Bits and Pieces – Emotional prescription / Standpoint statements

by Daniel A. Kaufman

Emotional prescription

  1. Does it make sense to speak of “prescribing” or “critically examining” an emotion or feeling?
  2. People often say things like this:

“You should be happy.”

“You should care about what happens to your sister.”

“You shouldn’t be mad about that.”

What do we ask of a person by way of expressions like these?  Are they akin to telling someone he should believe something is true or that he should change his mind regarding what he believes to be true?

  1. Religions like Buddhism and certain branches of clinical psychology tell us that we should never entertain negative emotions like anger and resentment. Stoics say that anger is unproductive and unnecessary.  All employ the language of “standing back” and “examining our emotions and feelings” and “deciding which one’s we should act on and which we should not.”  Does this involve Platonic or Cartesian confusions?
  2. Who (or what) are “we”? Where are “we” when we “stand back and examine our emotions and feelings”?  Am I one thing and my emotions and feelings another?  Do I stand in relation to my emotions and feelings in the same way that I do to the things I believe to be true?  Is “I am angry” like “I believe that the moon orbits the earth” or “I believe that my dog is white”?
  3. It’s as if I am in my house and deciding whom I should allow in. Negative emotions and feelings are treated like troublesome neighbors.
  4. Can I keep parts of myself out of my own house? Or in a different part of the house than the one I am in?  I could cut off some of my hair and leave it in the foyer, while I decamp to the living room.  Is this the sort of thing we are talking about?
  5. What if I don’t want to be productive? Or don’t care about what’s necessary?  Am I to be told, “You should want to be productive” and “You should care about what’s necessary”?  What could the reason be other than some further appeal to productivity or necessity?
  6. To say that something is unproductive or unnecessary is to say that it is an obstacle to achieving some aim or goal. But aren’t these just other things that we value?  Things about which we have positive feelings or that we care about?
  7. If I stop being angry in order to do what’s productive or necessary, haven’t I just done what you or I or someone else wants? Are things different if I continue being angry in order not to do what’s productive or necessary?  Will I then be told that it’s unproductive to fail to want to do what’s productive?  Is there an infinite regress here?
  8. Is this just Plato versus Hume again? Or is there something else going on?

Standpoint statements

  1. Someone says “As a — [Jew, woman, Hispanic, trans person], I think Y.” Is this like saying “As a car mechanic I think you should change the oil in your car every 3,000 miles”?
  2. Does a particular identity – religious, ethnic, sexual – confer expertise on a person? In what?
  3. We sometimes are told that those who for racial or gender or sexual reasons have suffered or who have been subordinated or marginalized understand things about suffering, subordination, and marginalization that those who have not do not.  Are such experiences incommensurable?  If I am insulted for being overweight can I understand the feelings of the person who is insulted for being black?
  4. Is there anyone who has not suffered or been subordinated or marginalized in one way or another?
  5. Is the oppressor’s perception of the oppressed less accurate than the oppressed’s perception of himself? Or of the oppressor?  Might they not be equally inaccurate, just in different ways?  And what of the person who is neither oppressor nor oppressed?  Wouldn’t he have a more accurate picture of both?
  6. Lately, a number of people have been saying: “By saying such-and-such, you are invalidating my existence.” What would it mean to do such a thing?
  7. If I kill you, I deny you existence. If I torture or enslave you, I make your existence miserable.  What would I have to do to you in order to invalidate your existence?
  8. I invalidate a statement by demonstrating that it is ungrammatical or false. What is the analogy for people or lives?
  9. Suppose that you claim to be a lawyer. I investigate your background and discover that you’ve never been to law school or passed any bar exam and that in fact, you work in a supermarket.  I have thereby demonstrated that the statement “I am a lawyer,” as made by you is false.  Have I thereby also invalidated you as a lawyer?  Is invalidating you as a lawyer something above and beyond demonstrating that your claim to be a lawyer is false?
  10. A male-to-female transsexual claims to be a woman. Is this like claiming to be a lawyer?
  11. Germaine Greer has said “I deny that male-to-female transsexuals are women.” If she had added “As a woman,” at the beginning of that sentence, could she have claimed expertise, along the lines discussed earlier?
  12. Suppose an orthodox Jew tells me that Reform Jews like me are not real Jews. If he fails to convince me that I am not a real Jew, does he nonetheless make me not one, by having said it?  Could he have this effect simply by thinking it?
  13. Do the sorts of identities that are typically involved in these kinds of disputes have defining characteristics, such that it is possible to demonstrate whether the claim “I am such-and-such” is true or false, as one can with the claim “I am a lawyer”? Or is it more like trying to decide whether something sufficiently resembles something else to share its name, as is the case with games?  The latter would seem to be a matter of public negotiation.
  14. Is the real fear not that by saying “You’re not a –” you invalidate my existence, but rather that in doing so, you may convince enough people so as to cause me to fail in the relevant public negotiations over whether I am a –? Can there be public negotiation without the possibility of such failure?
  15. A variation on the complaint that X has invalidated the existence of Y is that X has invalidated the experience of Y. So, when someone says “I don’t believe you are a –,” he has invalidated the other person’s experience of themselves as a –.
  16. Is the idea of invalidating someone’s experience any clearer than that of invalidating his identity?
  17. You claim that you are a lawyer, and I say that you are not. You then claim that your experience is such that you feel like a lawyer.  Did what I said make that untrue?  Is there anything I could say that would make that untrue?
  18. Descartes said that “I see a table” is dubitable, because I might be dreaming it. But “I seem to see a table” is indubitable, because it remains true, even if I am dreaming it.  Isn’t “I feel like a lawyer” or “I feel like a woman” akin to the latter?
  19. If something is indubitable, can it be invalidated?





