Thoughts on identity politics

Despite being someone who is adamantly anti-racism, anti-patriarchy, anti-sexism, anti-homophobia, anti-transphobia and committed to both a personal and political opposition to discriminatory actions and cultures that promote hatred, I very rarely comment on identity politics. This is mainly for a couple reasons.

The first of these is I find the notion of whitesplaining, mansplaining etc., disempowering to those who’s voices are more deserving of being heard and I believe that individual and collective empowerment of the oppressed is socially very important. I live in a rural (often “backwards” (to use a progressivist term)) part of the UK and have a limited amount of personal experience with acts of discrimination towards me, partly through being someone with Jewish family and partly through being someone who during puberty questioned aspects of their sexuality (as well as other experiences that I won’t include here). This quite obviously though does not in anyway parallel the daily lived experience of people to whom issues of identity politics are more personally relevant towards; I am (if I embody a social category for pragmatic purposes) a heterosexual white man. I have never ever felt like what is typically viewed as “a man” – from adolescent times of “I wanna be a girl” to teenage-to-current discomfort with aspects of the typical form of “Man” – but both socially and biologically I am. So I very much accept for the most part “shut the fuck up – you cannot know the lived experience” and personally tend to limit my voice in these areas to supporting the voices of those it is more relevant to.

The second reason is that, while it leads me to a similar conclusion to both the liberal and radical positions – that we need a more pluralistic diverse culture – I tend to disagree with the ideology behind and the methods towards of most of both sides of these. When asked about this disagreement, it isn’t often taken well (by either side). It’s this though that I’m going to write about here. If you disagree, please challenge. If you find any of it offensive, please just brush it off as the stupidity of a stupid man.

I have long found the modern totalitarian-liberal approach to discourse on identity politics to be one that is undesirable both as it denies important elements of discussion a voice and it hides away potentially dangerous elements that are better seen than not. Whether it is eco-feminist writers who challenge particular aspects of the contemporary liberal culture – aspects that warrant discussion – or dangerous individuals who are, like a cancer, better known about than hidden from view this totalitarian-liberal approach presents itself as an ideological category that usurps the discussion as a morality that, like the homophobias and sexisms of moralities we now view as backwards, limits in a way that seems undesirable at best and dangerous as worst.

My longest held political position has been one of anti-nationalism, anti-racism and anti-patriotism, which predominantly grew out of an awareness of my families position of coming from a Polish Jewish heritage and an awareness of what was done to Polish Jews in the name of nationalistic patriotic racism. This first time I read my political hero Emma Goldman, it was her Patriotism A Menace To Liberty when I was 17, a piece of writing that is just as relevant now than it was when she wrote it (Emma remains to this day possibly the writer who has the most severe impact on my political position and I often return to her writings). One of the things that I have drawn from her works, particularly on feminism, is the position that identity is a menace to freedom, equality and resolving social conflict.

The findings of social-psychological inquiry on the matters of prejudice and conflict reduction seem to back this up. The contact approach – which now seems manifest as the forced-contact approach to a large degree – of models such as the Pluralist Model of Contact and Recategorisation Model of Contact, are highly reliant on unrealistic conditions, which seldom exist in real world interaction. While there are obviously other contributing factors, these approaches of dogmatic totalitarian forced-contact seem to be a major contributing factor to the rise of the far-right recently. The evidence from social-psychological research, such as that of Lemos (2005) and Allport (1954), is that these approaches can both reduce and reproduce prejudices. They simply don’t appear to be sensitive enough and a far too quick-fix – just to be clear, I am specifically referring to the discussion within culture, rather than material factors of actions performed by groups and individuals; it is far more effective to challenge patriarchy via physically stopping a rapist than to be inclusive towards their actions and it is a far more effective challenge to racism to (as antifa says) “Smash Fascism” than to allow them to physically bully people and to enact their vile violences. As far as contact approaches to resolving these issues goes, the only way that seems effective to me is a democratic Decategorisation Model of Contact, which seems to be one in which social identities manifest as products of inter-group functioning, but between groups play no role. (This paragraph mainly draws from material I can only access through my university online library and as such, I have included all the important terms and research examples for you to look up if you wish as you can).

