Anis Shivani ticks pretty much every box of the SJW ontology of identify, yet refuses to give up his Enlightenment heritage, deploying, reason, argument and merit based analysis to demonstrate that the left has already lost.
Responding to what he perceives as the ‘rise of white nationalism’, Salon writer Anis Shivani has penned a remarkable essay, exploring the fundamental dimensions of identity politics and ‘separatism, or the privileging of biological destiny’. ‘Liberals,’ Shivani writes, ‘have been on a relentless mission to transform people’s souls — to rid them of impure ideas about race and sexuality — for exactly the period of time that neoliberalism has deprived them of actual power to do anything about class inequality’.
The hyperfocus on biology and sexuality has given rise to an ideology that has crippled the left and turned them towards the totalitarian consequences that necessarily arise whenever the state (or its actors) tries to tell people how they must think and feel, rather than how they are required to conduct themselves in public. Calling identity politics ‘pernicious’ and related terms like intersectionality ‘terms of art’, Shivani goes on the detail five ways in which the central philosophy and ethos of the left is failing to quell the cultural dominance of the ‘alt-right’. He is particularly concerned that the younger generation of left-leaning thinkers are incapable of thinking beyond the boundaries of a narrowly defined ideology, which represents danger to the continued existence of the left as a whole.
Identity politics — the brand of communalism it flows from, i.e., multiculturalism, and the brand of expression it leads to, i.e., political correctness — is existentially unassailable for the young. They know no other means of self-understanding, artistic expression or personal solidarity. They can only be organized around this principle. They see the world strictly through this framework, not through some Enlightenment perspective of universal human rights irrespective of one’s biological identity. The trendy concept of “white privilege,” unmoored from class conditions, exemplifies this simplistic tendency.
According to Shivani,
- Culture trumps politics – ‘Obama was immune to liberal criticism, because he fit the identity politics matrix so perfectly. He may have ruthlessly deported millions of people, kept in place and strengthened the entire extra-constitutional surveillance apparatus, and escalated illegal drone attacks and assassinations, but the color of his skin provided immunity from real criticism’.
- Economics gets subtracted from the equation, too – ‘The identitarians, if pressed to the wall on this, will say that these emphases [on culture, identity, politics, economics] are not exclusive, but in reality they never do it, because there is no mental space left to pursue classical economic issues. If they think of inequality, they think in terms of racial inequality as the fount of all inequality, not the concrete economic terms in which equality can be achieved’.
- The third law of thermodynamics activates an equal reaction in the opposite direction – ‘Whenever a misguided movement tries to alter people’s thoughts and intentions, rather than limiting itself to people’s performance and action in the transparent democratic arena, then totalitarianism is the necessary result’.
- Identity politics is not winnable – ‘The more a particular group becomes validated in the broader culture’s eyes, the less it feels satisfied with the recognition, and the more it feels it needs more of that rush of acknowledgment and credit based on identity alone. There is no end to it. It becomes a substitute for reward in the capitalist sphere, which is disconnected to identity, as though the economic self were private and identity were public — an odd division, since historically the norm has been the opposite’.
- It leads to spectacle, rather than legislative accomplishment – ‘[T]o those playing the Dreamers game — or any other aspect of identity politics — it seems like a hopeful, enchanting, magical discourse, where merely the act of declaring one’s identity seems to hold its own fulfillment. Whether or not laws change in consequence seems almost secondary. Trump recently signaled he was going to rescind DACA; the Dreamers played a deadly game with identity politics, and they lost’.
Shivan expresses his distress that the left appears to have abandoned the notion of individual freedoms, especially the freedoms of thought, association and speech, and has instead delivered those battles to leading cultural warriors on the right.
Long before Milo Yiannopoulos and his fellow “alt-lite” agitators took up arms against the kind of speech infringements and outright censorship that liberal identity politics has engendered, that should have been our cause. Unfortunately, the continued acceleration in that direction is inexorable.
Shivani betrays the identitarians on the left by engaging the right on the evidence of their arguments as opposed to the perceived moral advantages conveyed by identities. Resisting the reduction of human beings to a biological determinant forms the very heart of the Enlightenment, born of centuries of bloodshed and battle.
The left’s refusal to defend fundamental human freedoms based on actions, policies, economics, accomplishment and above all, merit, is why the culture war victories accrue now principally to the right.
Featured image via AnisShivani.com