Friday, July 29, 2005


Politics often comes down to an understanding of what it is to be human.

Liberals, for instance, believe that at the core of our nature is a freedom to choose who we are according to our own reasoning and our own will.

This ultimately explains why liberals want to overturn fixed identities based on gender or ethnicity. For liberals, such qualities are an unchosen imposition on our "real" nature as self-creating individuals.

The liberal view of human nature was expressed recently in an Age newspaper article written by Moira Rayner, a Labor Party feminist. The article was penned in response to the mistake made by British police in shooting a suspected terrorist on a London train.

The article is supposed to deal with the issue of identity. There are two quotes which stand out in particular in revealing the liberal mindset. The first is Moira Rayner's claim that, "Identities are like water; they flow".

In the liberal view, because identities are things that we ourselves create, they can't ever be fixed. If they were fixed, then there would be nothing for our essential human nature to do anymore - we would lose our humanity.

The second quote is her idea that "Our true identities are the selves that direct and control each of our functions, motives and desires; the watchers who reflect on events in the outer and inner worlds - on the totality of our personal experiences and values and how we achieve our goals."

Notice how "identity" here is reduced to the bare facts of a self-consciousness which reasons and wills. It is the reasoning "selves" which observe, control and direct our desires which form our identity.

To conservatives, this is a false reading of human nature. It's not that we don't have such a reasoning self. It's that our identity can't be reduced to this.

What does the liberal view leave out? There is one obvious omission. For most people a sense of being a man or a woman is central to self-identity. We don't think of ourselves as being an "it", but are instead "gendered" in our identity.

Similarly, for most people identity is bound up with ethnicity. Ask a Japanese who they are and you are likely very early on to get the reply "Japanese".

Liberals are prevented by their philosophical starting point from accepting gender and ethnicity as core aspects of human identity. At best these qualities are thought of as external to the true inner self, like an outer suit. At worst, liberals see them as an oppressive restriction on the freedom of the self-creating individual.

And so, because liberalism is currently dominant, we get all these efforts to overturn the normal expression of gender and ethnic identity.

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