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Episode 410 - The Politics of Identity

In this episode we discuss:

(00:00) Introduction

(06:03) Proposition209

(09:37) Yascha Mounk

(10:42) Kenan Malik

(12:27) Ancient World

(13:33) Greeks 6th Century BCE

(19:10) Monotheism

(19:32) 16th Century

(20:56) Alasdair MacIntyre

(27:53) Identity Trap

(30:14) The Lure

(31:13) The Problem

(34:37) The Origin of Identity Synthesis

(34:49) Historically The Left Was Universalist

(37:21) Post WW2

(37:41) Foucault

(38:16) Spivak

(47:44) Derek Bell

(50:09) Crenshaw

(54:15) Mainstream Adoption

(55:28) Standpoint Theory

(01:04:32) Time Limits on Race Laws

(01:07:42) Chris Hedges

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Transcript
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Hello dear listener, we're up to episode 410 of the Iron Fist

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and the Velvet Glove podcast.

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This one's a bit different, it's just me flying solo.

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Talking about a book and the concepts that come from it.

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The book, well there's a couple of books we'll talk about but the main one will

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be The Identity Trap by Yasha Monk.

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And basically the idea of the book is looking at how over

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the last Three or four decades.

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We've adopted a thinking, particularly in the West, where people rely on

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their identity for their rights in our society and an expectation that minority

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groups will receive special treatment by our public and private institutions.

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Where laws will be written that will affect groups of people based on

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their race, gender, sexual preference, things like that, rather than universal

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laws that would apply to everybody.

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And in his book, Yasha Monk is quite critical of this movement,

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and I agree with his criticism.

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And I feel that it's very relevant to the discussion that we had

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with The Voice in this country.

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And where people like myself were arguing for universal laws that apply irrespective

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of the colour of a person's skin.

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And other people on the left were quite happy for laws to be

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written that take into account The colour of a person's skin.

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And that's led to a lot of angst by everybody.

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So, that's the nature of the book by Yasha Monk, and we'll get to that,

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but I feel that we need to just talk more generally about, um, how we think

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about morals at an individual level, as a sort of a background before we get

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into The whole issue of identities so I'll be talking a bit about a couple

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of Ken and Malick's books as well.

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So, look, that's where we're heading.

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It's all about identities, whether it's a valid approach to be drafting

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laws that give rights based on, on people's membership of groups.

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Or whether we should be writing general, universal laws that perhaps

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apply to people and give adv you know, help disadvantage people, no

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matter what the colour of their skin.

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So, just some background thoughts on that, I was only listening today, uh, there

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was a podcast on Late Night Live, where, uh, Phillip Adams was interviewing Nikki

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Sarver, and also the lady from the 7.

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30 report Laura Tingle.

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And, you know, sort of doing a bit of year in review, and Nikki Sarver

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was bemoaning the whole voice debate.

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And she did so in the context of criticising, uh, Peter Dutton

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and his approach to the debate.

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And look, in this sort of criticism that I hear from Yes Advocates, I

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really have never heard anybody talk about people like me, who are quite

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different to Peter Dutton, who've got an intellectually honest reason based

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on a, you know, a solid Enlightenment principle, and I've People like me have

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been ignored, and there's just this general insult thrown out that anyone who

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voted no was a racist, who was claiming that the proposal was divisive, and of

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course it wasn't divisive, that that was just nonsense, and you know, I just

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haven't heard honest Consideration given to, uh, what could be intellectually

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solid reasons for voting no.

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So anyway I heard that, which was frustrating.

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Another friend on the Facebook page talking about the vote, you know, used

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the word shame in relation to the no vote.

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And I know Cameron Riley on his podcast, uh, as we've mentioned before.

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Said, shame on me and he was embarrassed for me and people like me and so I find

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it frustrating that typically the people arguing for the no vote refuse to deal

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with the issues one by one that people like me raise and really I think one of

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the reasons is that they're unable to.

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And we'll get to that as part of this podcast.

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They're unable to because, well, as we mentioned before in this podcast,

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here we talk about news and politics and sex and religion, and I've

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been doing this for eight years.

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How our society works, how it should work, how it should function.

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And I'm used to talking about these things.

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Most people aren't, let's face it.

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You go to the proverbial dinner party or a group gathering and Talking in depth

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about issues like this is frowned upon, hence people are unpracticed at it.

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So that's part of the problem.

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Anyway, a ramshackle sort of bunch of ideas gonna be thrown at you.

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We'll see how we go.

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One of the things that strikes me in this conversation is how often

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people say, you know, the rest of the world will look at Australia.

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Shaking their heads, what a bunch of racists.

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It's a moment of shame for us.

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And, I came across one of the things in this book by Yascha Monk, referred

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to what happened in California in 1996 with Proposition 209, which amended the

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state constitution in California, which prohibited the state government from

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considering Race, sex, or ethnicity in the areas of public employment, public

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contracting, and public education.

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So basically, it was a change to the Californian Constitution that made it

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impossible for the California government to provide affirmative action policies.

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Based on things like race, sex or ethnicity, uh, particularly in employment.

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So they couldn't take positive action to employ more black people

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or more Hispanics or more women in particular roles where they felt that

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there wasn't already enough of them.

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And that passed in 1996 with 55 percent of Californians in

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favour, 45 percent against.

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Which basically removed any possibility of Affirmative Action.

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And Affirmative Action was, let's get it straight, it is taking into

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account race when making laws.

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Kind of what The Voice is trying to do.

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So, California would be viewed today as a deeply liberal state.

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And.

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A majority of its population is black, asian or hispanic.

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Dear listener, did you know that in 2020, when Joe Biden beat Donald Trump, 64 to

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34 in California, that was a vote, 64 in favour of Joe Biden, 34 for Donald Trump.

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At the same time, there was a Proposition 16 to repeal Proposition 209.

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So they had a crack at, at getting rid of Section 209, or Proposition 209, so

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that the Californian Government could make employment laws taking into account

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race, sex, ethnicity, affirmative action.

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It failed 57 to 42.

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So, did anybody in Australia say, shame on you, California?

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I didn't hear it.

