What’s wrong with identity politics?

This interview from the Chronicle of Higher Education is certainly worth reading. The content: Evan Goldstein interviews Francis Fukuyama, political scientist and writer whose achievements are summarized this way in Wikipedia (note: in the Chronicle interview Fukuyama is definitely not a neo-conservative, going hard after “President Trump”):

Fukuyama is known for his book The End of History and the Last Man (1992), which argued that the worldwide spread of liberal democracies and free market capitalism of the West and its lifestyle may signal the end point of humanity’s sociocultural evolution and become the final form of human government. However, his subsequent book Trust: Social Virtues and Creation of Prosperity (1995) modified his earlier position to acknowledge that culture cannot be cleanly separated from economics. Fukuyama is also associated with the rise of the neoconservative movement, from which he has since distanced himself.

Fukuyama has a new book coming out September 11 whose subject is identity politics (click on screenshot just below to go to its Amazon site). The Amazon summary includes the following:

The New York Times bestselling author of The Origins of Political Order offers a provocative examination of modern identity politics: its origins, its effects, and what it means for domestic and international affairs of state

. . . Demand for recognition of one’s identity is a master concept that unifies much of what is going on in world politics today. The universal recognition on which liberal democracy is based has been increasingly challenged by narrower forms of recognition based on nation, religion, sect, race, ethnicity, or gender, which have resulted in anti-immigrant populism, the upsurge of politicized Islam, the fractious “identity liberalism” of college campuses, and the emergence of white nationalism. Populist nationalism, said to be rooted in economic motivation, actually springs from the demand for recognition and therefore cannot simply be satisfied by economic means. The demand for identity cannot be transcended; we must begin to shape identity in a way that supports rather than undermines democracy.

The last bit, about how to usefully weave the need for recognizing people’s identity into the fabric of a functioning democracy, is especially intriguing, because although identity politics permeates both the American Right and Left, it’s hardly led to any progress.

I often think about this, and engage in self-examination about why modern identity politics irks me. After all, the call for group rights has historically identified and rectified great injustices, bringing about things like women’s rights, civil rights, and gay rights. I’d like to think I’m sympathetic to genuine oppression and would try to identify it and call it out; and believe me, there’s plenty of oppression and bigotry still around!

So what bothers me about the increasing balkanization of the electorate? I suppose I see much of it as “me-centered”: a narrative about personal victimhood that can not only overcome a drive for social progress, but also leads to suppression of speech and to the demonization of one’s opponents. A lot of identity politics is excessive—the blather about “cultural appropriation” is a notable example—and it’s created a hierarchy of victimhood that leads not to progress but to finger-pointing. (Seriously, does boycotting a show of kimonos in which viewers are invited to try on the garment accomplish anything?) Too, identity politics sometimes degenerates into unproductive Pecksniffery: does it really push America forward, for instance, to censor books like To Kill a Mockingbird? Is it productive to decry all police as racist, even when the cops are black? And I worry, as I often do here, that the excesses of Leftist identity politics give the Right an excuse to not just mock progressives, but to buttress support for autocratic buffoons like Trump and his Republican minions.

Thus I’m ambivalent about the constant cries of oppression. Some of them are justified, but it’s often hard to weed out genuine wrongs from groups using an oppression narrative for other purposes. This has become harder since certain groups on the Left have tried to silence any criticism, much less discussion, by calling critics “racists”, “Nazis,” and so on. Since liberals are deathly afraid of such labels, they’ve driven some of us straight into the arms of regressives. In this sense the Left has borrowed from the playbook of Islamists, who have learned well the use of bandying about the term “Islamophobia.” None of us want to be Islamophobes, so we avoid criticizing the faith and the actions it provokes. The result: liberals and feminists wind up coddling one of the world’s most regressive and oppressive religions, embracing a double standard based on the bigotry of low expectations.

You can see Fukuyama’s own ambivalence in the article below, which I highly recommend. I’ll put a few excerpts below the title.

Fukuyama on Trump:

Q. Let’s start where you start Identity: Donald Trump. The book is a response to his election. He also made an appearance in The End of History and the Last Man.

A. One of the arguments I made in The End of History was that it’s good to have a democracy linked to a market economy because it acts as a sponge for the ambitious energies of people who could otherwise become Julius Caesar or Adolf Hitler. That’s the context in which I mention Donald Trump. Our political system has to absorb such people and render them safe. At that time, it looked like our system was doing that. He could be a real-estate developer or, later, an entertainer. That wasn’t enough for him, and he went into politics. Now we’ve got a real problem. Our constitutional system was designed to prevent the rise of fantastically ambitious individuals, to limit them through a system of checks and balances. That’s the test we’re up against right now.

Fukuyama’s ambivalence:

Q. Is there anything inherently problematic about minority groups’ demanding recognition?

A. Absolutely not. Every single one of these struggles is justified. The problem is in the way we interpret injustice and how we try to solve it, which tends to fragment society. In the 20th century, for example, the left was based around the working class and economic exploitation rather than the exploitation of specific identity groups. That has a lot of implications for possible solutions to injustice. For example, one of the problems of making poverty a characteristic of a specific group is that it weakens support for the welfare state. Take something like Obamacare, which I think was an important policy. A lot of its opponents interpreted it as a race-specific policy: This was the black president doing something for his black constituents. We need to get back to a narrative that’s focused less on narrow groups and more on larger collectivities, particularly the collectivity called the American people.

