Recently, I’ve been reading and watching about identity politics. Possibly too much at times, in a desperate attempt to grasp the ideology of Social Justice Warriors. This produced several side effects, namely a plethora of highlight videos on YouTube from the right of the political spectrum, often right (US) libertarians. On viewing a multitude of films from both the left and right, I noticed a common denominator, that of self-interest. This self-regard is largely underpinned by a variety of drivers; money, freedom, liberty, power, diversity and societal control. What traits of political and moral selfishness you display, all depends on where you pitch your political tent. It’s easy to critique these video clips from our own echo chambers and muse, what’s wrong with liberty? Or, I can’t see how diversity is such a bad thing. On the surface this may appear true, but on digging deeper, I felt there was much to uncover.
As a libertarian socialist, the failings of the right are more intuitive and obvious to me, so this is where we’ll start. Neoliberalism is a particular aspect of the right that has appeared in the mainstream political consciousness since about 1979, due to the rise of Margaret Thatcher in the UK and later Reagan in the US. Although globally, an experiment utilising these values occurred a few years earlier in Chile, following a coup in 1973, led by Augusto Pinochet. Renowned academic David Harvey, surmises that neoliberalism is a political project perpetuated by the corporate capitalist class, initially designed to stop the power of labour in the late 60’s early 70’s. For this group the motivation has consistently revolved around money, control and power. While for most of us the impacts have been negatively felt across the globe. We have all witnessed this, with the demise of our health service, our collapsing education systems, countless wars and the destruction of our ecosystem.
Neoliberalism’s omnipresence is now ingrained into our society. We are told that competition is a natural human response, while freedom is found in the buying and selling of commodities. We are hypnotised into believing inequality is virtuous and is, therefore, a reward for working so hard. The rich persuade themselves and others that their wealth is acquired by merit, conveniently forgetting the advantages of education, societal networks and family wealth. Neoliberalism is undoubtedly a self serving racket; smashing unions, tax reductions, rising rents, privatisation and deregulation. But on the other side of the great divide, the majority of us have more insecure jobs, poorer public services, higher rents and we pay more, often for a diminished product. All the while a very small group of rich parasites have made vast sums of money at the expense of us all.
Neoliberalism could be fairly classified as systemic self interest, but it is nearer to a virus, as it invades and devours the human spirit. Money for the rich is maximised through a sympathetic system, encouraging maximum profits and preserved for example, via limited tax payments. This cash is utilised to change policies to obtain further power in an effort to wrestle more control, to acquire ever more riches. Lobbyists paid by banking, fossil fuel companies or tobacco firms bombard politicians to vote for bills in their favour, while the minions get to vote every few years, that often has little to no effect. Routinely politicians are easily persuaded to side with the corporate world. All across the western world they generally enjoy the same education and societal advantages as the corporate community. It could also be argued that many share the same personality traits too, such as sociopathy. In a study published in 2014, it concluded that CEO’s possessed more sociopaths per population than any other job.
It is theorised that many leading politicians also share these sociopathic traits, which include; a lack of remorse and empathy, a sense of grandiosity, superficial charm, manipulative behaviour and a refusal to take responsibility for one’s actions, among others. Apart from the obvious ones such as; Hitler, Stalin, Trump, Nixon, LBJ and say Churchill, we could also make very strong cases for both Clinton’s, Tony Blair, Trudeau, Dick Cheney, Obama, Henry Kissinger, George W Bush and Thatcher as sociopaths without too many problems. It is, therefore, not surprising that a marriage between the political and corporate elite is often an easy fit, due to their end goals, namely power and prestige. The neoliberal motivation is blatant and obvious yet often goes unchallenged, as it is all encompassing. It is ideological in a sense, but the game is about power and control of the upper echelons of society. They, however, are not the only section of the right who believe in self interest, but for quite differing reasons, this next bunch are called libertarians.
