The stupidity of (all) identity politics

identity-politics-1

Actress Rosanna Arquette is in the news for tweeting the other day “I’m sorry I was born white and privileged. It disgusts me. And I feel so much shame.” No, I can’t remember her either, but apparently she was in “Pulp Fiction”, which for me was the most overrated movie of the 1990s. In any case, thoughts and prayers with Rosanna at this difficult time in her life. I hope that with hard work and determination she becomes less white and less privileged.

There are many things to hate about the identity politics, which perceives everyone through a prism of groups they belong to, but this is perhaps the most pernicious element of this new religion of the left: it assigns normative values to an accident of birth.

You, as an individual, have absolutely no influence on who you are born as and, therefore, can bear no responsibility for the end product of the mixing of your parents’ genetic material.

There is nothing inherently good or bad about your inborn characteristics; nothing to be proud about but also nothing to be ashamed about.

There is nothing good or bad, and nothing to be proud or ashamed about being white.

There is nothing good or bad, and nothing to be proud or ashamed about being black.

There is nothing good or bad, and nothing to be proud or ashamed about being Asian.

There is nothing good or bad, and nothing to be proud or ashamed about being any particular ethnicity.

There is nothing good or bad, and nothing to be proud or ashamed about being male.

There is nothing good or bad, and nothing to be proud or ashamed about being female.

There is nothing good or bad, and nothing to be proud or ashamed about being heterosexual.

There is nothing good or bad, and nothing to be proud or ashamed about being non-heterosexual.

There is nothing good or bad, and nothing to be proud or ashamed about being tall.

There is nothing good or bad, and nothing to be proud or ashamed about being short.

There is nothing good or bad, and nothing to be proud or ashamed about having blue – or green or brown eyes.

You get the drift. You are who you are, or you were born who you were born; you had no choice about it and it’s not a result of your actions and your work. Being proud about being white or black or whatever else is like being proud of having won a lottery – or more precisely being proud that someone else has put in the entry for you.

What is good or bad – what can be judged – and you can feel proud or ashamed of are your choices and your actions, however they might be circumscribed by circumstances. We might not have an absolutely free hand in life but that’s nothing compared to who you are born as, which is a matter completely beyond your control.

I described the identity politics above as a new religion and it is at the very least in this regard: just as Christianity believes that as a result of the Fall we are all born with the Original Sin, so does the identity politics, except more selectively – some of us are born deficient, depraved and guilty – those of us born into one of the oppressor categories. If you are, on the other hand, born into one of the oppressed groups, your victimhood sanctifies you.

In reality, what’s open to normative judgments is what we do, not who we are. Are you honest or crooked? Generous or miserly? Lover or hater? Helpful or selfish? Hard-working or lazy? The list goes on. All cultures around the world and throughout time have by and large recognised the same set of attitudes and behaviours as positive and others as negative. This is not rocket science. Neither is the recognition that positive actions or achievements can be associated with pride and the negative ones with shame. Try to avoid the extremes of either reactions; too much pride as well as too much shame can be destructive. But in the right amounts they motivate us to try keep getting better. What’s also open to normative judgments – though here the human consensus breaks down – are your values and beliefs. They differ widely but they too are yours by choice.

If you are proud of yourself – or ashamed yourself – based on your skin colour, ethnicity, gender, sexuality or appearance – or if you judge others based on theirs, you are doing it wrong. That’s something to be ashamed of.

Comments

comments