The term “standing in solidarity” gets tossed around a lot at the University of California, Santa Barbara. After the protests at Mizzou last fall, for instance, I heard a lot of people talking about how they stood in solidarity with the protest group Concerned Student 1950, and UCSB’s own Graduate Students Association recently released a “Statement of Solidarity” expressing similar sentiments. But is all this fixation on solidarity really a good thing for our community?
According to Merriam-Webster, solidarity is “unity (as of a group or class) that produces or is based on community of interests, objectives and standards.” But in the real world, no two individuals can ever share the exact same interests, objectives or standards. Solidarity, at least by the dictionary definition, is impossible.
One of the most basic principles of logic is the Law of Identity. The Law of Identity states that “A is A,” or that each thing has its own unique identity which no other thing shares. This law also applies to human beings, who each have a unique identity — but solidarity completely discounts all this.
Telling people to stand in solidarity is essentially telling them to take their own interests, objectives and standards, and make them conform to a goal which has been set by the collective.
As students at a prestigious university, we should be learning to think critically. This involves coming to our own conclusions about the claims that are presented to us, and frequently choosing to agree with some aspects of them while disregarding other aspects.
This sort of critical analysis simply cannot occur if we are all standing in solidarity together. Solidarity is an unnecessarily black-and-white concept, an absolutist creed of “with us or against us.” Rather than being given an ultimatum and then made to feel shameful if they do not share in the solidarity, individuals who harbor doubts should be celebrated for their willingness to think freely.
Take the protesters at Mizzou, the ones who so many people stood in solidarity with. What would happen if we tried to analyze them from a more critical, solidarity-free lens?
The protesters wanted to end racism on the Mizzou campus. Is this a noble goal? Definitely. But Concerned Student 1950 also called for the resignation of the university president. Was this a proportionate response to the incidents of racism on campus? Perhaps. Perhaps not. This is a legitimate debate — one which we cannot have if our first knee-jerk impulse is to stand in solidarity with anyone who claims to be against racism.
Protesters at Mizzou were also videotaped attacking student reporters unprovoked. Of course, this is an action we should condemn. But if we reflexively stand in solidarity with Mizzou no matter what they do, this blinds us to the possibility that they may commit unethical actions.
Closely related to solidarity is the concept known in social psychology as “de-individuation,” where people lose their sense of individuality as part of a group, such as a mob. Being part of a mob can be an extremely liberating and exhilarating experience because it frees you from the day-to-day tyranny of your own conscience. Anybody who was here for the Deltopia riot two years ago saw a direct example of mob psychology in action, and has some idea of how powerful it can be.
One way in which mobs facilitate “de-individuation” is to wear masks; this has been shown to decrease individuals’ sense of accountability and give people a sense of freedom to do things they might otherwise never think of doing. The Ku Klux Klan is perhaps the most obvious example of the “mask” phenomenon in action.
I would argue that standing in solidarity can also serve as a sort of mask. It allows us to merge our individual interests with the collective, and erase our sense of personal accountability by feeling as if we are part of something larger than ourselves.
To see what solidarity can look like at its ugliest, watch the videos of the Concerned Student 1950 protesters at Mizzou hassling student reporters. One of the protesters, when asked her name, responded, “My name is 1950!”
This protester’s retort represents the epitome of everything that is dangerous about standing in solidarity. By merging her individual will to the collective, by temporarily erasing her own identity and replacing it with a number, she had surrendered her highest human faculties of reason and self-awareness. And that is why we at UCSB must be very, very careful whenever anyone tells us to stand in solidarity.