Friday, March 19, 2021

Identitarianism

"Poison, Mutilate, and Sterilize" (Sailer) (in about 10 years, the buyer's remorse lawsuits over this are going to be overwhelming, and I marvel that the 'professionals' in this 'field' aren't more concerned about it).  "From Jenner to Dolezal: One Trans Good, the Other Not So Much" (Reed Jr.) (on the problems that trans-race poses for the intellectual proponents of trans-gender):

". . . race politics is not an alternative to class politics; it is a class politics, the politics of the left-wing of neoliberalism. It is the expression and active agency of a political order and moral economy in which capitalist market forces are treated as unassailable nature. An integral element of that moral economy is displacement of the critique of the invidious outcomes produced by capitalist class power onto equally naturalized categories of ascriptive identity that sort us into groups supposedly defined by what we essentially are rather than what we do. As I have argued, following Walter Michaels and others, within that moral economy a society in which 1% of the population controlled 90% of the resources could be just, provided that roughly 12% of the 1% were black, 12% were Latino, 50% were women, and whatever the appropriate proportions were LGBT people. It would be tough to imagine a normative ideal that expresses more unambiguously the social position of people who consider themselves candidates for inclusion in, or at least significant staff positions in service to, the ruling class.

This perspective may help explain why, the more aggressively and openly capitalist class power destroys and marketizes every shred of social protection working people of all races, genders, and sexual orientations have fought for and won over the last century, the louder and more insistent are the demands from the identitarian left that we focus our attention on statistical disparities and episodic outrages that "prove" that the crucial injustices in the society should be understood in the language of ascriptive identity. The Dolezal/Jenner contretemps stoked the protectionist reflexes of identitarian spokesperson guilds because it troubles current jurisdictional boundaries. Even before that, however, some racial identitarians had grown bolder in laying bare the blur of careerism and arbitrary, self-serving moralism at the base of this supposed politics. In an unintentionally farcical homage to Black Power era radicalism, various racial ventriloquists claiming to channel the Voices of the Youth leadership of the putative Black Lives Matter "movement" have lately been arguing that the key condition for a left alliance is that we all must "respect black leadership." Of course, that amounts to a claim to shut up and take whatever anyone who claims that status says or does. Those of us old enough to remember Black Power and the War on Poverty also will look around to see which funders or employers they’re addressing.

And, in apparent contradiction of the ontological principle of group authenticity on which the paradigm rests, reprise of the tawdriest features of Black Power hustling isn’t available only to officially recognized people of color. Joan Walsh, apparently having learned the strictures of "white allyship" from being chastened by prima inter pares bourgeois identitarian Melissa Harris-Perry, recently showed the depths of crude opportunism this discourse enables when she race-baited Bernie Sanders as an instrument of her effort to pimp for Hillary Clinton (see her "White Progressives’ Racial Myopia: Why Their Colorblindness Fails Minorities – And the Left"). For Walsh, it seems, black people don’t count among the millions who would be helped by Sanders’s social-democratic agenda, but Clinton, presumably, would show proper respect by hooking them up with a #Blacklivesmatter Facebook like.   