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Bear that in mind as, as we think about the criticism that Australia faces, and,

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and think to yourself, well there's a state of America, the most liberal state.

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That said, you know what, it's not a good idea to make laws

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based on race, sex or ethnicity.

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Anyway.

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So, we're not alone in the world if we are thinking that more

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universalist policies are appropriate.

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Even in a liberal state like California.

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So, so let's just get back to this book by Yasha Monk, and what he's saying is that,

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you know, now there's a movement where people's identities are at the centre

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of social, cultural and political life.

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It's highly influential, and, and it's, it's accepted that governments

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Can and should treat citizens differently depending on, for

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example, the colour of their skin.

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He identifies this as the identity trap.

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Now who is he?

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He's a writer, academic, public speaker known for his work on the crisis

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of democracy and for the defence of philosophically liberal values,

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born in Germany to Polish parents.

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He's got a BA in History from Trinity College, Cambridge,

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PhD in Government from Harvard.

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Professor of the Practice of International Affairs at John Hopkins University.

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Where he's got appointments in both the School of Advanced International

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Studies and SNF Agorda Institute.

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So he's an academic with plenty of qualifications there.

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I'm also going to be mentioning, as I said before, some books by Ken and

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Malik, one of which is The Quest for a Moral Compass, and another one, Not So

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Black and White, A History of Race from White Supremacy to Identity Politics.

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By the way, that particular book We discussed in episode 382.

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Now who's Kenan Malik?

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He grew up with paki bashing in the UK in the 1970s and he was a victim of racism.

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And that racism drew him into politics, but he learnt social

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justice is bigger than racism.

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And a person's skin, colour, ethnicity or culture provides no guide to the

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validity of their political beliefs.

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And he realised that shared values were more important than shared

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skin colour, ethnicity or culture.

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And the values he was drawn to were those of the Enlightenment, of

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common humanity and universal rights.

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His politics was not shackled to his identity.

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Dealing first with Kenan Malik and his book The Quest for a Moral Compass,

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I've mentioned this book multiple times on this podcast and if you haven't

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bought a copy, do so and read through it if you're interested in this topic.

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And you know, The Quest for a Moral Compass, great title.

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It's the quest by mankind.

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H how do we How do we develop a compass that points us in

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the right direction morally?

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What do we rely on as the compass for moral questions?

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And he says that in the ancient world, fate could not be avoided.

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He talks about Homer, the Iliad, the Odyssey.

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He says, for Homer, This is the tragedy of being human, to desire

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freedom and be tortured by a sense of autonomy, and yet be imprisoned

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by forces beyond our control.

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So, the Iliad gave ancient Greeks a framework to understand their lives.

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It told of the desires of man, the capriciousness of gods, and

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the implacability of fate, and how all these knitted together.

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So, you were fated into roles in the ancient world, the ancient Greeks.

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By the way, the Stoics took acceptance of fate even further.

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The philosopher Zeno was once flogging a slave who had stolen some goods.

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The slave protested, but I was fated to steal, and Zeno said,

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yes, and to be beaten as well.

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Anyway.

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The Greeks come along, 6th century B.

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C.

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E., and philosophers such as Socrates began to use the idea of humans as

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rational beings as a starting point of moral discussion, and he and others looked

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to reason as a means of finding answers.

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So, Aristotle observed that there are many things we desire.

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And different people desire different things.

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However, if our activities have some ultimate end, which we want for

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its own sake, and for the sake of which we want all the other things,

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then this must be the supreme good.

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The knowledge of this supreme good is of great importance to

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us in the conduct of our lives.

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Rival minor desires and wishes can be evaluated.

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According to how they will help us achieve that ultimate end.

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So for Aristotle, this supreme good is Udaimonia.

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It means more than happiness, it describes a state of human

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flourishing that's worth seeking, of, of living well and doing well.

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It's not just simple pleasure.

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One who possesses Eudaimonia will find pleasure in his way of life,

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but finding pleasure is not the same as possessing eudaimonia.

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So the concept of an object's function was central to Aristotle's philosophy.

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Why does an acorn become an oak?

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Because that is its purpose.

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It's telos.

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In becoming an oak, it becomes what it already was potentially.

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And it fulfills its purpose and confirms its nature.

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And Aristotle says what truly distinguishes humans

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is the possession of reason.

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Hence, the exercise of reason is the proper function of a human being.

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Happiness consists in acting in accordance with reason, or to

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be more precise, it means acting virtuously in accordance with reason.

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Dear listener, I like to think on this podcast, we try to act and

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think rationally, and a lot of the argument to do with the voice by Yes

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Advocates, in my mind, was based on feelings rather than rational thought.

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Anyway.

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For Aristotle, as for Plato, ethics was subordinate to politics.

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The primary good was the good of the community, rather than

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the good of the individual.

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Morals grew out of the structure of the community and ensured the

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maintenance of that structure.

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Presumably if you went back 5, 000 years, and geographically somewhere quite

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different, The morals grow out of the structure of the community that you're

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in, and help maintain that structure.

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They could be quite different, depending on time and place.

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The polis, P O L I S, was for Aristotle a natural phenomenon.

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Just as it was in the nature of humans to be happy, so it was in the nature of

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humans to come together in groups, capable of supporting and sustaining happiness.

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So, for Aristotle, no citizen should think that he belongs just to himself.

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Libertarianism wasn't part of the possibilities for Aristotle.

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Rather, a person must regard all citizens as belonging to the state, for each is a

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part of the state, and the responsibility for each part naturally has regard

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to the responsibility for the whole.

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So, In the journey from Homer, which was about, uh, fate, to Aristotle, you know,

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rational use of virtues bearing in mind the community and the polis, uh, the

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Greeks crafted what we call Virtue Theory.

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So on that journey were developed the ideas of virtue as a disposition

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to act according to reason.

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Of practical wisdom as a skill that inclines one to do the right thing at

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the right time to the right degree.

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Of morality as requiring one to think not of single acts,

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but of one's life as a whole.

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And the virtuous person as someone who can be judged only according to the

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needs of the community of which he is a part and to which he is subordinate.

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All sounds a little bit vague, doesn't it?