Libertarianism is an ideology that is mainly peculiar to the United States, but not wholly. According to the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, here are the key concepts:
- Individual rights
- Spontaneous order
- Rule of Law
- Limited government
- Free Markets
- The virtue of production
- Natural harmony of interest
The motto that can be seen regularly associated with Libertarians is ‘don’t tread on me’. This is known as ‘Gadsden’ flag and goes back to 1775. The flag was adopted by the Tea Party movement in 2009. Libertarians claim the meaning is pacifistic by nature, suggesting they won’t bite unless stepped on, meaning of course their rights. The institution that is generally thought of as invasive and the most likely to infringe on these rights is the government. In fact in the minds of many libertarians, government can only threaten freedom. This lines up with one of the main beliefs of libertarians, which is the idea that ‘small government’ works best. Conceivably this could mean practically any government entity, dependent on who you talk to, could be privatised and that a pay as you go system for services required would ensue. From a social perspective, libertarians and libertarian socialists often find some common ground, such as; the legalisation of drugs, prostitution and a purely defensive military unless attacked.
Ideas between the factions rapidly diverge when discussing the libertarian view of economics and how this relates to people. This ideology believes that the dubiously named ‘free market’ is guided and at times corrected by the ‘invisible hand‘. This is based on an idea from Adam Smith, implying that if we leave the markets alone, the correct outcome will be achieved, as if by magic. If that isn’t weird enough libertarians apply this theory to humans, stating that if we are left alone to satisfy our own needs, society will ultimately fall in to place. This is number 3 on the previous list and is called ‘spontaneous order‘. The idea is almost childlike in its naiveté, if an individual is driven by self interest as promoted by this ideology, these actions may come into conflict with what is good for society. As much as this is vehemently denied by libertarians, what is proposed is no more than a ‘dog eat dog’ philosophy with a few loose ethics wrapped around it, to offer a veneer of respectability.
It doesn’t take too much of an imagination to realise that in a free market system, the disparity between rich and poor would grow dramatically. Further to this the power imbalance between the haves and have nots would widen ever more. With no substantial government to intervene, the poorer end of society would live short brutal lives. On the other side of the tracks the rich in contrast would have the power to make the rules up to suit themselves, even more so than now. The oft mentioned libertarian ‘pin up’ girl is Ayn Rand, who preached a ruthless individualistic narrative, implied that the importance of personal rights and profit grossly outweigh the collective good. These ideas do not account for any interaction we may have as human beings, or the fact that as a species we tend to co-operate with each other. A problem to consider is, if one person is meeting their personal needs, it may have a direct affect on somebody else’s liberties and freedom. This is just basic causality, as none of us live in silo’s, we all have to interact at some point. Rarely do you hear a libertarian addressing this conundrum. I’ve always considered the libertarian ideology as politics of an 8 year old. I still conclude that as an ideology it just doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny and appears to be at odds with human nature.
To highlight libertarians self-serving and anti evidence mentality I will use two examples; the first one will be their aversion to tax and secondly their attachment to guns. A regularly used mantra heard from libertarians is “tax is theft”. Firstly, there is a fundamental problem with this statement, if we have no taxes, then we have no government and even libertarians belief in some ruling body, albeit a skeletal version. However, it’s worth noting that no modern society has ever survived without a government and this ruling body of course would need funding. Primarily because government’s are required to provide goods and services, therefore, tax is necessary to pay for this. The libertarian problem with taxes is entirely ideological, they disapprove purely because taxes are not voluntary and that a certain amount of coercion is required from the government. Libertarians believe nothing should be forced, so using this logic the government is wrong to collect taxes. Libertarians advocate for a voluntary exchange, where people are free to make their own choices with their lives. This is impractical, naïve and utopic by nature. A pay as you go system for services is a ridiculous notion. The general idea of being ‘free’ to do what you want without any civic responsibilities, has all the hallmarks of a teenager who hasn’t discovered the word accountability. We’ll finish with libertarianism on the weird American notion of the ‘right to bear arms’.
