The trouble with Identity politics

A specter is haunting the world. The specter of identity politics.

In 2017, a group of Neo Nazis and white supremacists gathered in the small town of Charlottesville under the pretense of protecting confederate heritage. For them, the removal of monuments dedicated to racist slaveholders was an attack on American history itself. There were no KKK hoods this time. They didn’t hide their identity. The rise of right wing populism in the US was seen as a win for their ilk, their people. White people. The rally ended in violence as a white nationalist ideologue rammed his car over a group of anti racist protesters. This led to the death of a 32 year old Heather Heyer.

There have been multiple Neo Nazi rallies in Europe in the past few decades. However, these have been rare and have mostly escaped media coverage. “Unite the Right” rally, on the other hand, received international attention. The so-called “Alt Right” was at its peak.

The Alt Right

White nationalist Richard Spencer

“Alt Right” was first coined by the despicable white nationalist Richard Spencer. This movement primarily emerged and thrived on the Internet. In 2016, the far right internet outlet Brietbart was described as a “platform for the alt right” by its executive chairman Steve Bannon . Under Bannon’s management, Brietbart published an article in which the alt right was described as an anti establishment movement comprised of a group of “young and creative” individuals eager to commit “intellectual heresies”.

The Alt Right revels in its ability to shock people, through the most outrageous tactics and comments. Unlike traditional neo-Nazis, the alt right utopia(as extrapolated by them) is not one where the “white race” rules over the blacks, Asians and Jews. Instead, they believe in a “white ethno-state”. They want to live only with white people. The colored people, according to this idea, would be ethnically cleansed/deported to live among their own. The geographical boundaries are only incidental. It is people’s static identity, their race which actually forms a nation. This why they prefer the term “white identitarian” over, say, Nazis. This is not to say that they don’t look up to the Nazis at all. On the contrary, Spencer refuses to explicitly condemn either Hitler or the Ku Klax Klan . Besides, it is worth pointing out that explicit Neo Nazis consider the alt right to be an “euphemism for Nazism”

This new brand of racism emerged primarily because scientific research basically dismantled the idea that whites are superior to any other race. The alt right’s stress, instead, is on IQ variability among different races. This is evident from the fact that its intellectual godfather Jared Taylor believes that “Asians are objectively superior from whites” due to their higher IQ. This is why they advocate for a homogenized ethno-state. Japan is often hailed as a successful soft ethno-state due to its restrictive immigration policies. The race and IQ debate often serves as a pipeline to the alt right. One simply needs to look at some alt lite YouTubers to understand how this works. The self proclaimed libertarian anarchist YouTuber Stefan Molyneux, for instance, has made multiple videos on this topic. Molyneux attributes the “shockingly high levels of criminality” in the American black population to genetically determined “low IQs”. He has also had a perfectly congenial conversation with the white supremacist Jared Taylor. To appear respectable, these people call themselves “race realist”. (Note:- The argument that IQ is primarily determined by genes have been rejected{popularized by Murray and Hernstein} The scientific consensus on this seems pretty clear)

How the New Left inspired the Alt Right

The Alt Right expanded through the darker recesses of internet subculture. It relied on edgy racist jokes, ambiguity,misogyny and a contemptuous attitude towards the establishment in general to spread its propaganda. Its members often started out as moderate young and apolitical who passed off racist jokes as some form of “rebellion”. It was a way of breaking the rules, of saying the things that cannot be said. The community around them worked hard to ensure that they eventually get around to believing in reprehensible ideas through YouTube videos/racist blogs. In other words, they were “red pilled”(a term drawn from the movie Matrix).

Where did the alt right derive their tactics from? According to the Neo Nazi website the Daily Stormer, the tactics are based on Saul Alinsky’s book Rules for Radicals.

Saul Alinsky

Saul Alinsky was a Left wing political theorist whose book has influenced the likes of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, the Occupy movement and the recent Extinction rebellion. He believed that the ideal organizer should be “curious, irreverent, imaginative and politically flexible” with a “sense of humor”. Thus, the alt right has two factions:- the extremist violent Neo nazis and the alt lite. The “Alt lite” is politically flexible. They serve merely as a propaganda vehicle to radicalize people into the extreme. For a long time, Brietbart and the provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos carried out this part of the job. The Alt Right’s use of humor as a tactic is directly derived from Alinsky’s 5th rule which states “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon”. The far right political commentator Gavin McInnes has stated that “We’re just braver, and that makes for better jokes.The left are the new Church ladies. They’ve been sheltered in their own bubble for so long, they don’t know fun.”. Richard Spencer has defended his public Nazi salute as an act of irony.

