It may be a small thing to you, but this is a big deal, for reasons I will explain. Reader A.B. comments:
The last two quotes you included from Lilla’s upcoming book describe exactly what I experienced at an annual conference of case managers in the I/DD [Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities] field in Oregon in June of this year. The main event of this conference was a 3-hour session titled “Unpacking Held Identities: Understanding Privilege, Diversity, & Equity”. The speaker, a professor from a very liberal university in Oregon who was representing his consulting firm which specializes in “Diversity/Equity and Inclusion”, provided the audience with a glossary of terms which he proceeded to define.
While the list is long, I don’t know how to edit it down without diminishing the overwhelming effect the list had on me in its entirety:
Ableism, Ageism, Bigotry, Counter Narrative, Discrimination, Dominant Discourse/Dominant Culture, Equality, Equity, Gender Identity (including a definition of Cisgender), Homophobia, Insiderism, Kindness (added because, as the speaker noted ironically, kindness is often lacking in our world), LGBTQ, Lookism, Micro-aggression, Misogyny, Prejudice, Privilege, Racism, and finally: Sexual Orientation.
Naturally, he pointed out that this is not a full list (!). His primary points were these:
(1) white cisgendered males (of which I am a member), being the group in power, both perpetrate and perpetuate each of the –isms, phobias, etc. on this list;
(2) members of the victimized groups do not perpetrate or perpetuate any of these –isms, etc. due to the fact that they do not have structural power in the United States; and
(3) to help fight this injustice, members of these victimized groups (along with woke members of the dominant group providing they understand it is a big no-no to actually speak for any of the members of the victimized groups) need to use “tweezers” to politely pluck away at these (as Lilla calls them) “immodest locutions” uttered by these racist, discriminatory, prejudiced, cisgendered white males that those in the audience undoubtedly encounter in their day-to-day interactions with them.
As this was a conference for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, I approached him after one of the breakout sessions and asked him to explain how he believes to achieve unity and equality inside of this philosophy when, for example, some pro-choice members of these victimized groups he is supposedly championing perpetuate ableism when screening for conditions such as Down’s syndrome. I cited a BBC article (http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-37500189 – “A world without Down’s syndrome?”) that stated that 90% of women in the UK with a positive Down’s diagnosis have abortions.
Instead of entering into dialogue as I had admittedly naively hoped, he rather interrupted (or rather “tweezed”) me at multiple points to correct the immodest locutions I was using (one of my sins was using the terms pro-choice and pro-life which implied that he is anti-life, and he also tweezed me to be careful citing statistics) and stated he was always for a woman’s right to choose. He completely ignored my point.
Lilla is exactly right when he says that a foundation based on personal identity “sets up a wall against questions” and that “the more obsessed with personal identity campus liberals become, the less willing they become to engage in reasoned political debate.”
The reader is talking about Mark Lilla’s new book The Once And Future Liberal, which condemns identity politics from an old-fashioned liberal point of view. In the book, Lilla likens left-wing identity politics to a dogmatic pseudo-religion. It’s self-appointed clerical class lays down taboos, separates the blessed from the damned, and sets the terms by which the damned might be redeemed. And there can be no reasoning about it, because to apply reason to the workings of this religion is to question its gods.
The evangelist (so to speak) who taught the session at A.B.’s workshop is no outlier. This kind of thing is common at universities, and within corporate culture. It teaches the Chosen that they are free from sin because, in the metaphysics of the diversity religion, they have no power. It tells people outside of the camp of the Chosen that they are bad by virtue of their race, sex, sexual desire, gender identity, physical ability, and, at times, religion. They were born into this state of defilement, and can never fully cleanse themselves of it. The only way they can redeem themselves is by agreeing to accept dhimmitude — second-class status — as their just desserts.
The clerical class keeps close watch over the words the dhimmis speak, and if they question the religion in any way, or violate any of its taboos, they will be punished severely. The clerisy polices doctrinal purity by declaring any dissent to be a manifestation of bigotry, which is to say, evil. The clerisy teaches the Chosen that they do not have to monitor their own consciences, because they cannot sin. Rather, their job is to scan relentlessly the lives of the others, the Deplorables, and root out sin when they find it by reporting them to the religious authorities.
These “diversity” programs, such as the one A.B. had to endure, amount to catechesis in the righteousness of dhimmitude. Is there any wonder that people disadvantaged by this religion are sick and tired of it? Having taught the masses to think of themselves in terms of identity categories, the clerisy is shocked to find that the unclean, the Deplorables, are doing just that, but rejecting the idea that their identity defiles them. In fact, they are coming to see that this religious system, which refuses to admit to any rational criticism, is in fact a structure designed to dispossess them. What started as an effort to teach people in the majority demographic categories to empathize with minorities, and to treat them more fairly, has devolved into a re-education program telling majorities that justice requires them to despise themselves, because they can never really overcome the original sin of being white, male, heterosexual, and politically or religiously conservative.
Meanwhile, those in the category of the Chosen — racial minorities, women (but only some women; e.g., pro-life feminists need not apply), LGBT, et alia — have had the ability to empathize with the Deplorables educated out of them. They have been taught that their identity makes them good, and the identity of the Deplorables makes them bad. Therefore, when the Deplorables question that dogma, the Chosen receive that as denying their personhood.
What’s more, the clerisy lives in such a bubble of self-reinforcing homogeneity that they can no more grasp the discontent and discord they are sowing than a courtier around a Renaissance pope could have grasped what the Church’s corruption was bringing about in the hinterlands of German-speaking Europe.
It is not easy to live in a pluralistic democracy. Left-wing identitarians and those who empower them — I’m especially looking at you, university administrators and corporate managers — are making it much harder. A workplace where people have to be on edge for fear that they will be reported to Human Resources for microaggressing someone by engaging in “lookism” is a place that, sooner or later, is going to blow.
And so is a society whose imagination has been formed by this malevolent catechism.
Finally, I think Brendan O’Neill of Spiked Online has it exactly right: