A Q&A on the trans-feminist war and wider identity politics for the French magazine L'Incorrect

Here I have pasted in a lengthy series of questions and answers I conducted with the journalist Sylvie Perez for an article that has appeared in the March issue of the French magazine L'Incorrect

The article discusses the transgender-feminist war that is raging away now in Britain. My comments put this in the context of what I call 'the system of diversity' in my book The Tribe. Obviously, only a few of those comments can appear in the article and I thought they were worth pasting in full on here.

Questions and Answers


1/ What does the conflict opposing feminists to transgender activists tell us about the escalation in the victimhood status and overall about the leap forwards of identity politics ?

Victimhood is the base of knowledge which all claims to identity group favouritism rely on. The transgender activists seem to have realised this, learning their lessons from other identity activists that maximising how victimised they appear will pay back if they shout loud enough and pressure the right people.

There are jobs and funding for activists in doing this, just as there are for being a mainstream feminist or a non-white race activist or Islamist. However the demands of transgender activists for all the particular rights and privileges of women intrudes on the protected authority of mainstream feminists over women and what it means to be a woman.

One of the early controversies in Britain was about self-identifying women being cleared to be selected on the Labour Party’s All Women’s Shortlists for Parliamentary Selections. This was previously a privilege that appeared to be for women as women, so understandably some feminists resented giving some of that space reserved for them to people they considered to be men. This is an example of an area which is cordoned off for control by identity group representatives, and transgender activists wanted a part of it for themselves.


2/ Which side (feminists or transgender) do you predict, will win that unprecedented war?

I tend to avoid predictions. Also I am not a specialist in this specific area. However I think there are a few useful things I can say.

For a start, the number of actual transgender activists is very small in relative terms, so they have a natural disadvantage when it comes to a straight numbers game. Also, there has been some major feminist mobilisation against them, drawing support from major media organisations like The Times and even the staunchly liberal-left Guardian.

However many leading feminists in politics have avoided coming out against self-identification and have sought to cool the war of words. In the ‘system of diversity’ I talk about, this would be because transgender counts as a favoured identity: to refuse favour creates conflict within the system and undermines the power and credibility of everyone within it. I can see a further cooling taking place, with the most extreme demands being quietly dropped. If the transgender activists won, I couldn’t see their victory lasting in any case – since the backlash would come increasingly from ordinary women and undermine the credibility of associated institutions significantly. But the activists won’t go away. They have established themselves on the political scene and will need to be mollified with different favours.


3/ The transgender group appears in your “favoured/unfavoured identity groups” table, in The Tribe. Do you know when this group was targeted as a “favoured group” by the Left? (You seem to think it’s rather recently?)

My book isn’t a history of these forms of politics, but rather seeks to describe what is going on at the moment, how it works. So this is something I am relatively ignorant about. However I don’t really see the transgender group as a separate group that was targeted by the left for favour; rather that the activists finally made enough noise to be appear in the right way as a victim group in need of favour, which they now receive. In Britain, the New Labour governments of 1997-2010 gave a push to all these forms of identity politics favoured by the liberal-left – not least by training activists in the mechanisms of political power – of how to influence policy-makers and raise funds among other things. The ability of transgender activists to raise significant amounts of money for campaigning, even from the National Lottery, is remarkable.


4/ Are transgender people the latest group added? Who came first (female, non-white, muslim etc) ? Can we establish a chronology? And who will come next? What is the next group to enter the “diversity system”?

Again, this isn’t something I have looked at specifically. I have simply looked at this point in time and sought to explain what on earth is going on. As for what groups might bust their way in, I think the hall is full now, though I may be wrong. Jewish identity politics employs the same community leader model, the same language and attempts to maximise victimhood. However the main sources of Jewish victimhood come from within the system – from Islamists and left-wing opponents of Israel. Also Jewish activism can’t point to empirical disadvantage in society like other racial or religious groups do. They rather appear as part of the white majority, so as natural oppressors. I can’t see that changing.

Some good-natured folk also want to bring working class people into the system, but the practicalities of doing this are very difficult, not least since ‘working class’ is now largely just a cultural, existential category with no distinguishing physical identifiers and virtually no political organisation to grab hold of except that which appears to be ‘far right’ movements. The cultural distance between progressives and working class people is now vast and I see little reason why that should change.


5/ The Transgender Action Plan was conceived in December 2011 and signed by Theresa May (then Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities). And the reform of the Gender Recognition Act was launched last autumn by the conservative Theresa May PM in the midst of the Brexit turmoil! Still would you say that the Left is responsible for giving such importance to such a small group of people ? Aren’t we dealing with a wider progressist ideology ?

