“Identity politics”: an existential threat to our society

I’ve been watching the growing rift in American society for years.  It’s particularly evident in larger cities, but it’s also happening in smaller towns and rural areas.  It’s a growing intolerance with those who hold different views, a refusal to admit that the “other side” might be right at least sometimes, a dogmatic insistence that it’s “our way or the highway” when it comes to politics, law enforcement, immigration, economics, whatever.  There’s less and less willingness to compromise.  Many commentators have begun to speak openly of the possibility of a new civil war.  For example, consider these articles:

I could cite many more, but those will give you the general picture.  I find it hard to disagree with their overall pessimism.

The biggest problem I see is that very few of those on either side of our societal divide have any conception of just how bitter, vitriolic and savage internecine conflict can become.  I have all too much personal experience of it in Africa.  Don’t think that things will be better here.  They won’t.  It’s part of the human condition, and race has nothing to do with it.  It’s all about one’s “tribe” – and that can be cultural, or social, or whatever, but it’s the primary group to which (or to whom) one owes allegiance.  It’s those for whom one is willing to kill, and those for whom one is willing to die.

The modern name for tribalism is “identity politics”.  Beware anyone trying to make you think, and act, and live in terms of “identity politics”.  They’re trying to get you to be tribal, rather than national, in your outlook.  They’re trying to divide and rule.  Division is their strength.  By exploiting divisions between groups, they come to power – and then they rule until someone else does a better job of identity politics, and takes over from them.

Tribe can drive good things – unity, working together, a sense of community.  But there are also negatives.  Tribe drives hatred.  Tribe drives war.  Tribe drives atrocity.  It’s been that way since the dawn of the human race, and it’s unlikely to change.

You want examples?  Here’s one from the Balkan conflict of the 1990’s.  Bold, underlined text is my emphasis.

But then what do I—a person privileged by accidents of race and gender—know about ‘identity politics’ … ? Well, I can share at least one lesson drawn from my own ‘lived experience.’ The year I turned 25, I was serving as a United Nations Peacekeeper in the former Yugoslavia. My unit engaged the Croatian Army in what would come to be known as the Battle of Medak Pocket. Eventually, we halted the enemy’s advance and pushed them back.

Clearing a house after the fighting, we discovered the contorted and charred bodies of two young women tied to chairs. One was estimated to be in her early 30s, the other in her late teens. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police techs who processed the scene for the War Crimes Tribunal at the Hague confirmed what we could tell just by looking at the corpses: the exaggerated arching of the backs, the screams of agony that still seemed ready to burst from what remained of their gaping mouths, the fingernails embedded in the wood of the chair arm—these two young women had still been alive when they were doused in gasoline and set alight. But then the tech added a detail that was not readily apparent. His tests appeared to confirm that they were almost certainly already dead when the Croatian Army rolled into town. That meant they had been burned alive by their neighbours. People they had lived beside and gone to school with.

The area that the Croatian army had briefly overrun had been mixed Croatian and Serbian farming villages. These people had lived together for half a century. They had intermarried, lived in the same streets, eaten the same food, and attended the same social events. But slowly, starting in the 1980s, political leaders and demagogues of various stripes had started using a politics of identity to solidify their social and political power. Each side’s citizens were repeatedly told by respected academic figures that they were being robbed, and that the ‘other’ was exploiting unearned ‘social privilege’ granted by their ethnic status. Children were taught this in school as received truth and ostracized if they dared to question it. Slowly, this curated resentment built into hatred. From there, events developed according to an inescapable logic. Sometimes, soldiers on one side of the ethnic conflict would ask us for news of a high school sweetheart or friend across the lines. But identity allegiance remained paramount.

To those who respond with the fatuous claim that this was simply a ‘white-on-white issue,’ I will only note that, as I was fighting for my life in Eastern Europe, the same divisive hatreds were being broadcast across Rwanda by Télévision Libre des Mille Collines. Tribal hatreds are not a white or a black problem, they are a human problem.

Every time identity politics has been used by any faction in human history for any reason, violence eventually follows. No matter how detailed and intricate the justification, no matter how reasonable it can be made to sound as a way to correct for unequal social conditions and historical injustice, it always ends in the same foul basement of mutual fear, loathing, and depravity.

There’s more at the link.

