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Rattling the cage of (fragmented) society

I was tempted to talk a little about Pope Benedict XVI, but then I decided that by far the most interesting aspect to the whole affair has been the frenzied response to his words. For every group has its own particular and unique objection (the protestants hate the popish imperialism; the Tatchells hate the homophobia; the secularists hate the religious arrogance; the atheists hate fairies and flying spaghetti monsters; the libertarians just hate everybody and don’t really know why…). Anyway, it brought home to me just how fragmented things have become, that is, how a plethora of exceedingly narrow viewpoints now constitute ‘society’, and any sense of cohesion or shared commitment to a ‘common good’ has been largely thrown out of the window.

Partly this a postmodern thing, an abhorrence of transcending narratives and the fetishisation of the minute and the particular. Whilst not wholly unsympathetic to the postmodern impulse, I do think that it can yet cause problems, and one of them is the denial of those corporate identities that traditionally provided the cohesive for society, offering shared bonds and relationships capable of overcoming the potential conflicts of diversity. The examples, in British history, are numerous; Empire, Monarchy, the Established Church, Parliament, Britannia etc. All too often these things are now painted as oppressive constructs, as anti-social, imperialistic and tyrannical – which, in its simplicity, chooses to completely ignore history.

However, when these fall a vacuum exists. Denied the bonding capacity of an overarching identity, told that corporate identities are in some sense incompatible with ‘freedom’, the social realm has rapidly fragmented into small segments each defined by exceedingly narrow interests and/or identity. As one might expect, the result is the break-up of any harmonious concept of ‘society’, and we are left with a neutral public square in which competing interest groups tussle for their share of the spoils.

In recent years the left have been happy to pedal this fragmentation, because in constructing the plot they have been able to place themselves as the natural ally and champion of these special interest and minority groups. By taking an historical truth (that the left stood up for the disenfranchised in society) and turning it into a political necessity, the left has become reliant on the disenfranchised as providing the very sustenance on which they now thrive. The old adage that the left intentionally keep poor people poor in order to ensure that people continue to vote for them is simplistic and unhelpful; but there is the shadow of a truth in there.

Thus, the promotion of a plethora of identities depicted as oppressed, or discriminated against, are a feature of the political landscape upon which the left relies. For which reason the metro-left finds it barely credible that a homosexual, immigrant, transgendered, Muslim, working class, single-mother, or female member of society might wish to vote conservative – because it is the left, they are convinced, that serves the interests of the oppressed and the downtrodden.

The supreme irony is that in upholding these identities, the left commits itself to the very thing it claims to oppose – it reinforces, in order to later deny it, the racist/sexist/xenophobic account of society (how can you defend a ‘minority’ without first making sure it sees itself as a ‘minority’ first and foremost, beyond all else?)

There are two further problems. The first is that the whole thing is pernicious and, it seems to me, hardly faithful to the spirit of the founders of the movement who just wanted a better deal and better representation for those suffering at the rump-end of the capitalist system. Pedalling divisiveness as a means of affirming oneself politically is as deserving of an ASBO as the behaviour of any foul-mouthed young teen spitting needlessly and vandalising the local bus shelter.

Yet the second, and perhaps most obvious problem is one of social control and order. In a fragmented society, harmony will always give way to state-enforced unity. This is because genuine diversity now becomes depicted as oppressive; after all, if every group has an agenda (and every group must have an agenda) then who else can be trusted to run things but the superficially neutral, and all-powerful state?

Thus, by believing its own narrative about the oppressive nature of transcending identities, the left can pedal its nihilistic relativism as the universal that only the state can be relied upon to uphold. Freedom requires capitulation to the state, as the only guarantor of it – and literally ‘nothing’ is the base upon which it is founded.

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