Identitätstheorien, Identitärismus und deren erhebliche Schwächen

Ein interessanter Artikel versucht die Unterschiede zwischen einer gemäßigten linken Politik und einer intersektionalen Identitätspolitik näher aufzuschlüsseln:

I don’t really like how “identity politics” has become a piñata whenever this sort of thing comes up. It doesn’t quite capture the problems with an article like Cauterucci’s and with the approach to politics it reflects. Identity politics is really just any instance of a group advocating for its own interests, often by arguing it hasn’t been treated fairly or is being screwed over by some other group or some bigger force. The civil rights and women’s suffrage movements were instances of effective identity politics.

‘Identitarianism’ is a bit better. In poking around online, I came across the blog of Matt Drabek, a philosopher and the author of the very interesting-looking Classify and Label: The Unintended Marginalization of Social Groups. Drabek argues against identitarianism on the left, from the left, laying out the identity politics/identitarianism distinction as follows in a post from last June:

-‘Identity politics’ picks out any politics aimed at advancing the interests of a discernible identity group or groups.

-‘Identitarianism’ picks out any politics or movement that reduces political issues entirely or almost entirely to issues of identity

Also will er hier eine Unterscheidung zwischen einer Politik für eine bestimmte Gruppe und einer Politik, die alles auf die Gruppenidentität reduziert. Das erste wäre aus meiner Sicht eine „Gruppenbezogene Interessenvertretung“ die nicht unbedingt eine Identität braucht, sondern durchaus eine gewisse Heterogenität innerhalb der Gruppe zulassen würde. Das andere wäre eine radikale Identitätspolitik.

That seems about right to me. And it captures what feels like a burgeoning tendency in certain left-of-center spaces, particularly elite ones. Since it has certain characteristics unique to it and not held by right-wing forms of identitarianism, let’s call it left-wing identitarianism, or LWI, for short. This is somewhat blunt phrasing, since there are far-left socialist identitarians and center-left Hillary-Clinton-supporting identitarians, but it gets the point across well enough.

LWI has certain defining features that pop up endlessly. One is that it makes strong causal claims about the connection between race and behavior or belief. In 2017, for example, I wrote an article for New York’s website called “Whiteness Doesn’t Cause Mass Shooting,” a response to the radical leftist professor George Ciccariello-Maher’s lament on Democracy Now! that “[W]hiteness is never seen as a cause, in and of itself, of these kinds of massacres, of other forms of violence, despite the fact that whiteness is a structure of privilege and it’s a structure of power, and a structure that, when it feels threatened, you know, lashes out.”

This is a really good example of the miles-wide gap between how traditional progressivism and LWI handle the question of race and crime.

Traditional progressivism: If there’s a link between race and crime, it isn’t about race itself — being one race or another, doesn’t, on its own, cause someone to be more criminal via properties essential to that racial group. Rather, the race-crime link is mediated by all sorts of other variables, like poverty and lack of access to opportunity.

Left-wing identitarianism: There is a causal link between race and crime when it comes to white crime, because of the essential qualities of whiteness.

Das Beispiel finde ich nicht schlecht. Das erste Beispiel, der traditionelle Progressivismus, wäre eher eine Antwort auf rechte Rassentheorien, bei denen man zB darauf abstellt, dass Schwarze nicht einfach nur schwarz sind, sondern eben auch häufiger arm, eher in Slums aufwachsen, eher zu schlechteren Schulen gehen etc.

Das zweite Beispiel macht deutlich, dass diese Richtung Rassismus einfach nur umkehrt und nicht biologisch, sondern kulturell/sozial begründet: Weiße sind böse, weil sie weiß sind.

In fact, LWI has a tendency to reduce all sorts of complicated stuff to whether or not the person doing that stuff is a member of majority or minority groups. Among the most ardent left-wing identitarians, the first step toward explaining anything is identity groups. For example, today there’s a push on the left against what is derided as “the sex binary,” or the idea that the vast majority of humans can be divided into biological males and biological females. Why is this idea so popular in the first place? From a LWI perspective, identity is always the culprit. So in this case, the blame lies with cisgender people, heterosexual people, men (via their patriarchy), and white people. That’s why if you poke around, it won’t be hard to find many people who claim that white cisheteropatriarchy (or some similar identity-focused term), usually imposed via colonialism, is the reason so many people believe there are two sexes.

In der Tat, eine andere , zB biologische Erklärung kommt dagegen gar nicht mehr in Betracht. Alles ist Identität. Braucht man eine Erklärung, warum einem etwas nicht gefällt, dann sind die „Bösen Identitäten“ daran schuld und die „guten Identitäten“ leiden darunter.

A lot of LWI theorizing raises more questions than it answers. How would one prove that “whiteness” causes mass shootings, especially given the evidence that whites don’t commit a disproportionate percentage of them? Even if they did, if whiteness is an acceptable explanation for some murders, doesn’t that open the door to blackness being an acceptable explanation for others? If the sex binary was imposed by cisheteropatriarchal colonists, why do so many indigenous cultures show, in artifacts and artwork dating back millenia before their contact with, say, pillaging Spaniards, that they understood humans as being generally divided into males and females with very distinct characteristics, and moreover that they imposed very different expectations on those two sex classes? (The latter would suggest that the “gender binary,” too, wasn’t invented by white cisheteropatriarchal colonists.)

Auch da ist das Weltbild sehr einfach. Weiße, Männer, Heteros etc für böse zu halten ist gut. Schwarze, Frauen, homosexuelle für böse zu halten ist schlecht. Also bringt es in dieser einfachen Sicht nichts darauf hinzuweisen, dass die beiden Denkweisen dicht beieinander liegen. Wenn das eine schlecht und das andere gut ist, dann sit das ja bereits ein deutlicher Unterschied aus deren Sicht, der keiner anderen Rechtfertigung bedarf.

