Political Identity, Relational Loss
Political season is well and truly in full swing these days. One can barely find a cute picture of a panda online without bumping into a near-overwhelming number of memes (supportive and derogatory), quotes (false, out of context and sometimes true), and speeches (fervently pro and anti) about various candidates and the positions they likely take. Along for the ride is the “no true scotsman” logical fallacy, being thrown around with great poetic license as if it was the claymore from Braveheart.
This form of personal dismissal in the shape of a logical fallacy is the attempt to hold as sacred, inclusion in a group. As ideologies are the creation of people for the regulation of behavior and maintaining social cohesion, so then any time an ideology exists that is connected to a particular group, there will be variations. Were this a struggle for growth, for helping determine the finer qualities of what it means to follow a particular philosophy or worldview within a multi-faceted world, there’d be much room for praise. Unfortunately, there is often little growth occurring, there is only the quest for managing power through group purity. Rather than engaging with the world and disparate opinions, there is instead the furtherance of the adversarial Us vs Them mentality, and the systematic creation of an increasingly large “Other.”
All identities are limiting, they have to be, as they determine what is and is not bound within a particular scope of selective engagement. We have our physical identities at the biological level so we know what is and is not our bodies. We have family identities so we know who is and is not family, often leading to variations in what is and is not acceptable behavior. We have social and national identities so we know what is and is not aligned with broader interests, often resulting in naming particular behavior as good when if it were done by another would be considered terrible.
Knowing who we are is intimately connected with the group identities we engage in, but by their very nature as mental constructs for limitation, too much focus on one or or another group identity can diminish the exploration of our lives. As Bronowski puts it:
“In our relations with people, and even with animals, we understand their actions and motives because we have at some time shared them, so that we know them from the inside. We know what anger is, we learn an accent or the value of friendship, by directly entering into the experience. And by identifying ourselves with the experience of others, we enlarge our knowledge of ourselves as human beings: we gain self-knowledge.” (Bronowski)
Group identity can be greatly beneficial, regardless of its ideological roots. However, it becomes oppressive when it ceases to engage with new experiences and ways of interpreting even the most sacred of ideological tenets. This oppression lays the groundwork for fundamentalism, a process of exclusion that is not limited to religious movements.
Just the other day, a comment was noted that identified a person’s action as “not being a true liberal.” The current struggle within the Republican party is often characterized as a struggle for the heart of conservatism, as if such has only ever meant one thing. The politics of today is polarized precisely because people have been replaced by ideological purity. Political action is being taken by fewer and fewer people precisely because there is no longer any room for dissent. Instead of seeing how one’s worldview interacts with new information, shelter is found in building up the barriers of our personal bubbles. Instead of scratching at the walls of our echo-chambers to see where growth can occur, any and all cracks are immediately filled in by removing what is deemed contrary.
We cannot build a government for the people and by the people if we do not actively engage in generative dialogue. Generative because it is about generating new ideas from within the old, generative because it sees nuance where adversarial debate sees only steadfast positions. This is not an easy road to pursue, but the result of not doing so will only be walls and barriers, of limiting the totality of human experience to an increasingly smaller set of thoughts and behavior deemed “pure.”
“If we actively engage with an ever-widening array of our potential expressions, we have that much more with which to interact and respond to others and changing circumstances. The reverse is also true, as our reactions to others are keyed to the identities or labels they’re placed under, so how we react to others is contingent upon how varied our view of them is. The political opponent is also a spouse, worker, lover, hobbyist, etc. An expansion of perspective helps everyone.”
© David Teachout
Featured Image: Don’t Belong Here by Alena Beljakova
Bronowski, Jacob (2010-06-30). The Identity of Man (Great Minds Series) (p. 83). Prometheus Books – A. Kindle Edition.