Not An Identity

In this age of identity politics, where our differences are constantly highlighted to make us forget our greater commonalities, it is becoming increasingly difficult to talk critically about anything without being assigned to some “dominant” cultural group; a problem which is in turn exploited by the people who play the “playing the racism card” card.

Prejucide is a terrible thing. I’ve experienced plenty of it myself, in all sorts of forms: as a German in Greece, as a Greek in Germany, as a long-haired man in Greece, as a bearded man in Germany, as a socialist in a capitalist system, as an agnostic in a religious world, as a non-gay male in cultural studies, as a supporter of gay rights in a homophobic culture… hell, I suspect I’ve occasionally experienced anti-Semitism, and I’m not even Jewish. You can probably make a similar list for yourself; the world’s full of idiotic ideas.

I’ve also acted against prejudice – filed complaints, spoken out in public, donated money.

So keep this in mind while I vent my frustration at the way certain people, mostly upper middle-class academics and writers, are seeing prejudice everywhere. No, not just seeing prejudice, but seeing identities.

Take fatness, for example. Yes, people who are fat are often treated like shit, even when in many cases it’s not their fault. There are genetic reasons for being fat – though that’s not why I’m fat. I’m just fat because I hate sports and I can’t keep away from the sweets. Now, that doesn’t mean that anyone who happens to weigh less than me has the right to treat me like a lower lifeform. But it also doesn’t mean that being fat is fucking identity. More importantly: being fat is not a good thing. Yes, our society has a fucked-up way of dealing with our own bodies. Agreed. Real women have curves. Agreed. But for crap’s sake, being fat is not who you are, and if you can manage to lose weight then you should. Being fat sucks. At first it’s bearable, but the more time goes by, the more your entire system suffers. You get all sorts of pains. You don’t feel good. You can’t do simple things you should be capable of doing. I’m fat, I’ve been made fun of because of it, but the people complaining about the terrible anti-fat prejudice that permeates our society really need to shut the fuck up. A healthier relationship with our bodies – yes, please. But cut out the motherfucking identity politics.

A more controversial situation is as regards mentally and/or physically disabled people. It’s a difficult and complex situation, because there are very different types and degrees of problem, and people often get dumped into one big category (“I don’t want to know about them because they remind me of the fragility of my own body and that scares me”). And again, I do very strongly believe that great changes are necessary to make life easier for people with physical or mental disabilities. And I do believe that many of these people want and can contribute something to the world. But when I hear people insist on phrases like “differently able” and start seeing “ableism” everywhere, I get rather wary. Yes, the way the system functions discriminates against people with disabilities, and as such people with disabilities are a group of sorts. But many writers/academics/etc. take it so far that the disability becomes something like a badge of honour.

There’s a terrible episodes of Deep Space Nine called Melora which takes this to its ultimate conclusion: faced with the possibility of no longer being disabled, Melora chooses her “identity” over the future she wanted and the man she loves.

But the truth is, it’s not a matter of identity. Disabilities aren’t unfairly named – they really do disable you. Not from everything, not from being a person. But enough. Enough to matter. Enough for us to be aware that disabilities aren’t something we need to learn to be proud of, but something we need to beat. Because, you see, we can do that. As a species, as a technological civilization, we have the opportunity to eliminate unnecessary suffering. We can fix the mistakes in our genetics – and yes, they are mistakes. They are things that don’t function. That they exist, and that pretty much every one of us has them in one form or another, sucks pretty heavily, but that doesn’t mean we need to just accept how things are. We can achieve a great deal with compassion and intelligence. We already have.

(And don’t give me the bullshit about eugenics, OK? The DNA is not a discourse, and what the Nazis did had nothing to do with actual science.)

There’s another danger with all these identity politics, and that is the danger of misunderstanding the causes of suffering. Prejudice against physically disabled people isn’t the reason they’re lacking all those things that would make life easier, like ramps for wheelchair users. The reason is economics. Ramps cost money. Healthcare services cost money. And we live in a system designed for profit, not for human rights or quality of life. The same, to a large degree, goes for the fact that women are generally paid less. Prejudice is just the excuse for paying people less and thus being able to profit more. Do you think slaves were kept because slave-owners were racist? Or was racism the excuse for being able to keep slaves, run plantations, and make massive amounts of profit off the backs of unpaid workers? Sure, lots of people believed in all that racist bullshit. But as long as there was profit to be made, there was little chance of changing that.

More examples abound. Ageism? Old people’s pensions aren’t being cut because politicians don’t like old people, they’re being cut so more money can be funneled to bank bailouts and tax cuts for the ultra-rich. The obsession with youth is because youth sells. Do you think Donald Trump has problems because of his age?

People who club baby seals for a living don’t do it because they hate seals. They do it because there’s money to be made.

