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by Donna M. When I was a kid, my family had a set of rotadraw circles that fascinated me. These were circular plastic stencils. First, you drew in all the stenciled openings for "1," then rotated the circle one phase and filled in those for “2,” etc. This process took concentration and careful alignment. Slowly, the underlying drawing was being built, but you would not be able to recognize it until you completed the task and lifted the stencil off to reveal it. The anticipation was agony. It was brilliant.
I've been thinking a lot about that toy recently, and our culture's general impatience. Just over a year ago, our then 15-year-old son announced to my husband and I that he thought he might be trans. As my other essay described, this was not just totally out-of-the-blue, but totally out-of-character.
As many other parents have described, this announcement usually triggers a brutal, all-encompassing, multi-front campaign into finding a therapist, reading the latest research, exploring anti-depressants, physical and cognitive assessments, re-evaluating and adjusting your child's friends and internet influences, reinvesting in family time, and hopefully building a support group. It isn't easy.
As this process plays out, parents are filling in the stencils, shifting the circle, and following the guidelines. Literally – this is how mature parents are designed to work. Life has taught us to look before we leap. Years of observation and self-reflection have revealed to us that humans sometimes want things or do things that are short-sighted and harmful to ourselves and others. A little bit of time, a deep breath, a small moment away to stop and think and gather more information can prevent a lot of errors.
But teenagers are not capable of this. They lack the ability to accurately estimate risk. They are impulsive. They misread social cues. They can be aggressive. Their brains are literally under construction at this point. Their prefrontal cortex won't be fully formed until they are around age 25. These trans-identified kids are prematurely lifting off their rotadraw stencil, declaring that they are absolutely certain they know what the final design should be, and demanding the permanent markers, scissors and glue to form it the way they think some intangible gender spirit tells them it should be. They literally cannot think logically about this topic. They only think emotionally.
Here's the good news: if you've got a teenage child, you are probably in your forties. You've been around the sun a few times. You've had your hipster grunge phase, your "Friend's" haircut, your Pottery Barn furniture phase. You may even be entering the expensive hobby phase – unless you're still in the expensive braces-for-your-kids phase. You understand that some desires, choices, and actions are harmless, some profoundly beneficial, and some truly damaging. Altering the body by hormones or surgery is permanent. Use that wisdom, use that perspective, and give your kid the things they truly need: time, meaningful experiences, better friends who appreciate them for who they actually are, and lots and lots of love.
Because meanwhile, while you are freaking out (internally!) and pretending to have Carol and Mike Brady-like levels of aplomb and sensitivity, your child's brain will start filling in the stencils, rotating the circle, and building up their design. A year from now (as long as you don't give them puberty-suppressing hormones which totally mess up the brain development), their brain will have more capacity to think. Their mind will have more capacity to understand its self.
So yes, your child's trans thing is a phase. Like multiple studies have shown, around 85% of children with gender dysphoria desist by the time they are adults. If your teen is like mine (no evidence of gender non-conformity throughout their life, profoundly gifted, socially isolated) they are probably going to desist. If they are like my friends' kids (ADHD, Asperger's/ASD) they are probably going to desist. If they are like my other friends' kids (gay or lesbian) they are probably going to desist. With some love and some time and no social transitioning, it may take a year or so, but you'll get there.
And if your child is one of the ones whose gender dysphoria never abates – you'll know it after they've completely filled in their rotadraw. You'll have seen those lines forming those patterns for years and years, since childhood and through adolescence. My heart goes out to those families. To you I caution slow slow decision making. Help your kid understand that sex never changes. Make sure your kid knows what their sexuality is. Encourage them to date until they know who they like. Delay anything permanent until their brain has matured, too. Give them the opportunity to let their brain mature naturally. Let them finish their work of growing up. As the thousands of detrans people can attest, you can always go forward, but you can never go back.
So it comes down to this: if you think it might be a phase, it probably is. If you know it isn't a phase, it probably isn't. Either way, we all need to stop messing with the stencil and stop interrupting the natural development of the brain and the body. Have a little patience and respect for the phases, folks. Stop demanding that teenagers know who they are immediately and stop freezing their puberty in its tracks. Phases are weird and ugly and often unpleasant, but phases are natural, too, and we've come a long way thanks to them.
In recent years, there has been an ongoing controversy about the origins of currently fashionable social justice ideology. Terms like Cultural Marxism and postmodernism have been used and subjected to sometimes fierce attacks. For an example, take this polemic by Charles Mudede against "the insufferable exemplar of self-sourced self-certainty, Jordan Peterson" who "likely does not read books" and whose "idea of Cultural Marxism Is totally intellectually empty."
Ignoring the absurdity of suggesting that Peterson does not read books, does this even represent an actual disagreement? Clearly, Mudede's politics are far from Peterson's, but his belligerence and the verbose complexity of his reasoning only makes it harder to see where the difference lies.
Not Marxism, but a neoliberalism that found its intellectual force in what Peterson imagines as Cultural Marxism but is, in fact, a post-structuralism that exploded on the scene in the 1970s, was promoted by North American universities, and was vigorously anti-classical Marxism.
Mudede seems to be saying that his imaginings about Peterson's imaginings about Cultural Marxism correspond to his (Mudede's) idea of a particular version of post-structuralism. But since he never tells us what specific ideas go into either of these (or neoliberalism), we will just have to trust him on that. Or not.
I have seen similar confrontations many times. If you utter a phrase like "cultural Marxism," you should expect an avalanche of protest before you finish the sentence.
It seems sensible to minimize such misunderstandings by finding better terms. Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay have done an admirable job of this in their book Cynical Theories. They describe in detail how postmodern ideas were adapted for activism, and call the result applied postmodernism. That might be the term that comes closest to encapsulating the historical roots of what we now know as "wokeness," although they also discuss other terms that may be less descriptive but stem from the academic scholars themselves, such as Critical Social Justice as well as Critical Theory including various branches such as Critical Race Theory.
