A reader writes:
It’s good to see you continuing address this issue, regardless of how you are attacked by the illiberal left. It’s pretty sad how they’ve turned into the censorious, judgmental sticks in the mud that liberals have always accused the right of being. While I don’t consider myself a conservative (as per GOP definition), I really cannot stand the intolerant left. As a person of color, I’ve dealt with the standard right-wing bigots, but it’s at least with them, it was open and you could, you know, get them to treat you as a regular joe with enough interaction. With the illiberal left, if I’m not with them, then I’m either patronized as being a child with no agency, or they find some other term (misogynist is the current favorite) that can allow them to ignore you and get your views hounded off any public sphere.
Identity politics is really one of the most divisive problems on the left. For those of us who value freedom (of speech, of religion), the fervor with which these people are trying to shut down any disagreements is really mind-boggling.
A black lesbian and “something of a conservative lefty” writes:
I come to my belief in equality of opportunity the honest way, by which I mean my prior commitment is not to feminism or to anti-racism or to the gay rights movement but to a larger principle that it is morally repugnant to treat an individual person as nothing more than a representative sample of some group or another.
That prior ethical commitment is the only wholly secular means by which one can stand up for the rights of one’s own group but also wish for others those same rights or, at absolute minimum, recognize that the rights of others might need to be protected from you. Me being treated as nothing more than a walking representative of the categories “black”, “woman” and “lesbian” is wrong, and so treating you as nothing more than representative of “white”, “gay” and “male” is also wrong. Anti-racism, feminism, being in favor of gay rights all naturally flow from that.
If, on the other hand, I start from the premise that racism against black people is wrong or that sexism is wrong or that anti-gay sentiments are wrong, without first grounding it in the principle that not only do I not deserve to be ill-treated this way, but no one deserves to be so treated, it invites the kind of theological responses that you get. It is not that you have (entirely justified) reservations about the way that feminism is advanced rhetorically online. No, you are deemed irredeemably hostile to the advancement of women in society. You are, therefore, opposed not only to equal pay but to women’s education and you wish to put us under a regime so regressive that even Saudi Arabia will look at us and say “Dayaaam, we put our desire to constrain women’s lives second to none but we bow before your teachings…” I mean how could it be any other way?
Likewise, if you question the wisdom of gay couples pressing straight proprietors of public businesses who refuse to take their gay money because of religious beliefs, then you are somehow secretly in favor of sending us back to the pre-Stonewall regime – the regime that robbed the world of the brilliant light that was Alan Turing’s mind. Again, how could it be any other way?
The latter stance destroys any possibility for civil dialog. How do you negotiate with someone who is malevolent in thought and deed? You really can’t.
There is one salutary effect I think may come out of this. I am as much a social democrat as the next West coast Democratic voter, but increasingly I’m finding myself becoming something of a conservative lefty. By that I mean that as a matter of policy, I would like to see a strong social safety net, a public primary education system that is the envy of the world, a public secondary education system that is also the envy of the world, and I believe in the progressive income tax and that corporations should not be rewarded for laying people off and/or sending jobs over seas.
But I’m becoming increasingly conservative in the sense that Roger Scruton uses the term because there is much that I think the left is attacking that we need. In fact, I think that the identity politics that lies behind all of this Internet political kabuki is a malign influence in the academy and in the larger culture. It makes civil discussion and discourse upon which republican citizenship depends impossible. It undermines the one thing tying all 300 million Americans together, and that is our shared ideology and ideals. It tells the people who have the most to lose from rejecting mainstream values and the most to gain from doing so that they should not do so. That there is no need to do so.
It is a malevolent force in our national politics because it undermines the ability to deploy facts in order to influence policy. It simply no longer matters if Obamacare has a line in it mandating the summary execution of every white, heterosexual Christian over the age of 70. Fox News will report that it does. They will have experts on who will talk about how this phantasm will do its devil’s work. The non-FOX media will report “Fox News reports that Obamacare has death panels in it, the Obama administration denies this…” and not once ever ask the obvious question “why is Fox News saying something that is manifestly untrue’. The critical theorists do not believe that there are facts, only power narratives. But facts are the way we can know if our policies are effective or if the best policy is no policy.
As an American, as a Westerner, I reject the idea that my being a black lesbian makes me somehow a stranger to my culture. I reject the idea that the culture of the Anglophone world isn’t my home culture because of my race. When I was born, I don’t think that would have made me a conservative, but I think it makes me a conservative today but not in the right-wing republican mode. More in the sense that I look at my civilization and all its works and see much worth preserving that the current ideological critical theory/social justice left wishes to destroy. I can’t sign on for that. It took a lot of long hard struggle just to get to the English and Scottish Enlightenment. It took yet more long and hard struggle for the Enlightenment to include the likes of me within the circle of people rational enough to be given the honorific “citizen”. It enrages me that, in my name, just as society has said “this ladder is yours to ascend by your own efforts and to your own comfort” the social justice left wants to take that ladder, break it into kindling, set fire to it and then lament how I, as a black woman, couldn’t get any higher because the white, capitalist patriarchy would not allow it. That, I think, makes me a species of conservative.
A Burkean Liberal? A Rawlsian Conservative? I don’t know. That’s thin lemonade to make out of so big a lemon but it’s the best I can do. Keep up the good fight.
Another points to “Exhibit A of feminism eating its own”:
If you want to link to an example of how feminists shame beautiful women, look what Keira Knightley got in exchange for taking a very feminist stance of refusing to be photoshopped: This nasty Daily Beast column, where Knightley is accused of “arguing for diversity from an extremely privileged and exclusive platform.” Rather than acknowledge that this is a step toward progress, the writer says, “Unfortunately, it’s hard to win a war over diversity and inclusion when the only women who are being given the mainstream platforms to speak out are the white warriors who have been deemed hot enough to merit a topless photo shoot.”
Womp womp. If you’re Knightley, who happens to be insanely talented and smart, why would you want to be on the same team as women like this who take you out at the kneecaps? Fuck that.
Heh, it also contains an old quote from Lady Gaga: “I’m not a feminist… I love men.” If international superstar women think that the two concepts are mutually exclusive, you miiiiiight have a bit of a public perception problem.
Another sends a civil dissent:
I am lapsed subscriber on the fence till recently, but I now know I renew, in part because of your efforts on the recent gender threads, though I mostly disagree with your takes. The reason is, I’m a male of Indian descent who is a Sikh religiously, and these threads allow me to see you come by your blind spots honestly regarding points of view informed by these origin-points of mine. I better understand you as you have dug in your heels, and I can see you mean no malice, though in important ways, you do not see things that are important to see to really understand the topics you are speaking on.
What you are not seeing is the people of goodwill you are opposing are coming from a real point of view and reacting from that point of view and you are removing the context in a way that does you no service. It is fairly apparent (no offense meant) that you do not really understand these points of views either intellectually or from lived experience.
If you are not able to run the thought experiments, sincerely take a page from one of your readers and consult a woman you trust, as you do, in a way, regarding race with Ta-Nehisi Coates. You as much as anyone else know you do not bestow favors on Coates when you refer to him in posts; you do yourself a favor because he really can teach on a point of view you lack familiarity with. No one has to agree with him, but he provides a really valuable education. You would do well to have an interlocutor or teacher regarding these issues.