There’s a meme circulating that assumes that those who believe masks are stifling also claim that masks don’t prevent the transmission of SARs-CoV-2. It’s one of the myriad of mocking memes designed to shame and marginalize those whom the meme-makers think are conservative and therefore stupid. I am not going to share the meme. I’m sure you have seen it.
I must admit, I don’t see anybody making these claims together or, for that matter, the same person making these claims sequentially. Maybe they do and I miss it. But if they did, would they be wrong?
On the first part, has anybody ever been under a blanket? Felt stifled? I bet you have. (By stifled I mean not being able to breathe properly, not being suffocated.) Ever experienced a roaring headache at a slumber party while hiding from the parents? Ever been performing oral sex and have had to open up a side vent to keep going? Why, even when it’s really cold, do we cover our bodies but keep our heads out from under the blanket?
Answer: to breathe.
On the second part, is it possible for a virus to get us under a blanket? Or through a niqab or burka? Yes. Obviously some air gets in or you would suffocate. If some air gets in, then viruses, which are tiny, can get in.
That’s the other thing the meme assumes—that if a person is stifled then the virus is stifled. Stop and think about that for a second. Are you saying that airflow is either/or? Either the air is flowing full volume or the air is completely choked off? Or is it our experience that airflow can be restricted but not choked off and still stifle the breather?
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think the whole point of masks is to reduce airflow. What would be the point otherwise? mask scolds readily admit this. I see the photos from these aerosol studies everywhere. What do they demonstrate? Restricted airflow.
Plastic bags tightly tied around one’s neck are probably very effective in preventing SARS-CoV-2 transmission. Why? Because little air gets in. Sleeping bags aren’t body bags. Etc. So we use breathable masks, so we don’t suffocate the user—while restricting the user’s airflow. I suppose we could all wear NASA spacesuits. I think only some students would find that fun. It will terrify and alienate others. But who’s paying for it?
Don’t like common sense? Here’s a review of the scientific evidence about masks by physicist Denis G. Rancourt. Despite having published more than 100 articles in scientific journals on physics and environmental science, you have probably never heard of Rancourt. He was dismissed from the University of Ottawa for presuming that academic freedom gave him the right to experiment with grading schemes.
Gatekeepers like suppressing Rancourt’s arguments. This article was banned from ResearchGate on June 3, 2020 after it had reached 400 K reads. That’s why I am having to share the article from this source provided above. Get it while you can. Here’s the letter Jospeh Hickey and Denis Rancourt of the Ontario Civil Liberties Association wrote the WHO about masks.
Where do these desperate shaming memes come from? They come from a pathological desire to force everybody to do something. People who make these arguments have control issues. It’s like the desire to make everybody agree with one’s opinion about systemic racism by getting dissenters in trouble. Only racists would deny systemic racism, right? Cancel them. So if you don’t want to wear a mask you must be a fascist wing nut. Ironic, no?
This psychological need has many sources. Neither common sense nor science are among them.
So there are studies claiming a protective function. I agree: science is important. So what about the studies that do not find this protective function? What about not rigidly determining questions of personal freedom on the basis of selected science?
All the studies show masks work, I am told. Which studies? Which scientists? Whose scientists? The scientists who told us that hydroxychloroquine is ineffective and dangerous?
If you want to wear a mask, then wear a mask. But please stop trying to force everybody to be like you, to live in the world you think you control. At least stop claiming you believe in autonomy and freedom and human dignity if you think it’s appropriate for the government to force people to wear masks (or stay in their house, etc.).
“What would have us do?” That’s a question I get all the time. Thanks for asking. Here’s my recommendation: If you see me without a mask, and that bothers you, stay away from me. Or, if I am forced to wear a sign that indicates disease (like a mask), then stay away from me. Treat me like a disease vector if you want to operate on that level of fear and paranoia. I won’t be offended. I really won’t. I promise. It’s weird, but there are lots of things in life that are weird and I am a tolerant man.
There are viruses. They kill some people. This is the way it has always been. It is the way it will always be. COVID-19 isn’t novel in that sense. A virus may get you sooner or later. If it makes you feel better to wear a mask, then I have no desire to make you go about your life with a naked face. It may be important for you to project your (quasi) religious identity. I’m a proponent of religious liberty.
If you fear me because I am a man and therefore statistically more likely to commit violence, what can I do about it? I can only point out that this reaction is irrational. But I am not going to lord your fear over you. So don’t lord your fear over me.
It’s not that I don’t care about you when I don’t wear a mask. The problem is that you don’t care about me when you force me to wear one.
After blogging about COVID-19 early on (my first blog on the subject was late March), I, for the most part, moved on to other things because I risked repeating myself and because the Black Lives Matter hysteria seemed a more pressing topic on which to focus. After all, the problems with the societal reaction to SARS-CoV-2 were clear early on. It just took somebody to make others aware of them, I believed. I always hold out hope that people are susceptible to facts and reason. It’s why I write in a scientific fashion, a practice for which I am oddly criticized. I am, above all, an educator. However, several posts on my Facebook newsfeed and continuing establishment news media distortion inspire me to return to the subject. It seems that ignorance of the obvious and resistance to scientific thinking are stubborn things. The facts only strength the argument I have made all along.
First, there is puzzlement—if even acknowledged—that Covid-19 seems to be killing far fewer of the people it infects. If you remember, back in April and May, there were as many as 3,000 deaths per day. This produced a high case fatality rate (CFR), which the media used to scare the public. (I wrote extensively on the moral panic in the spring. (See, for example, Viruses, Agendas, and Moral Panics and When a Virus Goes Viral.) The number of daily deaths is now closer to 600. Yes, there is a rise in hospitalization and deaths in a few states, but by CDC standards, the daily number of deaths looks to be on track to fall below epidemic levels. What explains this?
It may be that the virus is mutating into a less lethal form. While viruses may not technically be alive, they are subject to the principles of natural selection. When copying themselves, virus make errors scientists call mutations. Some mutations make viruses more lethal, while others make viruses less lethal. Evolutionary pressure favors those variations that are less lethal, since the more lethal variations are less successful in spreading and thus reproducing themselves over space and time. To put it simply, the more lethal strains die out. Hence, there are more people with the virus but fewer people dying from it.
Diagnostic testing for the coronavirus has risen significantly, with more than 600,000 tests administered each day in the United States. In contrast, there were 100,000 tests per day in early spring. This represents a six-fold increase in testing over the course of the pandemic. Despite the media spin that this does not explain the rise in cases, John Hopkins Center for Health Security reports that increased testing is identifying many more infected individuals with mild or no symptoms (as I reported this spring, most of those who are infected have mild to no symptoms). This rise in the number of identified cases drives down the overall proportion of COVID-19 deaths.
Here’s how to think about this. If COVID-19 remains as lethal as before, then it must follow that there were many more cases than authorities were detecting (there still are). The decline in deaths per day is five-fold. That is a significant number. If the number of cases were actually rising, which is the evidence marshaled by the media and the naysayers against reopening the economy and schools, and if COVID-19 were just as lethal as it was in the spring, then the death rate would go up, not down. So either there were far more cases than were detected or the virus is becoming less lethal.
Of course, all of these things can be simultaneously true; they are not mutually exclusive possibilities. It is possible that there were far more cases than were detected early on, cases are on the rise due to reopening the economy, and the virus is less lethal than it was early on. However, all that is good news. It means that the virus was never as lethal as we thought (because there were always many more cases that were detected) and that more people are acquiring antibodies. (See Future Containment of COVID-19: Have Authorities Done the Right Thing?) This is the reason why the media has stopped talking about deaths and focuses instead on the gross number of rising cases.
Not wanting to talk about deaths directly also explains why the media spends very little time telling the public about how earlier intervention and new therapeutics and practices are saving lives. The medical industry is now more familiar with the virus and is doing a better job of treating it. However, if the media isn’t going to talk about declining deaths amid allegedly rising cases, in order to leave the impression that deaths are going up because cases are going up, then they aren’t going to report the medical success story.
The media frame is clearly resistant to presenting any positive news about COVID-19 for the purposes of keeping alive the moral panic they’re using to diminish the president and marginalize populist resistant to authoritarian control, for which the virus is used as a pretext.
Another probable factor in the decline of COVID-19 deaths is that the demographic profile of the virus is changing. It is shifting towards younger people. Because the virus is relatively harmless to healthy adults, a proportional shift towards younger and healthier population groups will to some degree reduce the overall rate of death. This is particularly good news in that it means that healthy Americans are developing immunity to a virus that is likely, as are other viruses, to come back in the fall. It also may signal that authorities are doing a better job in protecting those in longterm care facilities—or, grimly, those most likely to die already have.
Stanford University’s disease prevention chairman, John P. A. Ioannidis reports, “There are already more than 50 studies that have presented results on how many people in different countries and locations have developed antibodies to the virus.” The studies “suggest that about 150-300 million or more people have already been infected around the world, far more than the 10 million documented cases.” That means that actual cases are 15-30 times greater than documented cases. Ioannis also reports, “For people younger than 45, the infection fatality rate is almost 0%. For 45 to 70, it is probably about 0.05%-0.3%.”
With this in mind, why is it even a question as to whether teachers and students go back to school in the fall? I have heard the complaint that a significant proportion of teachers are in the age group imperiled by the virus (we should keep in mind that more than half of all deaths among the elderly have occurred in long-term care facilities, which distorts the actual threat to those active in the teaching profession). Moreover, it is noted that there are others who have immunocompromised systems and other health conditions (such as obesity) that make the virus more lethal for them. However, influenza and others viruses present the same threat to these populations (vaccines, which only cover some strains and are highly variable in their efficacy, at best moderate this effect, not negate it). Indeed, influenza is far more dangerous to children than SARS-CoV-2. Yet the fact that it has never before been the policy concerning other serious biological threats to these populations to move to online instruction or wear masks and shields and practice social distancing rarely occurs to anybody.
In other words, many in the public are reacting to COVID-19 in a way they do not and have not responded to comparable threats. The public is overreacting and the overreaction has harmed the economy and education, and will continue to do so if we continue to operate on fear instead of reason. Tragically, people perceive COVID-19 differently than influenza because the authorities and the establishment media have terrified them with corpses, pushing a frightening narrative that COVID-19 is uniquely deadly while ignoring the IFR that shows that it isn’t. Remember, the authorities and establishment media know better. They are lying about this.
Now that cases are rising mainly because of testing, while deaths are falling both absolutely and relatively, the news media dwell on cases and not deaths. They are substituting cases for deaths because the numbers are larger and scarier. After months of scare mongering, it’s time the American public push back and demand that we return to a normal life.
* * *
The New York Times wrote a nasty piece on Sweden’s experience with COVID-19. It was based on perceptions of Sweden by surrounding Scandinavian countries. An objective examination of the demographics of COVID-19 deaths, as well as the character of institutional integrity, suggests that the problem in Sweden is not their approach to SARS-CoV-2 but other factors, for example an aging population. More than one in twenty Swedes is beyond the standard retirement age of 65, a number higher than in Denmark and much higher than in Norway, and Sweden is a much larger country.
Most COVID-19 deaths have occurred in a very small proportion of the population. Those 70 years of age and older account for 88.9 percent of deaths. Moreover, more than half of them were in long-term care facilities. Of the 5,420 total deaths as of July 3, only 9 people below the age of 30 have died from the virus in Sweden. As the research indicates, most of those who die young have comorbidities, such as a compromised immune system. They are at risk from other viruses, as well. The case fatality rate of those under the age of 70 is less than 1 percent in Sweden. Applying a bottom end factor of 15, the infection fatality rate is 0.05% for those under the age of 70. For all age groups, a conservative estimate of infection fatality race is half of 1 percent.
This virus is comparable to influenza in its lethality. No country stops society on account of the flu. While death is tragic (albeit inevitable), the statistics do not suggest the more restrictive approach other countries have taken would have been markedly better. Sweden has performed better than Great Britain and Spain, to take two notable examples of countries with restrictive policies. Moreover, Sweden’s approach is likely the only viable long-term approach to SARS-CoV-2 if societies want to avoid economic calamity and its consequences, for example diminishment of the material capability of supporting the health care sector.
