The Failures of Identity and Personality

It’s manifested itself in our politics. Barack Obama of course received votes for and against him because of identity, and already with Hillary Clinton we’re seeing people teeing up to vote for the first woman president. All this before any mention of their ideas, their record or their background. Under Barack Obama, black household wealth and employment dropped dramatically, more quickly than any other segment of the population; and Hillary Clinton’s first stop for her super PAC fundraising was Wall Street, where she accepted $400,000 and promised to play nice with them, when the number one liberal issue is income inequality.

The issue here is not either one of these candidates specifically, but the example of the problem in practice: people are concerned with the image of others, easily painted on, rather than their substance. These examples showcase another problem with identity politics: people belong to so many groups, that when you align with them due to self-identifying as a member of a group they also inhabit, you ignore all the groups they inhabit which are your enemies.

It results, in effect, in a critical thought process wherein people try to play identity calculus in order to decide whether or not someone is with you or against you — i.e. “Well, I’m a woman, and she’s a woman, so that’s good, but I’m poor and she’s rich, so that’s bad.” Not only does this dis-empower people’s ability to think critically about the views and impact of famous figures they will never meet, it erodes the relationships that are actually attainable to you as you start pre-judging people and projecting views onto people before they’ve ever said a word.

All of this takes place, paradoxically, during a time where privacy is eroding more quickly than ever. Every day someone new is revealed to have made some sort of mistake which pins a label to them and comes to define their entire life. Take the racist NBA owner, Sterling — certainly his comments were racist, but what’s happened here is emblematic of a strange turn in society where the population is increasingly empowered to prosecute people in the court of public opinion, circumventing the law entirely, with no checks, balances, trials, due process, evidence, full view of a situation, or relation to an incident whatsoever.

Combined with society’s increasing reliance on shallow, immediate image to judge one another, this is a recipe for disaster. The next person to be ostracized from society may be a perfectly nice man or woman, put under the gun for no reason and robbed of their livelihood and reputation in a way that is irreversible. The fact is, as privacy lowers, we will see people’s private perversions and misguided beliefs or even their perfectly normal behaviors and perfectly justifiably beliefs that we simply disagree with. Rather than treat these people as human, with complex lives, feelings and histories, we will immediately label and indict them.

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