Last week we called your attention to Yascha Mounk’s new book The Identity Trap: A Story of Ideas and Power in Our Time. Today we want to call your attention to a Mounk piece at The Atlantic based on the book. Here is a taste of “Where the New Identity Politics Went Wrong“:
The identity-synthesis advocates are driven by a noble ambition: to remedy the historic injustices that scar every country, including America. These injustices are and remain real. Although social movements and legislative reforms can help address them, the practice of politics, as the sociologist Max Weber famously wrote, is the “strong and slow boring of hard boards.” It rarely provides remedies as quickly or as comprehensively as hoped—leading some to conclude that a more radical break with the status quo is needed.
The appeal of the synthesis stems from promising just that. It claims to lay the conceptual groundwork necessary to remake the world by overcoming the reverence for long-standing principles that supposedly constrain our ability to achieve true equality. Advocates of the identity synthesis reject universal values like free speech as distractions that conceal and perpetuate the marginalization of minority groups. Trying to make progress toward a more just society by redoubling efforts to realize such ideals, its advocates claim, is a fool’s errand.
But these ideas will fail to deliver on their promises. For all their good intentions, they undermine progress toward genuine equality among members of different groups. Despite its allure, the identity synthesis turns out to be a trap.
As the identity synthesis has gained in influence, its flaws have become harder to ignore. A striking number of progressive advocacy groups, for example, have been consumed by internal meltdowns in recent years. “We used to want to make the world a better place,” a leader of one progressive organization complained recently. “Now we just make our organizations more miserable to work at.” As institutions such as the Sierra Club and the ACLU have implemented the norms inspired by the identity synthesis, they have had more difficulty serving their primary missions.
The identity synthesis is also starting to remake public policy in ways that are more likely to create a society of warring tribes. In the early months of the pandemic, for example, a key advisory committee to the CDC recommended that states prioritize essential workers in the rollout of scarce vaccines rather than the elderly, in part because “racial and ethnic minorities are underrepresented” among seniors. Not only did this policy, according to the CDC’s own models, have the probable outcome of increasing the overall number of Americans who would perish in the pandemic; it also placed different ethnic groups in competition with one another for lifesaving medications.
When decision makers appear out of touch with the values and priorities of most citizens, demagogues thrive. The well-founded fears roused by the election of Trump accelerated the ascendancy of the identity synthesis in many elite institutions. Conversely, the newfound hold that these ideas now have over such institutions makes it more likely that he might win back the White House in 2024. The identity synthesis and far-right populism may at first glance appear to be polar opposites; in political practice, one is the yin to the other’s yang.
Many attacks on so-called wokeness are motivated by bad faith. They fundamentally misrepresent its nature. But that is no reason to deny how a new ideology has acquired such power in our society. In fact, it’s imperative to recognize that its founders explicitly saw themselves as rejecting widely held values, such as the core tenets of the civil-rights movement.
Read the entire piece at The Atlantic.