On the evening I posted Identity Politics: How the Left Wins on Gay Rights, I received an opposition response on Facebook from a friend of a more liberal bend. Here is the response in its entirety. Nothing has been edited or removed:
Interesting points, Georgi. My two cents from the other side of the fence:
On your first point, on the liberal's broad generalization and categorizing as a political tool: I find this perspective interesting. I see what you are saying, but I disagree. I find that the left's success in representing minority groups is actually that, while they do seek to define them initially (as I believe you must do in broad scale politics, on either side of the table), they're interested in bringing them into the fold. In other words, I think many people see the left as inclusive, and the right as exclusive. The left accomplishes this, in part, by touting the "your minority *doesn't* define you. You deserve to be treated like everyone else." mantra.
This shifts into your last point, the creation of a victim group. I frankly find this portrayal to be insensitive, and invalidating to the members of minority groups. Rather or not it is your belief, your wording to me sounds like the many issues facing minority groups are simply political construction, and not the living reality of many people. The left is more successful than the right at treating these groups inclusively, often using their very real victimization as a political tool. But they do not create victims, and why would they? They certainly don't need to. There are plenty of disadvantaged people in the world.
Additionally, your last point seems contradictory to your earlier ones. When you discuss the gay sports players, and talk about how the right wasn't concerned with them because their sexuality has nothing to do with their ability as players, this seems to be the attitude you accuse the left of earlier. The right is only concerned with these people as one thing, sports players, and does not consider them holistically as people. The left however, takes advantage of the situation, acknowledging that these young men made a difficult choice in coming out, and taking the chance to celebrate that fact.
Lastly, while the left may be accused of resting overly on the disadvantages of minority groups, the right has the opposite issue: Not acknowledging that things like the sexuality, class, skin color, and sex you are born to have a drastic effect on your ability to live: safely, comfortably, or in some cases at all. Some people are born into better circumstances than others, and it's the responsibility of those of us who are in that position of privilege to help and champion others who are less fortunate.
Let me start out my saying that I believe you are truly compassionate and interested in doing what you think is right for people in general. For that reason, and that identity politics is part of the core dialogue between the Left and the Right, your comment deserves a response. I don't expect it to persuade hard-core liberals, or even you, but it should at least provide more clarity for those who aren't 100% persuaded for or against my argument.
Your response to my initial first point, about liberals dividing the population into broad demographical categories, was this, "I find that the left's success in representing minority groups is actually that, while they do seek to define them initially (as I believe you must do in broad scale politics, on either side of the table), they're interested in bringing them into the fold. In other words, I think many people see the left as inclusive, and the right as exclusive".
Well, you're partially right. Many people do see the Right as exclusive, and the Left as inclusive and trying to bring minorities into the fold. However, whether you means to convey it or not, this is an ad populum fallacy, and it only holds up under the critique of those who believe that perception and consensus is the both the ends and the means.
What's funny about this claim to Inclusiveness, which is supposed to give liberalism the moral high ground, is that while conservatives may not center policy debate around people's ethnicity like liberals do, liberals have their own sets of people that they go out of their way to exclude from debate, target, or deny protection to.
Here are a few:
- Religious minorities. Anyone who pays attention to the products that come out of Hollywood, or hears Chris Matthews or Nancy Pelosi talk, knows this is true. In fact, the far-left is bent on destroying these groups.
- Educational minorities. The Left would see homeschooling banned tomorrow if they could, which is why these individuals rely on the HSLDA to protect them from anti-home education policies.
- Fathers: when dysfunctional parents go to court, it's almost always the father that gets shafted in custody battles. Liberals heavily favor mothers, regardless of whether the father is better fit to raise the child.
- Small business people & employers: People motivated by profit are consistently excluded from the liberal agenda.
- The unborn: Need we even discuss how the left has neglected the most vulnerable among us?
As for "seeking to define them initially", I understand what you're getting at regarding having to define people broadly, since you have to have words in order to talk about things, or in this case, people. However, the argument that I made in my previous post was that liberals go beyond simply talking about people in general terms, to actively seeking to represent people through a single defining descriptor, in large categorical blocks. (i.e. gay, black, Latino, etc.). For instance, instead of talking about America, as a liberal I'm more likely to talk about Hispanic America, Black America, and White America, as if somehow there's a critical difference among these ethnicities that has to be reflected in policy in order for us to be a fair and just society . The Left has succeeded in having ethnicity be reflected in policy, beyond making sure that we are all equal under the law (Affirmative Action, for instance). Social Justice is all about grouping people and treating each group differently.
