Identity fetish #n+umpity-three: “I identify as”

Just under a decade ago, I had a kind of mental hiccup, then forgot about it and promptly moved on. This mild disturbance was brought on by an assertion that we in the Left don’t use identity labels to describe others that those others wouldn’t use to describe themselves. And while for example I don’t think institutions should author meaning – including identity – it doesn’t follow that individuals get to have their self-identification accepted as “valid” simply because that’s the way they see themselves.

For those of you that may be wondering, the identity label that was being applied against the wishes of the labelled was “teabagger”. If the Associated Press decided to apply “teabagger” as an objective label as part of its editorial policy, or a census used it as part of a leading question, don’t be mistaken, I’d have a problem with that. But individual, living, breathing, meaning-making interlocutors without the power to force their meanings onto others, simply rejecting “tea party activist” as inaccurate in lieu of “teabagger’’; I’ve no problem with that at all.

What entitles people to have their self-belief ratified by others? I can think of some examples, particularly in relation to pedagogy and child raising – nurturing the belief in your child that they’re worthy of their school is something you may reasonably be expected to do as a part of your responsibility for a child’s welfare.

But when adults, especially in political settings where there are conflicting interests at play, want to view themselves in grandiose or fantastic terms, what then? Maybe we let them continue with their fantasy, and opt to get on with other business. Maybe we have a clash of interests and therefore describe them and their politics in terms we find the most truthful, but afford them the respect of not pretending to edit their own copy.

But what do we do when they demand we ratify their self-view in our thoughts and words, simply because that’s the done thing?

“Teabagger”, with its inference of conspiracy theorizing, historical fantasy, scientific illiteracy and economic fetish, is a better fit for the reality of the Tea Party movement, than the grandiose way “Tea Party activists” self-describes. I’m not going to ratify their fantasy, and in their case I don’t care one dot if they’re upset about it.

***

A few years ago, during a period of unease I couldn’t quite describe at the time, there was a blog post published about Rationalist versus Empiricist identity. Now, sure, people call themselves “Rationalist” to self-describe in the here and now, with the inference that they value science and logic, and consider themselves generally sober-minded people, but this isn’t the “Rationalism” of Rationalism-contra-Empiricism.

For one, that Rationalism – the old one – fizzled out along with the debate that defined it. It’s hard to be a contra-Empiricist Rationalist, rather than just the more modern, sober-minded, generally reasonable Rationalist, in a world post-Kant. The modern “Rationalist” can even be – gasp! – a bit Empiricist.

It’s also a fact, that neither Empiricism nor Rationalism sat overly well with this thing called science. This is an important fact because the author of said blog post was a scientist, yet they self-identified as an Empiricist.

Further, the author identified Richard Dawkins as a Rationalist, in part on the basis that he wouldn’t object, and further, to position the author in opposition to Dawkins. But this is problematic.

Dawkins can’t be a Rationalist of the contra-Empiricist variety. You only need to read what he has to say about ontological proofs and the like in The God Delusion; he decries the lack of evidence feeding into the process, and comments that perhaps he just takes this position because he’s a scientist. Rationalists of the old school would not have sympathized with Dawkins, believing that arguing for or against God’s existence from pure logic was the best way, even going so far as to regard evidence as being a bit vulgar.

So maybe Dawkins is a Rationalist of the new variety? Probably. It’s also probably the definition he wouldn’t object to. But that’s not the “Rationalist” of the contra-Empiricist variety, so if your aim was to distinguish yourself from Dawkins along these lines, you’d have failed. There’s an equivocation here; when summarizing Dawkins’ actual views on the relevant points, he’s a Rationalist in the modern sense, but when trying to put him at a distance, the definition is bait-and-switched for the traditional, more exclusive one that doesn’t describe him.

While I can think of a few good reasons why people may want to separate themselves from Dawkins – “please attendant, can I be seated somewhere else so I don’t have to listen to this guy whine about his confiscated honey?” – this Rationalist contra Empiricist confection was pure self-regarding narcissism of the small differences variety.

The author anticipated some of these objections, and no doubt copped some uncharitable, even nasty contributions from some quarters. But the preemptive retort given was simply that “we’re talking about identity”, as if that made a jot of difference. I mean yes, language is malleable, but if meaning can be molded that easily on the fly you can’t have a meaningful conversation anymore; your views are so much wet pottery in your interlocutor’s hands.

Importantly, it was clear that the author expected that mentioning identity would be sufficient to quell criticism; that they expected their audience not to object.

Suffice to say, while I did keep my mouth closed in this case, owing to the harassment the author was probably copping from various forms of winged monkey at the time, I didn’t and don’t respect their “identity” as an Empiricist. If they actually are one, albeit one of the newer variety, they’ll need to articulate it better, explain why they can be that and a scientist at the same time, and quit with the spurious distancing.

Either that, or perhaps admit that the entire discussion was pure self-absorbed vanity to begin with.

***

So here’s my point; we Lefties don’t go around “respecting” people’s identities automatically and universally, so we shouldn’t pretend we do, nor allow ourselves to be gaslighted into doing so.

