Monday, January 14, 2019

"The Perils of Identity Politics"

Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“The Perils of Identity Politics”
January 13, 2019

Contemporary politics is driven by a quest for equal recognition by
 groups that have been marginalized by their societies. But the desire for equal
 protection can easily slide over with a demand for recognition of the groups superiority.”
                                                                                                            Francis Fukuyama (1952-)
                                                                                                            American political scientist

Identity Politics is antithetical to everything for which America stands. It elevates the group as it diminishes the personal. It assumes we stay within the boundaries prescribed by the tribe and not wander off as individual warriors. It creates divisiveness, as it pits gay against straight, black against white and “elites” against “deplorables.” It encourages victimization rather than fostering responsibility. Membership in a tribe carries more weight than intellectual curiosity. Tribalism composes the script, a narrative that must be obeyed. Independent thinkers are condemned. Conservative commentator Michelle Malkin – as an Asian woman, an eligible tribal member – put it this way: “Minority conservatives hold a place of utter contempt in the minds of unhinged liberals, who can never accept the radical concept of a person who is rejecting identity politics.”  Identity Politics do not reflect an evolutionary process; they are the invention of politicians who find it easier to herd a flock than a sheep.

An article in a recent edition of The New York Timesmade conspicuous an unintended consequence of Identity Politics. Ninety-year-old Dr. James Watson, who won a Nobel Prize[1]for describing the double-helix structure of DNA in 1962, had made impolitic comments on race in a June 2007 interview with a British journalist. In the interview he allowed how he was “gloomy about the prospect for Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours, whereas all the testing says, not really.” His words were condemned by fellow geneticists, as “despicable,” and as “havingno place in science.” They represent, critics alleged, the ideas“of an old guy with old views.”

Most geneticists attribute differences in group IQ testing to environmental, not genetic differences. It is better to consider individual results regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation. Robert Plomin, a prominent American behavioral geneticist at King’s College in London, was quoted in the Times article: “There are powerful methods for studying the genetic and environmental origins of individual differences, but not for studying the causes of average differences between groups.” Dr. Plomin concluded that nature decisively trumps nurture when it comes to individuals. He rejected speculation about average racial differences. So should we. So should have Dr. Watson.

Identity Politics, along with its cousin Political Correctness, inundate the nation. They overwhelm common sense. They can lead to severe and permanent medical situations, like ROGD (rapid onset gender dysphoria), a social contagion that can come on suddenly in adolescents, mainly afflicting teenage girls. A recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journalby Abigail Shrier highlighted the problem. Colleges and universities too often give into demands by young female patients for testosterone injections and even double mastectomies, without requiring psychological evaluations, or even informing parents. As a society, we encourage delays in marriage. Should we not do the same as regards the physical alterations of our bodies? There are those, of course, who believe that “gender variance is a fundamental truth of human biology,” as Jennifer Finney Boylan put it in a rebuttal op-ed in The New York Times. Ms. Boylan may be correct; but the point Ms. Shrier was making is that life-long-affecting decision should be made after consultations with family and professionals. Have Identity Politics and Political Correctness played a role in the rise in this response to ROGD? I suspect they have.

We are a pluralistic society, composed of people whose looks, intelligence, and athleticism span the range from the challenged, to the mediocre, to the exceptional, regardless of race. We have myriad abilities and aspirations. Most of us fall somewhere toward the midpoint on the spectrum of intelligence and athleticism, where we find common ground with those of all races, genders and religions. We make friends of those whose interests and ideas are similar to our own. E Pluribus Unum does not mean we are molded to become a collection of separate groups. It means that from diversity a unified country emerges. It is a concept unique to America. Assimilation in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, as recent events tell us, is not the same as in the United States, which is why U.S. citizenship is sought after by so many. 

Identity Politics, it is claimed by those who believe in it, promotes equality, but that is a word whose definition has been warped by politicians. While we do have equal rights under the law as citizens, we are not – and never can be – equal. I cannot carry a tune or play a musical instrument. I cannot reach the top shelf of my kitchen cabinets without help of a ladder. My athleticism precluded sports as a vocation. I cannot draw or do mathematical equations in my head. My ability to write will never come close to the essayist I most admire – E.B. White. You are who you are, and “I yam what I yam,” as Popeye declared.

Nevertheless, we should all strive to use what assets and abilities we have. Above all, that demands a good education, which also serves as the best protection against forces that try democracies. Where one goes to school or college is less important than the courses one takes and the efforts made once there. We should never forget that it is the tyrant that prefers a divided nation and an uneducated citizenry – practices that elevate the few above the needs and desires of the many. It is ideas that stem from a classical education, which we should debate. Does one favor big or small government? What should our responsibilities be to those unable to care for themselves? Should we live within our means? Should we open our borders to all who wish to come, or should we proscribe limits? Should we enact policies that inspire independence and personal responsibility or ones that encourage dependency? 

Identity Politics is the institutionalization of segregation. It encourages separation, like the Ember Charter School in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn and gated communities in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights. It causes people to think inwardly, selfishly, not outwardly, altruistically. It emphasizes “group think” over individual innovation. It stifles the speech of conservatives on college campuses and on social media. It discourages assimilation and reduces the acknowledgement of individual imperfections. It draws generalized conclusions from limited samplings, as in the case of Professor Watson. It risks impetuosity that can have life-long consequences, as in the case of ROGD. It elevates the superficial over the specific. I am more complex than simply an aging, white male. So are you, more complex than the compartment(s) in which you have been placed by politicians eager for your support.

We are not cattle to be corralled. hogs to be penned, or chickens to be cooped. We are individual humans, each with our hopes for a better future. We understand the risks of anarchy, so willingly accept the boundaries imposed by civil society, but ones where the rule of law protects property and our right to assemble, speak and pray as we choose

[1]The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was shared that year with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilson

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