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Do not think these arguments are trivial. Universities teach the novelists of the future on creative writing courses and the readers of serious fiction on literature courses. Their repressive culture must influence what the future will read, watch, write and perform to some extent.

Gore Vidal and Martin Amis are members of a parade of cultural pessimists who have argued that, as egalitarianism proceeds, the final distinction of talent will be all that is left. And when its turn for a confrontation comes, talent will lose. It is easy to agree and believe that a more egalitarian, wired world will insist that the defence “X is a writer, and must be free to write what she wants” won’t wash.

What does Lionel Shriver know of being a mother of a dangerously mentally disturbed child, after all? Does she have a mentally ill child herself; has she consulted or asked the permission of anyone who has? Like Shriver, Jonathan Franzen is read by millions of serious people. How is it fair that he enjoys such a privilege, when by his own admission he has few black friends? Surely, he would be a better writer if he had a committee of black friends to advise him on their experience.

The only honest answer to these questions is the elitist reply that literary talent isn’t fair. Like physical beauty, if you do not have the potential, you will never attain it, however hard you try.

Given the passion behind the assaults on cultural appropriation, can we expect the appearance of culturally sensitive novels and dramas whose frightened writers confine themselves to their tribal homelands or apply for visas if they wish to stray beyond its borders. It’s possible, but unlikely.

Shriver asked who a writer should go to for permission to publish her story of a trans woman or Nigerian man, when no one had the authority to issue permission on behalf of others. When I wrote about freedom of speech, for instance, an editor wanted “a Muslim scholar” to assure him that a passage about the life of Muhammad was not “offensive” (by which he meant “not likely to get my office bombed”). A liberal Muslim activist said it was fine. If an Islamist or Salafist had read the book, he would have said the opposite.

The great failing of identity politics and arguments against cultural appropriation is they assume identities and cultures are islands with warships patrolling their coasts. Cultures mix. None exists that is not a hybrid except possibly in the Amazon rainforest. Not everyone in an ethnicity shares the same identity, and it is a rank prejudice to treat them as if they do. Freedom of the individual is the freedom not to have your autonomy denied by collectives who claim to speak on your behalf. In other words, there is no legitimate cultural authority to stamp a writer’s passport.

The logical conclusion of cultural appropriation is solipsism. For why stop at saying a person of one culture cannot appropriate the experience of another? By what right can I write about you, or you me? If no one can imagine or inquire about life in another culture, how can they do so about the life of another person? The self will then be the only subject. Solipsism may power the social justice warriors, who weep about how grievously their feelings have been offended. But it is unlikely to produce fiction even they will want to read.

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Observer of the Scene
November 19th, 2016
10:11 AM
Identity politics are inevitable if you allow mass immigration from regions where tribalism and clannishness are rife and where there is no tradition of liberal democracy (but very strong traditions of authoritarianism and corruption). Someone who supports both liberal democracy and mass immigration is like a turkey supporting Christmas: first the immigrants will practice identity politics, encouraged by the Marxists who wanted them here for their own ends, then the white majority will practice them too. Not good for liberal democracy. I hope Nick understands this one day and issues a mea culpa. But I don't expect it.

Paddy
November 11th, 2016
11:11 AM
I'm sick of all these whinging whining self obsessed confessional fools. They all give the impression they are better than I simply by virtue of being trans, or a wimmin, or gay, or black. It is all crap, funded by tax payer money. The amount of high quality art or music or theory to come out of identity politics is practically nil. It is all pompous directionless sloppy small minded trivialities. It will be looked on in the future as period when art was virtually non existent. Does anyone really think some twat filming their crotch or painting with menstrual blood, or photographing faeces will really be considered great art. The incredible thing is that our politicians have become like magi to us, persuading us with money they have stolen in taxes. It is really not surprising that such people's art patronage would simply stink to high heaven.

Roger Hicks
October 1st, 2016
1:10 PM
Is it not time we faced up to the very real problems that come with DIVERSITY? Every "people" needs its own space, which in the past was achieved by the "nation state", until someone had the bright idea of turning them into multi-racial and multi-cultural melting pots. Jetzt haben wir den Salad. We can't turn back the clock, but equally, we can't just continue "celebrating DIVERSITY" as we have been expected to do up until now, under pain of being demonised a bigot, xenophobe or racist if you don't. This demonisation of opponents of DIVERSITY provides a clue as to its purpose, which I elaborate on in this short blog: http://philosopherkin.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/method-to-madness-of-post-r... Europeans like to make fun of things that many Muslims find deeply offensive. That wasn't a problem in the past, because we each had our own space. Now we don't, but instead share the common space of multicultural European society. We need to stop "celebrating DIVERSITY" and instead develop an understanding of why the state inflicted this madness on us, so that we can learn how to deal with it in as rational and civilised fashion as possible.

Brian O'Brien
September 28th, 2016
9:09 PM
I agree with Nick Cohen. This is why we must bomb Iran right now to stop the march of the evil militant Islamist social justice warriors and bring democracy and freedom of speech to the Middle East.

DavidM
September 28th, 2016
8:09 PM
Funnily enough, "the self" seems to be "the only subject" for Yassmin Abdel-Magied. Her book is called "Yassmin's Story" and her TED talk was called "What does my headscarf mean to you?" Fascinating stuff, I'm sure.

Nicky Cohen
September 28th, 2016
7:09 PM
We should bomb Iran immediately for the sake of freedom of speech

Joe
September 28th, 2016
6:09 PM
Agreed on just about everything. If you read Abdel-Magied's screed in the Guardian, or Shriver's reasonable NY Times response, it's a mild breath of fresh air that the commentariat at these two (broadly left-leaning) sites were very clearly on the side of sanity overall. But while I welcome the anti-PC backlash that has been growing since around the time of Hebdo, the backlash to cultural rules Twitterati types are attempting to impose has taken a negative turn. Alt-right provocateurs have come to the conclusion that because Abdel-Magied is being ridiculous, it opens up the door for "counter-cultural" racism and anti-Semitic tropes. Even if their numbers are inflated vs. their coverage, this has sadly become the most visceral and visual manifestation of backlash. For most of these types, the answer to the rise of "identity politics" isn't a less identitarian viewpoint, but actually identity-politics-for-white-people. This further enables the SJWs, who can toss any criticism into this bucket - and so on, into a cycle. It's a culture war in which we can only hope the loudest sides lose.

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