Outside of climate change economic inequality is the biggest problem we face in the west. It’s tentacles are far reaching and it cares little about what sex or race you are. If you are poor, then you are poor and the effects are devastating. If we on the left do not have economic inequality on the forefront of our minds then we have failed. At which point we will have drifted towards other less desirable parts of the political spectrum. With all this in mind, since the 90’s the left have occupied a corner of politics known as identity politics, spearheaded by the likes of Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and now Justin Trudeau.
None of these leaders in question have ever particularly identified with the left, however, they speak the “language of the liberal” as the renowned journalist Chris Hedges would say. Following the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, capitalism was declared the economic ideological winner and all political flavours jumped on board. In both the US and the UK, banking regulations were relaxed or dismantled with even more fervour, such as the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999. Meanwhile, so called left(ish) parties abandoned the ‘working class‘ and conveniently jumped on the social justice bandwagon.
The governments of US, the UK and NZ in the 90’s all continued a largely neoliberal doctrine from an economic perspective. Ushered in was relentless privatisation, low taxes for the rich, weakened unions, while encouraging consumerism and individualism. These ‘third way‘ exponents such as Blair supported social justice; feminism, anti-racism and gay rights, all of course on the condition they didn’t interfere with unbridled capitalism. Democracy gave way, as we were transformed into consumers and producers, with more emphasis on the former.
Many people in the middle classes were offered a lifestyle that was hugely attractive, coupled with a seemingly socially liberal society, this proved to be a heady cocktail for many. Behind the warm, fluffy policies of social justice, economic inequality continued to widen in most western countries, albeit at a reduced rate. In contrast, the working class located in traditional industrial areas and smaller more isolated enclaves of the UK did not witness the benefits of this centrist ideology. Globalisation and consumerism were here to stay, but for the impoverished communities of the north or the midlands to name a couple, this provided no solace.
In the early 2000’s migrants particularly from Eastern Europe arrived, many to forgotten areas of the UK. People within these communities started to feel threatened at a very basic level, particularly for their livelihoods. It’s not surprising that a large proportion of citizens from these affected areas switched their political allegiance to UKIP and Nigel Farage. After all, they were offered an end to globalisation and a much tighter immigration stance. This political narrative although deeply flawed, offered a glimmer of hope for people who had gained nothing from New Labour, and even less from Tory directed austerity.
Looking back, it doesn’t require too much of an imagination to draw parallels between the plight of the post-industrial areas in the UK, and the ‘rust belt’ states such as Ohio. It would be flippant even ignorant to suggest that millions of people on both sides of the Atlantic are inherently racist. In each of these countries, it is the people who reside in these industrial areas who have endured misery for decades under neoliberalism. They have witnessed their jobs disappear, houses foreclosed and whole businesses shipped overseas. It should have come as no shock to anyone that both communities opted for change, real or imagined. Not surprisingly, hope can be exceptionally seductive when you sense you have nothing left to lose.
Consequently, the US went on to vote for Donald Trump, while the disenfranchised in the UK opted for Brexit. This was a deafening protest vote that many on the right of the Labour Party and the corporate Democrats still refuse to acknowledge New Labour, the Democrats and even to a certain extent Helen Clark’s Labour (NZ) used social justice, which was associated with political correctness and later identity politics as a convenient distraction. They had no intention of reforming the economic status quo and risk alienating their newly acquired middle class voters. Incidentally this present view of social justice was not always the accepted orthodoxy. Back in the 70’s the left supported universal human rights and inclusion. Although, they still championed minorities and disadvantaged groups. This predominant orthodoxy, edged towards group blindness.
The twist is, modern day identity politics has now shifted 180º from inclusion to exclusion. This has seen varying groups withdraw into their own ideological corners and become ever more entrenched. The way that these factions function it is clear that much of their behaviour and communication borrows heavily from postmodernism. Objective information, facts and reason, take a backseat to emotion and subjective experiences. This renders the whole movement of identity politics as inherently anti-science and exclusionary. In summary, it is accepted that the quality of information being conveyed is of less value than the perception of a person who belongs to a particular group. This is regardless of the group member’s experience or knowledge on a particular matter. By virtue of being a member solely due to a particular skin colour or their arrangement of genitals for example, allows them the title of expert.
The logical conclusion for identity politics as it becomes ever more powerful, is to divide and play for higher stakes at the ‘oppression Olympics’. At this juncture, a battle for the most oppressed and least privileged group ensues, often pitting former allies against one another. Take for example the acronym LGBTQ, this has ranged from the rather easier to remember LGB to LGBTQQIAAP, as groups compete over which order the representative letter should go. In all honesty this last attempt at a suitable acronym reminds me of a railway station in North Wales, as it doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue.
But I digress. With astounding regularity identity politics has a knack of miring itself in continual bouts of outrage. The permanently offended can fuel their ire in imaginative ways, such as; voicing their collective outrage because somebody wore a sombrero on a night out while drinking tequila. Guess what? He wasn’t even Mexican. How dare he!!! Forgive me, but while considering the major issues we face today this feels a tad trivial, to say the least. Having said this, dismissing identity politics out of hand would be foolish.
After all, this genre of politics has been routinely weaponised in order to destroy peoples careers, such as the #metoo kangaroo court. It also has this uncanny knack of turning something relatively innocuous into a full blown catastrophe by appealing to the sensitivities of a particular group. None of the accusations or bouts of fury have to be substantiated, the lie just needs to be told enough times and be supported by the right people, often opposing politicians, celebrities and the press. Both Bernie Sanders in the US and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK have been on the receiving end of concerted attacks by their opponents.
