584: Weekly Position Paper #5: The Future of Typified Bodies and Identities

In Chapter 3 of The Ethics of Identity, Kwame Anthony Appiah notes that there are two interrelated questions we should ask regarding identities: “how existing identities should be treated; and what sort of identities there should be” (108). According to Appiah, to ask to be treated with equal dignity despite marginalized identities is not enough, for it means that these identities are liabilities. Instead, one wants to be respected as a black or as a gay individual (109). Appiah, though, is concerned if these are identities “we can be happy with in the longer run” (110), and that these identities might serve as limits, obstacles that might prevent us from making our ideal lives (111-112).

Though we haven’t yet read Appiah’s discussion in Chapter 5 (where Appiah will take up this topic more), I would argue that no, these are not identities we want in the longer run, and in fact these identities are a factor in the developing typification of other bodies/identities. I sense, from some conversations both inside and outside of class, that whether these identities (gay, black, lesbian, Latino, etc.) that arise out of oppression are viable in the longer run is of central concern to at least some in the class. Identity politics has done some much needed work in affirming the identities of marginalized folks, but how much longer is this type of politics going to work? A gay identity depends on the existence of sexism, heterosexism, and homophobia. A black identity depends on the social construction of race and cultural racism. It seems to me that as long as these identities exist, the oppression that underpins them will continue to exist.

Additionally, as I stated, I think the typification of bodies that creates these identities is extending and broadening to the typification of affinity groups. Science, especially psychology, which had its hand in the creation of sexualities and races, is now at work in creating such things as “liberal bodies” and “conservative bodies.” A recent psychological survey found that conservatives are more likely to be startled or scared than liberals. Our political affiliations are becoming, I fear, biological imperatives (like the outmoded idea that race is biological, or the still somewhat en vogue idea that sexual identity is 100% biological). In fact, the organization of these new typified bodies seems to model itself on other marginalized groups: conservatives can now argue that they are oppressed, marginalized, and excluded solely on the basis of being a conservative. Ultimately, I see this as harming our ability to discuss ideas, beliefs, and values.

What is your conception of what types of identities there “should” be in the future?

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