The march of identificationism toward the sea

Daniel A. Kaufman at the Electric Agora thinks we may be witnessing the beginning of the end of civil rights, as traditionally understood.

The fight for civil rights was born with the original women’s movement of the late 19th century and may very well may die with the contemporary gender-identity movement that has engulfed both feminist and gay and lesbian activism.  If allowed to continue and become even more generalized (and I don’t see why it wouldn’t, given its current trajectory), this “identificationism” will absorb the black, Latino, and other racial and ethnic justice movements as well.  What a bitter irony it is that after surviving more than a century under the relentless assault of the forces of reaction, the fight for civil rights may very well end in the name of progressivism.

I know exactly what he means. If it works for sex [“gender”] why wouldn’t it work for race and class too? If enough people believe it works for race and class too, and are enraged and venomous enough about it, why wouldn’t those people too be able to bully all their opponents off the public stage?

The modern conception of the self, Kaufman argues,

entails a rejection of the pre-modern idea that a person is defined entirely in terms of his or her position in a social framework that is governed by a normatively thick conception of natural law, in favor of the notion that (to a substantial degree) who we are is a matter of our internal consciousness and thus, is determined by us.  It was an idea whose ultimate aim was to ground the moral and political autonomy of the individual necessary for life in a modern, democratic polis.

We can see where this is going. We’ve been around this tree many many times. Yes liberalism relies on ideas about autonomy and self-making, but that doesn’t mean it thinks of the self as a magical sparkling soul.

What the reasonable version of this conception never entailed, however (substance dualism and noumenal selves aside), was a complete rejection of material or social reality, but this is precisely what contemporary identificationism does, maintaining that the individual is entirelyself-made; that who and what I am is a matter of my own consciousness and will alone, irrespective of nature or social consensus.  The result is an incoherent, unstable ground, on which identity and civil rights as traditionally understood can no longer be sustained.

Yep. That, plus there’s the fact that it’s such bullshit, and some of us have selves that dislike bullshit and really dislike being bullied and punished for not believing other people’s bullshit. Ya know? Be a Star Wars nerd all you like but don’t try to force me to be one too. Identify with Spock if you don’t want to but don’t try to force me to call you Spock in public outlets.

He explains about the bullying campaigns against “cis” lesbians yadda yadda.

You might think this little more than a weird fight, at the farthest reaches of radical politics, but you’d be wrong.  All of the major feminist and gay rights organizations have jumped on the identificationist bandwagon with aplomb, apparently oblivious to the fact that it entails the wholesale erasure of heterosexuality and homosexuality, as human phenomena.  And it is worldwide.  Consider, for example, the announcement for next year’s Lesbian Lives conference, at the University of Brighton, which indicates that:

The Lesbian Lives Conference is open to all genders and any political and sexual orientations. There is an ethos of welcome and accessibility. We particularly want to extend a welcome to bi and trans communities. The Lesbian Lives Conference has considered and signed a comprehensive statement of support for ‘Feminists Fighting Transphobia’ (2)

The statement laments those feminists who believe that women have been oppressed as a sex and that the feminist movement should remain a sex-focused one and brands them as bigots, akin to racists:

There has been a noticeable increase in transphobic feminist activity this summer: the forthcoming book by Sheila Jeffreys from Routledge; the hostile and threatening anonymous letter sent to Dallas Denny after she and Dr. Jamison Green wrote to Routledge regarding their concerns about that book; and the recent widely circulated statement entitled “Forbidden Discourse: The Silencing of Feminist Critique of ‘Gender,’” signed by a number of prominent, and we regret to say, misguided, feminists have been particularly noticeable.

I read that thing yesterday, with much disgust.

Identificationism presents itself under a progressive banner, but is essentially a form of hyper-individualism and is thus an extreme variety of liberal, rather than progressive politics. If one follows the logic of contemporary gender-identificationism, according to which there literally are scores upon scores of self-identified genders, then there really aren’t any men or women or anything else, but only self-defined individuals. (6) Apply this logic to race or ethnicity and one gets the same result, and it becomes hard to see what a civil rights movement, as traditionally conceived, would be about. I think it’s fair to say that taken to its logical conclusion and stripped of all of its civil rights trappings, contemporary identificationism is essentially a form of liberal utopianism, for it denies that material realities place us into groups, the rights and prerogatives of which may need to be fought for in civil and political society, and insists instead that the only groups to which we belong are those of our choosing and that the only realities impinging upon those choices are those existing within the consciousness of each individual.  Ultimately, this is a rejection of the very basis on which the need for civil rights movements rests, with the only remaining “cause” being that of getting people to accept other peoples’ self-identifications.  Now, perhaps we have reached the point at which we no longer need the traditional civil rights movements.  Perhaps, we have reached the point that Martin Luther King hoped we would one day reach, at which every individual is judged solely on the basis of the content of his or her character, rather than on his unchosen, material condition, but it seems to me that before we jettison the traditional conception of civil rights, we should probably have a serious, public conversation about whether that is, in fact the case.

It’s not. Conversation had.

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