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23rd February 2016

Identity politics is making a mockery out of the left wing

The fear of offending is consuming the left wing at universities in defeatist identity politics

Politics divides students here at the University of Manchester, but it goes beyond mere political party affiliations and has descended into the student body being divided on the basis of their personal characteristics. Quoting from the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, people’s opinions are given greater legitimacy due to the “shared experiences of injustice of members of certain social groups”. This kind of politics—identity politics—seems to be endorsed by the Manchester Students’ Union and their cult of followers. These students are the vocal authoritarians wishing to forcefully impose their beliefs by censoring all other criticisms and dissent.

Much discourse is based on the idea that there is structural oppression within the United Kingdom, and their idea of mitigating the situation is to take control of the institutional bias that apparently exists here at the University of Manchester. I am still waiting for the evidence that suggests that it is the case. Their logic is as such that minority groups will face disadvantage in the outside world. Even so, artificially molly-coddling students in an educational institution will not serve them well post-graduation. Instead of discussing the ideas to redress socio-economic inequality, they instead try to make the university experience as “safe” as possible via the implementation of the safe space policy amongst other initiatives.

For example, the Students’ Union runs a number of campaigns on “liberation” of which it is specifically defined as the “freedom from oppression that a lot of different groups of people are still fighting for”. The insinuation that we should group people based on their sexual orientation, race, gender and disability as opposed to the viewing a person holistically and treating them as an individual demonstrates how they reaffirm divisions in society. This is Britain, one of the best places in the world for human rights, yet the right to the freedom of speech is slowly being curtailed in our universities for fear that someone may say something that could “harm” a member of a specific group. How dare they imply that those from disadvantaged backgrounds are incapable of responding to intellectual ideas that challenges their perceptions.

First of all, I am unconvinced that people are disadvantaged by their personal characteristics systemically. But it is flawed reasoning to suggest that because there are instances of discrimination, that the whole system is oppressive to those groups of people. You cannot homogenise individuals because they happen to share a personal characteristic; it reduces each one of us to the sum of our oppression points, where only those who are oppressed should be taken with sincerity and those from privileged positions are meant to be dismissed.

Secondly, in their eyes it is unfathomable to think that a privileged person should have a right to comment on issues that apparently, they are unable to discuss without possessing the supposed perquisite qualities needed to discuss them. This is false, everyone is entitled to their opinion and the validity of which is dependent on their reasoning and the arguments that they put forward. It is not dependent on the background of the speaker.

There has been current discussion on institutional racism at British universities. However, a report entitled Ethnicity and Degree Attainment by the Department of Education and Skills explicitly stated that their “findings do not automatically imply that there is some form of ethnic bias within the Higher Education system”, with a specific reference on how they excluded certain variables that may impact on degree performance such as “term-time working, parental income and education, English as an additional language, and prior institution attended”.

The experiences of the alleged racism of a few ethnic minority students does not make them intrinsically right, especially in the face of evidence presented by other students—regardless of the background of those students. It has not been proven that race is the dominant variable. It is not right wing nor offensive to point out that people’s flawed perceptions of the world are incorrect in this way, nor does this imply that they are discrediting their experiences. They are not denying those experiences; they are denying the faulty conclusions that you have derived from them.

Rest assured, that there are many left wing students that do not subscribe to the pernicious ideology of the social justice warriors that seeks to put up barriers against people. Increasingly, I am hearing stories of students becoming dissatisfied with the politics of the Student Union’s officers and the representatives of the supposed left-leaning student political societies. Their politics are being misrepresented by these individuals as they use the label that they are on the “left” to artificially elevate themselves on a moral high ground in order to distinguish themselves from the right wing. Heaven forbid if you are vaguely centre-right as you will be plagued with the many attacks on your personal character.

In all honesty, this kind of rhetoric does not harm the right wing as much as it does as the left wing. As of now, a false dichotomy of politics is created between identity and non-identity politics with the left and the right being affiliated to them respectively. Believing in identity politics is not synonymous with the left wing, it is a gross distortion of their values, and even I will admit that many of those on the right use the term “left wing” as a slur against those who subscribe to that ideology.

Practically speaking, the implementation of identity politics comes about via the concept of a safe space where an echo chamber of certain ideas can only be uttered, otherwise it is deemed as “hate speech”. Freedom from hate is seen to be more important than the freedom of speech, as Ally Routledge the co-chair of Manchester Labour Students can proclaim. However, the freedom of speech includes the right to offend. I will publicly say that it is not offensive to discuss other cultures to your own, other institutions that you have not experienced, or issues that are specific to certain groups and so forth. People should have the right to assert their own opinions no matter what.

Left wing values incorporate the notion that society should mitigate the barriers that prevent social mobility through institutions that also include our very universities. For everyone to have an honest discussion on how it is best to reduce inequality, or rather how it is best to empower individuals to make the most of their potential, then everyone’s opinions should be welcomed—provided that they are able to argue for it and not assert it as truth because of who they are. This means that we cannot resort to identity politics that serves to not just shut people out with views from the other side of the political spectrum but also those who are outraged at the mischaracterisation of left wing politics.

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