THE ORIGIN OF ‘IDENTITY POLITICS’ & ‘POLITICAL CORRECTNESS’
Not Consideration for Minorities but Hatred Towards the Mass of Ordinary People; Specifically ‘the Workers’ — Tracing the Roots of Why and How it Arose and Developed Reveals the Greatest Political Fraud in History
[An edited version appears in The Quarterly Review as ‘Dworkin’s Dangerous Idea: Steve Moxon Deconstructs Identity Politics’.http://www.quarterly-review.org/?p=2954]. More fully, it appears as part of Moxon SP (2014) Partner violence as female-specific in aetiology. New Male Studies 3(3) 69-93]
Steve Moxon, 2014–. Sheffield, UK.email@example.com
Published here on the stevemoxon.co.uk website, initially on August 17, 2014, subsequently updated, and ongoing.
A Creative Commons copyright applies.
‘Identity politics’ (often or even usually dubbed ‘political correctness’) is the result of a political-Left major backlash against the mass of ordinary people (in Europe and ‘the West’), beginning in the 1920s/30s, in the wake of the persistent failure of Marxist theory to be realised in European ‘revolution’ or any real change through democracy. In shifting the blame away from Marxist theory and its adherents, and on to those the theory had prescribed and predicted would have been the beneficiaries — the workers — if only they had responded accordingly; then the cognitive-dissonance within the political-left mindset caused by this crisis to an extent was salved. [It is NOT at all the same as what the Left mistakenly term ‘the politics of identity’ to tag the new movements against the elite, on the false assumption that they are essentially nationalistic and ‘white backlash’. Trump and Brexit triumphed because the general populace have come to realise that the government-media-education uber-class has an unwarranted profound contempt for and visceral hatred towards them; and, therefore hardly is liable to act in their interests.]
The intellectual rationalisation was first by invoking Freud’s now comprehensively discredited notion of ‘repression’ to attempt to explain a supposed impact on ‘the workers’ of ‘capitalism’ acting within the context of the family. With most workers (the group considered the principal ‘agents of social change’ in a ‘revolution’) being male, then the theoreticians had in mind the male as ‘head’ of the family. It was a simple extension in political-Left imagination for ‘the worker’ to change from being the putative conduit of the impact of ‘capitalism’ to its embodiment, leaving women to be deemed a replacement supposed ‘oppressed’ and ‘disadvantaged’ ‘group’.
This implausible and unfalsifiable non-scientific nonsense mainly festered within academia until the co-option after 1968 by the political-Left of a movement which appeared to be akin to the revolutionary activity predicted by Marxism: the US ‘civil rights’ movement. This added to the ‘new oppressed’ the category ‘non-white’, which like that of women could be envisaged as an inversion of a retrospective stereotype of ‘the worker’. In the wake of the similarly seeming revolutionary Stonewall riots of 1969, the ‘gay rights’ lobby was also co-opted to further add to the abstract demonised aspects of ‘the worker’, thereafter retrospectively stereotyped as male plus ‘white’ plus heterosexual.
The strands of the ‘new oppressed’ combined in a new (neo-Marxist) conceptualisation to account for these political shifts after the fact, which came to be termed ‘identity politics’ (or more pejoratively but accurately, ‘cultural Marxism’, and latterly dubbed ‘modernising’ [sic] in political parties). The deemed ‘groups’ replacing ‘the workers’ – subsequently expanded to embrace the disabled, the elderly, trans-sexuals and the obese – are abstractions rather than groups per se, and in any case far too heterogeneous to be in reality ‘oppressed’ or ‘disadvantaged’; providing a window on the sophistry and origin of this politics as other than it purports.
For example, the category of ‘non-white’ / ‘ethnic minority’ includes such as migrant Indians and Chinese, who by no criteria are ‘disadvantaged’ or ‘oppressed’; ditto the category ‘homosexual’ in encompassing lesbians. By any objective, non-ideological analysis, women are privileged — certainly, as has been regularly pointed out, Western middle-class women are privileged; the most privileged large ‘group’ in all history.
This absurd situation arose through the political-Left’s forcing of specific conflicts to be considered as emblematic of Marxist struggle, rendering them as generalisable, with their participants abstractions. US Afro-Americans became generic ‘ethnic minorities’, and ‘gays’ became ‘homosexuals’. The history of feminism — not just of the ‘third wave’ — is of upper-class or upper-middle-class women demanding to somehow to be the same as their very high-status husbands and males within their rarefied social milieu; which even if it could make any sense given profound sex difference, hardly was a basis of anything comparable for the great majority of either women or men. The upshot is that ‘identity politics’ is a ‘gravy train’ for the already privileged. Worse, it is an instrument of oppression against the very ‘group’ perennially disadvantaged and the victim of prejudice, which formerly had been identified as worthy of the liberation Marxism promised: the vast majority of (necessarily lower-status) men.
The pretence to egalitarianism is perfect cover for what ‘identity politics’ actually is: the very perennial and ubiquitous elitist-separatism the political-Left ethos attacks and denies; rendered a quasi-religion, being an ideology in the wake of the Christian notion of ‘the promised land’ in the utopia/dystopia of equality-of-outcome. This represents a continuation of the process of a shift in religiosity from envisaging a ‘god’ as being in man’s image, through the humanist deification of mankind, to worship of a supposed dynamic of teleological social change (originally understood in Marxism as a form of explicit cognition known as ‘the dialectic’). ‘Identity politics’, in being both not what it pretends to be and now so widespread and entrenched across the whole and every facet of the establishment in Anglophone nations and ‘the West’ generally, can properly be regarded as the greatest political fraud in history.
[The text is fully open-access: a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Unported License applies from the publication date of August 17, 2014, which grants full permission to reproduce, in part or whole, for all (including commercial) uses, on the condition of properly and fully attributing authorship to Steve Moxon.]
