What is the oppressor/victim mindset and how did it conquer the academy?: A condensed version of Chapter 3 of The Coddling of the American Mind (JON HAIDT AND GREG LUKIANOFF, DEC 21, 2023, After Babel)
Two Kinds of Identity Politics
“Identity politics” is a contentious term, but its basic meaning is simple. Jonathan Rauch, a scholar at The Brookings Institution, defines it as “political mobilization organized around group characteristics such as race, gender, and sexuality, as opposed to party, ideology, or pecuniary interest.” He notes that “in America, this sort of mobilization is not new, unusual, un-American, illegitimate, nefarious, or particularly left wing.” Politics is all about groups forming coalitions to achieve their goals. If cattle ranchers, wine enthusiasts, or libertarians banding together to promote their interests is normal politics, then women, African Americans, or gay people banding together is normal politics, too.
But how identity is mobilized makes an enormous difference––for the country, for the group’s odds of success, and for the welfare of the people who join the movement. Identity can be mobilized in ways that emphasize an overarching common humanity while making the case that some fellow human beings are denied dignity and rights because they belong to a particular group, or it can be mobilized in ways that amplify our ancient tribalism and bind people together in shared hatred of a group that serves as the unifying common enemy.
Common-Humanity Identity Politics
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., epitomized what we’ll call common-humanity identity politics. He was trying to fix a gaping wound—centuries of racism that had been codified into law in southern states and into customs, habits, and institutions across the country. It wasn’t enough to be patient and wait for things to change gradually. The civil rights movement was a political movement led by African Americans and joined by others, who engaged in nonviolent protests and civil disobedience, boycotts, and sophisticated public relations strategies to apply political pressure on intransigent lawmakers while working to change minds and hearts in the country at large.
Part of Dr. King’s genius was that he appealed to the shared morals and identities of Americans using the unifying languages of religion and patriotism. He repeatedly used the metaphor of family, referring to people of all races and religions as “brothers” and “sisters.” He spoke often of the need for love and forgiveness, hearkening back to the words of Jesus and echoing ancient wisdom from many cultures: “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend” and “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” …
King’s most famous speech drew on the language and iconography of what sociologists call the American civil religion. Some Americans use quasi-religious language, frameworks, and narratives to speak about the country’s founding documents and founding fathers, and King did, too. “When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence,” he proclaimed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, “they were signing a promissory note.” King turned the full moral force of the American civil religion toward the goals of the civil rights movement. […]
King’s approach made it clear that his victory would not destroy America; it would repair and reunite it.
The former is the essential characteristic of the Left/Right, the latter of liberalism/conservatism.