The Primal Scream of Identity Politics
Mary Eberstadt analyses how the dissolution of the family has played out in politics
Mary Eberstadt is an insightful American political analyst who has become best known for her contribution to the ‘secularization thesis’. Eberstadt has attributed the growing secularization among the ‘nones’ as much to the demise of the family as to a loss of religious conviction – making a reference to genetics, she calls the two the ‘double helix’ of secularization.
Here she weighs in on the topic of identity politics. Tracking the principled intolerance of the left in its identity liberalism, in this article she engages with Mark Lilla’s analysis of the Democrats’ problem.
Eberstadt writes, ‘It is true, as Lilla observes, that today’s culture of victimization encourages people to “descend into the rabbit hole of self.” But the question remains: What gravitational force pulls them toward that hole in the first place?’
Unlike Lilla, Eberstadt comes to identify the problem, and the contradictions within the identity liberalists’ narrative:
‘The legalization of same-sex marriage, as observers both for and against the 2015 Obergefell decision came to agree, owed most to one factor: empathy for the moral claim that attraction to one’s own sex is like pigmentation or DNA, immutable and immune to change. Yet a split cultural second later, exactly the opposite case has come to be made for the intersex, transgendered, and other sexual minorities: that identity is fluid, indeterminate, perhaps even recalcitrant, rather than born that way.
In this head-on collision of purported creation stories about sexual and gender identity that cannot possibly both be true, we see once more that the question Who am I? is the most fraught of our time. It has become like a second skin: something that can’t be sloughed off, or even scratched, without excruciating pain to the subject—reason and logic and the rest of persuasion-as-usual be damned.
White racism, past and present, explains many terrible things. So do other evils, including the kind just revealed in the Harvey Weinstein scandal. But neither racism nor sexual predation nor related injustices can explain the primordial emotionalism and fierce irrationality that have come to be part and parcel of identitarianism for all.’
Eberstadt argues that what has been missed in this is the dissolution of the family, the seedbed for the development of the human family. By destroying the family, and representing the suffering individuals that has resulted, identitarian politics has gone from being a political movement to a primal scream.
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