One of Alinsky’s rule was “Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have”. The alt Right was successful in attracting mainstream media’s attention before Charlottesville, thus providing an illusion of having more power than it really did. This eventually culminated in international coverage of the Charlottesville protest.

Alinsky was initially a part of the radical “New Left”. He was later denounced by them for not being radical enough. The New Left started of by including a diverse range of philosophers and thinkers such Herbert Marcuse, Albert Camus and Jean Paul Sartre. The ideological underpinning of this movement ranged from socialism and anarchism to liberalism. Initially, the students organized themselves to oppose the inhumane Vietnam War. They took part in the Berkeley Free Speech Movement(organized primarily by the left). They joined hands with the anarcho capitalist and libertarian thinker Murray Rothbard. The alliance did not last as the New Left purged itself of its diverse ideologies and rallied around Maoism.

Protest against Vietnam War

Soon enough, the SDS was split and a Maoist organization was formed which adopted terrorism as a tactic to achieve the revolution. This was called the Weather Underground/Weathermen. They bombed numerous government buildings and were classified as a “domestic terrorist organization” by the FBI.

The intellectual idols of the “New Left” were also replaced by the likes of radical feminists such as Lyn Marcus and Andrea Dworkin. Dworkin was a misandrist and considered every man to be a potential exploiter of woman. She made no distinction between consensual sex and rape. Contrary to Noam Chomsky’s now accepted theory that language is universal and has evolutionary origin, she argued that every language was male supremacist. The implicit claim being that language was a social institution designed by the ones who had power. Lyn Marcus was perhaps more extreme than Dworkin. Marcus actually had no problem in physically attacking political groups that disagreed with him to establish his hegemony . Marcus denounced “Baby Boomer” generation and advised them to commit suicide instead, which actually led to the suicide of one of his followers.

Identity politics as it exists today was explicitly enumerated by the left wing Black Feminist lesbian organization Combahee River Collective in the mid 1970s. They claimed that their oppression is “embodied in the concept of identity politics”.

The New Left has now evolved into the “Social Justice” left.

Why identity politics doesn’t work

Feelings over facts

The Social Justice Left follows a strange set of ideas. These ideas are the result of an utter disregard for facts and science. Social constructionism along with an extreme form of postmodernism is prevalent in almost every campus now. One of these is the concept of microaggression. The University of California has published a document to raise awareness on this concept. The document defines the term as “everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership”. I reproduce few examples below:-

Some of these examples are, of course, valid. The next page cites an example of how a woman couldn’t be good at Math cause of her gender. Now, that statement is clearly sexist. However, the majority of them are either too absurd or rely too much on bad faith interpretation of non harmful behavior. The third one is actually racist. “There is only one race, the human race” is cited as problematic. For the social justice left, race matters. They believe that you cannot separate an individual from their racial and ethnic identity. Therefore, the groups who are presumed “oppressed” must be given special attention. The validity of your idea is determined by the category you belong to(intersectionality). Oppression is defined by them as “Prejudice+power”. You cannot be oppressed if you belong to a group that has perceived power. This is easily refuted by the fact there are people of color who are racists, women who are misogynists and gays who are homophobes.

The Indian radical left is also slowly adopting identity politics. A mainstream online media outlet recently published an article claiming “Muslim TV anchors” who supported Mr. Modi’s regime were going through an identity crisis.

It is extremely easy to claim that the Alt Right and other extremist xenophobic right wing movements around the world are solely the result of right wing populism. One cannot expect the alt right to completely disappear as long as the social justice left continues to judge individuals by their perceived privilege. Majoritarian identity politics is the worst kind of identity politics. The left must self introspect and allow for diversity of opinion. The rational anti identity politics left needs to be more vocal. It has to show people that one can believe in leftist ideals without resorting to identity politics. Only then can we expect a return to normalcy.

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