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What Is the Left Without Identity Politics?

This question was asked in an article written amongst the glut of Leftists attempting to find a reason why Hillary lost the election. This glut is rife with finger pointing, denial, and beating around the bush. It got me thinking of my own answer to the question, apart from the obvious reason, that she is as fake as any politician but not good enough of an actor to hide it.

First we’d have to ask the question, “What is the Left”? And honestly, outside of looking up an encyclopedia or dictionary definition, I don’t know anymore. I could try to define it by describing what it does instead of what it is, but what does the Left do? As a whole, it does nothing, because there is no monolithic “LEFT”, there is just a blanket identifier used for the convenience of the non-Left.

identity-pullWhat is the Left without Identity Politics? One should ask instead, “What is the Left without solidarity?” The answer is, “nothing”. If the word “Left” is just a category that describes disparate groups, a word used for the convenience of others, then the Left is identity politics, and without identity politics, it is nothing.
Identity politics is the memetic virus that has ripped the Left to pieces and left it a husk of a word, writhing with the independent organisms trapped in said husk; they are not powerful enough to break out of that husk nor are they powerful enough to devour their siblings and assume control of the body.

How has Identity Politics kept the Left from opposing Capitalism?

To understand why a Left which is at its core a collection of Identity Politics groups can not oppose Capitalism, we have to look at Capitalism. The Capitalism of the 21st century is not the Capitalism that Karl Marx wrote of. There are two major developments that have happened since Marx wrote Das Kapital that have evolved Capitalism into a form more fit to do what it does best: generate cash, use that cash to convert material into more of itself. The Capitalism of the 21st century is the “grey goo” of economics, whereas the Capitalism of Marx’s day was the Star Trek “Borg” of economics. The old Capitalism wants to convert you, but is too clumsy, repulsive, and slow moving to be threatening unless you encounter a lot of it at once. The new Capitalism, even in small amounts, can be deadly if you get it on you!

The two developments I speak, that have made Capitalism leaner and meaner, are psychologically targeted advertising (via the focus group), and of course, the internet. The former, the brainchild of a nephew of Sigmund Freud, Edward Bernays, has been a bane to humanity for over a hundred years now; the latter, a tool which by itself is neither bane nor boon, until its user turns it to beneficial or nefarious purpose

Sex sells… what?

“We must shift America from a needs- to a desires-culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things, even before the old have been entirely consumed. […] Man’s desires must overshadow his needs.”

~ Paul Mazur, Harvard Business Review 1927

There is a fantastic documentary that I wish the whole world would watch, but I’ll settle for the readers of this article (watch it!). Wikipedia summarizes the documentary very well:

“The documentary explores the various ways that governments and corporations have utilized Freud’s theories. Freud and his nephew Edward Bernays, who was the first to use psychological techniques in public relations, are discussed in part one; His daughter Anna Freud, a pioneer of child psychology, is mentioned in part two. Wilhelm Reich, an opponent of Freud’s theories, is discussed in part three. Along these lines, The Century of the Self asks deeper questions about the roots and methods of consumerism and commodification and their implications. It also questions the modern way people see themselves, the attitudes to fashion, and superficiality. […] In part four the main subjects are Philip Gould, a political strategist, and Matthew Freud, a PR consultant and the great-grandson of Sigmund Freud. In the 1990s, they were instrumental to bringing the Democratic Party in the US and New Labour in the United Kingdom back into power through use of the focus group, originally invented by psychoanalysts employed by US corporations to allow consumers to express their feelings and needs, just as patients do in psychotherapy.”

What follow then is my own rough timeline for the development of psychological methods for use in advertising (Capitalism) and social engineering (the State) based on this documentary:

1919 to 1945 –

Edward Bernays opens public relations consulting office. Publishes first book 4 years later, in 1923. Edward Bernays methods spread, being used to make World Wars more palatable, cigarettes fashionable for women and Calvin Coolidge palatable as a person. Capitalism at this point is still mostly the slow moving, lumbering beast of Marx’s day.

1950 to 1968 –

Anna Freud, Sigmund’s daughter, specialized in child psychoanalysis, particularly the ability of the ego to be trained. Psychoanalysis now during this period dominates the culture of the West, its cultural expression the suburb. People who fall out of the area of what is acceptable by social engineers psychoanalysts are drugged up, institutionalized, electrocuted, or all three. Capitalism seemingly reigns supreme. All threats within are eliminated or inert. This is the apotheosis of classical Capitalism. It is not to last.

