We have many video clips explaining how identity politics have been used to gain political advantage but we have not directly explained what identity politics are and why they are so dangerous to “Western” countries.
What Is Identity Politics?
Put simply, identity politics is the act of targeting groups for political gain based on some common demographic. Think, “whites”, “rich” or “gays” at a high level.
Hasn’t Targeting Groups of Citizens Always Been A Part of Politics?
Certainly, appealing to “the Irish”, “women” or “immigrants” has always been a useful part of politics in western democracies. It has allowed politicians to garner enough support to get elected and assist substantive groups of citizens.
What Is Wrong With Identity Politics?
The fundamental problem with identity politics is that it is the politics of division. It is often presented as the politics of inclusion but in reality is about giving preferential treatment through laws, taxes or social norms to particular group. That preferential treatment is necessarily going to foster “in group” “out group” feelings and divide society.
How Has Big Data Changed Identity Politics?
It is now easy and cheap to find ever increasing levels of granularity to divide us. In his book, Do Something, author and noted political thinker Preston Manning states:
“…It is no exaggeration to say that if a political party wanted to target left-handed Vancouver Island ping pong players… identity politics technicians could find them” SOURCE
This is the nature of big data. Political parties, corporations and governments maintain highly accurate databases of emense detail on citizens characteristics.
Why Is Identity Politics Dangerous To Western Democracies?
‘In the beginning’ we may have all looked the same and had similar experiences but over the last few hundred years global immigration and communication have become cheap and common. Think of the effort and cost it took to get from Britain to Australia 200 years ago; it took the equivalent of tens of thousands of 2020 dollars, months at sea and the acceptance that few would ever visit or even speak with their former family and friends ever again. In 2020 you could be video calling someone in Australia within seconds at no direct cost to you and you could physically be in Australia tomorrow (or perhaps the next day), if you really needed to.
But what happened between 1820 and 2020? Large groups of like minded (and like looking!) immigrants moved to one country or another. The city of Kitchener-Waterloo in Ontario Canada has famous German roots, the State of New York has many of Irish decent and the country of Britain has attracted many former Indians.
It is not a problem to highlight the differences between groups. Who doesn’t want to go to Kitchener for Oktoberfest, New York for St. Patrick’s Day, or Toronto for the Pride Parade! Often the Canadian multi-cultural model has proven more harmonious than the American melting-pot approach. The problems start when we either highlight micro-factions or provide incentives to just a select group.
The United States, Germany, France, UK, Canada and nearly all other western style democracies now have very large populations of of those who can be categorized and divided. If those in government want to support one group or another and they do so by providing preferential treatment, many (most?) of the citizens in the other groups are going to eventually feel left out. If that goes on long enough there will be increasing talk followed by increasing action to break up the country.
One needs to look no further than the Spanish Separtist movement, Western Canadian Separatists (WEXIT), California Sucessionists and Scotish Independence movement to see who fragile Western democracies really are.
Can’t Identity Politics Be Used For Good?
When used for a short period of time to correct historic wrongs, such preferential treatment is not only good for the people targeted but also good for society at large. The problem occurs when these programs are used as a crutch over and extended period of time. And when I use the word crutch I am hooking it to BOTH the parties providing the beneficial treatment and those receiving it.
Take the example the United States “Affirmative Action” programs. When conceived they were useful tools to both highlight and correct massive historic wrongs. Today however, they are used by some to say “we have already done enough for African Americans”. Clearly Affirmative Action has had some notable benefits, but it is not time to scrap such demeaning regulations? Massive inequality still exists and these laws have run their course. Is it not time for more effective structural changes to tax laws and education systems?
What is The Cure For Identity Politics?
It is important to remember that the vast majority of citizens are in their country because they want to be. Keeping voters happy means equality rules applied to equally.
In the short run the passage of pro-LGBTQ legislation makes sense to help block injustices, but in the long run citizens must WANT to be together and not held down by the financially and socially costly thumb of government. How can we do that? The answer is clear anti-discrimination laws that are actually enforced.
Does the United States really need new laws that say frequent use of choke holds on primarily black citizens is a bad idea? What the US needs is to have SOME of the laws providing additional legal protection to Police Officers and departments to be removed. Police Officers are generally well intentioned citizens trying to keep their neighbourhoods safe, so did they really need laws created by those using identity politics to pander to Police through laws making it virtually impossible to civally or criminally hold them accountable for aggregious actions?
The answer is not more laws protecting black citizens, it is removing special privileges so the laws are equally applied to all.
Most citizens do not want special treatment, they just want to be treated the same as everyone else.