The ideology that came to be termed ‘identity politics’ has an origin and development well documented in scholarship (see below) as a re-shaping of Marxist ‘theory’ that over time has become the principal feature of contemporary politics. This was generally recognised two decades ago, though written off by some as already as dead as the Marxism that had spawned it, being kept alive, supposedly, mostly in the imagination of conservative counter ideology [Hughes 1993], but this has proved to be the opposite of the case. ‘Identity politics’ all too apparently has grown to be accepted and predominant everywhere – not least amongst conservative politicians (whole parties, such as the Conservative Party in the UK), police forces, judiciaries, and entire government administrations — such that it is now a totalitarian quasi-religion. [Note that this is entirely different to what the Left term ‘politics of identity’ or, indeed ‘identity politics’, to try to smear what they deliberately mistake to be ‘nationalist’ movements, and ‘white backlash’; but which in fact are revolts against the elite for imposing the Left’s ‘identity politics’; not least as cover for mass uncontrolled migration as a means of attacking ‘the workers’. The cynical widening of the applicability of terminology is pretty obviously a smokescreen to try to take the sting out of criticism of the main manifestation currently of Left politics.]
Critique of it had been mocked in the media in the early 1990s by the repetition ad nauseum of the jibe, ‘political-correctness gone mad’, to misrepresent critique as the inventing of a new ‘red peril’, on the assumption that the reality of the claims of ‘identity politics’ was self-evident and no exaggeration. ‘Political correctness’ has often and popularly been the ideology’s tag, used not least by some scholars, but this is rather to confuse the ideology itself with what perhaps is better understood as its surface manifestation, mode of enforcement and expression of its fervency: the seemingly absurd ‘speech codes’ and blanket gratuitous charges of ‘sexism’, ‘racism’ and homophobia [sic] ubiquitous in the media, politics and the workplace. ‘Political correctness’ is a term with a history that although inter-twining with the history of the ideology of ‘identity politics’ is a separate one, with a different and slightly earlier origin – in the need to maintain a strict Party line within the Soviet state after 1917 – with its use (in more than one near-identical translation) from the 1920s [Ellis 2002]. The term quite suddenly became prominent in ‘Western’ politics at the turn of the 1990s when ‘identity politics’ started to become predominant. Having escaped the confines of academia, it had by then been in the ascendency for over two decades (see below).
It is well understood that the replacement by ‘identity politics’ of what by contrast may be dubbed the politics of ‘commonality’ was through the realisation that ‘the workers’ were not going to bring about a Marxist ‘revolution’: “the failure of western working classes to carry out their ‘proper’ revolutionary (class) interests”, as Somers & Gibson put it [1994 p54]. According to Cohen [2007 p196], the political-Left “despised the working class for its weakness and treachery, and condemned its members for their greed and obsession with celebrity. In Liberal-left culture the contempt was manifested by the replacement of social democracy by identity politics”. Gitlin  concluded: “In large measure, things fell apart because the center could not hold, for chronologically, the break-up of commonality politics pre-dates the thickening of identity politics”.
This has quite a long history. Almost a century ago, in the late 1920s, it was already becoming apparent that Marxist ‘theory’ did not work in practice, as evidenced by the absence of revolutionary overthrow of regimes in Europe according to Marxian prediction and prescription, even though just such a revolution had occurred in Russia a generation previously. The cognitive-dissonance [Festinger 1957, & eg, Tavris & Aronson 2007] this must have produced within the mindset of ‘Western’-culture intelligentsia could only persist and grow with the continued complete failure of a political-Left ethos anywhere to effect real change in its own terms. This became especially pointed with the unprecedented rapid implosion of the Soviet Union in 1989 (and the de facto capitulation to a rampant ‘capitalist’ model by the People’s Republic of China, and the exposure of Cuba, the sole significant vestige of the ‘communist’ world, as a state-impoverished museum-piece which functions at all only through turning a blind eye to mass entrepreneurial activity), still further intensifying cognitive-dissonance. [The former dissident Soviet, Vladimir Bukovsky  points out that the Soviet demise coincides in date with the almost as sudden emergence in the ‘West’ of the notion of ‘political correctness’, in a transferred resurgence of essentially the same ideology.]
With the cognitively-dissonant mindset here being in common across a large group, then it functions as an in-group marker, and as such becomes still more strongly driven, receiving so much investment that any intrusion of reality into the ideology is ever more strongly denied. And the intrusion of reality would be great, given that ideology is in essence a highly partial view of reality emphasising a particular dimension over others, which inevitably is exposed as a mismatch with reality, obliging further ratcheting up of the ideology to try to transcend what becomes a vicious circle; and the only way this can be achieved is to assert an internal consistency to the exclusion of contact with reality in a tautological loop. The ideology becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy [Bottici & Challand 2006], that in groups is subject to a ‘synergistic accumulative effect’ [Madon et al 2004]. Seemingly with no end, the prospect is, of course, of a catastrophic implosion when finally it arrives; but in the meantime the stress on the belief system can lead to ‘shifting the goal posts’, with superficial changes over time perhaps to the extent of transmogrifying the whole ideology in effect to subvert itself – potentially so far as even to adopt an opposing position, if this can be passed off either as not incompatible or as the position actually held all along. All of this is in the service of saving face.
To try to salve their cognitive-dissonance, adherents to an ideology can try to save face by admitting neither their own gullibility nor the falsity of the ideology and instead blame others. In this way the failure of the ideology can be regarded and misrepresented as merely temporary, and the final reckoning postponed apparently indefinitely. In the present case, those blamed – the fall guys, as it were – were those perceived to have ‘let the side down’: ‘the workers’. Collectively intended to benefit from the predicted Marxist ‘revolution’ (or, at least, the furthering of ‘the progressive project’), ‘the workers’ had been designated the ‘agents of social change’; but they did not respond actively in this regard [Raehn 2004, 1997].
The first attempts to explain this failure to act according to prescription and prediction were by Marxian academics working in the late 1920s onwards in Frankfurt and then New York [see eg, Lind 2004, 1997; Jay 1973]. They devised a fantasy aetiology in terms of Freud’s notion of ‘repression’, which though now comprehensively discredited along with the rest of Freud’s ‘theory’ [eg, Webster 1995, Loftus & Ketcham 1994] at the time it was the only framework in psychology available to them. Freudianism is as unfalsifiable as is Marxism, and therefore is in no sense science, and has long been superseded and abandoned by academic psychologists; yet readings and mis-readings of Freud persisted over the decades in being central to all manifestations of a neo-Marxism, including for all of the ‘post-structuralists’ and not least Foucault [Zaretsky 1994]. Consequently, as these ‘theories’ took firm hold across academia and ‘trickled down’ via the graduate professions to society at large through the enormous expansion in student numbers, there was an enormous popularity from the 1950s onwards of ‘Freudian-Marxism’ – as most notably in the books of Erich Fromm.