There is a common premise that underlies many of these conversations (or shouting matches): a model of the social dynamics of the ideology in which theorists and thinkers are placed at the center. I propose a radically different (though not contradictory) perspective: putting the needs of activists at the center, and assuming that those needs shape the ideology of the activists. And thus also shaping what the public sees in politics and the media.
The type of activist in question can be identified as radical, revolutionary and utopian. Much of the common conceptual material used by such activists originated with the philosophy of G.W.F. Hegel, who was a decisive influence on Karl Marx in the 19th century and was re-activated by the Neo-Marxists in the 20th century. This passage from The Difficulty with Hegel by Roger Kimball encapsulates some of the essence of this way of thinking:
It is true that Marx devoted many pages to criticizing Hegel’s philosophy. But he firmly embraced Hegel’s view of history as a realm of ineluctable dialectical progress—progress, that is to say, which is necessary, i.e., inevitable, and which proceeds by continuous negation.
This basic idea, known as historicism, recurs both in Marxism, Neo-Marxism and current radical thinking. The progress of history is seen as inevitable and having a utopian endpoint, a goal that will occur as a result of the dialectical process. This differs from the prevailing paradigm in Western democracies, where politics is dominated by a balance between—on the one hand—liberals who push for specific, non-utopian improvements and—on the other—conservatives who hold back because they want to make sure those changes won't destroy anything of value. In the historicist view, politics instead becomes a struggle between progressives who are on the right side of history and reactionaries who are simply holding us back and therefore have nothing positive to contribute.
These ideas have been handed down intact from the 19th century, so there is a continuous tradition. My contention is that they are maintained and kept, not simply because each generation of thinkers has been influenced by the previous one, but because they are useful to activists. Radical utopian activists need to pursue certain goals in order to have success. They must seek power and status, recruit followers to their cause and then try to persuade the rest of us. These goals are supported by a set of ideas that seem to be fairly constant across time, at least as far back as Karl Marx or the French Revolution. Those ideas can be roughly sorted into four clusters: Power and oppression; revolutionary and utopian; collective identity; and truth and reality.
The Power and Oppression Cluster
The idea most obviously relevant to the task of the activist is power. Anyone who wants to change the world by direct means needs power in some form, legitimate or illegitimate. Radical utopians generally hold that the fundamental dynamic of society is a power struggle between oppressor groups and oppressed groups, aggressors and victims, the privileged and the marginalized. These groups can be defined by class, gender, races, or any of multiple other distinctions. Purporting to represent the oppressed makes power seem more legitimate, more palatable and less self-serving. Followers are more likely to see the leader as a selfless hero rather than as someone greedily indulging his own personal lust for power, money or other benefits.
Dialectics and historicism are useful for this purpose. Dialectics emphasizes contradictions and is seen as a higher form of logic, superior to ordinary scientific and empirical thinking. In Roger Kimball's words:
This after all is the famous dialectical process whereby each level of development is said to contain its opposite and is aufgehoben…What this Hegelian philosopher’s stone means is that you can eat your contradiction and have it too. “The essence of each thing,” Hegel wrote in his Lectures on the History of Philosophy, “lies in determination, in what is the opposite of itself.” Nice work, if you can get it. Hegel’s dialectic is a universal cognitive solvent; it licenses epistemological anarchy.
This is how it works: on the one hand, in order to be on the right side of history, we must follow through and support the inevitable process rather than resisting it. On the other hand, the outcome of dialectical thinking is indeterminate. As the philosopher of science Karl Popper has said, the dialectical method is "elastic": "The vagueness of dialectic is another of its dangers. It makes it only too easy to force a dialectic interpretation on all sorts of developments and even on quite different things." So if I'm a power-seeking person trying to get people to follow me, I can use dialectic to dream up a direction to follow, while making it seem like I am pointing out the only way forward, and that anyone who objects is a reactionary who is impeding the march of history.
The struggle on behalf of the oppressed is seen as a zero-sum game, and thus naturally as adversarial and antagonistic. One man's loss is another man's gain. Privilege implies oppression and vice versa. If I'm better off, someone lower in the food chain will suffer. Thus, win-win solutions are typically not emphasized.
This dichotomy is frequently not quite explicit. However, it is explicit in the Marxist concept of exploitation, where workers get less than their fair share of the value of what they produce and the capitalists benefit from this. In this model, all workers are exploited and all capitalists benefit from the exploitation. In other words, this is more than just a statistical difference between the two groups; it applies to every single individual.
In radical feminism, it is more ambiguous. A case in point is Susan Brownmiller's 1975 book Against Our Will, which asserts that rape is "a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear." I have read the entire book, looking for an analysis, or at least a superficially logical argument to justify the idea that all men are actively complicit even though only a minority of men are literally rapists. However, I could find no such argument. Still, a plausible interpretation is that all men might be benefiting from this state of affairs, similarly to how in Marxism all capitalists benefit from exploitation. Most people would reject Brownmiller's claim, noting that men in general don't seem to want women to fear them, especially since that would likely cause women to avoid men. Nevertheless, Brownmiller's book has been hugely influential, and so has the idea that men, qua men, possess some magical key to the problem.
The same simplistic link between oppression and privilege is present in today's Critical Social Justice. In an analysis of the concept of privilege, James Lindsay notes that it has "a pejorative and shaming connotation" and that "privilege operates in a nearly indistinguishable way from the religious concepts of Original Sin and Depravity." While I agree that it does resemble these religious concepts, it seems to me that most of its moral weight comes from the idea that privilege exists at the expense of marginalized or oppressed groups.
