Identity, politics, and the in-fighting of the left

Identity, in one way or another, has been at the center (or at least, the shadowy background) of politics in recent years. In Germany, we have the ‘Identitäre Bewegung’ (identitary movement), a far-right extremist group; but identity is not just a right-wing topic, and some voices have argued that the left-wing divisivenes on issues of identity has aided the large-scale shift to the right by alienating the masses.

This isn’t what I want to discuss. Rather, my topic is, first, why there is such a current focus on issues of identity, and, second, how the way we construct our identities helps to explain some of the differences between left- and right-wing ideologies. That’s of course a rather large topic, and I won’t be able to do it justice in a single post, but I hope to put some ideas out there that might lead to fertile discussion.

So, first. Identity. I think the basic issue is that we never used to have to think about identity terribly much: who you were was, in the bad old times, largely determined by the circumstances of your birth—the farmer’s son would likely be a farmer himself, and so on. This was, of course, an egregiously unfair and oppressive system, so none of what I’m saying should be interpreted as advocating for a return to it (although I think that in our myths and stories, we often have an implicit longing for such a form of identity construction, with the hero being destined to be the chosen one, the savior, the one standing out from the rest of the rabble).

The thing is, identity was largely dealt with, for better or worse. However, with the (still far from complete) shift towards a more egalitarian society, with at least some upward (and sideward) mobility, these ways of identity construction have started losing relevance, yet, no readily available substitute has emerged. Options are great, but can be paralytic. In result, we’re increasingly confused about who we are, who we ought to be, and how to become that.

How, then, is identity constructed? I think the essential elements of identity construction are association and, perhaps more importantly, dissociation: by counting ourselves among the members of some group, we basically avow that we are like those in the group, and unlike those outside of it. Each group-membership then further constrains our own identity, until perhaps the sum total of groups we count ourselves to be members of uniquely single out that one sparkling individual that is you.

This isn’t new, of course. The new thing is that, rather than being born into the essential set of groups, we can now, to a certain extent, at least, self-select what groups we want to be part of. Different groups are then more or less effective at forging identity: a group that includes almost anyone (and hence, excludes almost noone) serves little to specify yourself as an individual; while a group that has few adherents—such as, perhaps, an extremist faction—provides a strong sense of identity.

Thus, a consequence of this idea is that those with a weak sense of identity are most vulnerable to falling into extremist views—something which, I think, seems largely born out by observation.

This theory, of course, can only be a first pass at identity construction. It has some immediate weak points: different groups provide different levels of identification, despite being exclusive of comparable numbers of people—your local congregation will feature more heavily into your conception of yourself than your knitting circle does, for example. I believe that this has to do with a valuation of the groups we’re considering ourselves members of: some groups are such that we want to be part of them, that being part of them constitutes what we think a ‘good person’ ought to do, so being part of these groups allows us to consider ourselves ‘good’ or ‘righteous’. Now, this introduces a certain complication: there’s a sort of nonlinearity that creeps into this issue, since what we think is ‘good’ or ‘righteous’ is influenced by what social groups we’re part of—hence, the picture of our identity just being essentially determined by the intersection of the groups we’re part of must fall short. But I think it’ll serve to at least provide some intuitions that will prove useful.

The first of these is that an attack on the legitimation of groups we consider to be the core constituents of our self-identity essentially forms an attack on our innermost self. Hence, when we debate somebody on something that we both feel strongly about, it’s never facts, figures and arguments that are on the line, but rather, our core conception of ourselves. This, I think, vividly illustrates how little facts, figures and arguments often do to change minds. Paradoxically, a good argument for the opposite site may serve to strengthen our convictions, as it necessarily widens the gap between ‘us’ and ‘them’, making the non-members of a given group even more fundamentally ‘other’.

Furthermore, the greatest threat to an identity constructed in such a way is not those that are opposed to our core convictions, that are excluded by the groups we adhere to, but rather, the lax adherents: those who don’t follow the program with the necessary zeal. The reason for this is that such behavior serves to erode the barrier between self and other, between our allies and our opponents, introducing a sliding scale where the construction of our self-identity demands an impenetrable wall. The zealot is harsher on the doubter than on the atheist; the existence of the atheist simply serves to cement the zealot’s sense of self, while the doubter opens up the possibility that there might be merely a difference of degree, not of essence, between the zealot and the atheist.