1968 to 1990 –

The inevitable reaction to the era of the gilded cage comes, like a freight train out of control. The baby-boomers, the products of the suburban gilded cage, seek to break free. But from what? And how? Without knowing the answer to these questions, the era of the “Hippie” is an era of confused spirituality, encounter groups, and, yes, identity politics. As many break out of and away from the single “normal” identity created for them by the psychoanalyst, new identities are created. This is a devastating but temporary blow to Capitalism. Originally minority groups used identity politics to form coalitions with majority groups, to rightly ensure that their own concerns and needs were heard and met. But with so many people looking to fill the void of identity created by a rejection of the psychoanalysts “healthy” identity, identity politics would not long remain simply a tool of minority civil rights activists. How did Capitalism survive the age of radical individuality?

1990 to Present…

Capitalists have no common belief, ethos, or political program outside of making money and growing the business. As a collective gestalt, this translates economically to grey goo. Gather material and energy, make copies. Capitalism only suppresses or destroys what gets in the way of this. It nurtures and spreads what helps this. How then did Capitalism survive the age of radical individuality, itself the reaction to capitalist consumerism and stifling cultural blandness? It is actually very simple.

identity-pullCapitalism changed its shape; it changed itself, and absorbed what threatened it. Like the eponymous blob from the movie, it absorbed what it came into contact with and got bigger and stronger. As manufacturing became cheaper and more sophisticated, and other technologies more advanced, screaming toward post-scarcity, Capitalism’s need for everyone to fit into a certain mold, and to think they needed a narrow range of certain things, became obsolete. So to, did the politicians who were still of the notion that they needed to appeal to a person’s rational intellect. The early 1990’s saw the birth of the internet, and with it, the niche market. At this same time, the focus group came to politics.

The focus group, for the uninitiated, is technically very simple. You gather a group of people. You give them a product to look at, inspect, touch, etc. Or a commercial to watch, if you’re thorough you show them many things that have to do with the product you have in mind to sell, as well as the product. Then, quite simply, you ask them how they feel about it. Then you ask them why they feel that way, and so on. A single focus group tells you little, many focus groups, done over time, give you a very deep look into the collective subconscious, a look that Capitalists have been taking for almost 100 years.

tinsh7sx58y-tiko-giorgadzeHow do you market to a large group of people that feel they need to be individuals (some need this so bad they will seek it at any cost)? The answer is you appeal to this need, you sell them on individuality. It works, it works depressingly well. For about 50 years, amid the use of sex to sell alcohol, masculinity to sell cigarettes and cars, the promise of individuality to sell anything and everything has come to the fore. The psychological and spiritual fallout of this is that the burning need for individuality, fostered by the Capitalist, is so finely targeted and so expertly set aflame, first by television, then by the much more efficient means of mass communication of the internet, that even a glut of consumerism cannot fill the hole left in the consumer’s soul. The internet, the morally neutral tool available to so many, can bring people together for mass protest and resistance, and equally it can bring hollow souls together to writhe in their own desperate need.

The identity of identity politics

Contemporary technology makes niche consumerism the most profitable business model. One hundred years of experience in appealing to subconscious desires has made the Capitalist advertiser a very well adapted predator, the consumer, a very well trained consumer. The consumer does not just consume, the consumer does not just internalize the psychology of the consumer. The consumer exists in a culture of consumption; there is no internalization of the consumer psychological mindset because the consumer has never had any other mindset. There is no culture outside of consumer culture, there hasn’t been for some time.

For this reason, participating in any culture with sincerity is at once an act of liberation and rebellion. Small wonder then that the individuals who attempt to participate in culture get shouted down and told they are immoral. But who is telling them this?

identity-pullThere was once a weirdo, who used to wander in the desert and tell people he was the son of god, who asked a rhetorical question in answer to the question, “Are you the devil?” That question was, “How can Satan cast out Satan?” Identity politics cannot resist Capitalism because it is a product of Capitalism. The reason identity politics will never and can never defeat or counter Capitalism is because identity politics is the latest, most virulent, most irresistible form of Capitalist consumer culture.

Those I knew who participated in a culture, instead of merely consuming it, were always glad to share their culture with me, and were glad to see their culture growing and interesting others. They were honored that I wanted to learn, and I was always grateful they were eager to teach. Culture is something we share with each other. It is given and taken freely. It may have a clear center, but is always fuzzy around the borders. Cultures mix where people mix, again, because culture is shared.