40 responses to “Bits and Pieces – Emotional prescription / Standpoint statements”

  1. Very Wittgensteinian.

    On emotional prescription, I agree that there are problems here. I see a place for anger, a place for jealously; I see them as ‘natural’. Not sure about useful, but the *appearance* of anger can certainly be useful.

    I would draw the line at resentment. I have often seen people eaten up by resentment. In effect, it poisons their lives. But I don’t know that you can make them see this; or, if they do, whether it is possible for them to adopt a different narrative (in which they are not the eternal victim).

    Obviously changes do occur in people’s lives and the way they live and perceive themselves but how these changes happen is obscure. Usually it is due (I would say) to some kind of significant experience – and has little or nothing to do with other people saying, “You shouldn’t be like this, you should be like that…”

    On standpoint statements…

    “Does a particular identity – religious, ethnic, sexual – confer expertise on a person? In what?”

    There is at least one sort of expertise that is culturally based: the deep knowledge that a native speaker has of his/her native language, in terms of grammaticality judgments (bearing in mind that many varieties of a language are not codified in formal grammar texts), and in terms of subtle meaning (connotation etc.).

  2. davidlduffy

    A big chunk of emotional prescription is practically oriented eg for a sample of prospective taxi drivers, “difficulties in emotion regulation, the obstinacy and revengeful component of aggression, attentional bias toward emotional stimuli, and cognitive inhibition predicted driving errors”.

    I turn to the idea of “hypothetical rational consent”. If you were in a clear and benevolent state of mind, and you could see I was have difficulty regulating emotion in such a way as to cause myself and others distress, would you give exactly such prescriptive advice? And does that somehow imply a hypothetical consent to my handing out unwanted-at-the-moment advice? The psychological literature is big on the acquisition of emotional self-regulation by children – an essential skill. That early parental advice is an model we will all have for making a useful intervention.

    I think “invalidation” is usually used (rhetorically) in the sense of “your statement is just one of a lifetime’s worth of this kind of thing that I’ve had to put up with”. Viz feminist claims that the patriarchy determines who is or is not a real woman, rather than the members of that group. While utterances of orthodox Jews of the 23 type may lack performative force, that’s not true for those of Catholic bishops or of fatwas – some people take these things seriously.

    Australia is just about to hear from the same-sex marriage plebiscite-cum-survey, which will probably be in favour. We will see if the more religious members of Parliament try to invalidate this (it is not legally binding in any way).

  3. s.wallerstein

    No. 14: Sure, everyone has suffered, been marginated and subordinated in some way, but can you compare the suffering and margination of someone who lost their parents in a famine or genocide and began to work in a sweatshop at age 10 (out of necessity) to the suffering and margination of someone whose family is on the Forbes list of billionaires, but been mocked and excluded by their peers because they’re clumsy at golf and sailing?

