Or, Why I am sick to death of the mainstream discourse on Oppression.
The phrase ‘culture wars’ gets thrown around sometimes, and when it comes to issues like identity and individuality, race, gender, and sexuality, people tend to act like they’re fighting a war. There is a great deal of vitriol and a widespread belief that there are clear demarcations between one ‘side’ and the other. This atmosphere, which is not conducive to lucid thought or productive debate, is the main thing that has been holding me back from writing about identity politics: I don’t wish to be wind in the sails of either side. And I suppose the fact that I don’t actually agree with one side more than the other, and I don’t identify with either, leaves me precisely where I’d like to be: an impartial observer. The last thing I want to do is write just another volley in the culture wars. But these issues are important, damn it, and to see them reduced to a dichotomy between two angry perspectives is depressing. So I’ll give my two cents, which I believe to be fair and balanced, and I give it in the spirit of cooperation rather than combat – I hope others will take up these issues in the same way.
There are obvious merits to talking about identity in terms of race, ethnicity, gender and so on, and generalizations can be extremely illuminating. But there also obvious limits to this way of thinking. One must acknowledge the diversity of individuals as well. One must understand that generalizations do not necessarily apply to individuals. But I often see the proponents of identity politics making precisely this mistake of talking about individuals as no more than members of groups, a fallacy which is lazy at best and more commonly disingenous. For example, it may be generally true that white people are favoured by employers, but it does not follow that any given white person you talk to has been the benificiary of favouratism. One can similarly come to general conclusions about the experience of women of colour, but these conclusions are not nearly so helpful when talking about a particular woman of colour.
Fallacious conclusions of this kind are almost always presented as tolerant and progressive, as they are expressed by people who proclaim solidarity with WOC, or trans people, or whomever they’re generalizing about, but generalization can also be profoundly insulting. By this perspective at its most vulgar, a WOC is a WOC, a white man is a white man, and there are axioms which tell us what to think, relatively, of a WOC and a white man. Nevermind that the woman of colour might be the First Lady of the United States. Nevermind that the white man may be homeless, mentally ill, a recent immigrant, may have an intellectual disability, may be at the intersection of any number of axes of oppression. And it is not progressive or tolerant to make the assumption that a woman of colour is more oppressed, it is offensive – it is condescending and presumptuous and dismissive of her individuality. It is the bullshit faux-liberalism of a middle-class, college-educated intelligentsia which claims to be the voice of the oppressed…
As for the voice of the oppressed, well, this is perhaps the most wrongheaded of all their ideas. Their can be no unified voice of an identity group – identity is not solidarity. A college-educated woman of colour has no more right to speak for the uneducated and the working class than I do, regardless of her skin tone. Even disregarding their privileged position, identity is not solidarity. The fact that you share certain characteristics with other people doesn’t mean they share your ideology, doesn’t even mean you are a ‘group’ in any meaningful sense. And beyond these enormous flaws, their activism shows us that they don’t simply believe in a theory of intersectionality, they have a rigid notion of which axes of oppression are more important or worthy, and these are based almost exclusively on notions of white racism and male sexism. Ergo the argument that two workers at the bottom rung of a heirarchical corporation, one white and one black, have less reason to be grouped together than the black worker and his black CEO. And in all this drawing of lines on dubious bases, the ideology is not just divisive, it is counter-revolutionary: it sets the oppressed against the oppressed.
Let’s get one thing perfectly clear: we live under a system of neofascist corporate governance, and in this system there is a ruling class. This class includes lawmakers, judges, lawyers, CEO’s and executives, the extremely wealthy, and so on. This class includes all genders and ethnicities, and yes not in the same measures but for now let us not concern ourselves with affirmative action for the neofascist ruling class, shall we? Now, everybody else, those who have to perform wage labour 5, 6, 7 days a week to survive, to feed their families, those at risk of imprisonment for victimless crimes, the broad majority of society are the class of society which is ruled, ie. oppressed. And yes, some people are more oppressed than others, but if your ideology does not identify the true ruling class, then its crusade against the oppression this class is primarily responsible for is doomed to irrelevance.
