Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.
In her provocative 1988 Stanford Law Review article, “Desegregation as a Cold War Imperative,” Mary Dudziak, a law professor at Emory, documents the concern among US elites that Soviet propaganda was having far reaching effects, not only on the freedom’s struggle with world communism, but on capitalist interests in the Third World. These concerns translated into a deliberate elite strategy. Dudziak argues that anticommunist ideology was so pervasive that it set the terms of the debate on all sides of the civil rights issue. Leaning on Dudziak but going a beyond her work, I briefly note a few things about this history in this blog as background for my September 2019 blog entry “The Black Panthers: Black Radicalism and the New Left.” But, more broadly, I want to suggest here is that attempts to shape civil rights in a direction beneficial to global bourgeois interests, especially by progressive elites, played a role in radicalizing the black movement, producing in the end a situation that has undermined the proletarian struggle for genuine progress.
Cold War thinking as motivation for elites pushing civil rights was often explicit. The Truman Administration argued before the Supreme Court that recognizing the civil rights movement was vital to world peace and national security. In the aftermath of of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision by the Supreme Court that propelled the dismantling of apartheid, the Republican National Committee issued a statement claiming that the Court decision “falls appropriately within the Eisenhower Administration’s many-fronted attack on global Communism. Human equality at home is a weapon of freedom.” Following the decision, newspapers in the United States and, indeed, throughout the world celebrated Brown as a “blow to communism.”
There were other less explicit moments in the orchestration of desegregation. Elites were concerned that the civil rights movement could move too fast. Following Eisenhower, the Kennedy Administration took an active role in institutionalizing and, in effect, dampening the intensity of racial struggle. Hegemonic activity of the consensual sort Antonio Gramsci describes in his writings is evident in this process. For example, the Kennedy was successful in persuading the leaders of the 1963 march on Washington to eliminate from its speaker pool radicals critical of the United States political economic system. Several of the speakers were instructed to clean up their speeches and tone down their rhetoric.
Radical historian Howard Zinn contends that the government pursued compromise so they could subvert the movement from within, thus containing civil rights within parameters beneficial to capital. Zinn’s contention is somewhat cynical and incomplete, but it is nonetheless the case that these efforts helped drive radical elements of black struggle underground. However, it did not purge movement politics of them. Black radicals regrouped and retooled their thinking and their tactics. In response, the 1960s saw the shift in the black critique from attacking the legacy of segregation by appealing to the American Creed to a focus on the fundamental structure of political and economic power in what was conceptualized as a racist state capitalism. See “The Black Panthers: Black Radicalism and the New Left” for details.
But Cold War-inspired compromise was only part of the elite strategy. As Gramsci tells us, hegemony is not only maintained by engineering consent, but also through coercion. The Federal Bureau of Investigation launched a counterintelligence program, better known by its acronym COINTELPRO, comprised of five large-scale programs aimed at neutralizing what the agency perceived as threats to the internal security of the United States. The program was based on the counterinsurgency tactics the national security state (NSA and CIA) was using abroad. Documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and information made public during federal government oversight hearings conducted by United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, popularly known as the Church Committee, have revealed a particular interest in what the FBI called “Black Nationalist-Hate Groups.” Several groups fell under this label, but the Black Panthers preoccupied the COINTELPRO mind during the years between 1967 and 1971. FBI tactics included disseminating misinformation, deploying agent provocateurs, assisting local police in conducting raids on Panther headquarters, and framing members of the Black Panther Party for unsolved crimes. These actions, while ultimately successfully in crushing the Party, also resulted in the glorification of Black Power. As Medgar Evers put it, “You can kill a man, but you can’t kill an idea.”
The radicalization of the black movement deeply troubled elites. For one thing, it was beyond the limits they had set for racial justice, which was to be kept within the framework of the abolition of de jure segregation and individual discrimination. But particularly disturbing was the connection black radicals were making to imperialism’s victims in the Third World. In the globalization of radical black consciousness, revolutionary forces were developing a critique about the capitalist world system foreign to the traditions of the West, a critique that peddled the rhetoric of the colonial subject, the racialized subaltern. This not only threatened imperialist fortunes everywhere in the world (a good thing) but the legitimacy of the modern nation-state with its values in humanism, liberalism, rationalism, and secularism (a bad thing). As these values were the imperialistic values of “white supremacy,” they were in need of overthrowing, as well. Indeed, the cultural theory of the New Left lifted from Gramsci required subverting these values in order to advance the overthrow of western civilization.
Far from putting the legacy of racism behind it, elite machinations fed a dynamic of radicalization that would spawn a new era of racial antagonism. Radicalization occurred in the context of New Left perversions, which pushed civil rights—and politics generally—from its roots in American conceptions of freedom and democracy towards a wholesale rejection of Enlightenment values. More than Stokely Carmichael’ belittling characterization of Martin Luther King, Jr. as a “reformer who was good for the image of America,” the New Left eschewed the Old Left’s commitment to orthodox Marxian concepts and politics, and took up instead the anti-American standpoint of such prominent Second and Third World revolutionaries as Mao Zedong and Che Guevara. These developments mingled with the nihilistic turn in French philosophy to threaten civilization itself. Given its deeply illiberal character, it is not inaccurate to describe this as a post-civil right politics . It is this character that lies at the foundation of contemporary antiracism and critical race theory. Black Lives Matter is a disjunctive break from the civil rights of Martin Luther King, Jr. The New Left, however much it appeals to the dialectic, because of its obsession with race, is incapable of grasping the West as a contradiction in need of a full becoming—the establishment of democratic socialism in the context of the Enlightenment. Therefore, the critical turn in leftwing politics not only threatened bourgeois interests; it threatened proletarian interests, as well. If it was not clear in the moment, history has revealed Black Power was hardly a revolutionary politics, but a reactionary one.
To return to the premise of this blog to make its conclusion as clear as possible, and to add an additional and crucial point, the same Cold War imperatives that influenced the establishment to join with the civil rights movement and its leader to overcome the systemic racism that had long plagued the United States brought the Cold War home to the US and played a role in turning many black and white Americans against their own country and the West more generally. The great catastrophe in these developments is that they have only helped strengthen the transnational corporate power structure that stands over the world and against a working class made up of the majority of all races. Woke corporations and the technocratic elite have explicitly taken up the language of Black Power and wield it against the proletariat.
