Identity politics and the internet

I’ve been thinking about this recently, what with the whole “woman attacked for daring to be a woman” most-recent-ish example in blogland.

What’s in a word, what’s in a name, what’s in a label? Aren’t they almost always for other people, so that their identification of you might be a little easier? Strange, it seems, the effect of the internet on identity politics. The internet, virtual; famously anonymous; people can be who they want, etc etc. Yet with identity politics, people have been very certain to establish exactly what their credentials, and identities are; helpfully adding selected details re personality, interest groups, political affiliations etc to their profiles.

Now on one level, this is because most people, writing blogs about a particular topic for example, are keen to speak to others who understand that of which they speak. This is crucial for things like fandom, finding others who share your interests etc. If you want to discuss the finer points of post 1977 punk groups emerging from the Estonian music scene, in English, then perhaps it helps to find friends and like-minded folk who are happy to discuss such things. Indeed, the internet is a valuable resource for people who previously have felt isolated or alone in their obsession/interest/whatever. Notoriously, the internet can connect two people with the most seemingly random fetish, although this is often a happy pairing or more, the media tends to only report on the shock! Scandal! aspects, like the famous cannibal case in Germany. I have a friend who argues that the internet ‘creates’ more paedophiles – or at least encourages people with taboo fantasies to feel somehow ‘supported’ in their actions when carrying those fantasies out in the real world. I disagree – I don’t think that one can ‘accidentally’ become a paedophile through the internet, or that the existence of other ‘supporters’ is necessarily a major factor in people’s minds when committing acts. It’s an interesting argument, though, since people can influence each other for bad and good – whether bad influences actually intensify each other to create more scope for bad acts I’m not sure. There’s an argument which goes, the evil of the Third Reich was so huge and hugely impacting due to the ‘chemistry’ that occurred between Hitler, Himmler, Goebbals and a few others – each man had evil in their heart, but the largeness of the evil that resulted was due to them knowing and redoubling the energy of that evil, through the interaction that occurred between the three of them.

I wonder about all of this, and the extent or influence such interaction has, and the way the virtuality of the internet mediates and affects that influence.

It’s a micro- (or should that be macro-?) cosm of the world, and just as people feel freer to express their opinion, especially if anonymous, so they feel freer sometimes to express their rage and hatred towards others. Or rather, towards the IDEA they have of those ‘others’ who have a virtual presence…

I also wonder about the way this ‘virtual’ world works to exclude certain people – the obvious exclusion of the poor, the illiterate, people who have no access to the web as well as less obvious things like the fact that the original language of the net is English, most things seemed designed for the already ‘savvy’ and the younger, more technologically educated and so on. So to say it is an exact mirror, or –cosm would be very incorrect; the third world especially, is vastly vastly underrepresented and actual, real-life ‘global’ perspectivism is elided.

But back to the issue of identification. Since it’s been much in the news etc re: woman bloggers, it’s a good time to address the issue of identification. Now, a lot of feminists have pointed out that there is a problem with women who don’t want to be called ‘feminist’ yet acknowledge that they believe in gender equality and in fact, benefit from the effects of the feminist movement. Since feminists hold equality to be their ideal, and the ideal of what feminism stands for, understandably they find it annoying that women don’t identify as such. It’s kind of a semantic issue as well, as feminism is often mis-represented in the media as being about hating men or whatever. I won’t get into the whole argument here. I just want to make the point that for ME, the idea of feminism being that women and men should be equal, and the professed goal of, say, men’s rights that men and women should be equal, seems to be subsumed into the idea of human rights – that all humans should be equal and so on. The differences come not from the goals, but from the identification of the problems impeding those goals, and the solutions offered…

I am very wary of saying that I *am* any “ism”. I don’t know why this is, but all my life I’ve held that the overarching thing is to ‘question, question, question.” Never just accept on faith what other people tell you to be true. Examine the evidence, go with your experience, even your feelings, but always question. This is not to say that one shouldn’t listen – as long as it’s with an open mind. (This tendency …possible contributing cause to me being bisexual vol. XVII no. 734).

However with something like feminism, I have to look at the historical evidence. Have you ever asked yourself or been asked by someone, “If you could have lived in any era during history, when would it be?” It’s fascinating question. My thoughts on this go something like: well, am I going to answer that question as myself? As in, would I be ‘me’ as I am now, physically, just born in a different time and place? Because, quite honestly, if I think about it the fact that I am female always comes into play! As a woman, I don’t think I can answer by saying any time apart from the present one. As much as I might have liked to live during certain fascinating or romantically viewed time periods – let’s face it, if I was anything other than a rich white man during most of them I would have probably ended up as a slave, a chattel, or at best, the wife of a rich white man!!! (I mean, there’s people who argue that things haven’t changed all that much now…) There might have been other times when it would have been good to be a woman, but I’m really not aware of them, what with history books being all coy on that subject and all.