When MRAs affix “non-sexist” to their identity label, it doesn’t alter their politics or character one bit. When some douche preemptively asserts that he identifies as a non-racist, you’re not obliged to abstain from perceiving their attitudes, actions and arguments as racist. Indeed, you’d probably be more suspicious that they were racist.

Yes, there are situations where supporting someone’s self-image is morally salient – “you’re not a piece of shit”, “women are the equal of men”, “your skin isn’t dirty” – but there is no universal obligation to just up and validate identities. The Left has never as a bloc held this to be universal and it, perhaps more than its critics, needs to be reminded not to pretend otherwise.

Far from being self-evident, the simple observation that you didn’t validate an identity isn’t even sufficient as an objection. And yet some will gasp po-faced at precisely that – “Oh my gawd you didn’t validate their identity, I can’t even!”

Evidence contrary to the idea of the Left universally ratifying identity is all around, so I’ll not labour that point any further. But let me leave you with a line of questioning; what sort of character expects their own image to be reflected back at them by others as if those others were mirrors, and gets angry or manipulative when that reflection isn’t precisely flattering or fabulous enough? And what kind of person would take advantage of your over-obligating yourself in this regard?

~ Bruce

“Identity politics”

One of the most unproductive things you can have in political discourse is the situation where people polarize around a poorly defined piece of terminology; people will talk past one another, people will misrepresent one another (willingly or unwillingly), and people will just plain not argue their case, regarding their conclusions as obvious because argument to the contrary has been made semantically inaccessible.

Argue about “identity politics” on Twitter, and you’ll likely receive a shit-storm in response, impugning your character in ways determined by which caricature you can be most closely associated with. Woke, with-it hot-takes abound on pseudo-leftist media start-ups, decrying the use of the word, while angry white men quiver on YouTube, simultaneously treating their own use of the term as rigorous and unequivocal, all while not bothering to even define it.

***

To give you an idea of the vista of confusion I’m seeing, here’s a few different definitions of “identity politics” I’ve seen in play. (This list of meanings is non-exhaustive, and for even more confusion, there’s probably more overlap than I’m indicating here.)

The Bubba/Brexit/One Nation Definition: “Identity politics is wot those uppity blacks used to humiliate me for loosin’ my job after they dun stole it with the immigrunts.”

The ‘Bert Definition: “Identity politics separates us all into fictional boxes – but we’re all the same: I don’t see race! There’s no wage gap! All lives matter!”

The Brocialist Definition: “Racism is bad, but identity politics – arguing about race and sex – is a wedge strategy to stop us talking about class, so stop talking about racism and sexism and be my wingman at the next Marxism convention! #Solidarity”

The Identarian Definition: “All oppression is leveled against intrinsic identities, and “identity politics” is a derisive term used by people who seek to engage in said oppression by denying who we are on the inside!”

The Anti-Identarian Definition: “Not all oppression is leveled against “intrinsic identities”, and a good deal of identity is not intrinsic to begin with. Identity politics moves the focus of debate away from the material living conditions experienced by various social groups – the distribution of wealth, and control over the means of production – towards demands for often trivial (or epistemologically impossible) acceptance of other people’s internal accounts of themselves. It is solipsistic, narcissistic and regressive.”

***

I think it’s pretty obvious by way of my giving it the final word, which meaning I’m most sympathetic with, but it’s not really my point right now to promote any given definition. Rather, it’s my point that these commonly circulating meanings for “identity politics” are quite at odds with one another, and yet people will go on arguing as if we’re all talking about the same thing; arguing and achieving nothing.

When YouTube Atheists or Skeptic Douches prattle on about “identity politics”, too often it’ll be a case of the Bubba objection masquerading as the pseudo-enlightened ‘Bert objection, which basically guarantees that you’ll never be able to pin them down to an unequivocal statement without drawing their motives out first; motives which they’re not apt to self-examine in the first place. Good luck with that.

The ubiquitous Internet ‘Berts will often have the broadest definition of “identity politics”; engaging in hyper-skepticism of statistically meaningful social groups in order to further denialism about the living conditions of said social groups, to whatever extent is needed for them to feel comfortable with their own fortunes. And you’ll be the racist or sexist for contradicting them.

The Brocialists, if they’re your standard variety, will at least have the good manners to stick with their objection, even if it does make if difficult to have a conversation with them (not that you’d necessarily want to).

Identarians, I’ve often found, will deploy the confusion of the inverse fallacy; that they’ve seen a number of Brocialists/’Berts/Bubbas use the term “identity politics”, before noting that you’ve used it, and are hence therefore a Brocialist, ‘Bert or Bubba, or hybrid of all three or more. Aside from being logically invalid, and not-infrequently factually wrong, when people take this kind of non-argument on-board they’re internalizing a shit-tonne of confusion. Confused? Yes, well that’s to be expected.

(I get that this fallacy can serve as a heuristic to ward off racist/sexist trolls, but still, it’s one that generates a lot of confusion/signal degradation).

The mistake I think anti-identarians make, when they make it, is a simple case of taking their own assumptions for granted and subsequently talking past interlocutors. This may not generate as much confusion or conflict as the practices of the other camps, but it doesn’t help to inform readers either, nor does it cut through any of the confusion generated by the other takes on the topic.

