And a guide for how to productively push back against the identity trap.
The thinking of Foucault, et al is plagued by a terrible internal contradiction. It asserts:
1) Group relations are inexorably determined by group interests and power relationships.
2) The only recourse for historically marginalized groups is to "tribe up" and deny any shared interest or affinity with any other group.
But if #1 is true, pursuing #2 will inevitably end in failure, since these groups are--after all--minorities that lack power, and will thus inevitably lose out. When everybody "tribes up," minorities ultimately end up worse off, not better off. This is happening right now in parts of the Western world where there has been a majority backlash. For an example of how this can end, consider the former Yugoslavia.
The only truly viable solution for historically marginalized minorities is to acknowledge and emphasize that everyone in society has a great deal in common and use that as a basis for marching forward arm-in-arm with like-minded members of the majority and other groups. That is how the progress of the Civil Rights movement was achieved and it is the only way any future progress will be achieved.
This excerpt is good, as is the whole book, which I just finished.
However, I think that Yascha Mounk could add an additional argument, which would appeal at the very least to empirically-oriented social scientists. The argument is: although obviously "marginalized people" have some knowledge from their lived experience that is valuable and can be learned from -- they have an intuitive grasp of how the social problem in question FEELS -- this does not mean that "marginalized people" have some special claim to understanding how best to SOLVE the social problem in question.
So, perhaps low-wage workers know more immediately how it FEELS to be working long hours at a low-wage dead-end job in which you are treated poorly. But this does not mean that any particular low-wage worker, or even a group purporting to represent low-wage workers, necessarily knows the best way to SOLVE this problem of too-low wages. Should the solution be a higher minimum wage? A higher earned income tax credit? Easier unionization? Macro policy to make the overall U.S. labor market tighter? Job training to help more people get into better jobs? Place-based policies to help bring better jobs to distressed places that do not have enough good jobs?
Of course, this does not mean that society needs to immediately defer to some empirically-oriented economist like me who claims some research expertise on these issues. We should listen to "experts", but not worship them, as often experts overstate what is truly known and what is merely regarded as plausible based on the current evidence.
But on the other hand we shouldn't assume that some annointed representative of the marginalized group knows the correct policy solution, or mix of policy solutions, that will be most cost-effective in addressing the problem at affordable costs.
In solving social problems, we clearly need to listen to diverse groups -- the groups most affected, social scientists, other groups -- and make decisions democratically, after debating the proposed alternatives. No one perspective should "trump" all other perspectives. We should not expect everyone to be "accountable" to some annointed representatie of the marginalized group in how we address the social problem. And we should be open to changing our mind based on new empirical evidence.
It reminds me of 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘊𝘭𝘰𝘴𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘰𝘧 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘈𝘮𝘦𝘳𝘪𝘤𝘢𝘯 𝘔𝘪𝘯𝘥, in that it purports to show how serious ideas of European philosophy spawned half-baked American popularizations, unaware of their provenance and therefore of their contradictions.
After reading this, I hate to use the phrase “as a black American,” but I feel I have personal perspective as a black American about the harm of identity politics.
The most important thing here that echoes my own experience is that there is not one perspective per group but real, genuine, sincere viewpoint diversity among minorities, even about basic facts and “lived experience.” Not everything said by whites that goes against the identity politics narrative is due to their racism. Many blacks think the same thing! For instance, rather than living an oppressed life marked by irradicable racism, I have been treated quite fairly and have had an enriching, self-actualizing life absent any meaningful racism (barring schoolyard insults that had no broader life impact). I do not live in any active fear of police and have never been stopped or profiled by an officer. I do not believe in the notion of “cultural appropriation” (it flies in the face of everything we know about social history), and the phrase “white privilege” makes me cringe (I grew up more socioeconomically privileged than most whites). I know my experiences might not be representative, and I am lucky to have grown up with many advantages, but that still goes to show immutable identity isn’t everything.
The tacit racism I have, in fact, most experienced is the assumption that many people make that because I am black, I must have certain disadvantages (which I don’t have), that I can be assumed to hold certain views (that I don’t), that I must be particularly interested in “black” things to the exclusion of “white” things (which is the default and therefore anything not explicitly “black”), that black people who think and act in certain ways are inherently “inauthentic” or even “sell-outs” regardless of background or previous exposure. It took a while for to shuck off these insidious ideas.
This is truly fantastic work. My background is the ethics of authenticity via Sartre and Barnes. You have captured the problem of post modernism perfectly. My truth is your truth is false.
I was watching the original Planet of the Apes the other day, and when they talked about a character's "identity", they meant who they are as an individual.
There is so much wrong with this piece. It's built on so many straw men that it might be a fire hazard. I don't have the time right now to dissect this monstrosity (I like to cook dinner, spend time with my beautiful wife, listen to music and drink some beers around this time of day.), but I promise, over the next few days, to deliver a point by point rebuttal. Stay tuned. I promise this will be entertaining.
Yascha writes: "But we are yet to consider the fourth claim: that the comparatively privileged should defer to the claims of the comparatively marginalized."
Another straw man argument. He is making it seem as if progressives are arguing that the comparatively privileged should always, without question "defer to the claims of the comparatively marginalized." I don't know anyone who thinks likes that. Nor do you.
Yascha writes: "The second core claim of standpoint theory has also been called into doubt. Even insofar as many members of a relevant group do have common experiences, it is not clear that these bestow an overall advantage in understanding the world."
Another straw man argument. Who is claiming that members of a less privileged group have "an overall advantage in understanding the world"?
The claim that progressives are making is that they bring a different perspective to the table and that we members of the privileged group ought to, as a matter of fairness take that perspective into account. No one is claiming that members of less privileged groups have a superior understanding of the world. No one.
Yascha write: "The first core claim of standpoint theory runs into trouble because it is extremely hard to identify meaningful experiences that all members of a socially relevant group share."
This is a straw man argument. No one ever said ALL. And in fact Yascha knows that because he inserted the word "virtually" in front of the world "all" in his own formulation. It is a broad generalization. It is understood by virtually everyone that there are bound to be exceptions.
There is significant variation in the exact nature of these views. But four interlocking claims are particularly central to the forms of standpoint theory that now routinely influence public debate:
1. There is a set of significant experiences that (virtually) all members of (particular) oppressed groups share.
2. These experiences give members of the group special insight into the nature of their oppression and other socially relevant facts.
3. Members of the group cannot fully or satisfactorily communicate these experiences to outsiders, even insofar as they have important political implications.
4. When an oppressed group makes political demands based on the identity its members share, outsiders should defer to them.
I think the first three are generally correct. But I have a problem with claim number four. Yascha makes it sound as if the privileged should automatically and unquestioningly defer to the less privileged even if they are being unreasonable.
That's not true. DEI training is about making people aware that life is more challenging for less privileged groups of people and that we need to make a special effort to try to understand their point of view because it doesn't necessarily come naturally to us, especially if we don't have much interaction with members of less privileged groups. No one is suggesting that we must automatically defer to less privileged people, even when they are saying something crazy and unfounded.