Identity politics is perhaps the only way to run a society or a business in order to work for equality, but it has really very little to do with what it means to be human (for me). Back in the 70s and the 80s identity politics was radical as it challenged liberal humanism. Today it has become mainstream.
Identity politics become questionable when it is used to paradoxically rule people by acknowleding diversity while moulding them into the shape society wants them. This is, of course, what advertising does and thus the corporate interests financing the adverts are leading the way here, producing a demand for products, likes or even a lifestyle that further their financial interests.
It becomes even worse when civil society adopts the same one-dimensional view of people. Take CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) for example. CBT saw the light of day in the aftermath of an experiment with inmates in New York who were transferred to a military camp and trained to become good soldiers. The inmates were emptied of their background, their historicity, put in a ”black box” so to speak, in order to build up new behaviour, and the experiment succeeded. While CBT at first focussed on behaviour, it later fused with American ego psychology, which enabled the therapist to work on their clients’ ego and thus their identities. A sprinkle of the 12-step Minnesota program was added as a methodology to the mix too. In another context, we’d call the result brainwashing. Today, CBT is the most used treatment for psychosocial issues, and for training the work force in being competitive, goal-oriented and job focussed; seminar, webinars, events abound. CBT, together with the fixation on jobs, health, food and exercise, is the norm. Part of the doxa of the neoliberal society. And, people jump on board. And they get burned out, despite their eating the right food, taking their jogging tour, monitoring their steps, doing their yoga and so on. Or, maybe, precisely because of that. And what’s the purpose of it all? Increased productivity to keep the corporate world running.
As early as in 1964, the sociologist Herbert Marcuse wrote the seminal book One-Dimensional Man. He had already spotted what was going on in American popular culture as consumerism took over. Christopher Lasch continued the critique of consumer society in his influential work The Culture of Narcissism (1979). From sociological one-dimensionality to psychological narcissism. Those of us who were born in the post-war era have all been fed with American popular culture, at least those of us born in the West. But, the consumer society is no longer sustainable. Not only does the work force get burned out, the earth gets depleted and impoverished.
Marcuse, Herbert. One-Dimensional Man. Routledge, 1964.
Lasch, Christopher. The Culture of Narcissism. W.W. Norton, 1979.