The role of college campuses:

Q. To what extent is this fragmentation in our politics exacerbated by certain tendencies on campus?

A. This is a complicated question because specific incidents are picked up by conservative media and blown up to be representative of higher education. Friends of mine say: It’s obvious there is no freedom of speech left in universities. That seems excessive. The question is important, however. What happens in universities sets the tone for a lot of other elite institutions. What happens on campus ultimately does filter down to the rest of society.

The last sentence, with which I agree (just look at The New Yorker and the New York Times these days), explains why I devote so much space on this site to campuses. And I’ll continue to do so despite some folks telling me in no uncertain terms that I should stop writing about college politics and concentrate on the nastiness of the Trump Administration. (My response is that everybody’s going after Trump, but criticism of college politics has been largely the domain of the Right.)

The interview continues:

Q. You tie some campus developments to a therapeutic turn in American life.

A. It began to unfold back in the ’60s and ’70s, when identity came to the forefront. People felt unfulfilled. They felt they had these true selves that weren’t being recognized. In the absence of a common cultural framework previously set by religion, people were at a loss. Psychology and psychiatry stepped into that breach. In the medical profession, treating mental health has a therapeutic mission, and it became legitimate to say the objective of society ought to be improving people’s sense of self-esteem.

This became part of the mission of universities, which made it difficult to set educational criteria as opposed to therapeutic criteria aimed at making students feel good about themselves. This is what led to many of the conflicts over multiculturalism. This played out in a vivid way at Stanford.

Q. In the book, you quote a leader of Stanford’s Black Student Union in the late ’80s arguing that the university’s Western-civ curriculum “hurts people mentally and emotionally in ways that are not even recognized.”

A. Instead of saying we want to read authors that are outside the canon because they’re important educationally and historically and culturally, the way it’s framed by that student leader is that the exclusion of those authors hurts people’s self-esteem: Because my people are not equally represented, I feel less good about myself. That is part of the motive that drives administrators and professors to expand the curriculum, to fulfill an understandably therapeutic mission. But I think it can get in the way of universities’ fulfilling their educational missions. What makes students feel good about themselves is not necessarily what’s most useful to their education.

Pay attention to that last sentence, which carries a lot of wisdom about the mission of universities.

Q. A majority of Republicans and right-leaning independents now think higher education has a negative effect on the country. Is higher ed to blame for this perception problem?

“We’re a university, we’re dedicated to the free debate of ideas, so that’s what we’re going to do.”

A. When faced with the sort of threats to free speech that trigger conservative reactions, a lot of professors and administrators tend not to be outspoken. And they ought to be. I admire the president of the University of Chicago [Robert Zimmer], who has been out front on these issues. We need more presidents like him. They should say they’re not going along with any of this nonsense. We’re a university, we’re dedicated to the free debate of ideas, so that’s what we’re going to do.

On social media:

Q. What about the role of social media?

A. Social media is perfectly made for identity politics. It allows you to close yourself off in an identity group, get affirmation of everything you say, and not have to argue with people who think differently. It’s hard to tell what’s cause and effect. I used to think that the driver was society itself, and that technology only accelerated it. But I’m beginning to think causality moves the other way: that we wouldn’t be where we are if not for the internet and social media. This is something future historians will have to unpack.

Amen. All of the interview makes me want to read Fukuyama’s book, and I will.



  1. Posted August 31, 2018 at 10:43 am | Permalink


  2. Historian
    Posted August 31, 2018 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    Francis Fukuyama is a renowned public intellectual and one of the most controversial due to some of his theses. For some background on him I recommend this very recent article in the New Yorker.


    What I find most dispiriting about the identity politics is that no matter how much it is regretted, there is simply no way to get rid of it. Sometimes it is more pronounced in society than others, but it is always there. Why? The subtitle of Fukuyama’s book suggests the reason why: “The demand of dignity and the politics of resentment.” This quest for dignity, which historians sometimes refer to as a search for social status, explains the appearance of many social movements. For many of the years that I have studied history, I tended to look for economic explanations for events. Now, I realize that the writings of the mid-twentieth century historian, Richard Hofstadter, and who is quoted often today almost 50 years after his death, was on the mark when he noted that “status anxiety,” the fear of falling in social status, explains what today we call identity politics. Trying to understand history through an economic lens simply is not enough. History is much more complicated.

    Identity politics is nothing new, indeed, it probably existed since the “cave man.” Here is an historical example that illustrates this. Why did the poor whites of the pre-Civil War South support slavery even though they did not own any slaves? The answer is that slavery made them feel superior to another group and hence preserved their dignity or social status. Certainly, one component of racism is that it allows whites, no matter what their economic status, to maintain dignity and social status. Today, the Trump cult can be explained by this phenomenon. These people become particularly vexed when minority groups become assertive in trying to attain equality. If minorities were to actually achieve equality, white Trump supporters would perceive their dignity and status declining in a relative sense.

