Christopher Hitchens Warned Us About Identity Politics

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In his 2001 book, “Letters to a Young Contrarian”, Christopher Hitchens wrote the following as a warning:

PS: Since this often seems to come up in discussions of the radical style, I’ll mention one other gleaning from my voyages.  Beware of identity politics.  I’ll rephrease that: have nothing to do with identity politics.  I remember very well the first time I heard the saying “The Personal is Political.”  It began as a sort of reaction to the defeats and downturns that followed 1968: a consolation prize, as you might say, for people who had missed that year.  I knew in my bones a truly Bad Idea had entered the discourse.  Nor was I wrong.  People began to stand up at meetings and orate about how they felt, not about what or how they thought, and about who they were rather than what (if anything) they had done or stood for.  It became the replication in even less interesting form of the narcissism of small difference, because each identity group begat its subgroups and “specificities.”  This tendency has often been satirised – the overweight caucuse of the Cherokee transgender disabled lesbian faction demands a hearing on its needs – but never satirised enough.  You have to have seen it really happen.  From a way of being radical it very swiftly became a way of being radical it very swiftly became a way of being reactionary; the Clarence Thomas hearings demonstrated this to all but the most dense and boring and selfish, but then, it was the dense and boring and selfish who had always seen identity politics as their big chance.

Anyway what you swiftly realize if you peek over the wall of your own immediate neighborhood or environment, and travel beyond it, is, first, that we have a huge surplus of people who wouldn’t change anything about the way they were born, or the group they were born into, but second that “humanity” (and the idea of change) is best represented by those who have the wit not to think, or should I say feel, this way.”

It’s incredible how much this became true in our modern political climate, how many segments of the left wing media and discourse rely on their identities to navigate discussion rather than ideas.  The discussion turned into what you are to legitimize your contributions rather than who you are and what your ideas are.  As a reaction to this, the alt right gained legitimacy and white identity politics is on the rise.  This is a nasty game.  Let’s avoid it altogether.

As I read this book I found it marvelous how a man saw this developing in 2001 and predicted it.  This is why Christopher Hitchens is considered one of the great thinkers and writers of our time.

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