We saw that – and are still seeing it – in Europe, with the conflict between established societies and Muslim immigrants.  The latter are bringing terrorism with them, as extremists try to use “identity politics” as a prybar to destabilize existing norms and impose their own ideology and theology on societies that are alien to them.  After the Paris terror attacks of November 2015, I wrote this:

To me, the worst [aspect of human conflict] is what it does to the human psyche.  You become dehumanized.  Your enemies are no longer people – they’re objects, things, targets.  You aren’t shooting at John, whose mother is ill, and who’s missing his girlfriend terribly, and who wants to marry her as soon as he can get home to do so.  You’re shooting at that enemy over there, the one who’ll surely ‘do unto you’ unless you ‘do unto him’ first.  He’s not a human being.  He’s a ‘gook’.  He’s ‘the enemy’.  He’s a thing rather than a person.  It’s easier to shoot a thing than it is a person.  So, right now, our boys are ‘in the sandbox’ shooting ‘ragheads’.  Their boys – those in Paris yesterday – were ‘in the land of the infidels’.  Those in this country on 9/11/2001 were ‘in the land of the Great Satan’.  They were – and still are – killing ‘kaffirs’, unbelievers . . . not human beings.

. . .

The perpetrators committed their crimes because they didn’t regard their victims as being human.  They were guilty by virtue of not being Muslims, or (in some cases) being Muslims who lived in too close an association with non-Muslims, thereby making themselves targets as well.  The victims were ‘guilty’ of being infidels, and paid the price for their ‘crime’.  That’s the way it is, for the attackers.  We’re justified in what we’re doing, because God as we understand him has authorized and encouraged us to do it.

The terrorists haven’t thought about it, I’m sure, but they’re going to produce a similar and even greater tragedy for their own people than they’ve inflicted on France.  The reaction from ordinary people like you and I won’t be to truly think about the tragedy, to realize that the perpetrators were a very small minority of those who shared their faith, extremists who deserve the ultimate penalty as soon as it can be administered.  No.  The ordinary man and woman on the streets of France is going to wake up today hating all Muslims.  He or she will blame them all for the actions of a few, and will react to all of them as if they were all equally guilty.

One can’t blame people for such attitudes.  When one simply can’t tell whether or not an individual Muslim is also a terrorist fundamentalist, the only safety lies in treating all of them as if they presented that danger.  That’s what the French people are going to do now.  That’s what ordinary people all across Europe are going to do now, irrespective of whatever their politicians tell them.

. . .

That’s the bitter fruit that extremism always produces.  It’s done so throughout history.  There are innumerable examples of how enemies have become ‘things’.  It’s Crusaders versus Saracens, Cavaliers versus Roundheads, Yankees versus Rebels, doughboys versus Krauts . . . us versus them, for varying values of ‘us’ and ‘them’.

. . .

And in the end, the bodies lying in the ruins, and the blood dripping onto our streets, and the weeping of those who’ve lost loved ones . . . they’ll all be the same.  History is full of them.  When it comes to the crunch, there are no labels that can disguise human anguish.  People will suffer in every land, in every community, in every faith . . . and they’ll turn to what they believe in to make sense of their suffering . . . and most of them will raise up the next generation to hate those whom they identify as the cause of their suffering . . . and the cycle will go on, for ever and ever, until the world ends.

Again, more at the link.

The same thing happened in South Africa during the years of apartheid.  By trying to force separation upon people, the government simply created enclaves in which extremism could flourish and counter-force could be generated.  That led to genuine democracy at first . . . but the extremists could only be controlled for so long.  Having tasted the power of violence and disruption, they were hooked.  Now they’re taking the next logical step, even though it most likely means economic disaster for South Africa.  They don’t see it that way, and they wouldn’t care even if they did see it that way.  It’s less important than envy, and hatred, and revenge.  They can whip up those emotions, and use them to take and/or hold on to power.  That’s why the present government of South Africa has given in to the far-left and nationalist forces who demand land confiscation.  They knew that if they didn’t give in, they’d be thrown out of office in an emotional, extremist firestorm.  It’s identity politics all over again.

That’s what scares me about the current climate of intolerance in America.  I’ve seen this before, in more than one nation, on more than one continent.  It leads to Rwanda.  It leads to the Balkans.  In the middle of the 19th century, it led to Fort Sumter.  What will it lead to today?  Where will the spark be applied to the tinder we’re so freely flinging around, and piling up?  Your guess is as good as mine . . . but I fear there are all too many people willing to strike that spark.  They have no understanding, no experience, of the probable consequences, and they might not care even if they did.