    No. 13: it’s obvious that no one can understand my experience in the sense that no one, but me can experience it. Similarly, only a black person who experience being black, but the word “understand” has several different meanings. I go to therapy because I believed (correctly, I think) that a trained therapist can understand (make sense of) my experience better than I can, even though they obviously cannot experience my experience. Thus, a trained white sociologist many times can understand (make sense of) racism better than an uneducated black, even though the white sociologist cannot literally experience being black. That is not always true of course, but just as a good therapist with a normal capacity for empathy and a willingness to listen to their patient can understand their patient better than the patient can, so too a good white sociologist with a normal capacity for empathy and an open-ness/willingness to “see” and “listen” to the black experience can understand it better than an uneducated black often can.

    By the way, all of this emphasis that only the oppressed can understand the oppressed is very ironic, since perhaps the greatest philosophical student of oppression and exploitation, Karl Marx, was neither oppressed or exploited. I am not claiming that Marx is always or even generally right, simply that he is the heavyweight champion of serious philosophy study of exploitation and oppression.

  4. I don’t know where the ‘identity’ thing comes from. In my long experience of LGBT politics I never heard of anyone talking about ‘identity’. I guess that is more from the academy.

    When you are gay or bisexual the last thing you want is for it to be an identity.

    The identity was wished on us by society and church. To us it is an unremarkable fact about us.

  5. When you are gay or bisexual the last thing you want is for it to be an identity.
    = = =
    You really just aren’t paying any attention to what is going on if you can say this seriously.

  6. Reductio-ad-what-Robin has never heard of.

    No one Pauline Kael knew voted for Nixon.

  7. Saying “Claytons doesn’t get you drunk” is not an exhortation to get drunk, just a comment on the drunk making properties of Claytons. Similarly the statement that anger is unproductive is not, in itself, an exhortation to be productive.

    Of course we can be unproductive if we wish. I find that unproductiveness is much more pleasant without anger so either way anger is not much help.

    Also, standing outside yourself Doesn’t involve snh Platonic or Cartesian confusion. Multiple selves is a feature of many, ptobably most minds. Maddy Prior had a song about it “Woman in the Wings”

  8. With regard to the absurd claim that identity is not at the center of contemporary progressive activism and only exists in the academy, consider Everyday Feminism, a very typical, youth-oriented intersectional feminist magazine. If you read the bios of the contributors or just casually peruse some of the articles, you’ll find an obsession with identity that goes so bizarrely far that it outstrips even the most right wing caricature of progressive activists. Here, from one of the editor’s bios:

    “Marina Watanabe…identifies as mixed-race Japanese-American, a bisexual woman of color, a feminist, and a Gryffinclaw.”

  9. I think that some commentators may be laboring under a misimpression. The reason I did this in the style of the Investigations is because my views on a number of these subjects are not fully developed, but I have a strong sense as to what the key issues and questions are. For example, apropos one of Robin’s comments, I’m ultimately not sure what I think about the idea of critically engaging with the emotions, as one does with beliefs. But I am quite sure that one of the crucial issues is the extent to which emotions or feelings should be treated as similar to beliefs in certain relevant ways. I am also quite sure that many of those talking about this sort of critical engagement imagine a kind of alienation of feelings and Self that is problematic and needs to be worked through.

  10. labnut

    Lovely! You ask all the right questions.

    Is there anyone who has not suffered or been subordinated or marginalized in one way or another?

    Whatever the reply people give to that question I guarantee it will happen to him/her in the future. Having reached the ripe old age of nearly 73 I am finally discovering what it is like to be subordinated or marginalised. It is called ageism. There is no remedy for ageism. It is an irrevocable judgement that condemns you to premature oblivion regardless of your worth and regardless of your history. The only shield against ageism is the sad journey through the corridors of your past, called nostalgia, where you recall that once you mattered and that once you moved the world. The sneers of the young cannot take that away from you.

  11. labnut

    Who (or what) are “we”? Where are “we” when we “stand back and examine our emotions and feelings”? Am I one thing and my emotions and feelings another?

    To answer this question we need a working model for the mind.

