Monday, March 03, 2008

Identity Politics is a Very, Very, Bad Thing (effete white professor tells us now)

I'm an occasional reader of Mark Kleiman's blog--I heard him talk years ago at the American Bar Foundation about his research on drug penalties and I've had the kind of fondness you have for someone whose work you admire who you "know" in an "oooh, I had a pair of shoes like that, once" kind of way. But he has a guy who writes over there, Michael O'Hare, who consistently writes the most egregious, self regarding crap. Since there are no comments, I'm left to fume to myself. But today, with his posting of this, I realized I don't have to take this silently anymore.

Today's bloviation fest is called "Identity Politics" and it is written so deep inside the belly of the beast that it ought to take "best in show" for microbial political thought. Lets get to a little bracing anti microbial action, shall we?

Dude, If you are going to write about Identity Politics, don't you think you might have a little more self respect than to begin this way:

Disclaimer, or maybe cowardly defensive whine, first: With a professional mother and wife, and two daughters, I hope I've got at least some feminist inclinations. With a minority-Anglo customer base (I teach at Berkeley), similarly about race.
He tries to make it better by insisting that he really "gets it" y'know:

(I am also familiar with the humbling lessons of implicit-association research, hence "at least some".) The two sensitivities are definitely not any kind of equal players in society: I heard someone on a radio talk show offer this deafening "click" moment and never forgot it: "We think nothing of a schoolteacher saying 'Good morning, boys and girls' but 'Good morning, white children and black children' would be appalling." Same with addressing a group as "Ladies and gentlemen" but not "My dear white voters and voters of color".

But he still thinks its all about him and his sensibilities and not about the people actually agitating for change. Because the problem that he has is distinctly masculine--he's upset that a bunch of women got upset because other women traduced their *entire sex* on the pages of some major newspapers. The problem isn't, apparently, as those stupid women thought, that their entire political identity and rights as political actors were being undercut but that the wimmins they got their panties in a twist becaus they didn't carefully separate their identities as women from their identities as political thinkers and actors like *real* political thinkers and actors in famously unmarked categories do. There was a kind of casus belli:

So: an email discussion list I subscribe to has been fulminating all morning about a column in the WaPo by Linda Hirshman, about Hillary's slide among educated women implying that they have abandoned less fortunate women, and another by Charlotte Allen rapping women for being ditzy and then getting far over her head about things like brain size differences

But, Shockingly, the level of vitriol was remarkable and, even worse, and even worse, the menz was frightened off

(with almost no men daring to put a word in either way, pity), which is itself data [Yeah, that was data, that to this day men don't necessarily see that they have a dog in this hunt. So, nu?] ; there was cancelling of WaPo subscriptions, and really mean language. [no, I am not making up the mean language part!]

But the canons of right thinkingness must be preserved so instead of listening to the wimmen ranting in their mean language Michael gets his oar in and the results are predictably pedestrian:

As far as I can tell, the fundamental outrage is that for women to write such things is simply treacherous, and for the Post to publish it is unforgivable. (I have no brief for the columns themselves; this is about the basis on which, implicitly, they and their authors were attacked.)

Luckily, we have him to set us on the right road. See, we are wrong to see the function of such pieces as Hirschman and Allen's as a shot across the bow of actual living breathing political actors who are also women. We are wrong to see the propaganda function of these pieces as central to their publication. We are wrong to see these pieces occupying key territory in a war for political meaning that actually matters to us. And we are wrong to try to disable the propaganda machine and its whores with whatever tools seem good to us. What is most important is that Michael get to express his very very complex and thoughtful self on the subject of abstract notions of right and wrong in argumentation and political thought. Which he then goes on to in tedious depth:
To make such accusations meaningful requires a lot of projecting models and assuming. Here are a few that ought to be examined a little more, because there's a lot of leaning on them in political discussion generally:

I'll spare you the page or two of point by point meandering to prove that "while he holds no brief for the articles in question" its not a big enough deal for him to deal with actual women's actual objections when he can tell us all how above the fray he is.

If I had a dime for every time some priviliged white guy got frightened by the anger of former subordinates and tried to redirect it into a more socially acceptable form of discourse I'd be one rich bitch. Alas, they don't pay for the privilige of lecturing us on what "true feminism" or "true leftism" or "true anything" means to them.