***

A couple of years ago, I was surprised to read that people who have a problem with identity politics were all opposed to the Black Lives Matter movement. This struck me as weird because all the people I’ve known who’ve had articulated objections to identity politics – old Trots from some time back – I’d expect would be Black Lives Matter supporters.

The message I get from this confusion is that people – particularly people who get published writing about politics – aren’t examining their own lexicons, instead passively adopting definitions from their own social bubble.

To some extent, at lower levels or in private spaces this isn’t a problem, and we all do it. But if you aren’t familiar with a set of perspectives – if you didn’t know who was voicing a vague term or where they were coming from when using it – you could be forgiven for not having a fucking clue what they were on about.

Public participation in discussion of politics shouldn’t be confined to select in-groups, as much as certain groups may benefit from such insularity.

I’m not going to get all Bolshi and demand that everyone closely police their semantics in their own personal spaces, but I think it wouldn’t hurt for writers with some modicum of political responsibility to reconsider how clearly they’re getting their points across, and whether or not they want to do more than just preach to the choir.

It wouldn’t hurt the public for such writers to tie themselves down to a definition or two.

~ Bruce

Waiting for a bus (to be thrown under)

Okay, so I do have a low profile in the remnants of the Oz blogosphere these days, and I’ve got a block list on Facebook that’s over a hundred-and-fifty-strong. Still, it’s not as if a few people of (largely self-constructed) virtuous standing don’t know who I am, or how to find me.

And it’s not as if I haven’t made comments that should rile these people. Yet, I’ve been left alone. People haven’t got the message that I’m persona non grata. Allow me to make a few more inflammatory comments that I regard as true, in one convenient place so as to incriminate myself. As I’m not trying to convince anyone, but rather trying to get them to condemn me, I’m not going to put too much effort into justifying myself.

***

Not all oppression is based on identity. Do you think the oppression suffered by pigs entails their identity as porcine? An organism doesn’t need to be self-regarding in order to be oppressed – it doesn’t require an ego, just nerve endings and oppressive surroundings. Oppression can be and often is arbitrary and indifferent to people’s inner states. Sure, the likes of fascists can and do attempt to author the identities of the people they oppress, and it’s even possible to harmfully foist an identity on another inadvertently, but while often relevant, identity isn’t a necessary criteria of oppression. The humans who oppress pigs aren’t trying to get the pigs to identify as tasty, they’re just trying to eat them, and indifferently going about a lot of cruelty in the process.

Women have a right to abortions. Among atheists who still read anything I publish, and wonky sorts from the Australian blogosphere of ten years ago, this statement probably reads as a repudiation of right-wing misogyny and/or religious fundamentalism. But if you think this is all a-okay, and that’s all there is to it, then congratulations, you’re probably a bigot like me too. The transgression here is that the statement says “women”. If you don’t make like Planned Parenthood and erase the mention of “women” from your references to abortion, then you’re probably a “TERF”.

Oppressed people can still be bad people, and their oppression doesn’t justify it. There are a hundred and one reasons why this is true; even in Nazi concentration camps, some Jews turned on their fellow oppressed, and collaborated with the guards; some politically motivated workers treat other workers like useful idiots, while yet other oppressed workers willfully scab off of the labour of the rest of their class. Some folks go further. Some canny members of oppressed classes realize that Good Sheltered People have a propensity to downplay the bad behaviour of members of oppressed classes, and exploit this failing to help prey on their own. Keep your eye out for this latter variety when dealing with spokespersons who provide a few too many bromides for their benefactors, but little in the way of benefit for the groups they’re speaking for; they’re a dime a dozen at some arts festivals.

And then there’s vengeance; a fantasy in the hearts of some that after liberation, a whole new category of oppressed people will be manufactured for the delectation of hungry sadists, often involving walls folks will be up against after a good scapegoating, Animal Farm style.

If your purported sympathies for trans women go so far as to be even equivocal in your condemnation of the concept of the “cotton ceiling”, then you’re fundamentally not competent to protect anyone from rape culture; trans or otherwise. I’ll just let you Google “cotton ceiling” (warning: probably NSFW).

Everyday Feminism is a pseudo-leftist publication. Really, the tip-off for anyone politically-minded, over 40, and hailing from countries further left than the US, should be terms like “social entrepreneur”. The editorial direction is also loose to the point of being unprincipled, and enables some of the worst navel-gazing solipsism to ever be dressed up as social justice activism. And how do you work against rape culture while also trying to create an accepting and nurturing climate for apaths and cluster-B personalities, un-partitioned, in the very same sphere?

The Huffington Post can climb into the same bin, on account of its habit of not paying interns and writers. Sharing “progressive” articles from these sites is like sharing “science” articles from The Mind Unleashed.

Solidarity matters. Apparently solidarity entails telling people to suppress their interests to better serve the alliance. Call me odd, but I don’t think you have to break solidarity in order to combat things like racism and sexism within the left. Rather, combatting things like racism and sexism in the left actually buttresses solidarity, because racism and sexism are some of the most effective means of divide and conquer tactics ever deployed against oppressed populations.

If you’re a Vegan because of the way the dairy industry handles bobby calves, but you embrace the sex industry despite its involvement in human trafficking, you’ve got one hell of a blind spot. I can’t believe how often I’ve seen Vegans failing to generalize this kind of analysis, all while managing to be condescending to people who do. (Disclosure: I don’t eat meat or dairy).