    Everything begins with a sensory stimulus. This stimulus then rapidly bubbles upwards through a vast array of active templates. Matching templates are selected and the result is finally presented to the conscious mind as one or more of the following:

    1) an emotion.
    Emotions serve to motivate action.

    2) an intuition
    Intuitions draw on a body of experience and inform the mind.

    3) an impulse
    Impulse are urges for immediate and rapid action to cope with impending threat.

    The mind receives emotions, intuitions and impulses as the raw material for considered thought. Rationality is the considered application of thought to our emotions, intuitions and impulses before we act on them.

  12. s.wallerstein

    A bit more about point 13: normally, we value critical distance. I wouldn’t expect a member of Trump’s cabinet (or Obama’s) to write the most “objective” (I’m not sure what “objective” means exactly, but it means something) account of the administration of the president in question. If I wanted to learn about, say, French culture, I’d prefer a book written by an outsider, maybe French, maybe a foreigner who knows French and has lived in France, but never from a charter member of the French cultural establishment:
    critical distance counts there too.

    So why would the account of member of a certain gender or race necessarily be more objective when they talk about their own gender or race? Isn’t a bit of critical distance generally helpful in understanding anything?

  13. labnut

    To expand on my working model of the mind in a more dramatic[!] way consider it as a stage with one actor, the conscious mind. In the foot well is a stagehand called Impulse. He carries a long prod used to provoke desired action. In the left wing is the stagehand called Emotion. He signals urgent calls to act in a certain way. In the right wing is a stage hand called Intuition. He supplies all the knowledge the actor needs. Above him is the producer who knows how the actor should behave, and his name is Conscience. He guides the actor to behave in a certain way.

    The actor tries to make sense of all these calls on his behaviour. And to make it more complicated, through the glare of the footlights he dimply sees the audience and hears theirs call of affirmation, approval or disapproval. This is the outside world but the only world the actor intimately knows is his stage. What he sees through the glare of the footlights is filtered by Emotion, Intuition and Impulse. If he listens carefully he will even hear the voice of his producer, Conscience.

    Shakespeare understood this better than most.

    All the world’s a stage,
    And all the men and women merely players;
    They have their exits and their entrances,
    And one man in his time plays many parts,

    Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
    That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
    And then is heard no more: it is a tale
    Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
    Signifying nothing.

    Of course all progressive, liberal, card bearing atheists will deny that the producer, Conscience, exists. For them it truly is
    … a tale
    Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
    Signifying nothing.

    But denial is, more often than not, a poor guide to the world.

  14. The two mums dropping off their kid to the kindy are no different to any of the other parents there. We chat about the same things all parents talk about.

    On the other hand there is an Australian school who want to expel a seven year old girl because they have just discovered that her parents are a same sex couple. In the meantime she has been instructed to never mention the fact that she has two dads.

    Now I ask you, which of these parties have engaged in identity politics?

    There is a powerful group which includes two former Prime Ministers who want to introduce a bill to enshrine in law the right to treat same sex couples and their children differently in the way this school has done. This case is one they have cited as an attack on religious freedom.

    And yet it is those who are just asking to be treated like anyone else who are accused of engaging in identity politics.

    That doesn’t make sense to me.

  15. This has nothing to do with the piece or with anything I’ve said, so I’m afraid I can’t comment on it, beyond saying that I would agree that it is outrageous to suggest that a child should not be able to go to school because he/she has gay parents.

  16. You’re last paragraph of course is just plain false. Identity politics activists are not simply asking that x’s be treated just like everyone else. Or more precisely that is not *all* they are asking for.

  17. As I say I couldn’t say what the “identity politics activists” want because I am not familiar with the group.

    I take it you are not referring to the identity politics activists who want for people who identify as religious to have the right to treat single out LGBT people for special treatment in ways like the case I described.

    I have limited knowledge of the field, my involvement in gay politics comes from the 70’s and early 80’s. I was sufficiently involved at that time that a columnist in Gay News tried to shame me in his column for missing a Pride march, so I can claim to have some familiarity with that milieu and I can assure you that there was no talk of identity politics.

    Today I only know of the movement for marriage equality in Australia.and even there I am not directly involved.

    So all I know about identity politics is the constant references to it in the mainstream media telling me how bad it is and how outrageous their unspecified demands are.