This process of decategorisation seems to be one of acknowledging, individually and collectively, our basic unconscious position of Beings-of-Lack. It very much seems to me that Theodore Adorno was completely correct that before we are political we are psychological. This is not to say that we are completely individual in terms of individual-society dualism in psychological processes, but to differentiate politics from social, and as such, if we value greater degrees of cultural pluralism, we need to address the unconscious psychic processes that lead to the features of categorisation that distance our-selfs from the decategorised position of Beings-of-Lack.

Our psychic worlds are created and recreated through material conditions, which leads to an obvious solution of addressing these material conditions that produce these psychic-worlds. These could be addressing issues of state and/or consumer apparatus that shape our contemporary identity-models within this culture. I’m not going to attempt to produce a list of suggestions here (though I do address this in the book I’m working on). What seems to me to be apparent from this is that to address issues such as those I listed in the first paragraph is to embrace personal notion that is akin to what Max Stirner (another personal favourite of mine) described as our Unique Selves in communities based in unions of selfish love of one another. Stirner, along with Nietzsche, massively influenced Emma Goldman’s thought and, while she wouldn’t have (and didn’t) written it as I have, this seems to be a central notion in her work; that the addressing issues, such as those raised within identity politics, is a transvaluation (to use Nietzsche’s term), whereby  we deny categorisation and embrace and egalitarian-liberty (anarchy).

This is to address the Spooks (Stirner’s term) of idealism and the material ideological apparatus that produce these psychic-states; something the modern totalitarian-liberal-contact approach fails to do and actively reproduces. These psychic states are produced by something that many in the radical environmentalist discussion have identified as a process of domestication, which is the process of normative repression and psychic mediation that Freud identified as inherent to civilisations. These process are socialised psychic technologies, which mediate our perceptions from the real world and correspondingly lead to our psychic-distance from the material natural real world (and is why these are important for eco-insurrection) (I need not comment here on our current eco-crisis born from our mediation from the natural real world).

From this, my criticism of the mainstream contemporary identity politics approach is that, rather than address the roots of the issues, they reframe the discussion into one of increasing levels of socially normative domestication, escalating the tension within conflict. To address this issue, I claim that we need to address the key dynamics to this psychic-process; social domestication born out of a material system that denies real organic multicultural pluralism (natural ecosystems), into those of totalitarian agriculture/civilisation. These both take time and sensitivity where appropriate and correspondingly force when lack of force is inappropriate


2 thoughts on “Thoughts on identity politics

Add yours

  1. Arrite there,

    In your introduction you say that you’re adamantly anti-transphobia. Later you sympathetically link to an article by Derrick Jensen, a transphobic scumbag. In that article, he defends a transphobic radical feminist, and attacks those who no-platformed her.

    I’m feeling patient enough here to half believe your “commitment”. But take that link out.

    Saying you’re anti-transphobic isn’t worth shit if you supporitvely link to transphobic shit. Nobody who’s not-cis, me included, will care how many times you say you’re on side. Like I said, I half believe you. But say you start arguing back to this tranny about what is and isn’t transphobic, say you start “mansplaining” to defend transphobes, well, get ready for “escalating the tension within conflict”.

    Rage and maybe love, x


    1. Hello

      Thank you for taking the time to read this post.

      I am adamantly anti-transphobia. I am adamantly oppositional to any violences and oppression performed towards people who identify as “trans”.
      I’m not oppositional to criticism of certain features of the trans-movement and its ideology though and I feel that Derrick Jensen, as well as other radical feminists, raises important points (particularly with regards to safe-spaces for women such as segregated changing rooms).

      It’s not hateful to be critical. It’s hateful to call someone a scumbag (something that is far easier to do online than it is in person). My opposition is towards hate and violence, not to the open free discussion of ideas.

      Whether you believe me or not, I feel its an important element of the discussion and I don’t bend to demands.

      You seem to have come at this wanting to “rage” and escalate things. I would never ever claim to know what it is like to undergo life as a trans person, but in the same fashion, neither would I claim to know the experience of someone who has been a woman from birth and the areas where I voice criticism of the trans-movement is purely drawn from feminist sources.

      I’m sure my response wasn’t that which you wanted, but I’d be being dishonest and dishonour you to respond with anything else.

      No rage; just love.


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