Friday, October 04, 2013

Who's on first, gay black man or disabled Muslim woman?

If Bill Shorten's pitch for the leadership is any guide, the Labor Party hasn't learned any lessons from the federal election.

Recently the "Bill for Labor" campaign released its "Party.  Policy.  People" manifesto outlining Shorten's case for the worst job in politics.

Mixed among endorsements for his candidacy, Shorten flagged consideration of "quotas for sections of our community that are under-represented in our parliaments, including indigenous Australians and the LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) community".

Progressive ideas may play well in far-left political circles, but they're completely disconnected from the attitudes of average Australians who identify as individuals, not with group identities.

Progressivism isn't about progress.  Progressivism is designed to completely reorient the structures of our society.

Liberal democracy is built on the principle of the dignity of the individual and that society is governed from the citizen up.

Progressivism seeks to achieve equitable outcomes imposed on individuals from the government down.

In that spirit, Shorten's proposal aims to extend to minority identities the 40 per cent quota to preselect women candidates in "winnable" seats.

It is reminiscent of a fad that used to be prevalent in early 2000s far-left university politics.

At events run by the kaleidoscope of left-wing student political factions, "progressive speaking lists" were adopted during discussions to decide the order that participants got to speak.

At any normal function, the speaking order is based on the order that a participant gets to the microphone or puts their hand up.  A progressive speaking list sought to correct any racist, sexist, hetero-normative or any other form of established "ists" and "isms" that ensured minority groups weren't being heard.

In place of a first-come, first-served speaking order, progressive speaking lists applied equity rankings to speakers based on their group identity, so marginalised groups were prioritised depending on the extent of the victimisation.

Women got to speak before men;  gay men before straight men;  but because gay men still benefited from patriarchy, straight and lesbian women spoke before them.

It didn't end there.  Australians who identified as indigenous got to speak before any other ethnic identity and, with the September 11 terrorist attacks being a recent memory, Muslims followed as a recently marginalised group.

But if your ethnic background was Asian, you were essentially classified as white because you'd been sufficiently assimilated and no longer suffered sufficient victimisation.

Unless the progressive speaking list was exhausted, comments from non-marginalised participants were generally capped and always came after marginalised identities even if they'd already spoken.  Problems arose when the compiler of the progressive speaking list had to start weighting speakers.  Who was more important, an indigenous gay man or a heterosexual Muslim woman with a disability?

At the start of the event, attendees voted for an individual or small group to make decisions on the order of the speaking list.

Subsequent no-confidence motions were common as one group felt that they weren't getting an equitable hearing.

Anyone who stood up for a traditional speaking list was denounced for supporting "right-wing notions of free speech" over fair speech.

The spirit of these progressive ideals lives on in Shorten's nutty proposal.

Hopefully it is just a temporary olive branch to the far-left flank of the ALP that thinks the solution to every problem is more government intervention.

But if these are the sorts of ideas gestating within Labor's ranks, it shows the party hasn't learned Australians have rejected this progressive approach.

To win, Labor shouldn't become the progressive party that Paul Howes has been calling for this week.  It needs to reconnect with its labourist conservative cultural and institutional roots.

Shorten's progressive quota proposal for candidates corrodes a founding principle of our contemporary liberal democracy that every one individual is equal.

Instead it imposes a subjective identity ranking based on a movable feast of socially constructed collective rights based on progressive priorities.

It's also a self-reinforcing proposal to constantly seek out victimised groups.

Once gays and lesbians and indigenous Australians have secured their quotas, progressive ideals justify seeking out the next victimised group.

For now, the proposal is only to consider the extension of the ALP's private quota rules.

But it doesn't take long for these proposals to enter the public domain.

The government-funded Australian Human Rights Commission previously promoted the idea of introducing mandatory quotas for women on boards.

As Canadian columnist Mark Steyn argued in 2011, "the minute you have collective rights, you require dramatically enhanced state power to mediate the hierarchy of different victim groups".

As long as the ALP embraces silly progressive ideals, it is distancing itself from average Australians who do not want the government treating them as part of minority groups, unless it is part of the largest minority group of all, as individuals.

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