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But sometimes these things have to be Michael Sandel wrote that book and I

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remember one of the examples he gave was, you know, if a community votes and decides

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to spend money building, um, dog fighting pits and associated stadiums so that dogs

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could fight and tear themselves apart.

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rather than, you know, public libraries, for example.

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Just the fact that everybody voted for that wouldn't mean it's good.

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There are times when you can use practical wisdom to do the right thing

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at the right time to the right degree.

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Anyway, that was the journey from The ancient times, ancient Greeks of fate

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to trying to use reason from Aristotle.

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Along comes religion and monotheism, and what should you do?

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Well, what God wants you to do.

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However that's explained to you, whether it's in the book or how it's interpreted

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or whatever, but the roadmap, the moral compass that religion provided

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was you do what God wants you to do.

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That simplified things.

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Then, as time progresses, we get to the 16th century, and we get about four sort

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of features start to come into play.

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God is not plausible to many people.

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Traditional communities disappeared.

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That makes the polis, um, a problem.

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uSing reason Social structures could be consciously designed

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to promote human flourishing.

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So social structures were now malleable, designable, something that could be

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created and worked upon rather than the fixed social structures of previous times.

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And this period also included the rise of individual autonomy.

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So that was sort of the Enlightenment coming to the fore.

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Now, in 1981, Alasdair MacIntyre wrote a book called After Virtue.

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And,

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look, it's a little bit lengthy.

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You know what, I think I've already decided this podcast is probably going

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to be split up into Of multiple episodes, so we've got Christmas coming up.

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You're gonna need something to listen to, maybe.

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So, excuse me if rather than rattling through summaries of this, you

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know, take a little bit of time.

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Enjoy the ride on some of this stuff.

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So, Alistair McIntyre, After Virtue.

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As described by Ken and Malik in his book.

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McIntyre paints a picture, sort of a post apocalyptic picture, uh, imagine,

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dear listener, a series of environmental catastrophes devastates the world

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and blame falls upon scientists.

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So there's a whole bunch of anti science riots where labs are burnt

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down scientists are lynched, books and instruments are destroyed.

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And a sort of a know nothing political movement comes to power abolishing

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the teaching of science, uh, and imprisons and executes scientists.

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Eventually there's an attempt to resurrect science.

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The trouble is that all the remains of scientific knowledge are a few fragments.

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People debate the concept of relativity, the theory of evolution,

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and the idea of dark matter.

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They learn by rote the surviving portions of the periodic table,

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and use expressions such as neutrino, mass and specific gravity.

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Nobody, however, understands the beliefs that led to those theories or expressions.

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And nobody understands that they don't understand them.

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The result is a hollowed out science.

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On the surface, everyone is acquaintance with scientific terminology.

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But no one possesses scientific knowledge.

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That's how his book begins.

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And McIntyre says that while no calamity of this sort has befall

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science, he says it's exactly what has happened to morality.

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Moral thought is in the same state as science was in his fictitious account.

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It's in a grave a state of grave disorder.

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And I agree.

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Based on the voice debate.

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So for me, the voice debate demonstrates that well meaning but

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ignorant yes advocates use words like fairness, equality, justice,

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representation, equity, human rights, racism, ought, should, freedom, self

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determination, morals, and shame, but they don't understand those words.

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Honest and knowledgeable yes advocates would have said that the proposal was

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racist and divisive, but necessary in order to overcome injustice.

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That would have required honesty and knowledge.

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They would have acknowledged that the proposal abandoned the enlightenment

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principle of universalism for the relatively recent and often disputed

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principle of critical race theory.

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I'll be getting on to Critical Race Theory.

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Intellectually honest Yes Advocates would have dealt one by one with the myriad

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of genuine objections that people like myself had, but they didn't, because they

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weren't equipped to think rationally or consistently within a solid framework

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of ethical hierarchies that allows the evaluation of competing moral claims.

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Instead, they abandoned reason and relied on feelings and groupthink

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to arrive at a position that was emotionally comfortable for them.

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Which all might be fine, but then they had to join the cheer squad,

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verify their lefty credentials by denouncing dissenters as racist.

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Anyway, I think that Alastair McIntyre It was spot on and the voice debate confirmed

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his viewpoint on the state of moral debate in the world, particularly Australia.

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Now he argued, this is Alasdair MacIntyre, that the Enlightenment rejected Aristotle.

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It rejected the notion of a virtuous life achieved by

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fulfilling one's purpose or telos.

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And it rejected it because, after the Enlightenment do what you want,

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because the individual is sovereign.

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So there's no moral anchor, and there's no way to adjudicate rival moral claims.

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If it's perfectly acceptable for an individual to do whatever they

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want, whenever they want, then there's no moral anchor and no way

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to adjudicate rival moral claims.

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McIntyre said that morality is the road map to take man as he happens

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to be, to man as he could be.

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Telos, which was, you know, the acorn growing to be an oak, the thing doing,

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uh, what it was meant to do, was the bridge, and the bridge had disappeared

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and therefore so had morality.

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That was McIntyre's view.

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Now, arguably, as telos for individuals waned, telos for society emerged.

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In the ancient world, there was little possibility of willed

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social change, but now there is.

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So we can design societies.

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With the coming of modernity.

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As the necessity of traditions gave way to the possibility of collective

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change, a new question was posed.

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People now ask themselves, not simply what moral claims are rational,

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given the social structure, but also what social structures are rational.

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What kind of society?

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What types of social institutions?

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Will best allow moral lives to flourish.

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That's A modern concept that wasn't available before.

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So, from my point of view, how are we to judge competing social

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structures, such as universal laws as opposed to identity based laws?

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If groups can do whatever they like because groups are sovereign,

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then you can't adjudicate competing moral claims because there's no

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overarching goal or objective.

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If groups don't have responsibilities towards other groups, there can

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be no moral code for groups.

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But if groups are subject to, say, the objective of promoting all human

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flourishing, then we can rationally adjudicate rival social systems

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and try to figure out if they help achieve, uh, all human flourishing.

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Okay.

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Now we're finally on to The Identity Trap by Yasha Monk, and

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it's really in five parts where he defines it, The Identity Trap.

