Who are we? Identity politics dissectedSunday 23 October, 10.00 - 11.30 , Cinema 1 Keynote Controversies
Over recent decades, identity politics has become ubiquitous. The content of what one says, the convictions one articulates, the universal principles one espouses are turned to dust by those dread phrases ‘As a black woman’, ‘As a gay man’ or ‘As a Muslim’. Western university campuses are just the most visible sites where left/right ideological political battles or material interests have been usurped by internecine warfare between competitive personalised identities, jostling for recognition, checking each other’s privilege. People increasingly categorise themselves by race, gender, sexuality, religion, and culture. In his book, Humanism Betrayed, Professor Graham Good calls it ‘The New Sectarianism’.
Of course, there is nothing new in seeing identity as important. But historically, progressive political movements have fought for people not to be defined by their race, religion, gender or sexuality. Modernity has been the story of forging one’s identity in defiance of birth or biology, through what you achieved by engaging with the world beyond yourself. Increasingly, though, radicals seem to be rediscovering the lure of essentialism. Privileged millennial activists claim historical injustices such as slavery continue to cause them pain and suffering because of their colour. Western-born wannabe jihadis claim they are motivated by assaults on the global ummah. After the massacre at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, some LGBT activists fought for exclusive ‘ownership’ of any solidarity. Self-conscious identitarians retreat into segregated safe spaces at universities, with increasing demands for LGBT-only accommodation in the UK and ‘racially-themed dorms’ in the US. There are spasmodic backlashes: American columnist Michael Tomasky decried the ‘million-little-pieces, interest-group approach to politics’. The splintering of identities can be easy to lampoon - which of the 71 Facebook gender identities will you choose from? But identity politics seems remarkably resilient. Ironically, while support for Donald Trump is understood partly as a backlash against political correctness, Trumpian ‘new nationalism’ has recently been described as ‘a brand name for generic white identity politics’. Meanwhile in France, clampdowns on the assertion of religious identity (fought over the summer through the state’s ban on the burkini) take the form of an assertion of French secular identity.
What is it about our society that is so hospitable to new identities yet seems unable to affirm any more universal political ideals such as democracy and equality? Can the historical, more humanistic identities that once gave meaning to people’s lives – from institutions such as the family, class and nation to political movements for change – be reconstituted? Or were these too broad to represent everyone? Philosophically, how should we seek to construct a sense of ourselves today?
founding editor, the Philosophers' Magazine; author, Freedom Regained: the possibility of free will and The Edge of Reason: A Rational Skeptic in an Irrational World
chief music critic, Daily Telegraph; professor, Royal College of Music; broadcaster; author, Music: healing the rift
director, British Future; former general secretary, Fabian Society
Joseph Strauss professor of political philosophy and legal theory, Columbia University; author, Fieldwork in Familiar Places: Morality, culture and philosophy
editor, spiked; columnist, Big Issue; contributor, Spectator; author, A Duty to Offend: Selected Essays
Class Dismissed: Identity Politics to the Front of the Line, Alan Nasser, CounterPunch, August 2016
Britain’s identity politics, Salil Tripathi, Mint, July 2016
Identity politics is the enemy of equality, Matthew Lesh, Spiked, May 2016
Is Rowan Williams right to warn about excessive identity politics?, Reni Eddo-Lodge, Sunny Hundal and Peter Tatchell, Guardian, March 2012
Identity politics has created an army of vicious, narcissistic cowards, Brendan O'Neill, Spectator, February 2015
is the enemy of equality, Standford Ecyclopedia of Philosophy, March 2016
Race, Class, and the Social Construction of Self-respect, Michele M. Moody-Adams, The Philosophical Forum, December 1969
Culture, Responsibility, and Affected Ignorance, Michele M. Moody-Adams, Ethics, January 1994
A Commentary on Color Conscious: The Political Morality of Race, Michele M. Moody-Adams, Review Essays
Fighting Fire with Fire, Michele M. Moody-Adams, The Women's Review of Books, October 1997
What's so special about academic freedom?, Michele M. Moody-Adams, Who's Afraid of Academic Freedom? - Bilgrami and Cole (editors). Columbia UP: New York