Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

Identity politics front and center.  §

The thing that strikes me most about this season’s political conventions—and I’ve watched them both in their entirety—is the degree to which they are both about the same thing, and at the same time utterly devoid of actual policy discussion and details.

Gone are the days when candidates would lay out a policy agenda. Instead, both claimed to have done so while doing absolutely nothing of the sort. Instead, they each presented a set of bins into which they piled various goods and evils, then said, “and so I will fix everything for you!

But at the core of things, what both conventions did, from beginning to end, was talk about identity.

At the RNC it was about rejected identities. These people are bad. Those people are bad. Some other people are also bad. Terrorists, immigrants, liberals, Hillary. All bad. These are bad people.

At the DNC it was about embraced identities. These people are good. Those people are good. Some other people are also good. LGBTQ folks, minorities, progressives, Hillary. All good. These are good people.

Little else was said. I’m strongly leaning third party for my vote this year. I’m not willing to join the identity politics game. I’m not voting for candidates that can’t even be bothered to make the two fundamental points of governance their focus.

1. What needs to be done.
2. The details of how they will do it.

Maybe they will actually talk details during debates, if we actually get any (given the DNC’s strategy during the primary season, and Trump’s bluster and instability, it’s actually in doubt). But I was very disappointed in both conventions.

A note in particular to the Hillary progressives: I do not care that she is good. I do not care that she likes good people. I do not care that Trump is bad. I do not care that he dislikes good people. What I want to know is what each of them will do. Not what they like (full employment! no prejudice! American strength! national unity!) but what they will do.

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© Jip Bosch / CC BY SA 4.0

One of the things that struck me the most about my years teaching sociology was the degree of difficulty young folks seem to have nowadays in talking about actual behavior and acts. There is a strange ontological gap in their understanding of the world. You ask them “Tell me about the shopping in our culture. What behaviors are included in shopping?” and they say, “Well, you get in your car, and you go buy stuff.”

And you say, “Yes, but what actual behaviors does that entail? What do you do with your body? List the steps for me.” And they say, “Them’s the steps! You shop! Step 1: Shop. You take your body and you shop!” If, however, you ask them “What do you shop for?” they can immediately fill a board with all of their favorite things. And the discussion becomes animated, as each student in the class seeks to impress upon the others the things that he or she is in the habit of buying, because it says something that they want known about themselves—the way teenagers once discussed music with one another. They are well-habituated to the process of elaborating on identity. They are not well-habituated to thinking about other activities.

When you do finally tell them that there are details beneath “Step 1: Shop.” in the act of shopping, they get very confused. When you actually elaborate the steps—entering a building containing goods, securing a shopping cart, walking through aisles, taking particular needed things off the shelf and placing them in the cart, checking items off of your mental or written list, wheeling them to a counter at the front of the store, etc.—they are shocked. “I never thought of that before!”

We seem to have that problem now at the national level. Even our best political candidates are unable to think outside the identity box. They are busy constructing a picture of “who they are,” and the grammar that they immediately seek to use in constructing this picture is a grammar of “who others are.” It is all identity, identity, identity. And the post-hoc media analyses continue in this vein, talking almost entirely about the candidates’ identities and about whether or not the candidates have constructed and presented their identities well—and about how each can impugn various parts of the other’s identity.

Identity, identity, identity.

It’s all bullshit, and completely inessential (in the philosophical sense), though our contemporary ideology claims exactly the opposite.

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I am disgusted with both the (D) and (R) camps, with both Hillary and Trump right now. I was already in high school once. I don’t need it all over again. I don’t care who you are or what or whom you like or don’t like. Tell me what you are going to do (without mistaking this for a question about who or what you like) and how you are going to do it (without mistaking this for a question about who or what you don’t like).