Beyond the demographics of age, two factors stand out:
First, Sweden’s neoliberal approach to health and welfare has been more aggressive than other countries. High quality healthcare is increasingly difficult to come by in Sweden. The system is rationed, with restrictive access and long waiting times. There is a tradition in Sweden of stalling until patients are quite sick. There are chronic shortages of medical personnel. As a result, a large proportion of those who died from COVID-19 died outside ICU. The effects of neoliberalism are particularly felt in long-term care facilities. While most elderly care is funded taxes and government grants, an increasing number of municipalities are privatizing elderly care. Shortfalls in care in private long-term care facilities is well-known in Sweden.
Second, Sweden’s health and welfare systems have been severely strained by a large immigrant population heavily dependent on government resources. Other Scandinavian countries have not been nearly as generous to immigrants as has Sweden. The Swedish government has responded by reducing immigration, but the damage done to its systems of health and welfare systems (as well as public safety) will be felt for a long time.
“Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue [has been toppled] and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.” —Nineteen Eighty-Four
Unfettered “engagement” with China is not preparing China for democracy and liberty. It is appeasement of the Chinese Communist Party (leveraging here the phraseology of Bill Gertz, author of the 2019 Deceiving the Sky: Inside Communist China’s Drive for Global Supremacy) for the purposes of accelerating the convergence of the bureaucratic collectivism that marks socialism with Chinese characteristics with the globalist-corporatist statism of the West, manifest in the transnationalization of the social logic inhering in the overdevelopment of bureaucratic monopoly capitalism, the corporate governance model that the Democratic Party shepherds under the cover of progressivism (see Richard Grossman’s “Defining the Corporation, Defining Ourselves” and “Challenging Corporate Law and Lore”).
With totalitarian control over politics and culture and the Belt and Road Initiative, enabled by the Democratic Party’s Pivot-to-Asia doctrine (see Obama, Clinton, and Biden), the agenda of the People’s Republic of China dovetails with the designs of the capitalist globalizers. This convergence means the transformation—effectively, the cancellation—of Western civilization, erasing its accomplishments and overthrowing democratic-republicanism in spirit and in practice. Both liberal capitalism and democratic socialism, each depending on the dynamics of the national state principles of modernity and Westphalian-style international arrangements, each carrying the antagonisms that produce workable policy options among competing class interests, are becoming impossible.
Americans and Europeans (and peoples outside the West) must grasp these developments as the issue of the epoch. The full realization of Orwell’s nightmare is nearing. Acquiescence to the situation is tacit obedience to authoritarian desire. Happenings on the streets of America and Europe, and in their education systems, have in back of them corporate globalization and anti-Western ideology. Globalization is the process by which the political and material world is transformed into a single borderless economy, with unfettered flows of capital, goods, money, people, and services, under the control of a handful of transnational corporations (TNCs). (See David Korten’s When Corporations Rule the World and Bill Robinson’s Promoting Polyarchy.)
Today’s essay connects developments in transnational political economy to the intellectual and cultural apparatuses that have installed the bureaucratic collectivist program on the wetware of Western youth. Corporate power is well aware of organic opposition to globalization, so it requires an ideology deceiving the popular forces into supporting corporatist-globalist ambition. It also requires the ineffectual selves that I write about in A Fact-Proof Screen: Black Lives Matter and Hoffer’s True Believer. The alienating conditions of late capitalism generate an oversupply of such persons. The ideological program and the identity of those who manufacture and disseminate it are vital to grasp.
The rebellion against modernity reflects the maturation of an intergenerational and multinational project, the culmination of work of cultural managers in the administrative state, and the culture industry that emerged from mature progressivism in the post-WWII period (see Adorno, Horkheimer), ramping up in the 1960s with the Democratic Party’s opening up the country to global investment and mass immigration, soon followed by counterculture politics, ideologically organized by the New Left, with elements of Frankfurt school style Critical Theory (Marcuse), Mao Zedong thought, and French postmodernism/poststructuralism (Lyotard; Derrida; Foucault), all to the advantage of the globalist wing of the capitalist class in enabling its denationalization projects. As none of it really represents a radical critique of anything, it has proven useful for its class disorganizing power.
“Radicals” insinuated themselves into the university system as professors and administrators, creating an array of culture studies, ethnic studies, women and gender studies departments, and a myriad of other programs in the humanities and social sciences, establishing a vast arsenal of specialty journals with eager gate-keeper to legitimize propaganda, a gospel of cultural and moral relativism, identity politics, and standpoint epistemology, with intellectual roots tracing back to the progressivism and technocratic professionalism organized by urban cosmopolitan elites in the suites of the trans-Atlantic bourgeois network, bankrolled by transnational wing of industrial capitalism, in the late 19th and early 20th century, manufacturing the deceits of cultural pluralism and moral relativism. This has been a long march through our institutions.
It is via this apparatus that our cultural managers have trained up an army of foot soldiers recruited from the ambitious offspring of the managerial-professional middle class, groomed for functional roles in the bureaucratic-corporate structure of governance. It is this development that lies behind the shift in the language of justice from the equality of individuals before the law and the equality of opportunity, ideals that have produced the fairest and most prosperous societies in history (the common law model leading the way) to social justice, with demands for equity, a construct that in these hands defines any disparity or inequality as prima facia evidence of unfairness and injustice, assertions from which follow the claim that injustice can be remedied by achieving proportional representation of ethnic, racial, and gender groups in business firms and public institutions. As such, it does not advocate a redistribution of economic power, but rather a redistribution of the symbolic power that it imagines exists and explains demographic facts.
This is the basis of identity politics, where the principle of tokenism (diversity) replaces the ethics of individual achievement (autonomy and self-actualization), producing bureaucratic actors functionalized to corporate arrangements, arrangements antithetical to democracy and liberty. As Max Weber long ago argued (The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism), in the midst of the emergence of progressivism, such arrangements suppress individually differentiated conduct (freedom), charisma (personality), animality, and spirituality, transforming humans into steel-encased machine cogs. (Antonio Gramsci made a similar point from his prison cell in Fascist Italy.)
Identity politics is the popular cultural adjunct to neoliberalism. The shift from justice to social justice is achieved through compelled speech and practice in bureaucratic rules, professional aspirations, and peer pressure hailing as virtuous the goals of diversity, equity, and inclusion. President Trump captured this development in his July 3 speech at the foot of Mount Rushmore: “In our schools, our newsrooms, even our corporate boardrooms, there is a new far-left fascism that demands absolute allegiance. If you do not speak its language, perform its rituals, recite its mantras, and follow its commandments, then you will be censored, banished, blacklisted, persecuted, and punished.” The logic of left-authoritarianism (I prefer not to use the term “fascism,” but it is not inaccurate in spirit) supplants the defenders of individual liberty and rights with social justice warriors who advocate collective rights and the retribalization of society.
Resistance to left-authoritarian thought and practice is depicted in academic journals as both an expression of privilege and a psychiatric condition. It is no longer a question as to whether any of this is good news for working people. The corporatist order has decided that for us. Just fall in line or risk being identified as a racist, sexist, and xenophobe, or be pathologized. There is quite a literature on this in the academic journals and HR department handbooks and memos and it’s terrifying. Do a Google search of resistance to diversity training, what the Red Guard called “struggle sessions” during the Cultural Revolution. For those of you unfamiliar with this history, the Red Guard was a mass-based youth-led militant social movement mobilized in the second half of the 1960s to attack the traditional institutions in China. Google that, too, and the parallels between then and now will strike you immediately. The programs administered in academic institutions are connected to the actions being carried out in the streets. Together they strive to finally do away with the American Revolution, fallaciously condemning great documents because they were written by white men. The character of the prevailing cultural hegemonic reflects the entrenchment and scope of bureaucratic-corporate power. Never forget that corporate bureaucracy is the opposite of democratic republicanism.
The ideology animating so-called radical progressive politics (they would only truly be radical if they got to the root of things) is sociological realism, useful as a methodology for developing understandings, but theological in character when its epistemology is ontologized, producing a quasi religious system where people are struggling not against real structures, as the Abolitionists and the Civil Rights activists did, but against things that don’t really exist, for example, the apparitions of the post-Civil Rights mythology of systemic racism (Stokley Carmichael’s institutional racism). I am a sociologist, so it pains me to report this out to you. Inside the bubble, it has not always been so easy to see the role I played in legitimizing and perpetuating this ideology. The events of the last several years have been revealing, to say the least. For me, it’s been a change in paradigm.
This faux-theology had to, of course, like any religious cult, grow over time, while working itself into the dominant institutions of Western civilization in order to become the prevailing narrative. That’s why we see the street protests—toppling statues, revising historical, spitting on cops, and all the rest of it—over alleged racial injustice emerging now, at a moment where racism has largely disappeared. It took a couple of generations for this idea to become mainstreamed enough to become ordinary social logic, a logic conducive to the expansion and entrenchment of corporate governance. We see so much investment in New Left ideology by corporations (the rebellion enjoys big money financing), the Democratic Party, and establishment media, extolling the virtues of destruction and violence—we see a Republican Party nearly completely cowed by it—because it is useful to the ruling class. This explains how the progressive and liberal Christian churches, even the Vicar of Christ, can be about sanctifying chaos. Liberation theology has come of age.
* * *
The big hegemonic project today is obviously transforming race relations, i.e. #BlackLivesMatter (#MeToo briefly intervened, but it didn’t have the class disrupting power of racial divisioning, so the old hashtag is back). If there’s one thing capitalists have learned, it’s that race is a potent weapon. Democrats are notable fans. The retribalizing of the West is a wedge used to divide the proletariat into imagined communities in order to disrupt class consciousness. For this reason, I propose that we avoid presupposing that Civil Rights and The New Civil Rights Movement (NCRM) are analogous. Indeed, the ambitions of Civil Rights and the NCRM are the opposite of one another. One of them is racist, disguising it politics with the label “antiracist.” (I recognize that the NCRM refers to other things, but I will use this tag for the time being.)
Adolph Reed, Jr. puts this well in a 2018 issue of Dialectical Anthropology, “I have since come to understand that those who make such claims experience no sense of contradiction because the contention that nothing has changed is intended actually as an assertion that racism persists as the most consequential force impeding black Americans’ aspirations, that no matter how successful or financially secure individual black people become, they remain similarly subject to victimization by racism. That assertion is not to be taken literally as an empirical claim, even though many advancing it seem earnestly convinced that it is; it is rhetorical.” As the title of his essay makes clear, Reed grasps the implications: “Antiracism: a neoliberal alternative to a left.” Indeed, what we are seeing today is not a movement for racial justice. It’s a cultural revolution that exploits what Karen Fields and Barbara Fields call “racecraft” to change the structure of power in favor of corporate governance. That means not only delegitimizing the American Republic, but undermining the institutions of Western civilization.
The NCRM is part of the secret power of corporate domination because it operates according to theological trick of self-deception. Like the Abolitionists, Civil Rights activists struggled against concrete institutional arrangements, legal authority and formal enforcement mechanisms, that reproduced racialized social relations. Jim Crow (or de jure) segregation was an actual set of institutions that oppressed black people while privileging white people regardless of their class position. Jim Crow constituted a formal caste system. Like chattel slavery, Jim Crow was a real structure. It did not depend on subjective perception or an elaborate theoretical and theological apparatus, however much pseudoscience and religion were used to justify it.
The reality of the structure justified tactics used to dismantle it. Civil disobedience against such institutional structures is rational when those in positions of authority, with popular support behind them, resist abolishing unjust institutional arrangements. Challenging this authority was about bringing into question its legitimacy to expose the culture-ideology of racial power and changing popular opinion. It could even come from the church (Martin Luther King, Jr.) because, whatever the rhetoric from the activists, it was aimed at real structures of oppression.
I would have been on the front lines of this struggle. Indeed, although I was just a little kid in the 1960s, I am proud to have suffered along with my parents the consequences of taking that stand. I don’t remember the first time white supremacists drove my family from my father’s first ministry in Roger Springs, Tennessee (my father is a theologian and Church of Christ minister). I was a baby. But I remember the second time, during my father’s ministry in Sharpsville very well. I was old enough to never forget. My family was not alone. A lot of white people paid a heavy price for standing up to racist bullies. (Read more of my biography and experience with Christianity here: Zoroastrianism in Second Temple Judaism and the Christian Satan.)