The central ‘theory’ was a development of the anti-family rhetoric of nineteenth century socialists taken up and further radicalised by Marx and particularly Engels [Weikart 1994, Engels 1884, Marx & Engels 1848] to conceptualise the family as an aberration resulting, it was imagined, from ‘capitalism’ somehow ‘repressing’ ‘the workers’, to the extent that supposedly they become psychologically dysfunctional [Cerulo 1979]. Marxism per se was supplanted by a theory of culturally based personal relations [Burston 1991], popularised later most notably by Marcuse  amongst many others. The aim was to eliminate what were seen as the mere ‘roles’ of the mother and father, so that, it was envisaged, all distinction between masculinity and femininity would disappear, taking with it the ‘patriarchy’ [sic] supposedly the foundation of ‘capitalism’ [Raehn 1996]. This culminated in the Penguin book, The Death of the Family [Cooper 1971], from the school of a politically extreme academic psychology/sociology calling itself ‘existential psychiatry’, which advanced the falsehood that schizophrenia is acquired as a result of certain dynamics in a family upbringing. The early/mid-1970s was the time when the works of such as Marcuse and Fromm reached the height of their popularity with students, and as Cohen remarks: “strange ideas that began in the universities were everywhere a generation later” [Cohen 2007 p 375].
[This ‘theory’ re the family lacked even internal consistency. With the family mistakenly considered a product of ‘capitalism’ (the family has clear homologues throughout the animal kingdom, and therefore clearly has a phylogenetically ancient evolution), then merely removing the family hardly thereby removes ‘capitalism’, which by the rationale of the ‘theory’ surely would manifest in other ways to either ‘oppress’ or somehow ‘fool’ ‘the workers’. But, in any case, ‘capitalism’ (‘free enterprise’) is itself an empty ‘bogeyman’ notion in that it is merely trading (in however complicated a form), and this includes the relationship between the worker and his employer. In even its most simple, prehistoric mode, through the economic ‘law’ of ‘comparative advantage’ trading entails both parties acquiring the ‘surplus’ problematised in Marxism as being somehow antithetical to the interests of those supplying their labour. ‘Surplus’ is inherent in the market value of any labour: there is little if any labour which does not itself benefit from organisation and/or technology to be value-added sufficient to be competitive in the market pertaining. In other words, ‘surplus’ necessarily is of genuinely mutual advantage.]
As the head of the family, the man (husband/father) was held to be the incarnation of ‘oppression’ from which the woman (wife/mother) needed to be ‘liberated’. So it was that ‘the workers’ as formerly considered ‘the agents of change’ and the group destined to be ‘liberated’, were replaced in Marxian imagination by women, heralding the ‘feminist Marxism’ we see today [Kellner nd] – the centrality to neo-Marxism of ‘third-wave’ feminism.
This origin and development has tended to be forgotten in favour of another (though related and complementary) and later rationalisation which subsumes it in a more general conceptualisation that is also the legacy of Engels: ‘false consciousness’. [The term was first recorded in an 1893 letter from Engels to Franz Mehring.] Cohen [2007 p158] sums up that: “The Marxists of the early twentieth century took it up to explain away the discomfiting fact that the workers of the most advanced societies were not organising social revolutions as Marx had insisted they would.” Cohen elaborates [p374]: “To explain the catastrophic collapse of their hopes they have revived the false consciousness conspiracy theory, which has been present in socialist thought since the early defeats at the turn of the twentieth century, and given it an astonishing prominence. They hold that the masses rejected the Left because brainwashing media corporations ‘manufactured consent’ for globalisation”. This transparently paranoid, weak ‘conspiracy theory’ — representing a wilful refusal to accept the very basis of marketing in reflecting people’s actual needs and desires — is familiar still today (albeit less in favour than it was), being that it is presentable in vague sociological terms in the wake of sociology eclipsing psychoanalysis as the popular pseudo-science from the late 1960s/ early 1970s. The incorporation of Freud’s bogus ‘repression’ notion to posit a thin conceptualisation of psychological ‘brainwashing’ became less plausible – not least in its being in the narrow context of the family, from which confines anyway it was taken that everyone was escaping – and it gave way to a nebulous pan-societal conceptualisation of a sociological kind of ‘brainwashing’. Both are highly implausible (even as to mechanism, let alone efficacy), but the latter appeared less so than the former. It is lost on the Left that the notion of a society-wide ‘false consciousness’ created by an economically dominant group is precisely the basis of the Nazi notion of ‘Jewish conspiracy’ (as Cohen points out [2007 p375]).
Notions of ‘repression’ and ‘false consciousness’ were enough of a dressing-up of a volte-face from eulogising to blaming ‘the workers’ to prevent it appearing too transparently to be holding ‘the workers’ directly culpable, and it was also sufficient a departure from orthodox Marxism that its origin in Marxism was hidden, thereby aiding its acceptance. This would have been important in the USA crucible of these politics when in the aftermath of McCarthyism the political-Left was obliged to present itself differently. With purging of ‘communists’ having proved resoundingly popular with the American working-classes, a far sharper sense of an ‘us and them’ vis-á-vis ‘the workers’ was experienced by the US political-Left, reinforcing its antipathy.
