My understanding of Identity Politics goes as follows:

  • A is a member of/identifies with group X
  • B is not a member of/does not identify with group X
  • A frames challenge S in terms of X
  • Because B doesn’t have direct experience of X, A asserts that B can’t understand/counter A’s argument.

A common criticism, I understand, is that circumstance S might have nothing to do with X and the action of coupling them together detracts or obscures the central point of S; perhaps even intentionally. (For example, X could be “shorter than average people” and S could be “climate change”. This is an exaggeration to make the point, but here it’s clear that a person’s height does not disadvantage, or otherwise, them in the context of climate change...unless, I suppose, it flooded very quickly, but I digress!)

A criticism I personally have when people appeal to Identity Politics is that it precludes B’s ability to feel empathy or even exercise their imagination. B might not know directly what it’s like to be short, as the global average temperature increases, but it wouldn’t exactly be a huge flight of fancy to put themselves in their (presumably smaller) shoes. I may even go so far as observing the anti-Xism of B being “weaponised” to vilify them (e.g., I understand it’s common for young men to feel awkward around children, because they don’t fall into the stereotypical care group, but are instead associated with more nefarious activities).

However, I think there’s a more fundamental problem here. Specifically, X is arbitrary. B could likewise choose a group Y, with whom they identify, but A doesn’t, and frame S in terms of Y. For example, B could counter the argument with the claim that A doesn’t understand their challenges with climate change because they don’t have curly hair. The arbitrariness of the grouping, with the assumption that all people are unique enough such that any two groups can always be bisected, means this argument will always result in a stalemate.

Is this a logically fallacy? I find the Identity Politics card, personally, quite tiresome; if it’s not illogical, is my analysis at least a reasonable criticism, to build a counterargument upon?

  • There could be, especially in the simplified examples you give with arbitrary attachments. When there is it is a combination of ad hominem with genetic fallacy (prejudging an argument by its source). However, identity politics does have an objective basis for groups with distinctive experience. It is well established that people without personal exposure to X (being black, for example, or climbing mountains) tend to discount its challenges. Most informal arguments use surmises from experience as premises, so non-members are at a disadvantage.
    – Conifold
    Jan 6 '20 at 1:09
  • That's exactly the problem I have with these arguments: they are factual, but in such a subjective way that they are, at best, tricky to counter. Plus, the attachments asserted are often to an underprivileged group, so one has the added difficulty -- being, presumably, in the privileged position -- of not accidentally coming across as entitled, condescending or even bigoted. Whilst that could lead to ad hominem, it's best to be civil in my opinion, rather than goading the debate that way. As such, it seems like the perfect strategy. Jan 6 '20 at 11:53
  • I should add that the best approach I've found, so far, is to ask the accuser to explain their situation, in terms of their group's perceived disadvantage, and/or give examples, to help me understand. This helps, in that it shows empathy and humility, while giving yourself something to work with, but it's not brilliantly effective. At best, it moves you past the impasse. Jan 6 '20 at 13:30

Yes, there is a logical fallacy to identity politics. The fallacy has two parts.

Identity politics begins with a great big ad hominem argument. The site LogicallyFallacious describes the ad hominem technique as

Attacking the person making the argument, rather than the argument itself, when the attack on the person is completely irrelevant to the argument the person is making.

First, identity arguments expand this. They lump together an entire category of people, instead of focusing on one isolated accusation against one person, which is the usual situation.

Second, the identity argument adds a factor to make itself seem relevant to the issues under discussion. The adversary is not merely wrong for some irrelevant reason; the adversary is disabled from ever making a rational decision on these issues.

The disability might arise from historical experience, genetic background, or the decree of a deity. But there it is. The adversary can never be correct, because of their identity.

  • i think you need to qualify this -- there's a definite fallacy to some identity politics or discussion thereof
    – user38026
    Jan 7 '20 at 18:31
  • @another_name What would the qualification say? Regardless of the specific content of any particular belief system, the fundamental problems of using an ad hominem argument would remain. Jan 8 '20 at 0:58

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