On the importance of cognitive liberty and the paralysis of cerebral hygiene. Big Tech and progressives want you to turn off your brain. But true empowerment comes from acquiring a scientific mind.
Here’s how childish anti-Trumpers are. Trump suggested the pandemic was the result of a lab leak (which is almost certain now), but because it was Trump who suggested it, progressives were primed to believe the establishment claim that COVID-19 originated in a wet market in China. Trump derangement syndrome dispossessed folks of their capacity to reason. Remember when Democrats said they wouldn’t take the vaccine if it came out under Trump? There are reasons not to take these vaccines, but Trump being president is not one of them. I cannot imagine making up my mind on the basis of things Trump said. How sad that would be.
Last week an argument appeared on my Facebook newsfeed. It concerned the things in our lives that might make us worry, things we feel powerless to do anything about. By putting those concerns in God’s hands, and following God’s word and direction, we have less to worry about, the person argued. Faith in God translates to contentment and happiness. Those messages that contradict God can be dismissed out of hand. Indeed, why even have to hear them or thinking about them? After all, they may be the work of the Great Deceiver. Faith-belief in scientism performs the same function for progressives that faith-belief performs in the lives of the religious.
There are concerns in a progressive’s life that he feels powerless to change. COVID-19, for example, is a very scary thing—especially when you don’t or can’t understand it. By putting COVID-19 concerns in the hands of the CDC and the FDA, by following their word and direction about what to believe and what to do, and what not to believe and what not to do, the progressives has less to worry about. Messages that contradict the CDC and FDA can then be dismissed out of hand. Big Tech is to be thanked for limiting the proliferation of false preachments on the Internet, for protecting the innocent from the tricks of the evildoers. Trump is the Great Deceiver. Whatever he says alerts the progressives to the location of the truth, because the truth must lie in the opposite direction.
The regulatory agencies, legacy and social media, the culture industry—these represent something like a network of religious institutions. They tell the progressive what the truth is and pt him on the good and righteous path. They are also busy keeping track of the evildoers and keeping them at the margin of the good and righteous society by fact-checking their lies.
Long ago, the American pragmatist William James differentiated between the “once born” and the “twice born.” He described the once born as having a childlike faith in their opinions. Not just faith in the religious sphere. Adherence to any worldview without reason. We must add to this class those apologists who use their intellect to keep themselves from doubting. Once born practice is, in essence, thinking out of reflex or an act of rationalization. Once born persons enjoy a simple, uncomplicated worldview, one that does not cause them much anxiety. Indeed, their certainty in the convictions cushions the pains of the actual world—a world of uncertainty.
The twice born, on the other hand, may believe exactly what they would have believed had they not been born again, but they do so only after rationally examining their convictions, finding rational justification for them, and obtaining a fuller understanding of them. At the same time, the critical examination of belief causes them to give up many of their convictions, and this can be a great source of angst and anxiety. Twice born people are more likely to be unhappy and dissatisfied. They have to live with ambiguity. But they are also less likely to be zealots and bigots.
The twice born allows himself to consider the possibility that COVID-19 was the result of gain-of-function research that leaked from a lab. It’s the mark of the once born mentality to uncritically accept the claim from authority that COVID-19 occurred in nature. The twice born reads the research showing that hydroxychloroquine, Ivermectin, and other interventions are effective in preventing and treating COVID-19. The once born rejects that research out of hand because the authorities told him to. He does what others tell him to do. He doesn’t think for himself.
I could continue with many other examples, but I trust you get the point. Look, I understand the need to not worry. Worry is a terrible thing. I don’t accept the desire to fill that need by practicing the cerebral hygiene of faith-based thinking. You know what is truly empowering? The scientific mind.
Teacher Caleb Wells’ TikTok video has become unavailable. Wells had said in that video that it is racist to oppose critical race theory in the classroom. “When you don’t want to teach about how these systems were designed to oppress people,” he said, “you’re taking the side of the oppressor and being racist.”
Nonsense. To the extent that the system is designed to oppress people, it’s not designed to oppress black people; it’s designed to oppress working class people. Even when there were systems designed to manage populations on the basis of race in a manner that relatively privileged whites—e.g. Jim Crow, which was dismantled more than fifty years ago—those systems were so designed to maintain class power by dividing the proletariat.
One of Wells’ example was the prison-industrial complex. He claimed that mass incarceration is “used to oppress people groups.” Since this was said in the context of a rant about racism, he means black people. As I have explained on Freedom and Reason, more than half of all homicides and robberies, and a third of aggravated assaults and burglaries, are committed by black males. Taking all violent crimes combined, around 36-38 percent of it is committed by black males. Blacks males are only around six percent of the US population. So when we look at prisons, which exist to control crime by removing dangerous offenders from our streets (which mostly benefits working class people, and especially black and brown working class people), and we see that 36-38 percent of the population there is black male, we shouldn’t see a system designed to racially oppress black.
Moreover, looking at the matter historically, it is simply not true that prisons were created to oppress black people. Prisons largely developed outside of the US South and were used to control the white lumpenproletariat. Prisons were a northern phenomenon. Prisons came to the South well after the end of slavery (which this racist country is now celebrating as a national holiday—that’s right, Juneteenth has become official recognized) and became disproportionately black when blacks became overrepresented in serious crime and violence. (see The Line from Slave Patrols to Modern Policing and Other Myths.)
Wells’ other example was the military-industrial complex. This is a truly absurd example. The military apparatus is among the most racially-integrated systems in world history. The hierarchy in operation in the military is achieved rank. A black officer outranks those below him by the same degree as a white officer of the same rank.
I am sure these facts were not what caused Caleb Wells to take down his video.
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Are white progressives racist? After all, they do admit they are. Have you heard them? But there’s an angle. Robin DiAngelo confesses her racism and then soothes her guilt by arguing that all white people are racist like her. When another white person says, “No, Robin, I’m not,” she accuses them of “white fragility” (apparently she coined that term), which becomes proof that they are, like DiAngelo, really racist.
Do people not see the psychology at work here? White progressives suspect that black people are not up to the task of life and so they blame whites for the situation of blacks. Progressives cannot bring themselves to ask why, if Asians and Latinos have overcome historic oppression and disadvantage to become successful minority groups in America, blacks as a group still struggle?