That is, until Capitalism got into the culture game. Now you have to “earn” the right to participate, or you have to be “native” to that culture, or it is appropriation. These are the demands and words of the fascist and capitalist. No mixing! You must pay to play! Consumer culture is now consuming culture, and the psychology of Identity Politics bears this out.

Suddenly the failing of the “Left”, and its identity politics, to counter The Donald is brought into sharp definition. Identity Politics is the culture of Capitalism. The Donald himself rode a wave of identity politics to the White House; it just wasn’t the identity politics of the Left. It was however Capitalist consumer culture, both on the Left and on the Right.

The Left couldn’t counter the rise of The Donald because Capitalism does not fight itself, it only helps itself.


Patacelcus

A Discordian for 20 years, Patacelcus finally got comfortable when the 21st century “started getting weird”. When not casting sigils, taking part in Tibetan Buddhist rituals, or studying the unfortunate but sometimes amusing stories of the dead, he’s been known to wander the hidden ways of the city, communing with all of the hidden spirits one can find in a city. As Patacelcus sees it, we’re all already free; after completing the arduous task of waking up to that we can then proceed, like a doctor treating a patient, to try to rouse others from the bitter and frightening nightmares of Archism. He laughs at Samsara’s shadow-play in lovely California, in the company of his wife, two cats, and 2 birds.


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28 Comments »

  1. One struggle with confronting the capitalist-coopted version of idpol is not then refuting the validity of identity that otherwise Othered or fringe peoples found in it. The downfall of what now serves as identity politics among the left is that it stops at accepting the individual, rather than asserting that the goal of acceptance is solidarity, not division. Often, I see this struggle playing out in ways that reflect societal mores and hatred, rather than striving for solidarity.

    Revolution is for all of us.

    Like

  2. This is a very nice article. Oh and you can buy and find copies of Edward Bernays “Propaganda” online as a physical book or an ebook. I keep trying to read it, but it’s an exercise in frustration with class as well as capitalist politics.
    There is one thing Patacelcus seems to have overlooked about “modern” Capitalism. And that is, that it’s a religion. The ideas of endless growth, wealth-generation, the “invisible hand,” etc. all reek of religious attitudes and structures. For example, Tony Robbins and company are priests selling the promise of vast wealth to the masses.
    As an anarchist animist, I have no gods and no bosses…

    Liked by 1 person

    • “There is one thing Patacelcus seems to have overlooked about “modern” Capitalism. And that is, that it’s a religion.”

      Don’t worry! We at the Patæconomical Institute for Sociological Study are hard at work on that issue and many others! More to come!

      Like

  3. I see lots of claims and little proof. Saying “this is what identity politics are” without drawing clear lines and without visiting the motivations for what you think they are is highly dishonest.

    I also see that the ones whose world views are most challenged by the existence of people who are treated as the Other are first to congratulate you on it. This site’s radicalism is the extreme edge of the “colorblind” Left, so focused on economic liberty that other forms of oppression are seen as worse than distractions. Your Paganism makes you the parallel to the rich white gays of the queer liberation movement. So startled that the one thing you disagree with the norm on is cause to consider you second-class citizens that you rail against the things that specifically damage you but support the oppressors on every other metric, using different language to accomplish the same thing.

    Claiming those of us who see other forms of oppression as important are the problem is the divide-and-conquer method the oppressors want us to perform. So, do keep going there. Without me. Your insistence on erasing oppression’s multiple methods is going to do more harm than anything you feel scared of from the POC and queers you clearly can’t accept as having valid issues.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I do not believe anyone here is claiming People of Color and queers (hi! I’m a faggot dating a black faggot) don’t have valid issues. They’d need to take it up with me if they did.

      Citing the history of identity politics (used equally by the left and right–actually, the right is much better at it than the left) and its relationship to capitalism does not dismiss anyone’s oppression claims. Rather, it re-situates that oppression into an anti-capitalist critique, rather than the pro-government, incrementalist approach of social justice.