I’m always saying that discourse is to incendiary these days, and the advocates of fourth wave feminism or intersectionality or whatever you want to call it (the people who often get called “SJW’s”) are among the worst offenders. I suppose this comes from the presumption that they are doing what is ‘right’ and moral, and the obnoxious fallacy that therefore anybody who disagrees with them is immoral. Eg., ‘I’m just arguing that people shouldn’t be racist, why would you disagree with me? You must be a real piece of shit’, the flaw in which is obvious when you note that this whole article so far has been disagreeing with these people, but never with the point that people shouldn’t be racist – it’s all the dogma and ideological baggage that has been attached to that noble goal. Anyway, whatever the reason, I do not get the impression that they care about changing hearts and minds. Every “discussion” I’ve seen take place with such people has involved them being sassy and condescending with the obvious goal of demonstrating their superiority and demeaning the other person (not promoting the ideals of feminism, anti-racism, etc.).
To which somebody will undoubtedly respond, ‘oh, okay, you’re one of those white boys who think we should play nice with the neo-Nazi’s? LOL okay buddy’. And that’s all well and good if you’re talking about some skinhead with the iron cross tattoo’d on his fucking forehead, but it loses weight when you treat literally everybody who dissents to any degree like this. People are capable of change. Some people grew up being taught subtle misogyny, some even grew up under the influence of racist parents, and no this doesn’t excuse racism or misogyny, but it generally means their minds can be changed with a little exposure and the proper blend of the dialectic and didactic. I have seen people change their minds after being presented with new information, I have seen them become more tolerant. Hell, I have seen someone deradicalized from the cult of neo-Nazism. The “rad fem” technique of shouting at someone and calling him a cunt will just perpetuate their anger and closemindedness.
And make no mistake, this is their technique, and their only technique. I repeat, they have no interest in changing hearts and minds. Anybody who doesn’t goosestep their party line is considered the lowest form of human life, to be belittled and excluded. Hence ‘call out culture’ – I have seen somebody speaking out against racism, who in doing so naively repeated a slur that somebody had said. The sensible, adult response would be to tell him that his anti-racist stance is great, but keep in mind that those words can be hurtful and try not to use them in future, even if you’re just quoting something you disagree with. He would have taken it on board, learned from his mistake, and been a better ally to the cause for it. But of course, the university educated intelligentsia “called him out” on it, meaning he was belittled and ostracized as a piece of shit white boy, and told where he could stick his support for the message of anti-racism. I’ve seen this happen countless times. And this is how they treat people who are trying to agree with them.
Now, I’m of the opinion that if you care about a cause, then you will care about being an effective advocate. You don’t even need to be a student of political activism to know how utterly ineffective the above posturing is. The purpose is not to further the goals of feminism, or anti-racism, or tolerance; the purpose is to demonstrate one’s own moral virtue in wearing these position liking a fucking ANZAC day badge or a big red fucking clown nose. And make no mistake about it, those who care more about posturing and fighting than being an effective advocate for the cause do not give a fuck about the cause.
So forgive my anger, but I am sick to death of people like this claiming a monopoly on the values I care about. I’m sick of people who don’t give a fuck about minorities using the universities computer rooms to tell me I have no right to speak about the issues which affective disadvantaged people. I’m tired of white girls posting self-righteous bullshit about “white people”. I’m sick of the conflation of identity and solidarity. Basically, I am sick of the self-serving and counter-revolutionary swill of the middle class ideology of identity politics.
To be fair, I’m also sick of people referring to the above described as ‘feminism’, and I’m as sick of the opposite extreme, the ‘alt-right’ and whoever allies with them. I don’t care about your ‘this is why I don’t need feminism post’, and if you’re an anti-feminist, conservative contrarian don’t let this be wind in your sails or so help me I will sink your fucking battleship. It is precisely because I care about the values which used to define ‘leftism’ that I’m enraged by their misappropriation by self-righteous, privileged pseudointellectuals. The best definition I have read is that a leftist is somebody who is concerned with subordination, exclusions, deprivation, and war. That includes a concern for the oppressed, the disadvantaged, the disenfranchised, for women in a misogynistic society, for people of colour in a racist society, for the working class in a Capitalist society, for those suffering from mental illness or disability – for, when you get down to it, a profoundly diverse bunch of white, brown, black, African, Asian, male, female, trans people who deserve more from our post-‘enlightenment’ and profoundly wealthy society. If you share these concerns, then please do heed my simple warning: fuck the partisans of Identity Politics.
[I intended to write this in a very unhyperbolic and academic way, but ultimately I found it was more honest and informative to write how I actually feel. That said, I am willing to discuss anything contained in the calm and academic way I suggest conversations should be conducted.]