Maria Popova On Identity Politics

February 25, 2020

During an evening of conversation in Philadelphia hosted by Sam Harris and included Janna Levin, both women were asked by Sam how they felt about identity politics. I am not sure if they knew that the night's would include a conversation on identity politics, but what else can you expect from Sam? Anyway, Maria gave a masterful response to the question. See it below:


We are so anxious to classify and label and that's a beautiful impulse because, you know, resting order from chaos and making a foothold so we can climb towards great truth and understanding, that's a beautiful impulse. But it's also a very limiting one because we tend to mistake the labels for the things themselves...or the completeness of the things themselves. And a lot of the alienation that comes from the sense of being "other" in a culture comes from a certain veil of visibility that eclipses from view all the other people who are also "other" who are sorrowing with kindred sorrows and conflicted with kindred conflicts who are also refugees from their own nature. Now I am of the generation...fortunate enough never to have to come out because there is nothing left for me to come out of. I never felt particularly in. And that's because generations of my elders put their lives and their values on the line to lift that veil of visibility and fight for dignity for queer people so that people of my generation don't have to do it on that level. You still have to do it when you're "other." I think every generation has a certain fight of that nature to fight...for the next generation to fight less of. But what's happened with identity politics is this weird inversion of the ideals that of which it arises have actually ended up subverting the thing that we are trying to fight for.
We all experience and understand identity politics differently. But my understanding and my experience and what I have felt it [identity politics] has asked me to do is to preface every opinion I hold and validate every experience I've ever had as a human being with "as a woman, as a queer person, as an immigrant, as a survivor of communism, as as as, down the fractal chain of sub-identities, because they are infinitely subdivisible. And if that's what we are asking of people in order for them to be taken seriously then there is something fundamentally wrong with how we confer validity and dignity upon human experience in this culture.

To check out more of Maria Popova, you can head over to her infamous site Brain Pickings.

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