Identity politics is spreading, filling the chasm where the politics of ideas used to be. Even the general election looks set to be a festival of identity, a less violent form of the communalistic politics we sniffily condemn in places like India. Politicos rarely speak of ‘the electorate’ anymore. Instead, they prefer to change their message depending on which ethnic, gender or generational pocket they’re talking to. Just look at Labour’s pink bus, Operation Black Vote and the Tories wooing of the ‘grey vote’. The end result is implicitly divisive, hinting that the young have different interests to the old, blacks think differently to whites, and women are a distinctive political species.
So writes Brendan O’Neill. He’s right, of course, about the vileness of this but doesn’t really drill down into how this state of affairs came to pass.
I put the rise of such “identity” politics, with its insistence that being “offended” about X or Y is sufficient reason to ban or harm said, down to a long process that to some extent has its origins towards the end of the period known as the “Enlightenment”. We saw early stirrings in the so-called “Romantic” era and the elevation of feeling and emotion above supposedly “cold” reason. The process really got under way, in my opinion, with the rise of post-modernism and with notions of relativism. We have even seen such nonsense as “feminist” science as opposed, say, to science per se. The very notion of there being an external, graspable reality that one cannot wish away is all of a piece with this mindset. (For more on the many horrors of post-modernism, I recommend Stephen Hicks and Raymond Tallis.) Allied to this is the way in which notions of self respect or self esteem have become conflated with a demand that others respect us and make us feel good regardless of any objective merit or otherwise. And for some people, they want to be respected not for any individual achievements or qualities (which might require a bit of work) but for simply being.
That a figure from the left such as Peter Tatchell has come in for the hatred of the PC, identity-politics left is richly ironic. I don’t agree with him on a lot of things, but on certain issues, not least in his brave approach to Zimbabwe, he is morally and intellectually in a different class to many of those on that side of the spectrum.