What they fail to realize is that this very admission is indicative of their own identities. For identity, fundamentally, is differentiation, meaning that X is not Z or Y but rather X and only X. X being a sum total of [x] differentials which are unique unto it. This may sound trifling or purposefully obfuscatory (though I do hope not) but it is absolutely crucial to straightening out American thinking in regards to politics and identity. For the problem I perceive in discourse regarding identity politics is the very same problem that has for so long surrounded discussions of equality.

For example, it is often said by egalitarians that one must treat everyone with respect. The problems surrounding treating everyone with respect are two-fold: firstly, it is impossible (one may treat another as if respect is given but it would be but a charade) and secondly, even if it were possible it would amount to emotional currency inflation wherein the very word respect would lose any and all value. But more than this the desire to treat everyone with respect is, yet again, a manifestation of that group’s identity. The examples which could be given to illustrate the point are endless, for every single political party is only a party because their constituency agrees upon certain principals which differentiate it from other parties, elseways the party would fall apart or never have been formed at all. This is axiomatic. Due to this fact, treating political ventures as something which is completely removed from identity, whether individual or collective, is quite dangerous as it predisposes subscriptive individuals to vigorously oppose all collective identities in as far as they transgress into the political arena (save for their own which they do not acknowledge). Anti-identity politics then fosters division with the broader collective specifically because it tells them that it is vile and wicked to be a collective whilst simultaneously shouting from the rooftops that we must all band together under one banner!

The complete and utter blindness of such a proposition is truly stunning for any state, nation or empire can only remain as such through the cohesion of it’s collective body. Cohesion, on a massive scale is impossible to accomplish without a through-line, a binding precept. The egalitarian states that America’s binding precept is that there are no binding precepts – here the center can not hold.

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