    Many of us, I think, aspire to a society where a person’s identity, hence his dignity and status, is not determined by what group he belongs to. We would like dignity to be defined by individual achievement, not group affiliation. I fear that for society at large this will not happen any time soon, perhaps never, if historical examples are instructive. It seems for many people that individual achievement or lack thereof fails to provide them with the dignity they fervently desire. The best we can hope for in regard to identity politics is that it is tampered down to a degree that it is not a threat to permanently tear the social fabric and thus threaten democracy itself. In the Age of Trump, where identity politics generates group grievance, such an end remains elusive.

    • Posted August 31, 2018 at 11:17 am | Permalink

      “Many of us, I think, aspire to a society where a person’s identity, hence his dignity and status, is not determined by what group he belongs to. We would like dignity to be defined by individual achievement, not group affiliation.”

      I don’t think it is that simple. Many of the activities we engage in are group activities that we enjoy immensely. Much of the energy represented by Silicon Valley, for example, comes from the joy of being part of a successful company or product team. Sure, individual success is also important but it is hardly the only thing. We also take pride in our group membership. When someone at a cocktail party says they are a musician, I know they are proud to belong to that group. Although the success is individual, group membership is also part of that success.

      • Posted August 31, 2018 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

        I think Historian is drawing a distinction between accidental group membership and achieved group membership. Accidental group membership (ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, etc) shouldn’t determine one’s status. Being part of a groundbreaking software development team can help determine status because earning a spot on that team is an individual achievement; it demonstrates an individual’s character in a way skin color doesn’t.

        • Posted August 31, 2018 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

          Is being a member of the KKK an “achieved” membership? I suspect there’s a strong correlation between achieved/accidental membership and good/bad identity but it isn’t 100% and they are distinct dimensions.

          • Posted August 31, 2018 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

            I would say KKK membership is achieved, in a sense. It’s certainly not accidental. It is something an individual chooses. Not every “achievement” is positive.

            My point was that I don’t think Historian’s comment implied that humans don’t enjoy being part of groups. I think it was orthogonal to that. Rather, the point was, ideally, people should “be judged not by the color of their skin [or any other accident], but by the content of their character.”

    • mikeyc
      Posted August 31, 2018 at 11:30 am | Permalink

      A very thoughtful comment. And most helpful

      • darrelle
        Posted August 31, 2018 at 12:28 pm | Permalink


    • Davide Spinello
      Posted August 31, 2018 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

      If minorities were to actually achieve equality, white Trump supporters would perceive their dignity and status declining in a relative sense.

      Which minorities did not achieve equality?

      • Historian
        Posted August 31, 2018 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

        Any good American history textbook will enlighten you.

        • Davide Spinello
          Posted August 31, 2018 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

          Of course.

          Perhaps you can be more precise when you talk about “inequality” and “minority”, since as you know for sure it is a function of the geographical location and obviously of time.

          For example, in ivy league universities in the USA in the year 2018 it is ok (and in certain departments celebrated) to be racist against a certain group, whereas in the same universities in the year 1950 was ok (and celebrated) to be racist against other groups.

          Another example: in the NY Times in the year 2018 it is good to be racist against a certain group, whereas you get fired if you are racist against any other group.

          I am not sure if this has been digested in any good american history book, but so far I haven’t found one. Do you have any bibliographical suggestion?

          • Saul Sorrell-Till
            Posted August 31, 2018 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

            That’s a pretty specious comparison you make there. It wasn’t racism just in universities back in 1950; there was racism absolutely everywhere, at every level, and black people were beaten to death or lynched rather than, say, passed over for a place at an Ivy League college, or occasionally lectured about ‘privilege’, as is the case with the present-day anti-white racism to which you presumably allude.

            I’d also point out that prominent figures have been fired for anti-white racism in the last year or so: off the top of my head that ghastly woman who was the face of L’Oreal for one.

            • Davide Spinello
              Posted August 31, 2018 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

              Indeed. My point is that acting as if no progress has happened since the 50 is anti-empirical, and the correction to the residual racism cannot be the adoption of racism.

              • eric
                Posted August 31, 2018 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

                Loads of progress has happened. Because people pointed out and civilly objected to personal as well as institutional racism.

                So it seems obvious to me that if we want to make more progress, we should continue to point out and civilly object to both personal and institutional racism. Such as in the inequal treatment shown by our justice system in terms of stops, shootings, and sentencing.

              • Davide Spinello
                Posted September 1, 2018 at 7:50 am | Permalink

                Give a look at some data:


                Description of the data from the article:

                […] data from the Police-Public Contact Survey (PPCS), which provides detailed information about contacts between police and the public. It’s conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), as a supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), based on a nationally representative sample of US residents age 16 or older. As the NCVS, the PPCS aims to collect data directly from the population, instead of relying on data provided by law enforcement agencies. Respondents are asked whether they had a contact with the police during the past 12 months and, if they did, have to answer a battery of questions about the nature of their interaction with the police during the last contact. In particular, they are asked questions about whether the police used or threatened to use force during that contact and, if so, what the police did or threatened to do exactly. Since the respondents are also asked questions about their age, race, gender, etc., it makes it possible to calculate the prevalence of police violence for various demographic groups. Moreover, since it’s entirely based on what respondents say and doesn’t rely on police reports, it eliminates the possibility of bias from law enforcement agencies.

    • eric
      Posted August 31, 2018 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

      What I find most dispiriting about the identity politics is that no matter how much it is regretted, there is simply no way to get rid of it.