...when academics use the term in describing how society works, they refer to the rights, advantages, and protections enjoyed by some at the expense of and beyond the rights, advantages, and protections available to others...[quoted in the above link]
Let us be clear what this means. According to Merriam-Webster, the phrase "at the expense of" means "in a way that harms (something or someone)." In other words, by being privileged, you are literally harming someone who is less privileged. The flip side of this is the notion that the hardship of the oppressed benefits the privileged. Again, this makes perfect sense in the Marxist theory of exploitation, but less so in the real world where most group differences are not the result of dividing a limited amount of resources between groups. Just as men in general don't benefit from women being raped, white people in general have nothing to gain from unarmed black people being killed by police.
How far wrong this way of thinking can go is apparent in how Jews, one of the most persecuted groups in history, are now being seen as colluding with white supremacy: "Despite its laudable goal of opposing racism and white supremacy, CRT relies on narratives of greed, appropriation, unmerited privilege, and hidden power — themes strikingly reminiscent of familiar anti-Jewish conspiracy theories."
The Revolutionary and Utopian Cluster
As mentioned, the (originally Hegelian) historicist view of society implies a utopian state at the end of history. This is intimately related to another concept: revolution. Believers in Utopia compare current conditions to their utopian fantasy which is always vague. By that comparison, they are seen as so deficient as to require a total transformation of society or a "reimagining" of the fundamental principles on which society is based.
Achieving such a transformation is simple in principle, though less so in practice. In essence, all you need is to gather enough people who are willing to do what it takes to "burn down the system" and get to work. The task of recruitment is achieved by convincing people of the absolute horror of the current situation, which is demonstrated by contrast with Utopia and by tricks that enable ever smaller problems to seem large and consequential.
Since the aim is conceptually so simple, people can be brought together with less conflict and friction than when details of goals and plans for improvements have to be worked out in open debate and agreed upon.
Utopian thinking creates a binary distinction with Utopia on one side and the current situation—as well as everything in-between—on the other. Revolutionaries view reforms cynically. To them, reforms have little—or even negative—value unless they hasten the coming of utopia. Reforms can never cure the "fundamental" problem, which is "the system" itself. This leads to an inability to appreciate or even describe gradual progress in the usual sense, since it always remains superficial.
Just as with the power and oppression cluster, revolutionary sentiment and utopianism are often less than fully explicit and apparent. Marxism may seem less utopian at first glance, since it is hardheaded about the proletarian revolution and its immediate consequences (the dictatorship of the proletariat; abolishing private property of the means of production). But the ideas about subsequent developments are mushy in comparison. The dictatorship of the proletariat is supposed to be followed by a "withering away of the State," ending in the true Communist Utopia:
Their dream – the Communist Society – was a free association of completely free men, where no separation between ‘private and common interest’ existed: a society where ‘everyone could give himself a complete education in whatever domain he fancied’…a man would be given ‘the possibility to do this today and that tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, to go fishing in the afternoon, to do cattle breeding in the evening, to criticise after dinner,’ as he chose.
How that would actually come about is entirely unclear; it is simply logically mandated by the idea that the dialectical process of history leads inevitably to Utopia.
Just as with Marxism, utopianism is not readily apparent in (radical) feminism. But UN Women have created a narrative about a utopian society called Equiterra that illustrates it perfectly. The people of Equiterra seem to enjoy a near-perfect existence. In fact, "they are happier and mentally healthier than any other society."
In "Violence-Free Alley,"
Domestic violence is a rare occurrence, because there are strong laws against it and services to support victims. Since gender equality is the norm, the power dynamics between intimate partners are not oppressive or toxic.
Then there is "Inclusion square," where "everyone feels welcome and included. Here, everyone is safe and able to enjoy themselves."
Apparently, the remaining obstacles to a perfectly blissful society stem from the remnants of the old order. Those remnants are dealt with in a process that looks suspiciously like brainwashing. There is a "Toxic Masculinity Recycling Plant" where "toxic behaviours are transformed into attitudes that perpetuate gender equality." (Somehow I get the sense that it will be decided for me which of my behaviors are "toxic" and that I will have no choice but to have them "transformed.")
The key to radical feminist utopianism lies in attributing problems to "gender" even when there is little or no evidence of a causal link. Most human behaviors have an unequal gender distribution. However, statistical differences do not necessarily reflect root causes. Statistically, men and women have different eating habits, and yet the fundamental reason why we eat is the same. Similarly, men are more often violent than are women, but that does not mean that violence in general is caused by "toxic masculinity" or a lack of effective action to protect women (male victims are seldom mentioned). The ultimate roots of aggression are biological. Domestic violence is far from a pure male-on-female problem and women generally seem to perpetrate it for similar reasons as do men.
Gender equality is important and valuable, but only within the scope of its direct effects. It may reasonably be expected to improve fairness and enhance the freedom to not conform to rigid gender roles. Beyond that, its relevance belongs to the world of magical and utopian thinking. That it would end all violence—or even dramatically curtail it—is neither plausible nor supported by what we know about the roots of violence. Nor can it be expected to eradicate other forms of domination such bullying and power games.
Equiterra reflects this mixture of reasonable and utopian notions. There are some ideas that few would object to, such as access to contraception for women. Then there is the assumption that everyone would have the "correct" beliefs and attitudes, with no indication of how that would have happened, except by means of the "Toxic Masculinity Recycling Plant." And the rarity of domestic violence is attributed to "strong laws against it and services to support victims," even though those already exist, at least in Western countries. In short, there is no plan for achieving this near-perfect state of affairs except by what looks like indoctrination camps.
The Collective Identity Cluster
Activists can elevate their status by claiming to speak on behalf of an identity group. This gives them an appearance of legitimacy even when there is no explicit or implicit consent from the actual individuals comprising the group. Groups defined simply by common characteristics (including immutable ones such as skin color) are conceptualized as if they had the same properties as organized groups. They are assumed to have common interests (whether or not they do), and further to have a common "consciousness" and thereby agency as a group.
