Saturday, November 14, 2009

Identity without ideology

"But, if feminism becomes a politics of identity, it can safely be drained of ideology. Identity politics isn’t much concerned with abstract ideals, like justice. It’s a version of the old spoils system: align yourself with other members of a group—Irish, Italian, women, or whatever—and try to get a bigger slice of the resources that are being allocated. If a demand for revolution is tamed into a simple insistence on representation, then one woman is as good as another. You could have, in a sense, feminism without feminists."

- Ariel Levy, Lift and Separate, New Yorker Nov 16 2009.


Identification without ideology means power without purpose; you end up with a louder voice, but with less to say.

The really treacherous part of this is that the impulse towards identity politics is generally well-meaning. It's tempting to be inclusive; after all, there's strength in numbers. But that strength can only be used to achieve the lowest common agenda, and every new constituency you include diminishes the scope of that agenda further, so that in the end you're left with a mass that is all gravity, and no force. In a sense, identity politics is a local optimum - any movement from the status quo comes with an immediate cost and an uncertain (though potentially significant) benefit.

United we stand for nothing, and very still.

1 comment:

Ana said...

This is why I am not a feminist, even though I stood up for gender issues in more than one occasion. It was just that I have too much pride to be one’s rug.
Why I’m not (ideologically) a feminist it’s another story. I was just surprised to be looked upon as feminist just because I am a woman with some self-respect. So I’m glad each time I discover another person who is seeing feminism as it should be seen, that is not just another politics of identity.
“United we stand for nothing, and very still.”- ah, the rise and fall of feminism in US . ”The Handmaid’s Tale “ and the not so fictional case of Sarah Palin…