The Intellectual Cancer of Identity Politics

The Nazi Party and the KKK taught us a valuable lesson at, what feels like, an infinite price. We can’t forget it.

The mainstream media is making Americans dumber. Considering how dumb they’ve historically been, that’s no small feat. The perpetrators of this atrocity belong to both the left and the right, but the majority of the blame belongs to the left. CNN, FOX and MSNBC are the worst offenders, but many online and radio news programs, such as The Young Turks, Secular Talk, and The David Pakman Show have helped spread the virus to their large followings. The virus is identity politics. The disease caused by identity politics is intellectual cancer. It squashes civil discourse and values allegiance to a particular tribe over reason and logic. The preservation of a particular narrative is more important than examining all of the facts in a situation. This makes Americans dumber and we simply can’t afford anymore stupidity.

Identity politics is not a new political or sociological term, but it has gained new significance in the last decade. In a nutshell, it means that people adopt political positions based on the demographic groups that they belong to, which include race, religion, gender, political ideology and everything else under the sun. At first glance, it doesn’t seem like a particularly dangerous idea; it actually seems quite intuitive. The votes of each citizen are obviously informed by the voter’s identity, which is shaped by the various demographic groups that he or she belongs to. Problems arise when tribalism overtakes logic as the primary determinant of political allegiance.

Back in 2004, Jon Stewart famously went on CNN’s Crossfire and criticized Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala for engaging in “partisan hackery.” Begala and Carlson countered that they were engaging in debate, but Stewart rightly characterized their corrosive brand of political theater as “dishonest” and claimed that they were “hurting America.” Fourteen years later, the media’s idea of debate epitomizes the identity politics that Stewart lambasted. In televised exchanges that third graders would be ashamed of, commentators and pundits scream over one another. This happens every single day.

These “debates” that the main stream media continuously broadcast are dishonest because the only thing that the participants care about is making their ideological opponents look stupid. Panelists on CNN only have a few minutes to make their case, and often have to share the screen with five other commentators. They’re usually paid activists that are backed by special interests and, therefore, are only concerned with furthering their agenda or the agenda of their political sponsors, not the intellectual pursuit of truth. The ‘debates’ always follow the same pattern: each tribe gives their elevator speech and tries to talk over the other tribes while the others are giving their pitches. The pundit’s job is to discredit the opposition’s narrative and make his or her narrative on a topic seem more credible. That’s identity politics in action.

True, honest debate involves a synthesis of ideas; opponents listen to one another and come to agreements on certain issues, and agree to disagree on others. Part of honest debate is making concessions as a result of sound arguments. It’s extremely difficult to find instances of honest debate on any of the major networks, largely because of the time constraints. The burgeoning podcast industry, YouTube shows and other non-traditional media outlets provide forums where public intellectuals can sit down for extended periods of time and engage in civil discourse. I would much rather see Sam Harris talk with Ben Shapiro on a podcast than watch pundits on CNN incessantly spout out talking points for the hundredth time in a row. Unsurprisingly, comedians also have some great podcasts and online shows that feature great discussion. For example, Joe Rogan’s extremely popular podcast contains a ton of meaty dialogue with popular intellectual figures.

Part of what makes these non-traditional media outlets so appealing is their ability to examine individual issues in great detail and with great precision. These intellectual don’t subscribe to the “package deal” philosophy of identity politics. They adopt what they think are sound positions and oppose those positions that they disagree with, based on the facts. The obsession with identity politics has created a phenomenon where an individual has to adopt every orthodox viewpoint of the group that they’re affiliated with; if they don’t, then they’re maligned by the group for their non-conformity. This creates pressure for a person to adopt the positions that their group subscribes to on ALL issues. Tribalism of this ilk squashes honest debate and hinders progress because orthodox positions have to be accepted without question. If a rebel pushes back on a hot-button issue, he risks being shunned.

