When oppressed groups band together to stand up for their civil rights, that’s a good thing. When political parties, organizers, activists and anarchists exploit those groups by stoking the flames of discord for their own purposes, that’s called identity politics. And that’s a bad thing. A really bad thing.

The goal of the civil rights movement used to be to end bias and integrate marginalized groups into mainstream American culture. After all, everyone deserves the same rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Everyone deserves equal treatment under the law.

Somewhere along the line, that noble goal was perverted. Now, those groups seek segregation. They want to be treated differently. They want to be treated specially. And God help anyone who says otherwise.

The goal of the civil rights movement used to be a colorblind culture. Suggesting that today makes you a racist. Likewise with respect to gender and sexual orientation.

Of course, the problem with that approach is that it fractures the culture and ultimately causes other groups to rise up in opposition. It’s one thing to protect certain groups to be sure they’re fairly treated under the law, but taken too far, those protected groups end up getting special treatment. And that marginalizes everyone else.

That’s probably why we’re seeing a resurgence of white supremacy. And now, we’re hearing calls to abandon free speech in order to curtail hate speech, whatever that is. The problem with that is its inherent subjectivity. One man’s mantra is another man’s hate speech. It’s a slippery slope.

That’s all bad for our nation, but there’s another problem with identity politics: When you identify with a certain group and are made to believe that the deck is stacked against you, that takes individuality and personal accountability out of the equation. In a free market, that severely diminishes your chances of improving your social and economic status.

In other words, the problem with identity politics isn’t so much that those affected cease to be part of American culture, but that they cease to be individuals who hold themselves personally accountable for their actions, and the outcome of their lives. Rather, they become part of a collective – drones to be used and discarded as the leaders of their movement see fit.

Obviously, that’s how Hitler and Stalin came to power. Neither the right nor the left owns the techniques used in identity politics. Regardless of which side wields its power, division, disruption and destruction will surely follow.

On the other hand, as I explain in the epilog of Real Leaders Don’t Follow, in a free society, no one can truly be made to join a collective. It’s an act of free will. A choice. Which is ironic, when you think about it: It takes an act of free will to give it up. It makes no sense, and yet, so many do it. Why? I think “give up” is the key operative.

Image credit Evgeniy Isaev and Gerry Lauzon via Flickr