    As I said, I have never met a person who regards being LGBT as an identity or would want such a thing All the people I know or interact with want society to *stop* singling us out and treating us as a special identity.

  18. I am, of course, speaking solely of the American context. And perhaps, to some extent the Canadian.

  19. So, here is a lawyer representing CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees) explaining how the new law in Canada — C-16 — makes refusal to use someone’s preferred pronouns into a legally actionable offense.

    Not in the academy. But across every sector of Canadian society. And we already have such laws in the US, for example in New York.

  20. Also, re: your other point. You may think it appropriate for the state to force business owners like a baker or a photographer to provide services in violation of their conscience, but for any classical liberal like myself, that sort of violation of the sovereignty of the individual by the state is completely abhorrent.

  21. As for not knowing what identity activists want, peruse the Everyday Feminism website I linked to. You’ll find out very quickly.

  22. I don’t recall saying I wanted to force bakers or photographers to do anything. I don’t want people to bake, photograph, etc anything they don’t want to.

    But here is the thing. If you don’t want to bake for me or photograph me on the basis of my sexuality then don’t turn around and accuse *me* of identity politics, don’t tell me that it is *me* who wants to be treated differently.

  23. Speaking for myself, I wouldn’t mind if people put up big signs saying “No poofters” with frour exclamation marks and underlined three times in red. In fact if people would feel that way then I wish they would put up such signs.

    The point being that it would not be *me* who was playing identity politics.

  24. Having researched this a little, I find that the Canadian Bar Association has said:

    “C-16 Will Not Impede Freedom of Expression
    Recently, the debate has turned to whether the amendments will force individuals to embrace
    concepts, even use pronouns, which they find objectionable. This is a misunderstanding of human
    rights and hate crimes legislation.”

  25. I researched it too. You saw what the CUPE lawyer said in the video.

    I’m going to end this sub-conversation. It really has nothing to do with the essay.

  26. ombhurbhuva

    Excellent list that reads like the classic liberal’s (the ones with manners) 39 Articles.

    Two paralogisms that are current:
    (1) Everybody’s normal in their own way
    (2) My criteria are valid for me
    Add another rubric to the liturgy of rights: You must respect me. It isn’t that anyone should have to earn respect but simply that any demand no matter how daft has to be acceded to provided that the minority is a pet one.
    I’m upset about this. It’s not right.

  27. Is there anyone who has not suffered or been subordinated or marginalized in one way or another?

    I am with you here. Those who say “As a POC/Transgender person/Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual etc..only I can speak of my experience” are not only presumptious but missing a big opportunity.

    If someone says that I can’t possibly understand their experience that leaves me no choice but to let them alone.

    But it is the ability to understand someone else’s circumstances that is the main way we will get over the problems we have in life with oppression and intolerance.

    I am tempted sometimes to say that people can’t really appreciate what it was like when you risked a lengthy prison sentence for spending the night with someone you loved and hence cannot understand why it is that I feel so deeply about those groups who want to recriminalise homosexuality.

    But actually I think that just about anyone can understand how that felt and why it made us angry and impatient for change.

    Christians who oppose same sex marriage don’t think I understand their concerns as they possibly slip into being a marginal group with values out of step with the mainstream.

    But I also think I can understand that, in fact that is why I am so critical of people like Peter Boghossian who want to pathologise religious belief, to have diagnostic manuals changed to recognise this and to allow religious people to be “treated”. That way lies a terrible road to authoritarianism. I personally wouldn’t stand for a tyranny of atheism (and neither would most atheists) nor a tyranny of progressivism.

    I think the problem is that we don’t seem to have the right channels of communication to express this.

  28. Parallax

    >>>Robin Herbert: As I said, I have never met a person who regards being LGBT as an identity or would want such a thing All the people I know or interact with want society to *stop* singling us out and treating us as a special identity.

    This is a style of argument (which has become more common recently: there is no political correctness, there are no problems at college campuses, there is no identity politics, …) does not persuade at all, you are asking people to discard what they see, read, hear and experience everyday and take your word for it.

    On the substance of this issue consider a single anecdote: after the election The Advocate ran an article titled: “Peter Thiel Shows Us There’s a Difference Between Gay Sex and Gay”. The author not only affirms the existence of a queer cultural identity but also proclaims if someone supports Donald Trump they can no longer claim that identity for themselves. How much more identitarian can you get? Being gay determines everything, even who you should support in a presidential election.