By identifying itself with a ‘class’ the Communist Party appropriated both the agency that its theory wrongly attributed to the proletariat and the unanswerability that in fact attaches to every social class. That, I believe, was the source of its criminal momentum. The Party was an agent whose collective decisions were subject to no law and answerable to no human purpose but its own....anyone who actually consults the ideas of ordinary working-class people commits a heinous communist error, the error of ‘opportunism.’ This consists in ‘mistaking the actual, psychological state of consciousness of proletarians for the class consciousness of the proletariat.’
Simply put, it makes sense to attribute agency and accountability to individuals and other legal persons, but not to identity groups. Legal persons have formal responsibilities and the capacity for concerted action. They can "enter into contracts, sue and be sued, own property, and so on."
In contrast, none of this is true of groups that are defined exclusively by similar characteristics. Attributing agency to those groups is a fantasy that is useful primarily for their self-styled representatives. Like a Communist Party, these representatives will profess to express the will of the whole group, while in reality they only speak for their followers—at best.
A seemingly fine distinction must be drawn here: it is not at all illegitimate or morally wrong to claim to know the interests and needs of an identity group and to act politically to further those interests. The problem only occurs when these professed group representatives try to trick the rest of us into believing we have a moral duty to take those claims at face value, rather than as opinion. If we fail to recognize the need to debate those opinions and to weigh them against other considerations, rational decision making becomes difficult if not impossible.
The Truth and Reality Cluster
In a totalitarian system, as in fundamentalist religion, the truth about significant, consequential subjects is whatever those who profess to represent the system say it is, and is not considered debatable. In other words, it is dogma, even when that word is not used. Anyone who challenges the dogma risks being seen as lying deliberately for nefarious reasons.
When there is no room for doubt about what is true, there is no need for individuals to think for themselves, nor to express dissenting opinions. Therefore, disseminating the truth by any means necessary is a good thing, and one of the most effective means is propaganda. In a propagandistic world view, people are seen as passive receptacles of information, buffeted by influences analogous to physical forces that push them in a given direction. It follows that it is also important to prevent competing views from reaching the eyes and ears of the populace. "Lies" and "misinformation" must be fought and ideally eradicated.
At the risk of stating the obvious: the alternative to this mechanical, simplistic model of the public sphere is to think of it as a collective thought process with results that are unpredictable but hopefully embody sufficient rationality and compassion to make us better able to move forward.
In summary, my thesis is that activism shapes the ideology of activists, and thereby most of what is seen by the public, by selection from what to them is fundamentally an a la carte menu of ideas. The result is a deep conceptual similarity that manifests itself as similar behavior: polarization, win-lose conflict ("struggle," "resistance"), propaganda and a lack of interest in reasoned debate, systematic problem-solving or tangible improvements.
From the perspective of radical activism, the utility of the shifting sands of academic scholarship is to allow the activists to update the rationale for activism as the world and public opinion changes. Since activists have a need to paint the present as a nightmare, tangible moral and material progress becomes the worst enemy of their agenda. As material hardship becomes less widespread and as groups are treated more fairly, new reasons for discontent must be found. "Critical" scholarship makes this possible by supplying increasingly sophisticated conceptual and rhetorical tools. Typically, emphasis shifts away from empirically verifiable phenomena and toward the symbolic, the theoretical, the abstract and the hypothetical, including the future. Words become violence, minor slights become microaggressions, relatively rare instances of serious violence (such as police killings of unarmed civilians) become indications of a problem which seems unknowably vast because it's "systemic."
Nevertheless, ideas do belong to an intellectual tradition. Hegelianism and Marxism is part of the intellectual ancestry of wokeness, but I hypothesize that even if that were not the case, modern social justice ideas would still be similar due to convergent evolution. Just as sharks, dolphins and ichtyosaurs look similar due to adaptations to similar environments and ecological niches, the ideology of different radical activists will tend to become similar since it always serves similar needs.
What matters in the real world is the actual political impact of radical utopian activism. That depends less than it may seem on the intellectual pedigree of the ideas and the exact definitions and nature of the various academic theories. Whether wokeness is Marxist (or Marxian)—or just similar in the ways I have described—is a question that has no decisive significance for the real world and the well-being of its inhabitants.
by James Lindsay If we think of the general madness of the world at the present in terms of the familiar biological taxonomical hierarchy: Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, and Species, while something like “Critical Whiteness Studies” might be a species within the Critical Race Theory genus, which is in turn classifiable in the neo-Marxian Family, Marxian Order, and Hegelian Class, the question arises: in what the Kingdom are all these interrelated insanities to be found? I assert that it is that ancient parasitic bugbear known as Gnosticism. In fact, the systematic Hegelian project and especially Marxism, which materialized it, would therefore define the Gnostic phylum of Scientific Gnosticism (though, by definition, “scientistic” would be better) that completes the taxonomy. Whatever might be said about other branches in Kingdom Gnosticism, Scientific Gnosticism is perhaps the most calamitous ideological phylum human beings have so far managed to contrive. Within that phylum, though taxonomically placed otherwise, we would find all of the failures of Communism, Fascism, and National Socialism, for example. We will also find our present plight, the so-called “public-private partnership,” which synthesizes Communism and Fascism into one new terror to be managed technocratically, in mockery of the science it will invoke to establish yet another unnecessary tyranny upon the world and its generally innocent people.
The essence of Gnosticism can be expressed in three beliefs. These are (1) that it is not you or your theories that are wrong, but the world itself; (2) that we have been flung into this miserable and intolerable condition against our wants; but (3) are able to attain a consciousness, a knowledge—a Gnosis—that will allow us to repair the world and ourselves. In this regard, Gnosticism is a perverted impulse toward progress, which describes the circumstance in which we have improved our ability to live in the world through a better understanding of it and ourselves in it. That is, progress means better according our lives with reality as it is and thus doing better in reality. Gnosticism turns progress upside-down—inverts it—by reframing it away from the effort to prosper in the world as it is and toward remaking it into a world that is not and, because this non-reality is essential to the Gnostic project, cannot be.
