• StreetlightX
    4.3k
    During a recent public round table discussion, I was dismayed when a particularly well spoken civil rights activist made the claim that 'all politics is identity politics'. The problem wasn't that he was wrong. He was in fact quite right about that. The problem was what the statement was meant to imply. Now, people like to complain alot about 'identity politics'. Most people don't really understand what it is, and as a result and precisely because they don't, alot of people also have no idea what counts as an alternative to identity politics. That is: if not identity politics, then what? What other kind of politics is there?

    Now, the civil rights activist's point was quite simple: all politics has an effect on the identity of those involved, therefore, all politics is identity politics. This is, in some sense undeniable. But here's the issue: this doesn't mean that identity politics exhausts what politics can involve. All politics is identity politics, but all politics isn't just identity politics. It's like how all humans have noses, but that doesn't mean that humanity is defined by their noses. So again, how do we cash this out? If not identity politics, then what? As examples of 'what else', we can consider two approaches to politics that are not immediately oriented to questions of identity: (1) Distributive politics; and (2) Participatory politics.

    Let's begin with distributive politics. Distributive politics involves how societal goods are allocated in society. Societal goods might include: access to means of justice (courts, lawyers, legal information), availability of education (schools, libraries, funding for schools), ease of access to 'life-goods' like housing, electricity, water, food, and jobs, or else social and geographic means of mobility (transport, infrastructure like roads and highways, fuel), etc. Distributive politics is, in many ways, the most basic aspect of politics. Political fights simply often begin over who has access to what.

    Now, just like how identity politics does not exhaust the scope of politics, neither does distributive politics. The main critique of distributive politics is that it doesn't put into question who is doing the distributing. Both democratic and fascist societies concern themselves with the distribution of goods. However, making it a question of who does the distributing, is a question of participatory politics. Who 'participates'. Politics at this level involves contests over who has the power of distribution, and how accessible and changeable that power is. A totalitarian state generally 'fixes' who has power here: an unchangeable state. A democratic state allows who has power to change: parties, at its most limited, 'the people', at its most expansive.

    Alot of the above is, in many ways, politics 101. But it sometimes takes a little bit of 'back to basics' insofar as there seems to be alot of confusion about what politics can consist in. Neither distributive nor participatory politics exhaust what count as politics either, any more than identity politics. The last thing to add is that none of this implies identity politics is 'bad'. Only that it is one kind of politics among a range of possible political action, and that it is a question of tactics as to when and where it ought to be employed.
  • Echarmion
    984
    What is the definition of politics we're using here? Do we mean politics in an institutional sense, or just action to accomplish our goals?
  • StreetlightX
    4.3k
    Yeah, I don't mean institutional politics, or at least, I don't mean it exclusively. Loosely: any societal action (which might include setting up institutions!) made to maintain or effect a change in the distribution and effects of power in society. Anything that involves the question(s) of Who(?) does What(?) to Whom(?) for Whose benefit(?) at the social level.
  • frank
    3.6k
    A totalitarian state generally 'fixes' who has power here: an unchangeable state. AStreetlightX

    Although there can be a kind of politics regarding access in totalitarian states. Russian czars, though ruling an absolute monarchy, were generally power brokers for the aristocracy. In the USSR, the leader was similar to a czar in this way, except instead of aristocracy there were just competing members. Here politics is similar to what we mean by "office politics." It's an on going drama probably most basically fueled by something primal.
  • unenlightened
    4k
    Loosely: any societal action (which might include setting up institutions!) made to maintain or effect a change in the distribution and effects of power in society. Anything that involves the question(s) of Who(?) does What(?) to Whom(?) for Whose benefit(?) at the social level.StreetlightX


    Politics is about power. That's why every alien demands to be taken to your leader. One talks to the organ-grinder not the monkey. Power is the fundamental unit of identity. Are you someone, or are you a nobody?

    Politics therefore is a corruption of 'societal action', which without coercive power would be inescapably cooperative.
  • StreetlightX
    4.3k
    Power is the fundamental unit of identity.unenlightened

    Perhaps, but the converse does not hold.

    Politics therefore is a corruption of 'societal action', which without coercive power would be inescapably cooperative.unenlightened

    But this is naive. All societal action is power bound, and the attempt to say it isn't is just unreflective and unacknowledged wielding of power. Perhaps the most dangerous use of it of all. It's only cults and religions which believe in the unfallen Eden of power-free relations.
  • unenlightened
    4k
    All societal action is power bound, and the attempt to say it isn't is just unreflective and unacknowledged wielding of power.StreetlightX

    "No it isn't", he says naively in an unreflective wielding of power.

