Sunday, December 4, 2016

Matt Ridley: Why is the left reviving apartheid?


The student union at King’s College London will field a team in University Challenge that contains at least 50 per cent “self-defining women, trans or non-binary students”. 

The only bad thing Ken Livingstone could bring himself to say about the brutal dictator Fidel Castro was that “initially he wasn’t very good on lesbian and gay rights”. The first page of Hillary Clinton’s campaign website (still up) has links to “African Americans for Hillary, Latinos for Hillary, Asian Americans and Pacific islanders for Hillary, Women for Hillary, Millennials for Hillary”, but none to “men for Hillary”, let alone “white people for Hillary”.

Since when did the left insist on judging people by — to paraphrase Martin Luther King — the colour of their skin rather than the content of their character? The left once admirably championed the right of black people, women and gays to be treated the same as white, straight men. With only slightly less justification, it then moved on to pushing affirmative action to redress past prejudice. Now it has gone further, insisting everybody is defined by his or her identity and certain victim identities must be favoured.

Given the history of such stereotyping, it is baffling that politicians on the left cannot see where this leads. The prime exponents of identity politics in the past were the advocates of apartheid, of antisemitism, and of treating women as the legal chattels of men. “We are sleepwalking our way to segregation,” Trevor Phillips says.

Identity politics is thus very old-fashioned. Christina Hoff Sommers, author of Who Stole Feminism, says equality feminism — fair treatment, respect and dignity — is being eclipsed in universities by a Victorian “fainting couch feminism”, which views women as “fragile flowers who require safe spaces, trigger warnings and special protection from micro-invalidations”. Sure enough, when she said this at Oberlin College, Ohio, 35 students and a “therapy dog” sought refuge in a safe room.

It is just bad biology to focus on race, sex or sexual orientation as if they mattered most about people. We’ve known for decades — and Marxist biologists such as Dick Lewontin used to insist on this point — that the genetic differences between two human beings of the same race are maybe ten times as great as the average genetic difference between two races. Race really is skin deep. Sex goes deeper, for sure, because of developmental pathways, but still the individual differences between men and men, or women and women, or gays and gays, are far more salient than any similarities.

The Republican sweep in the American election cannot be blamed solely on the culture wars, but they surely played a part. Take the “bathroom wars” that broke out during the early stages of the campaign. North Carolina’s legislature heavy-handedly required citizens to use toilets that corresponded to their birth gender. The Obama administration heavy-handedly reacted by insisting that every school district in the country should do no such thing or lose its federal funding. This was a gift to conservatives: “Should a grown man pretending to be a woman be allowed to use . . . the same restroom used by your daughter? Your wife?,” asked Senator Ted Cruz.

There is little doubt that to some extent white men played the identity card at the ballot box in reaction to the identity politics of the left. In a much-discussed essay for The New York Times after the election, Mark Lilla of Columbia University mused that Hillary Clinton’s tendency to “slip into the rhetoric of diversity, calling out explicitly to African-American, Latino, LGBT and women voters at every stop” was a mistake: “If you are going to mention groups in America, you had better mention all of them.”

He argues that “the fixation on diversity in our schools and the press has produced a generation of liberals and progressives narcissistically unaware of conditions outside their self-defined groups, and indifferent to the task of reaching out to Americans in every walk of life . . . By the time they reach college many assume that diversity discourse exhausts political discourse, and have shockingly little to say about such perennial questions as class, war, the economy and the common good.” As many students woke up to discover on November 9, identity politics is “expressive, not persuasive”.

Last week, in an unbearably symbolic move, Hampshire College in Massachusetts removed the American flag — a symbol of unity if ever there was one — from campus in order to make students feel safer. The university president said the removal would “enable us to instead focus our efforts on racist, misogynistic, Islamophobic, anti-immigrant, antisemitic and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and behaviours”. There are such attitudes in America, for sure, but I am willing to bet they are not at their worst at Hampshire College, Massachusetts.

The one group that is increasingly excluded from campuses, with never a peep of complaint from activists, is conservatives. Data from the Higher Education Research Institute show the ratio of left-wing professors to right-wing professors went from 2:1 in 1995 to 6:1 today. The “1” is usually in something such as engineering and keeps his or her head down. Fashionable joke: what’s the opposite of diversity? University.

This is not a smug, anti-American argument. British universities are hurtling down the same divisive path. Feminists including Germaine Greer, Julie Bindel and Kate Smurthwaite have been “no-platformed” at British universities, along with speakers for Ukip and Israel, but not Islamic State. Universities are becoming like Victorian aunts, brooking no criticism of religion, treating women as delicate flowers and turning up their noses at Jews.

The government is conducting an “independent” review into Britain’s sharia courts, which effectively allow women to be treated differently if they are Muslim. The review is chaired by a Muslim and advised by two imams. And far too many government forms still insist on knowing whether the applicant is (I have taken the list from the Office for National Statistics guidance): “Gypsy or Irish Traveller, White and Black Caribbean, White and Black African, White and Asian, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Chinese, African, Caribbean, Arab, or any other ethnic group”. So bleeding what?


The left has vacated the moral high ground on which it won so many fine battles to treat human beings equally. The right must occupy that ground and stand for universal human values and equal treatment for all.

Matt Ridley, a member of the British House of Lords, is an acclaimed author who blogs at www.rationaloptimist.com

3 comments:

Liz Peters said...

It is not only the left that is embracing apartheid - look at what has been happening in NZ with a Conservative government. We have not only an All Blacks team (containing many Maori players) but a Maori All Blacks team chosen on a racist basis - I thought we were above apartheid when we refused to go to South Africa but now we have become South Africa! And we now have Maori council members appointed without election (and foisted on communities that voted against the move) when there are plenty of legitimate Maori council members. We have a separate Maori roll (but not a separate European, Pacific Islander, Asian or any other roll). And after listening to a sports club awards night result there was not only awards for the best player, best team, highest scorer, etc etc (any of which could have been Maori) but also the best Maori player. So the next awards were for the best European player? Pacific Island player? Asian player? African player? Of course not! With our Conservative government we are being forced slowly but surely down the racist path to complete separatism. and all in the name of staying in power and capturing the Maori vote.

Jigsaw said...

The myth is and often repeated that we are only a bicultural society and not a multicultural society and all sorts of arguments are put forward to justify this which even historically are incorrect. I hope that I do detect an increasing suspicion creeping in amongst most people that they are being conned and that the very concept of identity politics is just ludicrous. Quite how the left are able to equate what they support with regard to separatism with the socialist ideal is quite beyond me and I see few that even address this issue.

A.G.R. said...

LIZ PETERS must live in an alternative N.Z. to the one in-which I reside..
The John Key led National government endorsed all of The Helen Clark led Labour governments legacy & endorsed the Obama-Clinton led U.S.A. Democrats. What part of SOCIALIST don't you understand?