The NCRM is not struggling against concrete institutional arrangements but instead against imaginary “structures” constructed by self-professed critical sociological theory, its definitions conceptualizing institutions not as concrete legal relations and formal enforcement mechanisms but as abstract social relations defining individuals in demographic terms and conceptualized systems of informal social control. It is not opposed to racist ideology, but in fact hypostatizes race in an ideological system that exists in the absence of institutional mechanisms requiring or justifying it, as well as in law and policy taking the form of affirmative action, etc. It commits the fallacy of misplaced concreteness and is thus an illegitimate thing, not just conceptually, but empirically. The ideology is even justifying formal racial segregation on our college campuses.
The institutions oppressing blacks under Jim Crow were not theoretical. They were concrete and actual. In contrast, the forces supposed to be oppressing blacks under conditions of de facto segregation, or what folks are calling systemic racism or institutional racism, are imaginary. These are not an actual things. Alleged race relations and oppression are not concrete; they’re abstract. Therefore, there is no concrete or actual thing to struggle against. There is nothing to overcome, no barriers to remove, no common enemy—at least not the realm of racial oppression. This makes the “struggle” feel eternal. There is no final goal to achieve since whites will always been racist. This is “permanent revolution.” Of course, there is an objective to all this: the entrenchment of corporate power. And what is resulting from this agenda is the institution of actual racist systems.
The NCRM becomes a method for producing an infinite myriad of grievances, some of which can be put to empirical tests, such as the claim that demographic disparities in lethal officer-civilian encounters and, more broadly, the criminal justice system as a whole, indicate racial bias. As I have shown (see The Myth of Systemic Racism in Lethal Police-Civilian Encounters), empirical study finds no support for the claim of systemic racism in lethal police-civilian encounters. Moreover, scientific studies find no empirical support for the claim of systemic racism in the criminal justice system as a whole. The claims that bring protesters to the streets—and I am not talking about rioters (riotous action absent genuine class struggle are always illegitimate)—are not legitimate. Yet academia, the media, and politicians are obsessed with pushing these claims as sound. When I present the facts to social justice warriors either that do not hear them or they work around them. It’s like trying to reason with a religious zealot. No, not like. That is what it is.
For a paradigm of the logic of the argument in political science, see University of Chicago’s Iris Marion Young’s Justice and the Politics of Difference, published in 1990, by Princeton University Press, where an appeal is made for group representation in democratic publics and for group-differentiated policies. This follows the logic of deep multiculturalism. Young writes, “Critical theoretical accounts of instrumental reason, postmodernist critiques of humanism and of the Cartesian subject, and feminist critiques of the disembodied coldness of modern reason all converge on a similar project of puncturing the authority of modern scientific reasoning.”
The general principle in operation—this is the logic of social justice—is profoundly irrational and regressive. By assuming the Western structure of justice is but a projection of white European male power, inequalities are inequities, expressions of a particular constellation of oppressions. Science and justice are white male norms of reason and respectability, not universal ideas (there goes human rights). Their objectivity is not demonstrable in pragmatic success, but merely provide intellectual and moral cover for exploitation. “The modernist canon itself is revealed as patriarchal and racist, dominated by white heterosexual men. As a result, one of the most common themes addressed within postmodernism relates to cultural identity” (The Conversation). Affluence, equality, and freedom can only deepen the structure of oppressive power. All this despite the obvious reality that one could not and would not be allowed to even suppose but for the Enlightenment.
Extraordinary claims are licensed by such recklessness in reasoning and the overgrowth of grand theoretical construction. For example, critical race theory, to quote Kimberlé Crenshaw, one of the architects of this ideology aims to “understand how a regime of white supremacy and its subordination of people of color have been created and maintained in America.” Despite having dismantled systemic racism in the form of de jure segregation more than half a century ago, despite having made discrimination based on race illegal with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, despite having embarked on an extensive program of reparations, the United States is under the control of “a regime of white supremacy.” Crenshaw and her comrades are claiming that people of color are subordinated to whites in contemporary America. (see The Origin and Character of Antiracist Politics.)
Having established the “truth” of the claim, Crenshaw argues that the problem is “treating the exercise of racial power as rare and aberrational rather than as systemic and ingrained.” The way the matter is put suggests that there is the evidence of systemic and ingrained racism is abundant. But police interact with civilians hundreds of millions of times each year. There are 42 million black people in the United States, approximately half of them male. The number of unarmed black men killed by the police in all of 2019? At most around a dozen. In other words, instances of police officers killing unarmed black men is rare and aberrational.
In detailing the treatment of the exercise of racial power, CRT theorists call out what they call the “perpetrators perspective.” This rhetoric is used to frame standard legal reasoning and procedure as a doctrine of oppression. Crenshaw insists, as if this were a bad thing, that the burden of proof rests on those who make accusations of discrimination. You may recognize this method as the method by which normal science operates. It is the standard in the courtroom—innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Yet, if I subscribe to reason, then I am a “perpetrator.”
The second treatment of “the exercise of racial power,” what is supposed to be the “critical” view, is the “victims perspective.” This perspective presumes the accusation is true until disproven. Racial disparity is itself evidence of racial bias. You will recognize this method as the method by which religious faith is sustained. This method accepts as true that which requires demonstration. No offense to my religious family members and friends, but we can pursue no policy on the basis of religious-like faith. This is a secular society.
This strange alchemy is ideology. By shirking its burden, the victim’s perspective, besides making people victims against their will, eschews consideration of explanations for disparity since the question has already been satisfactorily answered. The fact of persistent racial disparity becomes proof of systemic racism. The method is thus circular and fallacious. (For more on CRT, see Committing the Crime it Condemns; Race and Democracy.) Moreover, it is insulting to a person’s intelligence to assume that he should accept as rational the claim that people who have never committed a racist action in their lives should be considered automatically racist because of the color of their skin. To insist that people believe this nonsense is a deeply authoritarian impulse. It is the mark of zealotry. We might ignore it but for its grip on our institutions.
* * *
If you ask me whether I think there is race prejudice I will of course admit that there is. If you ask me whether there are still people who believe that there are different races, I will agree with that, too. Race identiarianism is alive and well. And it is thriving among progressives and in the Democratic Party. But racism as a system is no longer with us. At least the old system of racism. We abolished that system more than half a century ago. Discrimination against nonwhites has literally been illegal for decades. Redefining the faux pas as a “microaggression” doesn’t make racism any more real. This is all about is leveraging “social facts” (see Durkheim) sustained by the Critical Theoretical maneuver of ontologizing an elaborate epistemological structure that treats abstract concepts as actual constituents of the world in order to reify an imagined hierarchy and then invert it in actual practice.
Corporations would not support any of this if it were genuinely revolutionary. They would not pressure social media to crack down on hate speech if the ruling class was actually racially oppressive toward black people. The protests persists because the ineffectual, the narcissist, and the self-loathing are useful idiots for the globalist-corporatists who are dismantling the American republic. Like all anti-democratic countermovements, the mob is the street-level manifestation of managed decline. The elite are striving to return the globalism to power and continue with the project preparing the nation for full integration with the transnational capitalist order (see Joel Kotkin’s The Coming Age of Neo-Feudalism.) Trump’s critique of China is heresy in the New World Order. The New Civil Rights Movement is a neoliberal trick to sheepdog those whose psychology is disrupted by the alienation bureaucratic corporatism systematically generates. The ruling class is using the dysfunction it creates to its own advantage. There’s nothing new about that.
“Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents…. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.”—Eric Hoffer, The True Believer (1951)
Remember the Satanic panic of the 1980s and 1990s? It remains one of the most notorious manifestations of mass hysteria in American history. Pushers of the panic asserted without evidence the existence of a terrifying phenomenon: “Satanic ritual abuse.” Scores of people suffered on the account of the hysteria, not from actual ritual abuse. At least not from Satanists. Like the Salem witch hysteria before it, claims of transcendent evil triggered a moral panic. Millions of people believed Satanic ritual abuse was real. Some still do.
The systemic racism panic, really a continuation of the panic that began in 2013 interrupted by #MeToo, and then COVID-19, occurs not SARS-CoV-2’s wake but its context, giving rise to a bizarre doublethink, where exorcising the scourge of racism works as a magical prophylaxis against the virus. These panics eclipse the Satanic panic in extent and intensity. They signal a deep disturbance in the Durkheimian moral order.
I teach students about the Satanic panic and other hysterias in my college course Freedom and Social Control. I use it and other examples to illustrate the power of ideology and worldview and social processes in shaping perception and behavior. The same lecture series also covers the phenomena of faith healing, mass hypnosis, scapegoating, and mental illness.
The work of Thomas Szasz (The Myth of Mental Illness and The Manufacture of Madness: A Comparative Study of the Inquisition and the Mental Health Movement), Erving Goffman (Asylums and Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity), Kai Erickson (Wayward Puritan: A Study in the Sociology of Deviance), and Michel Foucault (Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason) figure prominently here. These are not just sociologically interesting materials; they presage what we are going through right now.
In these lectures, I focus on the phenomenon of “moral panic. A moral panic is widespread fear in a segment or segments of a population that a great evil is threatening their persons and their community. The societal reaction is often organized by moral entrepreneurs and amplified through dominant institutions (churches, media, etc.), this evil is sometimes perceived not just social problem but as an existential threat. Irrational fear creates potentially dangerous situations.
Criminologist Stanley Cohen, a scholar of emotional management and the author of the 1972 Folk Devils and Moral Panic, defined a moral panic as occurring when “a condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests.” Through a dynamic called “deviance amplification,” moral panics, while containing little truth content, can, in form and dynamics, threaten the stability and even the continuation of society. (See my essays Viruses, Agendas, and Moral Panics and Death by Suicide in the Era of Black Lives Matter: The Beginning of a Moral Panic?)
Guiding my analysis is the Thomas theorem, advanced in 1928 by W.I. Thomas and D.S. Thomas. The Thomas theorem, also known as the “definition of a situation,” goes like this: “If men define situations as real, then they are real in their consequences.” The theorem is a reminder of the importance of reckoning belief in understanding what motivates behavior. There’s more to it than that, of course. We have also to reckon character, mood, and personality. I will come to these factors in a moment.
But on this belief business, in a world where tens of millions of people believe that the devil is real, that there are such things as demons, that sin is an infectious agent, a good number of people will become convinced that Satanism represents a genuine threat. They will see in a prank, for example a pentagram drawn in rabbit’s blood on the wall of an abandoned building, contagion; they’ll see in it incontrovertible evidence of the “reality” scripture and demagogues and experts weave, as proof that there is such a thing as transcendent evil. The formula for spiraling into evil from here is this: evil warrants evil.
The righteous get mad at you when you say this, calling you a bigot—or, worse, a racist. Even the level-headed secularist, still too often moved by the ecumenical spirit, is likely to call you out for calling out chicanery these days. But the righteous are the worse. They’re special. They can see a truth beyond the reality. The unseeable architect of the seen. Isn’t the greatest trick the devil ever played convincing you that the devil isn’t real? At the very least, the tolerant secularist admonishes, you should allow such hubris to go unchallenged, for it is polite to do so.
But the devil isn’t real. One has to construct an elaborate abstract system of imaginary structures and entities in order to present the devil as such. Evil is defined into existence. And personified. That is systemic racism.
Such myths persist not just on account of failure to correct errors. We can thank the discipline of sociology for constructing an ideology, a theology really, that works the magic behind the perception of institutional racism. It took a fews generations to raise up a priesthood, to mainstream the notions, organize the cells that preach them, and recruit congregants to receive the gospel. But the investment is paying off. Zealots have taken to the streets. The true believer is on the move.
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“Discontent by itself does not invariably create a desire for change. Other factors have to be present before discontent turns into disaffection. One of these is a sense of power.” —Eric Hoffer, The True Believer (1951)
This brings me to Eric Hoffer’s brilliant The True Believer, first published in 1951. Mass movements claiming revolutionary goals parallel religious movements, Hoffer begins. Both are “conspicuous vehicles of charge.” They can do some good, for example, when Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s benevolent dictatorship modernized Turkey, transforming a Muslim-majority backwater of the world capitalist system into a secular industrial nation (I’m not vouching for the permanence of reason), or, earlier, as Christianity did as “a civilizing and modernizing influence among the savage tribes of Europe.” (On this last example, see A Humanist Take on Marx’s Irreligious Criticism.) But mass movements can also have destructive consequences, such as the Cultural Revolution in China in the 1960s.