Both left and right are guilty of this.  You find the same extremists popping up like weeds across the nation, always looking to use the latest event, or scandal, or cause du jour to propagate their vile poison and infect more people with their virus of hatred.  Pipeline protests, “Black Lives Matter”, Antifa – they’re all the same.  On the right, it’s no different:  “Unite the Right”, “Patriot Prayer”, and so on.  Extremists on both sides will try to warp and twist any and every possible “hook” into something they can use to catch people, or get publicity, or promote their agendas.  They don’t care about the people involved, or those who may get hurt in the process.  They often don’t even see them as people – just pawns to be used, levers to be pulled, ammunition to be expended.  In that, they’re no different from the extremists in the other nations I’ve already mentioned.

May God have mercy on us all, and on our nation . . . which is, sadly, no longer “one nation”, no longer “under God”, and most emphatically not “indivisible”.  If you doubt that, just read the articles I cited at the beginning of this blog post.  I honestly don’t know how long our present fragile, fractured “unity” can be maintained.  It behooves all of us to take whatever steps we can to protect ourselves and our loved ones from the fallout that’s already visible in our midst, and will surely get worse before it gets better.



  1. Peter,

    Perhaps your news sources are different from mine, but there does not appear to be equivalent rancor on both sides. Unite the Right, yes, they're as you describe, but Patriot Prayer, Proud Boys, etc. seem to have the attitude of "If they jump us, we're ready for them", not "let's see if we can kick this thing off." I see one major group on the Right actively rooting for civil war, and many on the Left. Trump voters, at least all the ones I know, would forget their suspicions in a second if the Left stopped telling us they hate us and want us to suffer.

    Still, your warning is well taken for those of us on the right: we must avoid becoming the kind of murderous partisans who would burn our neighbors alive if civil war comes. Which is why it would be worth a whole lot of inconvenience and humiliation to avoid that war.

    Not an infinite amount. But a lot.

  2. So far, the election box is keeping the insurrection at bay. That, and smaller communities are still demanding laws against violent protests are followed.

    The current administration, even with the constant threat by the media, is influencing opinions. That's a good thing, and focuses on where the problem is. Until the media outlets that foment rebellion are ignored, or forced to adjust their reporting by pocketbook pressure, the steady erosion of polite differences will continue.

  3. i would like to know who, besides the devil, their father, is actually stirring the pot.
    who are the psychopaths destroying everything they touch?
    we are told that george soros is a touchstone for evil, yet the fbi does nothing, so can it be true?
    even so, he is only one person.
    who are the others and where are they hiding?

    at ferguson one would have hesitated to shoot as innocents had been brought in, thinking they were helping to right a wrong. they were mixed in with those evil doers who had purposely been sent in to destroy.
    the enemy always hides behind women and children.

    as a child, i used to watch the ant colonies fight. battles went on for weeks. people are the same.
    it is a fallen world indeed.

    we who are conservative and Christian, or otherwise moral, do not riot, destroy, torture.
    we call the police and hope they are able to do the job.
    now we read of police being told by evil mayors to do nothing.

    the most potent thing we can do is pray that God will overcome our land and people.
    we must pray more and more.
    only God can save us.

  4. I think that a very basic part of human nature needs a "Them" to be able to define an "Us".

    It is no accident that the number of racial or identity motivated conflicts increased massively after the end of the cold war. As bad as that period was, it provided most of the world with a clear and present "Them". Enough that the vast majority of humanity could ignore the difference inside their own "Us". But when that vanished, there was a need for a new "Them" to define an "Us".

    Former Yugoslavia is one example. Sure, there was a simmering conflict there but as long as they had a common "Them" they where capable to live peacefully together.
    And it is especially apparent in the US. For the Left "Them" became the "…ists" (whatever the bigot of the day is called). For the right it became the migrants, the coddled minorities and so on. For the moderates it became the idiotic extremists on both sides.
    As long as the US does not find another common "Them" it will split in different camps that offer increasingly broader definitions of "Them".

  5. Ah, yes. We get to the inevitable "Both left and right are guilty of this."

    Yes, there are partisans on both sides, but not in anywhere near equal measure.

  6. @Roy: Please consider Matthew 7:3-5; "And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye."

    It's no good saying "Well, maybe both sides are doing X, but they are far more guilty of it than we are!" If something is intrinsically wrong, it's wrong on both sides, and a blinkered perspective will do nothing to solve the problem. If you look rationally and objectively at incidents of (say) racial violence, there are more than enough on both sides to go around. The fact that black-on-white violence is worse (in some locations, much worse) than white-on-black doesn't alter the historical reality that it used to be the other way around – that's why the resentments linger.