    There! That's changed everything by sheer puissance and pouvoir!

    Except I suspect it hasn't changed anything because it is not a wielding of power. But it is a social action.
    And it might therefore change something by means of a cooperative and mutual understanding. Philosophy is not politics, and when it is political it is corrupt. And I don't have to believe in an unfallen Eden or claim to be enlightened to notice corruption.
  • frank
    3.6k
    American political parties have all-purpose names so the make-up of each party can change over time. "Democrat" presently means liberal, but it was once the pro-slavery party.

    I wonder if saying that all politics is identity politics is a way of denying fluidity in favor of static identities. That's what an identity essentially is: a super-temporal name for a temporal and so ever changing eddy in the current.

    It's a way of denying that we ever make any progeess toward our goals. Do we?
  • StreetlightX
    4.3k
    Views like that end up naturalizing existing power-relations under the guise of being 'power-free'. Every time that happens it ends in tragedy. It's the favourite ruse of every Stalin that's ever been: "oh this isn't power, this is The Cooperative and Mutual Understanding Way".
  • StreetlightX
    4.3k
    I wonder if saying that all politics is identity politics is a way of denying fluidity in favor of static identities.frank

    To some degree. Established identity can be a bulwark against harm or unwanted change. To call upon identity is to potentially call upon a very rich texture of histories and culture to shore up a political claim. But that's the danger in it too: it has the effect of binding one to it ever more closely. It's reactive and comes from a position of weakness. This is not a fault, necessarily. The hurt are always in a position of weakness.
  • unenlightened
    4k
    Views like that end up naturalizing existing power-relations under the guise of being 'power-free'.StreetlightX

    Oh come on, man! That's a power play itself, comparing me to fucking Stalin. A power mad ideologue says that he holds a view, and behaves in a totally contradictory way. and that proves the view false. Start making sense and back off with the insults so much.
  • StreetlightX
    4.3k
    Tell me where I was wrong. There's nothing neutral about co-operation. Co-operation requires conditions which enable and sustain it. And those conditions are always power-saturated. This isn't anything special to co-operation. Even violence has it's conditions of power. Nothing is neutral. Or, if anything is neutral, there are conditions of power which sustain that neutrality too.
  • unenlightened
    4k
    Tell me where I was wrong.StreetlightX

    No. life's too short and I withdraw my cooperation. work it out on your own, or not.
  • StreetlightX
    4.3k
    How lucky you are to be a position to do that. Imagine if power relations were different...
  • Snakes Alive
    392
    What other kind of politics is there?StreetlightX

    Politics is about force, and which groups get to kill which other groups if they don't obey. So it's always going to be identity politics since there's always a group with the gun.

    I suspect what people mean by identity politics when they rail against it is that the groups along which people identify are things like race, gender, etc., rather than class (as leftists would like), nationality (as nationalists would like), religion (as the religious would like), etc.
  • Snakes Alive
    392
    In other words, the question has moved from "which nation gets to kill which other nation" to "which race gets to kill which other race," etc. and some people like that, some don't.
  • StreetlightX
    4.3k
    Politics is about forceSnakes Alive

    Sometimes. Even often.

    I suspect what people mean by identity politics when they rail against it is that the groups along which people identify are things like race, gender, etc., rather than class (as leftists would like), nationality (as nationalists would like), religion (as the religious would like), etc.Snakes Alive

    Sometimes this too. But there are plenty of other ways in the politics plays out, as I tried to relate.
  • Snakes Alive
    392
    Sometimes this too. But there are plenty of other ways in the politics plays out, as I tried to relate.StreetlightX

    I don't see the examples you identify as antithetical to what I said – in the end, it's still about who gets to kill who (or some proxy for it, like imprisonment).
  • StreetlightX
    4.3k
    Some interesting reactions here. 'Politics is about force to kill'; 'politics is corruption'. People wanting to place themselves at a distance from politics, like they are innocent observers from afar. Perhaps this is why democracy is unsustainable today. No one is able to see themselves as a political actor.
  • StreetlightX
    4.3k
    in the end, it's still about who gets to kill who (or some proxy for it, like imprisonment).Snakes Alive

    A shallow but increasingly common view of politics I suppose. How depressing.
  • Snakes Alive
    392
    I think that people usually are in a reactive position with respect to politics. We as Americans (I am assuming you are American, given the hand-wringing over democracy) have as our history one long consolidation of federal power over local authorities, generally accompanied by genocide for the natives.