      I’m hopeful that the excesses of one generation are viewed for what they are by the next, and the pendulum swings back. Hippies beget yuppies. Yuppies beget jaded Gen Yers. Those jaded grunge-wearers beget highly socially active millenials. So I hope and expect the children of millenials may turn their back on the excessive identity politics of their parents.

    • Steve Pollard
      Posted August 31, 2018 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

      I agree that this is a very thoughtful contribution.

      Some of us who might like to define ourselves as social liberals could respond that we should extend dignity and respect to everyone, regardless of individual achievement or group identity. Easy to say; less easy to put into practice. Much easier to stay in our own social comfort zone and patronise those in others from a distance. Even the most high-minded of us are sometimes swayed by attachment to the familiar and fear of the Other.

      • Davide Spinello
        Posted August 31, 2018 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

        If we cannot avoid departing from the individual and we must absolutely refer to groups, a good starting point would be to apply the same rules to every group. Therefore no more buffoonish semantic contorsions to explain why certain groups intrinsically cannot be racist.

        • Posted August 31, 2018 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

          Yes, there should be a set of rules for groups to follow. There’s the one you mention but also

          – Assume that outsiders can understand your experiences and grievances.

          – The group does not exclusively own its attributes. There’s no such thing as cultural appropriation, for example.

          – Unless your group is a sports team or involved in formal competition, you must not wage war with other groups.

          I’m sure there are more but I can’t think of them off the top of my head.

        • eric
          Posted August 31, 2018 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

          a good starting point would be to apply the same rules to every group.

          Indeed. So as soon as the police start treating poor black people as well as they treat rich white people, and as soon as the sexism against women is corrected across multiple areas of society, then we can turn our focus to the question of whether white males are being treated equally.


    • Posted August 31, 2018 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

      “Why did the poor whites of the pre-Civil War South support slavery even though they did not own any slaves? The answer is that slavery made them feel superior to another group and hence preserved their dignity or social status.”

      And you dare go by the ‘nym “historian”.

      • Historian
        Posted August 31, 2018 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

        Are all your other comments equally profound?

        • Posted August 31, 2018 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

          I’m not sure, but Matt may be sarcastically channelling a Ctrl-Lefty.

  3. Neil Wolfe
    Posted August 31, 2018 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    How does advertising fit into all this? We are bombarded with messages that are powerfully crafted to influence both our view of ourselves and our perceived status in society. Advertisers have been working to turn us all into entitled little shits for decades now and I have to think it’s working.

    • mikeyc
      Posted August 31, 2018 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      It’s a bit of the chicken and egg thing, don’t you think? Advertisers both react to and shape people’s preferences. We can blame some of the bad in our culture on advertisers, but we are -all of us- willing co-conspirators.

      • Neil Wolfe
        Posted August 31, 2018 at 11:43 am | Permalink

        I’m not suggesting that if advertising went away so would identity politics. I just think it is a contributing factor that I haven’t seen mentioned often. Identity politics gets reinforced by advertising which makes the advertising more effective. It’s a feedback loop that is working well on primates with lots of emotional baggage.

        • Posted August 31, 2018 at 11:49 am | Permalink

          Advertising and politicians both take advantage of group membership. A little is ok and inevitable but both can take it too far (eg, party over country) or attempt to leverage a group identity (eg, racism) that is detrimental to society.

          • darrelle
            Posted August 31, 2018 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

            The other similarity is that both groups, marketers and politicians, expend huge resources on figuring out ways to tailor their messages and the means they deliver them to take advantage of human behavior. The individual carny and con-man does the same, the difference is the orders of magnitude more resources devoted to it.

  4. DrBrydon
    Posted August 31, 2018 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    The idea of commonality is inherent in community. You can’t have a functioning community if everyone is emphasizing their differences. The CTRL-Left doesn’t understand that a breakdown of society doesn’t create a space for justice but for savagery. There must be a functioning community to even define, let alone defend, justice.

  5. Ken Kukec
    Posted August 31, 2018 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    … Fukuyama is definitely not a neo-conservative, going hard after “President Trump” …

    The Donald is none too popular with the neocons. His neo-isolationism is anathema to their globalist interventionism. The quintessential neo-conservatives — like Bill Kristol and John Podhoretz and Max Boot — are all in the never-Trump camp.

    John McCain was sometimes classified as a neocon. Those you hear on the Right carping about McCain’s “warmongering” are coming from the Trumpian neo-isolationist wing of the GOP.

    • Chris
      Posted August 31, 2018 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

      I was just about to post the following, so I guess now I have my answer: “This is a minor point/question, but I don’t see any contradiction between being a neocon and being critical of Trump. In fact, I associate most of the most vocal anti-Trump conservatives (e.g., David Frum) with neoconservatism. Is this just my reading, or do others also understand it this way?”

  6. Diana MacPherson
    Posted August 31, 2018 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    Identity politics rejects the notion that I can identify with a fellow human being. That is what is wrong with identity politics. It separates us into individual categories that we insist are unique to us only rather than bringing us together to recognize the things we have in common.

    • Saul Sorrell-Till
      Posted August 31, 2018 at 11:45 am | Permalink

      It’s just inherently divisive. It does what it says on the tin. How anyone on the left thought it would be a politically productive rabbit-hole to go down I’ll never know.

