For a while now I’ve written about identity politics from varying angles. This has been done in an attempt to make sense of where it came from, why it’s used and the negative effects it has on forming a coherent rational left to challenge neoliberalism. We’ve heard about the Oxbridge colleges who no-platform speakers, one in particular was regarding abortion, as both debaters were found to be men. We’ve also witnessed the use of identity politics in an attempt to axe current Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and clear away his supporters with baseless anti-Semitic allegations. Identity politics has been utilised to convict a online vlogger and comedian for teaching his girlfriend’s dog to perform a Nazi salute. While in Scotland, identarians got their wish, when a man was jailed for 70 days for ‘creepily’ staring at a woman in a pharmacy, through a window.
All these shenanigans neatly distract us (me included) from trying to change society in a meaningful way, such as dismantling neoliberalism and severely reducing economic inequality. Unfortunately, it is apparent that subscribers to identity politics appear keener to engage in issues that are good for themselves and their specific groups or allies. This is disappointing as the left for decades was known to fight for the best possible outcomes for all. Examples of this are; the UK miners strike in the 80’s, nuclear disarmament, better pay and conditions for nurses or, the ongoing plight of the Palestinians. These are all tangible entities, things we can measure, thereby, concluding that something needs to be done. Now we have entered the world of subjectivity, which has steadily been utilised to even change the law regarding what we can think and even how we live our lives.
A subjective view is not inherently harmful, on the contrary in my working world of health, subjective and objective information is used to obtain an overall picture of someone’s health status. In this context subjectivity is vital, as these insights can be used to fill in the blanks that objective methods such as blood tests or taking blood pressure may miss. Broadly speaking in this setting subjective information cannot hurt anyone else, it will only be used to improve the chance of an accurate diagnosis, for example. Granted, the information from the patient needs to be analysed for its usefulness, but it has no potential external harm. Counter to this, if subjective information which is saturated with emotion is used to change national laws, university rules and for example workplace guidelines, we have a problem.
It’s argued by Lukianoff and Haidt, that identity politics on campuses are primarily driven by emotion and their own wellbeing. Certain student groups are shielded from words and ideas, while retreating to their safe spaces if they feel uncomfortable. ‘Oppressed’ students are protected by an increasing army of legislators who punish anyone who tries to argue against this orthodoxy. The result is that identarians have successfully created an atmosphere of fear, where speaking up is a risky business. By using powerful weapons such as; the suggestion that words are violence, creating safe spaces, using trigger warnings and accusing someone of a microaggression, SJW’s have built a formidable arsenal to censure any conflicting views.
This need for control is driven by the notion of ‘emotional reasoning‘, this is not a concept necessarily adept at describing how things are, moreover, how they feel. The dilemma is, subjectivity is not always a reliable guide as it is shrouded in emotion and can cause individuals to lash out at innocent people. Scarily it’s this emotional reasoning that tends to be the order of the day on campuses and indeed at some places of work. A common example would be, if an identarian states that they are offended, this doesn’t simply imply subjectively, but rather someone has been offensive and that in some way this is objective. This is the typical tactic of turning an emotion or an opinion into a fact, purely because they assert that’s how it is. Often very minor transgressions against identarians frequently result in some form of punishment such as a formal apology or even a loss of job.
The accuser then adds an extra layer of protection, by using the ‘victim blaming‘ card if challenged. Frequently, this implies that the accuser is spared from any scrutiny regardless of how bogus or ridiculous their claim may be. For a subscriber of identity politics attached to a recognised oppressed group, the use of the phrase “I’m offended” is akin to a ‘royal flush’, therefore, unbeatable. Colleges in the US and the UK in the last 5 years have lowered the bar of unacceptable speech, while broadening the definition of sexual harassment, to include entries such as ‘unwelcome verbal contact‘. Often no guidelines are used to help any unsuspecting speaker, just pure subjectivity and fluid definitions all carefully designed to trip people up. This is exceptionally dangerous particularly if we as a society have any designs on protecting ‘freedom of speech’.
Over the last week I’ve embarked on a couple of what I would loosely term as conversations with supporters of identity politics. In the first interaction, it was suggested by this individual that an opinion can be wrong. My first thought was, who adjudicates this? Isn’t that subjective? So I’ll attempt to clarify this just in case you are as mystified as I was. Firstly, it would be tempting to suggest that facts are states of affairs, these are occurrences that are out in the world regardless of what people may think of them. In contrast, opinions are beliefs about states of affairs. To expand on this, with the help of several sources the descriptions below appear to be the best summary of facts and opinions that I could find.
- A statement of opinion is one whose content is either subjective or else not well supported by the available evidence.
