A long while back, I blogged about things I just don’t get, including on that list the awful specter of identity politics. As I was finishing my undergraduate education some decades ago, the favored term was “political correctness.” That impulse now looks positively tame in comparison to what occurs regularly in the public sphere. It’s no longer merely about adopting what consensus would have one believe is a correct political outlook. Now it’s a broad referendum centered on the issue of identity, construed though the lens of ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identification, lifestyle, religion, nationality, political orientation, etc.
One frequent charge levied against offenders is cultural appropriation, which is the adoption of an attribute or attributes of a culture by someone belonging to a different culture. Here, the term “culture” is a stand-in for any feature of one’s identity. Thus, wearing a Halloween costume from another culture, say, a bandido, is not merely in poor taste but is understood to be offensive if one is not authentically Mexican. Those who are infected with the meme are often called social justice warriors (SJW), and policing (of others, natch) is especially vehement on campus. For example, I’ve read of menu items at the school cafeteria being criticized for not being authentic enough. Really? The won ton soup offends Chinese students?
In an opinion-editorial in the NY Times entitled “Will the Left Survive the Millennials?” Lionel Shriver described being sanctioned for suggesting that fiction writers not be too concerned about creating characters from backgrounds different from one’s own. He contextualizes the motivation of SJWs this way:
Viewing the world and the self through the prism of advantaged and disadvantaged groups, the identity-politics movement — in which behavior like huffing out of speeches and stirring up online mobs is par for the course — is an assertion of generational power. Among millennials and those coming of age behind them, the race is on to see who can be more righteous and aggrieved — who can replace the boring old civil rights generation with a spikier brand.
While I appreciate Shriver’s article, considerations extending beyond fashionable though misfired academic thought inform this bizarro movement. Specifically, SJWs are arguing for ideological purity, which I have insisted doesn’t exist, and in the process, gotten so ridiculous that their gambit substitutes ideation for actuality. For instance, I read a day ago about accusations of kink-shaming. Considering that the whole point of a kink is to be transgressive, normalizing or accepting the kink defeats its purpose. One of the more wacko claims is that gender is solely a social construct and has no basis in biology. As memory serves, that claim was made in connection with Jordan Peterson, who was sanctioned for refusing to use what he calls forced pronouns. Indeed, many institutions of higher education have formulated speech codes that would have instructors and professors constantly disoriented as students shift all over the gender spectrum and demand pronouns to match. Inherent conflicts with free speech must not concern administrators bending over backwards to accommodate students.
More broadly, some insist that identity/self is independent of their bodies and experience, resting instead on free-floating, flexible, fluid belief. I had a fairly robust discussion with Dave Pollard short of one year ago (starting here) on the nature of the self. Dave is/was exploring nonduality and believes identity is an illusion. From my perspective, that’s a mistake, though not as profound as the gender and ethnic confusion suffered by many young people. Luckily, I don’t travel in circles where this issue is something with which I’m forced to contend. I can live and let live, though I won’t be adopting anyone’s preferred pronouns anytime soon.