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The Loss of Real Connection in the Age of Identity Politics
This post is inspired by Boris, a subscriber with a few criticisms of The Reformers that sent me spiralling into avenues of related thought. Boris, who has clearly spent a lot of time thinking about the series, didn’t like aspects of my portrayal of the hoax artists.
… the authors of the hoax are being shown in a bad light. They are being shown ridiculing the “victims” of woke ideology, laughing at the absurdity of their positions and scholarship.
… to make any progress against this woke ideology, it is important that at least some members of the minorities being “valorized/protected” by the woke ideology must themselves visibly reject it. This work (this video, or this hoax) can help advance that, but not if it is ridiculing those people (i.e. women, racial “minorities,” gays, lesbians, bi-sexuals, trans-, polyamorous... etc.), as was repeatedly done by James and Peter in the earlier video segments.
When you say I show Peter and James ridiculing "... women, racial “minorities,” gays, lesbians, bi-sexuals, trans-, polyamorous... etc.", I think you've missed a lot of nuance. I've never seen them ridicule those identities for its own sake, but I've never seen them give someone a pass for their character or beliefs if they happen to fall into one of those categories. An important distinction.
If they're poking fun at the identities you mention, it's with a more rounded view of identity, where someone can have one or more of these immutable characteristics and also be part of a self-important moral vanguard deserving of ridicule.
Since the exchange, I’ve been thinking about his view that mocking ideas related to certain groups can be seen as disrespectful, and alienate the people who can most effectively convince the lay public that those ideas are broken. There’s some validity to this in terms of executing a curated campaign designed to change minds but I wanted The Reformers to be an artistic protest against the pervasive idea that filmmaking is a technological process; a means to producing a desired political effect. I purposely let it all hang out and share a collection of minimally curated moments so that audiences are left to make up their own minds.
It’s my view that internet-savvy people have a way of cutting through heavily curated PR campaigns and I want an internet-savvy audience. I also believe that focusing too much on managing perceptions can leave you lost in a hall of mirrors, and that’s something I strive to avoid.
If Boris was referring to this scene where James and I laugh hysterically at the satirical biographies Peter wrote up for their fake research institutes, he isn’t alone.
The scene seems to have split audiences - some laugh along with us, while others tell me it made them feel uncomfortable. The reason Jim and I laughed so hysterically was that the whole thing was “So Pete”. The purpose of creating research institutes was to give validity to the fake names on hoax papers and subdue the suspicions of any journal editor that investigated those names. Peter’s decision to make the fake identities over-the-top parodies of his coworkers was an unnecessarily brash, and very ‘Pete’ thing to do.
Putting this nuanced context aside, I still find the biographies funny on a basic satirical level and have been thinking a lot about the idea of exercising extra caution around people with certain identities. From any reasonable vantage point, you have to concede that the people we’re making fun of hold vast amounts of power in the Western world. They occupy high-paying positions at prestigious institutions and simply offending them could be grounds for social ostracisation.
I understand that historical discrimination plays into people’s perception that we’re punching down but at what point do we look at the real world around us and update our map of the power dynamics at play? Would people feel uncomfortable if we were laughing at a parody of an arguably less powerful businessman or backward bible belt politician?
The fact none of this adds up when scrutinised from a common sense perspective is a testament to the distorting effects of the equity movement. There now exists a social expectation that we subordinate our natural free-flowing social instincts to a political enterprise devised in the distant halls of academe. From the Identitarian perspective, when we contort our social instincts to fit their theory we’re accounting for our existing cultural conditioning and rectifying enduring patterns of historical discrimination. I would argue this is grounded in a cynical view of who we are as human beings and when we look at each other through thier ideological prism we reintroduce the categories that form the essence of bigotry and stifle genuine intimacy while we do it.
I sometimes use the analogy of a tongue feeling out a new surface in a mouth to describe how people develop familiarity. If you lose a tooth or have a wound in your mouth, your tongue will unconsciously and incessantly feel it out until the new surface has been adequately accounted for. From there you can speak, eat, and perform other delicate oral functions without the new surface throwing you off. When individuals meet for the first time we’re compelled to feel out each other’s character in a similar way. We’re trying to map the other and incorporate them into our model of self so that we can have a more intuitive and comfortable relationship.
The fewer areas that are out of bounds the more detail we can map and the more familiar a person can become. From a basis of familiarity, we start opening up to reciprocal behaviours and collaborate on complex goals. Human beings are a remarkably cooperative species and when individuals work toward a shared goal our immutable differences have a way of naturally fading into the background.
Identitarians reframe many of our natural instincts as culturally conditioned biases that ought to be consciously suppressed. They flood out from elite academic institutions as accredited social “experts” with an unshakable moral conviction that they must re-engineer our social world. They find entry points into social domains through institutional bureaucracies and try to control previously unsupervised areas of life through mandated social training, community mobilisation campaigns, and other forms of HR meddling.
In the modern Western workplace, the kinds of colleagues we create private Slack channels to avoid are given moral authority to police the behaviour of the people around them. This training video from the Medical University of South Carolina is a good example of how the Identitarians use thier social “expertise” to mobilise agents of surveillance and control.
I propose that this kind of technocratic meddling has had a dire effect on real-world intimacy and tolerance between many different identity groups and that we have a moral obligation to unwind the damage and reclaim messy organic sociality.
The essence of bigotry is an inability to let simplistic negative categories go when confronted by the inevitable complexity of a human being. Believing that people with certain identity markers are automatically victims, without considering their life experiences, lineage, financial status, or worldview, is a convoluted form of bigotry, but bigotry nonetheless. I have a West African friend who is literally royalty in her home country and she laughs about the way progressive Australians treat her: “It’s as if they think I escaped from poverty”.
This bigotry is implicit in the expectation that we tip-toe around people from minority groups and apply a demented intersectional logic to our interactions. This isn’t to say we need to let our base instincts loose but to instead recognise that perhaps there’s wisdom to be found in our natural responses to social scenarios. Real human connection happens in the space between social protocols and you can’t engineer it.
Real-world familiarity looks nothing like the stilted social environments of the university faculty lounge that Peter sends up with his comedic parodies. Pete’s clumsy social instincts have earned him the reputation of a bigot in those settings, which is something you might believe if you looked at the world in a dissociated ideological way, where identity markers and words mean more than character and deeds.
Perhaps this interview with Peter’s housemate Cindy can express what I mean here better than I can with text.
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