The presumption of innocence saves both bodies and souls in this civil war with ‘Identity Politics’.
Probably not many people know that in 1919, all the Boy Scouts in Moscow, were shot. The following year, in 1920 all the members of the Moscow Tennis club were executed. They were executed because of identity politics. The belonged to the wrong class, and the wrong group and held the wrong ideas.
Soon even the Russian peasants found they belonged to the wrong class. After all, they had tiny pieces of land they worked. Stalin killed 2 million of them, and supervised the state enforced starvation of another 10 million. They didn’t exist as individuals to the Soviet State, (which was practising equality of outcome), just as members of a group. That’s the history of identity politics.
In Washington last week, identity politics made a formidable attempt to overturn the rule of law; to destroy one of the foundational bricks of our democratic culture and personal freedom. ‘Innocent until guilty’ melted under an onslaught of inconsistent memories and uncorroborated allegations. How many of us would escape with our reputations intact if some or any of our teenage excesses were dredged up? How many of us could defend ourselves if we got caught up in mistaken identity accusations from 30 or 40 years ago?
When I watched Dr Ford accuse Mr Kavanaugh in the Senate Committee meeting, I found myself wondering what the real script was.
There has already been one civil war in America; tragic and terrible; it divides and scars the nations memories still.Suddenly it seemed we were on the verge of another one. And not just in America, but across the whole West. It’s between identity politics and the integrity of the individual.
My American friends from both sides warned me that I might not know enough of their complexities to come to a view. But I did come to a view. I seemed to be asked to choose between the cause of all victim-women, and one man, found guilty by public trial without any proof and sunk in uncorroborated allegations.
As a first reaction, how can one resist the claims of victimised women? But there were two problems. This woman wanting reparation wasn’t able to remember very much about the episode; and at the same time, it would be choosing the rights of the collective, over the rights of the individual.
If the history of the last century teaches us anything, it teaches us that if you undermine the integrity of each person as an individual, and their presumption of innocence until they are proved guilty, ultimately, no one ends up being safe.
The Kavanaugh case might have mattered for American politics, because the hysteria it evoked was probably a struggle about the practice of abortion taking place– by proxy at one remove. This new judge would give conservatives a majority over progressives for the first time in a long while.
Yet the accusations against Kananaugh himself morphed from accusing him of near multiple group rape; until it came clear that no one, anywhere corroborated the claims. Then they became not being able to hold his beer, and when the evidence for that evaporated, to throwing ice at someone at a party, once, in his teens.
Driving the accusations was the anger that here was another member of a group, or class; a privileged white man whose sexual behaviour had been flawed. And whether or not he was only the slightest bit guilty, himself, or even not at all guilty, the association with his group tarnished his identity for ever.
A few days ago, an astronaut quoted Winston Churchill, rather poignantly and aptly. The progressive mob went wild and demanded he delete the tweet, for Churchill, allegedly, was a racist. This is a very bad group to belong to, and makes Churchill a bad man- for ever.
A teacher claimed last week that she dare not admit to supporting the Conservative party; because if she was associated with that group her career would be finished. A researcher at Cambridge recently claimed that if he was to attend a seminar balancing the rights and wrongs of colonialism, he needed to be completely anonymous- no names, no photos, or the association would destroy him, academically, for ever. Professor Furedi from Kent University worries that his students can’t tell the difference between critiquing an idea and damning a person who has the idea.
The presumption of innocence wasn’t just something a middle-aged judge in Washington needed to save his job and reputation. It saves us all from all kinds of possible guilt. It also saves us from the two new crimes that identity politics likes to use to destroy its opponents; thought crime and group crime; having the wrong thoughts and belonging the wrong group.
And it wasn’t just Russian boy scouts and tennis players who became casualties. 90 million Chinese became victims to this pernicious way of looking at people. And it all starts with the two suffixes – ‘ist’ and ‘phobe’. Watch out for them. A lot of peoples’ lives depend on it.