Discussing identity politics : How lived experiences disrupt debate

By Freddy Bin Yusuf

In Hippias Major, one of the dialogues of Plato, Socrates and Hippias set out to find out what is the definition of beauty. Hippias offers definitions, and Socrates counters with four arguments, concluding beauty is difficult to define, something no doubt he knew before posing the question to Hippias. This is one of the great dialogues of Plato about Socrates, and these dialogues shape much of how the West define concepts, and form arguments.

Socrates was an ugly man, his statues affirming this, and with that in mind I’ll attempt to link it to this. The adherents of identity politics have laid a new card on the table, one which they use to silence debate and twist questions into attacks. This is the concept of “lived experience”

The term lived experience is used to describe the first-hand accounts and impressions of living as a member of a minority or oppressed group. 

Essentially this original definition was that you cannot discount an experience and you should listen, as in the example in the link, a male in tech cannot comment on what is is like for a female tech, only listen to her lived experience. This, on face value, is simply common sense, get as many different viewpoints as you can.

However, it has been twisted further. I spotted this in a tweet on Twitter and have seen similar across social media:

“white people can’t decide what’s racist, straight people can’t decide what’s homophobic, cis people can’t decide what’s transphobic”

This is essentially used to close down debate as its used as a counterpoint to questions and criticism. It is often demanded that you cannot engage in an argument on certain issues unless you are part of the minority that is being oppressed.  This concept is used to reinforce claims and statements that are not derived not from data, or from evidence, but from feelings of the individual who is able to provide evidence of lived experience.

Lived experiences derive from postmodern critical theory, which politicises social problems by situating them in historical and cultural contexts, but takes it one step further in ignoring historical reality in favour of a self-affirmative reality.

This defies belief, and ignores history. The banning of slavery could not be debated by non-slaves? The argument for the vote for women could not be debated by men? What happens if the viewpoint is from an intersection of identities that form a sum of one person? No one can debate at all? This has even been applied to jokes and comments on various identities, with attempts to control the speech of everyone, not just those party to the conversation.

The ground rules for debate cannot be set by one side alone, they cannot decide what can be debated, what can be questioned or what can be disproved. It is fair to reject the basic foundations of debate within a closed community, but this is not the case as they are insisting that their concepts are now the universal societal rules which must not be broken, and they seek to enforce their domination of all culture by any means necessary.

Socrates: because they do not seem so to people; but that is not what I asked, what seems to most people to be beautiful, but what is so.” We shall, then, I fancy, say, as we suggested, “We say that that part of the pleasant which comes by sight and hearing is beautiful.” Do you think the statement is of any use, Hippias, or shall we say something else?

Socjus: As an ugly man you are not allowed to comment on beauty. Blocked. 

Take the time to insult Erdogan

By Jake Wilde

Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, does not like to be insulted. In that sense he is no different from the rest of us. Where he differs from most of us is that he arrests people who do so.

He doesn’t care if you’re at home, whether your insult was intentional or if you had no idea it was even an insult.

He certainly doesn’t care if you are a journalist, an academic, or a Tolkien-loving family doctor 

But matters have taken a more worrying turn. He now doesn’t care whether you’re Turkish or not.

Twitter is the bane of Erdogan’s life. He banned it in Turkey in March 2014 and again in July 2015. He is responsible for 60% of all of Twitter’s removal requests.

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Take the time to insult Erdogan. While you’re still allowed to.

The limits of Cultural Appropriation

By Robbie Travers (@RobbieTravers)

Cultural appropriation is a concept that should be viewed with deep suspicion.

 My objections to it are simple: Firstly, it is deeply authoritarian to police the behaviour of people because they are deemed to be appropriating the property of other cultures, often ones that are deemed to be marginalised. We should never seek to police behaviour that does not call for violence, or behaviour that are not violent. For example: teens wearing Bindis and Indian headdresses at festivals.

 The argument that many of these teens don’t understand the culture behind these items of clothing is levelled. The argument that they are participating in oppression by wearing them, either in a state of blissful ignorance or actively, is actually redundant. Cultures often take items from other cultures and integrate them as part of their culture, and whilst it may offend some, not allowing cultures to share and adopt traditions of oppressed cultures becomes authoritarian. How so? It creates privileged groups of people with culture that cannot be mocked, discussed and that their culture is there property and theirs alone.

 But also, what is an oppressed group? as different groups have different ideas of oppression. Are our values universal? as many of those who dress as Arab’s are criticised, but yet not all Arabs are oppressed, look at the Saudi Royal family for example. The argument falls to scrutiny.

 Secondly, the often hypocritical proponents of cultural appropriation define culture as a commodity that is in the possession of marginalised groups. That this is something they alone should have the ability to control and they alone possess. Culture should never be anyone’s property, nor should it exclusively belong to one group: this is how culture stagnates as it goes without discussion or adaptation.

 However, these same proponents are incoherent when it comes to the culture of groups in perceived positions of power, with some individuals claiming that cultures only occur due to marginalisation, hence groups in power have no culture and others claiming that only marginalised groups have ownership of their own culture. This is ridiculous, promoting the thinking that only certain groups should be privileged to have ownership and control over their culture. I don’t think any group should have said powers, but it is inconsistent to suggest that certain groups should and shouldn’t have this ability.

 Yet somehow, it remains their belief that culture should remain in the property of those who own it, rather than anyone outside said groups to try and adopt or adapt aspects of it.