  29. Parallax

    I note that this Jim quote at me is an academic and I have already said that I am not talking about academia, I am talking about the real world.

    I have not the slightest doubt that academia is an increasingly bizarre and dysfunctional place.

    Downs, in particular, seems especially divorced from reality. I know lots of gay Republicans and I don’t even live in the USA.

    The people working towards marriage equality in Australia come from both sides of politics, for example Tim Wilson late of the right wing free market think tank the IPA.

    I wonder what identity he is supposed to share with the Labor Senate Opposition Leader Penny Wong.

    Incidentally the slogan for the Australian Marriage Equality campaign is “Love is Love”.

    The other side don’t agree. To them gay love is either a surrender to animal passion or more like ones fondness for one’s cycling buddies.

    We say “we’re just the same as you”

    They say “no, you’re not the same as us”

    So how does that make us the ones doing identity politics?

  30. s.wallerstein

    Robin Herbert lives in Australia, I believe and he is reporting what he sees in the gay community there. I live in Chile and from what I can see, the gay movement in Chile does not promote identity politics, but the end to discrimination against gay people.

    The fact that identity politics as practiced in the U.S. and maybe a few other countries does not seem to exist in other societies, even though those societies do have movements for gay rights (which I support) indicates that gay identity, as promoted in the U.S. and especially in academic circles there, is not essential to having sex with members of one’s own sex or for demanding the right to do so. Foucault, by the way, says more or less the same thing.

  31. I’m really sorry that there has been so much discussion about whether identity politics is real or pervasive or bad or mostly done by conservatives. This is not purpose of the piece, and it’s my own fault for allowing this tangent to widen until it has swallowed up every other thread of the conversation.

    I explained why I wrote the piece and specifically, in the manner I did. There are two currently common ways of speaking — one regarding the critical examination and controlling of emotions, the other concerning identity and expertise — that I think raise very interesting, complex, and difficult philosophical questions. Not only do I not know the answers to these questions, I’m not even sure what my own views on them are. Hence the asking of questions, most of which I do not even attempt to answer.

    It’s interesting that people have treated these unanswered questions as if I had presented a manifesto. There is undoubtedly some interesting psychology behind that.

    I will no longer entertain discussion on whether identity politics is real or pervasive or bad or mostly done by conservatives. Comments to that effect will be deleted.

  32. Labnut: The trouble I see with your model is in part what I thought I was edging around in my questioning in the first part of the piece, namely, its implicit — or in your case, explicit — hommonculism. When I asked whether the Buddhist/Stoic/CogBehav view involves Platonic or Cartesian confusions, I did not mean in terms of the latter’s substance dualism, but rather, in terms of the latter’s tendency towards hommunculism, which, beyond being unexplanatory, involves problematic conceptions of subject and object that were a good part of what Wittgenstein is targeting in the Investigations.

  33. Dan,
    Largely agree with where you’re going with this. But political identification with a logical class has a long history, and surfaces along continua. There are also at least two sides to every instance – those identifying themselves with a particular class, and those who identify others with a particular class. Each of these identifications generates its own continuum of behavoral response, from satisfaction or admiration, and expressions of same, to self-loathing or hostility and their enactment.

    “If I kill you, I deny you existence. If I torture or enslave you, I make your existence miserable. What would I have to do to you in order to invalidate your existence?” This is rationally correct; unfortunately, historically we have a multitude of instances of those identifying with a class in power attempting to ‘invalidate’ the lives of those of a class seen to be inferior or dangerous or in other ways unwanted. I say “attempted,” because of course you’re right, a life can ultimately be destroyed but not ‘invalidated,’ but it is not simply the identity politics activists who think ‘invalidation’ is possible. Hitler did not simply want to destroy the Jews, he wanted to wipe Jewishness from the face of the earth, to completely empty out the class of ‘all things Jewish.’ After which the term ‘Jew’ could no longer designate a class, and would be ‘invalidated’ in any discussion of population identification. And the Nazis wanted the Jews to know this in their degradation in the camps, long before the gas chambers opened.