So the reason for positive changes during MY lifetime, anyway… often, if not always, has those people to thank who promoted feminism in the past, who promoted the idea of equality. For me, directly, it was feminism, because I am a woman. For me also, it was those who argued AGAINST racial stereotypes and all sorts of profiling, which led to the eventual fact that I could live my whole life in England without ever encountering any real sort of barrier through racial prejudice. I could not say the same for my parents, who had a bit of it, or my grandparents, who had a lot of it. Our race? Irish. If you read that and thought, “but that’s White so what racial prejudice are you on about? Then my point is kind of proved. Irish used to mean ‘non-white’ or rather ‘non-english’ and this was terribly important to certain people who believed in innate racial differences between the English and the Irish, beliefs which were used in the service of colonisation and exploitation, the eradication of a language and the starvation of a people. The racial scale that was used then has shifted, so now skin colour is the more ‘important’ barometer in the categorisation of races – the scale shifts to whatever it is most convenient at the time. Irish people are now ‘white’, whereas they used to be something else.

Thinking about these historical shifts makes me wonder about myself. Truthfully, I would choose my own life from all the other times in history for the very selfish reason that until this moment in history, I have never been as priviledged as I am now. Yes, I might not be as priviledged as someone richer or male, but I most certainly am priviledged, as is attested by the fact that I can even write that sentence, in English, on the internet.

But this also makes me think about those other people, who, through the accident of fate, are born into bodies and situations which means they are still being excluded. You might well ask: who, exactly, am I talking about? What are they being excluded from? Isn’t it human nature to form cliques?

Who am I talking about: nearly everyone experiences some form of exclusion in their life. In different situations, people may be included or excluded from a group based on their perceived characteristics. This judgement is almost always made in reference to the excluded person being categorised as a member of another ‘group’ – a group that is seen as Other to the first, exclusionary group. Sometimes this is gender, sometimes this is race, sometimes it is sexuality, – all these things, the aspects of the body. Sometimes it is aspects of the person’s culture, their beliefs, religion and so on; aspects of their person. It is often less crudely about one aspect of a person and rather more about the way an individual may stand at an intersection of two or more of the aspects described. These are usually underlying. One can also say this works globally, with the first world and its relation to the rest of the peoples on earth.

What are they being excluded from: essentially, human worth. Recognition of them as a full human being, as infinite and various as any included member. From this follows all exclusions from: culture, history, material goods, care for the body and for the mind, sympathy, empathy and respect.

Isn’t it human nature to form cliques? Whether it is an inherent genetic trait or a learnt behaviour, the fact remains that it is not something which we, as a people, need in order for our species to survive. That is a massive lie which is told by those who hold power. The lie creates it’s own truth, and the situation resulting means that if power is reluctantly ceded by the powerful, those who gain power from them have often used it to perpetuate the lie under a different banner… Yet one has to remain optimistic in the fact that this is NOT inevitable, just likely…you will have to decide what is more important in the endeavour to live – safety, or truth? Also, if you conceptualise all power AS something to be ceded you acknowledge the fact that there is only one source of power. This is probably erroneous and in itself, creates an intensification of power. What do I mean? Well, if you take the issue of race and culture, you can imagine culture as this ‘thing’ – the history of western civilisation, for example, which includes all knowledge about the branches of human endeavour that the west has seen fit to remember. The majority, and in fact the pinnacle of knowledge, is attributed to individuals who are overwhelmingly white, male etc. If one says this ‘is’ culture, objectively, and it’s hard not to when you’re raised in the west, then one can conceive of a culture which may be threatened by the Other (non-white, non-western and so on) – or one can conceive of an attempt to make that culture more inclusive, by widening the net to include contributions from the Other. Yet the original conception of the culture remains the same – the way we think of its origin, its power. This way of thinking affects everything you do because it conceives human interaction as ‘give and take’. Is human interaction necessarily ‘give and take’? I don’’t know; but I do know we live in a capitalist world, where we are encouraged to see things like that, and value everything in terms of worth. One might consider capitalism to be the best of all systems, or the one best suited to human lives, but one must recognise that it is not the only system we can conceive of, and thus might not necessarily be a priori reflective of all that we are.

For my own description of the workings of power, see the post below: A Nightclub called Exclusion.

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