When you say that liberals seek to tell minorities, "your minority doesn't define you; you deserve to be treated like everyone else", this might be consistent with certain strains of "academic liberalism", which is the pleasant and seemingly benign kind that children are taught in school. The kind that everyone should agree with, in theory. However, when you enter political dialogue and policy application, this simply isn't true.
When Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor got up to discuss minority activism, that certainly wasn't the case when she said, "'I'm very optimistic about the power of minorities to change the dialogue (not just activists or good people).. Money was the obstacle to women and minorities in government. We [minorities] are going to have to work the political system at the highest level." As if Latino or African American students have a particular obligation, simply because of their ethnicity, to make certain kinds of political efforts.
So I would ask anyone to show me where I can find this broadly used rhetoric about how "your minority doesn't define you" among Democrat politicians and community organizers, because that simply has not been my experience.
As for the second point of the response: "I frankly find this portrayal [of a victim group] to be insensitive, and invalidating to the members of minority groups. Rather [sic] or not it is your belief, your wording to me sounds like the many issues facing minority groups are simply political construction, and not the living reality of many people."
It certainly was not my intent to convey that all issues facing minorities are a fictitious, and if you read any of my other writings, you won't find any evidence in support of this. Rather, what I was articulating in my first post was that liberals generate a victim mentality within an entire group, instead of focusing on the actions of specific individuals who would harm or hold back anyone simply because of their minority status, or directly address the economic issues that heavily affect certain minorities.
The left frequently manipulates minority categories on a demographic level, taking any specific instances of homosexuals coming out, or minority individuals being introduced on the political stage, as opportunities to portray whole groups of people as victims, and whole groups of people (always conservatives) as persecutors. Liberals make poor generalizations from the specific to the group level, because they so strongly tend to view people in groups, not as individuals.
If you acknowledge this, it isn't surprising to see the Diversity Coordinator of South Sound Community College publicly defend an invitation to a "diversity happy hour" that explicitly excluded whites from attending... because white people as a general rule are so racist as to make minorities feel uncomfortable sharing their beliefs about diversity. Or take the ACLU's lawsuit against the City of Yakima on the ground that the Latino ethnicity doesn't have any representation on the "all-white" city council... therefore the city council must be treating Hispanics unequally.
You continue: "But [liberals] do not create victims, and why would they? They certainly don't need to. There are plenty of disadvantaged people in the world."
Yes, there are many disadvantaged and persecuted people in the world. That's precisely where the great hypocrisy of applied liberalism comes to bear, because the most disadvantaged among us are refused protection from by the Left. It's nearly impossible to find common ground with a liberal on the abortion debate, but you cannot deny that the rights of the unborn are not completely neglected by the Left.
If we look internationally, we see terrible human suffering: religious persecution, ethnic hatred, oppression of women... and yet the Left is very selective when it comes to which victims they call attention to, give money to, or work through policy to protect. I think liberals and conservatives are guilty of this to some degree, but the Left in particular seems extraordinarily willing to poor precious resources into fighting a non-existent anti-gay bill, or for "women's right to choose", than they are for the rights of women to be educated in Saudi Arabia.
...More willing to stand on the Senate floor all night to lament the imaginary impact of man-made global warming than to work on providing clean drinking water to underdeveloped regions...
...More concerned with Palestinians' right to settle in historic Jewish land and call it their own than for the right of Israel to have even their existence acknowledged...
...More interested in the righteousness of suing a Catholic school for discrimination against a homosexual than in the Constitutional right of religious people to freely express and defend their convictions...
...More provoked to publicly defend the dignity of an barely legal porn star than to call for action against human sex trafficking, which in some US cities maintains a bigger black economy than the drug trade.
I don't lay these out because I revel in proving somebody wrong; indeed, I think you're probably much more aware of many of these issues than the general liberal population. I lay them out so that we can clearly see where resources are being spent and where attention is being drawn. If liberals devoted the same time to the latter issues as to the former, imagine what they could accomplish! Imagine what life and liberty could be preserved and restored!
With regard to the third point of your response: "When you discuss the gay sports players, and talk about how the right wasn't concerned with them because their sexuality has nothing to do with their ability as players, this seems to be the attitude you accuse the left of earlier. The right is only concerned with these people as one thing, sports players, and does not consider them holistically as people."