“Not In My Name” is a shitty slogan used by self-absorbed people. I thought the purpose of opposing things like offshore detention was the welfare of refugees, not the status of sheltered white people’s reputations. The self-focus is caustic to solidarity, if not annoyingly vain, and centers discussion away from the purported cause. Apparently holding this view about the phrase makes you a right-wing hawk, so be careful not to sympathize too much, here.

Pole Dancing Doesn’t Seem Very Feminist. Just because it’s athletic, and  you have a right to it, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t cater to the male gaze by design. Maybe feminists will devise a new form that’s more feminist, and it may even turn out to be an erotic performance of sorts, but it won’t be without the kind of subversion that does away with catering to the male gaze (and a whole lot less “#SundayBumday”). Call me an obtuse “whorephobe”, but I can’t help but think that a pole dance, or any expressive dance that aims to be feminist, would not render women as objects, but instead express their subjectivity in some manner.

Validation isn’t respect. How many women have failed in their attempts to leave an abusive relationship, at least in-part because their partner has psychologically whittled them down to the point of becoming dependent on a drip-fed supply of validation? If something is truly liberatory, in respect of validation, then it’ll let you validate yourself. It won’t get you hooked on affirmations, click-bait memes, shallow compliments, crappy products, feel-good subscriptions, quick-fix “self-help” gimmickry, and the phony respect people get out of things like “#SundayBumday”.

A lot of the affirmation given by, and on occasion expected from “good allies”, is validation dressed up as respect. Be wary of it.

“Brand-conscious narcissism” is a thing. This is a part of the supererogated “identifying” that’s a problem for the left, above and beyond the whole becoming-yourself egoist shtick better suited to fans of Nietzsche and Ayn Rand; it’s great for selling values in the marketplace. Selling them after watering them down, that is, and packaging them with other superfluous, or even pathological commodities. “Here, buy some pole wear and show everyone just how validated you are on #SundayBumday by thinly veiling your sphincter for the boys on Instagram. #SexPositive #Feminist”. If you want to see where the narcissism comes into it, just point out to these people – especially the guys on the sidelines – that “sex-positivity” is just a brand, whereby people get to perform the ordinary as if worthy of attention and praise.

People like sex.  Look at the human population of Earth. Yes, some folks are sexually repressed, and that’s bad, but it’s telling just how often you run into the slur of “sex-negative” being fired off at people who aren’t at all ashamed of their sexuality. If you’re a narcissist surrounded by people who like to fuck and are unashamed of it, and you need to stand out, then you need to brand yourself better; you’ll need to identify; “Sex Positive!” Never mind the similarities to calling women “prude” for not fucking you.

The commodification and debasement of left-wing values doesn’t require a conspiracy of capitalists, although people in advertising very well do take advantage (e.g. Greenwashing, Whole Foods, etc.) All it requires is the appearance of a progressivism desirable to people with egos, money and a willingness to publicly identify with the product, and the market will do the rest. Resemblance to actual left-wing values is only necessary in as far as required to sell shit, and beyond that, is purely coincidental.

There aren’t “boy brains” and “girl brains”. There isn’t a sex-based preference for blue or pink. That’s neurosexism. More on that here. (Warning: Watching the linked video may make you a “TERF”).

If your feminism “will be intersectional or it will be bullshit”, and you haven’t read Crenshaw and/or Dorothy E. Smith, then you’ve admitted your feminism is bullshit (and probably culturally appropriated). I’m just going to leave this one here for the irony. No analysis. Sorry (not sorry). Google is your friend.

***

Normally I wouldn’t be so ‘splainy, but for quite some time now I’ve been waiting for the bus I’m supposed to have been thrown under and it still hasn’t arrived. I belong under that bus. I’ve said The Things.

So go ahead and call me a “TERF” or a “whorephobe” or a “shitlord”, just don’t address me personally if that’s your take; I don’t owe you that. Shun me if that’s the case. Add me to your block-lists. Unfriend or unfollow me on social media. Dis-approve of my person. Don’t put me on your Christmas list. I’m not “woke” or “with it” or one of the cool kids, and I don’t care to be. I will insist though, if you’re going to consider me at all, that you give me the same degree of smear you’d give to women for writing what I have. I’m rather over this particular form of special treatment I seem to be getting.

If on the other hand, you think any of what I’ve written above is even defensible, but you still treat claims of “TERF” status, “whorephobia” and crypto-right-wingedness as self-evident, semantically obvious and unchallengeably evil, well, you may want to consider the possibility of contradictions in your political view, or that there are definitions of “TERF”, “whorephobe” and “right-wing” in circulation that  you don’t actually agree with. I’ll leave dealing with that up to you.

Honestly though, I have no idea just how representative these people are. I don’t know how they poll in their constituent groups; I don’t know how common their views are, statistically speaking. They could be a loud minority within their respective populations, or they could very well be the majority. I’ve seen dissenters within these groups get abused and dehumanized on the basis of having said some pretty anodyne stuff, but I don’t know what proportion of their community these dissenters make up. Maybe the dissenters are a silent majority.

