On marking the imminent resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, this from Shiraz Socialist:
Perhaps covering up for child abuse, promoting anti-gay bigotry, spreading AIDS throughout the world, and explaining away his organisation’s hatred of 50% of the human race finally wore him out?Okay.
Anyway, the former Hitler Youth member (in fairness, he claims he had no choice) has decided to stand down. Pity his organisation (the Church, not the Hitler Youth) survives.
“Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.”
― Denis Diderot
As far as I am concerned, there are two forms of identity politics.
The first is the most widely understood. It pertains to the politics associated with the so-called 'new social movements' that had their roots in 1960s radicalism. The women's movement, anti-racism, LGBT liberation - these are the paradigmatic examples as far as social movement scholarship are concerned. The notion subsequently expanded to include mental health, disabilities, and mobilisations of minority religions, ethnicities and nationalities. To do much violence to their variation and complexity, new social movement identity politics starts from a particular shared attribute (however defined) that has been overlooked, ignored or marginalised by established progressive politics (be they revolutionary or reform-minded), and their movement struggles to win positive political, legal and cultural recognition and change.
The second is less noticed and remarked upon, but is probably all the more ubiquitous for it. This is identity politics on an individuated level. It is bound up with distinction and identifying with a set of politics, people, styles and ideas, and flows from multiple sources. It is the cultural fuel that powers the consumer practices of advanced capitalist societies and finds itself replicated across all fields of social action. And in social formations such as ours; conflicted, anomic and alienating as they are, individuated identity politics can and frequently do assume pathological forms. Football hooliganism and gang culture. Ginger bashing and nerd-baiting. One Direction and Justin Bieber fandom. More generally, individuated identity politics have an affirmative quality. They act as a social-psychological crutch that can justify petty, spiteful, bellicose, moralising behaviour toward groups one doesn't like, and it's something we all do to greater or lesser degrees. In some instances behaviour of this kind can appear in radical garb too. Finally, it is worth emphasising that this behaviour is not about clarifying a difference or trying to convince people who are the target of such behaviour of the errors of their ways.
Which brings us to the Shiraz piece, above. I pick this not because I particularly dislike the blog, but because the post condenses the purest example of a particularly pathological form of atheist/revolutionary identity politics. We're likely to see variations on this theme in the lead up to the Conclave that will elect a new pope.
Now, I don't hold a brief for Benedict XVI. It is undeniable the Catholic Church has done many awful things and assumed theological positions that cause very real harm. But then again, it is simultaneously the largest organisation in the world attacking the zombie economics of neoliberalism; advocating for environmentalism; and promoting social justice. Yes, it's blemished and undermined by contradictory doctrine and complicity in existing frameworks of power, and how can it be otherwise, being as the faith is an expression of ruling interests and a religious articulation of the rising collective potentiality of hundreds of millions?
Catholicism therefore is a complex thing and deserves a nuanced approach. As a socialist I'd quite like to see many more Catholics in the labour movement, as I would Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Atheists, and so on. I assume everyone on the left might like that too. So, writers, bloggers and activists who might be tempted to do OMG PAEDOPHILES!!!! or ZINGZ CONDOMS!!!! baiting over the next few weeks might want to ask *why*. Is it out of a genuine, earnest belief that repeating well-trodden criticisms in the most fractious and insulting ways possible might win believers to our movement? Or is it about "feeling smug, superior, enlightened and oh so clever" (as I once put it)?
If it's the latter, allow me to invoke some identity politics of my own: what kind of left winger are you?