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He talks about the origins of this idea of identities, how it was

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adopted into the mainstream, the flaws and a defence of universal ideas.

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I'm really going to be mostly dealing with the first two parts to that,

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the definition of what it is and the origin of where it came from.

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That's what I found the most valuable out of what he had to say.

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So what is it that we're talking about with this identity trap?

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And, as he describes it, because neutral rules, like non

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discrimination laws, Are supposedly insufficient to make a difference.

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The advocates of the Identity Synthesis, as he calls it, insist that we need social

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norms and public policies that explicitly make how the state treats its citizens

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and how we all treat each other depend on the group identity to which they belong.

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Say that again.

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Because universal laws haven't worked, advocates of identity politics insist we

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need policies that explicitly make how the state treats its citizens depend on

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the identity group to which they belong.

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And if we are to overcome the long legacy of discrimination.

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then members of marginalised groups need to be treated with special consideration.

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That's what we're dealing with here.

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If we are to ensure that each ethnic, religious or sexual community enjoys

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a proportionate share of income and wealth, then our institutions Must

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make the way they treat people depend on the groups to which they belong.

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That's, that's the theory that many people ascribe to.

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The trap, as he says, has a lure.

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The lure that attracts so many people to the identity synthesis is the desire

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to overcome persistent injustice and create a society of genuine equals.

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So it comes from a good place.

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But the likely outcome of this ideology is a society with way too much emphasis

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on our differences, pitting identity groups against each other in a battle

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for resources and recognition, where we're forced to define ourselves by the

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groups that we happen to be born into.

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That's what makes the identity synthesis a trap.

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He says, and I agree, while advocates are drawn to the noble ambition

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to remedy social injustice, you can fight these injustices without

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resorting to identity synthesis.

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So what's the problem with, with this concept?

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So, yeah, dividing Dividing humans into groups is dangerous for human beings.

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Because we're great at looking after our own group, but we're often capable of

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cruelty and disregard for other groups.

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And identity politics, the advocates for it, fail to identify and

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provide a solution to this problem.

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We will have warring tribes rather than cooperating compatriots.

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And, it's this sort of policy that's going to encourage and

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legitimise far right identities.

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Kenan Malik in his book said, , many who have taken up the Black Lives

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Matter banner Like many within the race consciousness movements, conflate the

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necessity of challenging racism with the building of racial solidarity.

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That's true.

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That's what people have come to.

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They say that in order to challenge racism, you need

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to build racial solidarity.

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Pursuing Racial solidarity makes achieving the challenging of racism more difficult.

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So these, these people are, are saying we're being vilified racially,

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we need to build racial solidarity.

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But that whole building of racial solidarity

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is making, The Challenge of Confronting Racism More Difficult.

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We talked about this in episode 402 to some extent, I think.

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Still dealing with problems of, of this identity synthesis.

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TRue racists of the, sort of, Ku Klux Klan type.

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Or maybe Pauline Hanson type.

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See racial differences as real, inherent, hardwired character differences.

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That thinking was used to justify slavery.

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It's used today to justify inequality.

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Things like, black people don't work hard, black people don't like to save, their

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problems are inherited characteristics.

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We've spent several centuries disavowing that notion.

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Of inherited racial characteristics.

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Our DNA differences are negligible.

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Biologically we are the same, but now, via the politics of identity, the left

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wants to circle back to those differences.

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Kenan Malik says, We live in an age in which most societies there

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is a moral abhorrence of racism.

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But we also live in an age in which our thinking is saturated with racial

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ideology in the embrace of difference.

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The more we despise racial thinking, the more we cling to it.

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It's like an ideological version of Stockholm Syndrome.

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If the left thinks it's okay to accentuate racial difference for positive reasons,

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then it can hardly be surprised when the right accentuates those differences.

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Reintroducing racial profiling re opens the door to racial thinking

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and to racial discrimination.

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There we go.

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That's part of the problem of what's wrong with it.

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Here's the interesting part of this book is the origins of, of this, of this

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thinking, of racial profiling in our laws.

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So Historically, the left was universalist.

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To be on the left was to believe that humans matter equally, irrespective

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of the group to which they belong.

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That we should aim for forms of political solidarity that transcend group

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identities, rooted in race or religion.

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One of the reasons I'm so big on secularism, dear listener,

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is that I just object to you.

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Kids being segregated in schools based on religion.

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I just find it abhorrent.

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I'm amazed that so many secularists are happy with racial based laws.

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Anyway, uh, still and historically the left was universalist.

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Part of that was that we can make common cause in pursuit of universal

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ideas like justice and equality.

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aNd according to Yasha Monk, that is the universalist

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leftism with which I was raised.

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It is the universalist leftism that despite my agreement with the communist

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views of my grandparents, held when they were young, continues to inspire me.

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It's no longer the dominant strain of leftism today.

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The amazing part is, dear listener, it's such an obvious, well known policy.

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Martin Luther King was all over this stuff, and if you are to hold and

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subscribe to the Universalist viewpoint, you are dismissed as a racist, because

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for the yes voters, the treating of people differently in our laws by virtue

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of race is acceptable and necessary.

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Even if you argue I could accept that people could argue that it is necessary

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because it's not working, for example.

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You at least have to acknowledge that it's not some racist crackpot

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idea to hold on to what was a well known Enlightenment principle of

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universal application of laws.

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It astounds me that people just abandon that and And hop onto their

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podcasts or Facebook page telling people they should feel ashamed for

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subscribing still to that policy.

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Anyway, um, it's no longer the dominant strain of leftism today.

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So, that was historically how the left was universalist.

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According to Yasha Monk, post World War II, intellectuals believed capitalism

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was doomed and communism was the answer.

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But you know, revelations came out about Stalin's tyrannical regime and what

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had gone on in the Soviet Union and and people then lost faith in communism.

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So This led French philosopher Foucault and others, um, to reject grand

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narratives and to distrust all ideologies.

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Because they had given up on capitalism, now they had to give up on communism.

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And it was like, well we've just got to give up on all meta

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narratives now, all grand narratives.

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Don't just, just distrust all ideologies.