The True Believer is a short, tightly argued book, so I urge you to read it in your spare time. You can pick up a copy fairly cheaply on the Internet. If you look around long enough you may even find a free PDF of it online. But I want to summarize the book here, identify some of its key points and share a few standout passages, because this book affords the public a key to understanding the insanity now gripping the Western world. I don’t want time-pressed folks to miss out on keen insight.
Hoffer is interested to understand the types of persons who fall prey to mass movements. He does not suggest a monolithic personality type, such as that supposed by Theodor Adorno and associates in The Authoritarian Personality, a comprehensive empirical work from the year previous. Hoffer instead identifies several characterological types that share defects that draw them to the same hysteria. There’s no shortage of people with these traits. They’re waiting for conditions and cues to stir them to action. Their motives are not rational, which explains why the mask scolds and the self-quarantiners of the COVID-19 hysteria believe that checking racial privilege confers upon them risk-free social interaction with crowds engaged in heavy chanting, sweating, hugging, and handholding.
One hallmark of mass movements is the subsumption of the individual into a collective identity that demands commitment to movement goals. Mass movements do this by seducing individuals with the promise of empowerment, love, and transcendence. These movements promise to change the world. But Hoffer insists that the emotionally and psychologically vulnerable (or challenged) are prone to join mass movements not because of movement goals, but because of their need for belonging and, often, to rectify a pathological self-loathing. That is, a desire to shed current identities for new ones, to effect a metamorphosis, drives them towards transcendent claims.
Mass movements, like cults and religious sects, take advantage of those who suffer from weak internal locus of control. For whatever reason, people feel frustrated and impotent. Their perceived misery is somebody else’s fault. The individuality mass movements strip away is specified self-loathing. With a bit of persuasion, their felt inadequacies are easily ascertained as a loss of faith in the institutions of their society. Coercion comes later, when rigid dedication to doctrine really matters and after the movement gathers some power to itself. Hoffer writes, “Fanatical orthodoxy is in all movements a late development. It comes when the movement is in full possession of power and can impose its faith by force as well as by persuasion.”
There is, therefore, in the targets of mass movements at least a latent impulse for change—explicitly to be the change they want to see in the world. Faith-shaken, such persons await the opportunity to throw off the present conditions altogether. The old personality they associate with the degraded present should, if all goes well, disappear along with the old order of things. The passion is mutually reinforcing. Hoffer writes of “appeals not to those intent on bolstering and advancing a cherished self, but to those who crave to be rid of an unwanted self because it can satisfy the passion for self-renunciation.”
Believing they have sloughed off their old identity, the self-loathing lose themselves in the new identity where they find a purpose they could not find for themselves. In focusing the self-loathing of those they seek to control, the organizers of the movement (activists, preachers, teachers) identify a need to repent or awaken, in order to find love, while redirecting self-hatred on those who do not share the self-loathing, especially those who reject the new identity the movement has fashioned for them.
Resisters are cast as the pathological element. They are sick. In denial. Fragile. The more stubborn and abnormal their resistance can be portrayed, the more powerful the enemy can be made to appear, the less human the enemy will appear, and the more unity-power will be generated. Those who stand outside the charmed circle are a threat to the group. They are dehumanized. They are not merely disagreeable but evil. Perhaps nothing illustrates the potential consequences of this style of thinking more than the Maoist horrors of Jonestown. Solidarity around violent possibility is generated in in-group/out-group dynamics.
There is a need to exaggerate the resistance—fragility that functions as confession—and the enemy’s capacities to thwart the movement in order to see the enemy in all those who deny that power. Thus the magic power movement leaders wield is the charisma and talent to impose upon the self-loathing meaning with apparent novel doctrine about the obstacles to paradise. It’s the Satan of the Old Testament, the obstacle thrown in the path of the righteous to test their faith and strengthen them through overcoming. It’s a nostrum for confused and lost souls.
These are, in some sense, echoes of an old argument. “Religion is,” as Karl Marx notes in the introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, “the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again.” Marx continues, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” But while Marx argues from his materialist standpoint that religious suffering is “the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering,” Hoffer suggests that the perception of suffering may not reflect real suffering. Or, rather, the suffering is real, but not the result of actual oppressive conditions; it is instead born in the failure of the true believer to take responsibility for his failures. It is the suffering of a failed or failing life.
Creative people, Hoffer notes, rarely succumb to mass movements (albeit the opportunistic shape and lead them). Creative people have a strong internal locus of control. They know they are not subject to fate. They are not easily frustrated. They’re content with individual freedom and confident in their ability to succeed—at least take responsibility for their failures. Rather, the stooge of the mass movement is the resentful, the misfit, the criminal, those who blame others for their problems and their shortcomings.
Hoffer writes, “It sometimes seems that mass movements are custom made to the needs of the criminal—not only for the catharsis of his soul but also for the exercise of his inclinations and talents. The technique of a proselytizing mass movement aims to evoke in the faithful the mood and frame of mind of a repentant criminal.” “Self-surrender,” he writes, “the source of a mass movement’s unity and vigor, is a sacrifice, an act of atonement, and clearly no atonement is called for unless there is a poignant sense of sin. Here, as elsewhere, the technique of a mass movement aims to infect people with a malady and then offer the movement as a cure.”
The truly marginalized, Hoffman argues, are too busy trying to survive to get involved in mass movements. It is those who feel alienated from mainstream culture—the adolescent, the unemployed college student, the new immigrant, the lazy, the outcast—who are swept up in mass movements. There are, of course, those out for kicks, the bored, the troublemaker, the vandal. But the lumpenproletariat make terrible recruits in the long run. Also present are the ambitious and the selfish. Meaninglessness and worthlessness come under the command of conmen and hucksters.
Make no mistake, Hoffer does not see the free man standing alone. He does not dismiss the role of collective organization. “There is a fundamental difference between the appeal of a mass movement and the appeal of a practical organization,” he writes. “The practical organization offers opportunities for self-advancement, and its appeal is mainly to self-interest.” This is the domain of the creative person, the person in control of himself and his destiny. In contrasty, “a mass movement, particularly in its active, revivalist phase, appeals not to those intent on bolstering and advancing a cherished self, but to those who crave to be rid of an unwanted self.” He continues, “A mass movement attracts and holds a following not because it can satisfy the desire for self-advancement, but because it can satisfy the passion for self-renunciation.”
In Hoffer’s view, it is crucial not to be deceived by the mere presence of a doctrine. The doctrine is not irrelevant, but the emotional and psychological pull the movement has on the vulnerable is more at issue. Hoffer writes, “A rising mass movement attracts and holds a following not by its doctrine and promises but by the refuge it offers from the anxieties, barrenness and meaninglessness of an individual existence.” The pains of existence may be created by the conditions, and is moreover frequently found in the rationalization of one’s own failures, but it is also manufactured by those seeking to manipulate the vulnerable towards some end. The point is, however frustrations come about, the mass movement “cures the poignantly frustrated not by conferring on them an absolute truth or by remedying the difficulties and abuses which made their lives miserable, but by freeing them from their ineffectual selves—and it does this by enfolding and absorbing them into a closely knit and exultant corporate whole.”
I will say something about the conditions in a moment, but on the manufacture of grievances, we can clearly see this work in the way the myth of systemic racism has been constructed by academics, clergy, and pundits. Read “What We Believe” at the Black Lives Matter website. It is the postmodernist discourse established by the leftwing intelligentsia over the last several decades. It provides the disaffected with ready-made philosophy honed to prey upon their insecurities.
* * *
Mass movements may find followers in the exploited and oppressed or in those who have been groomed to believe they are exploited and oppressed. In the former, conditions that are advantageous to the latter, Erich Fromm, in his 1941 Escape from Freedom, identifies the source of vulnerability, or the external locus of control, in conditions that emphasize individual striving but do not adequately provide the means to achieve the goals individuals are expected to set for themselves. These came about as the old order of things fell away as capitalism rose to prominence.
Fromm differentiates between “freedom from” and “freedom to.” These are often posited as negative versus positive freedom (this was Isiah Berlin’s later formulation). Freedom from is distinguished by human action liberated from traditional constraints, such a tribal and religious systems. Freedom to concerns conditions facilitating self-actualization, where creative action is not only possible but promoted. The former type of freedom can be destructive without the latter type effectively present as individuals freed from authority can find themselves without purpose, which sets them up to be absorbed in authoritarian structures that provide purpose for them. They no longer have to think for themselves. They only have to be obedient. They only have to follow the leader. Fearful of freedom, they escape into unfreedom. Hoffer writes, “The total surrender of a distinct self is a prerequisite for the attainment of both unity and self-sacrifice; and there is probably no more direct way of realizing this surrender than by inculcating and extolling the habit of blind obedience.”
In mass movements, facts don’t matter. The main thrust of Black Lives Matter is to get justice for black men killed by the police. The claim is that black men are more likely to be killed by the police. A broader claim is that the criminal justice system represents a “new Jim Crow.” But the evidence doesn’t support the claims at all (see The Myth of Systemic Racism in Lethal Police-Civilian Encounters). The rejection of the facts in this area is hardly new. In challenging William Wilbanks’ findings in his 1987 The Myth of a Racist Criminal Justice System, Coramae Richey Mann, in Unequal Justice: A Question of Color argues that that those who reject the claim of systemic racism place too much weight on empirical evidence.
One sees this in the complaint of the losing side in a debate that they did not know facts would be presented. In the following exchange (see video clip below) one side does not know how to deal in an objective way with the evidence presented by Heather Mac Donald that completely contradicts their intuition. They resort to anecdotes and asking the audience to go with their biased understandings about race. The response is very revealing of what is involved in movement understanding. These are the voices they cite to defend their passion—voices that presume that an audience is a wicked as a hand of them think they are. It’s why somebody as shallow and obnoxious as Robin DiAngelo can appear as an oracle.
“All active mass movements strive,” Hoffer writes, “to interpose a fact-proof screen between the faithful and the realities of the world. They do this by claiming that the ultimate and absolute truth is already embodied in their doctrine and that there is no truth nor certitude outside it. The facts on which the true believer bases his conclusions must not be derived from his experience or observation but from holy writ.” Hence Mann’s insistence that we look at the “qualitative data,” i.e. “the lived experience.” Hence Marq Claxto asking a predominantly white audience to rely upon what he assumes is their racially biased implicit threat perception about black men. While Gloria Browne-Marshall is reduced to ad hominem and exposing her own lack of preparation—revealing that she doesn’t actually know how to prepare, spoiled perhaps by the good will of her surroundings. “The fanatic cannot be weaned away from his cause by an appeal to his reason or moral sense. He fears compromise and cannot be persuaded to qualify the certitude and righteousness of his holy cause,” Hoffer writes. “His passionate attachment is more vital than the quality of the cause to which he is attached.”
“The effectiveness of a doctrine does not come from its meaning but from its certitude,” Hoffer argues. “No doctrine however profound and sublime will be effective unless it is presented as the embodiment of the one and only truth. It must be the one word from which all things are and all things speak. Crude absurdities, trivial nonsense and sublime truths are equally potent in readying people for self-sacrifice if they are accepted as the sole, eternal truth.” He continues: “If a doctrine is not unintelligible, it has to be vague; and if neither unintelligible nor vague, it has to be unverifiable.” When there is some intelligence there, this quality of mind will fill in the gaps. “When some part of a doctrine is relatively simple, there is a tendency among the faithful to complicate and obscure it. Simple words are made pregnant with meaning and made to look like symbols in a secret message. There is thus an illiterate air about the most literate true believer. He seems to use words as if he were ignorant of their true meaning.” So we see hyperbolic claims of “fascism” and “racism” from people who never bother to know what those words mean.
Hoffer sees as significant the elation, even ecstasy, that marks participation in mass movements. “That the deprecating attitude of a mass movement toward the present seconds the inclinations of the frustrated is obvious. What surprises one, when listening to the frustrated as they decry the present and all its works, is the enormous joy they derive from doing so. Such delight cannot come from the mere venting of a grievance. There must be something more—and there is. By expatiating upon the incurable baseness and vileness of the times, the frustrated soften their feeling of failure and isolation.” He writes that the true believer “longs for certitude, camaraderie, freedom from individual responsibility, and a vision of something altogether different from the competitive free society around him—and he finds all this in the brotherhood and the revivalist atmosphere of a rising movement.”
“The fanatic is perpetually incomplete and insecure. He cannot generate self-assurance out of his individual resources—out of his rejected self—but finds it only by clinging passionately to whatever support he happens to embrace. This passionate attachment is the essence of his blind devotion and religiosity, and he sees in it the source of all virtue and strength. Though his single-minded dedication is a holding on for dear life, he easily sees himself as the supporter and defender of the holy cause to which he clings. And he is ready to sacrice his life to demonstrate to himself and others that such indeed is his role. He sacrifices his life to prove his worth.”
* * *
“The fanatic is not really a stickler to principle. He embraces a cause not primarily because of its justness and holiness but because of his desperate need for something to hold on to. Often, indeed, it is his need for passionate attachment which turns every cause he embraces into a holy cause.” —Eric Hoffer, The True Believer (1951)
I said at the outset that I would share a few standout passages from Hoffer’s book. Rereading his book I am struck by the power of his observations and the way in which he put them that I had trouble not quoting him. The phenomenon of Black Lives Matter leaps off of almost every page. True believers are becoming the norm, not the exception. They’re all around me. And not just on social media (where the conditions of which are becoming nearly intolerable).
I teach at a public university and the administration and faculty are consumed by wokeness. I’m on sabbatical and my wishful part hopes all this goes away before I make my return to campus. The realist in me is dreading my return. I am hardly alone. Across college campuses faculty and students are subjected to a myriad of pledges and causes and seminars they’re are expected to swear allegiance to, take up, and participate in. They don’t like it, but they are scared to say so in public. They read my writings or engage me in conversation and I get messages of appreciation. But until they speak up we won’t produce the mutual knowledge we need to counter the hysteria. It’s like the Red Scare, when academics had to pledge that they were not and had never been a member of the communist party—except that with antiracism you are a member of the communist party because of what it says on your birth certificate. You were joined up at birth. You skin color implicates you in racism.
Ta-Nehisi Coates is a popular oracle for those who are fully on board. No doubt my colleagues across the nation have also been subjected to pledges that call upon his scriptures. In, “Antiracism, Our Flawed New Religion,” John McWhorter writes, Opposition to racism used to be a political stance. Now it has every marking of a religion.” He continues, “Coates is ‘revered,’ as New York magazine aptly puts it, as someone gifted at phrasing, repeating, and crafting artful variations upon points that are considered crucial—that is, scripture. Specifically, Coates is celebrated as the writer who most aptly expresses the scripture that America’s past was built on racism and that racism still permeates the national fabric.” McWhorter writes, “The very fact that white America today cherishes this religion is evidence that Coates’s particular pessimism about America and race is excessive. This became especially clear last year with the rapturous reception of Coates’s essay, ‘The Case for Reparations.’ It was beautifully written, of course, but the almost tearfully ardent praise the piece received was about more than composition. The idea was that the piece was important, weighty, big news.” “Its audience sought not counsel, but proclamation. Coates does not write with this formal intention, but for his readers, he is a preacher.” “Antiracism — it seriously merits capitalization at this point — is now what any naïve, unbiased anthropologist would describe as a new and increasingly dominant religion.” (See For the Good of Your Soul: Tribal Stigma and the God of Reparations.)
The new religion of antiracism is ubiquitous. People are convinced that racism is systemic. They see the rare and aberrant occurrence as confirmation of the truth of the doctrine. The one time the spell works is proof the spell works. They elevate the anecdote over the evidence. The put feeling over fact. You probably know this error as confirmation bias. It is also a type of magical thinking. There are witches in the village. That’s why we feel uneasy, the crowd says. White people fall prostrate on the ground before black people and beg forgiveness for a sin they could not possibly have committed. They make a fetish of skin color and organize around it. They self-loathe on account of it. They wash the feet of those with different color skin. As if color is supposed to matter. They’re congregants in The Church of Woke. The people who are supposed to know better join the mobs in the streets who see the demons (i.e. the racists and the fascists) everywhere. The mob exorcises them by arson, pillage, and plunder. Toppling the idols of the enemy tribe. I can find no refuge from the insanity even in the ostensibly rational institutions of modernity.
This is a moral panic. People have to start resisting and refusing it. Where is our Joseph Nye Welch? I am not in a position to be that man. I will have no high profile moment. But enough is enough. We cannot get to the problems we need to solve as a nation—crumbling infrastructure, joblessness, resource depletion and environmental degradation, war and peace—if we’re going to operate via mythology and waste our time and energy in ritual exercises that do nothing but heighten and entrench alienation and antagonism.
Consider my work here to be a modest contribution in the vein of Carroll Soner and Jo Anne Parke’s 1977 All Gods Children: The Cult Experience—Salvation Or Slavery? An important book in the deprogramming movement. The subtitle is, of course, a false choice. They mean that these are the same. And they are right. Freedom and dignity reside beyond both. Cults don’t provide purpose. Our purpose is already given: be a good citizen, a moral person, and a responsible individual. That’s for everybody. Cults enslave you with identity instead and make you do bad things. They tell you who you are and control you with your new self-definition.
Beware of mass movements. They’re like cults—that is, abusive relationships. The activists tell you they love you while they degrade and humiliate you. They especially thrilled when you degrade and humiliate yourself. You are broken and sick, not because of anything you have done or anything that has been done to others, but because of who you are—and because of who they are. It’s a cosmic story. They are the authors. The arc and all the rest of it. It’s fate. You are only a personification of doctrine. You don’t have the luxury of being an individual. You have a debt to pay that you did not incur. It was imposed upon you by virtue of your being.
That’s the code. Don’t question it. By the authority of the code, you cannot question the code. You fall short of the esteem, the glory, the salvation you’re told you must seek. Your defect has crippled you. If not correctable (and it isn’t), you must at least continually acknowledge it. Assume the position. Stay in your lane. Go to the back of the room. You weren’t asked your opinion. You’re muzzled by virtue of the tribal stigma, your skin color, maybe, or perhaps on account of your genitalia. Or maybe both. If you deny your guilt, then you prove it. Your appearance heralds your own condemnation. You are a demon and an oracle. You’re fragile and dangerous. Seeking unity is divisive. Seeking equality is oppressive. You don’t get it. You look ridiculous. That’s why you’re abused. You must respect that and love your abuser. Give into his demands. Or you are a racist.
There is no future in what the mob seeks. They aren’t really seeking a future. They see in the countermovement a chance to belong to somebody because they don’t belong to themselves. It’s why people become religious fanatics. Or fascists. Or social justice warriors.
There is a concerted effort to poison the American mind with a false narrative about its people’s history and a primitive ideology of blood guilt and intergenerational obligation with the arrow of responsibility in the latter running in the wrong direction. The poison has been weaponized in popular culture the delegitimize the American republic, to justify dismantling and fundamentally altering its institutions, to prepare it for a fuller integration with the global order steered by corporate power. The defamation of America is designed to render the working class impotent through a process of denationalization, a popular weakening working at cultural and institutional levels. New Left anti-Americanism polished and pushed by cultural managers in America’s academic, media, and political institutions is increasingly reflected in the ordinary consciousness of the American public.
One manifestation of the campaign of defamation is the deeply flawed 1619 Project, pursued by The New York Times, organized by journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones. It’s many errors and disregard for its own fact checkers to the side, the 1619 Project is ideological work, moving America’s founding marker from July 4, 1776, when in fact the American colonists declared their independence from the British Empire, to 1619, the year a handful of Africans arrived in the English colony of Virginia. For the record, African slaves were present in North America almost a hundred years before they landed in Jamestown. And the English did not bring them.
The ideological goal is to construct an account of history where the chief antagonism in the dynamic of America has always been about race, to portray America’s founding as a slave society, and to defame those of English descent and others defined as white. We see this claim in the pages of The Washington Post on the eve of Independence Day, where historian Elizabeth Kolsky writes, “The nation’s democracy was founded as a slave society.” Repeating the superstitious nonsense of living persons owning centuries-long experiences that is so fashionable in Western universities, Kolsky writes, “The knee to [George] Floyd’s neck has provided black and indigenous peoples with a metaphor to express their own centuries-long experiences of and struggles against systemic racism. These protests are not only expressions of solidarity with black Americans—they represent a collective reckoning with a past that is not past.”
But the chief antagonism in America’s story has always been primarily about class exploitation and struggle, of which slavery is but a part. Thus, the false narrative functions to stifle the conversation about class exploitation. Functional language is too charitable. This is its intent. The narrative seeks to erase from historical consciousness the fact that North American colonies were established the produce value for the emerging world capitalist market and that the slave mode of exploitation was one among many methods—and not the primary one—and that exploitation continues under corporate rule. Our is a capitalist society. But you won’t find a New York Times project condemning the systemic exploitation of human under conditions of wage-labor. Establishment media like The Washington Post are organs of capitalist propaganda. Their role is to reinforce the ruling ideas of the age, which, as Karl Marx pointed out, are the ideas of the ruling class.
Given the intent to stuff history down a hole, I want to briefly reclaim that history in this blog. Time and space permit only a historical sketch. But that is really all that is needed to shatter the myth being peddled by Establishment propagandists.
Before Africans arrived in the colonies in large numbers (the Royal African Company was not reincorporation until 1663), English settlers were the primary sources of exploited labor, and many of them could hardly be said to be free. Most owned no productive capital. At best, some owned their labor-power. But labor was always controlled by the company. Living arrangements were typically dreadful. Labor was housed in cramped barracks, worked in gangs, suffered corporal punishment or the threat of it, and were poorly fed. Their health and well-being were sacrificed for the greater objective of profit. The goal of the Virginia Company was to pay the lowest possible wages—if any wages were paid at all—and maximize labor productivity through the extreme disciplinary regimes. The early colonies were effectively penal colonies.
The great transformation that had become by the end of the long 16th century a world capitalist market had produced by the 17th century all the basic constituents of the capitalist class: the agrarian, banking, commercial, industrial, and mining bourgeoisie. Along with the capitalist class, although often in a contradictory location in relation to wealth and power, were various petty bourgeoisie, owners of small business and artisan industries in the urban areas, and tenant farmers in the rural areas. On the other side of the production relation were those who owned no capital, the various proletariat, farm and industrial workers. The English brought with them to North America the practice of hierarchically organizing society.
One of the rationales for English colonization of North America was the transfer of surplus population from England to North American colonies. The dissolution of the feudal retainers in the 15th century, the Reformation in the 16th century, and the rationalization of production created a surplus of people in the urban areas in England. The London Company stated as its colonial objective: “The removing of the surcharge of necessitous people, the matter of fuel of dangerous insurrections, and thereby leaving the greater plenty to sustain those remaining within the Land.” Thus, as the colonial economy grew, demand for workers coincided with the needs of the English elite to maintain social stability on their island nation.
Much of the European labor came as convicts and voluntary indentured servants (which is not say there was no coercion involved). The convict class were drawn from of the “lumpenproletariat,” i.e., vagabonds and paupers. There were also orphans and state-dependent children sent to be servants to the colonial elites. These unfortunate souls, criminalized by a host of discriminatory laws against the poor and unemployed, were rounded up by the thousands by traffickers in human beings and the government. An indentured servant was a debt bondsman who received no wages. He or she (typically he) was obligated for a term of service of four to seven years (though the range was at times larger) to the planters who secured their fare across the Atlantic. Convicts were also sent to the colonies. They often had longer term contracts.
The colonial system of indenture represented a unique condition for labor; there was no real equivalent in England. For example, a bondsman’s obligation to his/her employer was governed by criminal law. In contrast, a servant in England was usually a wage-laborer with a term of contract of one year. The English servant’s contract was voluntary and mediated by civil law. The conditions of an indentured servant were poor and they were often mistreated by their employers. Ill treatment of indentured servants reflected the growing belief in English culture that the idle poor were inherently inferior human types and/or members of the dangerous classes. These beliefs were part of an ideology that had emerged in the sixteenth century, largely the result of developing capitalist attitudes and the Protestant worldview. On the basis of this ideology, the poor enjoyed diminished rights and deserved to be treated with less respect than would be afforded decent members of English society. English inhumanity mirrored the acquisitive society its bourgeoisie built.
The tendency towards brutal repression of labor was there from the birth of the colonial experience in North America. In 1610, in Virginia, a dictatorship was imposed on the colony. In contrast to the opulence of the elite, a population of freeholders, tenants, indentured servants, and, in time, a small number of black slaves, lived a largely agrarian and impoverished existence where excessive rents and taxes and low incomes guaranteed a life of impoverishment.
If we are going to move the date of the founding of America to capture the moment of the principle antagonism and the original mode of exploitation, we had better move it to before 1619. Beginning the timeline from 1619 is an arbitrary and ideological starting point, one that telegraphs a dual motive: put race and slavery central to the American story while skirting the truth of the dynamic of class struggle. Because class exploitation continues. The capitalist system the academy, the media, and political elites in both major parties defend is built upon and depends on the exploitation of human labor. Dwell on a long-abolished mode of exploitation, the cultural managers tell the masses. Make that the master explanation for why inequality persists. Do not think about the actually existing mode of exploitation that makes it possible for those who defame America and belittle the worker to live a life of comfort and leisure. Don’t think about such as facts as this: there are three times more poor white Americans than there are poor black Americans. Think about this instead: all whites are privileged and racist. Don’t read Karl Marx. Read Robin DiAngelo.
But why move the date at all? The colonies in the 17th century were English colonies. We are not British. We haven’t been British for more that 230 years. We’re Americans. And the nation we established established the values that has produced the greatest nation in world history. And one of its greatest achievements was abolishing slavery.
To be sure, slavery was part of the US system in its early years. But slavery was not established by America’s founding. Slavery is a very old institution. One finds slaves in ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome. The monuments and statues of these empires and civilizations are protected from defacement and toppling where the rule of law prevails. Africans were kept and sold as slaves throughout the Muslim world. Slaves appear in Europe, apart from the Mediterranean, at least as early as 1000 year ago. The Atlantic slave trade began more than 500 years ago. The Portuguese brought African slaves to Europe in the 15th century. Less than a hundred years later, the Spanish brought African slaves to the Americas. Yes, even North America—before 1619. The Cherokee held African slaves (and sided with the Confederacy during the Civil War to protect their investment). Indeed, slavery was practiced by the American Indian before Europeans came to these shores. We are told to demolish Mount Rushmore because those are the likenesses of slaveowners and racists and Indian killers that desecrate sacred Indian lands—the sacred lands of peoples who themselves owned slaves and killed Indians.
The truth is that establishment of the United States does not establish slavery. That is a false claim. Some will push back and say it is a bad inference. But it is wrong to support any account of history that makes it likely that people will falsely infer such a thing. American civilization emerges from a long history of slavery, from a world where slavery was a common part of material production of economic life. Slavery is now illegal in the United States. It has been for more than 150 years. Moreover, the struggle against slavery in the United States was there from its founding.
In 1775, Pennsylvanian Quakers established the first abolitionist society. Betsy Ross, who sewed early American flags, was a Quaker and an abolitionist. Within the decade, Massachusetts abolished slavery in its constitution. In 1787, the US Congress outlawed slavery in the Northwest Territories. The United States Constitution (Article One, Section 9) set a date certain for the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade. It followed through in 1807—before the British and the Spanish (the Spanish did not abolish the slave trade until 1888). President Jefferson signed the law prohibiting the importation of slaves into any ports or place within the jurisdiction of the United States. The British abolished slavery through the Empire in 1834. France followed suit in 1847. The United States followed in 1865 with the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
So maybe we should stop talking falsely about how the United States established slavery and start telling the truth: The United States led the way in abolishing slavery worldwide. And, while we are at it, we should step back a bit more and remind the world that abolitionist sentiment did not emerge in other places, such as in the Islamic world. The abolitionist sentiment emerged in the Christian world, in Western civilization, from the Enlightenment, the very civilization and movement that the cultural managers and political and economic elites are, with the help of the mob in the streets, tearing down.
The following is the text I worked from in my podcast published on July 4, 2020. I said a whole lot more so give the podcast a listen! Subscribe and comment.
In his 1865 letter to President Abraham Lincoln, on the occasion of Lincoln’s reelection in midst of civil war, the great communist revolutionary Karl Marx, on behalf of the International Working Men’s Association, praises the United States as “the idea of one great Democratic Republic.”
Marx writes that America is the place where “the first Declaration of the Rights of Man was issued.” Marx is talking about our great Bill of Rights. The right to free speech and a free press, the right to assembly, to petition the government for a redress of grievances. The right of persons to be free from arbitrary search and seizure, to be secure in their papers and effects, to remain silent, and so forth.
In the pages of The Washington Post, in an op-ed titled “It is time to reconsider the global legacy of July 4, 1776,” Elizabeth Kolsky writes, “The nation’s democracy was founded as a slave society.” “The knee to [George] Floyd’s neck has provided black and indigenous peoples with a metaphor to express their own centuries-long experiences of and struggles against systemic racism. These protests are not only expressions of solidarity with black Americans—they represent a collective reckoning with a past that is not past.”
Putting aside superstitious notions of living persons owning centuries-long experiences of anything, does Marx see the United States as a hopeless project on account of chattel slavery? Marx understands that slavery was widespread in the world of his time. Slavery was not an invention of the West nor was it unique to America. America was not founded as a slave society; it was founded as a nation in the context of the slave mode of exploitation, which was one among other modes of exploitation.
Marx sees the Civil War as the work of a great nation overcoming an historical injustice mankind had long endured (still endures outside of the West). With abolition, a “barrier to progress has been swept off by the red sea of civil war,” he writes. Marx continues, “From the commencement of the titanic American strife since the beginning of the conflict, the workingmen of Europe felt instinctively that the star-spangled banner carried the destiny of their class.”
I hear this a lot, “But Marx said working people have no country.” What did he mean by that? Marx tells the worker movement and the world in the Communist Manifesto that “the struggle of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie is at first a national struggle.” He writes, “The proletariat of each country must, of course, first of all settle matters with its own bourgeoisie,” he writes.
Marx was a theorist of globalization. He was a nationalist. He understood the importance of democratic-republican machinery and national economy to effect change for communities. It was in the context of the capitalist nation-state that the working class were move from a class-in-itself to a class-for-itself.
“The real fruit of their battles lies, not in the immediate result, but in the ever expanding union of the workers,” Marx writes. “This union is helped on by the improved means of communication that are created by modern industry, and that places the workers of different localities in contact with one another.”
At the same time, Marx recognized the dynamic of the system and the machinations of the capitalist class in thwarting the worker movement. “This organization of the proletarians into a class, and, consequently into a political party,” he writes, “is continually being upset again by the competition between the workers themselves.”
One of the strategies the bourgeoisie uses is bourgeois nationalism. Bourgeois nationalism is the practice of fracturing the proletariat (the working class) by dividing the people by ethnicity, race, and religion. Thus, after liberating business, culture, and religion, fractions of the bourgeoisie attempt retribalize it.
Such a move is always obviously to disrupt the class consciousness that threatens to strengthen proletarian politics. Anyone can see that. Or at least should see it. We see it in the practice of bourgeoise nationalism today in the doctrine of multiculturalism, the importation of culture-bears with different religious sensibilities, and the selection of collaborators among them (tokenism).
The promotion of identity politics in the United States is the child of the cultural pluralism of Horace Kallen, representative of the progressive cosmopolitan crowd, who, writing in the pages of the progressive magazine The Nation in 1915, and ultimately for the interests of the industrialist, deceitfully claimed that cultural relativism would provide a greater national unity. This is the argument in defense of open borders.
In his in a letter, from London, to Sigfrid Meyer and August Vogt in New York, in 1870, Marx observed that the English bourgeoisie sent Irish labor made redundantly through the rationalization of land use “to the English labor market,” a practice that “forces down wages and lowers the material and moral position of the English working class.” The effect of this was to divide the working class into “hostile camps, English proletarians and Irish proletarians.”
In a confidential communication on Bakunin, Marx writes that the English working class “feels national and religious antipathies for him [the Irish].” And insofar as the English worker identifies with the ruling class and regards himself a member, and falls into supporting English colonization in Ireland, he strengthens its power.
Marx writes, “This antagonism is artificially kept alive and intensified by the press, the pulpit, the comic papers, in short, by all the means at the disposal of the ruling classes. This antagonism is the secret of the impotence of the English working class, despite its organization. It is the secret by which the capitalist class maintains its power. And the latter is quite aware of this.”
The ruling class consciously purses a strategy of divide and rule. As I have shown on my blog in numerous essays, it was not until the American working class won restrictions on mass immigration and sharply reduced the proportion of foreign born workers in the population that we see a unified working class movement that won, in many aspects before the European countries, rights for workers. Yet another blow struck for progress.
But if people are taught to believe that the United States is no different today than it was when Jim Crow prevailed, or the brutality of the Gilded Age, or worse, no better than the days when blacks were chattel, then the interpretation of selectively presented facts shaped by that framing comes out wrong and potentially destructive. Privation may lend this feeling energy, but it is the interpretation of American history that is malignant. Ideas matter.
So, while the New Left, the progressives and the identitarians, have abandoned the cause of democracy and liberty and fly other flags, I will fly the flag of carries the destiny of my class—the working class. Our destiny lies through populist-nationalism organized around working class interests.
In yesterday’s blog, on the eve of the Fourth of July, I asked, “Why can’t we agree to leave Jefferson and Lincoln where they are? Why can’t we agree to stop talking about it and get on with celebrating the greatest country that ever existed? If you want to know the answer to these questions, ask yourself this one: what do people get out of relitigating history? They’re after something.” What are they after?
The President of the United States gave Americans a heads-up at his Independent Day celebration at the foot of Mount Rushmore yesterday. “Make no mistake,” Trump said: “this left-wing cultural revolution is designed to overthrow the American Revolution.” The president continued, “To make this possible, they are determined to tear down every statue, symbol, and memory of our national heritage.” He warned that, if successful, this movement “would destroy the very civilization that rescued billions from poverty, disease, violence, and hunger, and that lifted humanity to new heights of achievement, discovery, and progress.”
It was crucial at this time, with the anarchy in our streets only the most visible manifestation of rapidly spreading anti-Americanism, that the President of the United States stood up for the republic and its history. He called out “cancel culture” by name and correctly assessed the problem: “our children are taught in school to hate their own country, and to believe that the men and women who built it were not heroes, but that were villains.” Trump told his audience, “The radical view of American history is a web of lies—all perspective is removed, every virtue is obscured, every motive is twisted, every fact is distorted, and every flaw is magnified until the history is purged and the record is disfigured beyond all recognition.”
The establishment—The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN—painted the president’s speech as divisive, as if he had created cancel culture, as if he invented Antifa.
The false narrative the president assails, a narrative predicated on race-thinking, obscures the nation’s profound record of progress. Despite having dismantled systemic racism in the form of de jure segregation more than half a century ago, despite having made discrimination based on race illegal with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, despite having embarked on an extensive program of reparations, the United States is said to be under the control of “a regime of white supremacy” (to quote a prominent “critical race theory” scholar). They want us to believe that talking about our record of achievement treats “the exercise of racial power as rare and aberrational rather than as systemic and ingrained.” But the exercise of racial power is not systemic or engrained. It is rare and aberration. Such obviously false statements reveal the goal that lies behind them: to make the exercise of racial power appear as systemic and ingrained and thus discredit the nation. The New Left sees racial power as a method to radically reconstruct society.
I have been explaining to people, and I want conservatives to understand this, that the issue with monuments is not to be confused with the Confederate flag or the racially-insensitive mascots of sports teams. States have been removing Confederate flags from their capitols. That’s what happens when a regime is overthrown. You don’t fly the Nazi flag over Germany after defeating Nazism. That’s obvious. You don’t fly the Confederate flag over America for the same reason. This is why I have been a life-long opponent of the Confederate flag flying on public property. Sports teams are removing racial-insenitive mascots. To be sure, it has taken too long. But it’s happening. Protests that push governments and corporations to change these things are to be appreciated for their existence and persistence. That’s what the First Amendment is all about.
