The rise of identity politics is one of the most “problematic” phenomenons around. Having spent a lifetime on the Left, I’ve watched the contorted evolution of our essential anti-racist, feminist and and pro-minority rights movements with a mixture of shock, then horror, then sadness. Great liberation movements that once fought to stop people being judged on the basis of innate characteristics, have been replaced by demands that we do exactly that. These characteristics determine the ethical validity of a person’s voice. Liberation movements are no longer making the arguments that we should see beyond race, beyond gender, beyond sexuality, beyond class, and celebrate, champion – or criticise – each individual on the basis of their hearts, their minds, their choices, their actions. We are no longer fighting for humanity to transcend our innate characteristics, but instead demanding we are all increasingly defined, and judged, by them.
Identity politics has both fed from, and fed, the stifling culture of offence. It has amplified theories of microaggressions and normalised the de-facto use of ‘white man’ as short hand for ‘bad’. It has given us the heady concept of cultural appropriation in, amongst other things, art, music, hair, fashion and food (remember the jerk-rice ‘scandal’?). It has reinforced the regressive theory of cultural relativism and the development of the already-unfortunate “it’s not our place to comment” era, into the more direct “I’m offended, so you can’t say that” era. All of these things had a starting element of humane rationality and ethics, but those elements have metamorphosed into now powerful forces of division, puritanical authoritarianism, and a clear challenge to individual freedom.
Someone who has done hugely important work trying to understand how this came to be is Helen Pluckrose, editor of Areo Magazine and the author of “How French Intellectuals Ruined the West: Postmodernism Explained”. Helen describes herself as “left-leaning and liberal”. She does not approach this topic with an agenda to discredit the older, more fundamental, philosophies or values of the liberal-left. In fact, she clearly views with considerable sadness what the Left has become. As do I. Along with James Lindsay and Peter Boghossian, Helen produced the “academic hoax” which threw an international spotlight on the deeply shaky foundations of much of contemporary academic theory in the subjects they refer to as “grievance studies”, the philosophical bedrock of the culture of offence. The project was featured, rightly, on the front page of the New York Times.
For those involved in domestic politics, it is the journey from academic theories, to political movements, to government policy that we can help explore. If governments are making policy based upon political movements which are in turn based upon false narratives, something’s gone terribly awry. This can be seen across many policy areas, from the destruction of Labour council’s regeneration schemes in deprived areas on the basis of allegations of ‘social and ethnic cleansing’, to the idea that knowledge is an elitist concept, a debate quietly raging in the world of education.
Helen’s current project, a book about the “postmodern epistemic shift, critical theory, and their impact on activism, politics and wider society” is a welcome addition. Anyone willing to honestly look at changes in what’s considered “truth” and explore how society has come to believe what we now believe, is to be celebrated. I am therefore nothing short of delighted that Helen will be taking part in the Unfinished Revolution Project’s film, Identity politics, “grievance studies” and the impact on public policy and political discourse. Alongside the excellent Matthew d’Ancona, Editor-in-Chief of Drugstore Culture and Guardian columnist, Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of Humanists UK and President of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, and Dolly Theis, Director of 50:50 Parliament’s #AskHerToStand campaign, currently completing her PhD at Cambridge University.
The Unfinished Revolution Project is an attempt to bring together people who are prepared to talk honestly and openly about some of our most contentious topics, and to do so from a mainstream political perspective. As Helen has said, “The culture wars are raging, and the extremists dominate the conversation. The Unfinished Revolution seeks to open up a space for those of us who want to discuss things from a moderate, from a reasonable, from a liberal perspective. I want to be part of that.” Things have changed, and they can, and will change again. It is essential that the broad political mainstream has a voice in these debates. That s what the Unfinished Revolution Project is aiming to do.
For more information about the Unfinished Revolution Project, and to support the fundraising campaign, please visit our page: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/the-unfinished-revolution-project