Headline from this morning’s The Hill: “Judge blocks DeSantis’s ‘Stop WOKE Act,’ says Florida feels like a ‘First Amendment upside down’.” US District Court for the Northern District of Florida Chief Judge Mark Walker (the same judge who exploited the COVID pandemic to help engineer voting procedures that advantaged Democrats in 2020 and will again in the upcoming 2022 elections) issued a preliminary injunction blocking the private employer provisions in the law saying it violates free speech protections under the First Amendment and that it violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause for being impermissibly vague.
“Recently, Florida has seemed like a First Amendment upside down,” the Obama appointee and activist judge wrote in the ruling (in which he compared the law to the fictional “upside down” in the Netflix series Stranger Things). “Normally, the First Amendment bars the state from burdening speech, while private actors may burden speech freely,” Walker continued. “But in Florida, the First Amendment apparently bars private actors from burdening speech, while the state may burden speech freely.” Here is the text of the Stop WOKE Act.
Walker’s understanding of burden is embarrassingly superficial but not unusual among progressive judges (and rightwing libertarians) who erroneously use the private status of corporations as justification for the regulation of speech. Burdening speech is not only suppressing certain utterances, which must be disallowed; lifting burdens must be concerned with protecting the cognitive liberty of individuals, which means prohibiting the practice of compelling political and religious speech, which is precisely what Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity training conveys (see The Bureaucratic Tyranny of DEI).
The innovation of the Florida law lies in the act of extending the principle of free speech rights to state-regulated private sector entities, i.e., corporations, in the same way the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits private corporations from discriminating against individuals based on race, sex, etc. Speech is as much a civil right as one’s racial or sexual status—rights individuals do not lose upon entering private institutions. After all, these are places of public accommodations; they cannot discriminate for these reasons. Moreover, corporations exist because they chartered by and answerable to governments. DeSantis’s law should be the law of the land. It plainly follows from the First Amendment (as well as the Ninth).
What this judge clearly fails to understand—or to take into account—is the fact (not the feeling) that DeSantis’ law is not burdening speech but instead preventing an institution or organization from compelling an individual to speak and think in ways he wishes not to. The law does not burden speech by prohibiting mandatory DEI training; on the contrary, it is mandatory DEI training that burdens speech. The law is correcting this problem by protecting individuals from the imposition of having political and religious speech forced down their throats in required struggle sessions at institutions where they are receiving an education or earning a living, activities in which they must engage to enjoy an acceptable quality of life. Forced into such training sessions, as such they are captive populations—who are moreover required to affirm the political and quasi-religious ideologies they are receiving. Judge Walker must be standing on his head to get the law so wrong.
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DEI training and other instruction in critical theories where these are presented as the definitive explanations of the phenomenon people experience is an attempt by the administrative state and technocracy to indoctrinate employees and students with a moral philosophy derived from a illiberal ideology. I was therefore excited to hear the thoughts of Christian theologian and ecclesiastical historian Carl Trueman speak to the comedians on Triggernometry about how technocracy cannot answer moral questions. However, I was struck by how quickly the guest made it impossible to actually take up the question posed as the title of the podcast.
Trueman argued that, without the absolute standard of religion, morality is merely an exercise in pragmatism. But there are plainly many religions and they differ drastically from each other. It follows that religion cannot be an absolute standard for anything. (You will recall that Feuerbach blew up Hegel over this point nearly two centuries ago. See A Humanist Take on Marx’s Irreligious Criticism.) This is why we have religious liberty. Religion, like critical race theory, gender theory, queer theory, and the other quasi-religious standpoints of the moment, fails to provide adequate moral rules, even while, unlike these critical theories, claiming there are such things.
Moreover, religion is notorious for undermining those moral rules that must necessarily lie beyond religion, for example, women’s rights. How are we otherwise able to objectively determine what is a just law or policy if there is no universal standard? There must be such a thing as an objective standard if we are to judge the adequacy of any given religious system to human thriving and well-being, which are objective criteria. The Jewish Bible positively sanctions slavery. Is slavery not wrong? On what basis is it wrong? Plainly not a biblical one (see Slavery and the Abrahamic Traditions).
Fortunately, there is such a standard: human rights as determinable by the approach secular humanism, i.e., a concern for and the science of our species: Homo sapiens. This is possible because human rights are inherent in our species-being, however much they are warped by such ideologies as Christianity, queer theory, etc. This is pragmatic if by that word we mean discovering the truth and putting it into practice (see Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs). We find, then, that religion—or anything approximating it—is unnecessary. More than this, it is oppressive. Yet new religious are being forced upon employees and students across the West in the form of DEI training, new religious that contract human rights, indeed that deny the species being necessary for human rights to be possible.
