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Monday, February 02, 2004
Identity politics is a beast whose appetite can never be satisfied

Sometimes one detects on the political right a resigned attitude towards identity politics. These aren't people who feel naturally at home with the idea of Black Police Officers' Associations or talk of ensuring a 'representative' number of women in parliament. For them, race should not come into how well one polices the streets and sex should not come into how well one represents one's constituents. But they do sometimes wonder if an accommodation with this sort of thinking is possible - and whether such a thing would be so bad. "It's clear why they are fighting: surely if we give in on this issue, these lobbies will pack up and go home? If we accept racial quotas in this industry, if we redefine marriage to include two men - and eventually seven men - surely that will be the end of the matter?"

I think all the evidence suggests that it never will be. Identity lobbies of this sort create a comfortable niche for themselves when they begin their campaigns - the smug mindset of one confident in the rectitude and necessity of all he does, often well-paid and well-respected. What happens when your reasonable demands are all met? Do you give up this lifestyle? Do you look for another career, another moral crusade? Of course not. If you're anything like the race or feminist lobbies, you announce that your quest has barely begun, that freedom and equality for your group is still a million miles away. You make further demands, you make ever more absurd claims about your victim status, you become more shrill, more extreme, more vicious. If laws permitting discrimination against women and ethnic minorities are removed, you demand laws permitting discrimination against men and white people. You force quotas on institution after institution. You start demanding new university courses that popularise a mythology of all civilisation beginning in Africa and religion all being an invention of cunning men who wanted to secure their patriarchy. If people disagree, you start to militate the language against them. Suddenly a racist is someone who believes in a colour-blind society and sexism is thinking it doesn't matter if the candidate is male or female because the qualifications for the job are what count.

We have already seen such things occur in recent decades. Just as major advances in basic human kindness and respect helped ensure it became socially unacceptable and legally forbidden to make one's choices in employment and tenants on these grounds, the lobbies who launched such campaigns switched their fire into areas no reasonable person expected: campaigning for preferential treatment, identity group rights and special legal status. It suited these people too well personally and politically to do anything else.

And as new lobbies emerge and make further demands, you can expect just the same. This week's Spectator focuses on one council's document, written in co-operation with a homosexual lobby group, which advertises - advertises - the fact that it is handing over half of its adopted children to homosexual and lesbian couples and has struck off the adoption register those couples who believe a child needs a mother and a father. Both claims are in fact untrue, but that this was these people's idea of positive propaganda says it all. In an article unavailable online, yesterday's Sunday Telegraph details the story of one couple's efforts to help their deaf son to live a normal life. Their encounters with the 'Deaf Community' are chilling in detailing the blinkeredness of its proponents. The parents went to meetings of other deaf parents and grandparents and heard it asserted that children unable to hear were gaining enormously from their disability, that any proposal to help the boy was monstrous.

One woman told the group: "I'm glad my grandson is deaf." There were cheers all round.

When the parents decided on a treatment that could ensure their son almost normal hearing, the opposition was fanatical.

Recently at a course with three other hearing parents on developing advocacy skills, our Deaf instructor asked us whose opinions a medical practitioner should take into account when treating a deaf child. "The parents," we chorused. "Who else?" he asked. "The child's, if possible," we replied. "But who else?" he insisted. We thought hard. We suddenly realised the answer he wanted. "The Deaf community?" we ventured. "Of course!" he said. I replied that, as Oliver's mother, I simply did not accept that a mass of strangers, with nothing but one physical characteristic in common with my son, should have any sort of say in his welfare. I got a pitying smile.

... "What you're proposing doing to your child is the equivalent of rape."

The cochlear implant that gave Oliver the ability to hear whispers when previously loud and clear speech was all he could manage is virulently denounced by the 'Deaf Community'. They say that allowing it to anyone under the age of 18 - sixteen years after the implant is needed if proper hearing skills are best to develop - amounts to experimentation. The report doesn't detail whether they are yet campaigning for criminalisation, but it seems a reasonable expectation.

It is simply too profitable in every sense to identify as a victim group and make ever more extreme demands to expect that one can reach a compromise that will result in such people packing up and going home. On grounds of basic humanity, one should of course pass laws and fight injustices if that is the right thing to do. Obviously it is wrong to turn away qualified applicants on grounds that have nothing to do with their ability to do a job, or to use the force of law to persecute people for private homosexual acts. That radical lobbies supported measures enacted to end these things does not change that.

But going beyond what is reasonable and fair in hope of compromise is simply counterproductive. Such concessions only provide further incentive and hope for those who launch such campaigns. Feeding crocodiles can spare one for a while, but it works only as long as you have food for them. Run out and you face the same horror as before.

Ultimately, the identity politics that seeks to define people by their skin colour, sexual preferences, disabilities and the like is a danger to liberty, to individuality and to any notion of a common culture or interest. It is antithetical to any conservative or classically liberal vision, and is by its nature hostile to moderacy and common sense. There will never be a day when these identity lobbies pack up and go home, accepting fair treatment and asking no more. All those who believe in equality under the law, individual merit, rights and liberty above group demands and sectional claims must recognise this unfortunate reality. Conservatives who believe a lasting compromise is possible are kidding themselves.

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