    So yeah, for most people politics is a quasi-natural predicament they're born in ("death and taxes"), or something that consumes them (like a tidal wave). Is the average person a "political actor?" Maybe in the sense that they tend to be complicit, which they can hardly be blamed for.
  • frank
    3.6k
    In other words, the question has moved from "which nation gets to kill which other nation" to "which race gets to kill which other race," etc. and some people like that, some don't.Snakes Alive

    There's no killing a wealthy black man because he has the same allies a rich white guy has.

    Same with women: there's no glass ceiling for a rich Evanka.

    Money is power, not guns.
  • Snakes Alive
    392
    If there's no gun at the end of it, it's not power, since then people can just ignore you. Who would pay taxes if you couldn't be imprisoned for it? And what do you think happens if you resist imprisonment?
  • frank
    3.6k
    there's no gun at the end of it, it's not power, since then people can just ignore you. Who would pay taxes if you couldn't be imprisoned for it? And what do you think happens if you resist imprisonment?Snakes Alive

    If you're still paying taxes it's because you don't have an accountant who can fenagle you out of it.

    Society doesn't run on the threat of violence. If it did, there would be no civilization. Most people are just immersed in doing their thing, whatever that is. Society runs on big dreams.
  • StreetlightX
    4.3k
    I'm not American, thankfully.

    As for politics as predicament - that's another interesting one. A problem to be solved, rather than a field of life to be negotiated. Of course those who want to 'solve' politics have always been the willing to do the worst.
  • Snakes Alive
    392
    I think you might have a lot of things that run just because people do their own thing without thinking about anything.

    But then, I don't think all things run because of politics, and this is supposed to be about politics. I don't see what politics there is without guns. If no one's threatening to shoot you, it's not politics. Like this forum – the reason this discussion isn't political is because unenlightened left, since no one could do anything to him.

    And you're right that we pay taxes because our accountants can't get us out of it, but you didn't continue the chain of reasoning far enough. Since we don't, then not doing so results in an audit...resisting an audit results in an arrest...resisting an arrest results in being shot.
  • Snakes Alive
    392
    I'm not American, thankfully.StreetlightX

    Oh – my bad!

    But why are you shilling for our ideology online, then?

    As for politics as predicament - that's another interesting one. A problem to be solved, rather than a field of life to be negotiated. Of course those who want to 'solve' politics have always been the willing to do the worst.StreetlightX

    I'm not sure any one quality unites the ones willing to do the worst, except maybe that they could.
  • StreetlightX
    4.3k
    But why are you shilling for our ideology online, then?Snakes Alive

    It's not yours! Jeez. Americans.

    I'm not sure any one quality uniting the ones willing to do the worst, except maybe that they could.Snakes Alive

    No, but a distaste for politics has always been a bad sign of things to come.
  • frank
    3.6k
    Since we don't, then not doing so results in an audit...resisting an audit results in an arrest...resisting an arrest results in being shot.Snakes Alive

    In that case money acts as a shield against the power of a gun, so yes, there's power in violence.

    It's in politics that the immense power of money shows up. If anything, race, sex, and
    sexual orientation are ways to distract the voters so they don't pay attention to the way they're voting against their own interests.
  • Snakes Alive
    392
    It's not yours! Jeez. Americans.StreetlightX

    I hate to break it to you, my friend. We're living in your head rent-free, as the kids say.

    No, but a distaste for politics has always been a bad sign of things to come.StreetlightX

    In my own life, I have always found overtly political people to be most repulsive in their personal lives. But maybe that is just anecdote.

    In any case, there are always bad (and good) signs of things to come. Maybe the point is to make them less bad (prevent the genocides?) by having everyone be political in the right way – the democratic way, I assume! But then, democracy has never, ever, ever prevented genocide. Ah, but real democracy has never been tried...
  • Saphsin
    149
    I don't see the point of answering how to best conceptualize the categorical term referred to as politics. We all know what it means, and further insights can be broken down into additional questions such as our responsibilities within politics, how the world works and our relations to it, and so on. Politics is not about one particular thing the most as far as I can tell, and even if it was, as long as we can identify it among a myriad of things, I don't see the significance of pointing out the hierarchy of concepts.
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