      More than that, minority identities thought it was something only they could use, when anyone with a brain could see that the white right would inevitably take it up themselves given half a chance, and that they would fashion something much, much more ugly and dangerous than left-wing identity politics.

      If you establish group identities you can’t help but create oppositional identities in the process. It’s what the racial supremacists have been trying to do themselves for the last century – create a them and create an us. This is why I keep saying identity politics is doing the far-right’s job for them. It’s why Bannon said if we double down on it(and we have) that the right would ‘destroy’ us.

      • Posted August 31, 2018 at 11:51 am | Permalink

        Right. It was also Bin Laden’s goal to create oppositional identities.

        • Saul Sorrell-Till
          Posted August 31, 2018 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

          Exactly. If you create groups of people all well and good, but you can’t just ignore the fact that by doing so you’re excluding others. That problem doesn’t go away, especially not when the group being excluded is the white majority.

          IP is an idea that could only have come from the ‘deep thinkers’ and activists on the academic left; the kind of people who look at the gradual, meliorist nature of liberal democracy, with its compromises and anti-utopianism, and sneer with contempt. No-one from the liberal-left with any knowledge of how the real world works would have been stupid and irresponsible enough to think alienating the majority of voters in western nations was a solid way forward.

      • mikeyc
        Posted August 31, 2018 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

        well said

      • Historian
        Posted August 31, 2018 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

        Of course, identity politics are divisive and inherently so. But, complaining about it is not a solution. People who feel aggrieved, rightly or wrongly, will turn to group support to nurse their many complaints. In our troubled times, people turn to racial or ethnic groups as the vehicle for airing their grievances and making demands. We must try to develop practical solutions. If they can be found, which is subject to debate, it will take a long time for them to show results, especially with cult leader Trump maintaining control of his minions through playing the identity politics cared at every opportunity he can.

      • eric
        Posted August 31, 2018 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

        How anyone on the left thought it would be a politically productive rabbit-hole to go down I’ll never know.

        I think like a lot of ideas, it’s good in part and terrible when taken to the extreme. The good part of identity politics would be that it’s only really possible to empathize with someone different and see life from their perspective if you first recognize and accept that they have a very different perspective. The BLM movement is a good example; if some upper class white person thinks the police and criminal justice system treats everyone with the same respect and fairness it generally gives to them, they aren’t going to see a need to change it. Only by recognizing that coming from a different ‘identity’ leads to different social treatments can you arrive at the conclusion that the system needs to be changed. So IMO some amount of ‘identity politics’ is needed to drive such points home. Though it probably didn’t need it’s own label or movement, as that appears to be destroying the very empathy that it was intended to foster.

        • Davide Spinello
          Posted August 31, 2018 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

          he BLM movement is a good example; if some upper class white person thinks the police and criminal justice system treats everyone with the same respect and fairness it generally gives to them, they aren’t going to see a need to change it.

          However, if some poor white person from an economically depressed area thinks the police and criminal justice system treats everyone with the same disrespect and unfairness it generally gives to them, they may have a point (but they are better not if they want to get an editorial job at the NYT.)

          • eric
            Posted August 31, 2018 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

            I get it; you’re focused on status-based bias vs. race-based.

            While status-based biases do indeed exist, this is often the distraction white supremacists hide themselves behind. So I’ll ask you point blank: do you think there are any important, significant race-based institutional biases that our society should try and fix? Or do you think all the important biases (i.e. those worth addressing through legislation and policy) are status based, such as rich vs. poor?

            • Davide Spinello
              Posted September 1, 2018 at 8:04 am | Permalink

              I think that racism exists but it is not systemic, as proven by the existence of extensive policy in place to address it (policy that can be perfected and debated.) And of course I am talking about the part of the world where we are persistently lectured about SYSTEMIC racism.

              Let me ask you point blank: would you rather be Manlia Obama (or prof. Jaden Smith or Blue Ivy Carter) or the daughter of a middle/lower class white family from West Virginia?

              In studying social phenomena racism has to be considered as a relevant variable, but it cannot be the only one, and often it is negligible as compared to other factors.

        • Saul Sorrell-Till
          Posted September 1, 2018 at 11:47 am | Permalink

          Yes, I think you add the nuance and caveats that were missing from what I said.

          W/r/t what you write about IP – I feel the same about political correctness. Of course you can pluck examples of ridiculousness from campuses and from Twitter, and you can argue that in plenty of places it’s been taken too far, but in its original form PC was(still is) really just a semi-codified version of good manners, adapted for the liberal age. Nothing more controversial than the societal consensus that we shouldn’t call black people ‘nigger’ or Pakistani people ‘paki’.

          I do think political correctness is much less damaging and divisive than identity politics though.

  7. Saul Sorrell-Till
    Posted August 31, 2018 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    “And I’ll continue to do so despite some folks telling me in no uncertain terms that I should stop writing about college politics and concentrate on the nastiness of the Trump Administration. (My response is that everybody’s going after Trump, but criticism of college politics has been largely the domain of the Right.)”

    I don’t know what people say in private, and I’m not as regular a contributor to these fora as other people here, but the few comments that I’ve seen that address this issue have not been calling for WEIT to ‘stop writing about college politics’. Rather, they’ve been concerned with the heavy skew in favour of that topic and against any articles about the right and their daily arseholery.