Here we have the core of what became ‘identity politics’, but it was not known as such until the early 1970s [Knouse 2009]. As Hobsbawn points out , even in the late 1960s there was no entry at all under ‘identity’ in the International Encyclopaedia of Social Sciences. This is for the very good reason that until this time there was no multiplicity of ‘identity’ labelled as ‘disadvantaged’ / ‘oppressed’. The decisive development to spur such a complete change in political discourse was the co-option by neo-Marxist ‘theory’ of a movement with which it had no connection at all. As with any fervent ideology, a hallmark of the political-Left is interpreting anything and everything in its own ideological terms to claim as a manifestation of the ideology and its prophecy – jumping on a bandwagon, so to speak; though here only to hijack it. The bandwagon here was, of course, the American civil rights movement, which though enjoying ubiquitous support within black communities – to the point often of various forms of extremism – featured virtually nil endorsement of socialism (and even in the rare exceptions, any endorsement was equivocal). It is from the time of this co-option that ‘identity politics’ dates [Kauffman 1990]; many considering that the movement was incorporated into the Left in the wake of King’s assassination in 1968 – the major turning-point year in political-Left politics generally with the near-revolution in France and the sustained violence between student demonstrators and the army at the Chicago US Democratic Convention; both taking heart from the onset of the Chinese ‘cultural revolution’ at this time. Maoism was aped by the rapidly growing US student politics movement in its becoming militantly extremist in the huge opposition to the compulsory draft for the ‘anti-communist’ Vietnam war. This vibrant student radicalisation functioned as a melting-pot to facilitate incorporation of not just different strands of the Left but movements hitherto entirely separate, to be brought under the umbrella of what was more widely the ‘counterculture’. A movement famously setting itself against ‘middle-class’ norms, this was not a rebellion against parents — which was the dynamic of a near generation before, when the young were newly prosperous and the culture was widely percieved to be stultifying — It was an attack on the aspiration by ‘the workers’ to become anything else, when the goal of ordinary people was very much economic advancement (‘the American dream’). ‘Civil rights’, as the first great ‘single-issue’ campaign, served not least to provide an acceptable cloak for the Left to avoid provoking a resurgence of McCarthyism. The major social upheaval of ‘civil rights’ with its large-scale and widespread rioting was easily the nearest thing in then recent US history to look like the promised Marxist ‘revolution’, and obviously was just the practical application the ‘theory’ was seeking. Moreover, the protagonists (black Americans) were eminently separable from the now despised ‘workers’ per se, in being presentable as a new ‘group’ from outside of the former fray of ‘boss’ versus ‘worker’.
This accident of history served to add ‘black’ to ‘woman’ as ‘the new oppressed’ without any intellectual shift or much if any cerebral effort: it was on a ‘gut’ level, so to speak; implicit rather than explicit cognition. ‘The worker’ in effect was retrospectively stereotyped as both ‘man’ and ‘white’. With the inverse of this stereotype of ‘white’ being not just ‘black American’ but ‘black’ — that is, ethnic-minority generically; then notwithstanding that many ethnic groups are far from ‘disadvantaged’ let alone ‘oppressed’ – some (eg, Chinese, Indian) actually out-performing ‘whites’ in all key measures — so it was that the new ‘agents of social change’ / ‘disadvantaged’ / ‘oppressed’ were extended from women to also include all ethnic minorities. It is only with the knowledge of how this developed that sense can be made of why ethnicity is held above the myriad other possible differences that could be utilised as in-group markers, when in fact there is nothing inherent in ethnicity as an in-group marker to produce inter-group prejudice that is particularly more pernicious. Indeed, the worst inter-communal conflicts nominally between different ethnicities usually are between different cultural heritages with no discernable ‘racial’ differences of any kind – and what (non-ethnic) differences there are can be minimal; the lack of contrast actually fuelling the intensity of conflict, such is the need for groups to feel distinguished from each other. Furthermore, ethnic prejudice is anything but restricted to or even predominantly ‘white’ on ‘black’: inter-ethnic (eg, ‘black’ on Asian) and ethnic-on-‘white’ ‘racism’ can be, often is and may usually be the greater problem; and a negative attitude to a certain ethnicity does not imply a similar attitude to other ethnicities. The specific US experience, given the highly divisive politics in the wake of the American Civil War over the basis of the Southern US economy in African slavery, does not translate to elsewhere; notably not to Europe – as was starkly evidenced in the experience of World War II ‘black’ American GIs stationed in England in how they were favourably received by locals, who sided with them when discriminated against. ‘Racial divides’ in European ‘white’ host countries are the result not of mutual antipathy but affiliative forces, principally within migrant enclaves and secondarily within the ‘host’ community; in both cases being through in-group ‘love’, not out-group ‘hate’ [Yamagashi & Mifune 2009].
Given the template of a successful incorporation of another political movement, then naturally it follows that the next cause generating nationally prominent protest similarly would be ripe for co-option. The opportunity arrived the very next year with the 1969 ‘gay’ Stonewall riots, again prompting in effect a retrospective stereotyping of ‘the worker’ by contrast as ‘heterosexual’. And just as ‘black American’ was broadened generically to ‘ethnic minority’, so ‘gay’ was broadened generically to ‘homosexual’ – to also include ‘lesbians’. This anyway was bound to ensue given that women were already an identified new class of ‘the oppressed’. Thus, ‘lesbians’ were added even though the draconian criminal discrimination and associated harassment by police had been a problem only for male homosexuals, who were the ones raising a grievance. Female homosexuals merely hung on their coat-tails, since ‘lesbians’ did not themselves have a basis for grievance as a discriminated-against, ‘oppressed’ or ‘disadvantaged’ ‘group’. ‘Homophobic’ [sic] bullying is fully part of group male (but not female) socialisation [Pascoe 2013], and consequently is a problem suffered far more by males [Poteat & Rivers 2010]; a disparity which would be even more marked if rumour-spreading was taken out of consideration, with this — rather than direct confrontation — accounting for the great bulk of what female manifestation there is [Minton 2014]. Males in any case are more visible as homosexuals, in that male homosexuality, it is generally agreed, is roughly twice as prevalent as female; and ‘gay’ behaviour can contrast markedly with that of male heterosexuals (whereas female behaviour intra-sexually is often physically close, resembling in some respects behaviour in heterosexual intimacy).
What everyone has missed is that it was not homosexuality per se that had led to a ‘disadvantage’ and severe discrimination, but being male: the combination of being male and exhibiting an extreme difference (differences between males being amplified in male dominance contest, with such an extreme difference as a same-sex preference sending a male to the bottom of the hierarchy, and rendering him a candidate for the unusual occurrence for males of exclusion from the in-group). This calls into question not just the identification of ‘homosexuality’ generically as a ‘disadvantaged’ / ‘oppressed’ category, but it prompts checking of the presumption that women constitute such a category. And the conclusion upon examining all issues male/female is that not the female but the male is clearly the more ‘disadvantaged’ and ‘oppressed’ sex [see Moxon 2008, 2012 for summaries: this is a topic far beyond the scope of the present text]. This anyway has to be more than a mere suspicion given the bogus basis on which women came to be regarded as ‘disadvantaged’ and ‘oppressed’, merely as a forced replacement for ‘the workers’.
