I have been wondering out loud a great deal recently about the effect of the mass proliferation of new terminology that seem to arise from the back and forth of the culture wars. Some of it seems more organic, the naming of an emergent phenomenon or interest group, some less so, like the attempt to create a desired phenomenon by naming it into existence. Very often, these terms are pejorative; one of the more effective strategies in recent years in the necessary pushback against retrograde identity politics (primarily but not exclusively from the left) has been to identify and name their tactics and patterns of delusional behaviour. Of course, the identitarian left fired the opening vernacular salvo with their attempt to being terms like “micro-aggression”, “whiteness”, “cultural appropriation” and “trigger warning” among others into common parlance, thus attempting to make the non-existent or absurd more tangible. They have certainly entered the public square but I am hoping in a context that will remain of a moment – historical terms associated with a stalled and misguided social movement. Read More…
Today I awoke in a different country. This is not to imply any blind optimism about the direction South Africa will now take or the integrity of her new leaders but rather the significance of the Zuma era and what it means to be free of him. Read More…
“I think it’s terribly important to insist on individual values.”
Acclaimed author and free thinker Aldous Huxley on the importance of thinking for yourself and not succumbing to groupthink.
Much has been made in recent months of the so-called “generation snowflake”. This is hardly surprising given the disproportionate role of millennials in re-shaping social and political norms in frankly sinister ways; the destruction of free expression and open conversation on university campuses; the championing of censorship, the anti-science impulses that run through gender-identity movements; and the segregationist attitude to identity in general. To be clear from the outset, I am always against the demonization of people just for the membership of a generation or age-group – I always found the stereotyping of Generation X as feckless and nihilistic or Generation X’s own loathing of baby-boomers distasteful. I was disgusted by the hatred directed at the elderly following the Brexit vote and I recognise that there are many millennials who are extremely frustrated by the attitudes of their peers. Be that as it may, generation snowflake, as a description of an attitudinal subset of millennials, is somewhat apt and warrants further analysis. Read More…
After a period in the sun, during the heyday of the Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins (among others) New Atheist uprising, terms like freethinker, sceptic and the more specific atheist seem to have lost their popular allure. This is understandable among their obvious targets, the religious and superstitious, among whom they were unlikely to find a fan-base in the first place but, peculiarly, those to whom such terms (either in actuality or in potentia) could be applied have often sought to distance themselves from being associated with them.
In the early days of this website I spent many happy pages dismantling the superficially simpering but ultimately sinister certainties of the religious, yet over the years I have had to turn my spotlight increasingly to the ideological myths and superstitions of academia and journalism. These fields have become increasingly tainted by a commitment to narrative over truth, to a priori framing, rather than reasoned conclusions subject to revision on the basis of new evidence – i.e. the central scientific criticism of religion. Read More…
Candice Holdsworth speaks with Manick Govinda, a Londoner, Libertarian, writer and producer of fine art. They discuss the politicization of the art scene and how contemporary art has been consumed by an obsession with race, sexuality and gender.
Earlier this week a deeply unpleasant video emerged, which showed a group of white nationalists praising Donald Trump whilst throwing nazi salutes.
It serves as an ugly reminder of just how awful racialised politics is. We live in an era in which identity politics is ascendant. It dominates public discourse. From both ends of the political spectrum we get victimhood narratives and identity obsession, with one side fuelling the other.
It is very important that we move beyond the divisive and damaging politics of polarization.
When you try to play the game of identity politics, no one wins. You just leave a toxic legacy for future generations to have to deal with.
For those of us who are opposed to political correctness, language policing and identity politics, we cannot – in the words of Christopher Hitchens – allow the extremist tail to wag the whole dog.
The solution to poisonous identity politics is not more identity politics.
Let’s hope, instead, for an outbreak of common sense.
In this week’s Imagine Athena podcast Candice Holdsworth spoke to Robin Gilbert-Jones, contributing editor to Imagine Athena, about the identity politics of the Regressive Left in the time of Donald Trump, and she also reflects on the identity politics of the far right.
Feminist leader Robin Morgan’s statement of hatred for her white skin went viral recently. I have seen it popping up on all my social networks and have been struck by the diversity of responses it is getting – everything from cries of support and awe about Morgan’s superhuman empathy, to celebrations of the divine mother archetype (with which some are identifying her), to derisive exclamations that this is just the latest manifestation of “liberal narcissism,” to cheeky jibes that “someone should punch her in the face, then”.
I have a different take – I think this furor shows that we have reached peak privilege-checking. Here is a woman who is being celebrated for a statement of self-hatred – something one would think is at odds with the feminist objective of putting women in touch with their power. How did we go from empowering women to celebrating a woman who grinds herself into the dirt (out of the misguided kindness of her heart)? Who are these sickos who are celebrating those words? I certainly don’t want to meet them.
When did being a victim become fashionable?