    We can talk until we're blue in the face about a rational, intelligent approach, but most of this stuff is knee-jerk, emotional and non-rational. It takes an honest admission of the true state of affairs to begin to solve them – and that's something that's far too often lacking on both sides at the moment.

  7. I question the accusation that patriot prayer has a role in this. What I've seen it looks like an effort to pray for unity of the nation. A lot of the "tribalism" related to it seems to be of the usual leftist "stop being a christian" kind. Does someone have counter info? Peter do you?

  8. Ditto Nate; from what little I could find of Patriot Prayer's actual positions, back when the foofaraw started last year, they sounded pretty much classical liberal, anti-racist, and not at all tribalist. But it seems that saying, "Hey, maybe those people in the red caps don't really hate us at all!" draws the wrath of "anti"Fa.

  9. This is the inevitable outcome of the Left's war on American culture for the last 85 years. We asked them to stop. Se begged them to stop. They refused, and increased the pressure.

    At this point, they can't stop. The ball is rolling down the hill, and the Left is no longer truly in control of its path. Even if they were interested in slowing it down.

    The Right, in some small way, has finally begun to realize what's being done to us, and what is coming. Don't blame us for beginning to organize and fight back.

    My personal estimate is 100 million dead. And that's only if our side wins within three years of the start of the conflict. If it stretches out beyond that, the food reserve runs out and the real pain begins. And God help them (and us) if Mexico decides to get involved in defense of the tens of millions of their people who have taken up residence here. We may not use nukes on our own cities, but nobody here really cares much about Mexico City.

  10. Tribalism, "Us" vs "Them" — racism is just a subset. This is an important issue.

    The US conservatives have long tried for "us" to mean … all of America.

    Trump constantly talks about all Americans, almost every Rep & conservative org you can name supports an "us" that includes all Americans: whites, blacks, women, men, rich, poor, educated liberals, less educated rednecks, folk who go to NASCAR & WWW wrestling, folk who go to Broadway shows.

    However, many elites do NOT want an "us" that includes Trump-supporters. But look at McCain's funeral, and see how the news is a lot about how good McCain was, and how bad Trump was. But in 2008, those same news outlets, often the same reporters, were talking about how bad McCain was: racist, sexist, homophobe, Islamophobe.

    The demonization is NOT equal.
    "On the right, it's no different: "Unite the Right", "Patriot Prayer", and so on."

    Almost all law schools accept false accusations about Trump and against Trump supporters — the same words used against blacks, or women, or Democrats are called "hate speech" by the elite institutions.

    Nobody is getting fired by Reps for politely questioning corporate policy — yet James Damore was fired by Google.

    How to get back to accepting all Americans? Voting for conservative Reps, and changing the elite institutions which, for 50+ years, have been secretly discriminating against Reps in: colleges, media (news, TV, Hollywood), and in gov't bureaucracies.

    Sue the schools, sue the institutions which are discriminating.

    Most importantly, work on changing the culture. Love thy Dem neighbors — but hate their stupid policies, instead of hating them as people.

    Make fun of their stupid socialist & big gov't policies.

  11. I am sure most are familiar with:

    "Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland"
    by Christopher R. Browning

    Details how easy it is to all go wrong and genocidal.

  12. One might propose that peaceful partition on the Czechoslovakian model, not necessarily along state lines, is an alternative to the future you warn about.

  13. The West, including Canada and America, is not and never was intended to be, a place for "all races and nations".

    To claim that it is, or was, is a direct attack on the identity, legitimacy, and existence of Western people.

    A nation is not an aggregate of anonymous individuals, standardized and interchangeable with any other people of any other nation. A nation has an ethnic and cultural identity, which is its property and which it has the right (and even the duty) to protect and maintain.
    Abbe Grégoire Celier

  14. Glad you wrote that second paragraph Steven. I'd totally disagree if you'd left the first one here on its own.

    The Alt-Right has abandoned their reactionism in favor of identity politicking as a pro-active strategy. It no longer matters to them what the Left says or does, they're hell-bent on using their new strategy to destroy anything and everything that doesn't fit into their steadily narrowing tribal view. Their influence is also spreading. Their tribal hatred is palpable, even as it makes less and less logical sense to their own 'Christian' purpose. Their sword is no longer the sword of righteousness but just the sword. It's not even to protect their families or kin, it's to prosecute their own identitarian agenda.

    It's telling that the Alt-Right are starting to immolate their own for refusing to identity politick in their particular way. The pattern is exactly as Peter has described above. It is no longer possible to see the Alt-Right as anything but a force for evil.

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