Friday, August 4, 2017

Positive and Negative Identity Politics

We live in an age of identity politics, but I had never thought that identity politics comes in two flavors. There is positive identity politics and there is negative identity politics. That is the argument of ZMan in "Positive and Negative." Here is how he presents the principle:
Identity movements, as cultural or even political phenomenon, come in two flavors. One is positive and the other is negative. A positive identity is one that exists independently and in isolation. It is true in all times and all places. Its logic is entirely internal and only modifiable by those within it.  A negative identity, in contrast, exists only in context, usually in relation to or in opposition to something else. It is dependent on some outside thing. Its logic is external and modifiable by whatever exogenous thing upon which it depends.
OK. What the heck does that mean? The easiest way is by defining the negative identity politics of blacks in the United States.
[S]ub-Saharan Africans come to America and refuse to call themselves black or even African-American. They have a different identity, their own identity. Black Americans are defined by the fact that whites needed farm equipment and brought blacks over to the colonies to work the fields. Everything about the black experience is in relation to this history and its alleged effects on the present. To be black in America is to be defined entirely by your relationship to white America. 
Icelanders, according to ZMan, define themselves as Icelanders.
Blacks, in contrast, do nothing but complain about whites. They define themselves in relation to whites, mostly in how they are treated by whites. 
This, in the opinion of ZMan, is not a good idea, because if you are a black you need whites around so you can complain about them. What if whites went away? What would the blacks do then, poor things?

Now, in the opinion of ZMan and others, what is coming is some kind of white identity politics, whether we whites like it or not. The thing to avoid is negative identity politics, defining white identity by "complaining about blacks and Jews."

Or complaining about liberals.

The way to avoid the negative road,  defining yourself against somebody else, is to form a "cultural movement," writes ZMan. Like the Progressives.

But actually, Progressives, and the left generally, define themselves against the bourgeoisie, against the middle class, conformism, God, and the patriarchy, and now cis-het-normativity. The purpose of liberals driving Priuses and shopping at organic grocery stores is to differentiate themselves from the mainstream, because liberals are Pharisees and not like other men are, publicans and sinners.

In many ways, therefore, the conservative movement of the post-WWII era was a negative movement against the liberals, or progressives, or whatever the left was calling itself at the moment. And the reason we have Trump is that this movement did not define itself in positive terms to be anything other than a reaction against liberalism. Without liberalism, conservatism would be nothing.

So what do we do?

The answer is obvious. The new cultural movement must identify itself as "American," like the black Americans that showed up at the great Tea Party rally in Washington DC in 2009. Don't call be a black American, they said. Call me an American that happens to be black.

So maybe the strategy for the alt-right and anyone else planning a new cultural movement is to create an American Identity politics, not  a white identity politics. This politics would celebrate America, from the Puritans to the Revolutionaries to the Founders to the separation of powers to the undergrowth of voluntary social organizations to the spirit of Having a Go, to the toleration of all races and creeds.

This movement would believe in one simple thing: America is the best there is, and we will make it better.

Anyone can join, provided that they the only thing they want is to Make America Great Again.

Hmm. The whole point of my American Manifesto, which starts here, is to re-establish the idea of America as the best there is, and to imagine how to make it better, in the life after Liberalism.

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