Monday, April 7, 2014

Late night ramble: Egalitarian Politics.

Perhaps it's my contrarian nature but egalitarian politics generally elicits an automatic eye rolling reaction in me. My argument against such politics is that such a society has never existed and we therefore have grounds to believe such a society can never exist.

Human nature has not changed since the beginning of recorded history. We relate to ancient texts and philosophy because their problems and struggles are still our problems and struggles. We may disagree with large aspects of classical culture but we still understand their thought; this would be impossible if we are radically different from our ancestors.

A truly egalitarian society without gender roles, discrimination or privileged classes has never emerged on this planet. Some, Marxists in particular, romanticize pre-industrial society, pointing to men and women sharing the burdens of farming life. Others fall foul to the noble savage myth originating from the 18th century when European explorers began encountering tribes living in idyllic surroundings but who never advanced technologically because, the myth goes, nature provided all they required. Both these claims are false; life there was truly short, nasty, brutal and unegalitarian.

In response we are told to find optimism in the progress of civilization, the promotion of human rights, in democracy and in the destruction of socially constructed norms which prevent humans from achieving our true potential as a politically egalitarian species. But progress is a Christian concept rooted in the doctrine of Gods grace lifting us from our sinful degraded condition. The Enlightenment project of progress through the mastery of nature driven by market competition has collapsed into growth for the sake of growth and consumption for the sake of consumption. Nor does the promotion of human rights grant much cause for optimism for it's now self-evident that natural rights do conflict with each other.

Much faith then is placed in social constructs under the (dubious) assumption such constructs are within our control to change. But change, as Foucault well understood, requires power. It requires the colonization and overthrow of existing institutions, the granting of power to one party and the reduction of power in another. In Ireland we were ruled by papal power who controlled our state institutions and placed Irish society into protective mental custody least our child-like faith be troubled by outside influences. Now we are ruled by a strange blend of American sociological liberalism obsessed with promoting minority rights and feminism. This is progress of a sort, but it is not egalitarism. Power has simply shifted from the Right to the Left. Liberals now have the power the censor and drive agendas that the papists once had.

Consider for example the feminist claim of male privilege. Men, we are told, are privileged to walk down the street and not be afraid of rapists or the shadow of strange men looming over them. Men are privileged by sitting in peace without unwanted leers or attentions. This is hardly new. It was because women are physically vulnerable that men were expected to chaperone them home at night. It was because men like to leer and pick up women that we constructed elaborate courtship rituals. But such practices were dismantled as socially constructed norms which oppressed women. Now however we have encountered the same unchanging underlying reality - that women are physically vulnerable and may be afraid of encountering strange men at night.  In response feminists fight for new social norms based upon the increasingly strained concepts of equality and privilege. Now it is men who are expected to cross over the street, to walk several safe paces behind, to never make eye contact.

This is hardly egalitarian; just shifting power and applying different solutions to the same underlining problem.

Another example is the absurd practice of privilege checking where those perceived as being under privileged are granted additional privilege in the hope that eventually equal privileges can be achieved. But groups who promote such nonsense rely upon funding for their livelihood and therefore will never close their doors. Indeed the list of misogynistic offences men can commit against women is growing ever longer as vested groups attempt to justify their existence.

So I have little faith in our ability to create social institutions to promote egalitarianism as they rest upon hierarchical power and are therefore inherently contradictory. If underlying problems are not mere social constructions and our political institutions are driven by power relationships between competing interests, then egalitarian politics is just delusional Utopian thinking by self-righteous fools enforcing their agenda upon others in the name of equality.

This ramble was brought to you courtesy of the 2014 White Privilege conference:

"Being a white person who does anti-racist work is like being an alcoholic. I will never be recovered by my alcoholism, to use the metaphor," Radersma said. "I have to everyday wake up and acknowledge that I am so deeply imbedded with racist thoughts and notions and actions in my body that I have to choose everyday to do anti-racist work and think in an anti-racist way."
"If you don't want to work for equity, get the fuck out of education," Radersma said. "If you are not serious about being an agent of change that helps stifle the oppressive systems, go find another job. Because you are a political figure."
Another topic of discussion was how white people's actions, like donating to charity or helping a family in need, are inherently racist. 

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