The most recent assault on Corbyn was the assertion that his Labour Party and thereby himself by association are anti-Semitic. This allegation of course was devoid of anything resembling facts. In truth, Labour has no more anti-Semitism than what is found within the general population and significantly less than the right wing parties. However, in the true spirit of postmodernism, we shouldn’t allow facts to get in the way of a good ‘witch burning’. It’s worth noting that this recent political extravaganza was impeccably timed as the whole saga unfolded just before the local elections. This ruse was no more than a vain attempt to weaken Mr Corbyn’s popularity and consequently his grip on the leadership.
Herein lies the problem, nobody in their right mind is suggesting that people should be treated poorly due to race, gender and sexual identity. Sadly, the reality is identity politics in it’s current form is used more as a political landmine, rather than a movement for everyone to rally behind. It fragments vast swathes of the population, as many feel excluded, silenced and often blamed by the so called ‘oppressed’ for something that may have happened centuries ago, such as colonialism. Or suggesting that men who are not prepared to acknowledge their ‘toxic masculinity‘ hate women. It does nothing to address our major issues such as; climate change or economic inequality.
In contrast it seems to do no more than designate the burden of the world’s ills on to other supposedly less oppressed groups. In many cases the word privileged appears to be laid at the feet of white men. This rings hollow when you consider that most people at the poorer end of society in the UK happen to be white. Therefore, a bloke living in a flat on Falinge Estate in Rochdale, UK with no prospects of work and isn’t likely to feel enormously privileged. Often identity politics manifests as no more than one big, smug, virtue signalling festival. All this, so the pious can appear windswept and interesting posting on Instagram or Twitter while at some supposedly ‘world changing’ rally.
It’s important to acknowledge, that the carnage caused across the western world due to the ideology of neoliberalism, a system that benefits the few, doesn’t discriminate against race, gender, age, religion or sexual orientation. The people who comprise of the ruling elite do not base their decisions on identity, we are all simply commodities to be bought and sold. Therefore, if a more efficient or cost effective way is identified which does not include you, too bad. Appealing as a member or an ally of an oppressed group will not save you in the long run, only changes to the economic system and the wider society can offer hope.
Identity politics increasingly reveals itself as a sport for the middle class. Where relatively privileged, well educated, often younger people pontificate on the trials and tribulations of mansplaining or cultural appropriation. Meanwhile the amount of homeless people increases at an alarming rate and child poverty continues to be a major issue. Equally upsetting, all over the western world, particularly in my home country of New Zealand, young men are killing themselves with staggering regularity. Tellingly, however, with all this in mind, the two groups that identarians never support are the working class and men.
Identity politics is viewed from a narrow perspective of the world, often through the eyes of a particular group that the activist happens to belongs to. There is no holistic outlook on issues or a wider perspective, as all that is surveyed is performed through the filter of race, gender and sexuality. Identity politics truly is politics for the narcissist as the participants are wholly unaware of anything that resides externally to their ‘bubble of woe’. It is a puritanical belief system that requires it’s adherents to devote to it 100%, in the quest for that social justice nirvana, victimhood. If any infidels stray away from the SJW path they are often discredited, possibly silenced or worse still no-platformed in the case of potential university guest speakers. Freedom of speech is routinely under siege on campuses, any utterances that are construed as remotely challenging are often referred to as ‘violence’ and promptly reported to the education authorities.
The entire cult is built on fables such as ‘toxic masculinity’, ‘manspreading’ or ‘white privilege’. This isn’t a movement that has any serious designs on changing things for the betterment of all. I am not convinced that these social justice ‘superheroes’ would want to tackle all racism. Nor would they be interested in opposing the entire spectrum of domestic abuse or even all sexual abuse issues, including prison atrocities. The illiberal left are only sympathetic to chosen groups, which is why woman in Muslim countries are rarely supported by western feminists, despite facing serious oppression. In a frantic effort to be unique each group cloaks itself in its own language, hierarchy and special rules that change on an hourly basis. Below is a visual representation from Jonathan Haidt regarding hate speech and free speech, an area identarians are always desperate to control.
I’m sure by writing on this topic some will suggest I’m racist, sexist and homophobic, while cashing in on my white privilege. Of course this is to be expected as I do not subscribe or follow the rules of the cult. My problem is with the vehicle that is used by many to fight for their groups, what it does to society and the divisions it causes. It is a belief system akin to a religion, that screams for diversity, but silences diversity of thought. The whole strategy of the illiberal left is to discredit dissenters and shut down debate.Primarily because they have nothing to offer in terms of a cognisant argument. When prominent anti-racist activist Munroe Bergdorf bizarrely claimed that ‘you can be homeless and still have white privilege’, it exemplifies a departure from reality.
The fact that identity politics on the left has overshadowed the fight for economic equality is a monumental travesty. As very well documented economic inequality is associated with increased crime, poor health outcomes, less social mobility, failing education and the destruction of social cohesion. Working to level the economic playing field would start to galvanise society as it’s within many people’s interest to do so. In contrast, identity politics serves to disenfranchise and alienate certain sections of the population who do not subscribe to their beliefs. The merits of intersectionality are not on the forefront of people’s minds when they’re struggling to pay the rent, while out of work in an area that is economically depressed, rundown and dangerous.
What most of us can agree on, is the amount of people that benefit from this system of economic control is tiny, while the numbers that suffer from it are enormous. With this in mind, it makes perfect sense to utilise an issue that generates a large amount of interest, where the benefits would transcend gender, race and sexuality rather than embark on a journey of group victimhood. I will finish by strongly suggesting identity politics has no place on the left, more importantly it could very well destroy any opposition to neoliberalism.