The politics of identity is a postmodern twist on the liberal religion of humanity. The Supreme Being has become an unknown God – a species of human being nowhere encountered in history, which does not need to define itself through family or community, nationality or any religion. Parallels with the new humanity envisioned by the Bolsheviks are obvious. But it is the affinities with recent liberalism that are more pertinent. In the past, liberals have struggled to reconcile their commitment to liberty with a recognition that people need a sense of collective belonging as well. In other writings Mill balanced the individualism of On Liberty with an understanding that a common culture is necessary if freedom is to be secure, while Isaiah Berlin acknowledged that for most people being part of a community in which they can recognize themselves is an integral part of a worthwhile life. These insights were lost, or suppressed, in the liberalism that prevailed after the end of the Cold War. If it was not dismissed as atavistic, the need for a common identity was regarded as one that could be satisfied in private life. A global space was coming into being that would recognize only universal humanity. Any artefact that embodied the achievements of a particular state or country could only be an obstacle to this notional realm. The hyper-liberal demand that public spaces be purged of symbols of past oppression continues a post-Cold War fantasy of the end of history.
Liberals who are dismayed at the rise of the new intolerance have not noticed how much they have in common with those who are imposing it. Hyper-liberal “snowflakes”, who demand safe spaces where they cannot be troubled by disturbing facts and ideas, are what their elders have made them. Possessed by faith in an imaginary humanity, both seek to weaken or destroy the national and religious traditions that have supported freedom and toleration in the past. Insignificant in itself and often comically absurd, the current spate of campus frenzies may come to be remembered for the part it played in the undoing of what is still described as the liberal West.
Gray begins the essay by talking about how paradoxical is “the recent transformation of universities into institutions devoted to the eradication of thought crime.” He’s right, of course. His essay is a good starting point for understanding why the gun control movement will probably end up being sabotaged by the left. Look at this, from the BBC:
Is the new movement against gun violence that is sweeping America too white and too rich?
It’s a question hotly debated on social media as hundreds of thousands rallied on Saturday in support of the #NeverAgain campaign that emerged after 17 people were killed in a gun attack at a high school in Parkland, Florida, last month.
Protesters are being accused of hypocrisy, as some ask why they didn’t turn out for the Black Lives Matter movement, which was set up in 2013 to end police violence against black people and highlight the impact of gun violence in ethnic minority communities.
In 2016 more than 52% of murder victims (73% killed by guns) in America were black, even though black people make up 13% of the population.
Debate on Twitter focused on a photograph of white protesters holding up their palms, which read: “Don’t shoot.” The slogan and gesture became a rallying cry in 2014 after 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was reported to be raising his arms, was fatally shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.
Accusations that the weekend marches had appropriated the slogan were shared more than 3,000 times.
“Where were y’all when black people were getting shot though? If gun control don’t include police and your protesting doesn’t include innocent black people, I do not want it!” tweeted @frankpuddles.
As the reader who sent that to me writes, “What is the half-life on the Left devouring its own these days?” That BBC story includes this Instagram image:
You’ll have to work hard to come up with an image that would be more effective at motivating the other side in the gun issue.
For one, the claim is preposterous. A Boston University report finds:
As public health scholars who study firearm violence, we believe that our country is unique in its acceptance of gun violence. Although death by firearms in America is a public health crisis, it is a crisis that legislators accept as a societal norm. Some have suggested it is due to the fact that it is blacks and not whites who are the predominant victims, and our data support this striking disparity.
Within the United States, the odds of dying from firearm homicide are much higher for Americans who reside in cities. Twenty percent of all firearm homicides in the US occur in the country’s 25 largest cities, even though they contain just over one-tenth of the US population. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that of the 12,979 firearm homicides in 2015, 81 percent occurred in urban areas.
There is even more to the story: CDC data also show that within our nation’s cities, black Americans are, on average, eight times more likely to be killed by firearms than those who are white. The rate of death by gun homicide for black people exceeds those among whites in all 50 states, but there is tremendous variation in the magnitude of this disparity. In 2015, a black person living in Wisconsin was 26 times more likely to be fatally shot than a white person in that state. At the same time, a black person in Arizona was “only” 3.2 times more likely than a white person to be killed by a gun. The combination of being black and living in an urban area is even more deadly. In 2015, the black homicide rate for urban areas in Missouri was higher than the total death rate from any cause in New York State.
But guess who’s killing all those black people: that’s right, other black people. FBI statistics show year after year that the overwhelming number of black people murdered in the US are murdered by other black people (and the overwhelming number of white murder victims are murdered by other whites). It is true that most of these mass killers are white men, but if you are going to draw the conclusion that “white men with guns are America’s biggest terrorists,” then you have no grounds to object to the conclusion that “black men with guns are America’s biggest murderers.”
Somehow, I don’t think we’re going to see anybody marching in Washington behind that sign — and if we do, it’s not going to be featured favorably in media coverage.
Now, ask yourself: if you call white men who own guns “terrorists” as part of a broad anti-gun movement, just how likely do you think those gun-owning white men (and the women who are their wives, mothers, and daughters) are to sympathize with your cause? How likely do you think they are to mobilize against your cause because you have made it a racial crusade?
But the contemporary left can’t help itself. Its leaders can’t seem to understand that what works on campus has little if any purchase elsewhere. If you actually want to build a mass movement behind gun control, immediately racializing the issue is moronic. And if you want to build a mass movement behind gun control, turning around to interrogate the racial and class aspects of its leadership is absurd — but exactly the kind of move that you expect from campus protesters, who labor in the only environment in which this kind of performative nincompoopery works.
The thing is, it ought to be easy to bring the racial aspect of the gun issue into the protest. Black people really do suffer disproportionately from gun violence. Instead of inviting sympathy, signs and slogans like the one activists Instagrammed, and that the BBC magnified, take exactly the opposite approach. The BBC story highlights a widely-shared tweet from a black person angry that the gun march in DC didn’t exactly conform to his politics, and therefore rejecting it as racially insensitive. Such vanity.
John Gray writes, of liberals, “Possessed by faith in an imaginary humanity, both seek to weaken or destroy the national and religious traditions that have supported freedom and toleration in the past.” Similarly, possessed by faith in the chimera of “intersectionality,” some anti-gun liberals are trying to build a movement based on applying their all-purpose resentment against the usual left-wing hate figure: white males. Instead of inviting more people into the movement by reaching out by appealing to a common national or religious tradition, the movement is likely to alienate many by celebrating its own intersectional fabulousness — a knee-jerk habit that the mainstream media can’t resist either.
This story from Teen Vogue headlined “Queer Teenage Girls Are Leading The Gun Control Movement” is a prime example. It’s not really journalism, but gushy propaganda — but this is how the media always are on LGBT issues. They think these things are always and everywhere something to be celebrated and shouted to the skies as achievements. Okay, but imagine how that headline will be read outside progressive circles. Imagine how it looks to the kind of people who own guns and who feel under threat by the new movement to read stories about how it is inseparable from the LGBT rights movement, because intersectionality.
(It is also true that people can see plain as day that the media are crusading on this issue. Follow the Teen Vogue link above, and look at the highly produced multimedia package promoting the gun control movement. A movement led by queer teenagers, demonizing white males, and puffed by New York media elites: the populist-themed NRA ads practically write themselves.)
The media and the activists will be gobsmacked by the backlash, because they will not have been able to see it coming, nor will they have understood their own complicity in sabotaging their cause. That’s how it usually goes with True Believers.