Shriver is a novelist (I haven’t read her latest book: people tell me it’s pretty good) who gave a speech at the Brisbane Writers Festival criticising identity politics. Someone walked out and wrote a withering blog post which went viral. Shriver’s column about it all – with the awesomely stupid title ‘Will the Left Survive the Millennials?’ which I hope was assigned by a sub-editor because surely no novelist would be that banal? – is here.
It would be a lot easier to support Shriver as a hero of free speech and artistic expression if she didn’t give her speech on identity politics wearing a large novelty sombrero. Also, she writes:
Protecting freedom of speech involves protecting the voices of people with whom you may violently disagree. In my youth, liberals would defend the right of neo-Nazis to march down Main Street. I cannot imagine anyone on the left making that case today.
Did liberals really defend the rights of neo nazis to march? Really? Ever? Noam Chomsky defended the right of a holocaust denier to free speech. Once. And it was hugely controversial.
Anyway, something the critics of identity politics don’t get is that it isn’t really about being ‘offended’. The theory is that speech shapes culture which shapes behavior. So identity politics activists would oppose the right of neo-Nazi’s to march, because that perpetuates a culture of racial hatred, which has many terrible real-world consequences. That’s the argument. You don’t have to agree with it – and there’s no empirical evidence proving that culture works the way left-wing cultural theorists say it does – but it is more substantive than the straw-man argument people like Shriver make, which is that millennials – or whoever – just can’t stand to be offended or have their ideas challenged.
Edit: Graeme Edgeler writes in the comments:
The ACLU represented the National Socialist Party of America all the way to the US Supreme Court in National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie
It’s a pretty famous case, so I would imagine Shriver was referring to it when she spoke.