A recent statement by President-Emeritus Obama set one of my illustrious friends on a rampage. She correctly derided his assertion that:

I’m absolutely confident that for two years if every nation on earth was run by women, you would see a significant improvement across the board on just about everything … living standards and outcomes. If you look at the world and look at the problems it’s usually old people, usually old men, not getting out of the way.

by noting that “you are not helping women when you say stupid shit like this… Women’s rights and opportunities are not contingent upon how much better or worse they are than men.” She added that “women are human beings and no more or less flawed than men.”

She is absolutely correct, and her rebuttal to Obama’s pandering (and, let’s be honest, condescending) identity-politics blather illustrates a bankruptcy in progressive/woke thought.

Consider the principle illustrated by:

Unless you have a uterus, you don’t get to speak about abortion.
Unless you are black, you don’t get speak on racism.
If you are white, you must acknowledge your privilege.
I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.

All of these sentiments assign identity-based wisdom to individuals who might know nothing more (or a whole lot less) regarding a particular matter than those not of that identity. They exclude the possibility that someone is deeply versed in the history, debate, and range of positions on a subject, even though he or she might not be of that subject’s identity group. They exclude even the possibility of individual scholarship outside one’s identity.

They’re also deeply hypocritical.

Would someone who supports this principle as encapsulated in those four statements also accept:

Unless you’re a cop, you don’t get to speak about policing.
Unless you own a gun, you don’t get to speak about gun laws.
Unless you’re an investment banker, you don’t get to speak about Wall Street.
Unless you’re a Christian, you don’t get to speak on Christian values.

Since identity politics is a position of the Left, none of these strictures would likely sit very well with those who embrace the first set.

How about these?

Unless you’re a doctor, you don’t get to have an opinion on vaccines.
Unless you’re a climate scientist, you don’t get to have an opinion on global warming.
Unless you’re an economist, you don’t get to have an opinion on taxes.
Unless you’re Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, you don’t get to have an opinion on Democratic Socialism.

OK, I went too far with that last one, but the idea here is the classic appeal-to-expertise (or authority) fallacy – the idea that having a pedigree validates your opinions and observations. This excludes anyone who may have spent years researching a topic outside a structured degree program – which is the intent, of course.

Take it a step further.

Unless you drive a taxi, you don’t get to have an opinion on Uber and Lyft.
Unless you own a brick-and-mortar restaurant, you don’t get an opinion on food trucks.
Unless you’ve taken money in exchange for sex, you can’t speak on prostitution.
Unless you’ve stuck a spike in your vein, you aren’t entitled to talk about heroin addiction.
Unless you’ve been in a major automobile accident, your opinion on seat belts doesn’t count.

Does any of that make the slightest bit of sense?

Of course not. We can call all these “experiential fallacies,” and treat them as a generalize version of anecdotal fallacies.

Ever hear someone relate a story like, “I was in a car crash, and got flung out of the car to safety. If I was belted, I’d have died?” Or, better yet, “I had a friend who…?” I’d wager that many of these stories are bullshit, but even if true, they are aberrations – the one in a thousand that went against the massive empirical evidence that shows that seat belts save lives. Ditto for anecdotal tales of “my kid had a bad reaction to a vaccine.” Even if true, which is sometimes the case, it does not disprove the reality that, statistically, a person is FAR, FAR more likely to benefit from being vaccinated.

All this should put the lie to assertions that being a [fill in the blank] grants greater insight into a topic – or an exclusive right to opinion on that topic, for that matter. The idea doesn’t stand up to even a shred of intellectual challenge.

And, yet, our President-Emeritus, highly educated and widely admired, had no reservation whatsoever about making the assertion.

Certainly, it’s pandering, but it’s more insidious than that. It’s a belief that (again, despite its illogic) is widely and genuinely held by progressives. It’s a belief born of a form of relativism: that an individual’s abilities are only measurable in comparison and contrast to those of others, within a broader framework of absolute “better and worse.” Thus, a woman would do a “better” job at running a nation than a man, with no consideration given to the idea that “better” is itself subjective, and no consideration that individual merits, not faceless identity markers, are a far truer predictor of success.

Then, there’s the unintended harm. Goldman Sachs recently announced it will no longer handle IPOs of companies that have all-white-male corporate boards. This goes hand-in-hand with California’s recent law requiring at least one woman on corporate boards. In the context of glass ceilings and old-boys’ networks, the intent carries some… lets call it nobility. But, history is full of cautionary tales about good intentions. Just as affirmative action clouds minorities’ talents and casts doubts on their achievements (Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has likened affirmative action to Jim Crow), such policies will inevitably stigmatize at least some of those they’re intended to help. Goldman’s a private company, and can do as it wishes, but the government has no business mandating this sort of discrimination.

Identity politics takes the stigmas created by affirmative action to a next level. While affirmative action casts doubts, identity politics leaves no doubt – bigotry is at its core. Indeed, you cannot be truly invested in identity politics unless you judge everyone by skin color, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religious beliefs, and a growing list of other markers. Rather than advancing society to towards harmony, inclusiveness, and the Martin Luther King ideal of “content of character,” identity politics ensures that the biases and bigotries it claims to combat will remain a permanent part of society’s fabric.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.


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