Identity Politics and its Limitations
I learnt from Wikipedia that identity politics deals with various socio-political movements that are based on group identities, which can be found in the feminist movements, gay and lesbian movements and so on.
“Identity politics are political arguments that focus upon the self-interest and perspectives of self-identified social interest groups and ways in which people’s politics may be shaped by aspects of their identity through race, class, religion, gender, ethnicity, ideology, nation, sexual orientation, culture, currency, information preference, history, musical and/or literary genre, medical conditions, profession, hobby, or any other loosely correlated yet simple to intuit social organizations. … It can most notably be found in class movements, feminist movements, gay and lesbian movements, disability movements, ethnic movements and post colonial movements. But wherever it is found it is also open to wide debate and critique.”
While these movements have their place in enabling the voices of the minorities and the marginalised to be heard and their issues of discrimination to be addressed in the society, I learnt that there are also limitations to identity politics, because it does not necessarily bring about equality. In this blog, the writer noted that Peter Rollins had explained how the scapegoat mechanism continues to function even when the mainstream tries to include minority groups into their circles as part of identity politics.
“This is why the liberal strategy of opening up communities to previously scapegoated others is not, in itself, sufficient. In religious terms we can note how some conservative churches are beginning to open up to the possibility that gays and lesbians can be equal members of their community. Just as they eventually learned to reject explicit racism and sexism now they are gradually learning to overcome heterosexism. But the problem is that the fundamental structure of scapegoating is not broken in the acceptance of the latest “other,” and if the underlying scapegoat mechanism is not decommissioned then new “others” will always arise to protect the group from its own internal conflicts.
There will always be an other as long as we refuse to face ourselves. For example in some of these groups gays and lesbians are now being accepted as long as they embrace the idea of lifelong monogamous marriage. This means that those, gay and straight, who don’t accept that lifestyle for themselves can be excluded as immoral, corrupt and a threat to the institution of marriage.”
So from my understanding, the more people focus on identifying minority groups and then trying to include them into the mainstream, without first accepting the otherness in themselves, the more they continue to discriminate the minorities based on their perceived differences. Another problem is that everyone assumes that all the individuals within a particular minority group must subscribe to the same kind of lifestyle or ideology, and so the people within that group lose their individuality. I came across this article in which the writer shares how marxism (or socialism that denounces classism) helps minority groups move beyond the limits of identity politics.
Similarly, in this article, the writer explains why identity politics does not liberate the oppressed whereas Marxism provides the theoretical tools for ending oppression.
The bulk of this article is a critique of the theory behind what is known in academic and left circles as “identity politics”—the idea that only those experiencing a particular form of oppression can either define it or fight against it—counterposing to it a Marxist analysis. My central premise is that Marxism provides the theoretical tools for ending oppression, while identity politics does not.”
(From “The Politics of Identity” by Sharon Smith, International Socialist Review)
From my understanding of the article, the theory of identity politics ignores the entire element of social class, which is a problem because class inequality causes oppression. So it is thought that Marxism or socialism that seeks to remove class inequality would serve to end oppression of the minorities and the marginalised.
I have checked out the above video and I think Peter Rollins summed up very well the significance of the cross as symbolising our crucifixion of various identities, which transcends our perceived differences and moves beyond the limits of identity politics. As long as people identify themselves based on social interests or political affiliations or belief systems or ethnic groups and so on, there will always be some forms of discrimination and conflicts and tribalism, in which one group tends to think they have all the right answers and others don’t. I like the scenario he gave about a minister who would supposedly confess publicly that his own uncertainty and unknowing and that he doesn’t have all the right answers, and in some cases, the church would fire him not because they did not know he does not have all the right answers but rather they do not want to face their own uncertainties and unknowing and would rather hire someone who appears to have all the right answers to preach to them. I also agree that unity and equality can be made possible that people come together and have deep conversations by laying aside their various identities, and learn from one another, and being conscious that in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, gay nor straight, republican nor democrat, high class nor low class, feminist nor misogynist, black nor white, and so on, for we are all one.
As Peter Rollins also shared in the video, it is important that people hold on to their beliefs with a loose hand. If they hold on to their beliefs too tightly, they will not be open to learn from others. The same goes with group identities. I think that is why Peter Rollins does not want to subscribe fully to identity politics because the various group identities have their limitations and ultimately do not bring about equality that they desire because it can become another “us” versus “them” mentality. I think some feminists have probably misunderstood him in the past as saying he does not care about diversity or about equality of women or minorities when he did not want to subscribe to identity politics. But he was actually going beyond the limits of identity politics, beyond feminism, and so on, as much as these movements have their place, because he sees that true equality and unity can only be made possible when people lay aside their various identities and embrace the other. He also clarified in the video that it doesn’t mean people stop being men or women and so on, but rather people can choose to look beyond these outward differences and commune at a deeper level. So his message on crucified identities resonates with me as well because I too believe the gospel of our true identity shared among humanity is one way for greater peace and equality.