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Thinking about this morning as I was dropping my son off at work, I was reminded that I wanted to put down something I have said in discussions with family and friends—and in classroom instruction (via the arguments of Antonio Gramsci in his Prison Notebooks and Max Weber in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism)—that there are those who are desperate to deny the animality of man, to deny that the species is the product of natural history and that the ideas people express, rational and irrational, result from environmental contexts and social arrangements that either promote or corrupt development and justice.
Slogans that find their way into boardrooms and classrooms, such as “transwomen are women,” or the compelled use of pronouns, or statements recognizing the spiritual connection an American Indian tribe has to the land upon which the buildings of a university stand—these are political and quasi-religious activities that must deny reality in order to work. And to do this destructive work, the activists must shift the function of education from one of enlightenment and the ruthless search for the truth to one of indoctrination and ideological production. Replacing truth with doctrine requires indoctrination. It’s right there in the name. Such beliefs as individuals can change sex or American Indians are in possession of transcendent privilege require compelling since most free and rational person would rightly dismiss such irrational claims and therefore wouldn’t come to them naturally. The goal is to conscript all of us in the project to make falsehoods appear as the truth. This is the essence of all religion.
It should terrify all of us that, increasingly, an individual will be disciplined, ostracized, and punished for not only telling the truth but for failing to affirm a lie. DEI is part of the system seeking to supplant the ordinary understanding of humans, which is generally intuitive correct, and even knowledge of natural facts, with a political-ideological view of the world prepares employees and future employees for incorporation into an illiberal existence beneficial to corporate power and profit. This is an environment where the administrator, cultural manager, and employer can depends on the student and employee believing whatever those in authority tell them (this was a major objective of the COVID-19 mask and vaccine compliant strategies). DEI training, its basis in critical race theory, gender theory, etc., demands of those compelled those attending affirmation of the lie—and to go forth and spread this lie throughout the institution and the community.
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Consider the appearance of the term “cisgender,” a transparent and cynical attempt to erase the notion of the abnormal by defining the ordinary as so problematical as to require a qualifying prefix. Such propaganda terms proliferate as the transgressive practice of postmodernist critical theory colonizes academic jargon. This is why Freedom and Reason does not critique gender ideology independent of the consequences of doing so—gender ideology is at once a system of claims about the world and an authoritarian politics that punishes people for skepticism regarding those claims. If I am hauled before a disciplinary committee for this blog, the truth of what I am saying will enjoy dramatic confirmation.
Consider the preachment found in the programming that heteronormativity and cisnormativity are at once oppressive ideologies (see the work of Christopher Rufo). These notions depend on the denial of necessary facts in human evolution and the perpetuation of the species across time and space. It is a religious notion even if expressed in a nominally secular fashion, one that sees man as not merely separate from nature but not really a natural being at all. Rhetoric about the “dominantly situated” and “negatively privileged” and “marginalized” groups, terms that populate the transgressive literature of critical gender studies and find their way into DEI training manuals—such rhetoric cannot obviate reality if we remain free from compelled speech.
Some will object that those forced into struggle sessions over these matters are not really compelled to accept the programming. They are still free to believe as they did. At best then, you will have forced everybody into bad faith. We all know that those who, for example, deny that males can be women will be attacked for “denying the existence” of transpeople. But what is denied is the claim that a transwoman is a woman on the grounds that a woman is an adult human female and, with the transwoman’s sex determined by such objective unchangeable things as chromosomes and gametes, the individual cannot actually meet the definition. I other words, those who refuse to affirm the slogan do so on definitional grounds that a woman must be a female which is rooted in scientific truth. For this, they are demoted, disciplined, expelled, ostracized, and smeared.
But rejecting transgenderism is no more discriminatory against transpeople as rejecting Islam is discriminatory against Muslims. The existence of Muslims does not depend on my faith in Islam. Muslims do not need my affirmation to exist. They only need to be convinced of the truth of the doctrine. And I only need to tolerate them. Without faith there are no Muslims. But this is their problem, not mine. Yet employees and students across the country are being compelled to undergo training in which affirming these ideas are a requirement for certification.
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I risk being accused of transphobia for this blog (and for future ones dealing with this topic). However, readers should consider the history of using accusations of phobia to delegitimize criticisms of their views. Consider, for example, the propaganda term “Islamophobia.” Exploiting the construct “xenophobia” as inspiration, Islamists invented the term at the end of the 1970s to portray rational criticisms of Islam as a type of racism. But Islam is an ideology. It is the rational obligation of free people to criticize indeed resist ideology.