This entails that certain forms of self-construction are inherently more vulnerable to in-fighting than others. A group that selects its members based on inherent characteristics, whether they are legitimately so or only perceived as such, will have less trouble with eroding boundaries than a group that self-selects, say, on similarities of behavior. The latter must thus introduce more internal policing than the former, to keep its adherents in line—because each apostate is a threat to the group as a whole, by questioning its legitimacy as a monolithic bloc.

This is, I think, what’s at the heart of left-wing infighting. Right-wing groups typically select along borders of characteristics such as race, heritage, gender, income and the like, while it’s precisely one of the main characteristics of the left that such distinctions are not valid. Thus, the left must keep its integrity by carefully keeping its members on the party line—hence, the sad irony of seeing the language developed to overcome the arbitrary distinctions between, say, different genders used as an identifier for dividing between the proper adherents and the apostates—utilizing that which was developed to unify as a marker along which to divide.

Thus, while the members of the right can stand unified by virtue of their overt characteristics, the left endlessly self-criticizes, ruptures and fractures, thus often hurting the (what I believe to be) worthy causes they are devoted to, ceding dialectical ground to those actually opposed to these causes—in the extreme, merely replacing arbitrary distinctions of race, gender etc. with arbitrary distinctions of who genders correctly, who is opposed to cultural appropriation in the right way, etc. Just to be clear, I think these are important issues, but we should strive to unify along them, rather than use them just as a convenient yardstick to tell ally from other.

This has some troublesome side-effects, as well. The right, perceiving the trend of the times to go against them, yearn back towards a time when their identity constructs hadn’t come under fire, when being white and male was still sufficient to be who you were; the left, on the other hand, becomes increasingly rarefied and utopian, opposed to every compromise and ‘realpolitik’ as ceding too much ground to the other. Its discourse, at least in my perception, has in large parts slid away from the factual towards the moralistic: you’re not either right or wrong—and thus, perhaps amenable to argument and being convinced—but a bad or good person. It’s hard to have a factual, balanced discussion on, say, the merits of organic farming versus genetic engineering, when supporting a certain side of the issue is seen as inherently morally wicked.

This isn’t intended as some form of argument for centrism, as some limp-wristed compromise; my values are, for the most part, pretty firmly planted on the left. But I think we do need to raise the question of what to replace the current form of identity construction (provided, of course, I’m right with my assessment) with. For one, I think it might be worth trying to raise awareness of the issue—that when you’re debating somebody, in their perception, you may come off as questioning their entire self-identity, rather than, as you presumably intend, offering up new facts, figures and arguments.

But what else could be done? Is it possible to dissociate our sense of identity from our opinions and values? Can we overcome the need of dividing the world into ‘us’ and ‘them’? Or am I just going about this the entirely wrong way?

Half Man Half Wit, you wrote a lot of intelligent thoughtful stuff here, but unfortunately it was incredibly difficult to parse or figure out. Still good stuff though. So…

Just to make sure I understand this, you are saying that right-wingers usually categorize people into simple and clear boxes such as “white,” “black,” “male”, “Hispanic,” “rich,” “poor,” etc. but that left-wingers try to claim things like “Gender is a social construct” or “there is no such thing as race”? As for income, though, I don’t know that those on the left have ever claimed that there isn’t an income distinction - for instance, that “there is no such thing as rich or poor.”

I personally feel you’re overthinking it.

Identity is about group cohesion and status/privilege. People whose social identity is associated with a group that has a higher level of privilege generally want to maintain that privilege even when it is unfair. Being male, being white, being native born American, being christian, etc.

The more of those boxes you click, the more likely you are to be right wing. A white christian man is far more likely to be conservative than a black muslim woman. Both believe what they believe out of self interest, because for the first one the system offers benefits and for the second one it doesn’t.

You can also tell who has the privilege by looking at things like what social traits are shared by those at the top and bottom levels of the socioeconomic totem pole, as well as who holds positions of influence and power. Its not a perfect system (women are treated more leniently by law enforcement for example), but overall its a way to gauge which group is privileged and which one is marginalized by looking at which group is high vs low on the socioeconomic totem pole.