 Cultural appropriation also tries to appeal to the idea of collective and ancestral guilt, that white people are somehow responsible for the actions of their ancestors and hence should respect other cultures due to their “sins.”

 However, consider this closely, are all white people the same? No. Those who often claim that white people appropriate other cultures and hence create mindless stereotypes appeal to mindless stereotypes to prove their arguments are solid. But also we should bear in mind that we don’t judge groups not perceived to be in positions of power for the sins of their ancestors, why should we do so to groups in power.

 Or why at all. If someone hasn’t committed a crime, don’t punish them for it.

 Hence, Cultural appropriation should fail to be convincing to any logical and rational thinker, as it is illogical and hypocritical thinking.

A rebuttal to the censorious student Left

By Tom Owolade (@owolade14)

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The recent attitude displayed by the NUS Women’s campaign received scorn on twitter and elsewhere but they revealed a mindset undimmed by shame or contrition. Whether it was suggesting clapping be replaced by jazz hands, or insisting gay men stop culturally appropriating black women, the absurdity of these suggestions were plain to see. Yet, despite this, the values that informed these suggestions – emphasising narratives over facts, and identity over principles – is espoused unabashedly by many, and therefore merits examination.

 

The influence of these values is clear and growing. In universities, Individual liberty and moral universalism continues to dwindle whilst identity politics and a culture of moral relativism flourishes. Freedom of speech, a pre-condition for free and open societies, is being curbed by censorship and self-censorship, from debates to classrooms to online forums. This censorious climate is caused by a widespread belief that the freedom to express oneself must be balanced against securing the comfort of those without ‘privilege’. The assumption of individual liberty – and its possibility of offending anyone – is replaced by an assumption of collective responsibility to tiptoe around our thoughts, trying desperately not to offend those most vulnerable in society- namely people of colour, LGBT people and women. Freedom is speech is transformed from a right into a privilege, to be exercised responsibly in accordance with particular issues.

 

Firstly, self-censorship is nourished by this attitude: individual viewpoints are burdened with the responsibility of not being offensive when talking about issues that affect victimised groups. An offence to them, it is argued, constitutes an act of oppression, disabling their dignity and therefore requiring a response even – especially!  – at the expense of certain principles; principles are married with privilege and thus are meaningful only in consequential terms. Because of this, censorship in some instances can be excused under the invocation of victimhood – and the consequent challenge to privilege – however spurious: from no-platforming feminists with the ‘wrong’ and ‘oppressive’ opinions to banning music videos with the ‘wrong’ and ‘oppressive’ messages. And because of this, the central tenets of liberalism are unravelling in a relativistic swamp. The fundamental logic justifying this new censorship is indistinguishable from the logic that justified old censorship: the sheer arbitrariness of ‘offence’ legislating against individual liberty and conscience. Who is defined as oppressors and oppressed is done spuriously, one persons oppressors is another persons oppressed – to some, because of her identity, Julie Bindel qualifies as a victim. However, because of her views on Trans issue and Islam, her censorious critics paint her as a perpetrator of oppression. The fact that her censors don’t subscribe to objectivity means that there isn’t a meaningful criterion for distinguishing whether she is privileged or unprivileged – they rely on a binary that doesn’t account for the fluidity of identity and beliefs. Liberal minded people rely on an insistence on objective principles. Julie Bindel should be afforded the right to express her beliefs unencumbered by attempts to silence or intimidate her, as should anyone expressing their beliefs irrespective of whether their identity qualifies as victimiser or not.

 

We live in a world where the lucid expositions of Locke and Paine have lost their allure and potency and given way to postmodernism: an ideology so convulsed by a cult of victimhood it censors without compunction under the pretext of protecting the ‘victims’ and arraigning the ‘privileged’. It is through this context that we can observe the flourishing of safe spaces, trigger warnings and cultural appropriation. These practices contain within them principles one can reasonably be sympathetic with: empowerment of previously persecuted groups and an attack on structural inequality. The incontestable progress made by society partially depended on advocacy of these principles, it would be wrong to entirely dismiss them.

 

However, when these beliefs – admittedly noble – are shot through with the fanaticism induced by identity politics, then censorship and the policing of behaviour is normalised: a vital component of free societies –  individual rights – is made secondary to special rights accorded to groups, people are thereby viewed through regimented and differentiated moral prisms rather than through a universalism that views each person as an individual. Following from this, people are infantilised; People who, by accident of birth, happen to be ‘privileged’ have their behaviour and individual conscience policed; It also infantilises the victimised groups who, by accident of birth, are assumed to be allergic to controversial views, and are thus mollycoddled from dangerous and contestable beliefs. It is therefore counter-productive to its stated aims of empowering victimised groups.

 

It is also wrong in principle. It is carried out with noble intentions, confidently posturing as ameliorative. It intends to inoculate downtrodden groups from dangerous ideas and the hostile terrain of those with privilege. In reality, it limits civil discourse and stifles the engine of free societies: the capacity to discuss ideas and express one’s moral convictions with the inviolable liberty conferred to all citizens. This is why, most of all, this new manifestation of censorship necessitates a rebuttal.

James Snell has written a piece arguing the concept of trigger warnings is both wrong in principle and counter-productive in practice.

Robbie Travers has written a critique of the concept of cultural appropriation. Arguing it is myopic, dysfunctional and fundamentally reactionary.