Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Left out!

I never knew that such a term existed! Slipping from sciences into humanities, I came to know that every thing can be (or rather should be) named. One academic term, which resounded throughout, was identity politics. This was the politics of what each one of us have at birth (and hardly change afterwards): an identity, largely defined by social norms. And obviously such a large category must have intense politics behind it. Who else but the Left has embraced this term generously.

Susan Neiman is a moral philosopher whose recent book, Moral Clarity clears up the clot in the Left: moral confusion. Authority morally mauls the Left that is left with no other option but to take up an anti-authoritarian stance. This stance, an inheritance from the 1960s, has bought with it a fatal aversion to moral prescription. Despising any thing that is moral –or blamed as puritanical– has become so fashionable that “We would rather be ruined than changed/ We would rather die in our dread/ Than climb the cross of the moment.”

Identities surely count. For groups, which have been systemically and unjustly excluded from public life, collective self-assertion is often the recourse. Yet the Left overvalues identity to such an extent that an all-encompassing program, far from being impossible, is just inconceivable. Morals are treated as abstract arguments and anyone doing so is a despicable idealist. Consequently, identity politics rebuffs reason in favour of brute, existential claims concerning group interest. Gang up into groups –communist or otherwise– and renounce your personal challenge to resurrect yourself to the group that will take care of it. Wait for a Foucault or Derrida to come rescue you(r) group. This groupthink is what Orwell feared would result in mind-numbing authoritarianism.

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