[NB: I would say ‘progressivist’] I agree to a large extent that progressive ideology is now the default position for anyone now participating in public life and administration – from all political parties and none. However I don’t think the Conservative Party in Parliament, and certainly not the activists in the shires, have converted to the cause of transgender rights and activism. G. K. Chesterton had a great line that, "The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.” They are naive about these forms of politics. They want to appear nice and modern and ‘inclusive’ and win praise from someone, anyone, so those who are paying attention are keen to please the lobbyists, just as they do with business. Theresa May is particularly prone to this. There is an emptiness to her and to the Conservative Party at the moment. They are called ‘conservative’, but they like calling themselves progressive, which ties into their faith in free markets. They tend to see the expansion of free markets into all areas of life like the identity activists see the expansion of the diversity ideology: as absolute progress in history and of mankind.


6/ Can you explain how the conflict of interests between women’s rights and transgender rights is a challenge to the integrity of the “diversity system”?

By intruding upon the protected rights and privileges of women, the transgender activists are making a challenge to the authority of feminists: a demand for them to give way and to grant these rights and privileges to biological men. Many mainstream feminists are not too bothered by this, being accustomed to outsource authority [over] other favoured group business to representatives of that group. But in this case that business intrudes not just upon their authority but upon the very category of women and the protections that follow from that category like female-only toilets and prisons. I call it a sort of ‘breakdown’ in the system of diversity, in which representatives of one favoured group interfere with the business of another – moving on to their territory and threatening their favoured status. We see this sometimes between Islamists and feminists or LGBT activists, but remarkably rarely given how their fundamental beliefs oppose each other. In my view this is because to do so would undermine the system of politics which outsources authority and power to you in the first place. If you put at risk other sources of support for the system, you risk no longer benefitting from the favour and patronage on offer.


7/ Is the “diversity system” getting more or less powerful?

I think it’s both. It’s getting more powerful because identity and diversity activists are continuing to expand their reach, extending the favouring of favoured groups into all areas of institutional and even personal lives. The more institutions implement formal positive discrimination measures and boast about how much they believe in diversity, the more reason there is for the rest of us to align with this way of relating to the world: in order to win favour ourselves, including employment. Also continuing mass immigration means that the amount of people for whom identity group representatives can speak is increasing rapidly – and as much as they go in to the lower levels of the employment market, they can be employed as victims to justify increasing ‘representation’ by more positive discrimination. I think that side of the system is only going to get stronger.

However, the rising power of these forms of politics has now mobilised significant opposition on the fringes of mainstream politics and outside. The identity wars appearing daily in the media are making ordinary people sit up and take notice and look for ways to express themselves politically which mainstream politics doesn’t currently offer. Articles and books are appearing like my own which seek to explain what is going on and what we might do about it. Some prominent people are expressing their opposition in public and absorbing the personal attacks which follow. On social media the backlash is now quite strong and well established. People are expressing themselves openly, and have the language and arguments to hand. So there’s a lot of activity. But it’s early days and not very organised. The system is organised and embedded in our society and its major institutions: that’s why I call it a system: it’s a bit like capitalism in that way.


8/ It seems that the main fuel to identity politics is the fantasy of equality. Which leads to a paradox: in order to maintain equality as an incentive, one needs to emphasize and theorize diversity. Can this paradox can hold any longer?

Yes, there are definite incentives in the system to maximise inequality in order to increase the push for equality and maximise the favour passed to group leaders who represent the victim groups. These leaders depend on the disadvantage and victimhood of the groups they are supposed to represent. Among non-white ethnic minority groups in Britain, the more successful have been drawing away from this view of themselves and of their place in society and also pulling away from the Labour Party which promotes it. Women have never been particularly keen on it as a group.

However the forces which promote this view of the world have got much stronger in recent years. As Britain’s most important media organisation by a long way, the BBC now makes dedicated effort to produce daily stories to represent the system’s favoured groups by promoting their victimhood in the public sphere. There is an interesting backlash going on to this way of seeing the world among some non-white, female writers and politicians, but it is negligible compared to the system’s ability to generate its messages in the public sphere. Politics doesn’t mind a paradox if it aligns with political power.


9/ Those disputes opposing different “favoured groups” are being silenced. The feminist philosopher Kathleen Stock underlined the fact that philosophers ignore the threat of trans ideology upon women’s condition. They don’t dare writing about the vanishing of the concept (let alone the word) “woman”. Equally, we don’t hear much the gay community’s opposition to islamist disgust of homosexuality. Where does this power to silence people lie ?

The power of silencing lies in the system itself: in the relations which need to be maintained for the different levels of the system to benefit. As I have written it in The Tribe, there are three levels to the system: 1) the progressive liberal-left as an overseeing class, presiding over the system and outsourcing favour to favoured groups via group representatives; 2) the representatives of favoured groups, who seek favour for themselves on the basis of their groups being victims of a society dominated by unfavoured groups; and 3) the members of the favoured groups whose role is to appear as victims. If people fail to conform to one of these roles, they appear outside the system and will likely not benefit from the power it generates. So when the gay activist Peter Tatchell criticises Islamist institutions for indulging hostile attitudes to gay people, he places into question the idea that they should be favoured and protected within the system. Yet the overseeing administration depends on Muslim support for its campaigns and at election time so doesn’t want to put at risk that relation. As a result, there is a strong incentive for such outbreaks to be minimised: to stop people from talking about Islamist attitudes to homosexuality for example. One way of doing this is to fail to identify them as Islamists and to highlight them as victims instead, which aligns to the Islamist view of themselves and their place in relation to the West.


