I was extremely saddened watching Hanna Gadsby’s Netflix special a couple of nights ago. My wife and I were watching her, and we agreed: we liked her. We weren’t cracking up, but we found her interesting and we cared about what she was saying. But then… as she began to move from relating her intensely personal story, to interpreting and generalizing her experiences, things went in a dark and starkly impersonal, political direction — to a collectivist, highly formatted, standardized diagnosis of her life’s pain. Who was her villain who broke her down? Was it anti-gay fundamentalists? Was it ideologues who refuse to engage with other people as individuals, preferring instead to view them as examples of some despised category? Was it people who succumbed to their tribe’s default hostility and prejudice instead of following their own consciences?
No, Gadsby reflexively reached for the crowd-pleasing all-purpose punching bag category that the identitarian left never tires of blaming and abusing for all injustice in the world: the Unholy Trinity of identity intersectionality: whiteness/maleness/heterosexuality. Sadly, I am pretty sure this is what her core audience responds to most powerfully in her “challenging” comedy, the part that dittos and reinforces how they already feel and think. They love how gratifyingly unchallenging it is. It is for them how Left Behind paperbacks and Jesus camps are for fundamentalist children.
And Gadsby is quite happy to alienate examples her despised category: “The only people I don’t reach on a very personal level are straight white men. They don’t really need another entertainer dedicated for them exclusively, so they’re fine.”
And here also she marches the party line: It is not the intrinsic offense of open scorn that offends the white male heterosexual… no, it is the thwarting of unbridled entitlement, that something in this world dares to be for someone else! It is not a constant barrage of generalized disparagement that is disheartening… no, it is that this disapproval signals the requirement to share unequally distributed power with other categories for a change. It is not frustratingly unjust that the people advancing these arguments scornfully reject objections to those arguments ad hominem — it is that these arguments threaten their hegemony. They’re just too unaware of the fact that their collective interests avoidably produce delusion and motivated reasoning to comprehend why their perceptions are invalid and their reasons unworthy of consideration.
This is not, as so many young leftists like Ezra Klein insist, a question of how far liberalism ought to be taken, a matter of where the line between moderate and extreme ought to be draw. Klein doesn’t take liberalism gone too far, he doesn’t take it far enough, or even allow it to go anywhere. His worldview is, in fact, radically anti-liberal. Klein has characterized objections to his approach to anti-racism as anti-anti-racism, but what he practices is not anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-prejudice, but in fact a theoretically justified enthusiastic embrace of prejudice and illiberalism. What Klein calls an “anti-anti-racist”, a liberal would call an anti-racist — a principled opposition of both Klein’s and Trump’s superficially different forms of demographic discrimination.
If we come out of this ordeal intact, we will look back at the illiberalism of the left with the same horror as we do the illiberalism of the right. It is, in fact, evil, and like all evil, it justifies, intensifies and galvanizes its counterpart. In Greek mythology, Ares was known to play both sides of a conflict to generate war. It is abundantly clear to all who are not actively possessed by illiberal left-wing or right-wing ideology that we have an illiberal feedback loop squalling itself up to full war volume.
We do not overcome an evil by simply reversing it. Evil always must be overcome. This unfortunately requires changes to how we think, not just what we think. Changing our opinions is not changing our minds.
I believe many people have become discouraged and angry that racism, sexism and homophobia still exist despite decades of effort to eradicate it, and that the once nearly ubiquitous faith that liberal strategies will overcome them is now in question if not outright rejected.
Increasing numbers of leftists are now rejecting the liberal commitment to remap our identities to encompass all fellow persons. A liberal will not tolerate seeing a fellow person, of any category — demographic, psychographic, ideological, or otherwise — suffering violation of individual rights. Only one category matters: individual. If it happens to someone, anyone, it is happening to a person like me: a fellow individual.
This means crimes are not done to groups, and certainly not to categories! And crimes are not done by groups much less by categories. (I cannot stress this enough: wherever a mind is inclined to see categories acting and being acted upon, that mind is succumbing to solipsism, responding to ideas instead of mind-transcending realities.) This is why Hannah Arendt said that “the physical extermination of the Jewish people… was a crime against humanity, perpetrated upon the body of the Jewish people.” Crimes are committed by individuals against individuals, even when — especially when — those individuals believe they are acting on behalf of a category against a category, for the sake of justice.
So, absolutely not: We will never overcome prejudice against groups of people by balancing them out with counter-prejudices. We will not overcome shame of being categorized as some despised thing by heaping shame on the category of person who made us feel ashamed. Martin Luther King said it best: “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”