- Peter Rollins – We are a fiction (themysteryofchrist.wordpress.com)
I came across this website yesterday on the history of a civil war in Cambodia in the 1970s. I was thinking to myself maybe it is good to read about and remember such events of atrocities, so as to be continually in touch with human sufferings and pains. I usually tend to avoid dwelling too much on such news and stories because it can be perplexing and emotionally draining to read and mull over them, but then again, just focusing on positive news all the time can somewhat result in an imbalance in my overall outlook of life. So I am reflecting that to live an examined life is to include my awareness of the sufferings I see in the world, and learn some lessons on human nature, such as the insights shared in the website concerning the genocide in Cambodia.
“As we observe the victims, they are observing us. We are taking the pictures and we are having our pictures taken. As our eyes meet, we are all, in a sense, potential victims, perpetrators and passersby. By absorbing the photos we can partake of the terror that ruled Cambodia between April 1975 and the first few days of 1979. In the process, we can also learn something about what Jung has called our shadow selves.”
(From “The Killing Fields“)
Yes, come to think of it, I wouldn’t know how I might have acted if I were born in Cambodia in the 1970s and were recruited as a child soldier and brainwashed by the regime. Would I have participated in the genocide? Or what if I were one of the victims of the genocide? As the article concluded, everyone has a shadow self, and the genocide may be a valuable lesson for humanity to embrace and come to terms with our shadow side, and also embrace pains and sufferings as part of our human experience in life. Perhaps this awareness and acceptance can paradoxically bring about more peace on earth because we would have learnt to make peace with ourselves and within ourselves.
- The Hard Parts of Cambodia (hartwish.wordpress.com)
- Real reason for Vietnam War was rice (kjmmyblog.wordpress.com)
- Khmer Rouge Leader Charged with Genocide, Died (theepochtimes.com)
- Paper – Genocide (sylviaxfaasse.wordpress.com)
Yes, I have come to learn that forgiveness is for our own sake and not because the perpetrator deserves our forgiveness. It is simply not worth losing our peace and health over what others have done to us, and the best thing we can do is to keep a safe distance from them as long as they remain in a position or mindset that is hurtful to others. I also came across this quote of a similar nature – here’s sharing below.
Yes, when someone is nasty or treats you poorly, it actually says nothing about you and a lot about them because they are projecting their wounded self onto other people. You are not defined by what they say or how they treat you, but you are defined by your true intrinsic worth and value as a human being and a beloved child of God/Universe/Divine Love.
“Your light is seen, your heart is known, your soul is cherished by more people than you might imagine. If you knew how many others have been touched in wonderful ways by you, you would be astonished. If you knew how many people feel so much for you, you would be shocked. You are far more wonderful than you think you are. Rest with that. Rest easy with that. Breathe again. You are doing fine. More than fine. Better than fine. You’re doin’ great. So relax. And love yourself today.”
~ Neale Donald Walsch
- a prayer (urdamage.wordpress.com)
- Neale Donald Walsch, Author of “Conversations With God,” Reveals His Predictions for the Coming Years in His New Book, “The Storm Before The Calm” (prweb.com)
- A Quotation About God From Neale Donald Walsch (renardmoreau.wordpress.com)
- I Forgive for my own sake…… (miraculousendeavors.org)
- No condition is “good” or “bad” (motivationunlimited.wordpress.com)
“By healing ourselves, we heal the world.” – Jim Palmer
This insightful blog by Jim Palmer has perfect resonance with me and is worth remembering over and over again, since it is easy to forget the deep insights when I am distracted and overwhelmed by the world’s problems. I agree that by healing ourselves, we heal others because we are all interconnected like cells in a human body. I remember Thich Nhat Hanh once shared that we can only give to others what we have, referring to peace. In the same way, when we are in good health can we help others to be healthy, so to speak.
As Jim Palmer also noted, while we want to help impact the world and address the problems of inequality and so on, the best way to start is ourselves, because as we remind ourselves of our oneness with the universe or the divine and dwell in peace and joy, we are actually helping to send peaceful vibrations that heal not only ourselves but also the world around us, near and far.
Like what Thich Nhat Hanh said:
– “If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace.”
This is a timeless reminder for me as well.
It is peaceful listening to the interview with Thich Nhat Hanh as it reminds me of the importance of staying in the present moment by being aware of my breathing and knowing that being alive is a miracle itself. I agree with his observation many people, including myself, tend to sacrifice the present for the future by worrying and being distracted by events, hence coming home where the present moment is is the key to happiness as well as healing and transformation of our sufferings.
I like his deep understanding of our inter-being as we are all connected, and by understanding the nature of sufferings and being in touch with our sufferings, we can relieve our own pains and help others too – his analogy of a mother comforting her crying baby is a powerful tool of illustrating how we can take care of our own pains and anxieties through compassion. There is much wisdom and insights in his sharing, gleaned from ancient teachings and practices which I am still learning. I also find comfort in his analogy of “no life, no death” as a beautiful cloud being transformed into rain, snow or sleet, and so in the same way, our beloved ones who have passed on continue to live in and around us.