10/ Is diversity an extension of multiculturalist ideology, in order to add new minority groups within the same culture and endlessly segment the population ?

I see the system of diversity as an extension of the system of multiculturalism, yes: bringing identity groups including women, gay and transgender folk, and Muslims into the same system of relations on the same basis: as favoured and due special protection and representation. I’m thinking that the purpose is two-fold: firstly that it appears convenient, both for the identity group activists who want to promote themselves and their groups, and for the overseeing politicians, for whom it is convenient to segment voters by identity group. Secondly, there is the progressive, historical aspect, in that the defeat of discrimination and prejudice towards these groups appears as an historical mission, demonstrating Progress in its most tangible form. Beyond these aspects, I don’t think many of the people promoting diversity have thought through the consequences much. Once they are committed and integrated into this system of relations they tend to avert their eyes from any evidence suggesting negative consequences.


11/ It seems transgender organisations like Stonewall, Press For Change or Gendered Intelligence are quite powerfull. Where do they get the money and the power ?

The Times revealed recently that Stonewall (which is a general LGBT+ advocacy group) has been awarded £494,000 [by the National Lottery] to "empower trans leaders and organisations" to carry out “media and influencing” – in other words to carry out political campaigning. Previously the Sunday Times revealed how the lottery had awarded £500,000 to the trans advocacy group Mermaids, which campaigns for children to be allowed prohibited sex-change hormones. Other than that I have not seen anything about funding. But it’s an indication of how embedded favouring the system’s favoured groups has become [in] our society that these committees see these forms of politics as worth large amounts of public money they have control over. Meanwhile many of the Lottery’s causes, like grassroots sport, remain badly deprived of funding.


12/ Through which channels do transgender campaigners make their way into public life and society (schools and universities, NHS, public services in general and, last but not least, law). For example, I was amazed to find out about the V&A LGBT working group. What is the most striking evidence you’ve noticed of the power of trans campaigners?

I think you are more knowledgeable on this than me. I would simply repeat what you have said so will not say any more.


13/ A Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy in the UK was signed by prominent health organisations in October 2017 and tends to condemn psychotherapists trying to dissuade their patients to transition. How would you explain that so many organisations signed it? Just to avoid being called transphobic? Some mention a climate of fear. Do you agree with that?

I am only speculating, but it looks like a classic example of where intensive lobbying has taken place both from within and outside the organisations concerned and they are afraid of what might follow if they didn’t sign. There would likely be public denunciations of course, with the ubiquitous accusations of ‘transphobia’, but also the representatives of these organisations might be afraid of how a failure to sign would align with their own Equalities and Inclusion policies. To sign and find strength in the pack is much easier than to reflect and take a stand on principle – and therefore risk heavy opposition within your institution and possibly losing your (very highly-paid) job and never getting another one.


14/ Identity politics corrupt the campuses. The state of free speech in universities seems to worsen. Would you say it’s a lost cause?

I wouldn’t say it is a lost cause. However it is true that certain forms of identity politics are now embedded within universities and academic life. Identity politics is established and powerful and organised. Opposing voices are mostly individuals. Many choose to remain anonymous when expressing their opposition. Those that don’t open themselves up to fierce attacks and attempts to get them fired if they have said a single thing that opposes the prevailing ideology. There is an opportunity I think for individual universities to set themselves up against this and build their reputations anew, but do I think this will actually happen? In America – yes. But here? No. Not for the moment anyway.


'The Tribe: the liberal-left and the system of diversity' is available at a discount via imprint.co.uk/tribe for £12 (RRP £14.95) with free postage to UK addresses. Use coupon TRIBE. It is also available via online retailers. For Amazon reviews, see here.

Comments

  1. Excellent interview, Ben. Many thanks for providing some much-needed sanity.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Very interesting.

    Personally I think the transagenda is, like so much on the Left, is really about furthering the aims of high finance. What does capitalism want? It wants commodified, deracinated human beings with no loyalties to anyone or anything. The transgendered human is like the free movement of labour and capital - perfectly flexible for the demands of the globalist system. I also can't help but wonder if the people pushing this don't realise that it will further depress the European birth rate (because only white parents are stupid enough to allow their children to transition) and hasten our historically unprecedented demographic change. It really is worth looking into organisations like the Tavistock Institute and others which are charged with researching social control.

    The liberal Left is so stupid, it will take money from anyone.

    ReplyDelete

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