We live in an economic system that is not designed to improve the lives of the vast majority of the people. It’s simply not. It’s not that prejudice doesn’t exist; it does. But it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It exists because it serves a purpose, or multiple purposes. It gives the system excuses to perpetuate its barbarism and keeps us from recognizing we’re all in the same boat. Fighting for a system that is fair to this group or that group will get us nowhere. We need to fighting for a system that is fair to everyone, that puts reason and quality of life above individual profit.

The same pseudo-liberals that are coming up with a new -ism every day seem to have little time for systemic change… or even to say something against so-called wars of liberation that replace old dictators with new ones. When the spectre of “Islamofascism” is conjured and lives are destroyed by barely disguised racism, they applaud in the name of women’s rights. Meanwhile, Iraq has gone from a secular country where women could work and hold major positions to a place where women are killed for not obeying the laws of the lunatics we’ve empowered. But let’s not talk about that. Let’s find more places to bomb. The President is black, the Chancellor is a woman – we’re on the side of progress!

And the cuts? The cuts are necessary. Give me that crutch, it’s waste of money that could be better spent buying baubles for billionaires.

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73 Comments

  1. OK well maybe not a utopia, but utopier (closer to perfect) might or been more accurate but that does not change the point I was making.

    Your ultimate solution while maybe the only really solution does not negate little changes for the good even if they eventually get destroyed by the current system. Let us not forget even if we create a far better society then we have now it is still only of the moment and not likely to last forever.

    And that would be OK? Also, how would the eradication of a species not be an environmental disaster

    I did not mention anything about the morality of that solution I was only pointing out that other solutions exists.

    That logic leads to voting for Obama because he’s black, or Joschka Fischer because he’s Green – with the end result being no actual change at all.

    Just because you have your eye on a more lofty goal like total governmental change does not mean that you have to stop voting and at least have the potential to win tiny victories.

    A few comments ago that sort of thing was being lambasted as hollow materialism.

    To be fair I was the only one calling materialism hollow and it was never supposed to to be in reverence to shelter.

  2. Stalinism has absolutely nothing in common with my point of view or any meaningful definition of “socialism.” I don’t see how this is relevant.

    I very much doubt that very many views have absolutely nothing in common with each other. And socialism and Communism have often been labeled as somewhat similar, and I would not disagree with that.

    That the Russian Revolution was derailed with extremely negative results is depressing, but surely not an argument that all change is forever impossible.

    I don’t think I ever stated that change was impossible. You really seem to be radically misinterpreting my words a lot lately and it was not more then a few posts ago that you got angry and accused me of the same thing (with far less justification as far as I am concerned).

  3. Your ultimate solution while maybe the only really solution does not negate little changes for the good even if they eventually get destroyed by the current system.

    You’ve just disproven your own argument – if these changes are destroyed by the current system, they cannot be counted as end results, can they? Which is not to say that I’m against fighting for smaller changes as well – but this can only be done if one understands the context of the larger struggle. I support Greenpeace, for example, but I know that unless this is economic and political change, the work Greenpeace is doing will ultimately be for nothing.

    Just because you have your eye on a more lofty goal like total governmental change does not mean that you have to stop voting and at least have the potential to win tiny victories.

    I did not say I want to stop voting. But voting for Obama was not a tiny victory, it was a huge loss. The same goes for voting the Greens into power in Germany. The end result was war, poverty, injustice, torture and environmental disaster. Is that depressing? Yes. But we have to face the facts. Just sitting under a rock while the world goes to hell and hoping for tiny victories is self-destructive and cowardly.

    This discussion we had many times, but the Russian Revolution was not derailed, it was never viable in the first place.

    I completely disagree. The conditions under which it happened contributed to its downfall, but looking at its early years and at the global context, I do think it was fully viable. It would certainly be viable today.

  4. You’ve just disproven your own argument – if these changes are destroyed by the current system, they cannot be counted as end results, can they?

    Well if you had bothered to include the very next sentence

    Let us not forget even if we create a far better society then we have now it is still only of the moment and not likely to last forever.

    Then you would have your answer.
    Nothing is permanent, I don’t understand how an intelligent person could formula an argument that only accepts change if it is permanent.

  5. I very much doubt that very many views have absolutely nothing in common with each other.

    Of course you can find something in common between just about everything, but it should be obvious that I was stating that the differences are radical enough for the two things to be considered essentially dissimilar.

    And socialism and Communism have often been labeled as somewhat similar, and I would not disagree with that.

    Socialism and communism are terms that have been defined in many ways, generally overlapping. The Soviet Union as it developed was neither socialist nor communist, even though it called itself that. It was an authoritarian state with a bureaucratic elite; the principles of socialism/communism were not enacted, and almost all actual socialists were killed in Stalin’s purges.

    I don’t think I ever stated that change was impossible.

