Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Left Attempts to Make Another Term Meaningless

Not long after writing a post in which I noted that certain words and phrases have lost any real meaning, and serve only as indicators about the people using them, I happened across this article at Open Left. Annoyed by pundits on the right decrying "identity politics"in the choice of Judge Sotomeyer, Chris Bowers wants to redefine the phrase by applying it to things conservatives are doing -- none of which have any relation to the long-understood definition of the term. Here's the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's entry on identity politics.
The laden phrase “identity politics” has come to signify a wide range of political activity and theorizing founded in the shared experiences of injustice of members of certain social groups. Rather than organizing solely around belief systems, programmatic manifestoes, or party affiliation, identity political formations typically aim to secure the political freedom of a specific constituency marginalized within its larger context. Members of that constituency assert or reclaim ways of understanding their distinctiveness that challenge dominant oppressive characterizations, with the goal of greater self-determination.
And here is Bower's idea of what he thinks constitutes identity politics.
"America is a Christian nation." Arguing that American government should be largely based on a particular religious identity is identity politics. 

"Democrats are socialists." Calling an opposing political party "socialists," when even the left-wing of that party is proposing directing only 3% more of the economy to public social spending, is pure identity politics rather than a charge with any intellectual merit. 

"Marriage is between a man and a woman." Given that marriage has taken on numerous forms throughout history, and still takes on numerous forms throughout the world today, this is not an actual historical argument but instead one based on identity preferences. 

Mocking people because of what they eat, including arugula, is pure identity politics. 

Calling America "the greatest nation on earth" is also pure identity politics. If such claims were simply quantitative, ie that America has the largest economy, or the largest military, that would be one thing. However, abstract claims about qualitative "greatness" are entirely subjective and identity based. 

"Traditional values." Oh yeah, that's identity politics, rather than a historical re-enactment.

None of those things have anything to do with identity politics, and some fall clearly into other well-known categories. For example, making fun of people eating arugula is a form of populism. Bowers is attempting to destroy the meaning of "identity politics" by pretending that it encompasses pretty much anything. If just about any political expression can be labeled as identity politics, the term becomes utterly meaningless.

No comments:

Post a Comment