The quote’s recent resurgence as a meme on social media networks – and the responses it has generated – show that Morgan has touched a nerve. The woman who spearheaded second-wave feminism – influenced by Critical Theory, Foucault and the Frankfurt school (see Camille Paglia’s criticisms of Foucault here and her comments about the lack of need for poststructuralist ideas in young nations like America and Australia here) – is back in the press for all the wrong reasons. Like Pandora she returns as a symbol and reminder of all the evils that she unleashed on the world.
Morgan’s statement encapsulates the worst of the victim-feminist mentality. All sorts of conundrums about intersectionality, activist one-upmanship and literary social capital (the rules of gaining writerly and activist prestige on the internet today) are thrown into sharp relief by Morgan’s statement.
How does one earn prestige as a social justice activist (sometimes referred to sneeringly now as a “social justice warrior” or SJW) or a cultural critic today? It has become necessary to express this sort of Morgan-style loathing for any contact a person may have had throughout their life with society’s reviled institutions of power: the patriarchy, elite schooling, oil money, or a passport in a colonialist country (like Australia or the US) where an ethnic population was displaced. Morgan does it all in one fell swoop, saying she wishes she could literally peel her white skin off so it was invisible and throw her passport – a gift granted to her by male settler-colonialists who subjected the native Indian population to nasty humiliations like the Long Walk of the Navajo – in the gutter where it belongs.
Her very last statement is particularly vile and stupid: “If I could become part of the oppressed I would be free.” I tried to give Morgan the benefit of the doubt about this. She probably meant it to sound like a romantic statement about the history-shaping power of the oppressed classes, I thought initially. Maybe this was a naive statement about her desire to be part of that.
I tried to tell myself that Morgan has the personal inhibiting factors in her own life on her mind. Perhaps a network of family members from similarly “disgustingly-privileged” backgrounds surrounds her, preventing her from truly throwing in the towel and living out her activist dreams. Perhaps institutional supporters are closing in on her, each with subtly different agendas, and to secure their support she is forced to navigate that politics, to avoid discussion of hot points, etc. She may also feel distressed that she was denied the contact with the oppressed classes where revolutionary potential is truly bubbling and boiling – it takes the anger of the downtrodden to spring a revolution into action.
All these things ran through my head, and yet the smugness and stupidity of Morgan’s statement cannot be denied. There is no freedom at the bottom of the pile. As one Facebook sneerer commenting on Morgan’s picture pointed out: “it was neoliberal backing that made her activist career possible.”
The other reason I bristle at those last words – the equation of marginalized status with “freedom” – is that they seem to me to reveal – unwittingly – the true motivation behind Morgan’s words: a desire to own both the comfort and agency that lets one build a writing career AND also the identification with marginalized classes that would make one’s words (in our era of privilege-checking, Twitter-storms, identity politics and intersectionality) carry heft.
Morgan, like almost everyone in the modern Left, is locked in what Matthew Brett calls “The Vampire’s Castle” – a realm where identity looms large.
[R]ather than seeking a world in which everyone achieves freedom from identitarian classification, the Vampires’ Castle seeks to corral people back into identi-camps, where they are forever defined in the terms set by dominant power, crippled by self-consciousness and isolated by a logic of solipsism which insists that we cannot understand one another unless we belong to the same identity group.
As a feminist writer with a packed website that flogs her books and encourages you to subscribe to her eponymous program, Robin Morgan’s very livelihood depends on having her voice taken seriously. What looked like a sad attempt to grind herself into the dirt (sad but perhaps romantic) was, in fact, a cynical attempt to co-opt the voice of the marginalized. If she belongs to the same identity group as every subjugated class she will be taken seriously and perhaps more people will hit Subscribe in iTunes on that latest book-flogging podcast episode of hers.
“The Vampires’ Castle was born the moment when the struggle not to be defined by identitarian categories became the quest to have “identities’ recognised by a bourgeois big Other,” says Brett in his very insightful article (see the link above). This is the issue the embattled Morgan is twisting herself into knots to try to resolve. I agree with the Facebook commenters on my feed who called her on her narcissism.
Identity politics reigns. It is so rife that people have to jump through some tricky intellectual hoops just to master it. It is no wonder the Big S Struggle (CLASS… which as Brett mentions, rarely enters into the debate. How did the Left lose touch with their mission so thoroughly?) cannot muster any steam.
“The danger in attacking the Vampires’ Castle is that it can look as if – and it will do everything it can to reinforce this thought – that one is also attacking the struggles against racism, sexism, heterosexism,” he writes.
Morgan’s public statement invites many questions: Why did you feel the need to let us know that you hate your white skin? What sort of academic or cultural cachet were you trying to buy?
And is a statement of self-loathing really a way to distance yourself from privilege? If Morgan was hoping to secure radical cred AND keep her funders happy by selling some books when she unleashed that sad bit of self-pity on the world… well, she is not going to secure it from me
Let us make feminism about pride in our power and ourselves and our gains. Let us deemphasize victimhood and separatism in general and turn our eyes back to empowerment and community.
Featured Image Credit: “The Flagellants”. Still from Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957) Source: YouTube
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