Saturday, September 8, 2018

Is this my crowd? Identity politics and the new normal

In the past couple weeks, I've ventured into LoDo (lower downtown Denver) for a couple of cultural events: a beer/food pairing at Oscar Blues Brew Pub and the Crush Walls Art Festival in RiNo (River North neighborhood). Both were great fun and enriching experiences, though I recently noted to a colleague that I had a couple weird moments of self-awareness when I noticed the mixed crowd of twenty-something hipster Millennials alongside a fair number of forty-something Gen Xers. And, I thought, rather uncharacteristically, Is This My Crowd? We joked about how that might be the perfect title for my memoir.

Who am I? That's a never-ending question for the average American, and that quest for a sense of self is foundational to our national DNA.

However, that sense of identity, both personal and geographical, is at the heart of our troubling national divide. If there truly is a troubling national divide. And, that leads me to a nice bit of social commentary via a couple book reviews in the Weekend Wall Street Journal. Political writer and review Barton Swaim (whose Twitter feed has apparently deleted. Hmmmm) takes a look at the new work from Francis Fukuyama, Identity: The Demand for Dignity & the Politics of Resentment. Swaim & Fukuyama explain how "the modern quest for dignity may be traced back to Martin Luther, who first expressed 'the notion, central to questions of identity, that the inner self is deep and possesses many layers that can be exposed only through private introspection.'" I like that simple idea, as well as the extrapolation that it was Jean Jacques Rousseau who redefined the idea without the theological component and "elevated the individual to a status of all importance ..."

The complicated notion of the individual and the concepts of individual liberty are both the calling cards and Achilles' heels for progressive Democrats and pseudo-conservative Republicans. While it seems fairly straightforward and honest for Fukuyama to note "the desire for the state to recognize one's basic dignity has been at the core of democratic movements since the French Revolution," the emerging identity politics and selective applications of personal and individual liberty are the complicating factors in today's politics. Just how much do we really support the ideas of personal freedom and individual liberty? Well, we only do so on the readings of issues that resonate with us. Whose personal liberty is at risk and under attack in the case of the Christian baker and the gay customer?

Figure that out in a mutually beneficial and acceptable way, and you win.