As for the second half of the video on “The Dhamma Brothers”, I noted that vipassana meditation has indeed helped the prison/rehab inmates in many ways, such as becoming more relaxed and being able to get along with one another better. One particular inmate’s testimony stood out for me – which goes something like “I used to think my greatest fear used to be growing old and dying in prison; now I think my greatest fear is growing old and not knowing myself”. I think that speaks volumes of the benefits of meditation, which includes enabling people to know themselves, perhaps as if for the first time, and embrace their fears and anxieties as part of their whole being.
I googled about vipanassa meditation and I learnt from this article that it “is a way of self-transformation through self-observation. It focuses on the deep interconnection between mind and body, which can be experienced directly by disciplined attention to the physical sensations that form the life of the body, and that continuously interconnect and condition the life of the mind.”
I think I will continue to find out more about this as it is worth practising as a lifestyle. Like what Thich Nhat Hanh said, every moment can be an opportunity to touch the miracle of being alive by going back to our breaths.
I also managed to find his book “No death, no fear” online, which was mentioned during the video interview with Oprah Winfrey. I like what he wrote here:
“Our true nature is the nature of no birth and no death. We do not have to go anywhere in order to touch our true nature. The wave does not have to look for water because she is water. We do not have to look for God, we do not have to look for our ultimate dimension or nirvana, because we are nirvana, we are God.
You are what you are looking for. You are already what you want to become. You can say to the wave, “My dearest wave, you are water. You don’t have to go and seek water. Your nature is the nature of nondiscrimination, of no birth, of no death, of no being and of no non-being.”
(From “No death, no fear” by Thich Nhat Hanh)
I think it takes deep awareness to touch the ultimate reality of “no birth, no death” because the media, the society, our physical senses, and so on, are so conditioned to think in terms of birth and death, coming and going, and so on. I feel a sense of deep peace when I contemplate on the possibility or the idea of our true nature that is interconnected with the universe, such as there is no separation between us, and we are one with the universe, just as the wave is one with the water.
I think meditation enables people to love and accept themselves. It is powerful because it helps people to overcome self-condemnation by embracing their past wounds and shadow self and observing thoughts and emotions in their minds without engaging them. This results in healing and transformation, and people become more relaxed and peaceful, as we have seen in the real life example of the Dhamma brothers in the maximum security prison in Alabama.
I admire Thich Nhat Hanh for being a living example of the Buddhist teachings on peace and nonviolence. His life speaks volumes of his wisdom and gentleness, as he has been through the Vietnam war and living as an exile from his homeland and yet exudes peace and harmony.
- Practising mindfulness and meditation (realrest.wordpress.com)
- Reflection for today…The Roots of Peace -Thich Nhat Hanh (mysoulsonice.wordpress.com)
- You Are Like a Candle (itstartedwithaquote.wordpress.com)
- The Righteous Care for Animals (jamiestable.wordpress.com)
- Thich Nhat Hanh on climate change (thefirstgates.com)
- Thich Nhat Hanh on the fear inherent in materialism (wesharman.wordpress.com)
- “By healing ourselves, we heal the world.” (realrest.wordpress.com)
- Where Is Silence? (toknowbeauty.wordpress.com)
- Inspiration (wed-gie.com)
- Breathing for inner peace (vtwest.wordpress.com)
- WakeUp+LIVE Mondays ~ Pebble Meditation
“From heaven’s perspective, a child who loves the simplicity of life is wiser than a man who loves the complexity of information and knowledge.”
– Mick Mooney
“Unless you become like little children, you can’t see the kingdom of Heaven” ~ Said a man from judean desert 2000 years ago.
I have always believed in being forever young at heart and the verse about becoming like little children and seeing the kingdom of heaven is one of my favourite verses by the man from the Judean desert 2,000 years ago. As an adult, I have much to learn from little children if I want to stay in touch with my inner child, such as appreciating the simplicity of life and being open to questions and mysteries of Nature/Universe with wonder and awe. Somehow, this reminds me that research has shown babies and little children laugh more than adults daily.
“He’s found that babies laugh 300 times a day, while adults laugh only 20 times.”
(From “In the lab with the world’s leading laugh scientist“)
The amazing thing perhaps is that babies and little children don’t need to learn to laugh or appreciate the simplicity of life – they just do and be who they are. I think the older I get, the more I need to unlearn from the conditionings I received from society, religion, etc and the more I need to learn from little children.
Like what Mick Mooney’s quote says, adults tend to be encumbered by complexity but wisdom is shown by a child who embraces simplicity. Religion particularly tends to complicate life with doctrines/dogma, rules, rituals, obligations and regulations. I like this quote.
Shunryu Suzuki famously said “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”
(From “13 communication and life tips that children teach us“)
Yes, it seems organised religions have caused people to close their mind from possibilities and settle for certainties. No wonder Jesus said to the teachers of the law that they cannot see the kingdom of heaven unless they become like little children (and be open to possibilities and appreciate the mysteries of life with awe and wonder, such as the mystery of Christ in us the hope of glory and the mystery of the kingdom – innocence, peace and joy within us).
May the year 2013 be a year of phenomenal ecstatic joy!
- Thoughts on child rearing and family planning (natureandus.wordpress.com)
- Sometimes we need to go back to the simplicity of innocence. (leannemarriott.com)
- The Heart of a Child (butchdean.wordpress.com)