Race, religion and identity are being talked about as never before. While minority groups raise their voices for recognition and inclusion, others feel that their culture is being eroded. In these increasingly febrile times, Intelligence Squared brought together two of the world’s most prominent thinkers to debate the issues that are polarising our society.
Kwame Anthony Appiah, Professor of Philosophy at New York University, unpicked the very notion of identity. He argues that our outdated prejudices taint the way we understand concepts of race, class, nationality and sexuality. Race, he claims, is a fiction based on Victorian-era pseudoscience. Appiah urges us to question and rethink our assumptions in order to build a more tolerant and accepting society. But how helpful is this viewpoint to those who face the reality of racism and feel the brunt of discrimination on a daily basis?
In conversation with Appiah was John Gray, one of Britain’s most provocative and original commentators. In contrast to Appiah, Gray argues that categories like race are not just ‘mistakes’; they come about as the result of concrete political situations which cannot just be wished away by a philosopher in his ivory tower. Gray also contends that liberals who seek to undo traditional notions of identity have become even more dogmatic, intolerant and illiberal than the conservatives whom they criticise. In their hypocrisy, they have created a new hierarchy of identity which privileges ethnicity, gender and sexuality over nation and religion.