CEOs, police officers, judges, politicians, etc. are more likely to be white and male than the general population (white males only make up 30% of America but they make up the majority of these vocations). Homeless are more likely to be black, LGBT, than the general population. Low wage workers are more likely to be non-white or female, billionaires are more likely to be white and male. When a white male commits a mass killing it is an isolated mental health issue. When a black person or muslim commits a mass killing it reflects badly on all blacks and muslims. When drugs ravage the black community it is because black people are animals and they need violent cops to contain their animal behavior, when drugs ravage a white community it is a mental health crisis and we need drug courts and treatment programs. Defending this status and privilege is why so many domestic terrorists are white christian men. They like the system that puts them at the top, takes their problems more seriously, makes sure they get the best jobs and the most lenient treatment by law enforcement and the most attention from politicians.

People want the group cohesion but also to defend their groups relative status and relative privilege. Wealthy industrialists are happy to play on these divisions, which is why fascism is supposedly an alliance between the conservative working class and the business class. Racism itself in the US was somewhat engineered as a way to prevent poor whites, poor blacks and poor indians from aligning together over class and rather to get them to identify with their race rather than their class. Wealthy industrialists do not want people aligning over class, they’d rather them be divided by race, religion, philosophy, gender, etc.

But anyway, I don’t think there can be any coming together. Politics in the US is more about morals than anything and our morals do not align anymore.

This appears to be a very thoughtful, very polite way to ask “Does the left need to grow up?” I think so. It’s easier to signal that you’re white than it is to signal that you’re virtuous, so the (far) left has to constantly vocalize their identity and ends up coming off preachy and judgemental. A very large and legitimate study found that 80% of Americans believe “political correctness is a problem in this country.” That doesn’t mean that 80% of Americans don’t want equal rights and treatment for all Americans (though the remaining 20% probably assume that) - it means 80% of Americans don’t like feeling judged as racist or transphobic if they haven’t read the latest issue of Woke Monthly and don’t know a new letter has just been appended to LGBTIQ. Nobody cares what Nazi’s think of them, but people do care what wealthy, highly educated people think of them, so being scorned by the left hurts more. How do you think a white middle class man feels when he has a shit tedious job, can’t pay his bills, is lampooned on every sitcom since Archie Bunker, and is being told he’s too privileged? We need to give EVERYONE who is hurting in America our compassion. It’s up the left to make this change because the right sure as hell won’t. Plus we control the educational curriculum for the most part so we can diseminate the message. Maybe a White Studies college major is a bit much at this point, but perhaps we can have a Middle Class studies?

The left needs to outgrow the notion that there’s a Culprit who can be blamed for everything that’s wrong. A Culprit who, unlike the rest of us, doesn’t fall into at least one of the marginalized categories, and by god we’ve got a list. And if you ain’t on it, maybe the Culprit is YOU!!

It’s a stupid way to look at privilege and inequality and oppression. Bloody hell. You think oppression benefits oppressors, quit wasting your time and go out and oppress somebody. Report back. (Was it fun? Was it better than being a cooperative free equal person with comrades and friends and stuff?)

The LEFT does?!

I think it’s even simpler than that, to be honest. The left side of politics is the progressive side - it’s the one that wants to change things to make them better. The right side is the conservative side - it’s the side that’s happy with things as they are, or possibly two steps of change back, on the grounds that if you change things you’ll just bugger everything up.

Everything follows from that. ‘Identity’ is just the current idea that the left of politics is playing around with, in the never-ending quest to find ways of organising society so it’s better. It wasn’t a big thing 20 years ago. If it doesn’t really work for people, then it won’t be a big thing in 20 years time.

And of course there’s more infighting on the left, because if your organising principle is “let’s change stuff” then you need to decide what stuff to change. But the progressive side has a long term advantage all the same - it only takes about twenty years of holding on to a change and it’s the new normal for the next generation of conservatives.

I generally think, over time, that things come good in the end. Notwithstanding that there’s a hell of a lot of dumbasses out there

…I know you put a lot of time and effort into this post, but I don’t understand what you are saying at all. “The left” simply isn’t a homogenous group. It isn’t a club. It doesn’t have “members.” Nobody polices the “integrity” and I don’t know what you mean by “proper adherents” and the “apostates”.

You say this like its a good thing.

And you say this like its a bad thing.

I’m Tangata Whenua. My mum is Nga Puhi. Do you want a lesson on “cultural appropriation in the right way?” I’m here if you want it. But looking at what you are complaining about I doubt you are interested in listening. I don’t hurt “your cause” if I make the case for indigenous intellectual property. That isn’t my fault. If your cause is so weak that speaking up for myself and my whanau will hurt it then you’ve got bigger problems on your hands than “cultural appropriation.”