Nobody’s liberty is compromised by lowering the flag of a defeated nation or changing a team name or mascot. If people want to fly the Confederate flag on their trucks or their homes, wear it on their clothes, or tattoo it on their bodies, or do the same with a swastika or an Indian head, that’s okay by those who love liberty—even if it offends them—because it is okay by our Constitution. These are expressions of personal freedom. If people want to keep lawn jockeys, they should be allowed to display them. Same with nativity scenes. Government doesn’t get to decide these things for us. If displays offend people, then look away. I’m offended by Black Lives Matter flags. BLM is a racially divisive project. Others are offended by the thin blue line flag. Being offended by a display or a flag is no reason to demand the government to force others to take them down. However, if they fly that flag over a state house or display the nativity on public grounds, then there’s a problem.
Free speech is part of the legacy we celebrate with monuments and statues to the founders and defenders of our way of life. People ask why we can see swastikas in America but not in Germany. Is it because we have Nazis here and there are none in Germany? No. There are Nazis in both countries (albeit not very many). The reason for the difference is that Germany practices aggressive government thought control. The United States is constitutionally limited in how much thought control the government can impose. That’s because the sovereign people demanded liberty from excessive government control. Thankfully we had men like James Madison and his ilk to write that into our Constitution. Germany’s ban on Nazis symbols and flags exposes real shortcomings in Germany’s grasp of free speech and civil liberties. Many European countries have a very poor grasp of civil liberties. We don’t want to be like them. We are fortunate to have our First Amendment. Robust freedom of speech is part of what makes the United States republic a role model for the rest of the world. Whatever Madison did that we would judge wrong, that is not why we erect a statue to his memory. We erect a statue to Madison’s memory because of what he did right.
The New Left wants to tear down this freedom with cancel culture. The president told his audience last night about a political movement demanding allegiance to its ideology being promoted in “our schools, our newsrooms, even our corporate boardrooms.” He called out the political weapon of “cancel culture”: “driving people from their jobs, shaming dissenters, and demanding total submission from anyone who disagrees.” He told his audience that cancel culture is “alien to our culture and our values, and it has absolutely no place in the United States of America.” He’s right. It is the culture of freedom that is under assault. “If you do not speak its language, perform its rituals, recite its mantras, and follow its commandments,” the president continued, “then you will be censored, banished, blacklisted, persecuted, and punished.” He promised: “It’s not going to happen to us.” But the regime of unfreedom is already controlling the sovereign people. It is happening to us.
Why the attack on monuments to our founders and to those who kept the union together and moving forward? I hope it’s becoming clear to you. It’s not really about removing an offensive symbols. The New Left is not reluctant to be offensive. The real goal is to delegitimize the ideals of the republic while looting other people’s property—and using race as a lever. The goal to delegitimize the idea that individuals are responsible for their actions and replace it with a bogus theory that seeks to make all white people racist and guilty of past deeds. In other words, to hold whites as a group responsible for the failures of individuals.
According to the American ethos, my boys are not born in debt to or have to apologize for the wrongful acts of other people. Neither of them would expect anybody to do that for them. They will stand on their own two feet. They will take responsibility for their actions and suffer on account of their own failures. Anything they expect from the government they expect will be available for everybody else. I have yet to read an argument that does not appeal to supernatural logic that could reasonable justify holding children responsible for slavery or Jim Crow of the genocide of the American Indian. We live in a secular nation where such superstitious thought is not supposed to move law and policy. That’s also in our First Amendment.
There is a meme circulating on social media with a picture of a little Japanese girl with a demand that she apologize for Pearl Harbor. It doesn’t take long to get past the initial shock of the image to see its implications. To suppose that this little girl owes Americans an apology or anything else for what the Japanese did to America seventy years ago is absurd. I think everybody will agree with that. Of course, the meme is pointing out that that there are a lot of people walking around who think a white baby is born indebted to black people for slavery and Jim Crow.
WWII took fathers from sons and sons from fathers. The damage Germany inflicted on the world continues to be felt today. No child born in Germany today owes any American anything for what his ancestors did. Germans don’t need to seek absolution from Americans for anything. They don’t need to remove any monuments or censor any words on America’s account. We must reject blood guilt. To be sure, we should learn from history. But we should not use history to extort money from people or to humiliate those who didn’t make it.
That people must reach into the past for justice tells us there’s not a lot of injustice in the present—at least not the injustice they claim they seek.
In 2016, in the context of the protests over the Keystone pipeline, Inside Sources asked me my opinion of the criticism that white environmentalists were hijacking the indigenous concerns of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and other American Indian tribal nations across the country. Part of the concern for the indigenous was that the pipeline ran through sacred grounds. I disagreed with the suggestion that the American Indian protest was being hijacked by environmentalists at the expense of the concerns of American Indians. I pointed out that environmentalists and others have legitimate concerns about the pipeline. I emphasized that “the Dakota Access Pipeline involves land that could affect millions of people downstream.” Moreover, I said, “there is the larger issue of fossil fuels and climate change.”
I worked my answer around the problem of “the sacred.” I was then as I am now interested in people not tribes. But the news today has inspired to make sure that my opinion about such matters is clear: I always hesitate add my voice to the framing of the issue of Indian lands in terms of claims of sacred spaces since I do not believe lands can be sacred in this way. That would require me to accept a premise of which I am deeply skeptical as well as eschew my commitment to the individualism of democratic-republicanism over against tribal thinking and practice. If the lands are public, then this is a matter for the government to decide. I opposed the pipeline on rational grounds.
On June 29, the chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Harold Frazier, called for the removal of Mount Rushmore National Memorial. This has become a national issue because President Donald Trump has planned to celebrate our nation there for the Fourth of July. “The United States of America wishes for all of us to be citizens and a family of their republic yet when they get bored of looking at those faces we are left looking at our molesters,” Frazier wrote. The “Great Sioux Nation,” was betrayed by a country that carved faces into “our sacred land on what the United States calls Mount Rushmore.” Frazier is not alone. A campaign to remove the monument is gathering energy.
Keep in mind that the first site chosen for the monument (the Needles) was rejected because of objection from the Sioux. The sculptor and tribal representatives agreed to build the moment on Mount Rushmore. The monument idea moved from a narrow regional appeal to a more inclusive and national display by including four great liberal and populist figures of world democracy. I am well aware of the treaty disputes that saw the United States claim parts of the Black Hills as public property and the transfer of land in 1876 as the result of the Great Sioux War (known for, among other things, Custer’s last stand). I am also aware of the politics of the sculptor. The politics of artists do not impress me. I am interested in the product and what it speaks to and what it inspires.
Although I reject the concept of sacred land as it is often cast in supernatural terms, I do wonder why it appears to be the case that some are entitled to sacred lands and symbols while others are not. Are we not right to be skeptical of the claim that land was in some mystical way given to anybody? (Check out the conflict in the Middle East for guidance on that question.) Mount Rushmore carries the faces of four great Americans—George Washington, who led the American colonists in the War of Independence and served as the first president of the new republic, Thomas Jefferson, who penned the Declaration of Independence, Theodore Roosevelt, a conservationist, a populist, and a progressive, and Abraham Lincoln, who saved the republic and emancipated blacks from the indignity of chattel slavery. Together, these four men represent the Great American Nation, a nation of people who threw off monarchy to establish a democratic republic that built the most advanced and prosperous nation in history and led the world in liberating people from the bondage of servitude. In as much as we can regard a monument to such achievement and progress as sacred, Mount Rushmore is sacred.
I have long wondered about the principle in operation here. Is there one? If it were discovered that Stonehenge, constructed from 3000 BC to 2000 BC, were built on sacred ground should it be torn down? On whose authority is that land sacred? Sacred to whom? There is some suggestion that it is an ancient burial ground. There appears to have been an earlier structure there, possibility thousands of years older. Should we leave it up but have no speeches delivered there? Should we prevent tourists from visiting? What should the people do? Don’t drive dirt bikes through it. Don’t deface it with graffiti. Don’t plant flags on it. Don’t push over its stones. Anathemas and curses are fine. They don’t do anything. But tear it down? Deface it? Cover it up? It think that is probably against the law.
If some of the people who built Stonehenge were slaveholders, do we know whether the people who lived there before the people who built Stonehenge were also slave holders? They may very well have been. It could be that they were slaveholders but that those who built Stonehenge were not. We don’t know any of this, but it is certainly possible. We can be certain of the horrors of human sacrifices to the Huitzilopochtli at the Templo Mayor, the main ritual structure at Tenochtitlan. Should we tear down the structures built by the Aztecs because the builders were arguably the worst human beings who ever lived? Are we supposed to mourn the fate of the Aztecs as the hands of Spaniards or cheer for the surrounding tribes the Spaniards liberated from genocidal maniacs obsessed with blood sacrifice? Are we to mention the strict hierarchical organization of Aztec society as justification for defacing their monuments? I’m guessing that those monuments are also protected by the law.
Looking at all the monuments and structures around the world, weren’t many (most?) of them built by men who owned slaves? Men who conquered other men? Who killed other men? Weren’t many of these structures in fact built by slaves? I’m pretty sure all the ancient Egyptian monuments were built by slaves. I’m pretty sure they weren’t the only ones. Should we tear these down as well? Are men of reason expected to be no better than the Islamists who blow up statues of Buddha? Or those who chiseled off the nose of the Great Sphinx? Or the Bedouins who shot at the urn at Al-Khazneh in Petra to force it to give up its treasure?
“But those statues and monuments mean something to somebody, to history,” I can hear voices objecting. Indeed! So what about our statues and monuments? On what grounds are we not allowed to have and preserve statues, monuments, and historic structures? On what grounds are we forbidden to venerate the deeds of our ancestors by throwing down sacred markers of their accomplishments and sacrifices as other peoples do? It can only be because there is a need to delegitimize our history. Be honest. If our history were venerated in the same way that others insist we venerate theirs, then we would not be having this conversation.
Nick Tilsen, president and CEO of the NDN Collective (an “Indigenous-led organization dedicated to building Indigenous power [though] narrative change [to] decolonize…and movement-build…], has said, “Stealing our land and then carving the faces of four white men who were colonizers, who committed genocide against Indigenous people, is an egregious act of violence.” If we must abandon, shutter, deface, demolish, etc. Mouth Rushmore on these grounds, then we must do the same with everything else, no? We’re not talking about the mascot of an NFL team (lose the mascot, Washington). The men on the mountain represent America. If some Americans choose not to be included in that construct that’s their business. If these are genocidal and violent men, then America is a genocidal and violent nation. But that cannot possibility be the whole story.
Notice how the argument turns on race: “four white men.” That’s what is so objectionable. Did not the Sioux war with the Iroquois? Intertribal warfare carried devastating effects for people throughout America (take a look at the 1770 episode at the Dalles of the St. Croix between the Dakota and Ojibwe). Nobody thinks about that. The injection of race into the matter means that intertribal warfare with large-scale killing and enslavement is okay if it was between Indians. (This style of thinking is part of what lies behind disregard for the large-scale warfare occurring daily in the inner cities of the United States. Since blacks are killing their own, it’s not as significant as when whites are killing blacks. Race determines who gets to use the sacred words. I can insult my sister. You can’t. And so on.) Don’t forget that the Dakota War began when, in the summer of 1862 Indians wiped out a white family to initiate of a campaign of terror against white settlements. Most of you never forgot about that because you never learned about it. It’s not that America or Americans have not done horrible things. It’s that America and Americans never cornered the market horrible things.