- A fact is a statement that has objective content and is well supported by the available evidence.
This suggests that opinions can be wrong, but only if they encounter suitable objective evidence, however, they cannot be wrong if they are merely countered with another opinion. As Social Justice Warriors tend operate using mainly feelings and subjectivity, it is rare to come across anything remotely objective. In my second brush with identity politics, it was inferred that a white, cis-gendered, hetero-sexual boy from a poor, drug riddled, Salford (UK) council estate is privileged. It’s important to realise that many SJW’s come from middle class backgrounds and are relatively comfortable economically.
To complete this intellectual feat such as this, the SJW is required to perform mental gymnastics with a high degree of difficulty and blind ignorance, to completely dismiss the role that class plays. In fact I would state that class/economic inequality is the biggest factor when addressing inequality. It clearly must be a calculated decision not to acknowledge economic inequality. Any recognition would challenge the right of the SJW to the title of the most oppressed group and a potential place in the victimhood ‘hall of fame’. Despite the fact that the neoliberal doctrine has affected more people than any other issue, the SJW world cannot allow this type of inequality any credence.
Now for some fun facts about the supposed privilege, firstly it’s known that boys from poorer areas seriously underachieve at school. Only 24% of poorer white boys will attain 5 good GCSE’s which is half as likely as the average student in the UK. Of those boys just 9% will go on to university. However, given that 60% of kids in Salford live in poverty these statistics hardly come as a shock. Looking at life expectancy, the difference between a male living in a poor area and female from an affluent part of the UK for example can differ by as much as 11.3 years. The unemployment rate in Salford is 9.6% compared to the national average of 7.7%. Salford is also 7th in the UK for murderous crimes, notorious for gangs, drugs and regularly ranked towards the top for general crime.
It is clear that the chances of a boy from Salford living a normal life would be substantially less than a middle class, black girl from say Buckinghamshire. This isn’t a slight on minorities, it is more to point out that people are purposefully ignoring the main issues we have to face in society. As outlined before, this SJW trick is achieved by finding an issue that is personal to the individual, from which emotions and feelings are used to push a particular narrative. Feelings in everyday life are useful, but not for making decisions that will affect a large amount of people, many of whom will possibly not agree with you.
What’s also worrying about the followers of identity politics are their thinking styles. In Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) certain thinking styles are thought unhelpful. CBT is a psychological technique which was pioneered in the 60’s by Aaron Beck at the University of Pennsylvania. The idea of this is to minimise distorted thinking. CBT fits in well with education as it fosters good critical thinking skills and is useful in a learning environment. Of course this would be the case if only critical thinking was still valued in university. Alas ’emotional reasoning’ holds sway on most campuses and is readily witnessed in debates. What plays out in many a lecture hall is people demanding above all not to be offended. Here we see accusations being made that are increasingly innocuous. As previously mentioned, the trick is to link the emotions of the offended to one’s group identity, et voila, you strike social justice gold.
The ultimate goal is to silence debate, thereby, preventing any scrutiny of their belief system regardless of how devoid of facts it may be. This victimhood offers power; where rules can be changed, professors controlled and societal norms trashed. Or as we see on US campuses where ‘due process’ is bypassed and the burden of proof lowered in favour of the accuser, as in sexual assault cases. This incidentally increases the chances of an innocent person (often male) being convicted by up to 33%. It’s a system similar to what the Cambridge University Students’ Union Women’s Campaign have requested on campus. Dutifully most universities have capitulated to the demands of the SJW’s for fear of being investigating for among other things a lack of diversity and inclusivity. In a nutshell, throughout the western world the tail is now wagging the dog.
In lecture halls course the material often contains ‘trigger warnings’ alerting students to practically anything that may evoke an uncomfortable response. How novels no matter how challenging, can single headedly trigger strong reactions such as PTSD is beyond me. While all the scientific evidence suggests, the more you avoid something the less chance there is of building resilience for life. Each time you trigger the Amygdala and the ‘fight or flight’ pathway you strengthen those neural pathways. Imagine if there were trigger warnings everywhere and the people around you were acting feared for example on a trip to Mosside or South Auckland, the chances would be increased that you’d acquire that fear too. Students can even be excused from triggers if they complain to college authorities, for which the professors have no control over.
