Postmodern Identity Politics and the Social Tyranny of the Definable

Abstract

The pervasive, almost irresistible privileging of what can be defined and specified and claim rights for itself in a democratic society supposedly based on argument and rational justification, including self-justification, entails certain liabilities and susceptibilities to abuse. The focus on definable identities seems to have been necessary for social progress, yet it has also led to some systematic distortions. For not only what has a defined identity has rights or needs. In the overall scheme of things, those who have not yet come to this degree of conscious and even combative awareness of self-certain parts of us that have no identity-are just as important and often more in need of benign fostering. But, in the politics of identity, only those identifiable as belonging to some definite group are recognized and accorded rights and even privileges. If you do not have a label-a socially marketable or a politically appreciable distinctive identity that can give you social capital and political leverage-you are no one. This too builds invidious biases into the social system and its communicative practices.
A deeper insight into the non-identity of individuals belongs to negative theology, that is, to the admission that God is unknowable in any definable concepts or terms. In negative theologians such as John Scott Eriugena and Meister Eckhart, the unknowability of God extends to the unknowability and thus also the non-identity of individuals in general in their deepest core or "soul." This tradition will be evoked for the light that it can shed on our postmodern predicament and its quandary concerning identities. Its insights will be filtered through the current discussion of critique of identity politics (John Rajchman, The Identity in Question).



Author Information
William Franke, University of Macao, Macao

Paper Information
Conference: ACERP2013
Stream: Ethics; Religion; Philosophy

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Posted by amp21