In the bringing together of these disparate strands of sex, ‘race’ and sexual orientation there was not just insulation from further McCarthyism, but a much-desired restoration of the lost sense of universalism of the political-Left ethos, now possible through demonising ‘the worker’. As Gitlin pointed out , ‘identity politics’ is a “spurious unity”, and that “whatever universalism now remains is based not so much on a common humanity as on a common enemy – the notorious White Male”.
From then on, anyone ‘belonging’ to a ‘group’ according to any of the inversions of one or more of the now supposed hallmarks of ‘the worker’ as male / ‘white’ / heterosexual, was deemed automatically to belong to the newly identified ‘vanguard’ of ‘agents of social change’, and deserving of automatic protection and definition as ‘disadvantaged’ and ‘oppressed’. These three abstracted generic groupings of ‘woman’, ‘ethnic-minority’ and ‘homosexual’, naturally were considered additive in conferring ‘victim’ status, so that a permutation of two out of the three — or, best of all, the full house — was a trump card in what has been dubbed ‘intersectionality’. Given the ‘gravy train’ this spawned, then just as would be expected, further extensions again in effect by inverting ‘the worker’ retrospective stereotype have since been made. Added were the disabled and the elderly; trans-sexuals, and even the obese – but on such dubious grounds as to reveal further the incoherent basis of ‘identity politics’ other than as a protracted agitation against ‘the workers’.
The disabled suffer neither discrimination nor any prevailing negative attitude towards them (if anything the contrary): they simply have a hard life, irrespective of how they may be treated. The absence of provision such as ramps to public buildings cannot constitute discrimination, because this would be special treatment, not equitability. Indeed, it could be argued that disabled-access denudes the lives of disabled people, in that in becoming less reliant on others they have still less social interaction, when the lack of this perhaps is the key difficulty in most disabled persons’ lives. The elderly likewise necessarily have a harder life, through being physically incapable of some tasks which formerly they carried out with ease; but this is an inevitability for everyone that no form of intervention can reverse or significantly ameliorate. There is compensation in usually being relatively in a good financial position, and without the onus of having to go to work to sustain it: the elderly commonly are better-off than when they were younger, and without the large expenses of younger life. They are hardly ‘disadvantaged’. Far from being in receipt of any discrimination or opprobrium, the elderly usually are at worst ignored, and likely to be afforded genuine consideration. [The real phenomenon of age discrimination in employment impacts only on ‘the workers’, of course: it cannot apply to those over retirement age.] The only sense that can be made of the inclusion within ‘identity politics’ of both the disabled and the elderly is that they are non-‘workers’ (if not thus by definition, they are only unusually in employment).
Trans-sexuals are rare enough (roughly one in 20,000 pooled across sex) as to be effectively an irrelevance, but from the perspective of the basis of ‘identity politics’ their inclusion is an extension of the homosexuality category in that they revive the mantra of ‘homophobia’ [sic], and may be thought to challenge male-female dichotomy, along the lines of ‘non-essentialist’ feminist complaint, and the goal as outlined above; but they do not. ‘Trans-sexual‘ is a misnomer in that these individuals simply wish for their somatic sex to match what they strongly feel their sex to be (their ‘brain sex’, as it were), which usually they accomplish through surgery. [The only actual ‘cross-sex’ individuals are those possessing an extra sex chromosome: this is the ‘intersex’ condition, which is vanishingly rare.] Just as for homosexuality, only males suffer any significant ‘disadvantage’. Male-to-female (but not, or much less so, female-to-male) trans-sexuals are those enduring opprobrium, and this is because they are regarded as being essentially and irredeemably male, whereas female-to-male trans-sexuals are considered to be females exhibiting gender [sic] flexibility. Opprobrium is most notably from (feminist) lesbians, who are at the core of ‘identity politics’ activism, and naturally this would be falsely ‘projected’ on to males as supposedly a generic prejudice. As with homosexuals, the quality attracting any ‘oppression’ is maleness, not trans-sexuality per se. Again, this is obscured in that most trans-sexuals are male – that is, male-to-female: one in 10,000, as against 1 in 30,000 female-to-male (according to recent APA figures averaged across studies).
The obese constitute an obviously unjustifiable category within ‘identity politics’, in that being fat is not fixed and irreversible, being hardly an inescapable condition, and one which is not acquired without complicity – a failure to make a better lifestyle choice. That obesity is a ‘serious’ addition to the ‘identity politics’ cannon is shown by the actual academic ‘discipline’ of ‘fat studies’. It might be thought that sense is made of this in terms of the ‘non-workers’ basis of ‘identity politics’ categorisation, in that non-working, sedentary very-low-income lifestyles are particularly associated with sugar-rich poor diets driving obesity; but the emergence of ‘fat studies’ was not (or not primarily) a pragmatic inclusion given the very high incidence of obesity in the USA. It arose as a subsidiary of ‘women’s studies’. It would seem more pertinent that lesbians – as previously pointed out, the keenest activists within ‘identity politics’ – are more than twice as likely to be obese as heterosexual women [Boehmer, Bowen & Bauer 2007]. ‘Valourising’ the obese would be in line with the extreme-feminist notion that a female should not be judged according to her attractiveness (the female-mate-value criterion of fertility) – notwithstanding that there is no issue raised about correspondingly judging a male in terms of male attractiveness (the male-mate-value criterion of status or stature). [This may drive obesity in extreme-feminists, though for lesbians it may be based in not having to face the mate-choice criteria of males, leaving them freer to eschew the usual female concern with weight.]
The several abstracted faux groups, in entering political centre stage displaced ‘class’, because with ‘the workers’ now considered collectively persona non grata, then being ‘working class’ was no longer recognised as a disadvantage. Class distinction was jettisoned from the neo-Marxist ‘progressive project’. The upshot is that a woman who is highly-educated, upper-middle-class and/or belonging to a high-achieving ethnic minority (such as Indian or Chinese), and/or is (or declares herself to be) ‘lesbian’, is eligible for various forms of state and employer assistance through ‘positive action’ (an unwritten but effective quota system). By contrast, an ‘underclass’ ‘white’ male from a poor family background with neither a job nor the educational qualifications needed to acquire one, is not only offered no assistance but is actively considered an ‘oppressor’ of all those (apart from other males) far better placed than is he.