LWI also has a distinct approach to epistemology and argument focused less on traditional conceptions of logic and reason historically important to progressivism and its political victories, and more on the identity characteristics of the person making the claim.

Traditional progressivism: If X and Y disagree, they should each present and consider one another’s evidence and its relative strengths and weaknesses. The argument that ‘wins’ should be the one that is seen as more logically sound and/or evidence-based in light of premises X and Y agree that they share. [This is all easier said than done and I’m obviously painting with a broad brush here.]

Left-wing identitarianism: If X and Y disagree on a social-justice subject, then whichever person has more marginalized identity characteristics relevant to the debate should be seen as the authority, regardless of the specifics of the argument in question. Whoever has fewer relevant marginalized identity characteristics should be deferential: s/he should sit back, listen, and learn rather than participate directly in the debate in question.

In der Tat wäre das der Diskussionsverlauf. Wobei er natürlich dann nicht gilt, wenn etwa ein „Marginalisierter“ etwas vertritt, was dort nicht ins Weltbild passt. Dann ist er ein Verräter an seiner Gruppe, der sich nur anderen Anbiedern will:

Desmond and Appiah probably have little to fear from left-wing identitarians, luckily, because this rule about who is allowed to write or say what is very rarely applied consistently, in my experience. It’s more of a cudgel used to whack away at dissenting views without engaging with them intellectually. White people who make claims that line up with progressive or leftist orthodoxy on race, for example, are rarely told that they shouldn’t chime in on these issues because they are white. By that same token (no pun intended), black people who make conservative arguments about race or other issues aren’t given any slack for being black — if anything, they’re criticized even more vociferously for taking a stance that goes ‘against’ their skin color. Sometimes, they’re accused of being Uncle Toms, more or less. (Again, left-wing identitarians have trouble understanding anything except through the prism of identity.)

Auch die Identität an sich ist damit nicht auf das Individuum gerichtet, sondern letztendlich auf eine angenommene Opferidentität.

Insoweit ist eben eine klassische Identitätspolitik mit einem Individualismus nicht zu vereinbaren:

Setting aside inconsistency, the problem here is obvious: Within big groups that share superficial similarities like skin color, there is massive disagreement. And that argument I made in February, that progressives have a tendency to talk over marginalized people and assume they hold more left-leaning positions than many of them actually do? Left-wing identitarians are the prime culprit. They really, really don’t like the idea that while black people are overwhelmingly left-of-center, many have politics somewhat to the right of Ta-Nehisi Coates, or that Muslim Americans are significantly less in favor of gay marriage than the broader population. This not only disrupts but is an active threat to their core worldview, that identity causes belief and behavior in a straightforward way, and that power-up groups hold the ‘wrong’ beliefs while power-down groups hold the ‘right’ ones. If you have a theory that you think explains the world, and someone presents evidence which calls that theory into question, of course that evidence is going to make you uncomfortable and you’re going to ignore it or shout it down. Left-wing identitarians aren’t good at handling the fact that white and black and Muslim and gay and trans and South Asian people all have a wide range of beliefs, and that members of these groups are individuals who often don’t conceive of themselves, first and foremost, as members of these sorts of zoomed-out identity groups.

Das kann man so sagen. Sie brauchen eine einheitliche Masse von Opfern und Tätern und ein zu genaues Hinschauen und ein differenzieren bringt da nur Probleme.

LWI views the link between certain identities and marginalization as absolutely crucial to understanding America, and seeks to highlight it whatever possible. So its adherents are uncomfortable when people from marginalized groups don’t act marginalized. Regular readers will recall the emails I published from nonwhite young-adult authors who were told by white editors to write about the oppression they faced.

As one aspiring author told me:

I think the biggest thing I resent is that being told to stay in my lane for me apparently means writing about a country I wasn’t born in, have only the vaguest connection to or knowledge about, and doesn’t particularly interest me. I’d much rather write about the Roman Empire or the Diadochi states after the collapse of Alexander’s empire, but it’s clear they want a very specific kind of ownvoices [that is, a story with a protagonist from his identity group(s)] from me rather than letting me write about whatever I feel like. The irony of (mostly) white women telling me the kind of diversity they want aside, if they really wanted to amplify diverse voices they’d probably be better served going and translating books from other countries that are written in their native language and selling them in the US market.

This is LWI in action: You’re a member of this marginalized group, so that group membership, and particularly how it has caused you hardship, should be front and center. Left-wing identitarians, again, have a strong bias toward essentialization. It seems to make them uncomfortable when members of marginalized groups aren’t particularly interested in talking about their marginalization, or — I hope you’re sitting down — don’t feel entirely marginalized.

If your political ideology is very focused on identity, and subscribes to the belief that any individual’s surface-level identity characteristics can tell you a lot about that person, then framing like Buttigieg’s is incomplete, if not offensive. Gay people are oppressed. This idea that Buttigieg just happens to be gay, that it isn’t central to his identity and hasn’t caused him all that much hardship (though it does sound like Buttigieg sometimes talks about the hardship it has caused him) — the LWI mind recoils.

LWI is a clearly a pretty crimped view of the world. It’s also pretty easy to rebut its arguments — “What do you mean by ‘whiteness causes mass shootings’? Can you explain exactly what you mean, causally speaking?” Almost always, left-wing identitarians can’t, because they haven’t really thought it through. So they’ll either ignore the followup question or accuse you of “defending white people” or whatever, and then you can move on with your day.

Ja, Widerspruch oder auch nur eine Erklärung oder nähere Begründung sind bereits ein Angriff, die Kausalität darf nicht hinterfragt werden, schon weil sie nicht nachzuweisen ist.