One reason they cannot ask this is because they have a suspicion that this situation may be because of progressive social policies—the ones they used to dress themselves as saviors—that idled the black proletariat, generated urban crime and other pathologies, and disintegrated the black family. The correlation of progressive politics and bad outcomes for black people is rather noticeable (see Progressives, Poverty, and Police: The Left Blames the Wrong Actors). Another reason is that critiquing the subculture associated with impoverished black-majority areas has been used to attack conservatives who ask frank questions about it. Progressives can’t take up that line. Instead, they embrace degrading and destructive elements of subculture, pushing these out as popular culture.
To sooth their guilt over viewing blacks as inferior and over their role in (re)producing the conditions in which black suffer, progressives look at other white people and say, “All of you are racist.” No, sorry, we’re not. You’re going to have to handle this one on your own.
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When you and I look at the world and see few white supremacists in it, the antiracist can’t scold us for not seeing the forest for the trees. There are few trees. But he doesn’t let that stop him. This is because he works as the supernaturalists do, where a different style of truth prevails, the truth-style of positing forces that operate behind the seen/scene. In the antiracist worldview, as Brother Eduardo Bonilla-Silva tells us, racism can and does exist without racists. Racism is in the system. It is the system.
The language of “systemic racism” allows the antiracists to grow a forest without trees. No wonder we can’t see it. We are looking for trees! Just as the antiracist forest does not require trees, the system of white supremacy needs no human agency to oppress. White supremacy works like the devil and his demons, making bad things happen in the world. This is supernatural agency.
Of course, for the sophisticated, demons are merely personifications of evil. So how do we see the evil? We need a specialized language. We need doctrine and scripture. We need a testament. We need clerics and institutions in which the clerics may preach and indoctrinate. We need missionaries to take to the streets and bring people to the faith. We need a rhetoric to shame and scold the infidel and punish the apostate. We need to stifle and marginalize the heretic.
Rigid religion works this way: Either you are a believer (antiracist) or a disbeliever and therefore an enemy of the righteous (racist). Nobody is allowed to stand outside doctrine. As Brother Ibram X Kendi tells us, there is no such thing as a non-racist. Those who say otherwise are one with the deceiver.
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We are told by Liz Wheeler in Newsweek that “Critical race theory is repacked Marxism.” Wrong. It’s Hegelian, not Marxist. If it were Marxist it would be about class and capitalism. If it were really Marxist, it would not be promoted and funded by corporations. No authentic Marxist struggle would reject scientific truth or put racism central to its politics.
Critical theory types are calling this Marxism (or neo-Marxism) to trick the left into advancing the corporate takeover of society. Republicans are calling this Marxism because (a) they don’t understand what Marxism actually looks like or (b) they know that the truth—that CRT is the manifestation of transnational corporate power—is too destabilizing to capitalism. They cannot thread that needle. It’s too late for that. What everybody needs to recognize is that democratic-republicanism and the modern nation-state and the interstate system are being dismantled and replaced by global corporate government.
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There’s is massive difference between teaching history honestly (which includes accomplishment and progress) and telling white children they’re racially privileged and black children they’re all victims of racism and that their white classmates are the perpetrators. It’s the difference between social studies and propaganda, between education and indoctrination, between seeking truth and spreading mythology for political-ideological purposes. Progressive educators know what they’re doing. Stop doing it and stop lying about it. (See Awakening to the Problem of the Awokening: Unreasonableness and Quasi-religious Standards.)
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The corporate media line in response to evidence that the FBI had infiltrated groups associated with the January 6 riots is to charge investigative journalists at National Pulse, Revolver News, and other outlets with “conspiracism.” But if you know the history of the FBI, it would be far more unusual if the FBI had not infiltrated these groups.
Indeed, if you know the FBI’s history, it’s not far-fetched to consider whether there was a covert operation at the Capitol that day. For sure the riot ensured a Biden victory and pushed the reckoning over election fraud and irregularities into the future where correcting the error becomes ever more unlikely.
A false flag only sounds far fetched if you are ignorant of the long history of FBI operations against working class Americans, for example, COINTELPRO, or of the findings of the Church Committee Hearings. You should get up to speed on the depths and lengths to which the FBI will go to shape outcomes favorable to the power elite.
You should also invest some time in developing the critical cognitive capacity necessary to analyze the character of the power elite at a given point of time. As the power elite change, so do the targets and tactics of the FBI. The NSA and the CIA are are also part of the permanent administrative apparatus.
There really is a deep state, Virginia. Patriots are not the greatest threat to the internal security of the United States. Patriots are the greatest threat to transnational corporate power.
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In light of Glenn Greenwald’s recent tweet, I can’t go without pointing out that I called out progressives on June 22, 2016 for their reluctance to name the evil behind the Pulse nightclub shooting. I wrote then, “Please tell me about the time a Christian man walked into a gay bar in the United States and killed 49 people while shouting ‘God is great!’”?
The race hustlers are very clever in the way they abuse sociological categories in order to deceive the public with statistics.
For example, in statistics on the intersection of race and poverty, you will be given rates among demographics that show a larger number for blacks than whites. What this conceals is that there are nearly 18 million poor whites in the United States compared to around 9 million poor blacks. That means that there are roughly twice as many poor whites than there are poor blacks in America.
You didn’t have that impression, though, did you? The way the numbers are presented disappear poor whites. In doing so, it hides class effects behind racial categories. Don’t think there is a strategy there?
Poor white, Paintsville, Kentucky
There is another deception happening in these statistics. When you see tables of the intersection of race and poverty, say by the Kaiser Family Foundation (which I am using here, but I could use any batch), the tables mix race and ethnicity. They list “white,” “black,” and “Hispanic.” But Hispanic isn’t a race. It’s an ethnicity. Most Hispanics are white. In fact, more than 65 percent of Hispanics are white (why are they reracializing whites?).
So in calculating the number of poor whites you have to add 38-plus million Hispanics, a massive number of individuals Kaiser excludes from “white” column. When you add them back in, you find that now nearly 30 million whites are poor. Even if you assume the remaining Hispanics are racially black, that means there are roughly three times more poor white people than poor blacks.
Poor white, Nelson, Ohio
What’s this bullshit about “white privilege”? Do you see how they are dividing us? The reality is that poverty is the result of economic inequality and that is mostly a class issue. If we eliminated poverty for everybody, guess what happens? There are no more poor blacks. But you aren’t supposed to think about that. You’re supposed to get mad at me for “denying black poverty” (which I obviously haven’t done).
These diversity, equity, and inclusivity seminars, tasks forces, workshops—have you noticed they are about everything except social class? Critical race theory and all the other critical theories they’re laying on the children in our schools—are they teaching the kids about class and corporate power? Brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, don’t let them do you like this!