Given that Marxian ideological belief has always been in terms of a ‘power’ [sic] struggle between one bloc and another within society — formerly the ‘bourgeoisie’ versus the ‘proletariat’ — such that the ‘powerless’ [sic] are set to overthrow the ‘powerful’ [sic]; then it was not a large adjustment to re-envision the underlying dynamic of society as conflict between a more abstract but still supposedly dominant ‘group’ of generically men – anyone male / ‘white’ / heterosexual / non-disabled / non-elderly / non-obese – as the one with ‘power’ [sic], against the one without, being a cobbled-together melange of abstractions – supposedly generically women, ethnic minorities, homosexuals, trans-sexuals, the disabled, the elderly and the obese. Indeed, the adjustment has been seamless, as would be expected from the benefits accruing in terms of saving face. With reality held to result from whichever ‘group’ is deemed to hold ‘power’ [sic] [Green 2006], then it follows in internally-consistent imagination that reality is changeable in the mere assertion that a ‘powerless‘ [sic] ‘group’ somehow is set to take the place of a ‘powerful’ [sic] ‘group’. This self-fulfilling prophecy is the imperative driving ‘identity politics’ that has come to be dubbed ‘political correctness’, with its draconian fervency and focus on empty forms of words as if they have inherent efficacy.
In the absence of any external validity to ‘identity politics’ reasoning, there was the need for a novel intellectual underpinning, which was supplied in the confused strands of philosophy grouped together as ‘postmodernism’ (a term that did not share an earlier origin with that denoting a reversion to traditional or classical style in art), that in more concrete guise has a firm grip of the humanities and social sciences in the various forms of ‘cultural studies’ / ‘critical studies’ / ‘theory’. The incoherence of theory in ‘postmodernism’ is ascribed, in an excoriating analysis by Gross & Levitt [1998, 71-92], to its being “more a matter of attitude and emotional tonality” [p71]. This is just as would be expected of what is an attempt to obscure the sophistry of ‘identity politics’. At root ‘postmodernism’ is a taking-the-ball-home defensive ruse; a simple declaration that any and every criticism of ‘identity politics’ is inadmissible. As is widely and well understood, the ‘postmodernist’ stance is that any text is held to have no significant surface (ostensible) meaning, but an actual meaning supposedly specific to local context: meaning is said to be ‘situated’. This is the ‘identity politics’ contention that given everything concerns ‘power’ relations, then all depends on someone’s vantage point in respect of these — in terms of their own ‘oppressed’ status. Whilst all individuals from one particular ‘oppressed’ ‘group’ perspective (eg, ethnic-minority female) are deemed to have an identical experience espoused in the same ‘narrative’, these particular perspectives are sanctified as being entirely opaque to anyone else with a different perspective, even if from what might be considered a parallel one in ‘power’ relations (eg, ethnic-minority ‘gay’), let alone from a non-‘oppressed’ angle, which in any case is held not to be worthy of taking into account. The perspective of a ‘group’ ‘narrative’ is considered to be trapped in the sub-text, rendering it decipherable only through the special technique of ‘deconstruction’.
The obvious fatal flaw in this thin reasoning is that there is no reflexivity in the ‘theory’ in respect of the texts of the ‘postmodernists’ themselves. Their own texts uniquely are deemed to be legitimately understood according to their surface meaning; so that within this ‘discipline’, where it is held that no text is ‘privileged’ over any other, necessarily a complete exception is made for texts concerning the ‘theory’ itself; otherwise the ‘theories’ of ‘postmodernism’ (and its subsidiaries re ‘deconstruction’) could not exist. The irony is that if ‘postmodernist’ principles were applied to ‘postmodernism’ itself, then the ‘theory’ would become apparent as being entirely based in the very principles of ‘power’ relations it purports to reveal. A tautology, the ‘theory’ is without foundation. ‘Postmodernism’ is naked special pleading, amounting to a claim that there is a magic unavailable to the uninitiated, which is practised by a priesthood of the political-Left. This is raw elitist-separatism: the very attitude and behaviour that a political-Left ethos purports to be fighting against and deems immoral.
By way of an absurd extension of the circularity in ‘postmodernism’: with language being deemed to convey nothing but ‘power’ relations, by an elementary failure of logic, conversely ‘power’ is regarded as nothing more than language; and from this is deduced that all that is needed is a change in language to bring about a wholly new set of ‘power’ relations. This is a flimsy dressing-up of the self-fulfilling prophecy in ‘political correctness’ and ‘identity politics’. Language is an explicit communication form with no access to the vast bulk of cognition, which is implicit (non-conscious); and therefore it cannot possibly be of the nature ascribed to it by ‘postmodernists’. The refusal to be ‘found out’ on this score is, of course, through denial that there is a scientific way of acquiring knowledge about implicit psychology; but this is an argument no less circular than is everything in ‘postmodernism’. Gross & Levitt [1998 p75] sum up: “American postmodernism is often accused, with considerable justice, of being little more than mimicry of a few European thinkers, mostly French, who rose to prominence in the midst of the bewilderment afflicting intellectual life when the proto-revolutionary struggles in the late sixties in France, Germany and Italy fizzled out without having produced any real impact on bourgeois society.” In other words, ‘postmodernism’ sprang from the very same place as did ‘identity politics’ — its symbiotic twin; or, rather, its offspring.
In the transition to ‘identity politics’, the quintessential form of ‘oppression’ [sic] in Marxian imagination changed with the family replacing the workplace as the putative key locus of conflict; transferring from ‘the boss’ lording it over ‘the worker’ to the man ‘dominating’ the woman. This was a politics in line with pro-female/ anti-male natural prejudice, easy to get a handle on, and which mobilised in particular women hitherto sidelined in the UK in local political party associations, as it did people in general in these bodies – with anti-‘racism’ joining feminism in the new thrust of politics to fragment into related but ‘single issue’ campaigning — in the wake of the poor position of political-Left parties electorally after the 1970s. So the politics readily hit ‘the pavement’ where once it was mostly confined to universities.