As a progressive, I have to admit that the worst practitioners of identity politics come from the left. The right has started its own version of identity politics, but it’s largely confined to a ridiculous narrative that says that white men are under attack from all sides. Meanwhile, the social justice warriors on the left have begun an all-out war of intellectual terrorism. Merely suggesting doubts about a group’s position on a particular issue will invoke a firestorm of controversy from the group’s supporters. Civil protest is enshrined in our First Amendment, but that doesn’t condone the use of fear to stop someone from exercising their right to speak on a issue.

There are lots of examples of this phenomenon. Critics of affirmative actions are called racists by many liberals. Public intellectuals on both sides of the political spectrum (Bill Maher & Jordan Peterson, to name two) have been criticized for expressing concern about the utility and the effects of non-binary gender pronouns, such as ze, hir, per and tey. They have been called bigots, abusers, trans-phobic and other insults for simply wanting to examine the policy more rigorously. No one advocated for the trans community to be disrespected or maligned. Sound public policy requires examination and debate. It shouldn’t be accepted by everyone on the left just because it falls within the category of LGBTQ+ rights, which is an issue that the left has always advocated for.

The left stands for human rights, with specific emphasis on LGBTQ+ rights and women’s rights. It also has been hypersensitive to Islamophobia. There are many instances where leftist intellectuals have voiced concerns about certain Islamic texts and doctrines that pose problems for human, women’s and LGBTQ+ rights. Those criticisms were met with accusations of racism, bigotry, Islamophobia and attempts by certain leftist public intellectuals to discredit the credentials of those asking the questions. Islam is not a race; it is a set of ideas, but because anti-Islamophobia efforts are an orthodox cause of the left, leftists attack critics, even when those critics are concerned about human rights abuses.

John McCain died last week. I was saddened because he was one of the few Republicans that had the moral courage to do what was right, even when it meant going against his party. He was an example of how to fight identity politics and tribalism. When the time came to vote to repeal Obamacare, McCain voted no because it was the right thing to do. I don’t agree with most of McCain’s views, but I admire the way that he reached across the aisle to govern, the way that he made friendships with political opponents and the sacrifice that he made for this country.

Many people, Republican and Democrat, lamented McCain’s death. Unfortunately, there were also many millennial leftists that felt the need to counter all of the positive comments that people said about McCain, with a disclaimer to his legacy. Social justice warriors across the internet noted how McCain had been unfaithful to his wife and married a younger woman when he came back from Vietnam. These posts were meant to show that he wasn’t that great of man, because he did bad things; he was a Republican after all. I found those messages disgusting. That’s how low identity politics has taken us. People felt the need to say that a man who was tortured for five years, but declined to go home early, wasn’t a real hero because he cheated on his wife. McCain was for the other team, so they felt the need to take him down a couple of notches. Those slanders were in immensely poor taste and I was saddened by the comments.

Everyone agrees that a civil society is a good thing. A civil society includes the freedom of speech. It necessitates that people talk to one another and, more importantly, listen to one another. Identity politics doesn’t encourage people to listen; it encourages them to shout over one another. It suspends critical thinking because all that a person needs to do to determine which position she takes on an issue, is to check what her group or tribe believes about that issue. Climate change, guns, gay marriage and affirmative actions are completely unrelated issues. Yet, because of identity politics, a person’s position on any one of those issues will likely accurately predict their position on the others. We, as a society, need to remember John McCain’s example: examine the facts and do what’s right, even if it’s not the popular thing to do. That’s how we cure the intellectual cancer.

4 Comments

  1. Hi Mary, thank you for your comment. It certainly does seem that way some times. According to the Washington Post and an Annenberg Public Policy Center, only 36 percent of Americans can actually name the three branches of government the Constitution created. It’s sad that intellectualism has almost become a political liability.

  2. Sorry, it’s not me, it’s the editing. I meant to say that Americans do not have a monopoly on stupidity. Wherever it began, it’s spread and has become a first world disease. I don’t live in the US, but could really relate to a lot of what you had to say.

    1. Well, I can relate to that comment as well! Lol Populism and nationalism are popping up everywhere. It seems that stupidity and anger walk hand in hand.

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