Sunday, March 4, 2012

Karl du Fresne: Asserting the right to feel offended

What a furious reaction my fellow Dominion Post columnist Rosemary McLeod provoked with her recent column about transgender people. (Boy, I hope I’ve got the nomenclature right here. Terminology is such a minefield these days – get something even slightly wrong and you’re likely to wake up to the chanting of a noisy picket line at your gate.)

In McLeod’s case, 50 people calling themselves “Queer Avengers” protested outside the Dominion Post offices claiming the paper was guilty of something called transphobia. The Stuff website was bombarded with angry comments, including demands for the columnist’s dismissal and accusations of “hate speech” – a coded term for anything that upsets the over-sensitive.

This illustrates one of the more intriguing phenomena of our age. Never in human history have so many people willingly identified as members of disadvantaged or oppressed minorities.

History is replete with terrible oppression, mostly racial or religious. But Jews, black people, Christians and other victims of historic oppression – and I mean oppression on a grand scale, the sort that results in genocide and slavery – didn’t choose that fate. Neither did they seek to draw attention to themselves. On the contrary, they tried to go about their daily lives without being noticed. To become too visible was to invite the heavy hand of persecution.

Only in my lifetime have people voluntarily assumed, and even aggressively asserted, “outsider” status. This they display with defiant pride, daring others to offend them or question their assertion of special rights. This is a luxury afforded by a broadly tolerant, liberal society.

As progress has gradually been made in the truly epochal battles against oppression and discrimination (for example, against blacks, Jews and women), so the action has shifted to ever-smaller and more obscure minority groups, each demanding recognition of its special needs or even its very existence. Some of the most vocal of these groups represent tiny minorities that we hadn’t even heard of until relatively recently. Perhaps they’re making up for lost time.

This is sometimes referred to as the cult of victimism, in which people define themselves according to the degree by which they feel an indifferent society mistreats or excludes them. It overlaps with the phenomenon known as identity politics, whereby people see themselves not as belonging to a broad and diverse community with generally shared values and objectives, but as members of a disadvantaged minority that must mobilise around a set of political goals aimed at improving their own status. This almost invariably involves antagonism toward society’s mainstream, which is seen as the enemy.

In the case of the Queer Avengers demanding retribution against the oppressive Rosemary McLeod, I wonder whether they’ve paused to consider that her right to upset them, and their right to protest outside the Dominion Post in response, are two sides of the same coin. Both are conferred by a society that tolerates diversity and dissent. Imperil one right and you imperil both.

3 comments:

Serge Barou, Wellington said...

To begin with, "the trans-gender" is not a precise term at all. As one wise woman's put it, 'they're just amputees".

Secondly, black people from Africa were not enslaved because they were black - every one on their continent was. Not a blink of racism here. Slavery was a fundamental institution of all human societies, the very stuff of Europe for thousands upon thousands of years, until Europe engaged upon that considerable moral experiment called The Faith.

Black people from Africa were enslaved by their own chieftains and part of those slaves were resold to outside world (mainly through North African middlemen) and shipped far away.

They were victims alright, but not of racism or imaginary 'slave-hunting' expeditions by evil Europeans - they were victims of their own society make and construction.

Anonymous said...

A man who wants to be female or a woman who wants to be male suffers from Gender Identity Disorder, which until we became PC, was regarded as a treatable mental illness.

Then the US shrinks changed the American Psychologists' Association Diagnostics & Statistics Manual to remove GID as a mental illness. Now it was only a problem if the sufferer felt 'anxious' about it.

As for those who have gender reassignment surgery, a man who has his penis surgically removed will no more become a woman, than having it reattached to his forehead will make him an elephant.

The delusional have no right at all to insist that others embrace their delusions, too.

cj said...

I am a single white male, in my late 40s.
With all these other groups around, I think that puts me a in a threatened minority group?!