One of these distorted thinking styles from CBT is magnifying; otherwise known as exaggerating. Suddenly in the world of identity politics there are no grey areas, most debates end in overblown statements and labels such as; racist, sexist, misogynist or transphobic, which are blurted out in an effort to subdue debate. A further method to control speech and thought are accusations of a microaggression. This is where an unconscious use of words from the ‘perpetrator’ is deemed by the recipient to have the same effect as conscious, intended discrimination. This may sound straight out 1984, but this is an additional tool in the SJW silencing toolkit. Professors have been fired from their posts for spurious microaggressions, accusations or a perceived insensitive communication. Virtually anything can be construed as a microaggression, all that’s required is for the recipient to feel hurt or offended and as if by magic there is a full on discrimination allegation at their disposal.
Delving back into the CBT playbook of pathological thinking, identarians regularly indulge in catastrophising. This is the art of turning commonplace negative events into monsters and thinking it will be unbearable. This is what leads the SJW to demand ‘trigger warnings’ and ‘safe spaces’. Next on the hit list is mental filtering, this is the picking out of negative details, then solely focusing on this aspect, so the whole situation becomes gloomy. This technique nurtures demonization, as seen in no platforming in the UK or disinvitations in the US. Invitees are required to be so pure in the minds of the identarians and subscribe 100% to their world view. If a speaker is disliked in any way, regardless of other good work they may have done, it will likely see them disinvited from the campus.
Evidence of this is prominent feminist Germaine Greer who holds competing ideas regarding transgender people and rape. This has resulted in 3rd wave feminists trying to erase all of her pioneering work, while turning her into a figure of hate. Finally, this brings me to my final ‘unhelpful’ thinking style that is readily witnessed in the world of identity politics, that being black and white thinking. This flawed thinking style can be commonly observed on the internet. If you happen to disagree with an identarian in any shape or form then you are a bigot and apparently in need of re-education. Laughably, this statement is riddled with irony. A bigot is someone who is intolerant to opposing ideas. It is not a person who has opposing views, as SJW’s would like you to believe.
The revulsion SJW’s seem to display regarding anything that questions the illiberal left’s world view is astounding, and the perpetrator will be eradicated from academia and/or public life if possible. Further evidence of this is their judgment of any media tool that may be used to obtain information or news. If you post something that does not conform with the approved SJW reading list (Guardian, Huffington Post, Salon etc) the information will be discounted without ever being read.
This aversion to any opposing views, media or physical groups who are considered “problematic” is creating a generation of citizens who possess no resilience to what life may throw at them. This creation of a ‘trigger free’ bubble complete with illiberal left ‘happy thoughts’ being piped into it 24 hours a day is not only damaging to society, but is exacerbating this self indulgent brand of politics. The protection bubble may temporarily deflect nasty words or conflicting ideas through the process of blocking someone. Furthermore, identarians may also feel that they can ensure their ‘safety’ by facilitating non-believers to lose their jobs or sustain a suspension from university for an innocuous differing view.
Sooner or later, however, we are going to notice that all this coddling of the illiberal left will inevitable lead to poor managers, workers and leaders, due to a complete absence of compromise, negotiation skills and mutual respect that is required to flourish in society. Many of this cult have developed ‘unhelpful thinking styles‘ as highlighted. The problem is, identity politics cultivates and encourages these pathological thinking styles which will most certainly lead to a variety of mental health conditions.
One area of concern is narcissism, this condition has benefitted from significant research developments over the last 10 years. According to Dr Jean Twenge (psychology), narcissism has increased in women recently more than in men, although men are still leading the way. What is worrisome, when tested for traits of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) a more severe, clinical form of narcissism, 3% of over 65’s had experienced these traits while 10% of people in their 20’s had experienced some traits. None of this bodes well for a cohesive society, where we hope to listen and build on a variety of views to improve our world.
To allow illiberals to continue setting the terms of debate in universities, the workplace’ and wider society without any pushback or scrutiny is perilous. This ideology is shared by a tiny, but admittedly vocal group of people, who are using their personal opinions and subjective views to remodel society. One example is; 3rd wave feminists pressuring sporting bodies to ban women such as ‘grid girls’ at the motor racing or ‘walk on girls‘ at the darts. This campaign occurred solely because it was deemed that these jobs objectified women in the opinion of this group. This decision was made by a comparatively small group of people, even though the women involved enjoyed their jobs and that this action would put them out of employment. Nobody appeared to consult with the people most affected, in this case the women who did this work. Instead a subjective, emotional, puritanical decision was made, supposedly for the good of all woman.
Like many SJW disputes, this centred around personal emotions and not for some moral crusade in the name of all women. No facts, critical thinking or research will have been employed to draw any conclusions. Only feelings and flimsy ideas such as intersectional theory are required to influence our laws, rules and guidelines. I’m not sure about you, but I like my decisions to be made in a more objective, democratic and robust fashion. This is why there is a dire need for an audible counter narrative in an effort to challenge this perceived moral high-ground.