Nope. I don’t think that you do. If you thought they were important issues you wouldn’t dismiss them with the wave of your hand.

Fuck that colonial nonsense. Why aren’t you striving to unify along with me?

Are you my ally? Do you stand with me and if you don’t, why not? Is it my responsibility to compromise?

I just want to live my fucking life. I’m not opposed to every fucking compromise. I’m pissed off that you insist on compromise without giving me the courtesy of fucking listening to what we have to say first. This thread is the perfect example.

Its hard to have a factual, balanced discussion on, say, cultural appreciation and the merits of indigenous intellectual property when supporting a certain side means “I’m going to pretend this is important to you, but this isn’t important to me, so just shut up and unify with the rest of us for the greater good.”

There is no need to replace it with anything. You haven’t identified a problem. We don’t always agree. Sometimes we argue. We self-criticise. I mean, welcome to real fucking life. That’s what we do. You are asking me to stop fighting for things that I believe in. I’m not going to do that sorry. I don’t have that privilege.

Or perhaps you shouldn’t be debating. Perhaps you don’t need to offer up new facts, figure and arguments. Maybe you need to just listen.

Well it depends I suppose. Black people were bought to the United States in chains. They were sold and used as slaves. They were whipped and punished and slaughtered. In the opening episode of the TV series the Watchmen they opened with a reconstruction of the real-life destruction and massacre at “Black Wall Street.” They were trying to live the American dream, and they got fucking slaughtered.

U.S. Attorney Sherri A. Lydon for the District of South Carolina prosecuted Erron Jordan, a black man never convicted of a violent offense, and he was sentenced to 12 years in prison for a small amount of illegal drugs, prescription pills and a firearm in the car. **** The day before Lydon prosecuted Bobby Paul Edwards. He was convicted and jailed for only 10 years in prison. Edwards crime? He forced an intellectually disabled black man to work for free for 17 years. Edwards made Chris Smith work 100 hour weeks with no pay. Edwards whipped Smith with a belt. He beat him with pots and pans. He burnt him with hot grease. He kept him as a slave. In 20-fucking-19. Edwards got 10 fucking years. The black guy gests 12 years for possession of drugs and a firearm. The white guy gets 10 years for keeping a slave, making him work 100 hour weeks, for beating him and burning him.

So you tell me. Can a black person living their lives in the United States of America today dissociate their sense of identity from their opinions and values? I personally think that’s a pretty insulting question to ask. Of course that fucking can’t, and of course they fucking shouldn’t. If you aren’t going to fight for me (and you’ve made it pretty crystal clear with this thread that you have no interest in becoming my ally) then I don’t know why you would think I should be obligated to fight for you.

This is not so.

Also, the right engages in identify politics just as much as the left–only implicitly.

Well, my point is rather that the right self-categorizes in terms of race, gender, and wealth, and derives its own identity from that, with others just being on the wrong side of the fence, part of the out-group, while the left recognizes these to be arbitrary and unfair distinctions, hence wants to abolish them. However, there is at least a danger that these distinctions are simply being replaced by another set, along agreed-upon issues, with just as much in-groupism—that is, what’s being treated is the symptoms, rather than the root cause of tribalist mentality.

I just stumbled on your thread proposing that it’s the moralization of discourse that’s driving a wedge between the left and the right, and that’s I think part of it—only as long as you’re perceived to be on the side of the good and the true are you allowed to have an opinion worthy of discussion, deviate from that, and nothing you say can even be allowed to the table. Once you’ve been identified as alien rather than ally, there’s no more constructive engagement possible. To the right, the line between ally and alien is drawn along these traditional, overt characteristics, while to the left, it’s drawn along demonstrations that you’re sufficiently against these traditional identity constructions; but neither side is doing anything to get rid of the line-drawing itself, and that’s where the root cause of inequality, disenfranchisement, and oppression lies.

This is where the traditional lines of distinction run, yes, but I think there’s at least some positive signs of change, with #MeToo and the like. And sure, those who benefit from the present system have little cause to change it, and little reason to question the sense of identity they derive from their respective group associations, but if it were true that whether you want to challenge the system is solely determined by your role within it, then we’d be stuck with the status quo, and those in power would stay in power indefinitely.

My issue is just that the effort of breaking up these traditional lines of self-identification is hampered by merely drawing new lines in the sand that divide self from other. An effective means of challenging the traditional structure can’t just replace it with an equivalent one using merely different features for characterization of who’s in and who’s out, but must overcome the in-and-out distinction itself.

