Difference and Identity
Preliminary Observations: (1)
a) The following ten theses have as their context the present efforts to face racism and sexism, and another forms of repression towards social minorities or groups which have the position of minorities, without being. The right to selfdefence and to fight oppression cannot be denied to any oppressed social subject. However it is valid to make some critical observations on the forms portrayed in the eager pursuit of emancipation. The author, socially defined as "white", "male", "European" and so on, formulates these theses not to affirm the social position that he might perhaps have, due to these attributes, but rather to indicate some limitations that are implied by the use of concepts of identity and difference in the search for emancipation.
b) Two hundred years ago, the concept of equality was utilised in the same way, that nowadays, the concept of difference is, that is to say the overcoming of oppression, or the pursuit of emancipation. The interesting thing is, that this change is practically not discussed at all in present debates on difference. What is the reason for this?
c) There is a parable that counts of an old society in which it was taken as fact, that the world rests on the backs of four gigantic elephants. All the philosophers and wise people discussed without ceasing a question that worried them a lot. Namely what color were the elephants? Some were convinced that they were pink and others that they were grey, while another philosophical trend defended that they were either pink or of different colors. Might it be that the current debates on equality and difference resemble these elephantine discussions?
1. The concepts of difference and identity have the same historical and logical origin as the concept of equality, with which they argue, i.e., the illustrated thought or enlightenment philosophy, the liberal culture, the bourgeois society and the capitalist form of reproduction.
2. The self-appointed "postmodern" positions, which insist on the difference and identity of each in opposition to the identity of the other, are in the final analysis nothing other than a variant of the incapacity of modernity to understand itself, i.e., an inability to comprehend the double character of its social relations which are necessarily equal and unequal at the same time. There are basically two forms of this incomprehension. On the one hand the classic position vindicates the right to equality, or equality before the law, but in this position it is ingenuously forgotten that equality is also a necessary base of the present exploitation and repression. On the other hand the "postmodern" critics of equality, who celebrate difference, forget, that this difference is also an indispensable part of the present repressive and exploitative social and economic system.
The internal contradiction or double character of capitalist modernity can not be overcome, by either forgetting difference, nor by forgetting equality, but only in the critical analysis of the dialectic relation that they have between them. That is to say, the overcoming of the limitations of present modernity is not found in the supposed exit from it, (using exaggeratedly the prefix "post"), but rather, it is necessary within the existing modernity to analyze as deeply as possible the false base of the current capitalist modernity.
3. The concept of difference has another deficiency. In general it is considered, that hatred of the other, as it is expressed for example in racism, anti-Semitism, or sexism, is a hatred of the stranger, the unknown, the unfamiliar, that is to say the "other" in the fullest meaning of the word. This version falls in the trap, of believing in the racist, anti-Semite or sexist, but they are not necessarily true, the words and other expressions of this kind. Rather deep study of the most central reasons for the hatred of the so called other is necessary.
If the racist says that one of another color is lazy and does not want to work, intending to justify that the one of another color of skin does the dirty and heavy work instead of him, then really it is a hatred of the other? If the anti-Semite says that the Jews only think about the money, perhaps as justification, for his own get rich quick scheme utilising the "Arisierung", that is the expropriation of the Jews in benefit of the anti-Semites, really the anti-Semite hates the other? If the sexist says that women are weak and irrational, as justification for the fact that a woman has to organize him all his life, because he is not capable of even the simplest daily rational organisation, really the sexist hates the other?
Our thesis, that we appropriated from Horkheimer and Adorno, is that the so called hatred of the other is rather a hatred of the too much known in oneself. (2)
4. The recognition of the other is then, in last instance, the recognition of oneself. That is to say, hatred of the other cannot be surpassed with acceptance of the difference of the other in comparison to oneself, rather it is obtained as a result of acceptance of the internal contradictions that each one has and so with overcoming dependency on the social rules that are repressing us all.