What is “the sacred”? That which is connected with gods or dedicated to a religious purpose and so deserving veneration, my dictionary says. I’m an atheist, so pardon my skepticism about the sacred and my reluctance to accept the claims of others on the matter. Is that because I’m bereft of the ecumenical spirit? Maybe. But why should the ecumenical spirit cause somebody to hate their own icons? Is that why BLM and Antifa are tearing down the statues and monuments of abolitionists? Because they’re tolerant of the totems of others? Is it because the mythologies of the Sioux nation—the mythologies of any people—mean little or nothing to me? Maybe it’s because I stand in awe of the accomplishments of man and not in the imaginary entities and forces of primitive religion (or any religion). Do I find religion and history interesting? Yes, I do. That’s why I oppose the toppling of Buddha or the ransacking of museums by Islamists. It’s also why I oppose the toppling of statues of Lincoln and the demolition of Mount Rushmore. Whether your desire is atavistic or you pine for the Year Zero, you cannot stand apart from the forward direction of time without bending the arrow out of line.
Maybe I do have a sense of the sacred. But what is sacred to me is not the theological or the spiritual or the magical. I reject the primitive. What is sacred to me is found in the great ideas and products of history, those that don’t organizes us into tribes, but rather bring us together in the republican spirit that puts human rights and individual liberty first, that insists on the secular, that attempts to grasp the objective world, while curating the stories and respecting the artifacts of historical actors. The promise of the Enlightenment has always been detribalizing—the liberation of individuals from traditional structures and reintegrating them under the rule of law. That system is better and history proves it. Do the comparative work. I want men of science and reason on the sides of mountains. To be sure, that is not sacred in any transcendent sense. Nothing is. Nothing can be. But it is nonetheless important to symbolically mark the humanistic and democratic values that have created the most free and successful civilization in human history. My message to everybody is this: assimilate to the humanist ideal and these can be your statues, too. If you don’t want that, that’s your prerogative, of course. But we can’t keep fighting the same battles.
What would Frazier have us do with Mount Rushmore really? Blow it up? Drape it? Re-sculpt it? Efface the memory of great deeds of great men? Whatever he is allowed to do, I’m guessing. He is obsessed with identity it sounds like. Just some expression of mastery over those faces will do as long as it is dramatic. Those faces are, after all, white. White people were, in the face of their modernizing presence, “maggots.”
Why are we having this conversation now? It’s not just Trump’s visit to Mount Rushmore. It’s because the gospel of identity politics is preached daily by politicians and professors. Determined to delegitimize the American republic, the cultural managers teach our children to self-loathe and admire the exotic, elevating romanticism (multiculturalism, ecumenicalism) above the rational. If history teaches us anything it’s this: that path does not take us to a place where human rights are respected.
Try this: Mount Rushmore means something to me. Nobody has any better claim to the significance of that monument or any other than do I on the basis of skin color. I’m not saying my claim is necessarily better (although it is). I am saying that considering my claim to the sacred as inferior on the basis of skin color is not merely wrong—it’s racist. That the faces carved on that mountain are white is no reason to remove them.
Let’s be clear: that is the reason people want to remove those faces. Have you heard? All whites are racist. Only whites can be racist. Whites are colonizers. “White settler colonialism.” Is there any other kind? No other race has ever been. Whites commit genocide and practice slavery. No other race ever has. This is why the idols of others can and must stand while the monuments of the West must fall. They are the simulacra of personified blood guilt. This is a war against modernity and the Enlightenment.
I think we would all agree that we should leave Stonehenge and the Sphinx where they are. We don’t need to know whether the people who built those structures were racists. They probably were something analogous to it. They probably practiced slavery. We know some (most) did. We know they killed people in war (most did). We know that humans were probably sacrificed at the Aztec pyramid of Santa Cecilia Acatitlan. When Hernán Cortés and his conquistadors conquered the Aztec empire in 1521 scores of people were liberated from terror—at least terror at the hands of Aztecs. Should we tear down the pyramid of Santa Cecilia Acatitlan? Should we even spend any time talking about it?
Why can’t we agree to leave Jefferson and Lincoln where they are? Why can’t we agree to stop talking about it and get on with celebrating the greatest country that ever existed? If you want to know the answer to these questions, ask yourself this one: what do people get out of relitigating history? They’re after something.
Happy Fourth of July! If you want to celebrate more of them in future, you had better know what you’re up against.
“The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it.” —Karl Marx, The German Ideology (1845)
I hear it argued in the context of reparations that we should consider who did the labor in American history. Why is it so easy to erase the role of proletarian labor in that history? Because the exploitation, impoverishment, displacement, killing and wounding of proletarian labor continues. The capitalist system is founded upon it. To be sure, we need to account for the history of slavery and racism. But dwelling on past injustice distracts from present injustice. And maybe that’s the point.
I wrote “maybe” above because it sits nicely in that sentence. Of course I mean that is the point. That’s why corporations are funding Black Lives Matter to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars and have been for years. BLM is rolling in so much dough that they can hand out six-figure multiyear grants to their affiliates like candy (What’s Really Going On with #BlackLivesMatter). It’s why the media are pushing the BLM agenda. It’s why the globalists are behind the movement. It’s why the Democratic Party leadership takes a knee wearing the Kenta cloth of the Ashanti Kingdom (see Democrats Pander While Managing America’s Decline).
The corporate elite and their political and administrative functionaries and the intelligentsia are taking a page from history. They’re using race to divide the working class. Again. This time they’re eschewing the pseudoscience of racialism and using instead New Left and postmodernist jargon as cover while framing a different scapegoat: the white deplorable. It’s new and improved racism. Corporations would never fund a proletarian movement against capitalism. The corporate media will never support any movement destructive to the interests of the class they defend. They are using racial division to thwart the working class populist movement sweeping the trans-Atlantic world, the movement rejecting the corporatist-globalist establishment led by the Democratic Party in the United States and inspiring the Brexit movement in the United Kingdom.
According to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture exhibit on “Whiteness”: “Since white people in America hold most of the political, institutional, and economic power, they receive advantages that nonwhite groups do not.” But it’s not white people who command the dominant institutions of the nation. It’s capitalists and their functionaries. This is why most poor people are white while the media promotes the myth of “white privilege.” The corporate elite know that there would be no poor blacks if poverty were eliminated for all people. They don’t care about poverty per se. They only care about finessing it. Same with crime and punishment. Obviously. They’re capitalists. They care about keeping proletarian consciousness and politics disorganized. You’re naïve if you think otherwise.
Marx tells in The German Ideology, “The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance.” Black Lives Matter illustrates the relevance of his argument to today’s situation. Antiracism is a project of neoliberal capitalism. The project means to create the illusion of justice through proportional representation of identity groups. It’s tokenism on a grand scale. This is why the principle of equality is replaced by the ideology of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Inclusion in what? A society predicated on material equality? Substantive economic justice? Hell no. Rather inclusion in the administrative apparatus of the corporate state. It’s the way kings manage tribes. It’s an exercise in legitimation. It’s about control: co-opt enough of the opposition to defang it. Make them feel important. Marginalize the rest. As Adolphe Reed, Jr., tells us in his 2016 essay “How Racial Disparity Does Not Help Make Sense of Patterns of Police Violence,” “antiracism is not a different sort of egalitarian alternative to a class politics but is a class politics itself: the politics of a strain of the professional-managerial class whose worldview and material interests are rooted within a political economy of race and ascriptive identity-group relations.” (See my Zombie Politics: the Corporatist Ideology of Antiracism.)
You can see the capitalist agenda in the actions BLM takes. For an example consider BLM’s partnership with organizations advocating on behalf of immigrants, including illegal immigrants, and its demands to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Immigration has proven devastating to the American workers (see The Immigration Situation), especially black workers. This in turn impacts crime rates and rates of incarceration. A NBER study finds that “immigration has more far-reaching consequences than merely depressing wages and lowering employment rates of low-skilled African-American males: its effects also appear to push some would-be workers into crime and, later, into prison” (see Effects of Immigration on African-American Employment and Incarceration).
Specifically concerning illegal immigration, a US Commission on Civil Rights the Commission report published in 2010 reports estimates finding that illegal workers account for as much as a third of total immigrants in the United States, that illegal immigration increases the supply of low-skilled, low-wage labor, which throws native-born workers employed in the low-skilled labor market, who are disproportionately black, into competition with immigrants. The panel found that employers use ethnic networks among illegal immigrants to recruit workers and that employers say they prefer immigrants to blacks because of the latter’s perceived inferior work ethic. Of course, employers prefer immigrants because they can exploit them at a higher rate than native-born workers (see The Koch Brothers and the Building of a Grassroots Coalition to Advance Open Borders). As I have written about on Freedom and Reason, Bernie Sanders in his previous populist phrase got the issue of immigration (see Bernie Sanders Gets it on Open Borders Rhetoric—At Least He Did in 2015). However, as his politics have converged with those of Black Lives Matter, so his views on this matter have changed. In terms of electoral politics, there is no viable populism on the Democratic side of the aisle.
Marx pointed out long ago that one of the strategies the capitalists use to disorganize the working class is bourgeois nationalism. Bourgeois nationalism is the practice of fracturing the proletariat (the working class) by dividing the people by ethnicity, race, and religion. Thus, after liberating business, culture, and religion from the state, fractions of the bourgeoisie work to retribalize society. Such a move is always obviously to disrupt the class consciousness that threatens to strengthen proletarian politics. Anyone can see that. Or at least should see it. We see it in the practice of bourgeoise nationalism today in the doctrine of multiculturalism, the importation of culture-bears with different religious sensibilities, and the selection of collaborators among them, the practice of tokenism veiled in the virtue of diversity. The promotion of identity politics in the United States is the child of the the cultural pluralism of Horace Kallen, representative of the progressive cosmopolitan crowd, who, writing in the pages of the progressive magazine The Nation in 1915, and ultimately for the interests of the industrialist, deceitfully claimed that cultural relativism would provide a greater national unity. I have discussed this in detail on Freedom and Reason. This is the argument in defense of open borders. It is central to the logic of BLM advocacy.
Marx grasped the tactic in his in a letter, from London, to Sigfrid Meyer and August Vogt in New York, in 1870, where he observed that the English bourgeoisie sent Irish labor made redundantly through the rationalization of land use “to the English labor market,” a practice that “forces down wages and lowers the material and moral position of the English working class.” The effect of this was to divide the working class into “hostile camps, English proletarians and Irish proletarians.” In a communication on Bakunin, Marx writes that the English working class “feels national and religious antipathies for him [the Irish].” And insofar as the English worker identifies with the ruling class and regards himself a member, and falls into supporting English colonization in Ireland, he strengthens its power. Insightfully, Marx writes, “This antagonism is artificially kept alive and intensified by the press, the pulpit, the comic papers, in short, by all the means at the disposal of the ruling classes. This antagonism is the secret of the impotence of the English working class, despite its organization. It is the secret by which the capitalist class maintains its power. And the latter is quite aware of this.”
Thus we have the ruling class consciously pursing a strategy of divide and rule. As I have shown on my blog in numerous essays, it was not until the American working class won restrictions on mass immigration and sharply reduced the proportion of foreign born workers in the population that we see a unified working class movement that won, in many aspects before the European countries, rights for workers. Yet another blow struck for progress. But if people are taught to believe that the United States is no different today than it was when Jim Crow prevailed, or the brutality of the Gilded Age, or worse, no better than the days when blacks were chattel, then the interpretation of selectively presented facts shaped by that framing comes out wrong and potentially destructive. Privation may lend this feeling energy, but it is the interpretation of American history that is malignant. And it is this interpretation of history that Black Lives Matter pushes. Ideas matter. BLM is is not a pro-worker.
That there are those on the left who believe that corporations can be good faith actors in the struggle for justice testifies to the capacity possessed by corporations to warp popular consciousness. Just stop and consider the fact that a therapeutic like Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility declaring all whites racist and claiming that only whites can be racist can become a best-selling book used in diversity training in corporations and universities and then try to imagine a scenario where a book critical capitalism and the bourgeoisie could enjoy the same status. Such phenomena reveal perhaps more explicitly than anything could the extent and entrenchment of corporate power than the current situation. “The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas.” Indeed. The ruling class owns the left.
In The German Ideology, Marx writes, “The individuals composing the ruling class possess among other things consciousness, and therefore think. Insofar, therefore, as they rule as a class and determine the extent and compass of an epoch, it is self-evident that they do this in its whole range, hence among other things rule also as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age: thus their ideas are the ruling ideas of the epoch.” Black Lives Matter powerfully illustrates the argument Marx made more than a century and a half ago. We would do well to listen to what the man had to say today in preparing our response to the corporate war on the working class.