      Liked by 1 person

      • just because it’s not ONLY anti-capitalist does not mean “social justice” is incrementalist government approach. Many who are in “social justice” are anti-capitalist. You dont need to erase other people’s movement and talk over them to accomplish our task.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. “That is, until Capitalism got into the culture game. Now you have to “earn” the right to participate, or you have to be “native” to that culture, or it is appropriation. These are the demands and words of the fascist and capitalist. No mixing! You must pay to play!” This seems like a very big thing to just drop at the end of the essay, with no further explanation, given that there’s been such furious debate about the concept of cultural appropriation. Can you say more about what you mean? I thought that capitalism was more about raiding marginalized cultures for shiny goodies, and that the concept of cultural appropriation was more of a “stop that” movement. The whole “plastic shaman” thing and so forth. But it seems you are arguing the opposite?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I spent this snowy afternoon watching that whole series trying to recover from a bad cold. I agree with you that everyone should watch it. I’m still processing. Identity politics divides, but it also concentrates. In the sorry history of the US left since 1960, the real big gains have been in the African-American struggle for equal rights which I think set in motion the movements for women’s and LBGT rights. I’m over fifty, and a lot has changed for the better in my lifetime. I’m a union member and it was hard this year because Trump got a lot of union votes. We all need to figure out better ways to maintain our separate identities and move forward. Less angry posturing on all are parts would be helpful.

    Like

  6. it seems like there will be huge diverse activist movement that excludes few white guys that have issues with having to share power with other people – I suppose that’s not a bad thing considering the alternative which is bunch of white guys leading and participating in everything despite the non-presence of other people.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Re-situating leftism away from American/Anglo identity politics and back into a critique of anti-capitalism is hardly ‘white guys that have issues with having to share power.’

      It’s precisely -because- we are anti-racist that we attack Capital.

      Like

      • Maybe we should take a step back here. There is a useful phrase to remember: nothing about us without us.

        While I totally dig the point about the cooption of idpol by capitalist systems, declarations about throwing it out feel like a return to a colour(/identity)blindness most people would rather leave behind. The core argument is that idpol has become a divisive factor and that we need to return to collective solidarity, but we know now that acknowledging and celebrating difference serves everyone better than simply thinking of everyone is exactly the same through equality. This article seems to be saying the latter, intentionally or not.

        Lets not throw the baby out with the bathwater. The nature of our differences undermine the assumption behind the exploitation of labour, that we are just biological machines.

        In solidarity and love.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Im so glad you feel your movement is very diverse and racial issues doesn’t need to be addressed and only capitalism should be addressed.

        I will go elsewhere where there are more voices participating.

        Liked by 1 person

      • No one has said that racial issues need not be addressed. You seem to be taking the opinion that attack capital and attacking racism at the same time is impossible; we think nothing is impossible.

        Like

      • “No one has said that racial issues need not be addressed. You seem to be taking the opinion that attack capital and attacking racism at the same time is impossible; we think nothing is impossible.”

        That is because you keep insisting that over throwing capitalism will over throw racism – so to only focus on over throwing capitalism and ignore racism.

        Of COURSE I think both is possible. It is YOU who keep insisting that both is not possible – or that they only way is to attack capitalism.(Your definition of BOTH – which I disagree with.)

        Liked by 1 person

    • Please tell us why you think that attacking capitalism won’t address racism. In the mean time, consider this:
      To me, and to others, capitalism is the modern form of the colonialism / empire-building of Europe that started in the mid-15th Century when Portugal and later Spain began the process of exploiting the non-Europeans of the world. Of course they kept exploiting Europeans, too. But that’s a colonialist empire for you. Slavery of non-Europeans was a means to this end. It required creating a reason for their enslavement, and thus racism was born. It’s true that there is a disconnect now between slavery, racism, and capitalism, but that’s because of capitalism growing up.
      Let’s see, by the middle of the 18th Century slavery began to wane as other forms of capitalist exploitation of labor became more profitable. So we see the end (for the most part) of chatle slavery around the world and a replacement with wage ahem slavery with “free” people working six or seven days a week and up to eighteen hours a day from the age of four as servants and factory workers. Or as free labor-owners on farms and ranches. By then racism was no longer needed to justify keeping a group down, but it helped keep labor under control by pitting workers against each other.
      Rinse and repeat with variations for differences based on religion, creed, sexuality, gender.

      Like

      • You don’t need to assume I dont know anything.
        If you over throw capitalism without addressing racism, sexism, etc.. what will come after will be just as bad if not worse. There have been others without capitalism that are very oppressive.
        Also, conflating colonialism to capitalism and slavery to what we have now is to not at all understand the i western imperialism as well as doing injustice to understanding specifics of what capitalism is.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Nadadecat: I would indeed like to know why you think attacking a system which created racial difference in the first place (whiteness is a capitalist creation!) and which enlists poor whites to defend itself from poor People of Color would not address racism.

      The goal is to address both at once.

