Identity Politics and the World Ordering
Another strategy for empowerment is to take the power into our own hands by defining our own identities without letting others do it for us. Or to fill the identity shoved unto our face with our own meaning.1
In order to fight power, to fight those who force an identity down your throat, you first have to acknowledge power. And power exists from being acknowledged, and therein lays an unresolved paradox.
Judith Butler: “Identity categories tend to be instruments of regulatory regimes, whether as the normalizing categories of oppressive structures or as the rallying points for a liberatory contestation of that very oppression.2 This is not to say that I will not appear at political occasions under the sign of lesbian, but that I would like to have it permanently unclear what precisely that sign signifies.
“[…] gender is a kind of imitation for which there is no original; in fact, it is a kind of imitation that produces the very notion of the original as an effect and consequence of the imitation itself.”3
Three shades of identity politics:
1. The struggle for equal rights for those dis-empowered by their identity. This is often associated with the political left.
2. The dismissal of identities as relevant, since it is only the individual that matters. This is associated with a liberal tradition, blind to power dynamics and social hierarchies.
3. The reactive politics of the dominant identities being challenged (or rather it is the purities of the categories constituting an often dominant world view which is challenged), mostly associated with conservative (or right) politics.It is the resistance of fish forced to see the water in which it swims.
Shades 1. and 2. describe an ideal which is meritocracy, 1. as aspirationally, 2. as achieved. A meritocracy is a society where rewards befall those who have merited it, regardless of perceived identities, such as gender, sexuality, religion, age, colour of skin, etc. However, in order to reward those merited (and not rewarding those who do not deserve it, in a meritocracy, it’s the poor’s fault they are poor), the culture needs to have a common idea about what a reward consists of, such as high salary, deciding power over others etc., as well as what is rewarded. Whatever the reward is, it divides the culture’s participants into those who have some of the reward, those who have loads of it, and those who do not get it. To get the reward then becomes an insecurity-driven cultural aspiration, an aspiration for the culture savvy. Identities are thus fomed anew, we become divided into rewarded, not rewarded, and somewhat rewarded, and the whole concept of meritocracy fails. For there is not only no such thing as a meritocracy in today’s world; there cannot be such a thing. Meritocracy is an oxymoron. Therefore, one cannot sincerely engage in identity politics of shades 1. or 2. without addressing the driving forces of enpowerments and disempowerments within the culture, since these make up the very foundation by which the identities form.
To claim an identity is not to become a free prisoner. To put oneself in a context where one’s identity becomes as invisible as the water is to the fish, that is to be a free prisoner. This freedom is achieved by community building and protected zones where people of a certain identity can come and not be that identity. Therein lies the urban promise4. For the aspiration to be a human being is to rid oneself from limiting and demarking identities, and if this cannot be achieved in the culture as a whole, at least it can be achieved in smaller contexts. That then becomes the goal of identity politics: To fight as one might for the right to at least in parts of one’s life not having to be that identity. To create subcultures of acceptance.
But alas, that is an idealised scenario. Groups of a certain identity do not necessarily strive for creating cultures of acceptance in general, but merely the creation of a norm which includes positive attitudes towards their identity. At a gaybar, being gay is the norm. That does not necessarily take away, for example, ageism. A more ideal culture would instead be one of diversity, where identities can co-exist, recognised but unjudged, where the normless is the norm. That may not be the urban promise, but is to some degree the effect of urban life, where all sorts of people are forced to co-exist.
Here is the inherent contradiction called intersectionality. In, for example, a female feminist sub-culture, being woman is the norm, and therefore irrelevant. Black woman, gay woman, old women, lower class women are all then reduced to black, gay, old, or lower class. Therefore, being in an environment free from sexism and misogyny, is not necessarily the same as being in an environment free from racism, homophobia, and ageism. The freedom not to be one identity is not to be free of all identities.5
Judith Butler: “There is no necessarily common element among lesbians, except perhaps that we all know something about how homophobia works against women–although, even then, the language and the analysis we use will differ.”
Identity is just another lie, another filter we put between us and reality. It is a way to sort people, to explain and understand people. It is a way to dehumanise people, to objectify and thingify people. And to strive for a fixed identity, to conform, is a way to dehumanise and thingify oneself, thereby imbuing a feeling of the world making a little bit more sense. Identities as a sorting for human beings will always fail, this taxonomy has as a prerequisite that all adults are savvy in their culture. To aspire for personhood then risks destroying the purity of the world ordering and is sternly resisted.
And whether you want to or not, you will be given an identity, and it will define you. Because much like an infectious disease, you don’t choose insecurity, and insecurity spreads from person to person6.
Page 1: “People Taxonomy”, “A Person’s Evolution”, “Just a Normal Culture”, “The Insecurity of being Normal”
Page 2: “The Free Prisoner”, “On Violence”, “Non-violence is also violent”
Page 3: “Identity Politics and the World Ordering”
Page 4: “Contagion”, “Some Final Points”