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And they concluded There are no universal truths, and we can't

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progress to a better society.

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That was Foucault.

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Spivak, S P I V A K, was a female Indian scholar.

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She didn't like identity categories, because after all, identity

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categories are a type of ideology.

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They're a grand narrative, in a sense.

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So, she didn't like identity categories, but she felt disadvantaged Indians needed

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intellectuals to speak on their behalf.

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She embraced identity because it was useful in practice, even if it was

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suspect in theory, and thus was born what's called strategic essentialism.

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It's where you don't want to say that all black people like such and such, and have

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common interests and goals and desires.

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Because you know it's not true.

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But you do it because it works when arguing with people.

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People understand it.

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So, strategic essentialism.

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Faced with the problem of how to speak on behalf of the oppressed, scholars

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from a large number of disciplines followed in Spivak's footsteps.

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So they continued to wield post modernism, Foucault, to cast doubt

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on any claims invoking scientific objectivity or universal principles.

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Because remember, there is no truth, uh, there are no grand

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narratives, none of those things work.

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But at the same time they insisted they can speak on behalf of groups

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of oppressed people by invoking the tactical need for strategic essentialism.

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This attempt to square the circle is still apparent today when activists

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preface their remarks by acknowledging that race is a social construct.

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Before going on to make surprisingly essentialising claims about Black and

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brown people and what they believe.

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I'll go on to talk about, hmm, maybe I should digress now, to Marcia Langton.

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I think I will.

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Let me just go over to Marcia Langton now.

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So, this idea, dear listener, is that biologically we're, we're identical.

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That the common ideas of race Do not map biologically with,

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um, the discourse that we use.

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So, race is socially constructed, it's not biologically true.

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And by that, it's, it's cultural groupings that we've come to understand.

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That's what we mean by social, social construction.

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And so, it presents a difficulty for intellectuals like Marsha Langton and

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Noel Pearson, who know that race is not biological, it's just, it's just a

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social interpretation, but then want to.

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argue for things on behalf of, of such a group, and it gets them into trouble,

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and they end up doing all sorts of mental gymnastics to try and square

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the circle, as Yasha Monk puts it.

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We've talked about Marcia Langton before, and how her comments from

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the Melbourne Writers Festival.

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in 2012 were markedly different to the comments she was making

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in the lead up to The Voice.

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And I think that's because in 2012, um, Noel Pearson had not

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got his voice proposal up and running as he did at a later time.

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So, I'm reading now from Marsha Langton in the Melbourne Writers Festival 2012.

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She writes, and I'm paraphrasing and cutting out bits and pieces, but trust

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me, I'm not trying to mislead you as to the essence of what she's saying.

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The patrons of this podcast get the show notes and they get the full

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text and they can see the highlights for the bits that I've written.

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Okay, she writes, I want to explore in this chapter the problem

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of how to recognise Indigenous Australians in the Constitution.

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I am arguing that defining Aboriginal people as a race, as the Constitution

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does, sets up the conditions for Indigenous people to be treated not

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just as different, but exceptional and inherently incapable of joining

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the Australian polity and society.

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It's like, it's a bad thing.

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This is because there were provisions in the constitution referring to

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Indigenous people as a race and dealing with them in certain ways.

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And she wanted Indigenous people out of the constitution as a race.

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Exceptionalist initiatives that have isolated the Aboriginal world from

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Australian economics and social life.

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In turn, many Indigenous Australians have developed a sense of entitlement.

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and adopt the mantle of the exceptional indigene, the subject of special

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treatment on the grounds of race.

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This exceptionalist status involves a degree of complicity in racism.

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Actually, I should, I paraphrase there, let me read it again.

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This exceptionalist status, to which many Aboriginal people have ascribed

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unwittingly, involves a degree of self loathing dehumanisation.

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And complicity in racism, telling people they're different, making them

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out that they're special, exceptional, according to Marcia Langton, involves

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a degree of complicity in racism.

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As the exotic, Aboriginal people are not required to be normal,

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such as attending school regularly or competing in a meritocracy.

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And she writes, it is vital that treating Aborigines as a race.

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Must be replaced with the idea of First Peoples.

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And I've read in other places where Noel Pearson has said the same thing,

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that they want the reference to be First Peoples, rather than race.

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And, but who are First Peoples?

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It is the indigenous race.

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This, there's all sorts of strange mental hoops jumped through to try and do this.

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She writes,

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Regular listeners would know that I've been arguing that we should look

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at class and disadvantage, not skin colour, because there is a burgeoning

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indigenous middle and upper class.

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There are second generation PhD holders in Indigenous communities.

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There's lots of Indigenous people going fine.

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And of course there's lots who aren't.

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The point is to help the ones who are not going well.

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And that's been my argument.

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In her writings, she says here,

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Ending the colonial commitment to race in the era of Indigenous exceptionalism,

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it also requires imagining the Australian society in which we see each

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other as individuals, each unique and with a multitude of characteristics.

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Being Aboriginal in that circumstance would not be extraordinary or

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contentious or reason for hatefulness.

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The question of how to ameliorate the conditions of the disadvantaged.

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Would be the issue.

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Not because of their presumed racial difference, but because of their

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inheritance of intergenerational historical conditions.

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I'll read that again.

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The question of how to ameliorate the conditions of the

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disadvantaged would be the issue.

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Not because of their presumed racial difference, but because of their

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inheritance of intergenerational historical conditions.

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Presumably not everybody inherits Intergenerational trauma.

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I had this argument with Cam, Cameron Reilly, and I said, he

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said, you know, have you heard of intergenerational trauma?

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I said, sure, but are you saying that it transfers to every Indigenous person?

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How can you say that?

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You can't know that.

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There should be some people who, uh, that just does not apply.

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And Marsha Langton went on to quote Morgan Freeman, the American

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actor, and we've quoted Morgan Freeman Morgan Freeman before.

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So, so yeah, that was a little diversion where we had this issue where people

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promoting identity have convoluted and difficult to understand reasoning.

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When it comes to the social construction of race, yet still wanting to use race

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in laws, um, as a determining factor.

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Right.