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Bonus lie from the powers-that-be: Remember when NPR reported on June 1, 2020, “Peaceful Protesters Tear-Gassed To Clear Way For Trump Church Photo-Op”? Trump was accused of brutalizing protestors in Lafayette Park for a photo op at a Saint John’s Church. That’s the church BLM protestors burned the night before. Turns out, Trump had nothing to do with it.
The Park Police cleared the park hours earlier in order to erect unscalable fencing in order to protect buildings from Antifa and BLM rioters who were on a rampage burning cars and structures and assaulting police officers. The media not only lied about the situation, but they came on talking about how Trump used teargas to soothe his bruised ego after cowering in the White House underground bunker during a night of “peaceful protests.” Funny way of spinning the fact that the President and his family had to be rushed to a bunker because BLM protestors had surrounded the White House and were threatening to break in and assume power. If only we had a name for that sort of thing…
Demonstrators, Sunday, May 31, 2020, near the White House in Washington
The Inspector General report is out about this and, predictably, it finds this: “The evidence we reviewed showed that the USPP cleared the park to allow a contractor to safely install antiscale fencing in response to destruction of Federal property and injury to officers that occurred on May 30 and May 31. Moreover, the evidence established that relevant USPP officials had made those decisions and had begun implementing the operational plan several hours before they knew of a potential Presidential visit to the park, which occurred later that day.”
What is NPR (and CNN) doing now that the lie has been exposed? They’re lying more, of course, saying the report doesn’t clear the President. But it does. Read it for yourself. Corporate media is telling you that what you see and hear and read is not really what you see and hear and read. They will tell you what to think. Brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, don’t let them do you like this!
In this blog, for the sake of analysis, I violate my policy of avoiding language that medicalizes attitudes and conduct. The attitudes and conduct I see today look a lot like what psychiatrists call borderline personality disorder (BPD), also known as emotionally unstable personality disorder (EUPD), as well as several other disorders that fall into the Cluster B type detailed in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association (APA). I am not the first person to sense this (Joshua Slocum makes the case that we’re living in a Cluster B world in his controversial series of podcasts Disaffected) and I have long avoided giving in to that part of my mind that has long made this association. But it’s becoming an unavoidable conclusion. At least it is a useful heuristic.
As a life-long atheist, I’m particular sensitive to belief systems that operate like religions. Having grown up in a religious community (Church of Christ), I am also sensitive to how peers can pressure a nonbeliever into accepting or at least keeping to himself the doubts he has about doctrine. At the the same time, there are many religious folks who tolerate the disbelievers in their midst. I appreciate these people very much. They share with me the desire for a free and open society. Except for the religion faith piece, we have more in common, I think, than they do with the zealots in their ranks. Just because a person is religious doesn’t necessarily mean that he is irrational.
Maybe that’s wishful thinking. But I do have lots of examples in my life (my father is one of them). Whatever their disposition, as a civil libertarian, I have always defended the right to religious belief. The problem with religion comes in when it is forced upon others, when others are required to accept the tenets of the faith. This may occur when the government intrudes into the realm of conscience to compel disbelievers to believe or believers to disbelieve. The government should be neutral on matters of religion. Leave me to my beliefs (and disbeliefs). The government should moreover prevent corporations from discriminating against people on the basis of religious faith or irreligious belief. Leave people to their beliefs (and disbeliefs). And, of course, the government should protect those who wish to leave or remain apart from a religion. Religious faith must never be compelled if a society is to be free and open. The imposition of faith-belief is not as bad here in America as it is elsewhere in the world. But it’s bad enough. The government should do more to defend religious liberty.
However, today’s society is marked by secular faith-beliefs that strongly resemble and function like religious faith-beliefs and the government is not only not protecting the people from it but has become the instrument of the zealots—or, more precisely, the instrument of power that finds the zealots useful. There are interesting sociological reasons for popular support for religious-like faith that I may discuss in greater detail in a blog at some point (see A Fact-Proof Screen: Black Lives Matter and Hoffer’s True Believer for a past analysis). If will suffice here to suggest that quasi-religion may substitute for religion in a secular culture. In today’s blog, I explore the psychological reasons for support for quasi-religion in the present circumstances.
An example of a quasi-religion is critical race theory, a faith-based doctrine that supposes abstract and transcendent relations that burden with blood guilt and original sin a race that represents a physical manifestation of evil marked by a collective will to commit racist acts of commission and omissions. CRT literally describes an alleged white institutional culture as constituting a “perpetrator’s perspective,” while portraying all blacks as the victims of it. With this doctrine in back of them, CRT activists demand from whites confession of and eternal atonement for their guilty, evil sin. (I have written extensively on this subject. See, for example, The Metaphysics of the Antiracist Inquisition.)
It would be one thing if critical race theorists shared and affirmed their doctrine in their places of worship or among fellow congregants. As with those who express religious faith, I respect their right to do so. The problem is when the government and government-like entities, such as corporations, make policy using a quasi-religious doctrine and demand citizens and consumers take it up or attempt to persuade them to do so. One sees this in the requirement of employees to attend struggle sessions wrapped in the language of “diversity, equity, and inclusivity” (see “The Origins and Purpose of Racial Diversity Training Programs. It’s Not What you Think”). As I said, leave people to their beliefs (and disbeliefs). But leave me out of it. No government or corporation should take up a cause like critical race theory and foist it up the public, teach it to children, and so. This act violates our rights of free speech and association. It is not the place of government or corporations to tell citizens and employees what to think. Government exists to protect the rights of individuals, and the right central to a free and open society is cognitive liberty. Compelled speech is a violation of cognitive liberty.
We see the government pushing other doctrines that should also be left to the people to take up if they wish but be free from if they do not subscribe to that doctrine. I wrote about this yesterday in the essay “The New Left Practice of Eschewing Anthropological Truths.” I explained there that, as a libertarian, I defend the right of an individual deciding for her or himself what gender identity he or she wishes to express or, if preferable, to identify with no gender at all. In a free society, men and boys and women and girls are free to identity as the opposite gender or neither, none, or all genders. I have no business telling people how to identify gender-wise any more than its my business to tell them which gods to worship. Moreover, consenting adults are free to alter their bodies to appear as the opposite sex or no sex at all. I do not wish to modify my body, but I do not wish for a government that would prevent me from doing so (except perhaps in those cases where modifications are destructive or disabling). Freedom of appearance and expression comprise an ethic, the ethic of inalienable rights. Part of that ethic is the right of free speech, which includes freedom from consequences in conjunction with utterances or silence (if there is a cost to something, it is not free). Yet, as I discussed in yesterday’s blog (and in other blogs), we are seeing in the West the emergence of law and policy punishing individuals for expressing opinions about gender—and for failing to express the “correct” opinion.
