Contemporary Classics from Viewpoint Magazine
Identity Crisis by Salar Mohandesi
As L.A. Kauffman has suggested, identity came to signify not only a description, but a project – a sense of self shaped by the experience of oppression, but also something to be embraced, affirmed. Echoing the psychological provenance of the term, which linked the individual to the group, it was also a communal project. As Carmichael and Hamilton explained, Black Power meant creating a “sense of peoplehood: pride, rather than shame, in blackness, and an attitude of brotherly, communal responsibility among all black people for one another.” Gradually, some activists took this line of thinking to another level. They argued that personal experiences created relatively stable identities, that everyone possessed one of these identities, and that politics should be based on the search for that identity and its subsequent naming, defense, and public expression. Whereas many 1960s radicals once had argued that exploring personal experiences could serve as the first step to discovering particular oppressions, understanding how they operated, and ultimately developing political strategies to overcoming them, some now came to insist on a direct and unmediated link between one’s identity and one’s politics. Rather than being a part of a political project, identity was now a political project in itself.
This idea that one could draw such a direct line between identity and politics would become the basis of identity politics in its contemporary form, the core around which all these other elements – guilt, lifestylism, or the homogenization of groups – came to gravitate around over the next decade. Although this kind of thinking remained marginal at first, over the 1970s and 1980s, a vicious conservative backlash, the destruction of radical movements, the migration of political critique into the universities, the proliferation of single-issue campaigns, and the restructuring of capitalist relations all worked in unexpected ways to create the historical conditions that allowed identity politics to eventually achieve a kind of hegemony on the left. But its limitations were clear from the outset. Most importantly, identity politics tended to flatten important distinctions within otherwise heterogeneous identities. It was in this context that the idea of “intersectionality” emerged. Although now regarded as synonymous with identity politics, the concept actually originated as a critique of its flaws.
Making Waves (Part 1) by Viewpoint Magazine
Historically, social democracy has presented itself as an alternative to communism, but in reality social democratic politics were always dependent on the communist threat. Capital’s willingness to strike compromises with social democracy was always inspired by its fear that failing to do so would push the organized working class towards communism. It is no coincidence that the most progressive class compromises were made at times of communist ascendancy, as in the 1930s United States and post-war Europe, or that the decline of European Social Democracy accelerated with the decline of the internal and external communist threat. Another more well-known condition of social democracy was the post-war boom, which the prespective of the longue-durée shows was an exception in capitalist history. Today, the scope for reformism is radically diminished as redistribution runs up against low profit rates and Keynesian debt financing has to rely on deregulated and volatile global financial markets. In today’s low-growth economy, the reform programs of left-social democrats such as Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn of the British Labour Party (distinct as they are) would require both a will and a capacity to break radically with capitalist interests, i.e. to risk provoking processes of rupture rather than reform. In all likelihood, progressive social democratic leaders would either have to turn against the promises of social democracy, or overcome social democracy itself, by abandoning reformism.
If the builders of technology are transmitting their values into machinery, this makes the culture of Silicon Valley a matter of more widespread consequence. The Californian Ideology, famously identified by Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron in 1995, represented a synthesis of apparent opposites: on one hand, the New Left utopianism that was handily recuperated into the Third Way liberal centrism of the 1990s, and on the other, the Ayn Randian individualism that led more or less directly to the financial crisis of the 2000s. But in the decades since, as the consumer-oriented liberalism of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs gave way to the technological authoritarianism of Elon Musk and Peter Thiel, this strange foundation paved the way for even stranger tendencies. The strangest of these is known as “neoreaction,” or, in a distorted echo of Eliezer Yudkowsky’s vision, the “Dark Enlightenment.” It emerged from the same chaotic process that yielded the anarchic political collective Anonymous, a product of the hivemind generated by the cybernetic assemblages of social media. More than a school of thought, it resembles a meme.