The Influencers and the Penguin-Huddle

The most prominent feeling I have, on setting down my reservations, is one of shame. I feel I am doing something wrong yet I knowingly continue. Social justice campaigners are my people and it feels like I’m not only betraying them but also myself by criticising how they go about things. It’s not just that I am being a nasty, disloyal rat, it’s that I sound like them: like a bigot. I may even be bolstering the fascists’ attacks.

This is how conformity is enforced, I think. A sense of belonging is supremely important to everyone, and to disagree with your tribe is to lose your identity. I saw this growing up in Ireland, where objecting to some of the wilder articles of Republican faith would deny you the right to think of yourself as Irish, because Irish identity was an assertion against the dominant English culture. England, by its very multiculturalism, would assimilate anything thrown to it, like some supercharged compost heap[1], without necessarily making you feel more welcome or at home.

Tribal dominance is not an immediate personal experience, a savage triumphalism felt like a flame in the breast. Nobody looks at themselves in the mirror and thinks, “look at me! I’m so heterosexual/ brown-eyed/ non-amputee-ish!” Instead we each feel the loneliness and vulnerability of being a single, isolated consciousness, and we huddle together for warmth and safety like penguins in the arctic night, trying to work our way in to the cosy centre, pushing the weak and flawed to the margins, collecting together in smaller huddles, if ejected.

In our Equal-Rights Penguin-Huddle, there has been an ideological coup. Assertive Young Turks have mounted the podium and hijacked the movement. Now they are guiding it in the wrong direction[2]. We need to speak out, to get back on track, but to do so would be to lose our identities. It would show that we weren’t really Black or Gay or part of the Counter Culture or dedicated to the cause of equality and human rights. Really, we are reactionary, small-minded conservatives. We are what we condemn. 

I think it is particularly difficult to speak out if you are someone from an excluded minority[3] who has reservations about your group’s thinking. The alternative to their opinions seems to be that of the oppressive majority, which has already rejected you. Then you must suffer the indignities of prejudice alone, while your own people sneer at you for being a quisling. Much better to stifle your doubts and agree with all your leaders’ statements. It’s the lesser of two evils. 

The more discrimination your minority group experiences the harder it must be to dissent. It must be very hard to disagree if you are Black British, for example, because outside the protection of the tribe, you can still experience such naked, threatening hostility. 

This allows those who set the agenda to tell the world that they have total, unreserved support. Their policies are statements of identity and so they can impose their will without any compromise or negotiation. They can claim to speak for all, without acknowledging the variety of their members’ experiences, because they are influencers: they don’t just articulate opinions, they form them. 

[1] See Terry Pratchett’s Unseen University compost heap

[2] This is presumably due to assumptions that come from their internet-generation conditioning, which leads them to accept identitarian individualism without question. (A neo-con/ Alt-Right fraud, people! – self-development is self-fulfilment, which demands consumption.)

[3] Of course, we all have multiple facets to our identity: race, politics, age, perceived class, and some of them will make us into minorities. (Although not all minorities are equally persecuted.) I guess that’s intersectionality. 

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