Somehow, the West has gotten into a real twist about identity, especially that of minorities. In the name of justice for minorities, identity is being used to undermine equality and liberty. Minority group identity has become a weapon to be wielded against the alleged privileges of the majority. The result is that common humanity and individual freedoms are being undermined. More insidiously, merit is being forgotten.
Much of the work on behalf of minorities has come subsequent to their success. Liberalism was their friend. It may have taken longer than, for example, white working-class people to succeed, but they got there or are well underway. Identity campaigns are not helping anyone except the elite of the minorities trying to capture more of the spoils.
For example, the University of Technology Sydney announced in 2018 that it intended to build a First Nations College. Fortunately, it has not progressed too far: the 2018 announcement that it would open in 2023 remains unfulfilled. It is a pity Monash University had no Working Class College when I attended in the 1970s. I could have avoided those middle-class private school wankers by hanging around with grunters from my old suburb. Well, those that made it to university.
Let the heat die and ensure proper processes to hear matters in the cool light of day.
It is true that other identities, such as Catholics and Anglicans, built university colleges, but they mostly raised their own money and had a deep history of scholarship. There are women’s colleges too, but these, like single-sex schools, are fading.
The aim of the UTS college, it said, was to help ‘forge a more inclusive society’. By separating one race from others? Mind you, race is a bit of a stretch. The students most likely to attend would be from the suburbs and probably the children of intermarried parents; in other words, they are highly integrated – think Pearson, Langton, Davis, Behrendt, etc.
Aboriginal and working class students are not so successful as a group, but those who are bright can and do make it. That is the point. Others may not want to attend, preferring to follow in their parent’s footsteps, where TAFE beckons and practical skills can be acquired that are less susceptible to identity propaganda. Even a Labor Prime minister has woken up to free fees for TAFE.
The UTS college also claims its purpose is ‘to remove the real and perceived barriers that prevent Indigenous participation in higher education and the broader economy.’ They made it to university on merit, didn’t they? The rest is up to them, or should be, unless they are to be cossetted forever. The fear of segregated colleges (UTS says they will allow some non-indigenous students) is that they discourage integration and shun inclusion.
According to Pluckrose’s Social Injustice, identity politics emerged in the 1960s within the broader manifestation of postmodernism. Postmodernism emerged in academia as a philosophy that questioned everything. It is so sceptical that it does not believe in objective truth or knowledge, believing everything, even knowledge, is corrupted by politics and political power. It opened the door to identity as a powerful tool to undermine common humanity, individual freedom, and merit.
Minority group identity has become a weapon to be wielded against the alleged privileges of the majority.
A more prosaic explanation of identity politics is that of Mounk’s The Identity Trap. He explains that the Left was lured by collective action against the majority, where, despite the triumph of liberalism, minorities were marginalised. And yet, the minorities only had to wait; liberalism was their saviour. Actions such as a First Nations College come after the triumph of liberalism. It is an attempt by successful Aborigines to capture more power and glory undeservedly.
The antidote to the evils of postmodernism and identity politics is, of course, liberalism. Pluckrose appeals to secularism’s principle: ‘In a secular society, no one should be punished for rejecting religion or any other ideology.’ In other words, stop the cancel culture gig. The former President of Harvard University, Professor Gay, resigned because she was the culmination of cancel culture. When pressed by a Congressional committee on virulent anti-Israel protests on her campus, she defended the cancel mob. Simple direct questions from a single Republican representative outed her.
Mounk recommends that leaders cultivate a spirit of tolerance of ideas; for example, when racist accusations are made, he recommends no discipline until the facts are clear. That seems obvious, but the rush to judgment fuels the fire. Let the heat die and ensure proper processes to hear matters in the cool light of day. Don’t allow craven editors and the X (Twitter) mob to be the judge. Gay was forced out not because she wanted to let things settle before acting against anti-Semitic hate speech but because she was in a vanguard that selected students on race and brooked no demur from those in the hate speech camp.
Essentially, there are no ‘identity’ ideas, just ideas. Joining in this crusade for liberalism, our group, Close the Gap Research, is working to uncover one of the engine rooms of the identity industry as it manifests in Aboriginal politics. We are reviewing the qualifications of professors who claim Aboriginal heritage. We are also analysing Reconciliation Action Plans where organisations profess to do good but instead reinforce separate identities and undervalue the contribution of people as employees: workers. Now, there’s an old-fashioned idea.
Gary Johns is chair of Close the Gap Research and author of The Burden of Culture.
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Dr Gary Johns served as former Assistant Minister for Industrial Relations, Special Minister of State & Vice-President of the Executive Council in the Keating Labor Government. A philosophical rethink saw him accept a series of appointments in the service of economic rationalism, including Senior Fellow at the IPA and Assoc. Commissioner at the Productivity Commission. He recently served as Commissioner of
the Australian Charities and Not-For-Profits Commission.