Nearly two years ago, Inside Higher Education published an article titled “The Trans Divide.” In the article, a former graduate student and a trans woman, in an open letter on Medium, claims to have been adversely impacted by the opinions of trans-exclusionary radical feminists (sometimes referred to as gender-critical feminists), in her environment. “I am writing this letter because I want people to know that there are real, concrete, macro-level consequences to allowing hate speech to proliferate in philosophy under the guise of academic discussion,” she writes. “In sharing my pain and anger at being forced out of a career that I once loved, I hope to stir some of you to greater action.”
Was this individual being harassed? If so, then this is a case of discrimination and should have been addressed by the institution. Assuming that hurtful comments or questions about being trans aren’t tolerated in other work environments, the complaint was instead that this is not true in academe. “I do not feel safe or comfortable in professional settings any longer,” the student writes. “How can I be expected to attend professional events where people deny and question such an integral part of my identity and act like that is tolerable or normal?” My gender “is not up for debate,” the student writes. “I am a woman. Any trans discourse that does not proceed from this initial assumption—that trans people are the gender that they say they are—is oppressive, regressive and harmful.”
What is the “greater action” that the student hopes to stir? How could it not be to stifle academic freedom and require colleges and universities to affirm the student’s gender theory over against any others that call her theory into question lest they be engaging in oppressing and harming her? Why does this student get to choose which theory is correct and compel everybody else to accede to it? How is this not an expression of authoritarian desire? This person doesn’t seek to persuade people to agree. This person seeks to compel people to agree. What makes it particularly vile is that the rant is couched in the language of victimhood. Playing the victim, the person who desires to control the thoughts and expressions of others skirts the mantle of tyrant. The oppressor becomes the oppressed.
Those who know me know well know that I have been committed to the ethic of inalienable rights all of my life. One will find no case of me arguing against a person’s right to free, personal, and voluntary expressions. Indeed, I have lived a life of personal expression that has frequently run afoul of the social controllers. For much of my life I wore my hair down to my waist and dressed androgynously. I appeared in public in makeup and in ensembles that included stereotypically women’s clothes. I had no problem gender-bending then and I have no problem with it now. I have sharply criticized the prudes who believe in modesty in art, dress, film, literature, and music. My tastes run towards the provocative—David Bowie and Rocky Horror Picture Show.
What is so troubling about the present cultural and political climate, however, is that my ethic of the right of people to freely express themselves and a biography of defending free expression and indulging in offensive art and speech is not for a growing number of people good enough. The demand is building for liberals like me to operate in bad faith by repeating the formulas and slogans of particular faith-based beliefs. That open letter in Medium represents such a demand and its rhetoric is familiar. The ensuing two years have not seen the impulse diminish but grow. Against our wishes, to be acceptable persons, to avoid cancellation, we are supposed to take up the doctrine in question and repeat it uncritically. We are not allowed to be agnostic or silent on matters. Silence is violence.
If I publicly state my political loyalties, I risk being asked why I left this or that item out of the articles of faith. More than once I have been publicly “invited” to finish checking the boxes. I have been chastised in anonymous letters to my residence and comments from anonymous social media accounts for having fallen away from the faith (those letters and comments are often deranged). If I am to avoid apostasy, I am instructed, I must return to the fold (as if I were ever so comfortably ensconced), reaffirm the abstract and transcendent notions, and retake my place as an ally. I have no doubt that, if and when a group who expects this of me can compel it, they will not hesitate. Until then, they will berate, ostracize, and shame me, often in some sideways passive-aggressive manner. The hypocrisy is deep and relentless and, I am beginning to believe, the mark of a personality disorder (s). I know that it is, in the present moment, almost exclusively a leftwing phenomenon. (Ever wonder why the left devotes so much time and energy portraying conservatives as backwards and irrational?)
In his landmark Escape from Freedom, Erich Fromm identifies an authoritarian personality. “We usually see a clear difference between the individual who wants to rule, control, or restrain others and the individual who tends to submit, obey, or to be humiliated,” he begins. “As natural as the difference between the ruling and the ruled might—in many ways—be, we also have to admit that these two types, or as we can also say, these two forms of authoritarian personality are actually tightly bound together.” Thus, Fromm identifies this personality type as a paired set. “What they have in common, what defines the essence of the authoritarian personality is an inability: the inability to rely on one’s self, to be independent, to put it in other words: to endure freedom.” That the authoritarian pair may present without a specific leader does not change the underlying dynamic of the authoritarian personality. Not all cults have a central figure. Movement ideas organized around the desire to rule, control, and restrain others serve the function of the personal leader.
For the authoritarian personality, liberalism is evil because it protects the right of people to choose not to accept or affirm the doctrine of other persons, to not be ruled, controlled, or restrained by others beliefs in which he has no interest or finds false or repellant for whatever reason (he doesn’t have to explain himself). The refusal to not take up a doctrine is portrayed as an act of aggression by authoritarians, but it is no so. There is a deep insecurity expressed in this attitude. The insecurity flows from an inability to endure freedom, to be independent and self-reliant.
Earlier, when I noted those religious people who tolerate my disbelief, I was referring to those who, secure in their convictions, do not need me to affirm their beliefs. They’re already convinced of the veracity of the doctrine they have accepted or, if they have doubts, they rely upon their own intellect to work through those, work that requires the freedom and openness of a liberal society. The person I am concerned with here, who I will, following Eric Hoffer, label “true believer,” is different. The true believer needs others to affirm his doctrine because, deep down, he is not all that sure of it himself or of his capacity to work it out for himself. As Hoffer pointed out in True Believer, it is not the righteousness of the belief that makes the true believer eager to aggressively intervene in the lives of others so much as it is the righteousness of the personality, the desire not only to appear to intensely believe in something but to demand others also intensely believe in this thing. They seek commitment from the reluctant and the unwilling. This is why the true believer can be as zealous in one doctrine as he is in another. The desire is not peace of mind, but a piece of somebody else’s.
