Monday, October 08, 2018

Identity Politics

Identity politics

This came from a discussion elsewhere on the topic of what desirism has to say about identity politics.

This is an area where the question of whether desirism is true or false is one thing, and how to apply it to certain issues is another. It is possible for desirism to be true, but yet misapplied. What follows is a suggested, but possibly mistaken, application.

We do have to say that bigotry exists, and there are many and strong reasons against having an aversion to having a female boss or President, black neighbor, or gay school teacher. There is reason to condemn such attitudes. And it is reasonable for those adversely impacted by these attitudes to unite to make a more powerful force for combatting these attitudes.

Also, there is nothing wrong with tribes per se. The family is a tribe - its members selected not entirely by genetics but by adoption, marriage, and even the inclusion of close friends who become “a part of the family.” Church congregations and similar tribes give people access to resources in times of trouble - people they can draw on for help.

Problems occur when tribe is mixed with power - the ability to do harm to non-members and to obtain by the abuse of this power an unfair advantage. In this context, any tribe with power is a threat. Race, gender, religion, political party, nation. Tribe + power = trouble.

Which implies, if (when) power relationships change, do not expect the new tribe in power to be intrinsically just while the old tribe was unjust. The idea that the tribe in power is intrinsically unjust and immoral and that power should be given to a different, more virtuous tribe is a mistake.

Indeed, we should not forget that these tribes are made up of humans and the facts of human psychology apply. We can expect to observe such groups forming increasingly extreme views in which “the other” is portrayed as a monolithic malevolence where everything “they” do or say is interpreted in an increasingly negative light.

Equality does not solve this problem. Two tribes of equal power = war until one tribe wins.

Where tribes tend to be useful and stable is where there are 100 tribes and 99 will gang up on 1 that abuses its power (family, small congregation, town, small business). Which provides an argument for decentralized power - state and community government over federal and global regulation unless dealing with issues that transcend borders.

Now, imagine an island community where a gang - through intimidation, corruption, and violence - gains control of 80% of the island’s wealth. They then declare, “From this point on, forced transfers of wealth are prohibited. Only voluntary exchange is allowed.” It’s a bit self-serving at that point. To be a member of the dominant group, enjoying the benefits of that history, while insisting on new rules that "treat everybody equally" and ignore that history, can legitimately be criticized.

Indeed, criticism of “identity politics” by the dominant tribe looks suspiciously like a tactic of “divide and conquer.” Keep “them” (subject groups) disunited and weak. Culturally, socially, and politically obstruct their ability to organize and oppose “us”. The effect is to keep the dominant group in power. That effect is likely not lost on those who advocate these values.

One can find elements of these remarks in my comments concerning the atheist “tribe”. The “new atheism” was an attempt to form a tribe - complete with its own banners and cultural icons. It is true that atheism makes one prone to costs and abuses at the hands of the more powerful religious tribes. In some territories, atheists are banned (executed, punished).

Other religious tribes have found a use for atheists, so long as they know their place. The atheist is permitted in the scientific labs where they may produce useful discoveries, “but don’t you dare peek your head out of the laboratory and make comments about society at large. You are morally bankrupt and are not to be trusted. You have value only where you continue to make discoveries we find useful.”

But, you can see in this atheist tribe, all of the problems of tribalism. It is not the case that, “We atheists are perfectly wise and virtuous and if our tribe ran the world it would be run with perfect wisdom and virtue.” The French Reign of Terror shows that an atheist tribe in power can produce atrocities as severe as those of any religious tribe.

Indeed, the atheist tribe even has its fictions - beliefs, contrary to evidence and reason, that members must not criticize. Those who do are ostracized - removed, virtually if not literally, from the community. Among these fictions, “Atheism is not a belief,” “Nobody has ever committed an act of terror in the name of ‘no God’”, and “Religion is a source of evil.” This last point can be true only if religion is a source. But it is not a source. It comes from the people who created it. It's source is in human nature, and the atheist tribe is made up of people having that same nature.

I would argue for a continuation of identity politics. However, I would like to see each identity adopt a position, “We are human, and prone to certain types of errors. Let us include in our movement something that aims to identify and prevent these errors.”

Which, by the way, also applies - far more importantly - to any tribe with power.

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