Saturday, May 6, 2017

Exclusionary Identity Politics Poses a Danger to us all. And yes, Feminism is At Risk too.

Feminism has often been upheld as a successful identity politics movement, in the ongoing debate about the constructiveness or otherwise of identity politics. After all, feminism is a successful identity politics movement that has changed the world for the better, and not just for women. Although women have been the main beneficiaries of this women, men have also been lifted out of their rigid gender roles and expectations. Liberal feminism has also given society many great voices, great minds, and great ideas, through the increasing participation of women in the public sphere. Mainstream, liberal feminism is also generally agreed to be not too divisive, and has not threatened the cohesiveness of society while successfully delivering much needed social change.

Feminism and other identity politics movements have traditionally been associated with liberal or left-wing politics. However, recently some have observed that a new, right wing type of identity politics has emerged, around the identities of conservative white, heterosexual men. This kind of identity politics has been fuelling nationalist movements around the Western world. Nationalist movements, by definition, are at least partially about exclusion. Nationalist movements throughout history have often had a racist undertone to them, and sexism and homophobia were often fellow travellers too. As a result, many feel that this kind of identity politics is working to make our societies more authoritarian, and less liberal. This has made many on the left re-evaluate the usefulness of identity politics.

In any re-evaluation of identity politics in the era of the rising alt-right, the most important (and most feared) question would naturally be, are all identity politics movements capable of turning over to the 'dark side', i.e. becoming illiberal and exclusionary like the alt-right? And I am afraid that the answer is yes. There is no logical reason why the exclusionary attitudes of the identity politics of white, heterosexual men cannot also apply to the identity politics of any other group, given the right circumstances. And yes, feminism is potentially vulnerable too.

If we want to prevent feminism and our other beloved identity politics movements slide towards the dark side, we need to first understand the difference between liberal and illiberal identity politics. So what's so different between xenophobic nationalism and liberal feminism?

The most important difference is perhaps in the core intention of these movements. While liberal feminism seeks equality of opportunity, xenophobic nationalism seeks to enshrine the superiority of some. While liberal feminism seeks freedom for all regardless of identity, xenophobic nationalism seeks to tighten societal norms and restrictions based around identity. While liberal feminism seeks to break the boundaries dictated by identity, xenophobic nationalism seeks to build unbreakable walls to keep identity groups rigidly separate. From these examples, we can see that there are actually two very different types of identity politics. One type of identity politics seeks to use shared identity and shared lived experience to inform how society can be more liberal and less discriminatory. The other type seeks to use shared identity and shared lived experience to build walls and keep outsiders firmly out. It is just natural that the former would make society more liberal, and the latter would make society less liberal.

While xenophobic nationalist identity politics is almost always right-wing, it would be a dangerous mistake to assume the identity politics movements of the left are always the liberal type. Leftist identity politics has at times been almost as exclusionary as right-wing nationalism. Trans-exclusionary radical feminism (TERF) is a good example. Identity politics around minority and historically disadvantaged minorities are not immune to being illiberal, especially towards even more disadvantaged minorities, or minorities within minorities. The very existance of trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs) is conclusive proof that feminism is very much vulnerable to the force of the dark side.

So how can we help keep feminism liberal, and prevent its slide into the dark side? We need to be true to the ideals of liberalism itself, liberty and equality. We need to strive for the liberty and equality of all. We need to use our shared experience to inform society on how it can become more liberal and equal, rather than to build walls and cliques. We need to be open-minded and welcoming to those with different backgrounds and lived experiences, and therefore potentially very different views on various matters than what we are used to. We need to be non-judgemental and inclusive, and develop strategies for the inclusion of people who may otherwise have conflicting views. We need to welcome the rational debate of any issue, and be prepared to participate in those debates with well developed arguments, rather than just shutting our opponents down. In short, we need to live up to the grand ideals of the liberal cannon. Anything else would be inadequate.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Donald Trump's Victory is a Failure of Liberalism: Longer Article

I have written a longer version of my February article, Donald Trump's Victory is a Failure of Liberalism.

It is available in these places:

On NewsLogue
On Medium

Saturday, April 8, 2017

It would be Very Dangerous to Trivialize Religious Freedom

Religious freedom has recently become the favourite cause of those opposed to LGBT rights, in the US and other Western countries. Many commentators have highlighted this tactic's potentially devastating effect on LGBT lives, and unsurprisingly, these 'religious freedom' efforts are generally opposed by those supportive of LGBT lives (including myself). However, I am also equally concerned that this whole exercise may lead to the trivialization of religious freedom, with dangerous consequences for all.

Religious freedom by definition requires allowing religious freedom to follow the religious doctrine of their belief, to share that belief where they see fit, and to live their lives according to that belief. Anything less would not be true religious freedom. Therefore, I believe few would argue against the idea that religious freedom would mean a freedom to continue to subscribe to and promote the ideal of 'traditional marriage', even where marriage equality is legal. Even somebody as staunchly pro marriage equality as myself can support this point.

However, many recent 'religious freedom' initiatives are about entirely different things. For example, what does making life hard for trans people via bathroom bills have to do with religious freedom at all? What kind of religious freedom does deliberately putting statist barriers in front of gay couples wishing to adopt promote? (I'm not talking about exempting churches from gay adoption here.) And how exactly do anti-discrimination laws requiring equality in employment hurt religious freedoms? I'm not aware that religious doctrine demands gay employees be fired from secular jobs, after all. These initiatives, all of which are clearly not required for religious freedom but definitely make life hard for LGBT people, have served to trivialize or even demonize religious freedom in the eyes of many people.