I never wanted to go here, as I find the medicalization and psychiatrization of attitudes and conduct problematic, but the attitude I see a lot these days looks a lot like what psychiatrists call borderline personality disorder (BPD), also known as emotionally unstable personality disorder (EUPD), and I am compelled by honesty to note it. The DSM checklist in any case usefully describes the type of personality I am seeing all around me. I will pursue it as a heuristic.
The BPD affected person has a distorted sense of self, overwrought emotional responses, and a strong desire to manipulate and control others. He is prone to harming himself and engaging in other dangerous and destructive behaviors (destructiveness is a feature of Fromm’s authoritarian personality). Characteristics of a true believer mentality is a detachment from reality that prepares him to readily adopt idea systems that conjure through formulas and slogans illusions and hyperrealities that his worldview privileges him to see and deconstruct. And if only you could. If only you would. This is why religious-like belief is so appealing to this type. Feeding his need for the fantastic is fear of abandonment and feelings of dread and emptiness. BPD types are easily triggered, finding normal things offensive and demanding others take note of them and their definitions and reorganize their world around them (hence the bizarre construction “microaggression”).
This disorder begins in early adulthood, so perhaps it is no coincidence that we see it in the present circumstances where youth culture has become so obnoxious and overbearing. FoxNews carried a story yesterday of a survivor of Mao’s Cultural Revolution objecting at a school board meeting (as many are now doing) to the teaching of critical race theory. She had seen all this before. Xi Van Fleet told the board that the Cultural Revolution began when she was six years old and “pitted students against one another and their teachers.” Mao gave the youth formulas and slogans, a vocabulary that revealed evil in need of purging. Fleet sees this happening in the United States and it compels her to sound the alarm. Check out the history of Mao’s cultural revolution and you will see what she sees. The Chinese refer to as the “lost decade.” (See Mao Zedong Thought and the New Left Corruption of Emancipatory Politics.)
Critical race theory and other critical theory and postmodernist teachings are designed to convince a person that everything he knows to be true is really false, that good is really bad, the right is really wrong, all in order to bring him under the control of a project. What is this project? To be sure, strategies differ here and there (Wolin’s inverted totalitarianism appears differently than its more explicit cousins), but the project goal is essentially no different in western-style state corporatism than under the bureaucratic collectivism of the People’s Republic of China or the national socialism of the Nazi Party: an obedient society that sustains the power and privilege of those who stand apart from it by transforming societal relations fundamentally. One can’t go too long without seeing or hearing a demand that a teacher affirm this or that woke formula or slogan that has been taken up by his student for the sake of social justice. So it was in China’s lost decade.
Although the youthful energies we see converging in the current Maoist Cultural Revolution are unlikely to be the phenomenon of birds of a feather flocking together (“They all can’t have this diagnosis, can they?” I ask myself), the cultural force that is driving the zealotry of contemporary true believer syndrome functions like a mass BPD event. Throw in some of the other Cluster B types and you get a more complete picture. Histrionic personality disorder (HPD), characterized by excessive attention-seeking behaviors, usually beginning in early childhood, marked by an excessive desire for approval—that’s in there. Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), seen in an inflated sense of self importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, and a lack of empathy for others—that’s in there. The antisocial personality disorder (APD) that lies behind the acts of physically assaulting people and ruining careers over words—that’s in there, too.
How did this mess become a social movement? Social media platforms are gathering places for Cluster B types, where technology gathers and concentrates personalities across great distances and gives them permission to act out. Political-ideology points them in a direction. The so-called “Resistance” triggered by the election of Donald Trump—remember that? Have you seen the videos of people crumpling, wailing and prostrate on the ground in hysterical displays of emotional trauma? Be honest: what do you see there? They weren’t offered therapy for their disorder(s) in their colleges and universities. They were provided counseling for their grief. Faculty were asked to be understanding. They may not be in class today. Give them time. Antifa and Black Lives Matter run amuck over imagined—exaggerated, at best—racist police violence, assaulting and even killing people, defacing monuments and statues, burning down churches and police stations, and invading restaurants and demanding diners to swear fealty to the cult. The panic over COVID-19 and virtue signaling over masks and vaccines. It’s a Cluster B fuck.
In life at the borderline, it’s not good enough to be a tolerant person who defends the rights of people to speak openly and expresses themselves freely. One must to adopt a doctrine. There is no nuance. Your standpoint is beside the point. The principle: You are free to repeat after me. A lot of people who confide in me admit to going along with the mob because they’re terrified by the possibility of being shamed or cancelled. They are appreciative when they learn they may speak freely around me—in those moments away from the world of electronic surveillance. I don’t encourage them to be brave and speak out because I hear the fear in the hushed tones that carry their words and sentiments. The fear is so contagious that the back of my mind sometimes wonders whether theses conversations may actually be covert debriefings aimed at gleaning positions to fortify persecution. (I hope my blog would circumvent such subterfuge. Want to know what I think? Read Freedom and Reason.) Over time, some of those who express trepidation at the coming revolution talk themselves into believing the doctrine and embracing the change in order to negotiate the internal shame of ceding cognitive liberty and conscience to the mob. Many did this before ever expressing trepidation. I get it. Mobs are scary. Human instinct raises the alarm. Tragically, that same instinct often manifests as paralysis. It makes prey of people—in a world where the abusers and gaslighters are portrayed as “victims.”
What is particularly scary about life at the borderline is how state and corporate power have enabled it and legitimize its doctrine of wokeness in our cultural institutions, including academe. “I’ve been very alarmed by what’s going on in our schools,” Van Fleet told the Loudoun County School Board members. “You are now teaching, training our children to be social justice warriors.” Van Fleet is not rescuing her child from the compound of a cult. That’s public school! That the state is training children to be social justice warriors clues us into what it’s all for. This is not the spirit of a democratic republic government working by the rule of liberal and secular law. If anything political-ideological is to be properly reinforced there it is citizenship and civic responsibility (the balance should be art, English, history, math, music, and science). No, this is the technocratic work of state bureaucratic corporatism. This is a totalitarian moment. They are trying to get our children. From the looks of it, they already have.
I want to close with a note about gaslighting. Gaslighting is not just somebody in your life who is close to you or important to you or in charge of some aspect of your life lying to you or withholding information from you or telling you that you are crazy or bad. Gaslighting is the act of orchestrating a situation that causes a person to doubt what he has known to be true and, more importantly, what he knows everybody else has known to be true for millennia. Gaslighting is a project to destabilize a man’s sense of reality—to disrupt common sense and ordinary truths. It is a stealth form of bullying.
