As America polices its cultural transgressions, are there blind spots it should be aware of?
By Elijah Huntington
Should a racist be elected president? The obvious answer is no. Why? Because most rational citizens have agreed the concept of prejudice based on arbitrary principals, namely race, is wrong. That line has been drawn and become increasingly clear since the fall of the radical right-wing Nazi Germany and the dismantlement of Jim Crow laws. The words racist, or Nazi, or Klan enthusiast, at their lowest create the immediate impression these people are not rational thinkers. But when is it apparent that the scales have slipped too far in the opposite direction? Think of the cataclysm of Soviet gulags, massacres in Maoist China, or the human-suffering generated in socialist Venezuela; what ideology or system of ideologies created such devastation?
Looking at the political commonalities which lead to those catastrophes, including what happened in Nazi Germany and the Confederate States of America, a trend emerges. Called “identity politics” the trend is a tool used to compartmentalize the political, economic, and social spheres into identifiable groups which interact and influence the spheres. Depending on the given ideology the group identities differ, although a narrative of oppressor and oppressed manifests in far-left regimes and the idea of racial superiority appears in extreme right regimes. In the Russian communist revolt, it was the bourgeoisie against the proletariat, in Nazi Germany the Arian race stood above all others. Indeed, even in America both identarian ideas have appeared. Jim Crow laws were in effect until 1964 and more modernly the oppressor and oppressed narration of Caucasians against other racial groups, the patriarchy against women, homophobes against homosexuals, and so on have dominated political discourse.
This political game is a clear crossing point on either end of the extreme conservative to radical liberal spectrum, as the ideas are no longer dealing with the individual, but rather the group.
The inherent danger in this group think process exposes itself when individuals align with specific groups and by extension assign everyone else into groups. In the modern radical left, groups such as gays, black, and white cisgender males are arranged into a hierarchy based on their level of oppression with the most oppressed groups on top. Individuality is irrelevant because experience and ability can only be attributed to your group and every group has different levels of exposure to oppression. In the most extreme leftist cases, the dismantlement of the entire social structure and eradication of class is the goal. On the other end of the spectrum, one race is superior and all others are forced to be second class or worse. On one side, genocide, enslavement, and disadvantagement in the name of race is justified; on the other, genocide, enslavement, and disadvantagement in the name of equality and protection and is justified.
This political game is a clear crossing point on either end of the extreme conservative to radical liberal spectrum, as the ideas are no longer dealing with the individual, but rather the group. Tribalistic tendencies emerge as the perceived groups are ridiculed. Group identities classified as oppressors are persecuted for their privilege within leftist doctrine, and on the right the oppressed classes become increasingly dehumanized and restricted. Despite the peril of identity politics director of research and editor in chief of the Philosophy Corner Laura Maguire articulates, “So long as some people are marginalized, victimized, or oppressed because of their identities, we will need identity politics.” After all, activists in the civil rights movement employed identity politics to gain equal standing in society for African Americans.
Identity politics was a necessary remedy to itself, breaking the barrier between the black and white races so individuals could be seen as individuals. Given this, it can be said that the game of identity politics is not the best indicator the discourse has traveled too far. There is not complete assurance they have stepped into tyrannical doctrine, though it is certainly a line that needs to be recognized and handled carefully. The necessity for balance requires tools to recognize the extremes – such as racism being the epithet of the right – as well as irrefutable justification for why such an ideology, like racism, is so damaging. Today, racism is considered unequivocally wrong and American politics seem to be falling into the opposite trap. So, what signs are to be sought out on the left? What can accurately alert us to malicious leftism?
Equity, despite its traditional meaning, has become the idea of equality of outcome – not equality of opportunity.
Another occurring trend when leftism go too far is increased authoritarianism. Authoritarianism on its own is not so damning, certain levels of government regulation will always be necessary and to a degree helpful. However, when mixed with identity politics it becomes deadly. When this politically possessed concoction evinces, citizens give up their individuality for the sake of conformance to authoritatively dictated norms to achieve whatever balance is being demanded. This is a dangerous gamble which has been lost in every country where the government’s dictum attempts to control the social and economic spheres. The government forces balance by assigning citizens to jobs, causing dramatically counterproductive unbalancing. This is expressed by a surviving citizen of the USSR: “many did not receive… enjoyable tasks. Suicide was high in graduates who got lifelong commitments to hard labor. She spoke of dire situations in hospitals with lack of staff and medical supplies” (Cyndy).
The most terrifying realization is how often this concept occurs. When governments try to enforce balance, equity manifests. Equity, despite its traditional meaning, has become the idea of equality of outcome – not equality of opportunity. Leftists perceive imbalance in the social or economic spheres of society and conclude the system must be modified. This is useful and necessary to achieve balance when repressed individuals need a voice. Policies such as affirmative action enforce equality of opportunity, not equity. Affirmative action ensured companies hired minorities to create equal opportunity with white Americans at a time when it was most necessary. This is where the disconnect between equality and equity begins.
While equality advocates for a fair competence hierarchy where everyone has the same chance, equity enforces an even split of men and women and/or racial groups in all areas. In the name of equity, bars for STEM fields have been lowered for women and minorities, advancing one social class and disadvantaging another (Switzler). It was shown in a 2004 study that “Elite universities give added weight in admission decisions to applicants who… are African American, or are recruited athletes. A smaller, but still important, preference is shown to Hispanic students and to children of alumni” (Espenshade). This is very similar to separate but equal policies as a class of people is supposedly equal, but actually has an advantage over other classes. Perhaps enforced equity can be identified as the dangerous twin term of racism, but certainly the idea leads to radical and unfair judgments. It can at least be said the combination of authoritarian oriented, equity driven, identity politic scheming leftism is as threatening as government instituted racist rightism.
- Cyndy, Arthur. “Fall Of Communism In Russia.” AllAboutPhilosophy.org, All About Philosophy, 16 Sept. 2005, http://www.allaboutphilosophy.org/fall-of-communism-in-russia-faq.htm.
- Espenshade, Thomas J., et al. “Admission Preferences for Minority Students, Athletes, and Legacies at Elite Universities.” Princeton University, June 2004, http://www.princeton.edu/~tje/files/webAdmission%20Preferences%20Espenshade%20Chung%20Walling%20Dec%202004.pdf.
- Maguire, Laura. “Identity Politics.” Philosophy Talk, 14 July 2016, http://www.philosophytalk.org/blog/identity-politics.
- Switzler, Joseph. “How My Company Is Lowering the Bar to Increase Diversity.” Medium, Medium, 27 Apr. 2016, medium.com/@josephswitzler/how-my-company-is-lowering-the-bar-to-increase-diversity-bfb887d0ad53.
Photo: Rotorua by Denisbin on Flickr