“Transphobia” is a propaganda term designed to accomplish the same thing. It’s designed to silence critics by making them out to be the equivalent of racists. You see this in the slogan “Transrights are human rights,” which Antifa chants while physically assaulting women demanding their rights. A male identifying as a woman has her human rights. There is no human right to be regarded by others as a woman when they perceive you as a male. This is for the obvious reason that an individual cannot force other people to live according to his perception of himself. A white may wish to be black, but those around her are under no obligation to recognize her as such. Indeed, it is violative of the human rights of others to insist they affirm the delusions of other persons.
Yet, while it would be outrageous to compel employees and students to undergo training sessions in Christianity, it is considered so obvious that they should be compelled to undergo training sessions in gender ideology that to pass a law forcing institutions to abide by the fundamental law of this country is somehow oppressive. (I considered using Islam as the example, but with Islamophilia so rampant among woke progressives, I cannot be sure they won’t attempt at some future point to have employees and students affirm the tenets of that totalitarian belief system).
In light of claims to the contrary, then, there is something therefore to be said about the emergence of novel religious standpoints as the old religious institutions fall away in the radical force of modernity. Indeed, the return of religion in new forms marks the postmodern condition. But this condition is not in the end the result of ideas, but the way the death throes of late capitalism manifest in the behavior of the corporate state and attendant technocratic arrangements expressed as ideas in universities corrupted by corporate state propaganda.
Trueman is right about this: technocracy cannot answer moral questions. However, extremists have infiltrated the technocracy and they’re making policy appealing to morality. They dress the appeal in the rhetoric of “social justice.” This must be resisted. We have to unwind all this. We have to bring western society back to reason and the principles of liberty and equality.
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Alongside my libertarianism is a commitment to scientific truth and a concern for human rights, which I argue are universal and objectively determinable things. Because truth matters, while I may choose to lie or go along with a fiction to spare a vulnerable person’s feelings, I must not be made to lie for the sake of affirming the person’s imaginary world. No person should be forced to participate in the manufacture and perpetuation of untruths.
As readers of Freedom and Reason know, I am an atheist. Because I enjoy religious liberty, I cannot be made to repeat Islamic scripture. Also, Islamic belief is false and wrong. There is no God. Muhammad did not talk to an angel named Gabriel. There are no angels (no supernatural ones, anyway). Islam harms people subjected to it. I am not a bigot because I do not use the sacred language of Islam or refuse to affirm the claims made by that religion. More than this, I am free—or at least should be free—to criticize that religion; I am not subject in a secular society to that religion’s blasphemy rules because I am not a Muslim. If ever I am so compelled, then I am no longer a free man.
Today, woke gender ideology is very much a religious praxis. Gender ideology comes with a cosmology positing nonexistent entities, principally a concept of gender as something existing independent of bodies, the truth of which depends entirely on the testimony of the person who, like somebody claiming to have been abducted by aliens, presents an entirely subjective case, one that is, as with alien abduction, more likely to be delusional than anything approximating a true claim. Unlike in the case of Islam (or Christianity), those of us who do not subscribe to the woke religion are nonetheless expected to affirm its slogans. It is not just in the public education system that one is expected to rehearse the slogans of Wokism. Many of those working in corporate bureaucracies are also expected to repeat the preachments.
This slogan “transwomen are women” represents perhaps more than any other the special problem with gender and queer ideologies and the authoritarian desire to impose upon the world a crackpot theory of sex and gender. While I could not be expected to affirm the slogan “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is His Messenger,” or, perhaps more certainly, “Jesus Christ is the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Him,” I am expected to affirm the slogan “transwomen are women.” That I fear or risk discipline or punishment for publicly refusing to affirm this slogan indicates that gender ideology has become a threat to liberty in America in a way that religion never has been.
Growing up in a Christian community, son to a minister with his own church, I was never expected to openly affirm Christian slogans. Admittedly, other children were not so fortunate. But, then, almost nobody ever had to think about it. They believed by virtue of early socialization (and perhaps genes that predisposed them to religiosity). Yet, several times over the last few years, I have been asked to affirm the slogan that transwomen are women. I have had individuals unfriend and unfollow me on social media not because I said anything critical of transgenderism but because I would not affirm the slogan. When I voice my support for gays and lesbians, which I often do, I am sometimes asked why I neglected transpeople in my advocacy. I ignore the question, which then becomes evidence itself that I am transphobic.