If you suddenly feel like you have been wrong about everything or the most important things in such a way that you are doubting your sanity or your intellect, take a close look at those around you. You may find toxic people there. If you are told that your growth and development, your abandonment of lunatic notions, your “red pill” moment suggests something about your sanity or your intellect, take a close look at those around you. Why are they repeating nonsensical and suspect things while trying to pass them off as great insights or discoveries? Why are they presuming to know obscure “truths” that you don’t or can’t in your ignorant state of being? What makes them so profound that they can suddenly know that what you have always known to be true is not really true after all? Why did it take a new way of talking about the world to make their world appear actual and real? Ask yourself that. Are you in a cult and don’t know it? It’s worth taking some time to find out.
I want to preface my critique by reassuring readers that, as a libertarian, I defend the right of an individual deciding for her or himself what gender identity he or she wishes to express or, if preferable, to identify with no gender at all. Gender, while rooted in sex, is also a psychosocial phenomenon that is manifestly variable across time and space. Nothing I say in this essay should be construed as the projection of a desire that men or boys and women or girls be prevented from identifying as the opposite gender (transgender) or consenting adults prevented from altering their bodies to appear as the opposite sex (transsexual). Freedom of appearance and expression are in my system of ethics inalienable rights. My critique concerns language and politics.
The Biden regime’s 2022 fiscal year budget is out and the policy document replaces the word “mothers” with “birthing people” in a section that, while admitting “[t]he United States “has the highest maternal mortality rate among developed nations, with an unacceptably high mortality rate for Black, American Indian/Alaska Native, and other women of color,” has been interpreted by many as erasing mothers by listing a range of measures designed to “help end this high rate of maternal mortality and race-based disparities in outcomes among birthing people.”
The term “birthing people” is newspeak from the realm of trans-rights activism. The rationale from this camp for changing words in this way is about making language less rigid in terms of gender and more inclusive of those who claim to exist on the side of the gender binary opposite of their sex or lie entirely beyond the gender binary. One hears alongside “birthing people” such constructs as “chest-feeding” instead of “breastfeeding” and “people who menstruate” to refer to women. (Ancient warriors wore breastplates, for the record.)
Biden’s budget has become another moment in what is typically referred to as the “culture war,” a struggle mostly blamed on the intolerance of conservatives towards human diversity. A story in the Indian Express, “Explained: History of, and row around, US budget using ‘birthing people’ instead of ‘mothers’,” accuses conservatives of using the “‘woke bogey’ to derail important, long overdue conversations.” It singles out Rowling (who is not a conservative) for having been offended by the constructs of “menstruating people” and “menstruators” replacing “menstruating women.” However, “menstruating women” would be a redundant construction, which was the point of Rowling’s objection to a story about “people who menstruate.” Poor reporting here.
Why would we need to say “birthing people”? Because it is not just women who give birth, according to the Indian Express. “Transmen—a person assigned the female gender at birth but who identifies as a man—and genderqueer people—who identify as neither man nor women—also give birth.” Newspeak is confusing to many people. The construct “female” refers to a biological truth. A person may, very rarely, be mistakenly assigned female at birth if there are congenital anomalies. There is a conditions, congenital adrenal hyperplasia, where excessive androgen production (male steroid hormone) produces ambiguous or masculinized genitalia and alters brain circuitry so that a genetic female will behave in a more traditionally masculine manner. Androgen insensitivity syndrome, another rare condition, can lead to a genotypic male having the external genitalia of a female. In the Dominican Republic, there are boys known as “Guevedoces” who appear as girls at birth but become boys at the onset of puberty (see “The extraordinary case of the Guevedoces”). However, a female may wish to reject her gender or sex assignment and identify as a boy or a man as defined by the gender binary (Buck Angel, a transsexual, speaks about the various issues surrounding all of this) or identify as a person beyond the gender binary.
The Indian Express notes the case of Freddy McConnell, a writer for The Guardian, who gave birth in the UK in 2018 while identifying as a man. McConnell opted against a hysterectomy because he was interested in having a baby. McConnell lost a legal battle to be officially recognized as the father of his baby. English common law requires those who give birth to be identified as the mother on the child’s birth certificate, a decision upheld at the Court of Appeal in April 2020. The Indian Express reports that “[p]eople argue that since the language of pre- and post-natal care is entirely built around a female mother, it erases such parents.” (The paper assumes language that suggests the possibility of a “male mother.” Other constructs may be imagined, but for any of them one must change the way one talks and thinks about things. Healthline’s article “Can Men Get Pregnant?” is illustrative.) Moreover, the paper notes, a surrogate may give birth to a child but not be the mother of that child. If there is no genetic relation between the woman and the child, I have been told by one person that the surrogate is not a mother at all. She is a “birthing person.” But why not just say surrogate?
The birthing person could be used in the future to incubate embryos created in the lab using a technique where the DNA of a man would be substituted for the DNA inside the woman’s egg. The sperm from the other man would be used to fertilize thst egg and a surrogate would carry the child to term. This is how it was reported by ABCNews in 2006: “The technique, which scientists agree still lies far in the future, would use the egg of a woman. Genetic material inside the woman’s egg would be removed and replaced by the DNA of one of the men. That ‘male egg’ would then be fertilized by the sperm of the other man and a surrogate mother would carry the child to term.” Newspeak would demand an updating of the language used by ABCNews. Indeed, changing language means that the hoops scientists would have to jump through to make this possible would be needlessly pursued, since the egg of a transman, who is by definition a man, could be used instead of an egg from a woman. And, if like in McConnell’s case, the uterus is retained, there is no need for a surrogate.
Working with standard and common sense definitions, a mother is a woman in relation to her child or children. To clarify, a woman is an adult female human being. Traditionally, society has distinguished between birth mothers and adoptive mothers. Women who have given up their child for adoption are still mothers. The birthing was not an imagined event. If the report wanted to be inclusive and express acceptance that there are women who carry babies who don’t identify as mothers (some surrogates and other women who do not identify as such), then the report could have been more inclusive by writing “birthing mothers or persons.” (The construct “birthing females” was suggested to me in a conversation but quickly withdrawn as soon the redundancy was obvious.) As it is, the report is so deliberately politically correct that it concerns maternal mortality rates while, in Orwellian euphemism, eschewed the facts of life. After all, “maternal” refers to mothers, especially during pregnancy or shortly after childbirth. Doesn’t the report therefore need new language for everything related to persons formerly known as mothers and women—while continuing to include mothers in the language? You know, to be inclusive?