    So I don’t think it’s fair to characterise all concern as though it’s people who want WEIT to stick its head in the sand re. the far-left/illiberal-left.

    • Taz
      Posted August 31, 2018 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

      Rather, they’ve been concerned with the heavy skew in favour of that topic and against any articles about the right and their daily arseholery.

      Except you haven’t provided any evidence to back up your contention. I just did a quick check using the WEIT search feature (PCC is pretty good about tagging his posts).

      Since the beginning of the year:
      Posts tagged “Trump”: 34
      Posts tagged “Left” (which includes variations such as “Authoritarian Leftists”: 16.
      I even tried “Campus” as a separate search: 2

      Admittedly, this doesn’t come close to being scientific, but to me it throws a lot of doubt on your claims of PCC’s posts being “heavily skewed” in the wrong direction.

      • Saul Sorrell-Till
        Posted September 1, 2018 at 11:32 am | Permalink

        You are correct that it doesn’t come close to being scientific. In fact it’s bordering on meaningless as soon as you look a little closer at your results(which I don’t think you wanted to do.).

        Your post seemed immediately dubious to me, so I also typed ‘left’ in the search function. I got 16 results since the start of the year, just like you, so I assume we were using the same method.

        None of WEIT’s recent articles about Sarah Jeong came up in the results*. Even more damningly, _this_ article didn’t come up in the results.

        You also forgot to mention that of those sixteen results one was about there being only “one baby duck left”, another was titled ‘no ant left behind’, and another was about driving on the ‘left’ side of the road. Another was about the left eye of a cat, and another was about the podcast ‘Left Of The Valley’.

        That apparently leaves just 11 stories about the left in the last eight months.

        It turns out typing ‘left’ into the search engine isn’t quite as rigorous a method for adjudicating the issue as you might think.

        If I had more time on my hands I could do a deep dive and check articles one-by-one, but suffice it to say that if you really believe that there have only been 11 articles on the illiberal-/ctrl-left at WEIT in the last 32 weeks then I think you’re not being entirely reasonable.

        *I use these Jeong articles as an example only because I can remember them off the top of my head as recent examples of articles that clearly deal with the illiberal-left, and whose omission from the search results pokes a very large hole in your methodology.

  8. Randall Schenck
    Posted August 31, 2018 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    His comments related to Trump are interesting. That his becoming a politician is when things go off the rails. This is true except he was in some ways, already off the track before politics. His business practices were often outrageous, and very often illegal if anyone was checking. His heavy involvement with the Russians and particularly the Russian mob was everywhere. Trump was the perfect vehicle for money laundering and that was what attracted the mob to Trump.

    • Posted August 31, 2018 at 11:41 am | Permalink

      I don’t think Fukuyama is suggesting that Trump is “going off the rails” by going into politics. He’s saying that an “off the rails” personality like Trump does a lot more damage once he enters politics. Society can better withstand a Trump if he stays in business or entertainment.

  9. alexithymicblogger
    Posted August 31, 2018 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    “I suppose I see much of it as “me-centered”: a narrative about personal victimhood that can not only overcome a drive for social progress, but leads to suppression of speech and to the demonization of one’s opponents. A lot of identity politics is excessive—the blather about “cultural appropriation” is a notable example—and it’s created a hierarchy of victimhood that leads not to progress but to finger-pointing.”

    I think this hits the nail on the head. (Not that having a hammer necessarily means everything is a nail.) Do you think it has something to do with unfettered individualism and subjectivity? By this I mean there seems to be such a drive for every individual having a ‘voice’ but also cowering away from any one individual’s hurt feelings? Which leads to the problem of X’s speech has hurt Y’s feelings so it must be stopped? (Even though the converse may be true, but Y’s speech is immediately seen as not PC and hence deserving of censure?)

    • Sastra
      Posted August 31, 2018 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

      The seemingly laudable liberal belief that “everyone has the right to believe whatever they want to believe” is sooner or later going to run into the problem that not all beliefs are equally true — let alone valuable. This clash between reality (checks and balances) and individualism (“I make up my own mind for myself!”) is eventually going to lead to fractured groups pursuing their own lines of facts.

      Throw in religion — with its validation of ‘faith’ and the magical idea that believing makes it true — and the divisions are even more intractable.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted August 31, 2018 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

        Yes, the “my truth” is a dangerous path.

      • Marta
        Posted September 1, 2018 at 9:01 am | Permalink

        One of the goals of public education (in the US) was to teach students how to think critically. This goal was always a fig leaf, as the real goal of public schools was to teach students to conform, and to conform to which ever orthodoxy was in vogue at the time. This was true when I was a student in public school, and was still true when I was a teacher in public schools (the conformity goal, however, was buried under a very large pile of euphemistic bullshit.) Private schools, of course, have always been free to teach which ever version of reality they prefer, usually having to do with god business.

        Things are much, much worse now, not least because the institutions whose job it is to purvey something approaching “objective” reality–universities and colleges, the press and media, etc, don’t define their roles that way now.

        • Posted September 1, 2018 at 10:42 am | Permalink

          This seems a bit strong. Sure, there was some conformity when I was in public school in the 60s but it never seemed excessive, even in retrospect. I believe that my teachers generally were interested in imparting knowledge. I am not sure how receptive they would have been to any wild ideas I might have had, but I’d like to think they would have talked them out with me.