My beef is with the people adopting these contortions and absurdities, whatever their number, not with their communities as a whole. If you don’t like that, well, you don’t like it. I’m not here to be liked, I’m not obliged to be, and I’d rather that we not waste each other’s time pretending otherwise. Now please do throw me under that bus.

~ Bruce

“The Left”, Capitalists and Identity Politics

I’m not entirely sure where to start on this one. I’ve got all the parts, but they are many, the order in which they should be arranged is largely dependent on what I’m responding to, and what I’m responding to seems muddled and riddled with contradiction. I’m pretty sure that after assembly, I’ll have bits left over ala post-Ikea nightmare.

Bringing the summary to the introduction, I’d say something along the lines that the left has been entered through sheer declaration, by folks who seem too at-ease with the profit motive, and too unfamiliar with history of arguments and political camps within the left.

I’m not entirely averse to profit myself I’ll confess, especially when the alternative is loss and potential subsequent malnourishment and homelessness. I’m not overly happy with the system, but I’ll comply with the economic coercion – I can’t deny being complicit in that respect.

This isn’t about ideological purity so much as it’s broadly about the nature and purpose of left-wing politics in light of newer ideological developments. I’m not so sure where I fall into the scheme of things myself anymore, although I do still cast a wide net when defining “The Left”. My definitions, while still showing some resemblance to the “New Left” of the 20th century, may also seem at least a little obscure. People may wish to exclude me from the Truest of True Lefts, and I’m not sure I’d have a problem with that. This isn’t a pissing competition.

Before I directly address what I’m actually responding to, as a form of confession and calibration, I’ll disclose a few potentially contentious assumptions, positions and attitudes relating to the topic in general. I can be dismissed up-front on that basis, if you so please.

This will be wordy. The funnier bits are towards the end.

***

A Few Assumptions About The Left

Technology: In some cases technology is essential to left-wing progress, while in other areas merely beneficial. There’s no point in simply changing people’s values if after such alteration, they still don’t have the material means to bring about subsequent social change. In other instances, people may have the means, but not the inclination to alter their values and practices, technology sometimes offering an lazy way to get things done; green electricity is easier for a lot of people to live with, than no electricity. I’m not about to stop blogging to go live in some candle-lit Luddite commune. Some folks would shit-can me out of the Left as a liberal-technocrat for this reasoning, if not the conclusion. Maybe they’re right.

The Market: Along the lines of a lot of the “New Left”, I’m a mixed-economy advocate. I don’t seek the absolute abolishment of the market in my lifetime. I don’t even see the mixed-economy as a political compromise – I see it as an improvement over the traditional socialist state-controlled means of production, albeit as a solution that may not always be optimal in the future. Swinging back the other way, again, I’m agnostic about the future possibility/practicality of abolishing of the market – it’s all a bit Star Trek to me, and at any rate, it’s something for future generations to decide upon without my ignorant input or intercession.

Late Capitalism: I can’t even get on board with Late Capitalism as an idea, other than as the idea of an era that can only ever be described after its passing. Serious devotees of the concept of Late Capitalism come across as fundamentalists to me, parsing the contradictions and catastrophes in capitalist economies into fateful signs of Revolution, all much the same way that devotees of Harold Camping would look for omens of The Rapture. Too often this comes bundled with fantasies about people being lined up against the wall and the like, which echos the kind of violent fantasy that has vengeance and hellfire awaiting unbelievers following the final return of Jesus – I really don’t like this kind of vindictiveness.

Even when people describe Late Capitalism more casually, without the secular Rapture and the lining-up of enemies before firing squads, it still comes across as unwarranted triumphalism flirting with disappointment. So un-restrained capitalism is dying, and you’re gloating about it? What happens if it doesn’t die? What happens if it’s always dysfunctional, but still long lived? What if it reaches a compromise that forestalls revolution permanently, while not substantially resolving oppressions? What then?

History as a Force: In much the same way that the belief in Late Capitalism is akin to belief in the Rapture, the idea of history as a force functions too much like a God hypothesis for my liking. If Late Capitalism heralds The Rapture, then History as a Force delivers the end-times, hellfire and damnation. ‘Nuff said. Well, almost. There’s this too.

Queer Politics and Change: You only need to look at the history of Cuba to see how queer folk can be thrown under the bus by revolutionaries. Too often in history, things like homosexuality has been viewed by left-wing agitators as bourgeois excess – a perspective bringing with it all the deprivations, violence and human rights abuses you’d expect to follow. That being said, queer activism (not queer qua queer) can be regressive, reactionary, and utterly capitalistic. You only need to look at the unpaid labour used by a number of popular clickbait sites sporting a leftish veneer; they earn a wad by establishing a marketable, commodified version of progressivism, all while queer writers and interns can expect to be left with nothing more than “exposure” and “experience” – things which do sweet fuck all to help vulnerable people counter the risks of homelessness, or any number of the other problems GLBTIQ folk are more likely to encounter. I’m gob-smacked every time a purported GLBTIQ activist on the one hand makes the entirely reasonable objection that too much emphasis is placed on the relatively cute issue of marriage equality, at the expense of issues like homelessness among gay and gender non-conforming youth – all before then going on to laud clickbait slave-drivers as Good Allies.

