Identity Politics in Wonderland—written by Aram Bakshian—appeared in The American Conservative of 5th March 2019. But what could Lewis Carroll’s book, Alice in Wonderland, possibly have in common with this issue?
For Bakshian the link was accidental. The book happened to fall on the floor and fortuitously—for one interested in the subject—opened at the page where Alice was looking at a caterpillar who proceeded to ask her: Who are you?
I—I hardly know, sir, just at present—at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then … came the reply from Alice.
For Aram Bakshian these words provide an opening into the increasingly absurd era of identity politics. Today, many people are confused by the term and are asking themselves: Who am I? But the answers that are forthcoming are confusing.
In Bakshian’s case he could state that he is a … WASP or Asian American; writer, editor, or public servant; conservative traditionalist or libertarian; Calvinist, Catholic, Armenian Monophysite, or Deist…and so on, ad nauseam. This is because of his background.
His grandfather was an Armenian immigrant from the Ottoman Empire. On his mother’s side he comes from 17th century Virginian yeoman farmers, as well as 19th century German—and indeed Irish—immigrants to North America.
How, he asks, could he consolidate into one, the often-contradictory subsets that go into his biological, geographical, political, and spiritual heritage?
American—plain and simple—is his answer.
To really know Who am I? is it sufficient to place ourselves into a category like “American”, “Irish”, “European”, “Mexican”, or whatever?
Yes, if it satisfies you as an individual. But don’t expect an answer to the inevitable follow-on question: What is an American, a European, an Irish person? etc., because we can’t answer these questions with a precise definition.
This means that we must rely on description. But the more we try to describe that “something” which aptly describes, say, what it means to be Irish or American, the more we find ourselves dealing with exceptions to the rule that have to be excluded or, otherwise, mess up our initial viewpoint.
Attempt the exercise for yourself!
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Aram Bakshian Jr. is a former aide to presidents Nixon, Ford, and Reagan. His writings on politics, history, gastronomy, and the arts have been widely published in the United States and overseas.