Identity politics and social justice have become watchwords for today’s political and social elite, but before embarking on their noble crusade and unleashing moral vengeance around the world, social justice warriors would do well to first have their own house in order, says Ken Crawford.
At its most noble, ‘identity politics’ and its sister project ‘social justice’ seeks to right wrongs, give succour to the oppressed and create a fair society. The cause has something of the tale of Robin Hood about it, with the righteous battling the wicked for a fair share. Perhaps the best of us can make a genuine moral claim to care deeply about our fellow man and woman. For many, I suspect identity politics is simply a useful vehicle to travel to the moral high ground, from which position the individual may polish their halo and rain down smug accusations of racism, prejudice and white privilege on those below. A yearning for power and a hatred of others can be cloaked in the respectable moral guise of ‘social justice’, it’s a seductive game to play but whatever the motive the direction of travel is dangerous for two reasons.
Firstly, division is emphasised, inbuilt and will escalate. The initial phase isolates the white male, which is to say the oppressed groups are women and ethnic minorities. Somehow the role of the white male in ending Islam’s leading role in the slave trade never features, nor that of the men who argued for women’s equality in law and democracy. In the key disciplines that have shaped the western culture we all enjoy it is the white male we have most to thank. A world absent Galileo, Da Vinci, Newton, Darwin, Kant, Descartes, Fleming, Freud, Watt, Jung, Einstein and many others would be an unimaginably worse place, wracked with disease and scraping an agrarian existence. Just maybe this hated and isolated group has something special to contribute.
A further division has been made with the emergence of ‘sexual preference’ groups. What began as Lesbian, Gay & Bisexual (LGB), is today LGBTQIA and it is hard to see why this trend will stop. The only limit to the number of ‘communities’ that can be identified is that set by human imagination. As rights proliferate, communities continually clash and a power struggle will emerge for whose rights are superior. An arms race will emerge as groups become more creative with the use of language – ‘hate crime’ is likely a block of wood from which many other derivations will be crafted. A perusal of the LGBTQIA website suggests future crimes could include ‘microaggressions’ – FYI these are ‘brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioural, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative slights and insults about one’s marginalized identity’. The crime of ‘misgendering’ – attributing a gender to someone that is incorrect – is already upon us with police identifying a hate crime against a teacher this year. Perhaps in the future, organisations will require staff to undergo training in ‘Cultural Humility’ – an approach to engagement across differences that acknowledges systems of oppression and embodies a lifelong commitment to self-critique and a desire to fix power imbalances where none ought to exist. No prizes for guessing which cultural group is expected to lead on ‘humility’. Sorry ladies, at least the paler skinned among you need to join the white man in counting your cultural crimes against humanity.
Citizens are free to form whatever communities they wish within the bounds of the law but the challenge comes when groups make demands on others for how they should be treated. A multitude of ‘communities’ demanding a multitude of rights and special recognitions is going to make it impossible for people to interact with each other without falling foul of some community-specific rule. Examples of divisional conflict are already emerging. Having created women-only shortlists a row emerged over whether transgender people could apply. More recently, having spent a lifetime denouncing others for hatred and racism, Jeremy Corbyn and fellow Labour travellers now find themselves denounced in turn by Jewish groups. The emergence of a ‘white male’ identity group, as a means of self-defence, if nothing else, seems a likely future development. Perhaps the election of Donald Trump owes something to this trend. This seems a dangerous outcome for Europe given the existing tensions. We all lose if we play this game.
Secondly, the lessons of history are full of alarm. Social justice movements aspire for equality of outcome (something quite different from equality of opportunity). Identity politics is a means to that end, creating the division and carefully selected data to drive the change. The data shows white men have too much money, too many jobs, too much housing, too much power. It must be taken from them and redistributed. Doing so is righteous and just, the high moral path. Not quite. This ideology borrows strongly from Marxist doctrine and its dream of a Socialist utopia of equality. We don’t have to think too hard about where this road leads because it has already been trodden, a road slick with blood and corpses stacked on the verge as far as the eye can see. We learn in school about the dangers of right-wing identity politics, Hitler and the road to the gas chambers. Rightly so but the education system omits the equal danger from the leftist doctrine that has killed far more than the Nazis. Pol Pot, having been schooled by French intellectuals in the wisdom of Marxist doctrine, returned home to Cambodia and launched an equality programme focused on redistribution from urban citizens. It later became known as the killing fields, where perhaps 2 million perished. Stalin’s Russia accounted for perhaps 20 million deaths under its equality is driven collectivisation programme. Worse was to happen in China where around 45 million deaths can be attributed to Mao and the ‘Great Leap Forward’. How about we don’t go skipping off down this road again? It is not perfect but the capitalist system is the best, most merit-based system humans have been able to create.
What should we do instead? Perhaps the very best of us can approach sainthood but the rest of us should appreciate we might not be able to wash our souls clean of all prejudice and bias. Jordan Peterson is attracting a lot of media attention at the moment and it is deserved. His message of getting our own house in order, treating others as wish to be treated, grounding our personal relationships, before criticising the way the world works is a good starting point for everyone, not least those social justice warriors.