In that regard, Gnosticism is the perversion—the inversion—of epistemology, which is how we might go about knowing what we know and that we know it. Philosophically speaking (which is to say loving wisdom, not mistaking ourselves for the wise), knowledge is a tricky matter. While theologies are content to assert an absolute Truth in the Deity, they also, when mature, also insist that man’s fallibility and limitation prevents him from knowing that Truth as the Deity would. In other words, while there may be some absolute Truth, it is not man’s lot to know it within the circles of this world. To capital-K (or G) Know would position us as gods ourselves—and so whispers the Serpent of Genesis—which is out of accordance with the order of Creation. God’s mind is not our mind, and our minds are not equipped to fathom the ways of the Deity. Instead, we must be content to pursue or to love knowledge, or wisdom, and, if theological, God, and to pursue it as best we may in humility and in recognition of our proneness to error.
The theistic Gnostic, often theosophists, turns this upside-down. Absolute knowledge is available and hidden from us by those who have ordered the world. God is not the Creator who put order to the world and then called it good; He is a tyrant and the warden of a universal prison locked from within, keeps that which is truly Good for Himself, and by maintaining for us a state of ignorance keeps us enslaved. Knowledge of the higher truth, that the Garden is in fact a prison, sets us free of it, at which point we can reshape the world nearer to our hearts’ desires. Religion and Truth merely have to be exposed as the limiting lies that lead us to see the chaos of our lives as ordered, but in ways beyond our knowledge, and our misery as contentment and even joy. Accordingly, Knowledge of the Absolute Truth, Gnosis, is the way to true freedom. We just have to bite into the fruit, and capital-G Knowledge is ours.
So much for premodernity. Theistic Gnosticism is its own set of phyla in our taxonomical tree. In the modern era, epistemology has shifted into the scientific. Where many of the theologically savvy have recognized the scientific method as a tool to gain provisional and limited knowledge of God’s creation, they have come into harmony with those who see order in the brute fact of Nature herself. Science becomes the method by which we ask hard questions of the world, whether it be named Creation or not, and seek to ascertain what we can of its order. There is no shortcut to this process. Science is intrinsically agnostic—without Gnosis. Science, when it hasn’t ossified into some doctrine of scientism, proceeds entirely on the assumption that we do not know. Whereas The Science is settled; the science is never settled. Every hypothesis can be challenged. Every claim to knowledge can be overturned, especially any claim to Knowledge. Science is therefore by definition anti-Gnostic, just as are the healthy expressions of theistic faith. To allow the category error, Nature, whether product of God or not, has ordered the world as it has, for reasons that may forever remain inscrutable to us, and by our application of reason (gift of God or not), we might come to understand some portion of the order in which we live.
This agnostic fact of science bears a number of relevant consequences. One is that, since science is interested in ascertaining provisional truths about all that is, a Scientific Gnosticism must seek to call truths things which are not. This is why non-reality is essential to Scientific Gnosticism, and the form it takes is Theory. Theory sits atop reality and provides the right understanding, such that those who embrace Theory are the only ones who can truly understand reality. Socialism can only be properly understood by Socialist Man, who is a Scientific Gnostic. Another consequence readily follows. Scientific Gnosticism is scientistic, not scientific at all. It uses the prestige of science as a pretense to its own insight, but it is a counterfeit and an inversion in the same way that premodern Gnostic cults are counterfeit, inverted religions, which the faithful call “heresies.” One familiar is here reminded of the feminist philosopher Kelly Oliver, who called for a revolution against the “absolute authority of recalcitrant Nature” in a now-infamous 1989 paper in a paragraph in which she asserts that we can be freed from that prison by abandoning “true theories” and “false theories” for “strategic theories.”
Some in the modern era—notably G.W.F. Hegel and Karl Marx in his wake—believed that such an understanding of the emerging epistemology of that era, science, presents only a low-level understanding of the world as it is. Theirs is a world that becomes, not a world that is, and it does so through the intrinsically negative process of highlighting “contradictions.” Unless a claim to direct revelation is made, contradictions are a typical route to Gnosis for the Gnostic. As the Serpent whispered the first “contradiction” in Genesis—that ye be made in the image of God but are not as God—so raged Marx that the very point of understanding the world is to change it, by “ruthless criticism of everything that exists,” no less. And so Death entered the world as answer to the rebellion against the order of the world, which, in fact, will not change.
The term for “science” in German, Wissenschaft, carried less strict a meaning in the 19th century than its contemporary translation in English, and it was with that Wissenschaft that these German modern-era Scientific Gnostics worked. That Wissenschaft more accurately refers to “knowledge” than to the more specific term, “science,” and the systematic speculative idealist Hegel separated it into two levels: Verstand (“Understanding”) and Vernunft (“Reason”). A nearer articulation of the meaning of these terms, however, would be (agnostic) understanding (of provisional truths about the world) and (Gnostic) Theory, which is to say systematic contextualization—that is, ideology—of that understanding and everything else.
For Hegel, this meant that his own systematic philosophy was the better understanding, the Wissenschaftlicher, of Understanding (and therefore also not wrong). This is a great, and Gnostic, intellectual swindle. Hegel’s “philosophy,” for an actual philosophy it is not, becomes the doctrine through which all knowledge is put into its proper context. Hegel’s “Reason” is the Absolute, which those with Theoretical consciousness bring to completion. Thus, in Hegel, in Marx, and in their intellectual descendants throughout this taxonomical tree, who are in the current end “Woke,” we have the emergence of a “Scientific Gnosticism” that, in our own era, is often mockingly referred to as “The Science.” That a Scientific Gnosticism is, itself, an oxymoronic contradiction in terms is no impediment to The Science, because in-contradiction is its authentic state of being. That’s because it is an inversion of science done in the name of “progress” that seeks to remake the world rather than to understand it and to prosper in accordance with it.
