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.