“Walking Away” from the Animus of Identity Politics

People are joining an incipient movement to “walk away” from the division of identity politics.

Iowa college student Mollie Tibbets was brutally murdered by an illegal immigrant.

MSNBC commentator and Fordham University Professor Christina Greer sneered that Tibbets was “a girl in Iowa” who “Fox News is talking about.” In Greer’s mind, Tibbets was distracting the public from more needed coverage of Trump’s evils. Steeped in identity politics, Greer could not connect with the common humanity she shares with those mourning the death of Mollie.

In contrast, Tibbets’ family could connect with the humanity they shared with the immigrant community in Iowa.

How could Professor Greer be so callous? Are we any different when we fail to see the humanity in others? We may feel social pressure to adopt a tribal identity and conform to its views. Do we have to choose tribal sides?

Weary of such tribal hatreds, people are joining an incipient movement to “walk away” from identity politics.

David French is an evangelical Christian and writer at National Review. French shared in The Atlantic the vicious attacks his family endured when they adopted a child from Ethiopia. From the “left” came howls of “cultural genocide” and slurs that “Evangelicals were in the grips of an ominous ‘orphan fever.’”

Then the alt-right attacked French and his wife for “race-cucking [their] family.” Vicious messages and images of their daughter being murdered or enslaved followed. French wished “for the days when ‘the left’ came after us; at least progressive critics didn’t want my daughter to die.”

Weary of such tribal hatreds, people are joining an incipient movement to “walk away” from identity politics. This walk-away movement already has more than 176,000 members on Facebook. Some who join describe themselves as former Democrats disgusted by identity politics. Here is one individual’s Facebook “testimony” about the consequences she endured for not choosing one tribe over another:

When BLM [Black Lives Matter] came up, and there was rioting in my city of Baltimore, I was deeply saddened and disturbed. Both for the disenfranchised people in my city as well as the well meaning police who put themselves in harms way to protect it. It was tough to defend and not defend BOTH sides. I received backlash when I supported the BLM community and I received backlash when I supported police. It became clear that we were living in times that required us all to pledge allegiance to one side or the other.

Another Facebook testimonial reveals the hypocrisy of mouthing pieties coming from people living by tribal hatred:

My name is Billy. I am a gay drag queen living in southern CA. I walked away. I witnessed drag superstars preach against "hate and racism" on stage, and then go back stage and use the N word and talk about Mexicans. I watched the media lie. My own community was racist against my black husband. They disgust me. They are phony and dangerous.

What better example of tribal hatreds than those who took to Twitter to chortle at the suffering of Texas during Hurricane Harvey. In their minds, Texans deserved it because they voted for Trump.

Seeing Connectedness

Throughout history, there have been tribes and individuals who have loudly and often violently proclaimed their specialness, failing to recognize that everyone else who has ever lived on this planet is made of the same basic stuff.

In his Meditations, Marcus Aurelius observed:

Everything is interwoven, and the web is holy; none of its parts are unconnected. They are composed harmoniously, and together they compose the world. One world, made up of all things. One divinity, present in them all. (translation: Gregory Hays)

Meditations was written by Aurelius to give himself reminders. Like all of us, his thinking would take him in wrong directions. Aurelius was building mental discipline by setting out his principles so that he could fall back on them when his thinking was off.

Realizing his tendency to not see connectedness, Aurelius admonished himself,

Keep reminding yourself of the way things are connected, of their relatedness. All things are implicated in one another and in sympathy with each other.

What is a fallen leaf? Yard trash. What is a wave separated from the ocean? A small puddle that evaporates. Can we understand that “everything is interwoven?”

In modern times, quantum physicist David Bohm called this interconnectedness the implicate order, an order where “everything is enfolded into everything.” We cannot fully comprehend or see the implicate order. However, believing in the implicate order is a useful guide for living.

Like Marcus Aurelius, we can watch our antics. We can notice when we place the “story of me” above everyone and everything. We can feel the pain we cause ourselves and others when we believe we are not connected. We can catch ourselves behaving as if our tribe is superior; and then, we can make a different choice.

Making A Different Choice

In I and Thou, the best-known work of philosopher Martin Buber, the author describes two fundamentally different ways of seeing people: “I-Thou” or “I-It.”

Looking through the “I-Thou” lens, we see our connectedness, our common humanity with others. Through the “I-It” lens, others are seen as less than us, either as objects to use or obstacles to get out of our way. Identity politics, with its constant search for victims and victimizers, looks at the world through “I-It” eyes.

At the Facebook page for the walk away movement, people share their experiences. A woman described her reaction when “old white guys” were made into objects:

I read a commentary from a liberal writer that I could not shake. This writer stated, “Who really cares what happens to this old white guy?” Old. White. Guy. Three very real forms of prejudice. I thought of my father who had recently died an “old white guy”.

Philosopher C. Terry Warner and his colleagues at the Arbinger Institute have helped to make Buber’s often dense writings more accessible.

In her book, The Shift: How Seeing People as People Changes Everything, Kimberly White illuminates the work of Buber and Warner. She explains that when we are self-absorbed and see other people as objects “we don’t value them for their humanity”:

In this [self-absorbed] frame of mind, since I leave no room for their inner experience to call to me, I see others not as people but as objects, as though they have no inner experience at all. As human bodies they may be helpful to me or amusing or troublesome or no use whatsoever. They are in this way only as real to me as any other object in the physical world, and I care about them the same way I care about those objects; they may in fact be very important to me in function, but their own infinite personhood never crosses my mind. I don’t think about their perspectives or their troubles, I don’t wonder why they see things the way they do, and I don’t feel motivated to help them (except maybe to further my own interests). Seeing them with my distracted heart as human-shaped objects, I cannot help but treat them as though they were human-shaped objects.

The truth is that people are not objects. White writes,

But of course, the people around you and me are not objects! They are people, with their own histories, fears, hopes, loves, wishes, dreams, and disappointments. They are as real—as astonishingly, unfathomably, breathtakingly, humanly real—as I am. They have their own backstories and struggles and their own perfectly legitimate way of seeing things that will certainly, unpredictably, differ from my own. They are, in a very real sense, infinite: the thoughts and perceptions and experiences of life that comprise their inner world number in the billions, and no one else can ever completely comprehend their complexity.

When I have warned of the dangers of tribalism, some readers try to convince me I am mistaken. Don’t you know, they ask, that mankind has always organized around tribes? They assure me that tribalism is the most natural thing in the world.

Reading those comments, I wonder about their inclinations to do what is “natural.” Do they turn over every morning and go back to sleep instead of going to work? Do they make advances on every individual to whom they feel a sexual attraction? Do they treat seriously every angry thought they have when a driver cuts them off in traffic?

Rising above the tribe becomes the most natural thing in the world.

The rich “extended order” of modern life has emerged as we have risen above the tribe. In commerce, we trust strangers and cooperate with people from all over the world. In commerce, we treat people equally and fairly with blinders to their tribal identities.

Today, immersed in the extended order, we reap the benefits of the knowledge and actions of others whom we will never meet. As trade and specialization grow, so does our ability to see our common humanity. Rising above the tribe becomes the most natural thing in the world.

Embracing tribalism is a decision to renounce the advantages of modern living and return to a more primitive existence.

I have explained why an essential feature of socialism is to dehumanize others. The walk away movement is a hopeful sign that further descent into tribalism and its dangerous consequences can be avoided.

Further Reading

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