This brings an opportunity to elaborate on a point I didn't unpack in my last post, for the sake of brevity. And that is merit versus characteristic. If only reading that paragraph on the surface level, you could see how that statement might seem contradictory. I asserted that liberals are focusing with laser-like precision on NBA player Jason Collins' homosexuality, and I stated that conservatives are not that interested in Collins in general, because they tend to be more interested in sports than in athletes' sexuality. However, if Collins had been a particularly good basketball player, you might see a little more interest in, for example, how this announcement would affect his contracts, sponsorships, or team affiliation, if at all.
It should also be noted that, short of being real-life friends with Jason Collins, it's not reasonable to expect the general population to see Collins "holistically". We see him as an individual, not just a symbol of a larger societal category; however, the only sides you can really get of Collins from the mainstream media is his sexuality and his profession.
That brings us to the last paragraph of the response: "Lastly, while the left may be accused of resting overly on the disadvantages of minority groups, the right has the opposite issue: Not acknowledging that things like the sexuality, class, skin color, and sex you [sic] are born to have a drastic effect on your ability to live: safely, comfortably, or in some cases at all. Some people are born into better circumstances than others, and it's the responsibility of those of us who are in that position of privilege to help and champion others who are less fortunate."
So here we have the assertion that the Right has "the opposite issue", and do not acknowledge that race, class*, skin color, and sex have a "drastic effect" on not just your life, but your ability to live. Conservatives don't "acknowledge" this drastic effect because we don't believe it exists nearly to the same extent or is as widespread as liberals portray. This repeated assertion, not backed by a close examination of the evidence (see FBI crime reports, as far as safety is concerned), represents the victimhood foundation of liberalism.
The idea that conservatives are in denial of the effects of certain minority statuses again sets the Left on the moral high ground, and puts the Right in the swamps of ignorance and prejudice. This is always how the Left positions themselves, but it's not reality. If you set it up in absolutes, as in "this is reality, conservatives deny it, therefore conservatives are ignorant and bigoted", then liberalism will come out as the champion of minorities every time.
However, if you ask a conservative if the believe racism against African Americans and Hispanics exists in America, about 98% of them will say yes, but it represents a very small, lonely minority of the US population. If you ask her, "Does your gender affect your ability to live comfortably in America?" she will say no, because that is preposterous.
As far as a minority's ability to live comfortably (women are not a minority!), that's an extremely subjective statement that depends on a variety of factors. Certainly no minority is strictly confined to poverty, although it's true that a disproportionate percentage of racial minorities live below the poverty line as compared to whites. The Right and Left have differing ideas on how to lift these people out of poverty.
With regard to personal safety, any reasonably educated conservative will tell you that your ethnicity or sexual orientation could jeopardize your life itself in some parts of the world, but an instance of this kind of hate crime in comparison to all other violent crime in America is extremely rare. Note that out of total violent crime reported in 2012, only about .003%* were motivated by bias. In other words, as a minority you're much more likely to be a victim of anything other than minority bias.
All this to say, an individual's life experience is influenced by minority status, positively or negatively, and conservatives do not deny that. But in general, we believe that ethnic and sexual minorities in the United States enjoy a level of tolerance, opportunity, and quality of life that would be hard to exceed in any other country.
As for helping those who aren't born into better circumstances, I don't think anyone is denying it's importance or that it's the right thing to do. However, when we speak of "championing the disadvantaged", that's where the Left and the Right divide.
Conservatives want to champion freedom and the rights of the individual, rights that apply to everyone equally, regardless of minority status. We believe that freedom and unalienable rights are the foundation for prosperity and peace.
Liberals, on the other hand, have often taken the strategy of setting up a champion for each of the various categories of people in the belief that identity and degrees of privilege matter more than our God-given human rights. "Leveling the playing field" matters more than making sure everyone plays by the same rules.
Having a Congress ethnically and sexually proportional to the population matters more to the Left than electing people who are qualified to defend our life and liberty. Conservatives avoid the kind of tokenization approach that liberals take with their elected politicians, where minority status is often considered a qualification for leadership (Latina Sonia Sotomayor, for example).
I hope by now that the distinction between how the Right and the Left see people, and its tremendous impact on our culture and politics, is clear.
I appreciate that you provided a thoughtful and respectful counter response. Discussion of key issues is important, and I appreciate every one of my readers that comments, tweets, or shares my content. I give consideration to anyone who offers thoughtful and educated disagreements.
*Calculated by dividing the total number of violent crimes found in the FBI table by the total hate crimes against persons found on crimeinamerica.net.
*I don't consider class a "minority" status, because class, in America at least, is far from permanent--a social construct we use to talk about inequality, usually in divisive ways. Both poverty and wealth are states you can start in, fall into, or work your way into... Poverty can be overcome, and millions of people do it.