The Fine Line of Political Categorization


The Fine Line of Political Categorization

BLOGS: Have Identity Politics done more to help or harm America and her people?

Jack Beckham-Smith | Opinions Writer
March 1, 2018

What defines an individual? Their character or their skin? Their beliefs or their body? Their behavior or their class?

The answer many of us come to is: “of course they’re defined by their actions, personality and beliefs.” However, this sort of foundational truth of how we view people, and the world as a whole, has been pushed into the back of many of our minds by the polarizing and powerful influences of Identity Politics.

Identity politics has crept its way back into the world’s mainstream, as the political sphere has become dominated by a slew of societal identifiers. Black, white, straight, gay, up, down, left, right—the list goes on. The lure of this double sided political sword grasps at us all, a tinge in the back of our heads.

We’ve seen this sort of base, persuasive force acting upon us from both sides of the isle. The right and the left have employed these tactics effectively, as our nation’s been pulled in two.

These methods have been so effective because they play into our primal instincts and baseline emotions. Nonetheless, humans are still animals and our brains are built to fall victim to emotionally triggering and tribalistic things.

“Humans are prone to genetic altruism, those they see most similar to themselves are those they like the most. This general trait is heavily exploited via emotional arguments and identity politics.”

That does not mean, however, that we can’t use the rational brain that millions of years of evolution has provided us with to come to logical conclusions.

Identity Politics as a whole is a difficult subject to tackle, as there are many different aspects to take into consideration. However, in order to find a foundation for observation, I’ll look at a statement by an author that’s gained a lot of traction in recent years. Sam Harris, acclaimed neuroscientist and philosopher, has touched on Identity Politics throughout his work, and has come to many reasonable conclusions.

On his podcast, “Waking Up,” Harris said, “You need an argument, and the nature of any argument is that its validity doesn’t depend on who you are. When talking about violence, again, the facts are whatever they are—how many people got shot, how many died, what was the color of their skin, who shot them, what was the color of their skin. Getting a handle on these facts does not require one to say, ‘As a black man, I know x, y, and z .’ The color of your skin simply isn’t relevant information.”

First and foremost, Harris makes probably the best argument against the usage of Identity Politics. That argument being on the validity of an argument itself. It has become increasingly commonplace that an individual’s argument has more credibility and sensibility about it based upon the author’s identity than the substance of their actual argument.

This sort of ability to shut down an opponent’s argument solely based upon their skin or gender is wholly fallacious. Argumentative substance is based upon content, not the proponent.

For instance, if I were to say that you couldn’t argue about any issues surrounding white people because you aren’t white, that would shut down your argument without any real logical train of thought.

I’ve seen this tactic most commonly employed by Pro-Choice individuals. If their opponent happens to not have a uterus, their opinion on female reproductive rights are automatically null. We saw this at our own school, as there was an uproar against an abortion debate because both speakers were male. This is a cheap and unfounded way to debunk an argument with ad hominem and not actual material.

Everyone is entitled to an opinion and their opinions should be an extension of their character, not their birth happenstance. We have the means to observe everything around us. Our observations aren’t limited to only ourselves and those like ourselves. True diversity comes from diversity of thought and to throw up walls within the intellectual domain is to do humanity a monumental disservice.

Harris continues, “When talking about the data – that is, what is happening throughout a whole society – your life experience isn’t relevant information. And the fact that you think it might be is a problem. Now this isn’t to say that a person’s life experience is never relevant to a conversation it can be used to establish certain kinds of facts. I mean, if someone says to you, ‘Catholics don’t believe in hell’, it’s perfectly valid to resort, ‘Actually my mom is a Catholic, and she believes in hell’. Of course there’s a larger question of what the Catholic doctrine actually is—but if a person is making a statement about a certain group of people and you are a member of the group, you might very well be in a position to falsify his claim on the basis of your experience.”

Identity can assist one’s personal testimony, but it should never be as restricting as to limit their pursuit of intellectualism or their ability to speak their mind openly and freely within our nation. Our nation was built on the free exchange of ideas and we’ve fought long and hard to unqualify the tag of race, color, gender, class, and creed from those ideas.

It is essential to the survival and integrity of our free society that we do not allow for the exclusion of all from the interpretation of the facts. Harris hits this on the head; the interpretation of data should not be restricted to one’s class or creed but to the ability of their mind.

Harris concludes, “…a person’s identity and life experience often aren’t relevant when talking about facts. And they’re usually invoked in ways that are clearly fallacious.”

Summing up the ploy that is identity politics perfectly, Harris pulls the rug out from under this dangerous trend. Identity can be important and discussions on the identities of our citizens can be warranted in a productive manner.

But this is a fine line we walk. We can be proud of our identity, and each other’s identities, but to discredit each other based solely on the tags we’ve been given at birth is to regress 100 years.

At the end of the day, we are all very different and unique individuals. We can divide ourselves infinitely based upon identity but we can all claim to be human. In order for real progress, we must tackle issues together instead of prying ourselves apart.

Jack Beckman-Smith is currently an opinion writer for The Mirror. He joined journalism during his sophomore year and is now in his second year as a writer.

Jack enjoys discussing anything political, philosophical, or related to society and culture. On the political spectrum, he stands between Libertarianism and moderate conservatism. In his spare time, he enjoys running, practicing piano, and playing video games.


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