Wednesday 11 December 2019

Make 2017 the year we finally back ideas over identity politics

Protesters at a July 2016 rally in solidarity with the US Black Lives Matter movement, on O’Connell Street, Dublin. Photo: Arthur Carron
Protesters at a July 2016 rally in solidarity with the US Black Lives Matter movement, on O’Connell Street, Dublin. Photo: Arthur Carron
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

If we can take one thing from 2016, it is surely that it was the year of the quiet revolution.

It's hard to know whether this quiet revolution, which ripped through British and American politics like a lethal contagion, was despite the cosy establishment consensus or directly because of it. But a revolution it was - a total upheaval of the accepted rules.

And there will be more of that in the next 12 months.

Brexit and the Trump result (you may have read about them) were both examples of the quiet majority making their voice heard in the only arena it counts - the ballot box. But there was something even more interesting growing in the zeitgeist - a repudiation of the way society has become ever more priggishly restrictive and censorious.

Now, 2016 will go down as the year when people who are usually ignored or despised stood up and fought back against being told how to think, and against being told what they can say.

It was a rejection of the stiflingly beige utopia planned by many in the media/political/academic complex, which had spent years defining its own arbitrary rules on what was acceptable and what was not. So, as if we were ruled by an invisible yet ever evolving Newspeak Dictionary, anyone who wasn't up to date with the latest phrases ran the risk of being accused of a variety of "isms". These slurs were specifically designed to stifle the debate, demonise the accused and make the accuser feel virtuous. Ultimately, this trend was an unholy hat-trick which has already done serious damage to debate in the West.

The reason why Donald Trump and Brexit stunned both the pollsters and the pundits was because many ordinary voters decided it simply wasn't worth the hassle of giving their opinion when that opinion was going to see them shouted down by a hysterical left that uses insults and labels rather than arguments. Ultimately, most people simply don't have the energy to defend their beliefs all the time.

But as we were told an increasing number of words and phases were no longer permissible in polite society, we were also introduced to a whole lexicon of new phrases, which were bandied about like magic spells to cast out unclean ideas.

If we can look forward to one thing this year, it is surely an increased sense of scorn for the neologisms of the smugly intolerant liberal. One of the more ridiculous phrases which cropped up seemingly out of the blue was undoubtedly "white privilege", or if you were a woman casting the spell, "white male privilege".

This became the buzzword of choice for not very bright people who simply couldn't come up with a counter argument, but who wanted to sound deep. It became an increasingly popular cliché in Irish media circles, with college-educated female professionals dismissing men for their "white male privilege", seemingly oblivious to the fact that if you're a college-educated professional woman, you already have more privilege than most.

Also, in their haste to parrot the latest phrases from across the water - on either side of this island - few of the practitioners seemed to realise that if you're white, accusing someone else of whiteness just sounds irredeemably daft.

Ultimately, the phrase is a translation of "I'm not listening to you because you're a man", just dressed up in a bit of pseudo-academic jargon.

Similarly, "fake news" was bandied about with gay abandon, but seemed to just mean anything some people didn't like. After all, it's not as if rumours were invented by social media. The irony is that the very people who hissed when they used the phrase tended to be the ones who believed the most lies.

The sight of Irish people attending a Black Lives Matter (BLM) rally on O'Connell Street in July while chanting "hands up, don't shoot" was a perfect example - that rallying cry of the BLM movement after the Ferguson shooting had been quickly exposed as a lie, yet the protesters continued to repeat it as though it were gospel. Which proves that some fake news is more acceptable than others.

ONE of the more insidious effects of fake news was the hysteria over "rape culture", which was bandied about as though it was an incontrovertible fact. It also came with the added bonus that anyone who simply pointed out that rape culture was a myth based on long discredited figures from a long debunked American survey was accused of being a rape apologist.

Even 'Time' magazine called for an end to the rape culture hysteria, yet it was ignored because either the people who employed the phrase really quite liked saying it or else they hadn't done their research.

It was truly fitting the greatest example of "fake news" was a rape culture story - the now infamous 'Rolling Stone' exposé about a violent gang rape on an American campus which helped spread the popularity of consent classes in Irish campuses, even after it was exposed as a badly written work of fiction which, in a court case in November, would cost the magazine millions of dollars in legal fees and destroy what was left of its reputation.

Such phrases are all part of the self-inflicted Balkanisation of society, which encourages people to be more concerned with their identity than their ideas. This identity politics had been eating away at our collective common sense to such an extent that even saying that you don't really care about the colour of someone's skin was enough to make you a racist. Of course, that would also make Martin Luther King a racist, which is fine company to be in.

This weird and deeply unpleasant desire to constantly emphasise racial separatism over amicable harmony was best seen with the rise of "cultural appropriation", which meant that even going to a fancy dress party was a minefield of potential insults, real or concocted.

There was a time we could laugh at American colleges saying that white kids eating sushi was "appropriating Japanese culture", but that time has long gone. Some Irish students are now just as eager to hop on the victimhood bandwagon as their colonial cousins.

Of course, nobody "owns" a culture and everyone is entitled to take the bits they like from any and all cultures. The music you love? All your favourite food? It's all guilty of cultural appropriation. But forget about "post-truth" - these people are simply post-common sense. But 2016 was the fun part. But 2017 is where the hard work begins.

There's nothing we can do about Brexit or Mr Trump. After all, once we've voted in this country, there's not a lot we can even do about our own Government.

But we can certainly make this the year when people stop accepting divisive, nonsensical clichés as immutable fact and realise that the people using them are either doing so because it's a good career angle or because they're just too lazy and intellectually timid to come up with their own argument.

Is 2017 when we finally drop identity in favour of ideas? The year we told people that, actually, their feelings aren't the most important thing in the world?

The year we told people we weren't going to be barracked and lectured by a barrage of clichés, lies and myths?

Now that would make for a very happy and, more importantly, sensible 12 months indeed.

But that's just my white male privilege talking, I guess.

Irish Independent

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