I don’t have a stake in it, but cripes, the contradiction seems pathological, and I’m not looking forward to a day when queer writers end up blowing the whistle on the editorial policies of outlets like The Huffington Post and Everyday Feminism – not because I don’t like whistle-blowers, and not because I hold high expectations of these media outlets (I don’t), but because if it happens, it’s going to be a fucking sad story to have to read.

Liberal versus Radical Critiques (of Gender and Sex Work): I’ve never really seen liberalism and radicalism as entirely distinct – probably because they’re not. While the camps who overtly identify as either can and often have become incredibly polarized, the history of the ideas don’t seem nearly as divorced. Resultantly, at least because it seems that way to me, you can expect that I have some potentially weird and impolitic views on gender and sex work that could alienate me from, well, everyone.

While I view gender identity as non-intrinsic, and not by itself a valid basis for welfare concerns, I view identity politics as generally being somewhat inevitable; people are going to have identities, so unless you live in a box, you’re going to run up against them at some point. Any comprehensive system of civics has to allow for this, but this doesn’t mean that identity is all their is, or that all identities need to be cared about or even tolerated. Steve who identifies as “Steve: Crusher of Fags” can get in the fucking sea.

I don’t have a problem calling sex work, “sex work”, which isn’t saying much because I don’t have a problem calling scabs “workers”, or slave-work, “work”. I find the idea that “sex work” is liberating, incredibly sad, and even if actually liberating for some (e.g. sheltered but horny ex-Baptists), that doesn’t negate its status an imposture for others (e.g. trafficked sex slaves). Remember when women who said they didn’t have a problem with harassment from Skeptic Bros, and that other women just needed to shut up, harden up, get some perspective, don’t feed the trolls, and so-on, were criticized for being dismissive of the concerns of women who did have a problem with harassment? A lot of the people I saw fight that particular fight – ostensibly in defense of friends, allies and otherwise useful people – have since abandoned this logic in order to dismiss women’s concerns about sex trafficking, on the grounds that such concerns are disparaging towards the sex workers who apparently feel perfectly fine. The sheer hypocrisy would be more galling if it weren’t so mind-numbingly muddle-headed.

Still, I don’t care so much if the state can superficially be described as analogous to a pimp, if the substantive result is that less women are raped, assaulted and trafficked, and I’m sceptical of whether or not it’s empirically true that the Nordic model actually achieves what it sets out to, at least not on a meaningful multilateral level. But I’m not going to fall into the dangerous and disingenuous practice of dismissing feminists as “sex negative” for their being concerned about the sex industry status quo. The status quo is an ethical ruin. The status quo is objectification, rape, assault, trafficking, addiction, engineered dependency, abduction, extortion, blackmail and all the affiliated evils of organized crime. If the Nordic model doesn’t in actual-fact work, it still doesn’t follow that there isn’t still a massive problem to be addressed, nor does it follow automatically that other solutions do work.

Pretending that sex work is actually all hunky-dory isn’t going to solve a fucking thing, other than the PR issues faced by Johns, brothels and pimps. And god, watching wealthy “feminists” who’ve never been economically coerced into anything in their lives, not just adopt pole dancing, but the attitude that they’re “honoring” sex workers of yore with their performances – that’s just patently absurd. You wouldn’t “honor” a native American like that, buy donning a feather bonnet for Halloween.

Now, colour me a mansplaining whorephobe, if you will. I surrender on that front; white flag; no contest.

***

After Such A Long Rant, What The Fuck Is All This About?

So yes, I identify as being of the left. Does this actually make me of the left? No. Self-identification is insufficient, even if what is sufficient is unclear. Even if you adopt the provisional charity of taking people at face value for certain purposes, identity is still insufficient when it comes to the matter of the actual fact. It’s one thing to unquestioningly accept a person’s identity for the purposes of naming their coffee, and another proposition to accept it for the purposes of banking.  And how many racist whitebros on the Internet have identified as “non-racist” as if it mattered? In – suff – i – cient.

According to the criteria of a number of the old left, I’m not of the left at all. I’m not even going to contest that. I’m not sure I can honestly reject their criteria. Wanting to and identifying don’t even enter into it.

Now I’ve focused on my own perspective far too much already, and there’s been a lot of words typed only for their importance to be downplayed, except that downplaying personal perspective and identity as demarcation criteria is to quite some extent, the point. This brings me to what I’m responding to.

Apropos of nothing, a bunch of personalities of an at-least vaguely social-justice flavour, have recently released an open letter identifying themselves as “The Left”. Not “leftish”, not “left-wing” nor “of The Left”; we’re talking capital-T, capital-L, “The Left”. And they’re making demands!

These aren’t simply personalities who’ve collaborated with the market because they have no choice here either. We’re talking about people who’ve embraced it and to varying extents, thrived. I’m not at all happy – fucking livid, actually – with the abuse and threats thrown at Brianna Wu, but c’mon, adding a treatment of social issues to private-sector commercial game design is left-wing? The objection my incredulity is based upon doesn’t make Brianna Wu an evil person, nor Giant Spacekat a Bad Thing, it’s just that it’s all a bit hard to swallow having a commercial game designer, and others of a similarly capitalist background, asserting themselves as if they could ever actually self-appoint anything tantamount to delegate status among the left. It’d be incredibly fucking bold just for unelected trade unionists to do that, but representatives of business?

