By Peter Marshall
ONLY A SITH DEALS IN ABSOLUTES
-Obi Wan Kenobi, Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
There comes a point when using the wholly academic Wikipedia to make a point becomes as bad as the Reductio ad Hitlerum fallacy (saying “Yeah, but Hitler thought/did that”). Mr. Ivlev wrote a Despatch Box article on the 9th of March criticising identity politics (or the politics of the “Social Justice Warrior”) and how it is neither left or right, but a liberal agenda. The intention of this article is to go through the article and criticise the wholly inaccurate portrayal of the many concepts Mr. Ivlev explores.
“When you’ve read as much Foucault as I have, trying to make the distinction between a real and counterfeit wedding is frankly the behaviour of a twat” – Oregon Shawcross, Fresh Meat, Series 3 Episode 2
Post-modernism is a complex school of thought that developed in the mid/late 20th century and covers areas of art, literature, philosophy, politics, international relations theory, and more. Regretfully, Mr. Ivlev decides (without much proof other than to state it as though it were true) that post-modernism is the parent of the current liberal agenda and identity politics. Whilst the original article “helpfully” (regretfully sarcasm does not translate well to written word) summarises post-modernism as saying everything is subjective, it tends to ignore the exploration in post-modernist thought of how social/international order is socially constructed, the exploration of disciplinary society, the social construction of sex, gender, race, and others, etc. Mr. Ivlev seems to be unaware of the damage making a theory a strawman does.
The “liberal” (sarcasm again) Donald Trump is labelled as a child of post-modernism. Trump’s post-truth and alt-facts are very far from the philosophy of post-modernism. Once again making post-modernism a strawman, Mr. Ivlev suggests that reason is departed from and that they warp their own opinions when convenient. Post-modernism’s critique of reason (at least to my understanding) is not that reason is bad and that we should appeal to unreason as Mr. Ivlev suggests, but that reason is subjective. We can see this in contemporary politics. Jeremy Corbyn thinks that it is reasonable to renationalise the railways, but Theresa May does not think this. Corbyn would say that making people pay so much for fares for an unreliable service is not reasonable, and the state would solve this and make the rail system more reasonable. May would suggest that making the state more powerful is creating a more inefficient bureaucracy, and thus it is reasonable to leave the railways in private hands. Tim Farron would just say we should have a second railway because the terms of the first railway weren’t clear enough. Many factors will lead to your choice of what is the reasonable claim, but undoubtedly this reasonableness is subjective.
Trump’s link to post-modernism seems to be that Trump knowingly tells lies (a good chunk of the time) and says that they are true, so his supporters believe him. As I have hopefully outlined, you will agree this is not post-modernism. However, I for one am grateful for Mr. Ivlev’s ability to place himself as the rational agent in a manner that would make Rawls’ tremble with excitement. He exists above us all and can smite those who see the world subjectively. To preserve him as a purely rational being we’ll just ignore his accusation of “intellectual laziness” whilst using dementia as a synonym for forgetfulness.
No-one has ever talked about class ever
If you understand what “left-wing” means then chances are you don’t. It is such a broad meaningless term that incorporates so many ideological, theoretical, sociological (you get the idea) beliefs. The ideological spectrum being no longer seen as simply left and right is evidence of this. Mr. Ivlev points this out with his comments about marijuana and LGBT+ rights. Regrettably, he seems to think “left wing” means economic Marxism. Social issues are the realm of centrists, obviously. That is why famous centrists like Friedrich Engels criticised the male dominance of the family. It is as though Mr. Ivlev thinks it is impossible to think about multiple things at the same time. I personally can only think about social issues at one time and economic ones at another.
His critique of social justice warriors, a buzzword popularised by anti-feminists online, and their relation to class falls flat on two accounts. Firstly, on a semantic point, he complains of there almost never being a conversation on class to then go on to say how it’s always about race, gender, sexuality, and others. Second, it is hardly as though most of those who identify with the left ignore class, but classical Marxists, anarchists, and socialists have written about it to death. The fact that class is not the every third word of post-modernist texts is not indicative of a move away from class analysis, but away from class only analysis – a change to intersectionality. The “evidence” used to show how all “SJWs” have a universal hatred of white poor people is a screenshot of a tweet. Twitter is hardly known for its meaningful contributions to healthy leftist discourse.
The “real” leftist opinion is that Marx, who died in 1883 and lived in a completely different socio-economic climate, has the universal claim to all left wing knowledge. Good thing there weren’t any real left wing people before Marx and until Mr. Ivlev. Marx’s Human Emancipation is, whilst not something I disagree with in its principle, not going to solve sexism, racism, etc. A racist is not going to start changing their mind because they have the same amount of money as a person of colour. They will still be a racist – social and societal norms need to be changed (which are what post-modernists and their philosophical/political decedents espouse, not liberals). But it is forbidden to criticise Marx, so my argument is clearly invalid.
I’m white and I am oppressed
What is scary about Mr. Ivlev’s comments on white privilege in the West is that he leaves it open for discussion, when of course it exists. That is not to say that every white person is racist and thinks they are better than every person of colour, which is the strawman of any movement for the liberation of people of colour. It is also not to say that poor white people are lazy. Suggesting as such is playing into the post-truth rhetoric Mr. Ivlev criticises. It is to say that people of colour are systematically treated worse than white people, and white people tend to benefit from it. I fear that I cannot adequately explain racism in modern society as I am fortunate to have never had to face it. I have had experiences relayed to me by friends of racism being alive and well, especially on this campus.
Mr. Ivlev is right in saying that this comes from history in that previous systems were racist. However, a pitfall Mr. Ivlev seems to fall into is that he believes racism is purely overt (namely “I am going to stop you because of your race”) and if it is not overt then it is not racism. Racism is, as far as my understanding of the theorising of it, includes the overt racism as well as the systemic oppression where people of colour are treated as lesser than white people. Mr. Ivlev suggests that the same reason for poverty in people of colour is the same for white people, that they are stuck in a poverty loop. However, ethnic minorities are twice as likely to live in poverty in the UK (2008-9 – http://www.poverty.org.uk/06/index.shtml) than white people. The poverty loop still is a racist system as it discriminates based on ethnicity. Systematic disadvantage is still a problem, if you are born into a family that is an ethnic minority you will, on average, do worse in life. His suggestion that racism is a natural function of humanity is awful, and wholly untrue. The idea that someone can summarise and explore the historical and social existence racism in a ~1000 word article, let alone a snappy sentence, is ludicrous.
I am totally rational
Where does identity politics lie? It exists all over the political spectrum. We are not pure rational agents that can distance ourselves from our identities. Identities exist in the form of nationality, ideology, sexuality, gender, sex, religion, etc. It is what you are identified with and how you identify. The discourse around identity is that it is an “evil SJW” concept that stops discussion. However, a nationalistic Trump supporter and anti-feminist is a so called “identitarian”, as is an internationalist, feminist Hillary supporter (although thankfully these are not the two limits of the political spectrum). They have identifiers that they use as a lens to see the world through and how the world sees them. Mr. Ivlev (from what I can gather from his article) is an “identitarian” too. He is not a purely rational being that can decide the world from on high, but an economic Marxist (and probably more) who sees the world through this lens and is seen through this lens. Thankfully, with the rise of the far right and a kind of reactionary socialist and anarchist, those who align with the left are beginning to recognise the ideological inefficiencies of purely looking at economics and ignoring the struggles of women, the LGBT+ community, people of colour, and others.
(Article I am responding to: https://the-despatch-box.com/2017/03/09/identity-politics-and-the-political-spectrum/ )
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