In this age of identity politics, where our differences are constantly highlighted to make us forget our greater commonalities, it is becoming increasingly difficult to talk critically about anything without being assigned to some “dominant” cultural group; a problem which is in turn exploited by the people who play the “playing the racism card” card.
Prejucide is a terrible thing. I’ve experienced plenty of it myself, in all sorts of forms: as a German in Greece, as a Greek in Germany, as a long-haired man in Greece, as a bearded man in Germany, as a socialist in a capitalist system, as an agnostic in a religious world, as a non-gay male in cultural studies, as a supporter of gay rights in a homophobic culture… hell, I suspect I’ve occasionally experienced anti-Semitism, and I’m not even Jewish. You can probably make a similar list for yourself; the world’s full of idiotic ideas.
I’ve also acted against prejudice – filed complaints, spoken out in public, donated money.
So keep this in mind while I vent my frustration at the way certain people, mostly upper middle-class academics and writers, are seeing prejudice everywhere. No, not just seeing prejudice, but seeing identities.
Take fatness, for example. Yes, people who are fat are often treated like shit, even when in many cases it’s not their fault. There are genetic reasons for being fat – though that’s not why I’m fat. I’m just fat because I hate sports and I can’t keep away from the sweets. Now, that doesn’t mean that anyone who happens to weigh less than me has the right to treat me like a lower lifeform. But it also doesn’t mean that being fat is fucking identity. More importantly: being fat is not a good thing. Yes, our society has a fucked-up way of dealing with our own bodies. Agreed. Real women have curves. Agreed. But for crap’s sake, being fat is not who you are, and if you can manage to lose weight then you should. Being fat sucks. At first it’s bearable, but the more time goes by, the more your entire system suffers. You get all sorts of pains. You don’t feel good. You can’t do simple things you should be capable of doing. I’m fat, I’ve been made fun of because of it, but the people complaining about the terrible anti-fat prejudice that permeates our society really need to shut the fuck up. A healthier relationship with our bodies – yes, please. But cut out the motherfucking identity politics.
A more controversial situation is as regards mentally and/or physically disabled people. It’s a difficult and complex situation, because there are very different types and degrees of problem, and people often get dumped into one big category (“I don’t want to know about them because they remind me of the fragility of my own body and that scares me”). And again, I do very strongly believe that great changes are necessary to make life easier for people with physical or mental disabilities. And I do believe that many of these people want and can contribute something to the world. But when I hear people insist on phrases like “differently able” and start seeing “ableism” everywhere, I get rather wary. Yes, the way the system functions discriminates against people with disabilities, and as such people with disabilities are a group of sorts. But many writers/academics/etc. take it so far that the disability becomes something like a badge of honour.
There’s a terrible episodes of Deep Space Nine called Melora which takes this to its ultimate conclusion: faced with the possibility of no longer being disabled, Melora chooses her “identity” over the future she wanted and the man she loves.
But the truth is, it’s not a matter of identity. Disabilities aren’t unfairly named – they really do disable you. Not from everything, not from being a person. But enough. Enough to matter. Enough for us to be aware that disabilities aren’t something we need to learn to be proud of, but something we need to beat. Because, you see, we can do that. As a species, as a technological civilization, we have the opportunity to eliminate unnecessary suffering. We can fix the mistakes in our genetics – and yes, they are mistakes. They are things that don’t function. That they exist, and that pretty much every one of us has them in one form or another, sucks pretty heavily, but that doesn’t mean we need to just accept how things are. We can achieve a great deal with compassion and intelligence. We already have.
(And don’t give me the bullshit about eugenics, OK? The DNA is not a discourse, and what the Nazis did had nothing to do with actual science.)
There’s another danger with all these identity politics, and that is the danger of misunderstanding the causes of suffering. Prejudice against physically disabled people isn’t the reason they’re lacking all those things that would make life easier, like ramps for wheelchair users. The reason is economics. Ramps cost money. Healthcare services cost money. And we live in a system designed for profit, not for human rights or quality of life. The same, to a large degree, goes for the fact that women are generally paid less. Prejudice is just the excuse for paying people less and thus being able to profit more. Do you think slaves were kept because slave-owners were racist? Or was racism the excuse for being able to keep slaves, run plantations, and make massive amounts of profit off the backs of unpaid workers? Sure, lots of people believed in all that racist bullshit. But as long as there was profit to be made, there was little chance of changing that.
More examples abound. Ageism? Old people’s pensions aren’t being cut because politicians don’t like old people, they’re being cut so more money can be funneled to bank bailouts and tax cuts for the ultra-rich. The obsession with youth is because youth sells. Do you think Donald Trump has problems because of his age?
People who club baby seals for a living don’t do it because they hate seals. They do it because there’s money to be made.
We live in an economic system that is not designed to improve the lives of the vast majority of the people. It’s simply not. It’s not that prejudice doesn’t exist; it does. But it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It exists because it serves a purpose, or multiple purposes. It gives the system excuses to perpetuate its barbarism and keeps us from recognizing we’re all in the same boat. Fighting for a system that is fair to this group or that group will get us nowhere. We need to fighting for a system that is fair to everyone, that puts reason and quality of life above individual profit.
The same pseudo-liberals that are coming up with a new -ism every day seem to have little time for systemic change… or even to say something against so-called wars of liberation that replace old dictators with new ones. When the spectre of “Islamofascism” is conjured and lives are destroyed by barely disguised racism, they applaud in the name of women’s rights. Meanwhile, Iraq has gone from a secular country where women could work and hold major positions to a place where women are killed for not obeying the laws of the lunatics we’ve empowered. But let’s not talk about that. Let’s find more places to bomb. The President is black, the Chancellor is a woman – we’re on the side of progress!
And the cuts? The cuts are necessary. Give me that crutch, it’s waste of money that could be better spent buying baubles for billionaires.