And what happens when religious freedom is no longer held in high regard? We are already seeing it in some parts of the world, where certain religious dress or even the construction of certain religious building have been banned. Or where health care workers are forced to take part in abortions they do not believe in. And this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Donald Trump Victory Lesson: Solidarity

This is a series of articles about learning lessons from Donald Trump's victory, and how to re-invigorate liberalism in the current situation.

While I am a liberal and this is a liberal blog, in this entry we will examine the leftist idea of solidarity, because I believe it holds one of the keys to Donald Trump's victory.

The left has traditionally valued, as one of its highest goals, solidarity. The term originated in workers' socialist circles, where it referred to the solidarity of workers over their economic conditions. These were one group of people with a simple, common goal. Of course there could be some solidarity, agree with them or not.

Yet the new left we have today is a different animal. It staunchly supports many non-economic goals, sometimes even taking precedence over their economic goals. Their agenda includes environmentalism, refugee rights, marriage equality, perhaps abolishing marriage altogether, some form of feminism (but it surely isn't liberal feminism), support for Palestine, affirmative action, abortion rights, animal rights, and more. I personally support some of these and oppose some of these, and I guess it's the same for most people. How can there be solidarity on all these issues, anyway? Environmentalists will find solidarity amongst environmentalists, but supporters of marriage equality do not always find solidarity with environmentalists, and vice versa, for example.

Rather than creating solidarity, the new left's demand that people support all their agenda, no ifs ands or buts, has destroyed solidarity and caused division in society. And while solidarity originated in socialist circles, you don't have to be left wing to realise that society does need a bit of solidarity around the idea that we are all in this together, to solve our common problems and crises. However, with the new left insisting on their program and for it to be implemented by government force, politicians and political parties have been divided along lines of social issues, making this solidarity impossible. So, in 2016, some people trusted Clinton, some trusted Trump, and some trusted Sanders, despite having similar concerns. And in the end, those who trusted Trump simply had the numbers, even though Trump was probably the most divisive of all. This is a climate that rewards those who can exploit the division.

So what will restore the solidarity society once had? Liberty for all is the answer. Just like in my Princess's Spirit novels, people can agree to disagree, but still come together to defend liberty and solve common problems. In the modern day and age, there may not be able to be a unity around a common culture or common views, and any attempt to do so, like the new-left is trying, will only create even more division. However, there can certainly be a unity in liberty. And it's our only hope.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Donald Trump Victory Lesson: The Emerging Liberal Majority: Will It Happen After All?

This is a series of articles about learning lessons from Donald Trump's victory, and how to re-invigorate liberalism in the current situation.

In the later Obama years, many American progressives were optimistic that a permanent Democratic majority, made up of young people and minorities, was emerging. They believed they owned the future, because the demographics favor them. In fact, they expected the Republicans to start having difficulty winning elections starting from 2016.

Ever since Donald Trump's win, this theory has been questioned. Perhaps that is due to most people being short-sighted to the point of thinking that the present is always predictive of the future. For example, while in Obama's America dreams of a permanent progressive majority were being made, during the same period in Australia under the conservative Tony Abbott, no progressive commentator thought something like that may happen in Australia too. Perhaps now America is in the position Australia was in three years ago, at least psychologically.

A balanced prediction of the future should not be influenced by psychological factors like who is in government right now. Rather, it should be based on real, long-term evidence. And right now, the evidence seems to be mixed. A recent analysis showed that, while the proportion of young, presumably liberal-minded voters and minority voters is ever increasing, there have also been trends towards a slightly increasing share of these voters going Republican in each mid-term election since 2006. Overall, it appears that while the Democrats may have a future demographic advantage, it doesn't look as assured as some people may think.

Knowing the statistics outlining trends is one thing, but we also have to know the reasons behind these trends. Right now, I would say we need further research to determine those reasons precisely. But from my own experience, I believe one important factor is that American liberals have become less liberal in recent years. Under the influence of the social justice warrior mindset, American progressives have increasingly embraced restrictions on free speech and freedom of conscience, and many young people and minority voters have simply had enough. In last year's election, some young adults said they would vote for Trump just to combat political correctness, with many of these voters previously voting Democratic or Libertarian.

It is perhaps still too early to say whether the emerging liberal majority will happen or not. But I believe this is actually in the hands of liberals. The age of statist conservatism is over, in any case. People no longer want government social engineering, and will support whichever side that offers the least. If liberals go back to their roots and embrace liberty and equality, the support will come. If, however, so-called liberal progressives show that they are just as authoritarian as Donald Trump but only in the opposite direction, then more and more people will become fed up.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Challenge on Trump Travel Bans shows State Rights are actually Liberal too

It has long been said that state rights are a bastion of conservatism, something that liberals and progressives don't believe in. While states' rights have favored conservative policies in some instances, I have never understood why this should be a general rule. After all, libertarianism, a branch of liberalism, also supports state rights.

The Trump administration's travel bans have served to highlight this. When the federal government overreaches, in any given direction, it's better for the states to be able to challenge them. State rights are ultimately a protector of liberty, when the federal government does not take liberty seriously. Centralization, on the other hand, has always been among the favorite tools of authoritarians.

Of course, state rights have been invoked against marriage equality and anti-segregation laws too. But that's the fault of authoritarianism, not the fault of states' rights itself. For example, in Australia, marriage laws can only be changed by the federal government, resulting in exactly zero states having marriage equality at the moment. In a truly liberal society, individual rights should trump collectivist designs, whether state or federal. But that's another issue altogether.