I mean, my own leftism is up for questioning, but this?

There are a hundred names on that list, and the ones who stand out at a glance to me are people who’ve I’ve seen treated poorly by Internet knuckle-draggers, and who’ve at least earned a modicum of respect from me on account of standing up to said knuckle-draggers. Only, this current act of supreme bumbledom is really wearing that wafer of respect down an incredibly thin slice.

As Meghan Murphy points out, scathingly, it’s quite a galling proposition for the left to be told it needs to include capitalists for when the revolution comes. The left will need them for that push up the hill, apparently. What self-importance. (My own concerns about Late Capitalism, History as a Force and violent ideations come into play here – revolution may not come at a discreet moment, and please, leave the fantasist analogies about charging up hills to re-enactment societies, thanks.)

Beyond the less-than-astute appropriation of Firestone’s rhetoric which Murphy also acidly notes – rhetoric taken from a movement with a basic premise inimical to the project of the authors of the open letter – the project falls apart at the first demand.

***

Identity

“1) We call upon progressives to acknowledge that all politics are identity politics.”

Aside from failing to even clearly define the terms of the demand, the demand is followed with further declarations likely to induce a “huh?” from the open letter’s intended audience; the rest of the left.

Evidence of the allegedly identarian nature of politics is loosely detailed through a roll-call of obviously bad things;

“That sexism and racism exist cannot seriously be in doubt for any progressive person in the year 2016. Everyone has an identity; every identity is political, whether because it is marginalized or because it benefits from the marginalization of others. It is not “enlightening” or fresh or radical to ignore identity-based oppressions, or minimize them, or demand marginalized people stop talking about them. Oppression is not a “debate” or a “discussion.” It’s a fact.”

Look, I’ve already ceded that identity is a thing, that with other premises can constitute the basis of a social justice concern, and that this kind of conflict is inevitable. If some faction wants to ban books authored by marginalized groups, purely on the basis that the identity of these marginalized group members are gaining expression, then you’ve probably got a good case for a social justice campaign. There are obviously other examples. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m not sure the left – the actual left being addressed – have a problem realizing this.

However… People’s interests don’t always entail identity to a substantive degree, or at all. People are so much more than identities, and framing the discussion as being about the marginalization of identities, rather than the marginalization of people who happen to have identities that may or may not be involved in the marginalization, is something to be incredibly wary of. Some people are simply marginalized for having wombs – their sex – gender identity never coming into it. Some people are oppressed or simply exterminated because of their locale of birth, irrespective of whether or not they actually identify with that locale.

Back to that first demand though. Even the basic logic is invalid, by affirming the consequent – while all identities may be political, it doesn’t follow that all politics must therefore be identity-based or involve identity. All cats are mammals; Fido the dog is a mammal; Fido the dog is a cat? Bad logic right there.

This is also to say nothing of an implicit, yet glaring contradiction; if all politics are identity politics, then why use the phrase “identity-based oppressions”? To distinguish these oppressions from the non-identity-based oppressions that supposedly don’t even exist?

But the real fuck-up in terms of silly-arguments in this case, its magnum bogus, is this implication that rejecting identity politics is tantamount to rejecting the existence of the problems of racism, of misogyny and of the whole fucking mixed-bag o’ evil. I mean really, literally, what we have here is a bunch of people with a substantial representation of capitalist interest, who seem to think they need to write an open letter to the left of all people, to inform that very left that oppression is a fact.

What do they think the left has been focused on up until now? Organizing bathroom snorkeling trips? Yelling poetry at rocks? Trying to beat custard at chess?

It’s as much of a concession as I can make to observe that yes, some right-wing trolls, pundits and know-nothings have thrown the term “identity politics” around in the motivated defense of racism and sexism and everything else nasty under the sun, and that not all terms thusly appropriated by the right can be salvaged. But “identity politics” has been a term in left-wing critique for much longer than I’ve been on the planet, and it’s not clear that despite ample talent in this area, the right have debased it beyond repair.

And “identity politics” is only one in a long list of terms used by the left to critique the itself from within, that’s then been appropriated by the right to be thrown around with thoughtless abandon, triumph and perversion. It’s been happening observably in real-time over the last year or so with the right-wing appropriation of the term “regressive left” – a term originally meant to be used against actual relativists, enablers and authoritarians – the own-goal contingent of the left – not against the feminists and mere critics that chauvinists have recently used the term to flog.

***

The authors of the open letter purport to be critiquing the left from within themselves, so they may wish to reconsider these kinds of issues with a little more seriousness, and a lot less self-importance. What if their own language was co-opted and semantically mutated by the right, before being re-purposed as a stick to beat the left with? What if this was already happening via capitalists in the new media?

And how many years will it be before another hundred people calling themselves “The Left” come along to demand that the left cease, desist and acquiesce to a grab-bag of demands, because self-regard, myopia, and a poor grasp of political history and logic, leads this bright one-hundred to over-emphasize the observation that right-wingers can use the same words as older generations of leftists? Call me a fool, but I think it’d be a good habit, that if instead of taking the right’s use of these terms at face value, and blithely acting as if lefties mean the same thing, some folks just familiarized themselves with a bit of left-wing political history. This way they may even manage to not fuck up their Firestone references too.

