Monday, February 20, 2017

Politics and Identity

Just noting this teaser from the Post front page:
Many of President Trump’s backers said his victory changed their lives — that they felt their views were respected and in the majority.
The new president hasn't actually done much – which is not really a crack at him, I don't think it's a good idea for presidents to run up a list of accomplishments in the first 100 days – and anyway that doesn't matter to his biggest backers. Just by winning, he made them feel better about themselves and their place in the country.

And that is something we ought to think about long and hard. We are using politics, and especially the presidential election, to get validation for ourselves and our views of the world, regardless of what kind of effect that has on the government and how it is run.


Unknown said...

Yes, but isn't using politics for self-validation part of the idea of democratic citizenship? Our current situation often reminds me of nothing so much as the internal life of the Greek poleis in the 5th and 4th centuries BC. Maybe we're seeing what broadly active citizenship really means.

Perhaps we should return to a more Ancien Regime type system, where the subjects are protected by their own privileges and status of social honor, and their main political interest is in preserving those things and giving the ruler as little as possible.

John said...

Absolutely validation is part of democratic politics. I think one of the most important advances in the modern world is the death of the pure sort of aristocratic privilege that made it perfectly acceptable, in some places even legal, for an aristocrat to have his servants beat up peasants who annoyed him.

In our time this is (I think) becoming a serious problem because of the intensity of our identification with our political parties and the weakness of other sorts of validation. Millions of people seem to find defeat in a presidential election psychologically devastating. That strikes me as bad both in principle and in practice – in practice because it leads us to focus on dividing up into two teams rather than on finding out common ground or truth.

G. Verloren said...


If you need to rely on politics to validate your beliefs, maybe your beliefs (or your reasons for holding them) don't have much merit.

I didn't like George W. Bush, and I disagreed with his politics in many places, but I didn't feel like my identity or values were somehow in crisis when he was president. Even if the POTUS seemed like an illiterate nincompoop, I still didn't remotely feel that the philosophies I embrace such as intellectualism and rationalism were threatened, or that having a Conservative in the white house somehow made the underlying foundations of Liberalism inferior, flawed, or stupid.

I also didn't like Obama at first and was deeply skeptical of him, based on my understanding of how shady Chicago politics tend to be, and I largely thought the wave of popular support that swept him into office was bizarre and misplaced - that many of his supporters were getting swept up in a weird political fad, forming unrealistic expectations, and setting themselves up for disappointment. I loved the fact that we finally elected an African American president, and despite my reservations I was pleased to see such optimism in the nation during the election, but I didn't at all feel validated about anything, and despite all appearances of similar politics philosophies (which later proved to hold true), I still didn't quite believe or trust in our new leader, regardless of his politics.

No, I'm convinced the primary problem with our society is not our politics, but our decent into emotionality and our rejection of rationality. We live in a complicated world built on science and logic. And yet the vast majority of people not only are ignorant of the very knowledge and concepts that form the foundations of our entire society, but - even more dangerously - they lack the necessary scientific mindset of curiosity and skepticism necessary to safely navigate such a societal environment.

And so we get people like Trump - emotional and irrational, with vast powers at their command that they neither properly understand nor respect, weilding them selfishly and irresponsibly, and creating constant chaos through their incompetance and vindictiveness.

And so we also get people like Trump's supporters, which fall into three major camps.

First, the older supporters who want to "Make America Great Again", who pine for a mythical past age that never existed, fabricated from the emotionality of nostalgia and the irrationality of general ignorance and detachment from the modern day.

Second, the wealthy elites of society, the rich billionaires and one percenters who don't buy into such nonsense, but who stand to benefit monetarily from greasing Trump's palms.

And third, the younger supporters who feel disenfranchised with modern life and society; who feel like the game is rigged and they have no power or agency over their lives or their nation; who are bitterly unhappy, monstrously insecure, and socially underdeveloped; and whose only source of satisfaction or validation comes in the form of acting out, throwing tantrums, and forcing other people to give them attention - any attention at all, even negative - as a sort of defiant expression of despair. We don't have Anarchists and Punks self destructively terrorizing inner city sprawls anymore, we have Trolls and "Anonymous" 4channers self destructively voting for the most unfit leaders possibleso they can enjoy a dose of wretched schadenfreude at the expense of the larger society they fundamentally loathe and reject.

Shadow said...

Yesterday I watched a news clip of a protest. They had children swinging bat-like instruments at a pinata that was most likely Trump hanging in effigy. Should we involve children to that extent and in that way? It isn't just fun, and it's not a parade. There is an angry political message associated with it. To me this is like religion, children becoming what their parents are, instead of making up their own minds.

Unknown said...


I'm not sure democratic identity-validation has much to do with preventing aristos from having their servants beat commoners--which prohibition, in fact, doesn't even require democracy, nor does democracy require it. I'm thinking, rather, of the idea that democracy has entailed historically a certain ideal of citizenship, involving personal virtue and political engagement. The validation of identity, of who one is, and the ideal of total involvement, certainly seems to be part of the Greek democratic citizenship ideal (as voiced, say, in Pericles' funeral oration). And the historical effect of this (almost inevitably, I would say) was internal conflict, more or less fierce and more or less debilitating to the community as a whole according to the circumstances--but nevertheless present and real, because, in fact, people are social beings and who they are IS at stake.

leif said...

@Shadow, and that wasn't happening to hillary effigies? (i'm not saying, childishly, that what comes around goes around.) the central issue is that more people than i think we'd care to admit to, are descending into irrationality and tribalism.

Shadow said...


It probably did, but I don't recall. Sorry. If it did, it is just as wrong. Yes, irrationality and tribalism.