By Brian Davis
Americans who possess opinions against the alleged best interests of their party, race, religion or sexual orientation are finding the going increasingly tough in recent years. Due to identity politics, Republicans and Democrats are regularly raked across the coals if they do not think and vote along party lines. Ditto for many gays and African-Americans who express minority opinions.
Do you believe in man-made climate change and the need for criminal justice reform? Prepare to have your conservative credentials questioned by Republican hardliners. Refuse to use gender-neutral pronouns such as “ze” or agree with conservatives on foreign policy? Get ready to be labeled as a bigot or idiot by self-righteous leftists.
Such tribalism seems increasingly common for both major parties and things are not trending in the right direction. Democrats such as Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez are prime examples.
“Every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman’s right to make her own choices about her body and her health,” Perez said in a statement. “That is not negotiable and should not change city by city or state by state.”
Such comments are not only polarizing, but counterproductive for a party that seeks to be viewed as a “big-tent.” Forty-nine percent of Hispanics, a major target demographic for the Democratic Party, believe abortion should be illegal in all or most cases.
Another example would be the anger directed at Republicans who opted to vote for Doug Jones over the deeply-flawed Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate race. Apparently, it is unacceptable to vote for a Democrat, even if the candidate on your side is an alleged child molester.
Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist and professor of Ethical Leadership at NYU’s Stern School of Business, has experienced the unhealthy and divisive identity politics firsthand.
“Today’s identity politics . . . teaches the exact opposite of what we think a liberal arts education should be. Many students are given just one lens—power,” Haidt said. “Everything is about power. Every situation is analyzed in terms of the bad people acting to preserve their power and privilege over the good people.”
Such a mindset, Haidt argues, discourages free thinking. “This is not an education. This is induction into a cult,” he said. “It’s a fundamentalist religion. It’s a paranoid worldview that separates people from each other and sends them down the road to alienation, anxiety and intellectual impotence. ”
Michelle Gao, an opinion writer for The Harvard Crimson, also believes identity politics hurts healthy discourse. “A person’s lived experience should never be invalidated,” she said. “But no identity makes the beliefs that someone derives from their lived experience automatically more correct.”
“This is not just a logical fallacy that should be avoided on principle,” she added. “In practice, it is actually a hindrance to persuading others.”
Another troubling development is the rise of the so-called “alt-right.” A considerable number of its followers have embraced a despicable brand of white identity politics, along with a bigoted hatred of immigrants and Jews.
The problem for both progressives and conservatives is that no group is completely homogenous. Jordan Peterson, a professor at the University of Toronto and clinical psychologist, rightly noted, “There is more diversity within groups of people than between (groups).”
Dave Rubin, a classic liberal and host of the “Rubin Report,” notes this is why the presence of black conservatives and gay Muslims are so relevant and interesting today. “If you really listen to these minorities within the minorities, you will judge these people on their thoughts, their logic, and their reason, instead of simply how they look or who they love,” Rubin said.
The existence of free-thinkers within these minority communities, he said, “flips identity politics on its head, showing the flaws of this postmodern intersectional way of thinking.”
Rubin and Peterson suggest an alternative path- focus on the individual, and self-improvement, rather than obsessing over group identity.
“You as an individual are much more than your immutable characteristics,” Rubin said. “To judge you on those characteristics is actually what the essence of prejudice really is.”
Peterson said, “Pick up your responsibilities, sort yourself out, fix up your family, and then you can be a force for good. If enough people do that, the ideological mess will disappear. That is the way you show people the right path forward.”
“Drop your cult-like affiliation,” he added. “Step out of the shadows, the demonic shadows—your ideological possessions—and step forward as a fully developed person into the light.”