The belief system was most apparent within the social work profession [McLaughlin 2005]. Political-Left-minded individuals seeking escape from work in commerce found not only a shelter in the burgeoning state, but a niche where they were able to act according to ‘identity politics’ principles. Social work became a locus of problematising social issues, most especially intimate-partner violence [IPV], which was ripe for portraying as the supposed exemplification of male/female ‘power’ [sic] relations in the only portion of IPV that anyone is concerned about – that by males against females. As IPV in the female-to-male direction contributes significantly to undermining the neo-Marxist rationalisation of why ‘the revolution’ never materialised, then the occurrence and concept of ‘non-gendered’ [sic] IPV had to be resolutely denied whatever the strength of the evidence. This is just as has been found [see eg, Dutton & Nichols 2005, Moxon 2011].
Facets of human psychology are fertile ground for this ideology to take hold and become entrenched. From the core biological principle that the female is the ‘limiting factor’ in reproduction: whereas she is treated as being privileged, prejudices evolved against the male through both the differential allocation of reproduction within male hierarchy [Moxon 2009] (and ‘policing’ associated with this) and, obviously, the close scrutiny of males by females to exclude most males in their mate choices. There is also the self-serving utility of the contemporary political-philosophical mindset in salving cognitive-dissonance (and providing within-group status gains, not least through driving in-group-/out-group competition), which further serves as reinforcement. All of this works on the level of implicit as well as or rather than explicit cognition, given that the stronger the motivation the more implicit we might expect to be the associated cognition [Di Conza et al 2006].
The ideology of ‘identity politics’ was so readily accepted not least because it is a recapitulation of ideation from Christianity, where the future is deemed inevitable in ending in ‘the promised land’. Social development is taken to be teleological: as if ‘pulled’ towards a ‘utopia'(/’dystopia’) of equality-of-outcome. This is a secular religion, transferring the notion of a ‘god’ from being in man’s image, via the humanistic deification of mankind, to worship of a supposed mechanism of social development, which is in no way scientific; merely an assumption that it is akin to a mode of reasoning – the ‘dialectic’. After Rousseau, the individual is taken to be in essence ‘good’, but contaminated by ‘capitalism’. This contamination is regarded as superficial yet irredeemable without the assistance of the ideology. That all this is very much a residue of Christian thinking is outlined at length by the philosopher John Gray [Gray 2007], who cites (neo-)Marxism as being the apotheosis of humanist political-philosophies, which all spring from an ostensible opposition to religion, that actually itself is a still more entrenched religiosity. This new quasi-religion seems to be as pathological as the closely related former quasi-religious ‘revisionist’ Marxisms as espoused by Stalin and Hitler (see below). Bukovsky  warns that just as the ideological progenitor of (what he terms) ‘political correctness’ imprisoned him as a Soviet dissident simply for not being an active supporter, so it will be in the ‘West’; the ideology building unstoppably from excess to ever greater excess as adherents to the ideology refuse ever to admit they are wrong.
In sum, it is no surprise that what began as a desperate rearguard notion in academic political-Left circles to attempt to save face, has evolved over many decades into a mainstream ‘given’, with supporting notions, such as the previously prevailing theory of intimate-partner violence, resolutely data-proof. This is notwithstanding ‘identity politics’ notions as to who is ‘oppressed’ / ‘disadvantaged’ and why, having no objective plausibility and being deeply at odds with perennial common-sense from any vantage outside of the ideology itself.
With the long development of ‘identity politics’ over almost a century, its origin had been lost sight of, and some commentators still lazily assume that it arose in the wake of well-intentioned championing of women, ethnic minorities and gays; rather than this championing being instrumental in attacking ‘the workers’. Others imagine that it is merely some result of the experience of modernity; but this is merely to cite symptoms of the cynicism behind which ‘identity politics’ plays no small part. Commonly credited is post-colonial guilt, even though this hardly squares with the emergence of ‘identity politics’ initially in the USA rather than in the ex-colonial power that is England, nor the centrality of women rather than or alongside ethnicity; and in any case it would be a moral sensibility rather too rarefied to account for the emotive intensity of the politics. Also suggested is an absence of meaning [Furedi 2013], as if this had not been a major issue at the time of Marx and before; or simply a feeling of anonymity [Calhoun 1994], which, again, does not explain the fervency of the politics when a more resigned or a diffuse political stance would be expected, as in ‘existentialism’.
Based on his mistaken analysis, Calhoun argues retrospectively that nationalist movements should be subsumed under the ‘identity politics’ umbrella, and that therefore ‘identity politics’ is nothing new; but nationalism could not better exemplify the politics of ‘commonality’. Nationalist movements both contemporary and historical are instances of perennial assertions of in-grouping at the most obvious fully autonomous level of social organisation. This reality was the basis of the early-20th century nationalist revolutions as pragmatic modifications of Marxian ‘internationalism’. As such they do share roots with ‘identity politics’ in that this too is a pragmatic modification of Marxian ‘theory’. Indeed, on this basis, ‘identity politics’ or ‘political correctness’ could be dubbed ‘fascist’, as a use of that label to better reflect what actually it is. Stalin engineered “socialism in one country” for Russia in the 1920s to try to keep at bay the rest of Europe in the wake of the failure there of early attempts at ‘proletarian’ revolt. This exactly paralleled the shift in position by leading socialist Mussolini (he was the editor of the newspaper of the Italian socialists) a few years before, at the outbreak of World War One. Mussolini and many others “had come to see Italy’s problems as being nationally specific, which could not be addressed in the orthodox univeral Marxist terms of capitalist crisis and class conflict. Italy’s unique problems of under-development and national disunity were brought into sharp focus by the country’s mobilisation for war. The issue was … the chronic alienation of state and society … an unrepresentative parliamentary system and a corrupt and unproductive liberal political class” [Morgan 2004]. ‘Fascism’ was ‘national socialism’, as explicitly labelled in the German copying of the Italian model: a Marxian splintering, not a political-Right manifestation. Revolution overthrowing elites in favour (ostensibly) of the masses was hardly any form of conservatism – and neither was ‘fascism’ ‘racist’: the ‘racism’ of the Nazis was bolted on as an historically deep-rooted aberration peculiar to Germany, which was not shared by Italy. That ‘fascism’ is the bogeyman of Marxism/socialism is through the former being derived from the latter, leaving little to distinguish them, which on the political-Left famously leads to fierce internecine conflict. All nationalism – whether emerging as a bastardisation of Marxist ‘theory’ or otherwise – clearly is in essence a politics of commonality, whereas ‘identity politics’ concerns sub-division of society into abstract categories to constitute faux ‘groups’ in supposed opposition to the ‘group’ with ‘power’.