    Well, you seem to think that major changes are not worth fighting for, and that all we can hope for is tiny changes that will be eradicated by the system anyway.

  6. If nothing is permanent, why is anything worth fighting for?

    The very idea of socialism – of creating a reason-based system – is all about flexibility and change. It’s a system that, unlike capitalism, can adapt and evolve, because it is based on human thought.

    Hell, even if you’re right and any system will ultimately fail – how is that an argument for creating a system that is only marginally better, instead of one that is really good?

  7. You need a capitalist society for socialism to work, e.g. look at the scandinavian countries, the closest thing to what I guess is modern democratic socialism.

    Even if that were true, it would still be a major systemic change for most countries. It would not be accomplished by focusing only on one’s pet issues and ignoring the larger context.

  8. Well, you seem to think that major changes are not worth fighting for, and that all we can hope for is tiny changes that will be eradicated by the system anyway.

    No you are the one that said that all small changes are not worth fighting for, I am simply saying that that is wrong. And I am sure you are going to say “no that not what I said”.

  9. You need a capitalist society for socialism to work.

    I am not going to pretend to know why you think that or anything about the arguments for or against that but I doubt that something as misguided and evil and capitalism is the only way to get socialism to work.

  10. One more important argument (though we’ve long drifted from the point of the original post): small changes here and there, even if successful, not only will not stop the untold misery our current system is causing, they will also not prevent it from being inherently unstable. As history has demonstrated again and again, capitalism simply does not work, causing crisis after crisis with increasing frequency and severity. The capitalist system is heading straight for all-out social, political and economic catastrophe. That is not something that should be lightly ignored.

    And this just brings us back to what I was saying before: how can you fight for anything if you don’t understand the cause of the problem? You can’t fight for human rights if you don’t understand why it is convenient for governments to take them away. You can’t fight against war if you don’t understand the importance of the profit motive. The same goes for everything from environmentalism (why did the BP oil spill happen in the first place?) to homelessness (why are banks taking away everyone’s homes?).

  11. No you are the one that said that all small changes are not worth fighting for, I am simply saying that that is wrong. And I am sure you are going to say “no that not what I said”.

    Correct. I said it is pointless to fight only for small changes, or to fight for small changes without understanding their place in the global economic context. As I pointed out with my Greenpeace example, it is fine to fight for small changes if one understands they are part of a larger struggle and can only be fully achieved if the greater changes are also accomplished. We can save all the dolphins we want – if they are then poisoned by BP, our work is meaningless. And BP will only come under control when the financial system is regulated and governments cease being the playthings of corporations. That doesn’t require perfect governments run by perfect people. But it does require a massive change from the shit we’re in now.

    The point is that it’s necessary to fight on all levels, because otherwise we’re just falling to the good old strategy of “divide and conquer.”

  12. Well as fun and stimulating as disagreement can be I am glad that one of us finally said something that we agree on (your last two posts).

    Not that I think it has to be as black and white as you make it out to be. A homeless activist can still make a single persons and even many single peoples lives better without making a lasting change or understanding why there is homelessness. And while it might be true that they accomplished nothing in the grand scheme of things they still did good and it would not be proper to look down on their actions.

  13. Not that I think it has to be as black and white as you make it out to be. A homeless activist can still make a single persons and even many single peoples lives better without making a lasting change or understanding why there is homelessness. And while it might be true that they accomplished nothing in the grand scheme of things they still did good and it would not be proper to look down on their actions.

    I don’t look down on them. Not the people who do the real fighting. I look down on academics who perpetuate absurd and divisive modes of thinking that keep the people who do the fighting from being able to accomplish their goals.

  14. And spite of the possibility of restarting are argument and offending you I did just have an interesting thought that I will try to make argumentative and non offensive.

    What if it is you that are not looking at the bigger picture and who do not understand the reasons for our problems.

    It is quite possible that a historical materialism way of looking at things are needed and the solution to all or our problems are to develop more productive food sources or develop space travel to plunder or populate other planets.

    Or maybe the one true solution is to take a physiological approach and and change the way people think. For example make them as intelligent, reasonable, logical, and mature as they seem to think that they are.

    Or as far as I know maybe the only way to improve human society is to overthrow our evil alien overlords who have controlled our civilizations since Roswell (I don’t actually believe any of this stuff).

    Or maybe it will even be a single act of kindness from a uninformed homeless activist that has a ripple effect that changes society for the better.

  15. Well, it’s always possible that historical materialism is wrong. It’s also possible that electrons do not exist and we’re being deceived into thinking they do by Pennywise the Clown. But it’s not very likely. There’s certainly not a lot of empirical evidence to suggest that might be the case, whereas there is plenty of evidence in favour of electrons and a scientific approach to history and economics. Halliburton is right there; the evil alien overlords aren’t anywhere in sight.