The 2nd amendment is something libertarians doggedly cling to. They will challenge anyone, along with the National Rifle Association (NRA) who attempts to tighten gun regulations. Their reasoning proposes that people have a right to arm themselves to make themselves safer, but this just isn’t supported by evidence. The data suggests that people who carry firearms are more likely to be shot, furthermore, it increases the risks of death for those around them. Libertarians also posit that gun restrictions wouldn’t work, this is contrary to much of the evidence, a good example being Australia. Over two decades ago Australia banned rapid fire guns, this was implemented just months after the mass shooting in Port Arthur by Martin Bryant. Bryant killed 35 people and wounded another 23 in Tasmania with 2 semi-automatic weapons. The effect of Australia’s crackdown on guns has been nothing short of incredible. In 18 years leading to 1996, the nation witnessed 13 fatal mass shootings (4 or more killings at one time) with 104 fatalities. Since 1996, however, there has been one fatal mass shooting in Australia, which took place in May 2018. What’s also important to note is that within the first 7 years of this legislation, firearm homicide rates dropped by 42%, and firearm suicide rates by 57%. Maybe these types of measures could have prevented the shooting at Sandy Hook, where 27 children and adults were murdered in 2012. Or the massacre by Dylann Roof in Charleston, S.C, where 9 people were killed in a church, June 2015. Even more recently, 59 people may not have been shot dead in Las Vegas in October 2017, with the tightening of regulations.
We are informed of these types of incidents in the news so often it almost seems commonplace, but this is something we should never get accustomed to. Here lies a good example concerning the problems with libertarianism, the very place where ideology clashes with reality. It would appear that libertarians are happy to forgo the lives of fellow citizens in order to keep the guns that they don’t really need. I would also strongly suggest that the victims of this type of crime have had their rights, freedom and civil liberties trampled upon much more so than libertarian gun advocates. These issues seem to be conveniently forgotten, as apparently the personal rights of a libertarian are more important than anything else despite the outcome, thus proving this ideology is not compatible with a functioning society. It’s also important to mention that the political right’s attachment to guns is not just a libertarian phenomenon. This strange love affair is also witnessed within the ranks of the authoritarian, religious right too.
With the right dealt with, next we’ll tackle the left, or more specifically Social Justice Warriors or more politely, adherents of identity politics. I generally like to call this group the illiberal left or identarians. Although, I would strongly suggest that they have no place on the left, as their self interest is the antithesis of what the left is all about. To recap, we’ve covered how the neoliberals are motivated by money and power, how the libertarians are driven by blind ideology, so the question is, what drives the SJW’s. I suggest that the SJW’s have more in common regarding outcomes as the neoliberals, which is power and control. While their motivation, is more ideologically driven similarly to libertarians. Identarians view the world based on a perceived power struggle between oppressed groups and systemic power. Often a supporter of identity politics will ensure they are a part of an oppressed group such as; women, people of colour, LGTB’s, disabled people and other marginalised groups. Many of these groups can be witnessed fighting among themselves regarding the legitimacy of their oppression, or even challenged individually if someone is perceived to have infringed upon the ever changing rules. Its believers claim they are a movement of diversity, but this status is only reserved for certain groups who pass the oppression test. Everybody else outside of the zone of marginalisation, is rendered mute and have no voice regardless of academic prowess or any expertise one may possess.
This ideology borrows heavily from postmodernism, valuing “lived experience” over empirical evidence. Therefore, the quality of information takes a back seat to the perception and feelings of the receiver, while all logic or reason is disregarded. Vast numbers of identarians are only oppressed by association and have not encountered any direct oppression. They will claim that oppression is systemic, so by purely belonging to a perceived ‘out group’ it allows them access to victimhood. Whether an individual has been on the receiving end of any kind of abuse is considered irrelevant and the enquirer is promptly accused of victim blaming. In fact the definition of oppression has become so broad and the bar set so low, that almost anybody could meet the criteria (unless of course you’re white and male). Identity politics possesses a myopic view of the world, one based on genitalia and skin pigmentation. Class rarely gets a mention as many identarians are economically privileged and middle class. It is through this distorted lens that Munroe Bergdorf, a trans-woman and part-time model stated, “a white homeless man can still be privileged”. You see it’s about equality, but only a certain type of equality, and it promotes diversity, but not alas diversity of thought.