That points to the other way that this affair has exposed identitarianism’s irrational underbelly. The fundamental contradiction that has impelled the debate and required the flight into often idiotic sophistry is that racial identitarians assume, even if they give catechistic lip service – a requirement of being taken seriously outside Charles Murray’s world – to the catchphrase that "race is a social construction," that race is a thing, an essence that lives within us. If pushed, they will offer any of a range of more or less mystical, formulaic, breezy, or neo-Lamarckian faux explanations of how it can be both an essential ground of our being and a social construct, and most people are willing not to pay close attention to the justificatory patter. Nevertheless, for identitarians, to paraphrase Michaels, we aren’t, for instance, black because we do black things; that seems to have been Dolezal’s mistaken wish. We do black things because we are black. Doing black things does not make us black; being black makes us do black things. That is how it’s possible to talk about having lost or needing to retrieve one’s culture or define "cultural appropriation" as the equivalent, if not the prosaic reality, of a property crime. That, indeed, is also the essence of essentialism.  I’ll conclude by returning to the Dolezal/Jenner issue.  I can imagine an identitarian response to my argument to the effect that I endorse some version of wiggerism, or the view that "feeling black" can make one genuinely black. The fact is that I think that formulation is wrong-headed either way one lines up on it. Each position – that one can feel or will one’s way into an ascriptive identity or that one can’t – presumes that the "identity" is a thing with real boundaries. The issue of the line that Dolezal, who has now resigned her NAACP position, crossed that made her alleged self-representation unacceptable is interesting in this regard only because it highlights contradictions at the core of racial essentialism. In addition to the problems of articulating what confers racial authenticity, if what we have read about her approach to expressing black racial identity is accurate, she seems to have embraced an essentialist version of being black no less than do her outraged critics. Wiggers do so as well, and we must admit that Dolezal’s performance and apparent embrace of culturally recognized representations of black womanhood rests on an aesthetic purporting to embody respect and celebration rather than the demeaning racialist fantasies that shape the commercial personae of the likes of Iggy Azalea. Moreover, even if Dolezal may suffer from something like racial dysmorphia, the expression of her fixation has been tied up with commitment to struggle for social justice. She may have other personal problems and strained or bad relations with family members, but those are matters that concern her and those with whom she interacts. They do not automatically impeach the authenticity of her feelings of who she "really" is. And I doubt that we’d want to start a scorecard comparing her and Republican Jenner on that front.

The problem the Jenner comparison poses is that, if identity is inherent in us in ways that are beyond our volition, how can we legitimize transgender identity—which is gender identity that does not conform with that conventionally associated with biological sex type—without the psychological stigma of dysmorphia? Confounding of sex and gender is the ideological mechanism that seems to resolve that conundrum. Thus, notwithstanding my earlier suggestion that Talusan misses the cultural fluidity of gender because she is naïve anthropologically, she may also have an important ideological reason to deny it. It is only by treating gender roles as somehow endowed at birth that she can contend that transgender identity is "almost always involuntary." That is, in the context of essentializing political discourse, gender identity must express a condition as "natural" or inherent equivalent, or prior, to biological sex type. Transgender identity requires being read as in effect "hardwired" only within a normative framework in which access to the domain of recognizable identity deserving of civic regard depends on essentialist claims, and the only way transgender identity can meet that standard is to collapse distinctions between sex and gender – even though that move, as Burkett argues, cuts against the grain of the perspective the women’s movement has fought to advance for at least the last half-century. Nor does this view acknowledge the grave political mischief ideologies of essential human difference have underwritten in not at all distant history, from segregation and other forms legal discrimination and imposition of separate spheres to genocide.

The transrace/transgender comparison makes clear the conceptual emptiness of the essentializing discourses, and the opportunist politics, that undergird identitarian ideologies. There is no coherent, principled defense of the stance that transgender identity is legitimate but transracial is not, at least not one that would satisfy basic rules of argument. The debate also throws into relief the reality that a notion of social justice that hinges on claims to entitlement based on extra-societal, ascriptive identities is neoliberalism’s critical self-consciousness. In insisting on the political priority of such fictive, naturalized populations identitarianism meshes well with neoliberal naturalization of the structures that reproduce inequality. In that sense it’s not just a pointed coincidence that Dolezal’s critics were appalled with the NAACP for standing behind her work. It may be that one of Rachel Dolezal’s most important contributions to the struggle for social justice may turn out to be having catalyzed, not intentionally to be sure, a discussion that may help us move beyond the identitarian dead end."

"Disgraced comedy writer Graham Linehan boasts he’s back on Twitter with a ‘new sim card’ after being kicked off for a second time" (Wakefield).  "Graham Linehan accused of using House of Lords as ‘court of appeal’ to overturn his Twitter ban" (Maurice).  Linehan "created or co-created the sitcoms Father Ted (1995–1998), Black Books (2000–2004) and The IT Crowd (2006–2013).", which makes him the greatest creator of comedy shows of all time.
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