Marx was quite explicit about The Science, which he referred to as Wissenschaftlicher Sozialismus—usually given as “Scientific Socialism,” though the suffix -licher implies that it is more scientific (than science, one might presume). Scientific Socialism is an approach that went on to mischaracterize lowly Verstand science as “bourgeois science,” which in turn led to the unnecessary deaths of possibly more than a hundred million people in the Soviet Union and China. Recalcitrant nature, contra Kelly Oliver, retained its recalcitrance despite the strategery of the Theory.
Strategic theories, Gnostic Theories, turn out only to be good for obtaining power and abusing it, but they cannot deliver Utopia, no matter how many Theorists (Marxian, neo-Marxian, or Woke) spin them in new ways. They cannot remake the broken world into which we have been flung because it is not, in fact, broken in the first place. Vernunft (Theory, usually named Reason) isn’t very reasonable. Socialist Man doesn’t, as it turns out, know better, and he will never be able to reorder the world nearer to his heart’s desire.
Couldn’t we say, though, that that was then and this is now, and we’re no longer in the modern era but the postmodern, in which Scientific Gnosticism cannot be because there is neither Science nor Gnosis to be had? That was the postmodernists’ contention, anyway. All science, all knowledge, all truth is a proud claim to Gnosis, and that, they seem to assert, cannot be had anyway. So we might read Lyotard on the “postmodern condition” or understand Foucault’s dire warnings about biopower. “It’s not that everything is bad; it’s that everything is dangerous”: all progress is an illusion, and the world cannot be remade, nor us within it. Even the neo-Marxists of the late 1960s—undoubtely Scientific Gnostics of the first order—cleaved their Gnosticism in this direction, which is to say in the negative. Negative thinking becomes positive, admonished Marcuse, and the revolutionary potential of the movement is located within the absence of liberation while retaining consciousness of its historical possibility. It may not be possible to cast a positive image of the Utopia, claimed Adorno, but Utopia exists in the negative. Utopia is the possibility of what may be when all oppression is removed. Put otherwise, we might not know what Heaven will look like, but it’s not this and we’ll know it when we see it—now get in the car. This is still Gnosticism, and their mode, profoundly modernist even as it flirted with the postmodern, in the Scientific mold.
Regarding the challenge of postmodernism proper, at least three things must be said. First, the postmodernists, for all their insights and astute warnings about The Science, failed to understand the science it mimics. Second, though their dialectics turned almost completely negative, not even they gave up on Gnosticism. Instead, they retained it in different shape, so that the remaking of the world and Man within it was made totally internal and subjective. Their goal was to reject all meaning and truth, and this is but an avant garde, nihilistic, fashionably 1970s-French way of asserting that they in some way knew so much better, better enough to be able to sit aside from the whole world and shit on it at every turn. Third, their critique, even for what worth it retains in spite of these contradictions and confusions, doesn’t matter because in the years since postmodernism came to America, the Scientific Gnostics merely figured out ways to incorporate it into their Scientific Gnosticism—and they won the fight.
The result of the postmodern turn in Scientific Gnosticism wasn’t its end; it was its kaleidoscopic (literally, that’s their word for it) explosion. Now Gnostic consciousnesses proliferate at the level of identity politics, and these define the entire collection of genera in the “Woke” family or families in our taxonomical hierarchy. Queer Theory sees “queer” as an “identity without an essence,” and so every narcissistic adolescent obtains a specialized Gnosis of the world and its functioning located firmly in their own unstable sense of self that is contextualized by The Science of sex, gender, and sexuality. Race is socially constructed and imposed, says Critical Race Theory, so only by understanding yourself in terms of its structurally deterministic machinations can Gnostic awareness of Race Theory be rightly obtained. Understanding systems and their operation through the black magick of socialization awakens a Gnostic consciousness in every conceivable domain of identity, but Scientific Gnosticism it remains. Postmodernism didn’t kill Scientific Gnosticism; it merely pushed it deeply into the plural.
In this way, we can understand the madness of the current world. Gnosticism is again ascendant in a new postmodern and scientistic form, and Gnostic cults have captured countless people and far too many institutions. The trouble is: they think they Know, and they think that with their Knowledge, they can remake the world and those who are so unfortunate to inhabit it in its Fallen form. As a result, droves of otherwise sensible human beings yet again feel as though they have been flung into a broken world and, with the right Theory, the right Gnosis, they can properly contextualize all that they think they understand and so remake the world and themselves to match.
In practice, then, because these are metaphysically based cults, all stories, including stories about data, must serve Theory because Theory is the map to that Absolute knowledge—consciousness, be that class, feminist, critical, racial, or otherwise—that God and Nature otherwise would withhold from us, no matter how good our theology or our instruments. In this understanding, we can see that nothing has changed and that the “liberation” held out as Theory’s promise is false. Recalcitrant nature—human and otherwise—will remain recalcitrant. Second reality will not become reality. Theory put into practice will fail. They will not achieve “liberation” because liberation from reality is not possible, no matter how self-indulgently miserable and resentful anyone becomes by believing they capital-G Know what they can only pretend to know.
by James Lindsay According to Critical Race Theory, “racism is ordinary, not aberrational—‘normal science,’ the usual way society does business, the common, everyday experience of most people of color in this country” (Delgado and Stefancic, 2001, p. 7). Its advocates call this belief “systemic racism,” and Critical Race Theory is the “study” of this so-called systemic racism, if by “study” we mean “treasure hunt to find racism in everything.”
