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.
What 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.
Capitalism 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.
How 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?
There 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.
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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