      Like

      • I can agree with you on that, but this – “Rather, it re-situates that oppression into an anti-capitalist critique, rather than the pro-government, incrementalist approach of social justice.”

        sounds a lot like you dont want to approach racism, rather – only wish to address capitalism in hope that it will over throw racism.

        further in the article “That is, until Capitalism got into the culture game. Now you have to “earn” the right to participate, or you have to be “native” to that culture, or it is appropriation. These are the demands and words of the fascist and capitalist. No mixing! You must pay to play! Consumer culture is now consuming culture, and the psychology of Identity Politics bears this out.”

        sounds a lot like white people whining about having to think about racism and then blame the social justice movement. Just caus you feel bad doesn’t mean it’s against the anti-capitalist cause nor does it mean anti-capitalist can ignore racism.

        Liked by 1 person

      • whiteness is also a colonialist creation , system of hierarchy and power can and does exist out side of capitalist system. as apparent in the article.

        Liked by 1 person

      • in any case, I will be supporting and working with movement that seeks to be intersectional – all white movement rarely accomplish anything great. It never has – it never will.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. another great film about propaganda, advertising, and the world they create is PSYWAR: the real battlefield is your mind.

    it’s worth noting that facebook did a study a few years back and discovered there is nothing they can do that is so heinous that it will convince its users to quit. psychological manipulation, cyber-bullying to the point where victims kill themselves – no one cares, they just want the thing.

    Like

  8. “Identity politics cannot resist Capitalism because it is a product of Capitalism.”

    The working class cannot resist capitalism because it is a product of capitalism.

    An anticapitalist cannot resist capitalism because it is a product of capitalism.

    A gun cannot resist capitalism because it is a product of capitalism.

    This is fundamentally a form of logic which cannot hold the very contradictions that capitalism creates, to use Marx’s words, “what capitalism produces above all else is its own gravediggers.” I’m not a Marxist by any means, yet I’m incredibly skeptical of this argument that from one point of view is arguing from this ‘purity’ position which suggests that anything produced by the economic system that produces all social relationships within its sphere of influence is somehow ethically incapable of resisting this system. But considering that all social relationships are produced by the capitalist mode of production, then why tf is identity politics singled out as impotent when an individualist politic is just as impotent. To me, blaming identity politics for the Left failing to stop the rise of fascist politics in all the centers of imperialist power around the world is ridiculous and tbh there is actually not a single point grounded in fact to substantiate this in the article. I attribute this to poor writing more than anything, having read over the article it seems more like the author had a point they wanted to make and then wrote an article to reach that point, rather than constructing a well thought out flow of logic.

    “Those I knew who participated in a culture, instead of merely consuming it, were always glad to share their culture with me, and were glad to see their culture growing and interesting others. They were honored that I wanted to learn, and I was always grateful they were eager to teach. Culture is something we share with each other. It is given and taken freely. It may have a clear center, but is always fuzzy around the borders. Cultures mix where people mix, again, because culture is shared.

    That is, until Capitalism got into the culture game. Now you have to “earn” the right to participate, or you have to be “native” to that culture, or it is appropriation. These are the demands and words of the fascist and capitalist. No mixing! You must pay to play! Consumer culture is now consuming culture, and the psychology of Identity Politics bears this out.”

    Yet again, I wonder where an analysis of colonization, global antiblackness, and the historical trajectories that shaped the ‘identities’ of identity politics being referenced here. Race, ethnicity, gender, and their relationship to culture and/or identity are only alluded to, and this section reads as a dog-whistle politic attacking both indigenous politics and any anticolonial analysis which could center the ways in which capitalism feeds off of the primitive accumulation of oppressed ppl’s cultures and the ensuing cultural genocide of facets of that culture as it is mined for potential profit. Appropriation and being “native” are not “demands and words of the capitalist”, but rather the idea that all oppressed ppls should be open to having their cultures “shared” against their will is a deeply colonial entitlement embedded in the white psyche. This isn’t to say that cultural exhange and sharing is impossible, it is only to say that the demand that all culture must be shared and to resist it is capitalist is colonial af. to situate an analysis of culture in such an ahistorical way that it cannot acknowledge the history that shaped different ppl’s relationship to culture and cultural ownership is to set up an analysis mired in the amnesia of whiteness which is incapable of truly contesting capital.

    Like

  9. Good pivot from “identity politics” to “solidarity.” There’s nothing that would please the Right more than to drive a wedge between minorities, women, and progressive white men. Luckily for them, the Left has implemented their divide-and-conquer dream from within its own ranks. And all they had to do was sit back and watch. But I’m still hopeful we can make your pivot before the self-destruction is complete.

    Like

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