Consequently, according to Critical Race Theorists, virtually everything anyone can imagine is racist. The names of some birds and fish are racist, according to Critical Race Theory. Math is racist, especially if we care about getting the right answers, according to Critical Race Theory. A rock on University of Wisconsin, Madison, campus property is racist, according to Critical Race Theory. Schools, government institutions, businesses, classical music, Beethoven specifically, art, hiking, going outside, the pandemic, rock climbing, jogging, conservatism and all conservatives, the curriculum in any school and its books, black people who don’t agree with Critical Race Theory, logic, loyalty, punctuality, hard work, merit—these are all part of the “system” of racism that this neo-Marxian Theory “interrogates” for its hidden racism. Even being “less racist” or “not racist” and desegregating schools via Brown v. Board of Education is racist, according to Critical Race Theory. In fact, it was in those two phenomena that Critical Race Theory started.
In that it’s a neo-Marxist Theory that demands to be understood only in its own predefined terms, however, perhaps it is best to consider what Critical Race Theory is really all about by taking the advice of some of its philosophical forebears. In One-Dimensional Man (1964), the neo-Marxist Herbert Marcuse explains, presaging the poststructuralist Jackie Derrida, that the motivating energy for a movement rooted in (Hegelian) “negative thinking” comes from what isn’t there more than what is. The absence haunts the movement and, ultimately, gives it its motivating energy and will. He, of course, meant the (absence of the) liberated Utopia—Communism, when it finally works—that “specter of Marx” that also animated Derrida, though less manically, in the 1990s. Thus, perhaps we can learn more about what “systemic racism” is about by taking some examples of what isn’t systemically racist, even though it plainly is (by their definition).
A glaring example of systemic racism-that-isn’t arises in the willful discrimination against meritorious Asian-Americans in American colleges and universities and other schools. This blatant exception to the rule of systemic racism not only exists but was defended against termination by nearly every Senate Democrat in a party-line vote in April when Ted Cruz attempted to add a provision in the “Stop Asian Hate” bill that would finally prohibit it. But, of course, Asian-Americans are a paradoxical minority. They’re white-adjacent, which is systemically racist.
There’s also the obvious case of the disproportionate impact (this being the proof that systemic racism is occurring) the riots, looting, arson, chaos, and subsequent “defund the police” initiatives had on black and Latino neighborhoods in our cities, costing many hundreds of black and other lives and billions in property damage and theft. “Whiteness is property,” we were told in apparent justification of all this mayhem, and the police are systemically racist. Somehow, though, encouraging these disastrous behaviors and policies doesn’t qualify as “systemic racism” despite the definition because they were protests for “justice,” which is supposed to be “uncomfortable.”
Another less obvious example of systemic racism-that-isn’t follows the eviction moratorium, which was just reinstated unconstitutionally by administrative decree. Brown and black landlords, who tend to run smaller operations and own fewer rental properties, are disproportionately affected and far more likely to lose their livelihoods and property as foreclosures loom. This policy, which benefits interests like BlackRock (with its deep ties to the administration and major international NGOs who also claim to care about “systemic racism” in everything else), is not “systemically racist,” however.
Perhaps the most interesting example of a haunting absence from the “systemic racism” appellation, though, is in yet another no-brainer that anyone can see as plainly as day: vaccine passports. The irony here is almost delicious, in fact. After sowing rampant distrust by naming the pandemic itself racist, racism as a public health threat, and our own government and healthcare system as racist for years on end, blacks and Latinos are disproportionately less vaccinated than members of most other races. Vaccine passports are then proposed as the newest false solution to the pandemic. Their implementation would, of course, create a (systemically racist) mechanism by which the disproportionately black and Latino unvaccinated population (against COVID-19, specifically, to be clear) will be excluded from full participation in the basic functions of society: public transportation, restaurants, shopping establishments, and, in many cases, employment opportunities. These groups will disproportionately bear the brunt of this discriminatory policy unless their members let the allegedly systemically racist government inject them with undertested vaccines and sign them up for a program that clearly hands over even more control over their lives to said systemically racist government. This is precisely the kind of policy that Critical Race Theorists would normally go berserk about—and for once for good reason. Unlike the boulder in Madison, the vax pass meets Ibram X. Kendi’s brilliant definition of racism almost perfectly: “A collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity that are substantiated by racist ideas.”
Not only do we have silence about the fact of this blatant problem in the vaccine passport program being ignored by those who should be raising a clamor about it, however. At least one social media giant, all of which have shown themselves to do whatever misfeasance they can within their power—mostly censorious—to support the radical Leftist agenda of the day, actively suppresses this fact (for mere narrative it is not). Mememakers of the world rapidly seized upon the opportunity to point out that vaccine passports are systemically racist according to the Critical Race Theory definition employed by our federal government in its “equity” programs, making a series of scathing satirical memes depicting black individuals in dismay with verbiage talking about how they were discriminated against by the implementation of vaccine passports. Twitter responded by locking and suspending accounts that shared the memes and forcing the tweets to be deleted (my own was locked four times in a week). The justification: the memes were said to spread misleading information about COVID-19, which they did not. Those who challenged the bans were told by Twitter that they had “made a mistake,” but the fact remains: Twitter used its ill-gotten power to censor “misleading information about COVID-19” to censor political opinions and satire that are inconvenient to the radical Leftist agenda in which they are taking part. (Note well: Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey gave Kendi $10 million in July of 2020 to support his “anti-racism” program at Boston University, so one would presume Twitter cares deeply about and could spot systemic racism where it is actually occurring.)