When people refuse or fail to affirm the tenets of this quasi-religion, the gaze cast upon them condemns them of anti-science, as if the science confirms the truth of the ideology, assuming as given that which requires proving (another strange alchemy). Failing to provide proof (as I have shown in past blogs and will show in upcoming ones, all this is far more religious-like than scientific), why, then, is race or gender ideology different from Scientology or Mormonism? Of course, even if the science were there, one should still be free to reject its claims. The state would be no more justified in punishing a person for rejecting Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection as it would punishing a person for rejecting L. Ron Hubbard’s theory of dianetics. (Where are the struggle sessions over Darwinism?) But race and gender ideology is so obviously religious in character how did we even get to the point where one has to risk one’s reputation and livelihood for refusing to accept doctrine? Because of the woke progressive assault on scientific truth. Why would it do that? Consider that science has to be delegitimized so that “other ways of knowing” can be used in medicine.
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Here’s what has happened. Scientific truth, however tentative in its self-correcting character (there are things yet to be discovered and concepts still to be worked out), is the rational standard of knowledge, as it is based on verified belief and is universal, that is, it is true regardless of the cultural and historical context, what we may therefore properly call knowledge (over against belief). Scientific truth is challenged by a neo-idealism instantiated by a critical theory, as well as the postmodernist movement in French philosophy. (I am not talking about all critical theory, but specifically the 1960s deformation of critical theory and its offspring, e.g., critical race theory, gender theory, queer theory, etc.) These other ways of knowing have found their way into our major institutions because they are functional to corporate governance and profit-making.
These developments have not merely warped ordinary understanding, but have found their way into law and public policy, which find popular support among rank-and-file progressives socialized in the woke church the academia has become. Critical theory in its postmodern turn represent a deviation from reason by defining science as ideology and then, in a move conflating ontology with a subjectivist epistemology expressing distrust of “grand narratives,” reducing scientific theory to “discourses,” thus denying the method for determining objective reality. The radical relativism expressed by these perspectives treat scientific truth and those things concerning reasonable minds as “problematic.” Law and policy proceeds not on the basis of fact and reason but on the basis of a politics corrupted by ideology. In a nation founded on separation of church and state, woke ideology has become the state religion. One only needs to look at the administrative state under President Joe Biden to confirm this.
We have arrived at a point where “indigenous knowledge systems” are elevated to the status of science—which only means that science has been demoted from its position as the rational standard of knowledge to lay alongside voodoo and witchcraft. Actually, as some would have it, we must go out of our way to value nonscientific ways of knowing. This is a core element of postcolonial consciousness. Critical theory and postmodernism come with a praxis of transgression that portrays normality as arbitrary, imperial, and oppressive, and therefore in obvious need of overthrowing. Science is a western notion, and the West is wicked. Science is white supremacist and cisgendered. The world is in need of purification from this corruption. This is at least the view of the rank-and-file science deniers of woke progressive praxis—despite those obnoxious yard signs that say “In this house…we believe science.” Social media profile pictures extolling the virtues of masks and gene therapies should make things obvious enough.
Because it rests on a neo-idealism that is derivative of Hegelian thought, which sees history as the manifestation of ideas rather than than the other way around (as the materialists do), the arguments are circular. For example, “cisnormativity,” a construct depicting the natural fact that the vast majority of the human population intuitively recognizes the sexual dimorphism inherent (and obvious) in the species as an oppressive expression of gendered power, finds the source of that power in cisnormativity itself, as if males and females who identify as men and women—oppressors the both of them—managed at a point long before modern humans emerged as a species to conspire to construct an oppressive ideology just in case their offspring ever decided to question their gender. (I have more to say about this, but this blog is getting long. Stay tuned.)
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The theories that underpin DEI training are crackpot. They are so religious-like as to qualify as such. I spent some time with them here to give you an idea of the ideology that underpins the training many of you are forced to undergo. Children are being subjected to these ideas and the consequences are becoming apparent. Understanding what and why this is happening is key to understanding why DeSantis and a handful of other political visionaries are acting to stop it.
DEI training and other programs of indoctrination represents political and religious programming of the sort that is strictly prohibited by the First Amendment, these rights and liberties made available to all citizens via the Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments. This is the whole ball of wax: if these rights and liberties are negated we live in a totalitarian state in which the Party tells us was to think and say. The Orwellian nightmare world under construction is what Florida governor Ron DeSantis is trying to tear down. We need to help him. We need these laws in all of our states.