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Identity politics – I blame post-modernism and other mental hobgoblins

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.

10 comments to Identity politics – I blame post-modernism and other mental hobgoblins

  • We have even seen such nonsense as “feminist” science as opposed, say, to science per se.

    However, none of this is new. During the real communist period (i.e. before Gorbachev), we used to get “Marxist/Leninist” sciences and had to put up with bullshit like this:

    Marxist dialectical materialism called for something more than just gradual progression. The dialectic needs a theory with clashes (thesis against antithesis) and leaps (synthesis). While the struggle for existence may answer to the clash of the dialectic, nothing in Darwin answered to the leap.

    Quite how a tree-frog becomes a comrade is beyond me, but the above does at least have a measure of rationality about it.

    Quite a lot of the stuff that I’ve seen from the Rad Fem’s is just the ravings of feminist lunatics or if not actually certifiable lunatics, subject to paranoid delusions.

    The worst that Peter Tatchell’s antics (such as attempting to arrest Mugabe) are tame by comparison albeit brave / foolhardy *

    * – Delete according to taste.

  • “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.”

    I would argue that the rot set in somewhat earlier than that; with the communist notion of “bourgeois truth”. As Lenin put it, “It is one of our basic tasks to contrapose our own truth to bourgeois “truth”, and win its recognition.”

  • You’re overthinking it, man. There’s no need for quasi-conspiracy theories when you have democracy.

  • Paul Marks

    Frankfurt School “Political Correctness” (a label they stole from their rivals – the orthodox Marxists) now known as “Critical Theory”.

    That is what the “Identity Politics” stuff is for – to get people angry with “capitalist society”.

    “But Paul – Mr Cameron talks this language”.

    I will be happy to chat about this gentleman – after the 7th of May.

    Still back to the identity politics thing……

    Do not fear – the collapse of the international credit bubble (sometimes called the “world economy”) will end this silly “racism”, “sexism”, “ableism”, “homophobia” (and on and on) stuff.

    People will have more serious matters to think about.

    Like how to get enough to eat.

  • Jake Haye

    … “identity” politics, with its insistence that being “offended” about X or Y …

    Odd that this hypersensitivity to ‘offence’ is only ever directed at people they so obviously hate.

  • Johnnydub

    Paul Marks – you’re not wrong. Especially about Cameron who will be the end of the Tory Party ion the same way that Charles III will be the end of the UK monarchy and the current pope will finish Catholicism. I don’t mean they’ll all come to an abject stop, but just like the CoE they’re heading full steam into their death spiral.

    Will the Greek exit force / encourage the other PIIGS nations to bail out as well? Do you think that will be the trigger? Or will it be the manufactured war with Russia?

  • Photon

    I like the idea of mental hobgoblins. I’ll use it the next time I play D&D 🙂

  • hennesli

    Jean Francois Lyotard characterized post-modernism as “an incredulity towards grand narratives”.
    the question is whether it is possible to maintain a healthy skepticism towards totalizing meta-narratives without slipping into a suicidal relativism.

  • Snorri Godhi

    My understanding is that there are 2 schools of thought at the root of this: Marxism and postmodernism. Though i don’t know how much postmodernism owes to Marxism.
    As for Marxism, it all goes back to the idea that how we perceive the world depends on our social class — which, to be honest, it does, but within limits: whether you experience a lethal impact by jumping out of the window, does not depend on your social class, only on the floor you are jumping from. (I am at ground floor as i am typing this.)
    The Frankfurt school was of course an important turning point, but i think it is also worth mentioning dependency theory.

    All of the above was just a preamble to bring in one of my pet theories: this mess is due to the fact that cultural relativism, born of schools of thought that challenged the ruling classes of their day, has become an instrument of legitimization for the current ruling class, a “political formula” in Mosca’s terminology. To paraphrase Thomas Sowell, the Western ruling classes have adopted women and minorities as their mascots.

  • staghounds

    They do it because it works.

    One result of increased and easy computer power and the huge amount of detailed information to massage and query is that mathematicians, social scientists, and experts I don’t even know what to call them create our candidates and elections now.

    That’s why they all look the same and all say the same things. The same reason that fast food joints and cars and goods packaging all look the same, the same branding experts are using the same studies and statistics to obtain the same result- more selections of the product.

    They don’t want to enact policies or run things, they want to WIN. Until they get that 51%, then they can enjoy the prizes.