Kathleen Stock is a British philosopher and feminist who left her teaching position at Sussex University in late 2021 after being serially harassed by gender identity (trans) activists demanding that she be fired for her gender critical feminist views. Her resignation came after the harassment campaign culminated in the police warning her to stay home, and her union siding with the people harassing and bullying her.
At the end of this hour long interview with Stock on the Triggernometry podcast, she makes this point about the relationship between solidarity and ostracism,
I’ve learnt what solidarity is, in the sense that women in particular across the UK and grass roots organisations have supported me and kept me going and if it wasn’t for them I could never have done any of this.
But I’ve also learnt what solidarity isn’t, within institutions, and I’ve learnt that solidarity is really important. If basically other academics had come out much earlier, and stood beside me, and either said ‘we agree with her’, because lots of them do, or at least ‘she should have a perfect right to say all this’, we wouldn’t be where we are.
But basically the mechanism for ostracism destroyed solidarity. And those two things are antithetical to each other. With more demonstrated solidarity amongst people there would be less ostracism. But ostracism will thrive where there is no solidarity.
… I’ve just learned the importance of basically standing up and saying ‘yeah I’m with her (or him)’ at crucial times, because it sends this message. And if people don’t do that, then you really are on your own.
There are implications here beyond the gender/sex wars or even concepts of freedom of speech and the importance of academic freedom within universities.
The neoliberalism that many of us on the left rail against has at its core the ethic of individualism. Solidarity politics (expressing support for and standing with those of classes other than ourselves but with whom we have common ground) morphed into identity politics. Identity politics made important liberal gains for a while, before being elevated into prime position by the neoliberal system.
Neoliberalism is adept at adopting whatever progressive politics du jour but only to the point that those politics either advance neoliberalism or where the adoption serves to distract people from the system change that is needed and that would put neoliberalism in its place. Feminism in particular has learned this the hard way.
In other words, the politics of the individual is now solidly embedded in the left and this serves neoliberalism. This means for instance that a union can side against any member and support ostracisation of them, if they don’t hold the correct beliefs. To my mind, wanting people sacked over their beliefs, to literally remove their ability to earn a living and support themselves and their family, is anathema to both the left and unionism. Yet here we are. Increasingly progressives are saying it’s ok to fire someone if they hold the wrong beliefs.
Concurrent with this is the seeming position of many liberals that we can force people to think like us, and those that don’t can be outcast. This is a phenomenally arrogant and ignorant position that is antithetical to collective action. Where will the outcasts go? To the places where they feel a sense of connection, welcome and belonging. Exhibit A, the anti-vax/freedom movement’s allying with the hard right. Exhibit B, ex-left gender critical feminists who now state they don’t know who they will vote for. As always, it’s not the extreme radicals that are the issue here, it’s the larger number of people in the grey areas who end up pushed away as well.
The anti-woke left aren’t any better, also choosing to condemn those they disagree with. We cannot solve socioeconomic issues without solidarity and collective action, and that means working together. The irony here is that the anti-woke position is often just as much about identity.
All of which is to say, the climate, ecology, and pandemic crises aren’t going away any time soon, and we desperately need to be able to work with people who we disagree with if we are to have any hope of a collective and thus effective response.
Ostracisation destroys solidarity. Kathleen Stock was ultimately ok because there already existed a large body of feminists who stood beside her. Beyond that the loss is in the political communities who shifted the Overton Window that much further towards neoliberalism by undermining the culture of solidarity politics itself.
Video set to start at quote (1hr 3m 24s)