I think that ultimately, the left is less progressive than it thinks itself to be, and less progressive than it needs to be in order to succeed. What’s needed is, again, not merely the replacement of traditional identity-constructions, traditional group-associations with new selective criteria aligned with progressive values, but rather, the abolishment of the whole ‘us vs. them’-mentality as a whole. Until we figure out how to do that, usher in a radically new paradigm of how we forge our self-identities, the progress we make will always be fragile.

Add to this the fact that the way identity is constructed on the left is inherently more fragile both to external and internal attack, and I think the argument that the radicalization towards the right is at least in part a failure of the left doesn’t seem so far-fetched anymore.

What I mean is roughly the following. You and me, if we were to sit down and compare values, would probably agree on a substantial fraction. You’re undoubtedly more familiar with the relevant issues, and your experience will be vastly different from mine, but hey—that’s life. I didn’t choose the circumstances of my birth anymore than you did.

Yet, you have, rightly or wrongly, judged me as criticizing some of your core values. That immediately makes me other, and all the more so because I, in your view falsely, profess to be aligned with what you hold to be important. So I’m the apostate; and you come right out and tell me to shut up. (And no, I’m not whining about my right to free speech being curbed, or any bullshit like that.)

I’m not questioning your right to speak up for yourself in the slightest, and it’s slightly mysterious to me how you got that from my post. What I’m complaining about is stuff like this:

You’re making unsubstantiated assumptions, simply based on the fact that I didn’t in your eyes do enough to identify myself as your ally, and use these assumptions to dismiss my opinion as even worth engaging. You, rightly or wrongly, identify me as not belonging to your in-group, and hence, label me as ‘other’. That isn’t a good strategy, no matter whether you’re on the right side of history or not, and it’s a strategy that, in my eyes, hurts your cause rather than helps it; hence, I want to question that strategy—not because I’m opposed to your cause, or the more general issues of ‘the left’ (which, while not homogeneous as you say, is enough of a recognizable group for the term to have a pretty unambiguous referent), but precisely because I’m aligned with them. I’m just aligned in the wrong way, and hence, there never will be any true discourse between you and me—and that’s the thing I find lamentable.

I don’t see where and how I implied they should?

It’s a good thing for the right, since it means they’re more stable in regards to internal pressure.

It can be a bad thing for the left, if the fracturing is over ultimately spurious issues, since it prohibits them from effectively fighting for their cause.

…nope. I’ve criticised you for the position you have taken in this thread. I haven’t “judged you as criticizing some of my core values.” You don’t even know what my core values are.

Bullshit. I haven’t labeled you as “other.” We don’t have to talk in the abstract. I’m right here.

You literally said “Just to be clear, I think these are important issues, **but **we should strive to unify along them, rather than use them just as a convenient yardstick to tell ally from other.” The degree you think they are important is relative. They are important: but “striving to unify” is more important. I’m taking you at your word.

No you are not.

If I came right out and told you to “shut up” somebody would have reported me for it. I didn’t do that. Stop twisting my words.

Not at all. You literally dismissed gender identity and cultural appropriation with a wave of a hand. You did that. I asked: do you want to discuss it? You are making it crystal clear that you don’t.

But are you my ally? What are your positions on gender identity? What are your positions on cultural appropriation?

I haven’t made any assumptions. I’ve responded to the posts you’ve made in this thread.

Incorrect. I’m right here. You can talk to me. HELLLLLLOOOO!!! This isn’t an abstract discussion. I haven’t labeled you as “other.” That hasn’t happened. This is fantasy.


If you are aligned with “my cause”, then why aren’t you fighting for my cause? If you are aligned with my cause then why did you start this thread? How does this thread help my cause?


This is true discourse. I’m here, I’m not going anywhere. You want to talk? Well talk away. Just stop with the strawman attacks. You presented a topic for discussion. But I’m not convinced you actually want to have a debate. Fortunately for you witnessing is allowed in Great Debates, so you probably are posting in the right forum.

So you tell me. Do you think the answer to my question is yes or no?

A “left-wing” coalition is in power in my country. This didn’t help the “right” to win power at all.

You are here pretending to be reasonable then you use the word “spurious” to describe issues that are important to me.

These things that you consider “spurious” or "not as important as “unity” are very important to the people that they affect. You are asking the most marginalised people in society to compromise because you think “its a better strategy.” But you don’t live their lives. You don’t know what they’ve tried. “Compromise” got us Trump. When we speak out it isn’t a matter of strategy. For many its a matter of life or death.