There has been wide discussion within academia that it is difficult to understand the nature of ‘identity politics’, but this is as would be expected of a system of thought which is not what it purports to be. Calhoun [1994 p29] reveals ‘identity politics’ to only ostensibly concern actual ‘oppression’ / ‘disadvantage’, when he asks: “… rather than being surprised by the prevalence of identity politics and seeking to explain it, should we not consider whether it is more remarkable and at least as much in need of explanation that many people fail to take up projects of transforming shared identities or the treatment afforded them?” The reason is that the identities in ‘identity politics’ do not arise within ‘groups’ themselves but are conferred according to what can be posited in opposition to ‘the workers’. Thus are ignored actually ‘oppressed’ and ‘disadvantaged’ categories wholly or mainly comprising males, whilst included are those not in reality comprising the ‘oppressed’ and ‘disadvantaged’; and inasmuch as ‘groups’ in any way are, as they purport, indeed ‘oppressed’ and ‘disadvantaged’, this is overturned either through being stretched in their inclusiveness beyond credulity (as with ‘ethnic minority’) or narrowed to the point of absurdity (as with the minuscule minority that is trans-sexual).
Another window on ‘identity politics’ as being not what it seems is a fatal contradiction that is the major criticism in academic discourse today, highlighted by many, perhaps first by Gitlin : “For all the talk about the social construction of knowledge, identity politics de facto seems to slide towards the premise that social groups have essential identities. At the outer limit, those who set out to explode a fixed definition of humanity end by fixing their definitions of blacks and women”. The paradox is that the insistent political demand that all individuals are the same – not least so as to establish entitlement to equal treatment – itself negates the very purported non-equivalence that supposedly establishes any need that there may be for redress in the first place. And if instead it is held that there are major differences – as those on the ‘essentialist’ side of the debate contend — then equality would be better realised not by providing treatments that are the same, but by ones that are accordingly different. Yet, the firm belief that all is socially constructed pretends no difference that is not an arbitrary and merely temporary playing out of ‘power’ interactions, which equal treatment is intended (supposedly in time) to nullify. The circle of ‘reasoning’ is vicious. The feminist core of ‘identity politics’ is a mess of self-contradiction in just this manner: simultaneously holding that women and men are quintessentially different whilst insisting that they are exactly the same. Recognised generally by theorists of feminism as a serious and seemingly intractable problem, it is the source of long-standing internecine fractious debate showing little sign of diminishing.
These distinct absences of internal consistency in the ‘theory’ are the direct consequence of its origination and development as an attempt to hide uncomfortable truths within academic political-Left politics; not to address issues in the real world. That it is hopelessly contradictory, in the end is beside the point to the ideologues, who rely on the contradictions to keep their juggled clubs in the air (so to speak); but the lack even of internal (let alone external) consistency is a confirmation of the non-sustainability of ‘identity politics’ ‘theory’, contributing to what inevitably, as for any and every ideology, is its eventual demise. Yet there is the distinct possibility that this may not arrive until after ‘identity politics’ (or however else it is tagged, and whatever else to which it morphs) has grown unstoppably to become yet another recapitulation of ‘the terror’. It’s now well on the way, with the totalitarianism continuing to ratchet upwards. ‘Identity politics’ is now so entrenched across ‘Western’ society that it has a life of its own well beyond the latter-day now quite intense critique of it from within the academia that spawned it. Such critique does not, however, extend to uncovering the actual origin and function of the ideology, indicating that this is just another phase in the endless attempted face-saving by the political-Left intelligentsia.
Underlying the more proximal explanations of ‘identity politics’ and ‘postmodernism’, ultimately are the wellsprings of politics in general: what might be termed ‘competitive altruism’ masking perennial universal status-striving. Bidding for social pre-eminence is a combination of trying to acquire rank within society and also to be part of a pre-eminent in-group – one that is almost as separate from society as it is at its apex. Elitist-separatism. Implicitly (that is, beneath any conscious awareness, or in only dim awareness) this is what the political-Left foundationally, if unwittingly, is concerned with achieving. Through the ideological conceptualising of society in terms of cooperation, with any competition considered aberrational, those with a political-Left ethos are left peculiarly blind to their own competitiveness. Indeed, their ideology is very much a displaced expression of it, and explains the peculiarly vehement bigotry of its adherents, and why supposed ‘proletarian’ revolution invariably produced a tyranny, and one that is actually directed towards the ‘proletariat’, not by it. The politics espoused of egalitarianism is a competitive-altruistic feint to assist the otherwise standard status-grab. Functioning to deny the legitimacy of any rival elitist-separatists and their ethos, it dupes not only others aspiring though as yet failing to be part of an elite, but precludes even self-awareness of their own elitist-separatist aspirations by political-Left adherents themselves. It is in respect of this, ultimately, that are deployed the intense and protracted attempts to salve cognitive-dissonance so prominent a part of political-Left experience. The great paradox here is that in their strident efforts somehow to transcend human nature, the political-Left confirm its reality. Any such philosophically illiterate notion that we can ever ‘transcend’ ourselves is unlikely again to so easily hold sway, given the insulation to such a self-evidently foolish idea the political-Left in the end inadvertently looks set to gift us. A related, supreme irony is that the very charge made against ‘the workers’ of a psychological dysfunctionality in supposedly not being able to see what is in their own best interests, boomerangs back on political-Left adherents as actually their myopia in respect of the psychology of their own ethos. It is not that Neo-Marxism/ ‘identity politics’/ ‘political correctness’/ ‘postmodernism’ is an altruism that is in fact disguised self-interest: it’s nothing of the sort. In the service of its own ends, the political-Left ethos adopted a deception designed to fail to identify the actually ‘disadvantaged’ / ‘oppressed’, expressly so as to make their condition still worse, as a form of revenge on those regarded as ungrateful for past efforts on their behalf (though not that anyway these efforts were other than ‘competitive altruism’). It is hard to think of a political fraud as great (as deep, wide, successful and sustained) as this in history, or even to devise one in mischievous imagination.
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