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So, we were talking about Foucault, we're talking about Spivak, and next on

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the list in the sort of origin story, Is Derek Bell, , the civil rights movement

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achieved a lot, but not enough for some.

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Derek Bell was a lawyer who argued that universalism was ineffective

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and that there was a need for race based rights to achieve racial equity.

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KEn Amalek talks about Derrick Bell.

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He says, few people have heard of Derrick Bell, but he is the

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godfather of critical rights theory.

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Bell came to believe that racism is permanent.

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Few who were inspired by Bell's work tumbled as far as he

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did into the well of despair.

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Yet challenging racism, while believing it to be ineradicable, has inevitably

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shaped the character of anti racism.

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So you've got to get in your head here, Derrick Bell thought it was hopeless, that

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universal laws weren't doing it enough to make change, there had to be specific

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race based laws to achieve racial equity.

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So this movement has prompted a shift from campaigns for material change

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to campaigns for symbolic gestures.

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and Representational Fairness.

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According to Malik, um, these people have given up on eradicating racism

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and are now, uh, they honestly think it cannot be eradicated.

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So they're just looking now for symbolic gestures and representational fairness.

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After all, if racism is permanent, an attempt to eliminate it are futile.

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then anti racism becomes reduced to little more than a kind of public performance.

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That's Ken and Malik.

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So, Derek Bell, one of the well, the godfather of critical race theory.

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The idea that universal laws are ineffective.

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There needs to be race based rights.

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To achieve racial equity.

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Now he was lecturing and at a university, he got promoted to another university,

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Harvard, he was lecturing at Harvard, and they hired a veteran lawyer to

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teach a more traditional course.

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But the students rebelled, and under the leadership of an outspoken first year

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student called Kimberly Crenshaw, Um, that's who they were rebelling with.

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She went on to become a leader in the movement.

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Crenshaw coined the term intersectionality for the ways different forms of

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discrimination can reinforce each other.

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So an example of this was when General Motors began retrenching workers on the

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basis of the most recent persons hired.

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were to be the first people to be retrenched.

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And at that point in history, black women had only recently managed to

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gain employment in General Motors.

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So, the policy resulted in a disproportionate number of

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black women being retrenched.

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And, according to the judge's logic, the plaintiffs needed to prove that

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General Motors discriminated against its employees on the basis of a protected

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characteristic that was explicitly listed in the law, such as that of

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being black, Or that of being a woman.

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Because the company had treated both black men and white women fairly, the special

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burden suffered by black women was not legally relevant, and Crenshaw argued

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that this created a legal blind spot.

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So, under this view, black women are protected only to the extent that

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their experiences coincide with those of either white women or black men.

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wHere their experiences are distinct, black women will not get protection.

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So, another example was when Crenshaw was invited to a

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private club with a black friend.

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And the club had changed its rules to allow black men to

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enter via the normal entrance.

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However, the rule had not been changed for women.

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So, Crenshaw was forced to use the back door.

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So, intersectionality, in its meaning, evolved to the point where

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it meant that each person exists at an intersection of identities, i.

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e.

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your identity is perhaps black and being a woman.

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And outsiders, people who do not have that particular combination,

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can never truly understand them or yeah, can never truly understand them.

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So, that's a big part of intersectionality, is that outsiders who

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don't have those characteristics can never truly understand that person's position.

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And additionally, intersectionality came to mean that to be committed

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to eradicating one form of injustice requires activists to be committed to

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eradicating all other forms of injustice.

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The Sierra Club is an environmentalist group.

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That's historically seen it as its mission to promote the responsible use

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of the Earth's ecosystem and resources.

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But the organisation now issues statements on a bewildering range of different

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topics, from demanding that the Biden administration tear down the wall, to

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joining calls to defund the police.

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So we've got an environmental group on migration policy and defunding the

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police, because with intersectionality you have to acknowledge that To properly

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achieve justice, there's a multitude of identities outside of your particular

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group who may be marginalised and disadvantaged, and you need to, if you

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are a true justice warrior, um, be on their side for their issues as well.

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So, that was intersectionality.

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I'm going to talk about standpoint theory in a moment, but, uh, this sort of

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critical race theory, intersectionality, uh, identity thinking, really took over.

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After the fall of the Soviet Union, the class struggle fell out of fashion, and

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the left was vulnerable to a takeover.

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One of the key drivers, according to Yasha Monk, uh, that enabled this identity

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synthesis to take the place take the place of class thinking was the fact

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that Facebook, Twitter, other media, the articles most likely to be shared

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spoke directly to the interests and experiences of particular identity groups.

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So you've got to remember, dear listener, people are doing it tough.

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Unions have disappeared, uh, no one seems to be looking out for the working

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poor anymore, but there are identity groups out there, and so it makes sense

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that people would be drawn to these identity groups as a means of trying to

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achieve some improvement in their lives.

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pEople gave up on achieving justice for the working class and resorted to

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their minor identity group and hoping to achieve something for their group because

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they had given up on the class struggle.

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One of the key aspects of identity synthesis is Standpoint Theory.

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So Standpoint Theory has four interlocking claims.

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There is a set of significant experiences that virtually all members

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of particular oppressed groups share.

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Their experiences give members of the group special insight into

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the nature of their oppression and other socially relevant things.

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Members of the group cannot fully communicate those experiences to

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outsiders, and when an oppressed group makes political demands based

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on the identity its members share, outsiders should defer to them.

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So, I think all of those features of standpoint theory were mentioned

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a lot in the voice debate, looking at Indigenous people.

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Do you think you heard these sorts of concepts flying around?

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There's a significant experience, sorry, there is a set of significant

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experiences that virtually all members of particular oppressed groups share.

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For example, the feeling of having been subject to racism.

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Their experiences give members of the group special insight into

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the nature of their oppression and other socially relevant facts.

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You wouldn't know what it's like to be racially vilified.

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Only members of the group have special insight into what that feels like.

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Members of the group cannot fully communicate those

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experiences to outsiders.

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So no matter how much I talk to you as an Indigenous person, I

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can't convey to you fully what it means to be racially vilified.