I agree with pretty much everything you said, but I’m not sure it’s the most useful way to understand the current situation. Tribalism is a profound part of our nature, but I believe that the leftist project still needs to be fundamentally built around the “class struggle”, which cuts across all the tribal divisions.

My take how we got here - very roughly, the idea of class struggle dominated the left / right divide from the mid 19th century up through the 70s - notwithstanding the little problem of why the German proletariat sided to a large degree with the Nazis. The intellectual left more or less aligned with the working class, union movement etc. It wasn’t always that simple of course, e.g. the late sixties leftist intellectuals were often of a much more libertarian leaning than the trade unionists, but by and large all leftists agreed that the major fault line was the class struggle, and the primary goal was better income distribution, better opportunity and a voice for the working classes.

Moving up to the 80s 90s and into the present, the social fault lines appear to have shifted in the western democracies, and the intellectual left has become far more concerned with identities, and less with wealth distribution and the class struggle. I believe there are a bunch of reasons for this - the final collapse of the Soviet Union, we’re generally more comfortable, more people are university educated, and a lot more of that education is in the social sciences, the decline in the manufacturing labor force, people moving around more, and we’re all confronted by way more diversity of culture, religion ethnicities etc than in the past etc etc.

There are also some less comfortable aspects to this, it has allowed the “upper class” left to distance itself from the problematic working classes, and the less educated, dismissing them as racists, sexists, etc. thus comfortably solving the problem of why the unwashed masses don’t always follow the path of virtue, or even of self interest (cf Nazi Germany). On the other hand this same upper class / educated left can still claim the mantle of virtue by retaining a measure of solidarity with some elements of the lower classes, chosen through the prism of selected identity groups.

It also worked as a generation gap thing, where people with working class roots who had benefited from university education and gravitated to a more professional class could reject their parents while still proclaiming a leftist identity.

So where I think the current left really needs to do some soul searching is that it has divorced from a huge part of its base and roots, bizarrely by taking a bunch of seemingly virtuous postions on social justice, and turning them into weapons for class bullying - I have to admit that I’m often amazed by the naked contempt I see here on these boards, directed at the less educated, and those who aren’t up on the latest approved vocabulary.

On preview - maybe we agree more than I thought :slight_smile:

Then you’re misunderstanding me. The ‘but’ doesn’t entail a ranking of issues, but applies to a way of framing them—I’m not saying that unity is of a higher value, and hence, cultural appropriation needs to take a backseat, but that fighting against cultural appropriation should not be done in terms that are themselves just generating further division. That is, I’m not talking about different causes, but about different ways of promoting a cause.

You’re right, you said ‘perhaps’ I should stop debating.

I didn’t, though, and the fact that you’re so keen on framing my post as if I did—as if I, in other words, am not properly aligned with the values you hold—is exactly what I’m pointing to as hurting the causes of the left.

Indeed, I don’t want to discuss gender identity, cultural appropriation, organic farming, climate change or nuclear power in this thread, even though they’re important issues to various factions of the left, because they’re not the topic of the thread; rather, the topic of this thread is that just because you’re right about these issues, categorizing people into those properly aligned with them and those opposed is doing these issues more harm than good.

And the question ‘Are you my ally?’ is exactly what I think the issue is: it doesn’t matter. There really isn’t a division of the world into allies and aliens, and any pretense there is, whatever the dividing factor is taken to be, ultimately categorizes some portion of people as ‘other’, and that’s what the real root cause is behind oppression and disenfranchisement. (And no, this isn’t some shit along the lines of ‘men’s rights’ or ‘all lives matter’.)

You have, for instance, assumed that I’m just pretending that topics like cultural appropriation and the fight against it are important to me, in order to, I don’t know, throw you a dialectical bone or something.

In reality, my opinion on cultural appropriation simply isn’t my topic here.

It helps—or at least, is intended to help—in trying to find the root causes of why left discourse is so often fragmented and self-defeating, and trying to find a way to overcome this, while simultaneously not stifling the self-criticism that any movement must apply to itself in order to not choke on its own ideology.

No. Discourse would be telling me where I’m wrong, making arguments, trying to show why your way of thinking is reasonable; but all you’ve tried to do is question the legitimacy of my position by alleging that I only pretend to find important what I say I find important.

