Passing Bull 271– Identity politics – says Alice

People who call themselves ‘conservative’ are wont to say that what they call ‘identity politics’ is bad for us politically – that is, they say that people who practice identity politics are damaging the way our democracy operates.  I have not understood what they mean by ‘identity politics’ or how such behaviour causes us harm.

The term is defined in Wikipedia as follows.

Identity politics is a term that describes a political approach wherein people of a particular gender, religionracesocial backgroundclass or other identifying factors, develop political agendas that are based upon theoretical interlocking systems of oppression that may affect their lives and come from their various identities.  Contemporary applications of identity politics describe peoples of specific race, ethnicity, sex, gender identitysexual orientation, age, economic class, disability status, education, religion, language, profession, political party, veteran status, and geographic location.  These identity labels are not mutually exclusive but are in many cases compounded into one when describing hyper-specific groups, a concept known as intersectionality.  An example is that of African-Americanhomosexualdemi-boys with Body integrity dysphoria, who constitute a particular hyper-specific identity class.

There appear to be three characteristics: (1) shared political beliefs; (2) a shared sense of grievance that members of this group are unfairly treated or of aspiration that they may be better treated; and (3) something other than their shared political belief that sets them apart – such as race, age, sex, faith or sexuality.  The sense of grievance – point (2) –is what drives those of a shared belief – point (1) – to become politically active.  But those two factors are indistinguishable from what drives the members of the two parties that are the foundation of our parliamentary democracy.  They also underlie trade unions and feminist groups – or our system of class actions.  You might turn your nose up at that, but more than twenty years ago, a lecturer at Harvard said these accounted for most of the progress in civil rights in the past half century.  So, people with just the first two characteristics are not just harmless, but essential parts of our body politic.  And that is before you even get to career ideologues – like the IPA or the devout relics of the DLP on The Australian.

That raises two questions: How does this kind action become bad just because the members of the group have something in common apart from their shared belief?  And, who says so? 

The Prime Minister says ‘identity politics’ are dangerous.  ‘Throughout history, we’ve seen what happens when people are defined solely by the group they belong to, or an attribute they have, or an identity they possess.’  He said this while identifying with the life and teaching of a Jewish son of a carpenter and a group whose presence is as mystical as that of the Trinity – ‘quiet Australians.’  Well, if people are not just free to but encouraged to see that their political aspirations are met, what does it matter if in addition to their shared beliefs, they have in common that they are black, white, female, hungry, desperate, exiled, Catholic, Muslim, atheist, deist, physically or mentally handicapped, wine growers, sheep farmers, trade union members, returned service men or women, the filthy rich or desperately poor? 

And if the PM’s escape valve is the word ‘solely’ in the passage quoted – so that he is talking about only those who define themselves ‘solely by the group they belong to, or an attribute they have, or an identity they possess’ – then he is confessing to another straw man.  Such people are away with the birds – or, better, with Alice in Wonderland.  When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’  ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’  ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’ 

And while you are at it, you might wonder how you might go if after take-off for London, you are sipping on your Scotch, and the man in the next seat puts down his bible and says ‘Would you excuse me for not joining you?  You see, I am a Pentacontelist.  May I ask what identity you possess?’

It’s like that time we said we would jail any Australian trying to come home – remember our other anthem ‘I still call Australia home’?  This was thought to be a far too literal reprise on the First Fleet, which might impair the natives’ enjoyment of Australia day, so we then said that no bastard would be silly enough to believe us.  And that’s like what another dude said – fair suck of the sauce bottle, Mate.  Twice. 

No – all this blather about identity politics is bullshit – brought to us by the usual suspects.

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