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Ignore thine self, your identity politics are dangerous

Kenneth D. Gough • Apr 7, 2018 at 8:15 AM

Some years ago a professor at the University of Virginia, Dr. E.D. Hirsch (who describes himself as a “bleeding heart liberal”), stirred up a storm by arguing that there is a body of knowledge that any person who lives in a Western culture needs to be intimately familiar with if he is to be successful, that it was the job of the schools to teach it, and that they were failing at the job.

He was so persuasive that his approach was widely touted as a possible solution to the problems plaguing our schools. The strongest opposition came from academic education theorists and the teachers unions, who objected to having a mere PhD of English at one of the nation’s most prestigious public universities explain to them what they should be teaching or how they should be teaching it, no matter how poor their results.

But most people from the center-left to the far right adopted his idea. Which is when things went south. No sooner did that happen than moderates and conservatives, who were among the most enthusiastic supporters of Hirsch, became fierce critics of the curricula that were being developed. You see, it made a great deal of difference who wrote the Core Knowledge standards. The original academic critics had hijacked the process, and the resulting standards were a long way from what Hirsch and his supporters had in mind.

Today, the Core Curriculum stands discredited because of the blatant political agenda that the left/liberal standard writers tried to foist on the schools — a great pity.

Recently I’ve had a fascinating discussion about Identity Politics, with me arguing that it’s a dangerous menace, and my debating partner arguing that it’s nothing of the sort, and, in his opinion, nothing out of the ordinary. And he has a good point. Every political group is organized by like-minded people around ideas and policies that set them apart from their opponents — an identity. Thus, by definition, all politics are identity politics.

Yes, I’ll agree to that, but that’s as far as it goes. It makes all the difference in the world what the identity is. The Republicans and Democrats are political parties with more-or-less distinct identities. But so are the Nazis and the Communists, the Peronists in Argentina, and the United Socialists in Venezuela. Anyone care to have them in charge?

In fact, the simple act of calling it “Identity Politics” is an indication that it’s something out of the ordinary.

In the late 1960s or early 70s, some political theorists on the left became disenchanted with the approach to civil rights taken by Dr. Martin Luther King and his followers. His assassination in 1967 and the fierce resistance of traditionalists to the civil rights laws of the mid-60s convinced them that much of White America was never going to agree to the inclusionist ideal of King. And let’s face it, many of those “traditionalists” were unrepentant racists, about whom they were correct.

Thus, in the 1980s, academic writers began putting together what we now call identity politics, culling the thought of Karl Marx (class struggle), Friedrich Nietzsche (will to power) and Malcolm X (black power), among others, to justify themselves.

Identity politics is not about one’s individual identity, but about identity as part of a group, which overrides the individual and is necessarily in perpetual conflict with every other group. It says, we will always be excluded by those who have power (meaning the “white heterosexual patriarchy”) because they are selfish and have the will to power. We are the perpetual outsiders, and the only solution is to take power for ourselves and subjugate the others.

These are Marxist and Nietschean ideas that atomize and destroy the polity. They can’t help build a better, more just, more inclusive society, because they are built on resentment and intolerance. They deny righteousness to any but the supposedly oppressed, and provide no way to address that but to reverse the oppression; those on the bottom, move to the top. It’s an approach that the Ku Klux Klan is perfectly comfortable with, their only complaint being the relative rankings.

Do we want a nation permanently divided along lines of race, religion, sex, etc.? That is what the left’s current obsession with identity politics would give us – and it’s a complete, 180-degree reversal from the 1960s, when the left was all about inclusion.

Identity politics denies individuality, forces real people into arbitrary classes, separates and assigns value to those classes, and inevitably creates conflict between them. It is a medieval dead end. It is not OK for the Ku Klux Klan or the social justice warriors.

E pluribus unum; out of many, one. That is a worthy goal. Perpetual class conflict and subjugation are not.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed by all Community Voices columnists are their own and do not necessary reflect those of the Johnson City Press.

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