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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?

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  • 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, 2020 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, 2020 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, 2020 at 13:30

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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.

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  • i think you need to qualify this -- there's a definite fallacy to some identity politics or discussion thereof
    – user38026
    Jan 7, 2020 at 18:31
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    @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, 2020 at 0:58
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The most obvious logical fallacies relied upon in identity-based arguments are the Ad Hominem, appeal to popularity, and appeal to authority. The Ad Hominem is committed by attacking the opponent as "unable to know", given the inaccessible and subjective nature of personal experience. The Appeal to Authority is committed by asserting that the claimant himself is an ambassador for his identity group and therefore inherently possesses the ability to accurately represent his entire identity group as a bona fide expert. Finally, the Appeal to Popularity is committed by the indirect assertion that all members of the claimant's identity group would necessarily have identical experiences to the claimant (had they been in the claimant's shoes during said experience), and therefore the opinions of every member of the claimant's identity group should be presumed homogenous. There are more problems with such claims beyond logical fallacies. For example, subjective experience is not falsifiable, and by nature of specific temporal occurrence and circumstance, subjective experience is impossible to replicate or to convey accurately. A claim about the world is either true or false independent of a claimant's subjective experience. Consider the following: “I tasted strawberry ice cream in 1987 and it was awful; therefore, all people over 6 feet tall who live in the United States and share my immutable characteristics would have had the identical experience, and in lieu of this fact I am justified to represent their necessarily identical subjective experiences as an expert/authority with 100% accuracy. Since those in my identity group would necessarily have the identical experience, my experience ought to be considered factual.” A person IS an expert on their own subjective experience but has no special access to the experiences of others, regardless of what immutable characteristics they may have in common.

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