          As far as modern public schooling, I will admit that I don’t have a lot of contact. However, I see wonderful activities involving robots and space and wish we would have had them when I was a kid.

          I am sure there are problems: schools need more funding and teachers should be paid a lot more. Still, “training for conformity” seems to be low on the list of things I’m worried about.

        • Filippo
          Posted September 2, 2018 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

          If I may presume to ask, how long did you teach? In the beginning did you idealistically view it as a “calling”? When did you decide that it was not for you for the long-term? Were there days you were enraged and frustrated (and maybe depressed?) by student misbehavior?

  10. Saul Sorrell-Till
    Posted August 31, 2018 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    In very slight mitigation I would say that I watched a film, Wonder Woman, with my younger sisters the other day, and I got a sense of how empowering it must feel to finally see someone who represents you up on screen, or on TV, or on the radio, etc.
    Watching a woman smashing through buildings and decimating entire divisions of soldiers, just like Superman did when I was a tiny kid, I felt a vicarious jolt of joy, of the kind that some little girl probably felt when they saw the same film. It was a little glimpse of how cool it must have been to see a superhero doing all the cool, bad-ass stuff that the big-hitting superheroes get to do – Wonder Woman didn’t have to seduce other superheroes, she didn’t have to use little gadgets or run up behind them and avoid getting walloped, or have a big muscly superhero rescue her when the fight got too much for her – she just clobbered a tank and then smashed a church watchtower to pieces. And if that’s not progress I don’t know what is.

    So I can see the appeal of some aspects of identity politics, the idea of ‘representation’ in particular, because I felt it in that cinema. I thought ‘if I was a little girl* this would have blown my mind’. And a lot of women loved it, actually felt giddy about it, in the same way that I felt giddy after watching The Matrix for the first time, or Superman.

    So I think there are genuinely decent reasons to consider representation a good thing – it’s not just a kind of virtue-signaling, box-ticking exercise, which is how it’s often struck me before.

    I say this as an exercise in advocacy for the devil, because most of the time identity politics is incredibly, corrosively, pernicious.

    *I don’t think about this often, I swear.

    • Posted August 31, 2018 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

      It’s definitely important what one does with identity. It is ok to root for Manchester United, for example, when it goes no further than experiencing a vicarious joy when a player scores a goal but not when it includes punching out the opposing team’s fans.

      • Saul Sorrell-Till
        Posted August 31, 2018 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

        Not much vicarious joy around at the moment unfortunately. #zidanein

  11. Jon Gallant
    Posted August 31, 2018 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    Neil Wolfe’s post was astute in bringing up the advertising industry’s role in creating mind-sets, particuliarly among those who imagine themselves to be leftier than thou.
    This is little remarked, but is actually an old story. For an astoundingly prescient forecast of contemporary life, read “The Space Merchants” by Kornbluth and Pohl. It is a Swiftian satire in the form of a space opera, written in the 1950s! In it, the planet has been taken over entirely by advertising agencies.

  12. Posted August 31, 2018 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Fukuyama may be right here. However, I am not sure he will be listened to for several reasons. Some of the more interesting ones can be discerned from the following.

    I found _The Origins of Political Order_ interesting because it clearly illustrates what Chomsky and others complain about the US mainstream social sciences. That is, it discusses the history of more unstable places without discussion of colonialism or imperialism. In particular, nothing about that in the context of Latin America or Haiti.

    Also, I haven’t read his earlier stuff, but people (e.g., my teacher Mario Bunge) found the idea that there was one political-economic choice left and all the others were gone to be ludicrous. Not the least of which is because some have never been tried, and some have not survived outsiders screwing around with them.

  13. Roo
    Posted August 31, 2018 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    I also have tried to figure out what is so ‘triggering’, to use PC-speak, about identity politics to me. I was at a meditation retreat recently and when I saw they’re redone the handbook / guidelines for participants so that a full 20% of the pages were devoted to things like avoiding ‘microagressions’, I briefly considered ‘expressing myself’ by just chucking it out the window, lol. (Where in the Pali Canon is the Microagression Sutra? And how the heck am I going to microagress against people when you are *literally not allowed to talk* on retreat? By the way I hold my fork?)

    But, after a few hours of steaming over “frigging liberals!!”, I looked around and realized I was in a beautiful, well-run place. That the reason I and so many people from my area migrated from our conservative hometown to more liberal areas is that they *are often great places, while my home state is languishing horribly. And it seemed the proof must be in the pudding one way or the other there, that the liberal minded must be doing some things right. So I tried to be more fair and not just focus on the negative.