~ Bruce

Disappearance of the “Scarlet A”, and musings on “Atheism Plus”…

AIn October of 2007, if you were a reader of my old blog, you may have noticed my signing up to The Out Campaign; a campaign where atheists donned the now near-ubiquitous (in one form of another) “Scarlet A” – outing or presenting themselves as godless in response to a world where godlessness isn’t always tolerated.

I make no reservations about declaring my “post-atheist” condition; I have never actually been religious; I don’t live in a culture where I am oppressed on account of my lack of religion; I live in a culture where in general, I am tolerated. Unlike some of my fellow Freethinkers from “post-atheist” cultures though, I have no intention of belittling the struggles of atheists in less tolerant climates, even in less-than-tolerant developed nations like the US.

(I.e. I’m not going to play that game).

Back in 2007, I had a Catholic friend who shunned me when I revealed that in fact, I was irreligious. Our friendship was originally fuelled in no small part by our mutual concerns about social justice. And then it was over…

Did I suddenly identify as oppressed? No. However, in a process resulting from this shunning, somewhat like being injected with the proteins of a virus, I was in a sense inoculated against the real thing. I found it easier to empathise with people who were oppressed, or at least marginalised on account of their atheism.

The “Scarlet A” then, was about solidarity.

It’s now 2014, and things have changed. The website for The Out Campaign is clearly no longer properly maintained, at the time of writing featuring broken image URLs. Iterations of the “Scarlet A” have mutated, speciated and in some cases metastasized.

While I don’t object to most instances of the use of the “Scarlet A” still in use, it’s just lost relevance to me. It’s not clear that it symbolizes what I wish to convey by displaying it, so I’ve recently dropped it from my sidebar. Indeed, I’ve been  meaning to do so for some time.

***

“Atheist plussers”…

I’ve nothing against the “Atheism Plus” crowd, and I utterly object to the abuse they’ve received – abuse both leading to the creation of “Atheism Plus” in the first place, and abuse directed at them afterward. I wish them all needed respite from this abuse as well. This alone, depending on your definitions, may or may not make me one of them, although I’m not giving you a stake in my identity either way.

My interest in social justice has me holding a number of values also shared by the “Atheism Plus” crowd (“Atheism Plus” essentially being atheism “plus” social justice). This may or may not, depending on your definitions, also mark me as objectively fitting in.

Only, I have next to no interest in identifying, nor being interpellated* as such.

I’ve said it before over the years and I’ll say it again; I’m a lefty before I’m an atheist. While I may have many of the same priorities on my list as “Atheist Plus” atheists, I’m likely to order my priorities differently. Also, given my experiences on the left seemingly being different to that of many of the “Atheist Plus” crowd, I suspect it is likely that there will be concerns I have that we don’t share.

There’s also differences between the American and Australian left to consider. In Australia, we haven’t slid as far down the path of neo-liberalism and anti-unionist culture, and hence aren’t likely to have all the same invisible assumptions about such things – the kinds of assumptions that can be unwittingly adopted even by their opponents.

(I see this to some extent in the small-business-owner-like culture surrounding a number of social-justice-oriented public speakers and writers from the US, not limited purely to those from an atheistic background).

Generally, what’s the “Atheist Plus” take on the Reaganite union bashing of the 1980s, and its spread via globalisation? I don’t know. This isn’t a criticism of “Atheism Plus”, but rather an observation of potential sources of difference of priority.

This may or may not signal a conflict between myself and any given “Atheist Plus” position in the future. And if it does, people involved may want to know where I’ll be coming from should this happen; all else being equal, if it’s a choice between acting on the material left-wing concerns of a unionist/worker who happens to be religious, and entertaining an abstract theological point raised by an atheist who happens to be leftish, I’m not going to be siding with the atheist. (Also, theology doesn’t interest me that much).

(I happen to suspect that there is too much of what could be considered tantamount to class blindness in “Atheism Plus”, albeit not wilfully so. Considerations of class aren’t as prevalent amongst “Atheism Plus” as I’d be happy to see in a left-wing movement/organisation. It all comes across as being a bit too exclusively white collar).

Such a conflict may never occur, however a fundamental difference in the sorting of our priorities remains, even if our values are largely compatible. This matters to me.

***

Nothing has fundamentally changed about me regarding these matters over the past ten years. The only thing that has changed is the broader context I find myself engulfed in. I doubt I’m alone in this.

At any rate, I’m not going to make declarations of loyalty to groups that I know in advance that I may not be able to honour. And the “Scarlet A”? Gone.

I will however say this much; I am still an atheist writer, only I’m not just an atheist who writes. Often I will focus on issues from an atheist perspective, however my perspective isn’t solely defined along such lines. This may be a source of future conflict.

Allies who fail to understand this may wind up feeling betrayed. Enemies who fail to understand this risk making themselves look foolish.

~ Bruce

* Also, I don’t think my status as a subject is secondary in the generation of my identity, thank you very much anti-humanists.