    You may say, ‘why go to the Hitler extreme right away here?’ Exactly because it is an extreme, at one end of a continuum. Actually, it is an extreme at the end of another continuum as well, that of identifying so positively with a class (‘Aryan’) that no other classes can be tolerated as equally ‘valid’ – they must be subordinated or destroyed. Enactment of this intolerance, in law, in war, in projects of enslavement and extermination, would thus be final ‘validation’ of the positive identification with the Aryan class.

    I hold ‘valid’ and ‘invalid’ under quotes, above, because I agree with you, that this somehow misses the nature of validation. Indeed, even in the horrific possibility that the Nazis had succeeded in their projects, ‘Jew’ would still have historical validation as a class designate. Indeed it could very well have been adopted by a resistance movement against a possibly successful Nazi totalitarianism.

    When the British took Jamaica from Spain, they accomplished one of the few successful acts of genocide in recorded history, the complete eradication of the Arawaks. Now, some 500 years later, Rastafarians sing songs remembering that tribe and spitting venom at the British, and at the dominant upper class that still largely identifies itself as somehow British, at least culturally. Apparently the British failed to tell their African slaves ‘now, just forget about all of that,’ or if they did, the slaves continued to pass down the narrative through generations. As they did also the story of the Maroons – the first successful slave revolt in modern history. Interestingly, ‘Maroon’ does not designate the descendants of a single African tribe shipped in slavery to Jamaica, but refers to just these self-liberated ex-slaves. Also interestingly, the Maroons, following their treaty with the British, did not return to their African tribal identities, but effectively reconstituted themselves *as* Maroons, forming two communities in different locales, one of which remains legally autonomous to this day.

    Class identification can be imposed; it can also be adopted for purposes of resistance and survival. And it is always used for political posturing and positioning. But as the example of the Maroons remind us, it must be malleable. It always involves risk. The current wave of identity politics activists want political recognition handed them on a platter, but evidence little understanding of the responsibility that comes with accepting risk and being willing to live it through, even under the direst circumstances. They don’t know history and so cannot trust themselves to it. Their real problems are not their sense of disenfranchisement or demands for ‘validation,’ but rather their political naiveté, and lack of historical perspective. They think their precious ‘feelings’ require ‘sensitivity’ from all around. They wouldn’t know what to do with real oppression should it ever came to pass.

  34. Thanks for the interesting, thorough comment. A lot to think about there. My main purpose was to see if some of the underlying ideas are philosophically sustainable, which it seems you are inclined (somewhat) to think they are not. Of course, I do not deny that they may have historical and psychological efficacy. But I think that to the extent that they do, they involve substantial confusions, as well as largely metaphorical and loaded uses of common expressions.

  35. ombhurbhuva

    wouldn’t most quasi philosophical observations examined by philosophers be found to contain a core of dualism. Daniel Dennett in Consciousness Explained found Cartesianism even in psychologists explanations. Was it just a handy working hypothesis which allowed them to contrive experiments, test hypotheses etc.? The psychology of perception isn’t altered by a theory of identity. Buddhist Vipassana meditation with its ‘seeing seeing’, hearing hearing’ won’t impinge on any empirical observations about reaction time.

    The muddle about validation i.e. how can you be holistically/wholistically invalidated? Your credentials may be invalid, your credit card, etc. but you as a whole not. Is it their experience as a particular individual, their special perspective that is being challenged? Induction from a single instance is not persuasive. Are the people who complain rational when they leave the holy ground of their personal history? Very often not and the gay cake cases that ruin businesses display opportunistic vindictiveness.

  36. OK, last comment on identity politics I promise, but you did tell me to go to the Everyday Feminism site if I wanted to know what identity politicians want, so I feel duty bound to report back.

    Apparently identity politicians want to charge me one hundred bucks to cure me of “toxic whiteness”.

    Very tempting but I think that Medicare may cover toxic whiteness.

    I had to check that you hadn’t sent me to a parody website by mistake but sadly it is real.

  37. I assure you, Robin, yours is the nicest sort of whiteness.

  38. labnut

    Labnut: The trouble I see with your model is in part what I thought I was edging around in my questioning in the first part of the piece, namely, its implicit — or in your case, explicit — hommonculism.

    Thanks for your reply but I must admit it mystifies me. I would be grateful for some expansion and clarification.

  39. labnut

    OK, I am less mystified, having done some background reading.