    What occurred to me is that the loudest proponents of identity politics often come across as the reincarnation of the elite, idle rich from the Victorian era or something. Out of touch, all talk and no getting their hands dirty, scandalized by anyone who would dare break the esoteric code of conduct that signals to others that you are an Elite Member, not a commoner. And I very much dislike this anti-egalitarian attitude, particularly given it’s Orwellian “hierarchy for the sake of equality” nature. That said, the actual people I encountered at that same site (who I assume were quite liberal,) were not the Left’s version of televangelists – they were hard-working, pragmatic, hands-dirty types. The teacher frequently does work in what sound like difficult conditions overseas to alleviate poverty, for example, the volunteers spent all day working with great attentive to detail. They put their money where their mouth is and I respect that. And I realized that you will have loud hypocrites in any group (again, on the right it might be something like televangelists,) and the majority of people in most any group will be decent and kind. So, I have resolved to try to be less inflamed by what I dislike about the Left, in the same way that I certainly don’t judge all conservatives by the alt-Right. But yeah, there is something about this that I find particularly irksome.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 31, 2018 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

      It’s like what Trae Crowder said about the extreme left and the extreme right not being the same: on the left they say “if you eat enough kale, you can talk to dolphins” but on the right they say “let the brown babies starve”.

      Also I really like your speculation about microagressing people on a quiet retreat by how you hold your fork. 😀

      • yazikus
        Posted August 31, 2018 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

        Got to love Trae, and Roo’s comment is a good one as well! Yes, hippies and their moon yoni magic can be laughable, but they are often on the front lines advocating for real policy change, volunteering for real relief organizations, and using their economic power to support their pet causes. Their frippery isn’t equivalent with the extreme right.

      • Posted August 31, 2018 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

        That’s a good one! But I do worry a bit that the Extreme Left might “let the old white guys starve” if not kept in check.

    • Roo
      Posted August 31, 2018 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

      Thanks all. And to be clearer, what I meant was that I think the people writing page after page on microaggressions are *different people than I encountered at the retreat, not that they are the same people but still preferable to televangelists. I put the loudest proponents of identity politics and hypocritical televangelists in approximately the same mental category, they’re the mirror image on different sides, to my mind. But I try to remember that there are many charitable and kind people on both sides, and some percentage of self-aggrandizing jerks on both sides as well. I think identity politics bother me in particular because I was raised to admire humility and hard work, and vocal proponents of identity politics seem to be about the exact opposite of this – little real world involvement with the expectation of a lot of praise.

    • Curtis
      Posted August 31, 2018 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

      As a Libertarian living in Oregon, I understand what you mean about liberals making a good place to live while saying “frigging liberals.”

      However, there is currently a complete failure of progressive Oregonians to look towards the future. Our state has record revenues but is still going bankrupt and the progressive’s solution is regressive taxes that overwhelming hurt the poor (Measure 97 wanted to tax food at big groceries stores but not at boutique organic stores.)

      Our previous governor, Kitzhaber, was corrupt but understood economics. Our current governor’s economic plan is tax, tax and then tax some more but she is bisexual so that’s OK.

      • XCellKen
        Posted August 31, 2018 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

        So that means that the mayor screws everybody ?

  14. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted August 31, 2018 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    Of course one can label and use groups for various purposes. But I suspect that at the moment you “identify” groups by some privileged [sic!] and guarded definition, you become a racist.

  15. Posted August 31, 2018 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    I think part of the problem is people getting fixated on one identity, either for themselves or others. Some immigrants here in Germany, for example, complain about being immediately as “Muslim” by well-meaning authorities, merely because they come from a Muslim majority country. They were hoping to be seen as humans, and that their kids would be seen as German.

    I think people need to stop being so one dimensional about this stuff and learn to look at things from various perspectives, not just the “only right one” that anyone who doesn’t share is obviously morally bankrupt and must be screamed at and hounded.

  16. Posted August 31, 2018 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  17. pablo
    Posted August 31, 2018 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    Can’t wait to see regressives hand wave this away as the writing of a hetero-cis-white male, despite his actual ethnicity.

  18. Posted August 31, 2018 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

    Seriously, does boycotting a show of kimonos in which viewers are invited to try on the garment accomplish anything?

    When I was in Osaka a month ago, there was a museum that let visitors try on kimonos. Kind of ironic that the Japanese themselves are so open to their culture being appropriated.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted September 1, 2018 at 1:29 am | Permalink

      Well, that’s doubtless because the phobia over ‘cultural appropriation’ is a peculiar feature of Western culture which has mercifully not yet been appropriated by other cultures (such as, in this instance, Japanese).

      (I could have expressed it in terms of a disease which has not yet spread, I suppose…)


      • Posted September 1, 2018 at 10:32 am | Permalink

        I’m not willing to take “cultural appropriation” into our Western Culture just yet. It’s still in its trial period and, quite frankly, it isn’t looking good.

  19. Posted September 20, 2018 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    This was touched on briefly here, but I think the saddest thing about identity politics and the constant cries of oppression are that these things actually hurt people who are legitimately oppressed or are victims of racism, sexism, etc. Essentially, if everything is considered racist, sexist, etc., then when something is actually racist or sexist, nobody is going to pay attention to it, or they will dismiss it. I wrote about this in regards to the Serena Williams scenario, where people are frustrated with her because she “pulled the sexism card” and the audience ate it up because if you don’t cheer for someone who claims to be a victim of sexism, then you’re automatically assumed to be a supporter of sexism, or worse; a sexist, yourself. So, the audience applauded and was signaling their virtues to essentially say “I’m not sexist!” However, if you look online after the events unfolded, the majority of people spoke out against Williams when they were able to speak for themselves behind a username and say what they truly felt. So, luckily the identity politics cohort is the minority, but it’s still a strong minority; and it’s still a loud minority.

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