No sacred cows

In the crazy world of identity politics, facts don’t matter

7 July 2018

9:00 AM

7 July 2018

9:00 AM

According to a poll of 538 experts on women’s issues, the United States is one of the ten most dangerous countries in the world for women. Admittedly, America is ranked tenth, but it’s still considered more dangerous than 183 other countries, including Iran, South Sudan, Sierra Leone, the Central African Republic, Bangladesh and Myanmar. That’s quite a claim when you bear in mind that Iranian women caught not wearing a full hijab are routinely sentenced to 74 lashes, that an estimated 94 per cent of women in Sierra Leone have had their genitals mutilated, and that thousands of Rohingya women and girls have been raped by Myanmar’s soldiers and militiamen in the past year. What can these so-called experts be thinking?

According to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, which carried out the survey, it was a ‘perception poll’. In other words, none of the standard data metrics used to evaluate how dangerous a country is for women, such as the incidence of sexual violence, were used. Instead, the respondents were asked to name the five countries in six different categories that they perceived to be the most dangerous. A clue as to how objective they tried to be has been provided by Zakia Soman, a women’s rights activist and one of the ‘experts’ polled. When asked by the BBC why she had ranked India above Somalia and Saudi Arabia — India came top in the poll — she explained that she was holding India to a higher standard because it’s a democracy. But surely she wasn’t being asked to judge countries according to whether they lived up to their own ideals, just how dangerous they are, plain and simple? ‘It’s not about the ranking,’ she snapped. ‘Our society is ruled by misogyny and patriarchy.’

This poll is the latest illustration of how little regard the practitioners of identity politics have for empirical reality. I’ve been collecting instances of this phenomenon for a book I’m thinking of writing about the identitarian left and have come across the following examples: gender is a social construct (although the people making that claim also claim that greater gender equality will produce better outcomes, e.g. in households, workplaces and legislative chambers, which is odd if men and women are essentially the same); all women are oppressed; all men are misogynists; climate change is, in part, caused by misogyny; all white people are privileged; all white people are racists; Britain, the United States and Australia are among the most racist countries in the world; the British Empire was an endless procession of oppression and exploitation, including the Royal Navy’s century-long suppression of the Atlantic slave trade, and anyone suggesting otherwise is a white supremacist; challenging progressive orthodoxies on campus, such as the view that gender is a choice and men who identify as women should be allowed to compete as women in women’s sports, is a form of hate speech that causes harm to victim groups, e.g., endangers their safety and damages their mental health; equality of opportunity leads to equality of outcome — ‘equity’ in the language of the identitarian left; and end-state equality can be maintained without the need for constant interventions by a coercive state, e.g., the state can just ‘wither away’, as it did in… well never, but that’s only because true socialism hasn’t been tried yet.

The mystery I’m trying to unravel is: how can the people making these claims believe them when they are so transparently false? A clue was provided by an orientation leaflet given to freshers at Brown University in 2015 — a leaflet produced by the college authorities — which condemned ‘quantitative data, statistical information and documentation through written word’ as tools of ‘-systematic oppression’ and urged students to set more store by ‘personal experiences’. Presumably, the same attitude underpinned the decision of Thomson Reuters to ask 538 experts to rank countries according to their perception of which posed the most danger to women rather than by anything so oppressive as facts. As far as I can tell, this dismissal of empirical reality is rooted in the post-modernist critique of scientific epistemology. There is no such thing as objective truth, just competing narratives that favour the interests of different groups, and the attempt to privilege one narrative by labelling it ‘scientific fact’ or ‘knowledge’ is just a rhetorical device used by white men to maintain their power.

So there you have it. America is one of the ten most dangerous countries for women because 538 experts on women’s issues say it is and anyone who challenges them is engaging in systematic oppression. Welcome to the madhouse that is identity politics.

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