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And fourthly, when an oppressed group makes political demands based

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on the identity its members share, outsiders should defer to them.

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So we, the leaders of Indigenous people, demand XYZ, and you as an outsider

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should simply defer to our demands.

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That's sort of the four interlocking claims in standpoint theory.

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And dealing with some of those ideas, here's a good story.

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In 1967, the producers of a surprise Broadway hit took their show to a

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faraway country for the first time.

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They were nervous about how it would be received.

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Fiddler on the Roof focuses on the life of an Orthodox Jewish family

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in a Central European country.

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Stettle, at the turn of the 20th century.

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Would theatregoers in Tokyo be able to relate to the internal struggle of the

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show's protagonist, a devout Jew who has come to terms with his three daughters

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choosing deeply unsuitable husbands?

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Would the Japanese get that Jewish story?

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They need not have worried.

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As Joseph Stein, who wrote the musical's book, recalls, I got there

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just during the rehearsal period, and the Japanese producer asked me, Do

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they understand this show in America?

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And I said, Of course!

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We wrote it for America, why do you ask?

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The Japanese producer said, Because it is so Japanese.

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Dear listener, Empathy with the plight of others may take hard

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work, but it remains both possible and politically indispensable.

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To know what it feels like to eat a blueberry, you need

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to have tasted a blueberry.

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The same does not apply to what philosophers call propositional knowledge.

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So here's an example, so in the, I'm quoting here from the book and

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he's talking about some academics.

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Fraser is one of the academics.

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And I think Juno Mack and Molly Smith.

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Anyway, Fraser gives a striking example of how this distinction between

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experiential and propositional knowledge becomes relevant in debates about

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important questions of public policy.

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For example, many feminists favour restrictions on the sale of sexual

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services, but worry that laws that criminalise sex workers Will

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stigmatise them in dangerous ways.

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So for that reason, they favour the so called Nordic model, which makes it legal

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for sex workers to offer their services, but illegal for clients to buy them.

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This seems like an elegant solution.

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Discouraging sex work without marginalising the vulnerable

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women who engage in it.

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But of late, Juno Mack and Molly Smith have put forward strong

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arguments against the Nordic model.

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Based on their own experiences as sex workers, they claim that these laws

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are likely to do significant harm.

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Where sex work is outlawed, potential clients have a strong reason to solicit

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prostitutes in hidden or remote places.

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They are also in a stronger negotiating position, because the

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fear of being punished drives down the number of potential customers.

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Due to these mechanisms, which most feminists had overlooked, the Nordic model

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puts sex workers at greater risk of harm.

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Now Fraser points out that Mack and Smith would have been unlikely

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to come up with these insights if they had never been sex workers.

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But she also insists that the politically relevant implications of those insights

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can easily be grasped by people who haven't worked as sex workers.

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While you and I may not share their experiential knowledge, we are able to

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understand and act on the propositional knowledge they derived from it.

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The role of experience in politics should not be overstated.

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Who we are will shape what we learn about the world, but it

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need not constrain our ability to communicate those insights to others.

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I reckon that's a great example.

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Now, some of you are going to say, but Trevor, see, you had to be a sex

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worker to get that knowledge, and so with The Voice, it was about getting

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feedback from Indigenous people about what it's like to be Indigenous.

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And my answer to that is, it was more than consulting, we

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already consult Indigenous people.

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If you look at the myriad of reports about various issues, you will be usually highly

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impressed by the level of consultation.

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We asked people what they want, asked them what they know.

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So yes, of course you need to consult with stakeholders, which includes.

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It's the marginalised group that you're trying to help, the members of it,

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for their own personal experience.

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But, it is then quite possible to take away from that this propositional

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knowledge and understand the problem that's been caused and then be

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able to come up with solutions.

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And of course, the people who are oppressed and in the minority.

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Are not going to know everything about how the world works, none of us do.

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We need a wide variety of experts in various fields to help us understand.

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So at that point, multitudes of people from all walks of life

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provide input to create solutions.

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Right, it goes on in this book.

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Embracing a vision of political solidarity based on thoughtless

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deference rather than hard won empathy.

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Makes it harder to bring about real political progress.

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We do not, as a matter of course, see or know the obstacles faced

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by most of our fellow citizens.

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In important ways, our experience of the world really is mediated by our identity.

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This gives all of us moral obligation to listen to each other, with

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full attention and an open mind.

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But the point of this hard work is communication, not deference.

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As long as we put in the work We can come to understand each other's

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experiences, especially insofar as they are politically relevant.

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When our fellow citizens tell us about the genuine injustices they face, we

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are perfectly capable of empathising with their experience and of recognising

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the way in which they violate our own aspirations for the kind of society.

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We want to live in.

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Huh?

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Where are we?

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Up to?

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An hour and 15.

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Maybe it's, it is only one episode.

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One of the issues in this book as well that I just came across was about

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time limits with race sensitive laws.

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So there was a 2003 Supreme Court decision in the US which upheld

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race sensitive admission policies at the University of Michigan.

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The judgment decision was written by Sandra Day O'Connor.

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And joined by Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

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And it explained in the decision that racial classifications, however compelling

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their goals are, they're potentially so dangerous they may be employed no

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more broadly than the interest demands.

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And all government use of race must have a logical end point.

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And O'Connor and Ginsberg expected that 25 years from now the use of racial

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preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.

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So, they thought it was important that if you are going to have a race based

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law, it's so dangerous you need to have an end point in there and recognise

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it's only a short term solution.

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And, um, Marcia Langton said that Noel Pearson was aware of this, and

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in that same essay for the Melbourne Writers Festival 2012, she wrote,

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there was one problem that Noel Pearson raised, the problem of how to gauge

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the progress in removing disadvantage.

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And therefore, and thereby remove from legislation, the special

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measures designed to address them once the goals were achieved.

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She writes, This is an absolutely necessary part of

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the puzzle I have outlined here.

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We must address this problem, the problem of, of a time limit, in

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order to remove the scourge of racism from the constitutional

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wheels of our social machine.

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It is a part of human rights practice to allow for special

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measures that discriminate in favour of a disadvantaged group.

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What she's saying there is it's critical race theory is now human rights practice.