5. The concept of identity, that is used in a cardinal way in theories which are critical towards certain repressive characteristics of the present modern society (racism, sexism...), implies not so much the possibility of rescuing ones own internal difference, but rather a resurrection of the negation of internal contradictions. The identities, as in general they are thought and tried of carrying out, tend to wipe out the internal contradictions, in what is personal as well as in what is social or with respect to groups. A strong concept of identity does not result in the acceptance of the other like another identity, but rather in the repression of the internal contradictions, and with this the desire to project repressed desires onto the other, and so in the hatred of the supposed other as the elected representative of the other internal that is prohibited by the strong concept of identity.
6. The overcoming of racism, anti-Semitism and sexism does not consist so much, in the acceptance of the other (external) and the construction of an alternate identity, as the so called postmodern theorist's would have us believe. It consists rather in an analysis of the intimate relation that the concepts of equality, difference and identity have in our society, and with that an analysis of the characteristics of our society that take an overly aggressive position, which in last instance is not an aggressiveness against the other, but rather a self-destructive tendency that implies necessarily our irrational and destructive social formation.
7. The exaltation of the difference and the identity, far from being beyond the capitalist modernity (in the sense of "post"), objectively makes the conceptual fog thicker and prevents us seeing the internal contradictions of the present society. This recycles, once more, the absurd fantasy that the self-destructive tendency of the bourgeois society could be surpassed within its limits.
8. The debate, if the equality or the difference, the national or "ethnic" identity, or perhaps (why not?) the individual identity, are the secrets of a less repugnant society, than the one from which we are part, is (in last instance) a scholastic debate, because really it is nothing other than a debate among different limited perspectives on the same total phenomenon: the bourgeois society, that has as it's necessary basis forced equality, forced difference and forced identity.
9. The solution to a certain form of absence of freedom cannot be another form of absence of freedom. The repression, that implies necessarily the forced equality, cannot be surpassed with the forced difference. The lack of freedom, that implies the forced national identity, doesn't have its antidote in the forced "ethnic" identity and even not in the individual identity, which, in spite of being nearer to the emancipation than the other identities, cannot exist in the present society without an element of coercion. But, in the bourgeois society the reclamation or the imagination of a freedom - even the most limited and ephemeral one - provokes necessarily the loss of another freedom.
10. Freedom is not reached sacrificing it, it sounds as if it were common knowledge, but it is not. Freedom is only reached by surpassing its nowadays principal limitation, that is the bourgeois-capitalist society. Equality, difference and identity can only be developed freely in a free society. The secret of the emancipation of the indigenes, of the women, of the homosexuals, of the lesbians and of all the ones called by the majority "others", is the emancipation of the society as such. Everything else is nothing other than the perverse attempt to surpass a repression with a new one. Of these attempts human history is full, and it makes no sense to repeat it once again.
(1) Richard O' Flaherty from the National University of Ireland (NUI) Galway helped me with his very valuable observations about the linguistic correctness of this english version, and I also discussed some points of these theses with him.
(2) See: Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, Dialektik der Aufklärung. Philosophische Fragmente, in: Max Horkheimer, Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. 5, especially the chapter: Elemente des Antisemitismus, pages 197-238, here page 211: "Was als Fremdes abstößt, ist nur allzu vertraut." The english version of this text is: Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno: Dialectic of enlightenment. Translated by John Cumming. [New ed.]. London : Verso, 1979.
(Horkheimer and Adorno refer here to: Sigmund Freud, "Das Unheimliche", in: Sigmund Freud, Gesammelte Werke, Frankfurt am Main, 1968, vol. XII, pages 254 and 259 and others.)
(3) Also see on the problem of the identity: Bolívar Echeverría, La identidad evanescente, in: Bolívar Echeverría, Las ilusiones de la modernidad, México, D.F. UNAM / El Equilibrista, 1995, pages 55-74.
Echeverria makes in this text, starting off from the theory of Wilhelm von Humboldt, the proposal "to conceive the universality of the human in a concret way", with what it could be rescued, using our concepts, the equality and at the same time the difference (page 58) ["concebir la universalidad de lo humano de manera concreta"].