Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Identity Politics and Grievance

A very quick post, just some remarks on identity politics.

Social and cultural conservatives like me often decry 'identity politics', and this is in reaction to the kind of victomology and grievance-mongering whereby everybody belongs to some perceived oppressed minority (or even majority): Irish Travellers, gays, people with Asperger's syndrome, and so on (and so on, and so on, and so on)....

This is particularly understandable when the (supposedly) oppressed group plays the 'structural inequalities' card, which means that fairness and objectivity are to be thrown out the window-- that society is (supposedly) so tilted against this or that oppressed group, or indeed all of them, that 'social justice' demands we can't be neutral but must always favour the (supposedly) oppressed group, even in our language and discussion.

This leads to absurd claims, such as that you cannot be racist against white people, or that you cannot be sexist against men.

Given all this nonsense, isn't it predictable that conservatives and classical liberals would want to do away with 'identity politics' entirely?

I think this is a mistake-- perhaps not for the classical liberal, but certainly for the traditionalist conservative, who should realise that people are not just atomised individuals, but that tradition and history and community and belonging are essential to them.

This flies in the face of the individualism that emanated from the French Revolution and the Age of the Enligtenment. One French Revolutionary famously said: "The Jews should be denied everything as a nation, but granted everything as individuals". But that's the kind of 'emancipation' that's not going to satisfy anybody, in the long run.

This is why, although I often criticize multiculturalism in some senses of the term-- in the sense that we should be neutral regarding different cultures, or that we should not privilege a particular culture, or that we should not seek to preserve distinctive cultures-- I'm entirely in favour of multiculturalism in another sense.

I am a multiculturalist in the sense that I think ethnic and religious minorities should be allowed and encouraged to preserve their own traditional cultures-- and to develop them, as well. I also think they should be given official recognition and State funding, where appropriate. "Integration" should not have to mean abandoning your heritage.

There was some controversy in Ireland recently about Polish language Masses-- the suggestion was made that this was hindering Poles from integrating into Ireland. That is the sort of 'integration' I would not like to see. Indeed, the Catholic Church has always cherished particular traditions, as the existence of the Eastern Catholic Churches and the Anglican Ordinariate shows.

If this sounds awfully liberal, my response is twofold: 1) Good! There's a good liberalism as well as a bad liberalism. 2) I also think ethnic minorities should be respectful of the majority culture, and not seek some kind of equal billing or neutrality when it comes to State occasions, holidays, TV schedules, etc. etc

Recognition, yes. Resentment, no.

I learned a lot about American culture from the American version of The Office (my favourite TV show, along with Star Trek: The Next Generation). It's where I first heard of the African-American holiday of Kwanzaa, which I found very interesting.

Now, you may consider Kwanzaa a silly made-up tradition. But as I've often said, I'm in favour of all traditions, even made-up ones. If I was African-American, I would celebrate Kwanzaa.

I think I'm being consistent here. I've always disliked the kind of Irish nationalism, or Irish cultural heritage, which doesn't want to affirm anything but only wants to wallow in victimhood. There seems to be a kind of Irish cultural identity which rests entirely on an animus towards British 'imperialism', the Catholic Church (and, simultaneously, anti-Catholicism), and historical discrimination against Irish immigrants in the USA and elsewhere. The Irish-American website Irish Central is a good (or bad) example of this. Their entire vision of Irishness seems to be victimhood of one sort or another.

Indeed, the proponents of this kind of Irish identity usually kick against any sort of vision of Irishness which they perceive as too 'prospective' or 'narrow'; such as the Irish Revival, with its ruralism and Gaelicism and traditionalism. They want everything, in both religion and culture, to be vague and amorphous and misty; they are very often Catholic in a sentimental kind of way that makes no demands on them. That kind of thing makes me nauseous.

In brief: I am all for identity politics when it is about affirmation and celebration, but I am all against identity politics when it is about victimhood, grievance and seeking to silence those outside your identity group with the words "You can't understand what it's like etc. etc. etc."


  1. I would broadly agree with what you say but would not be sure of this statement:

    "I also think they should be given official recognition and State funding, where appropriate."

    I don't know why this would be necessary. This could start rivalry and bidding wars between groups. Why not let them finance their own cultural efforts. In some ways this is more rewarding for the groups to make their own way than get handouts.

    1. Well, it might be necessary because otherwise the group might not have enough resources to support their heritage, and as a gesture of goodwill from the broader community. But I agree that it's always better for such things to be privately financed.