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Identity As A Consequence Of The Lived Experience

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The following is a transcript excerpt from Dr. Jordan Peterson’s conversation with Douglas Murray on identity politics. You can listen to or watch the full podcast on DailyWire+.

Start time: 17:13

Identity politics coalesces around any group where there is a sufficient number of people with at least one thing in common who do, in fact, feel alienated and resentful about the general culture for valid and invalid reasons. It is a crapshoot, in some sense. It does not matter if there is consistency in category structure across the different categories of identity politics. All that matters is that enough people will coalesce around each term. I think that is reasonable because many, many terms have been generated — like ageism, for example. Although, we have not seen much identity politics emerge around age, but that is probably because it did not coalesce. You can think about it as a Darwinian process, in some sense. There are 100 terms of alienation, and 10 of them generate enough social attention to become viable sociological and political phenomena. And they continue to breed, but that is because they breed whenever there is enough people to garner enough attention.

Now, the problem I have with that — and I have been thinking about this for a long time — is the notion of identity that lurks at the bottom of this. Because I think part of the problem with the identity politics’ grand narrative is that, partly because of its incoherence, it does not offer anything that looks like a real solution. That is partly because its definition of what constitutes identity seems to be almost incomprehensibly shallow, especially for social constructivists. The central idea seems to be that identity is something that you define yourself, and it is a consequence of your lived experience. So no one has any right to state anything about your identity other than you because they do not have access to your own subjective experiences.

I would not want to make the claim that there is nothing in that because there is a domain of subjective experience that is unique — like pain, for example. There is no doubt that it is real and that it is vital and important. But the problem with that seems to me to be that identity is not only a consequence of your subjective experience. In fact, it is not even a label for your subjective experience. Identity seems to me to be a handbag of tools that you employ to make your way in the natural and social world. It is something more pragmatic. It is like the role you might play if you were playing a game with other people. You can pick your role, but it has to be part of the game. That means people have to accept you as a player, and that there are certain functions that you have to undertake when you fulfill that role. That is actually beneficial to you because partly what you want from an identity is a set of guidelines for how it is that you should act in the world.

The problem with a lot of these newer categories — and I think trans is a good example of that — is that even if the category was accepted as valid on the grounds of its proposed validity (which is the felt sense of being a man if you are a woman or being a woman if you are a man), it is not obvious what that buys you. […] The fundamental flaw that I see in identity politics is that, even though it is simultaneously predicated on the idea that identity is a social construct and that it is a felt sense, it can’t be both of those. It is, in fact, a social construct with biological root. The fact that it is a social construct means that it is something that is by necessity negotiated with others, not imposed upon them by fiat. And it has to be negotiated with others because otherwise they will not play with you. […] We are each a solitude in some sense for multiple reasons, for multiple intersectional reasons for that matter. But that does not mean that communication is impossible or that it should be foregone, unless you want the alternative. And the alternative is conflict, combat: “If I can’t understand you, you’re nothing like me, and there’s no way we can negotiate a way to occupy the same space.” Maybe that is the catastrophe you are after, but it is not an optimal outcome.

To hear the rest of the discussion, continue by listening or watching this episode on DailyWire+.

Dr. Jordan B. Peterson is a clinical psychologist and professor emeritus at the University of Toronto. From 1993 to 1998 he served as assistant and then associate professor of psychology at Harvard. He is the international bestselling author of Maps of Meaning, 12 Rules For Life, and Beyond Order. You can now listen to or watch his popular lectures on DailyWire+.

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