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This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Identity Politics and the Human Rights "Industry"

The unease about “multiculturalism” that has been festering in many Europeans for the past two decades seems to have exploded into full open view - as a result, first, of the sight of hundreds of thousands of refugees on the move from the slow train-wreck that Syria has become and now, this month, of the Paris massacre.

This post may seem to wander – but please bear with me as I try to clear my head from the obfuscated language used nowadays to talk about issues of “identity”…..

An article by Nick Cohen attacking what he called “progressive liberalism” struck a nerve with me this week – although I realized from reading his What’s Left? – how the left lost its way. How Liberals lost their way (2007) some years back that you do not get from him a balanced treatment…..  But the book did make me aware of just how different my Scottish experience was. We may have had some ripples of immigration from India, Italy and Pakistan but their entrepreneurial skills gave them a certain status. Somehow the rain and cold have conspired to keep most immigrants away from Scotland - it is telling that the most significant immigration to Scotland came a century ago - across the narrow stretch of water which separates the country from Northern Ireland…  These were not only poor - but Roman Catholic and therefore marginalized in the labour and housing markets.

As a youngster I was attracted to the language of “equality” used by people such as RH Tawney, Aneurin Bevan and Richard Titmuss and therefore became active in my town’s Labour Party in the late 1950s. As a “son of the manse” I was a bit of an oddity in the predominantly Catholic local party who aroused the strong prejudices in the protestants who were the mainstay of the town’s professional class. Their disapproval of my activities was strongly conveyed to my poor father (who never remonstrated with me). In 1968 I found myself a councillor representing a (religiously) “mixed” area but with my sympathies strongly for those “disadvantaged” – not least by the fickleness of the hiring habits of the shipbuilding owners.

That’s when I first saw the downside of democracy and the need for some “positive discrimination” – a concept just beginning to trickle across from the States……I spent the subsequent 20 years of my life on this “mission”. So I have “form” as an active “leftist” pushing such an agenda.

But I have never felt comfortable with the language of “human rights” - nor those using it…I well remember the impatience I had in the 1980s with the new language of “equal opportunities” which came largely from middle-class women with an understandable agenda of getting better jobs – when we were trying in Strathclyde to create better conditions for 300,000 people affected by long-terms unemployment, addiction and mental health.

And don’t even talk to me about my attitude toward the young international professionals I began to encounter in the 2000s using the language and holy scriptures of “human rights”. To me rights are something you have to struggle for – not text you bow down to because it’s enshrined in the documents of international bodies…..

It was at this point I started to question the motives and integrity of the people associated with what was becoming a huge industry…….and felt that my record gave me the right to challenge what I have seen as excessive “political correctness…” which has now reached the level of utter stupidity..     
Francis Fox Piven is one of the American left’s most distinguished activists and had this to say in 1995 about the rise of identity politics. Robin Blackburn is an independent-minded British Marxist who brought an eagle eye to human rights a few years back in this article - Reclaiming Human Rights

There are many individuals – particularly those suffering from sexual discrimination - who have gained from the assertion of rights but, from being one of a small minority of the left who dared question the assertion of “human rights” I suspect I am becoming more mainstream….. 

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