*Photo Credit: Edu Bayer/The New York Times
It seems that the state of our country’s political discourse is becoming more fragile by the day. Many are split between the Left or the Right, and the center is devolving while the radical fringes seem to be growing. People around me are losing friends and alienating family over politics; and our president is a very controversial figure that, one could argue, was elected out of spite for the other side. At the root of this divide is the promulgation, primarily by the academic Left, of identity politics. This strategy unfortunately has the potential to win out in the end, as it is the ultimate divide and conquer political strategy.
The key problem with identity politics is that when you teach it, you de facto teach it to the other side as well. While the Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ+ intersectional movements for social justice have gained traction recently, so has the white nationalist alt-right movement. When certain groups of people are encouraged to associate their political interests with immutable characteristics such as race or gender, the people who aren’t supposed to do so will feel justified in behaving in the same fashion. Even if they are wrong, the other side starts to feel the need to defend their own interests.
This reactionary style of politics creates massive divisions within a society that can only end poorly. It simply is not realistic to expect the other side not to react. When one preaches third wave feminism, for example, the likely response is a rise in men’s rights activism. The reactionary nature of identity politics is exactly why it constitutes a divide and conquer strategy.
The events in Charlottesville, Virginia this summer were the logical conclusion of this phenomenon. A year or two ago, nobody had even heard of the alt-right. They were a handful of guys living in their mom’s basements making kekistan and pepe memes who constructed page-long racist essays in the comment sections of YouTube videos and 4chan threads. Add to that stew a collection of Left-wing academics promulgating the idea that America is a white supremacist cisgendered heteronormative patriarchy into the mix, and these horrible people came out from the shadows.
Troubling enough, the idea that America was built on white male supremacy for the sole purpose of oppression is a premise that the leaders of the alt-right, such as Richard Spencer and Jared Taylor, both believe and incorporate into their politics. The only deviation from the Left is that they believe this characteristic of American history is a good thing. After all, they say, look at what we’ve built with “white supremacy.” This is the distorted logic they use to justify this ideology. As horrible as it is, once you accept the original premise, it in fact rationalizes support for white supremacy. The argument that Richard Spencer makes is that these are just white people looking after white interests. Since white supremacy or divisive racial politics in general should never be rationalized, the original premise must be rejected. The idea that our society was founded on white supremacy for the sole purpose of oppression relies on having absolutely zero perspective on history outside of the United States.
This lack of perspective is unfortunately becoming more common on college campuses, as all too often only one perspective is being taught in many history classes. For the first time in human history, there are people teaching history from perspectives other than that of the “victors.” This would surely never be the case in a truly white supremacist society. The framing of these ideas is that they are coming from the perspective of minorities who are challenging the Eurocentric view of history with their historical perspective. The problem is that despite there being some validity to this, these alternative history classes are promulgating Leftism. Anyone who questions the idea that this alternative view of history is anything but the non-white, oppressed person’s perspective, would appear to be racist. It is too easy for people on the Left to paint skeptics of these classes as racists who are denying the experiences of historically marginalized minorities. In fact, however, most of the literature in these African Studies and other Ethnic Studies classes, as well as Gender Studies classes, comes from Leftist intellectuals. This is not a coincidence.
The ideas of White privilege and modern gender theory come from academic circles and form the bedrock of the intellectual arguments behind Left wing identity politics. Like the white nationalism being promulgated by the alt-right, these ideas were only found on the fringes just a few years ago. Left wing postmodernist academics promoted these identity-driven ideas throughout academia, particularly in the social sciences and humanities. As a result, these ideas have been infused into the mainstream culture amongst millennials in the last few years.
To be fair to the people promoting these ideas, it is easy to observe the general phenomenon that White people, on average, seem to have advantages. However, there is a lot more to consider than what people observe on the surface. For instance, why is there no mention of “Asian privilege” by the Left? The logic that leads leftists to promulgate the idea of White privilege can be applied just as much if not more strongly to Asian Americans, as many of the same statistical disparities between White and Black Americans also apply to Asian Americans when compared to Black Americans.
Clearly this line of thinking is problematic when talking about Asian privilege. These standards should be applied to the idea of White privilege as well. Despite the existence of a general phenomenon, it is wrong to charge all members of a racial or ethnic group with collective guilt or innocence, by virtue of their skin color alone. This is the very definition of racism.
However, Leftist intellectuals have changed this definition in order to conflate individual racism with institutional racism. This is why some on the Left say “Black people can’t be racist.” By saying this, they are conflating the definitions of two types of racism into one, and are being racist themselves. Victimhood theology is nice on the surface and makes the Left feel better about themselves, but in this theology, who appoints the theologians? The word theology is especially appropriate since the philosophy of intersectionality purveyed by the Left has become a secular religion. In this religion, having privilege is the original sin.
Many of those who drive identity politics embrace the philosophy of postmodernism. Dr. Jordan Peterson, Professor of psychology and philosophy at the University of Toronto, argues that postmodernists believe there are infinite ways to interpret the world, but they get it wrong by saying that there is no correct way to interpret the world. Peterson notes that postmodernists believe “people interpret the world in a way that facilitates their acquisition of power,” and connects this idea to Marxism. The Marxists discuss economics the same way the postmodernists discuss power, and the Marxists discuss class warfare the same way postmodernists discuss identity politics. This is true given that Marxists believe people interact in a world based primarily on economics and the class struggle, which is essentially no different than the postmodernist claim that people interact in the world based on power struggles in a cisgendered, heteronormative, white supremacist patriarchy.
Since postmodernists believe there is no correct way to interpret the world, many are blank slate-ists who claim that everything up to and including biological sex, is a social construct. This idea, and therefore the proposition that oppression by the power structure is everywhere, is not only false but is also a futile criticism of society. Claiming that much of our everyday experiences are socially constructed doesn’t diminish those constructs’ reality or importance in the world today, nor does it mean these constructs are necessarily oppressive. Language is a social construct, and so is time. That does not make it okay for me to show up to work an hour late and grunt at customers all day. Conveniently, postmodernists do not believe in dialogue with those they disagree with, since dialogue is playing into their opponents’ power games. There is a strong connection between this philosophy and the campus Left’s social justice warrior activist’s behavior.
To conclude, the personal nature of these ideas makes it very easy to justify an emotional response — and to make accusations of bigotry — against those who don’t immediately see the concerns of individuals in these groups. Despite there being a grain of truth in some of these ideas, it’s a perfect recipe for division when combining the strategy of identity politics with a philosophy like postmodernism. There is room for everyone to grow, and there are better ways of getting people on the other side to understand certain perspectives. In our political discourse, we should put respect, logic, common decency and patience at the forefront of any discussion we have, rather than jump to reactionary conclusions and rash judgements. The alternative approach will only divide our society, and as Abraham Lincoln said, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”