SJW’s use the manipulation of language and the setting of moral boundaries in order to control society. Identarians do not possess the money and ability to influence the ruling elite through lobbying as neoliberals do. Therefore, they have to be creative in the way they exert their control. What they have constructed, is a victim narrative, whereby the ‘minorities’ are the victims and the ‘majority’ are the oppressors. This is used to attract help from the authorities and to obtain greater influence in the public sphere. The outcomes of this can be seen by the rise of ‘safe spaces’ on university campuses, or by making ‘wolf whistling‘ a criminal offence in Nottinghamshire, for example. Identarians are exceptionally puritanical, regulating who is and isn’t allowed to speak on campus, often no-platforming anyone who may be considered ‘problematic’. Opinions are blurted out freely from these groups and conflated with facts in this cesspool of ‘ideas’, while unwelcome, incoming words, are considered violence. All this is a desperate attempt to control the narrative and the terms of acceptable dialogue.
Often labels such as; racist, misogynist, fascist and transphobic are yelled to silence dissenters at the first sign of any challenging speech. We are regaled with stories about the gender wage gap, patriarchy, toxic masculinity and white privilege to maintain the story of oppression. This is not about changing the world for the betterment of society, this is pseudo-politics of the narcissist, designed to benefit and empower the individual. Identity politics is not just confined to academia either, pro-Israel lobbies regularly use anti-Semitism as a weapon to stifle debate or indeed discredit anybody who may be deemed ‘problematic’. The term has been manipulated over the years and is now so malleable that it can be deployed on anybody, regardless of the individual’s moral and academic integrity. So my summary of identarians is this; they are a collection of self-obsessed, self-involved, narcissists, who for them the personal really is the political and nothing else matters. Their goal is to attain social control and re-build society in their image.
All three of these ideologies are bathed in self interest, but for contrasting reasons. Neoliberals manipulate society from the top down, appealing to politician’s self interest via lobbyists. The idea is to control what the government does or does not interfere with for the benefit of their corporations and bank balance, the Koch brothers are a prime example (although they possess libertarian traits). Any collateral damage to people or the environment is inconsequential as long as their best interests are served. Libertarians on the other hand, are driven predominantly by ideology, such as, stating the markets should be allowed to regulate themselves and government should play a minor role in our affairs. There is, however, a conflict between how libertarian’s see the market and the real world, plus there is no evidence to support their view. Libertarian ‘theory’ also infers that corporation’s have no more power than the individual, for example banker to customer. Given the 2008 crash this notion becomes increasingly difficult to believe. Another suggestion is, we are ‘free to choose’, but what we choose is largely dependent upon what resources we were born with or have at our disposal. If corporations were allowed unbridled freedom, the planet and inhabitants would be destroyed by the people with the most power. It’s also telling that there is no country on the planet that is run in a libertarian fashion.
Finally, the illiberal left or SJW’s, this group cannot achieve top down control, therefore, the goal is to control what is acceptable in society. The objective is to strangle and hijack society through the regulation of speech, how we behave or even what we think. This is imposed through a particular worldview, where individuals are coerced into fighting structural enemies such as the mystical patriarchy. Whilst all human interaction is only acceptable through this narrow viewpoint. One such example of control, is terming the previously mentioned ‘wolf whistling‘ as a hate crime. This suggests that 3rd wave feminists instinctively know what is good for women and that they are somehow unable to defend themselves. Clearly some men need to grow up regarding their behaviour, but it is arrogant for SJW’s to suggest that they speak for all women. Identity politics is a set of puritanical beliefs enforced upon society purely for the good of their group.
As suggested earlier people are motivated in a variety ways and self-interest is a common factor observed right across the political spectrum. It is noticeable that the neoliberals control government, industry, the military and the global arena. This could be considered the most important type of power and in many ways it is. But there is another system to control and that is one of society. Here, identarians using postmodernism as their guide, are now starting to control and re-configure societal norms. Our behaviour, language, feelings and thoughts are now being scrutinised and punished through a specific ideological prism, often outside of the law. It’s a society where rules will not governed by logic, reason or science, but emotion, ‘lived experience‘ and subjectivity. The neoliberal ruling elite are relatively happy for radical societal change to occur as this keeps the proletariat divided, confused and aggressive towards each other. While any societal change from the illiberal left will have little or no affect on them. Unfortunately, for many of us, we are being affected or more precisely infected by this twisted world view. Identarians are desperate to dismantle society, while constructing a dystopian, puritanical, 1984 type thought prison in its place. This all started in academic institutions, but without doubt it’s coming to a home or workplace near you. Soon!!!