It’s not, and that’s a bad thing we ought to strive to change, and that’s what I’d hope we could work towards, together.

I haven’t specified there which issues I consider to be spurious, I merely said it’s a bad thing if the left fractures over spurious issues. That these must be those you hold to be important is, again, your projection.

And the ‘spurious’ wasn’t meant to label the issues, as such, but rather, as issues over which to fracture. In the end, we’re all in this together—there’s only one humanity, and that includes those believing this isn’t the case. So any sort

Again, this is a misunderstanding. I’m not asking for compromise on issues of race, gender, and so on; I’m cautioning against using the question of where people stand on this issue as a new dividing line along which to split people into in- and out-groups. I’m arguing that it’s not a good idea to use ideas ultimately about equality to partition humanity into the ‘right’ and the ‘wrong’ kinds of people. That doesn’t entail compromise on the issue of cultural appropriation at all.

…but it does entail a ranking of issues. You are happy to discuss cultural appropriation as long as we do it on your terms.

What I actually said was “Or perhaps you shouldn’t be debating.” And for context I was responding to this:

“For one, I think it might be worth trying to raise awareness of the issue—that when you’re debating somebody, in their perception, you may come off as questioning their entire self-identity, rather than, as you presumably intend, offering up new facts, figures and arguments.”

I was in no way even implying that you should “shut up.” It was a direct response to the words that you wrote.

You literally did.

I would posit that the position you have taken in this thread, categorizing people like me as one of “various factions on the left who categorizes people into those properly aligned with them and those opposed is doing these issues more harm than good” is both rank hypocrisy, and doing more harm than good.

And we actually need to discuss gender identity, and we need to discuss cultural appropriation, because we don’t have any frame of reference in regards to what it is you are talking about. Who are these people? Where are these people who are doing their cause “more harm than good?” Your first cite was to an editorial with a picture of a “Black Lives Matter” protester. Is that who you are talking about? Your second cite was to a book. You haven’t made a case that this is a problem. All you did in the OP was write a lot of words.

If this is as big a problem as you claim it is then you should have no problem calling it out. Do you think Black Lives Matters protestors are part of the problem? What is problematic about gender identity, or cultural appropriation? Provide examples.

It sure as fuck matters to me. Thank you for making your position clear.


I would have thought that the real root cause behind oppression and disenfranchisement would have been things like the belief in white supremacy and the patriarchy, but apparently its me, arguing for gender equality and indigenous intellectual property. Who woulda thought?

Nope. I’m assuming your position because I asked your position and you declined to comment on it.

In reality, your opinion on cultural appropriation would show whether or not you actually understand what those words actually mean.

This is Great Debates. If its your position that “left discourse is so often fragmented and self-defeating” then its your job to prove that “left discourse is so often fragmented and self-defeating.” I don’t see it. I don’t see what needs to be overcome. You haven’t provided any real-world examples. I don’t accept your position and I see no reason why I need to change anything that I do.

I wrote a fuck-ton more in my responses to you than simply “only pretend to find important what I say I find important.” “Discourse” would be you stopping contextualizing all of my arguments down to a single sentence that isn’t representative of everything I’ve said in this thread.

Then your first step would be to start listening. Your second step would be to start providing evidence for your thesis.

I can’t do anything but project because you refuse to commit to any specifics.

What you think are “spurious” and what marginalised peoples think are spurious are probably two different things. (I say “probably” because you don’t want to actually commit to a position here in this thread.)

Not a misunderstanding.

I don’t need your caution. Where people stand on an issue is important to me. Do you believe in White Supremacy? I’m not going to be your friend. Do you think #metoo was exaggerated and that men got a raw deal? You don’t get an invite to my birthday party. I’m an adult. I can make decisions for myself.

But you won’t even tell me what your ideas “about equality” actually are. So if you think that transgender people shouldn’t be allowed to use the facilities that match the gender they live every day then you are the “wrong kinds of people” as far as I am concerned. You’ve provided zero context for this discussion. You mention gender identity then handwave it away from discussion. But its relevant. And important.

One of the starting premises is that there’s a significant amount of infighting on the left. Cite?

No, not in the least. I have no interest, in this thread, to discuss cultural appropriation—that’s not the thread’s topic. The topic is, in part, how the left reacts to those it perceives to not get with the program, and why I think this hurts the left. In what way do you believe this questions the importance of fighting cultural appropriation?

That’s just a blunt falsehood.

