October 4, 2020
We hear about “identity” so often now that the word no longer carries much meaning. By extension, the term “identity politics” has become a culture war cudgel, recklessly deployed by race baiters on the right as well as some activists on the social justice left. But Laurent Dubreuil, a professor of literature and cognitive science at Cornell University, has studied identity in ways that plunge far deeper than standard discussions about tribalism and narcissism. He’s interested in what an identity-based worldview—and the technology that feeds it— is actually, physiologically, doing to our brains.
In this conversation, Laurent talks with Meghan about how social media has undertaken a collective cognitive reprogramming of human beings and the world at large that could have catastrophic effects. He also explains how part of the danger of Twitter is that it’s based on “soliloquy,” how academia’s preoccupation with identity robs students of their rightful educations, and how the recent controversy surrounding the French-Senegalese film Cuties forebodes a time in which we might have to “say goodbye to the arts.”
Laurent Dubreuil is a Professor of Comparative Literature, Romance Studies and Cognitive Science at Cornell University, where he founded the Humanities Lab and heads the French Studies Program. His comparative research explores the powers of literary and artistic thinking at the interface of social thought, the humanities and the sciences. He is the author of more than twelve books and in 2019 he released in French La dictature des identités, an essay on the current state of “identity politics 2.0” in the United States. Laurent's essay Nonconforming: Against the Erosion of Academic Freedom by Identity Politics, appeared in the September 2020 issue of Harper’s.