There is, of course, a pattern to these exceptions to the everything-is-racist rule of Critical Race Theory: they’re all power-seizing Leftist agendas. This is the rub in Kendi’s brilliant definition—ideas they declare to be anti-racist, not racist, substantiate their own policies and power grabs, and that suddenly justifies intent over impact for them. It is now glaringly obvious that critics of the Left and Critical Race Theory have been right all along: Critical Race Theory and the broader Leftist agenda making use of it are not serious endeavors; they’re tools for seizing power, cynically applied. It is perfectly obvious at this point that these radical Leftist ideologies care little or not at all about “black lives” or anything to do with the racial groups Critical Race Theory brands “marginalized” and “minoritized.” They only care about their own power and how they might get more of it by using the disproportionalities of society as a wedge and a lever. This means they’re also using the people they attach to those disproportionate outcomes and count as “systemic racism” when it’s convenient to them and ignore when it isn’t.
A response is necessary, and the shape of that response is obvious. Figures like Ibram X. Kendi, Cori Bush and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (who vigorously championed the eviction moratorium extension), Jen Psaki speaking for Biden as White House Press Secretary, and pro-CRT media talking heads like Joy-Ann Reid, Don Lemon, and Marc Lamont Hill should all be asked to comment on why systemic racism is acceptable for agendas they support and intolerable even in the mundane (rocks are literally of the Earth). Why is systemic racism not only tolerable but necessary for articles of the corrupt radical Leftist agenda? Do they believe vaccine passports are systemically racist? If so, how can they justify them against the rest of their beliefs? If not, what does the term “systemically racist” even mean?
The point isn’t to catch these people out. They will have answers, of course, however unsatisfactory. The point is to show the public that, like so much else in their repressive order, the label “systemic racism” is just another arbitrary tool, another potent bit of calculated rhetorical malice, by which they might effect their intended ends. Thereby, the absence of genuine meaning in the concept might tell us everything we need to know about it, and the bigger the audience who sees it, the better.
One of Critical Race Theory’s Major Harms: Asian American Discrimination
by Kenny Xu
Critical Race Theory often justifies Asian discrimination because Asian Americans are often on the wrong side of the "groups who need to be helped" debate.
One of today’s most vexing Supreme Court cases is Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard, which has brought anti-Asian discrimination to the forefront of the current cultural discourse. SFFA (Students for Fair Admissions) contends that Harvard’s “race-conscious” admissions process violates the Constitution by disadvantaging Asian American applicants based upon their race, while Harvard argues that campus diversity goals justify their race-based process.
Most of the reasoning behind Harvard’s admissions process comes from critical race theory (CRT), a theory of race which originated with Harvard University. Another hot topic recently, critical race theory teaches that America is divided into privilege and oppressed groups based on race. Negative aspects of modern society follow from that dichotomy, and the only way to fix it is to revolutionize the way we think about race, culture, and society.
Under the critical race framework, “white supremacy” covers a lot of different phenomena. Everything from blatant discrimination, to the existence of English grammar, to choosing not to riot are included under the term. And in the words of social justice activist and author Ibram X. Kendi, “The only remedy to racist discrimination is anti-racist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.” In order to combat white supremacy (however broadly defined), critical race theorists view “antiracist” discrimination as the only legitimate response.
However, with the emergence of several racial groups that have come to be just as successful as whites, Critical Race Theorists came up with the term “white adjacency.” Robin DiAngelo, author of the now infamous book “White Fragility,” defines it this way: “The closer you are to whiteness—the term often used is white-adjacent—you’re still going to experience racism, but there are going to be some benefits due to your perceived proximity to whiteness. The further away you are, the more intense the oppression’s going to be.”
According to critical theorists, Asian Americans are the most white adjacent minority. They go so far as to say that Asians don’t count as “people of color,” and even invented the term “BIPOC: (Black and Indigenous people of color) specifically to exclude Asian and other “white adjacent” minorities,
What does this mean? In my new book, An Inconvenient Minority, I tell the story of the many Asian Americans who are harmed by an ideology that penalizes their success. Progressives “call out Asians for either trying to be like white people or benefitting from systems that prop up white dominance.” Under critical race theory, it also means they are complicit in upholding white supremacy. To be white adjacent is to benefit from the systems of oppression that America was allegedly founded upon.
Applying the words of Kendi, then, means that Asians are a privileged group in which discrimination is justified, to make room for the “truly” oppressed.
But is the concept of white adjacency actually valid? In fact, white adjacency is simply a rhetorical tool to discriminate against Asian Americans. It’s also an implicitly racist concept that devalues other races, meritocracy, and Asian culture.
The problem is that critical race theory implicitly defines every good societal outcome as white. Even if your family came from China or India, being educated and achieving a high degree of personal success is deemed “white” behavior. This is racist in multiple ways. Obviously, it puts Asian Americans into a white adjacent box that completely ignores their unique cultures and struggles. Furthermore, it implies by default that other races aren’t successful, talented, or educated. If being rich and successful are “white” characteristics, then doesn’t the logic follow that being poor and lazy are Black characteristics? Despite pretending to care about diversity and inclusion, critical race theory is actually racist in the way it implicitly categorizes groups of people.
Asians are harmed from multiple directions by the white adjacency myth. Asian Americans have struggled in this country as well - let us not forget the Chinese Exclusion Act or Japanese Internment. Yet, the concept is frequently used to silence Asian Americans when they attempt to explain their own struggles as a minority in America. It also gives universities such as Harvard the required justification to discriminate against Asian American applicants to their schools, who blow every other race out of the water academically. Asians are an inconvenient minority because their high performance is a threat to both prevailing woke narratives surrounding diversity, and to continued, largely white, ruling class hegemony in the Ivy League schools. As the coastal elite continue to double down on critical race theory, Asian Americans will continue to be the thorn in their side.
Asian Americans are not deficient white people or “white adjacent.” They are unique individuals from distinct cultures, each with our own struggles and backgrounds. Their individual successes are their alone, and defining those successes as “white” is racist in myriad ways. Asian Americans cannot simply be designated by Critical Race Theory as a prop for white supremacy; we are the inconvenient minority.