Again, this isn’t my topic.

My topic is that here are two people, you and me, whose values are probably closer to one another than to 90% of the rest of the population. Yet, your response to me wasn’t one of trying to find what common ground we have, where we differ, whether we can reasonably differ or whether those differences signal a true opposition of core values, but rather, questioning the legitimacy of my values—whether I actually hold them—and whether I hold the proper values, ranked in the right way. That is, your first issue is whether I should be put into the in-group or the out-group; the actual content of my arguments is secondary to you. That’s really all the cite I need for my point.

White supremacy, patriarchy, and the like are just various ways of categorizing people into ‘us’ and ‘them’. Getting rid of that by creating new 'us’s and 'them’s just isn’t the best idea, even if the new division isn’t as overtly oppressive and unfair.

I’m continually trying to clarify my position, just not on issues that have nothing to do with the present topic. That’s another element of the sort of thing I’m pointing to: in order to classify my views to decide whether to really engage with them, you require me to give some form of proof that I’m properly aligned with you on issues that matter—to show my membership badge, so to speak.

OK, I had thought this was enough of a cultural meme that I didn’t need to cite it, but at least the perception is wide-spread. A simple google search for ‘leftist infighting’ leads tons of examples, like here, here, or the one I gave in my OP. If you want to argue that no, there’s actually no such thing going on, you’re free to do so, but I don’t think you can claim that there isn’t at least a widespread perception that this is the case, and that it’s hurting the left. If this perception is misplaced, then I’d like to understand what’s caused it, at least.

For the purposes of this thread, it simply doesn’t matter what positions I hold on cultural appropriation, gender, and so on. That’s the point.

Why should that be the case? I mean, clearly, my opinion on gender identity is quite irrelevant to the question of whether the proton radius is 0.877 or 0.842 fm. I can either be right about that, or not, no matter what my opinion is about who gets to use which toilet.

So there are factual issues of legitimate controversy for which it doesn’t matter what my opinions on various social issues are. The assumption that it does matter—that I must self-identify in the appropriate way in order to legitimately hold an opinion—is exactly what I’m arguing against.

Even if I think that animal suffering has no moral import, I could be right in claiming that whether somebody thinks animal suffering has moral import should not be a criterion for considering them as fundamentally other than yourself. They could, for instance, just be ignorant, and misinformed; but by essentially dismissing them out of hand, you’ve already given up the hope of maybe correcting this, doing more to cement the split between you and them than to actually address the issue.

And it’s this dismissal that I think hurts both sides, and I think the reason for this dismissal is that anything else just serves to erode the self-identification derived from considering yourself right on the issue of animal rights.

I came to this issue via reading a book of essays laying out the problem, Trigger Warnung: Identitätspolitik zwischen Abwehr, Abschottung und Allianzen (roughly, Trigger Warning: Identity Politics between Defense, Isolation, and Alliances). It’s a collection of essays by leftist scholars concerned with the fact that “For everyone who can’t substantiate politics with their own victimhood, the discussion closes. Those who can’t follow the difficult mandatory literature, are out.” (My translation from the back cover.)

Furthermore, I pointed to the article by Mark Lilla in my OP, which is full of quotes like “Identity liberalism does the opposite and just reinforces the alt-right’s picture of politics as a war of competing identity groups”.

And no matter where you stand on the factual issues being debated, I think the famous response to Rebecca Tuvel’s article on Transracialism shows more than a fair share of the sort of ‘infighting’ I’m talking about.

This sort of thing also happens in other contexts. I remember (so no cite) that under an article discussing Jonathan Safran Foer’s new book We Are the Weather, the top comment was one chastising Foer for not being vegan—that is, not sufficiently devoted to the dogma, and hence, eroding it, threatening to water down the distinction necessary for identity building. Which of course completely misses the fact that if we could get those on the fence just a bit further, to eschewing meat a couple of days of the week, we could do massively more good for the climate than a staunch refusal to accept anything but veganism as valid is likely to ever do, since few (comparatively) will be willing to go to that length. Hence, the demand for ideological purity hurts the actual cause the ideology was conceived to further.

You make a good point—I haven’t really looked at this from the point of view of class struggle. Part of the reason for this is that I don’t really understand how the ‘traditional’ left aiming to unite the workers has become the present-day left that all too often seems to alienate them instead (or is seen by the working classes as such). I think I’ll have to educate myself on that more before I can really comment.

Well said.