    (For clarification, I don’t treat historical materialism as a religion. There is no clear definition of Marxism or socialism or communism, and there shouldn’t be – not beyond “the application of reason to the processes that define history and society with the goal of creating a stable, free and humane system.” My favourite essay on the subject remains Why Socialism? by Albert Einstein, which I highly recommend.)

  16. JM

     /  April 29, 2011

    But of course capitalism is a requirement for communism – that is where Lenin was wrong, because he was so obssesed with making Russia the target for revolution that he constructed his whole theory around the “weakest link”. Why do you think he had to switch to the NEP? It was contrary to everything he believed in, but in the end, I think Lenin was pragmatic enough. It is however his fault that he and other cadres organized the global communist movement around the Russian way, later known as Marxism-Leninism. That was the biggest mistake Communist made, modeling themselves after the Russian Party. Rudi Dutschke actually attributed the failures of the Soviet Union to the authoritarian mindset of the russian society, and I tend to agree.

    One hundred years ago, most countries we not ready for any kind of socialism, because they were not deleloped capitalist societies. Today, there is actually in a way more room for socialism, however the problem is that state intervention in economics is much harder. That is a problem still to be solved, but Latin America and China can actually provide some good examples of merging capitalism with socialist concepts.

  17. JM

     /  April 29, 2011

    Or Europe. Let’s look at the government of the Parti Socialiste in France during the 1980s. They tried to implement socialism by law. Well, some things worked, others didn’t. They actually nationalized 20% of the industry and most of the banking sector, but after that, there plan kind of got derailed because their economic concept didn’t really work out. But the french experience is still valuable, because it at least shows that state intervention is possible, even in western Europe. The question ist, what can one government accomplish in four years which will actually last?

  18. I don’t understand how anyone could think that capitalism is even compatible with socialism let alone needed. socialism is in most ways the exact opposite of capitalism.

    Socialism = everyone should work together for the betterment of all.
    Capitalism = Everyone should work separately and only for their own interests and screw everyone else.

    They cannot exist together.

  19. I don’t understand how anyone could think that capitalism is even compatible with socialism let alone needed. socialism is in most ways the exact opposite of capitalism.

    Well, though I don’t agree with the statements about the Scandinavian countries, Marx did argue that capitalism would create the material and social conditions necessary for socialism, and that I do agree with.

    Socialism = everyone should work together for the betterment of all.
    Capitalism = Everyone should work separately and only for their own interests and screw everyone else.

    More accurate would be something like this:
    Capitalism = the means of production are controlled by the financial oligarchy and directed to produce profit as determined by the randomness of market forces
    Socialism = the means of production are controlled by the people/working class and directed to produce what is necessary for society as determined by science and reason

    This emphasis on practical, material changes is very important, and something that is obviously missing in many so-called progressive/left-wing parties.

  20. But even by your definition (and I admit you are more likely to be right about stuff like this then I am) are they not mutual exclusive?

    and from wikipedia: “Capitalism is an economic system in which the means of production are privately owned and operated for profit”
    Which is basically just your definition without the randomness part which either I don’t understand or is not really needed.

    But I don’t think that it means anything different from my definition. The biggest difference being the “work separately”, but Capitalism is supposed to produce competition and even though in real life companies do like to work together to collectively screw the little guy and make more profits that is not what Cap. is supposed to produce.
    And the socialism definitions by both of us seem to be even more obviously the same, at least to me.

  21. Well, the one definition is more ideological, whereas the other one specifies a political/economic approach. The important difference is that you can claim the first approach (“let’s all work together for the good of everyone”) without actually representing the latter, i.e. in the modern Social Democrat scenario of “let’s all make hard sacrifies for the good of society” which just means “let working people suffer to increase our profits.”

    That’s why I always try to emphasize the practical, material aspects of socialism. The philosophy is also necessary, of course, but it must find a practical expression rather than only an ideological one.

    As for capitalism and socialism being incompatible, yes, I think they are – but it’s important to understand that socialism is not the opposite of capitalism in every way. It’s not some kind of utopian agrarian let’s-all-be-friends hippy commune, like a lot of people (and I don’t mean you) seem to think it is. In many ways a socialist system would still include many of the things the capitalist system includes, but without the chaos of the profit motive and without the self-destructive tendencies.

  22. Finally got around to reading Why Socialism, and like everything Einstein said it was quite interesting.

    Near the end he hit on one subject I have been contemplating recently. Of course socialism style economies have been tried in the past and at least some have failed horribly. In many cased it seemed that the central government simply could not handle controlling the entire country and much was wasted because it was being overlooked. It seems to me if you are going to have a socialist economy then you need a decentralized government. A bunch of politicians in some nations capital simply do not have the ability to direct an entire country and of course concentration of power never works out either.

  23. It seems to me if you are going to have a socialist economy then you need a decentralized government.

    Absolutely.