Rex Murphy: “The sterile, vapid, chauvinistic alley of identity politics”

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This Sotomayor principle holds that ethnic and sexual considerations plainly offer an advantage, a superiority. The wise Latina woman, because she is a woman and Latina, would by the mysteries of identity, be a better judge, reach a “better conclusion,” than a “white male.” Something attaches inescapably to her biology and race, her personal sex and ethnicity, that lifts Sotomayor above, proves her as more competent or wise, than (the natural counterpoint and foil of all identity politics arguments) “a white male.”

If sex and race, in one instance, improve the judging mind that possesses the “right” combination, it is surely the case that in other circumstances, they will restrict and degrade it. To argue otherwise would be sexist and racist. Surely, the engine of “difference” doesn’t drive in one direction only, doesn’t belong to just one sex, or select ethnicities? Are we not then free, as Sotomayor was, to imagine a circumstance in which a “wise Caucasian male with the richness of his experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a Latina woman who hasn’t lived that life. ” And if we are, her observations are null, since there is nothing “special” as such to any one race or sex.

The Sotomayor principle, an identity politics principle, is just a rephrasing of the blind theory that biology is fate, and geography, birthplace, is its handmaiden. It is a regressive principle, one that places unpassable frontiers on human understanding and empathy.

This is the kind of sterile, vapid, chauvinistic alley identity politics draws you into. If we start claiming special and exclusive intellectual and moral capacities because of one’s race or sex, offering those capacities as intrinsic to race and sex, then have we not merely put a happy face on the repulsive and core ideas of racism and sexism?

Allied with this understanding is an added one — that sex and background “bestow” or “endow” these special advantages, and that they exist and are available only to those within the sacred circles of sex and race. For example, the numerous assertions from feminists that woman (and only woman) can understand women’s circumstances, that certain experiences are intellectually and empathetically “closed” to all males. In this sense, identity is a prison, a zone impenetrable to those outside its walls, an unshareable, unbridgeable chasm between sets of human beings.