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But she says, but these measures must be temporary, or the fabric of human

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rights law and principle is breached.

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She goes on to say there's a growing Aboriginal middle class, etc, etc.

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But she says here, the measures must be temporary.

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I don't recall any discussion on the voice.

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about a time limit for the voice.

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It seemed to be never discussed to my knowledge.

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Write to me if you heard of a time limit for the voice.

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Marcia Langton in 2012, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, both thought, and Noel

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Pearson, that there should be time limits when you're using race based

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laws, but we never heard of any.

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Huh.

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Okay.

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Maybe I'll finish with Chris Hedges.

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Yeah.

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So, Chris Hedges, a lefty, travelled a lot through the Middle East, writes

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extensively about the injustices meted out by America in the Middle East.

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Former Presbyterian minister, does volunteer work in jails, um, A good

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guy, and he writes in sheer post,

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The brutal murder of Tyre Nichols by five black Memphis, Tennessee

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police officers should be enough to implode the fantasy that identity

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politics and diversity will solve.

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The social, economic and political decay that besets the United States.

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Not only are the former officers black, but the city's police department is

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headed by Sarah Lynn Davis, a black woman.

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None of this helps Nichols, another victim of modern day police lynching.

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The militarists, corporatists, oligarchs, politicians, academics

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and media conglomerates champion identity politics and diversity

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because it does nothing to address the systemic injustices or the scourge

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of permanent war that plague the US.

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It's an advertising gimmick, a brand used to mask mounting social

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inequality and imperial folly.

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It busies Liberals and the educated with a boutique activism which is not

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only ineffectual but exacerbates the divide between the privileged and a

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working class in deep economic distress.

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The haves scold the have nots for their bad manners, racism.

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Linguistic insensitivity and garishness, while ignoring the root

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causes of their economic distress.

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The oligarchs could not be happier.

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In case you didn't know, dear listener he wants class based policies

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rather than identity based policies.

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And the activism in these groups for representation, where You know, if 3

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percent of the population is Indigenous, then 3 percent of our brain surgeons must

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be Indigenous, and 3 percent of, you know, police must be Indigenous, and 3 percent

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of everything else must be Indigenous.

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Just because you get representation doesn't mean you get justice,

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as Ty Nicholls found out.

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And just because we get Indigenous representation in Parliament If there

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are right wing neoliberals, like Jacinta Price, who are going to be

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advocating for lower taxes and lower social services because of trickle down

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economics, then the fact that you've got representation isn't going to help.

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You'd be much better off with a white person.

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advocating for class policies to help the working class than a black person arguing

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for the continuation of oligarchic power.

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That's what he's getting at.

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Still talking about representation.

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Did the lives of Native Americans improve as a result of the legislation

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mandating assimilation and the revoking of tribal land titles

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pushed through by Charles Curtis.

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The first Native American Vice President, there you go, a Native American

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Vice President pushed through that.

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Are we better off with Clarence Thomas, who opposes affirmative

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action on the Supreme Court?

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Or Victoria Newland, a war hawk in the State Department?

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Is our perpetuation of permanent war more palatable because Lloyd Austin, an African

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American, is the Secretary of Defence?

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Is the military more humane because it accepts transgender soldiers is social

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inequality and the surveillance state that controls it ameliorated because

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Sonder Hai, who was born in India is the CEO of Google and Alphabet has

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the weapons industry improved because Kathy j Warden, a woman is the CEO

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of North Hop Grumman, and another woman, Phoebe Novakovic is the CEO of.

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General Dynamics.

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We live under a species of corporate colonialism.

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The engines of white supremacy, which constructed the form of institutional

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and economic racism that keep the poor poor, are obscured behind

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attractive political personalities such as Barack Obama, who Cornel West

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called a black mascot for Wall Street.

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The faces of diversity are vetted and selected by the ruling class.

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The institutions write the script.

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It's their drama.

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They choose the actors.

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Ford

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called those who promote identity politics Representationalists.

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Who want to see some black people represented in all sectors of leadership.

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In all sectors of society.

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They want black scientists.

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They want black movie stars.

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They want black scholars at Harvard.

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They want blacks on Wall Street, but it's just representation, that's it.

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Identity politics and diversity allow Liberals to wallow in

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a cloying moral superiority.

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They do not confront the institutions that orchestrate social and economic justice.

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They seek to make the ruling class more palatable.

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They are the useful idiots of the billionaire class.

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Moral crusaders who widen the divisions within society that the ruling

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oligarchs foster to maintain control.

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Diversity is important, but diversity when devoid of a political agenda

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that fights the oppressor on behalf of the oppressed is window dressing.

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It is about incorporating a tiny marginalised by society into unjust

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structures to perpetuate them.

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Diversity, when it serves the oppressed, is an asset, but a con

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when it serves the oppressors.

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There you go, that's Chris Hedges, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist.

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And I have a little thing here, reflections on his idea.

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Getting minorities into institutions is useless if they are not there

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to change the institutions.

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Putting right wing neoliberal black people into power isn't going to

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help black people impoverished by right wing neoliberal philosophy.

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It will provide a cover for the harmful activities of the institution.

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The voice runs the risk of achieving representation, but

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without a philosophy to deal with the problems of Indigenous people.

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And there we go.

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So, that's the Identity Trap, the Asher Monk, prefaced by a

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bit of Canon Malick, the Quest for a Moral Compass, interspersed

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with a few other bits and pieces.

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So more stuff for you to think about, and I think we'll be back next week with

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Scott and Joe, and then we'll probably take a break for a few weeks, so.

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If you are a patron, then you get show notes, which are great.

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If you're not a patron, what do you think of doing it?

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I've lost a couple recently.

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A few people didn't like my views, such as the ones that

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I've just espoused now and left.

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So, if you think it's worthwhile, this podcast, then that's one

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way of showing your support.

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And, um, I think that's all for the moment.

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I hope you've, if you've stayed through to the end, that's great.

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Be nice to have some feedback.

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, I hope it was entertaining enough.

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Anyway, talk to you next week.

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Bye for now.

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The Iron Fist and the Velvet Glove
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