This is such a half-assed attempt at newspeak that it’s embarrassing. But this is my government attempting to change the way citizens speak about basic and everyday truths. The implications of such an Orwellian practice are wide ranging if society is to take it seriously. Consider the practice of determining relations by reckoning matrilineal lines of descent, i.e., kinship with a mother. Is this basic anthropological truth to be rendered nonsensical for the sake of a political agenda?
I want to close by make sure readers know that I do recognize the role that surrogates play in allowing parents to have children and that one may not wish to describe that role as “mother.” I can understand why one would distance himself from such a profound emotional relation as that between mother and child by using technical language. Humans rationalize actions in all sorts of ways. The medicalization of social reality in words and practice is carried in the logic of corporate bureaucratic and technocratic relations. As we know, while language reflects reality, it also shapes perception of reality. As Orwell warned us, those who wish to change mass perception of reality are particularly interested in this function of language. Degendering language is colonizing the lifeworld in the same way that racialization is, pushed by corporate state power.
I try to not to be offended by the things others say. However, in this case, I find very troubling my government describing my mother—or women in general—in cold instrumentalist (and postmodernist) language. My mother is a mother and my government should refer to her as such, especially in policy language concerning maternal mortality. It is women who die in childbirth, even surrogates.
To pretend as if there is not a grand attempt to diminish the significance of women in the present epoch is delusional or dishonest. So, if it were just some person saying we should talk this way, I would most likely dismiss it. It is a ridiculous way of speaking and there are plenty of ridiculous people in the world. People believe in a myriad of non-things and use language and formulas to manufacture them and stand them over real things. It’s when they have power that it gets concerning. This is my government doing this. It affects my mother, my sister, and my wife.
At least we are not yet where Canada is. In 2013, in Saskatchewan (Human Rights Commission) v. Whatcott, the supreme court ruled that truthful speech can nonetheless be restricted if it runs afoul of state-approved language surrounding, among other things, the new norms expressed by prescribed language on gender and sex. In that case, which has become the basis of law and policy in Canada, the judges write, “Truthful statements can be presented in a manner that would meet the definition of hate speech, and not all truthful statements must be free from restriction.” In other words, truth is neither a defense nor an exception.
I want to close with good news from Great Britain. The BBC today carried the following headline: Maya Forstater: Woman wins tribunal appeal over transgender tweets. Forstater did not have her contract renewed at the think tank Center for Global Development in March 2019 after posting a series of tweets questioning government plans to let people declare their own gender. She claimed she was discriminated against because of her beliefs, which include the opinion “that sex is immutable and not to be conflated with gender identity.” In the initial tribunal, employment Judge James Tayler ruled, in language aligned with the Canadian high court, that Forstater’s approach was “not worthy of respect in a democratic society.” He concluded that she was not entitled to ignore the rights of a transgender person and the “enormous pain that can be caused by misgendering.” In other words, her truth claim was hate speech and therefore discrimination was justified.
In a higher court, Justice Choudhury said Forstater’s gender-critical beliefs “did not seek to destroy the rights of trans persons.” How could they? Thankfully the course corrected the error. But it is terrifying that Forstater was let go and that a lower court upheld that decision because she stated that sex is an immutable characteristic. Have we now the technology to turn the XX genotype into XY? Even if we did, why should a person be punished for words? But let’s not get overconfident about matters. Yes, a higher court has recognized Forstater’s right to express her opinion (the human right of cognitive liberty) and emphasized the truth that saying that a person cannot change her or his sex does not violate that person’s rights. And this is a very important moment. However, it is but one victory in the struggle for liberty. The outcome of that struggle is anything but clear.
Frustrated with the tendency of social media users to uncritically go with what somebody told them somebody else said, I recently wrote on Facebook, “When you don’t read a report or a study or watch a speech or a press conference and let the media tell you what the report said or what was said at the press conference, what you are essentially saying is, ‘Here, you tell me what to think.’” I get it. Technocracy brings with it a popular over-reliance on expertise. At least technocrats (selectively) appeal to it. We hear the demand for such over-reliance in the refrain: “Trust the science.”
The phrase “the science” is a curious one. Notice I italicized the article. When I appeal to the power of science I might put it this way: “trust science.” However I put it, no article will appear. Science is a method of apprehending the world. It is not an entity. It is not the priest or the church. Consider that there were Nazi scientists. There were doctors and experts in fascist regimes forming opinions about a range of things. For example, the Nazis judged some races to be inferior to others. Some of them were hanged at Nuremberg. Apparently their expertise was not above reproach.
In this essay, by opinion, I mean a judgment about something not necessarily based on fact or knowledge. Of course, an opinion may be based on fact or knowledge. You cannot merely say, “Well, that’s your opinion.” Scientists form opinions. Judges form opinions. They have expertise in their fields of study and practice. An expert is a person possessing an authoritative and comprehensive knowledge of or skill in a particular area. A rational person will recognize that not all opinions carry equal weight on the scales of truth. He should also recognize that experts do not always agree on what is truth or likely to be true.
But the appeal to expertise is a common one in our culture. When I question an expert’s opinion, for example on the efficacy or safety of some medical intervention, such as a vaccine or the wearing of masks, I hear from others a criticism that points to my lack of expertise in medicine. How would I know whether the expert is right or wrong if I’m not an expert in that area? They suggest I listen to an expert, the name of whom they often have at the ready. This is an interesting move since, for the most part, those who make the criticism and provide the expert lack expertise in medicine.
There is an interesting paradox here. How does the critic know that the expert he provides is the correct authority if he is not himself an expert in that particular area? By his own lights, if I knew what I was talking about, he wouldn’t know it since he is not an expert. But somehow, he knows more than I do, since he knows which expert I should listen to. He somehow knows I should not be listened to. This expert he provides is not proffered. The expert has the final word on the subject. Listen to Fauci. “You don’t even have to think about, dude.”
If I ask why I should listen to this person, the critic will likely respond that he trusts that the person is knowledgable of and has been trained in that particular area and has been judged to be an expert by some official body or respected authority. But it’s easy enough to point to another person, knowledgable about and trained in that same area, also judged to be an expert by some official body or respected authority, who has a different opinion. We might suggest that different opinions is the way science and medicine get better over time (which is why it is so scary that social media platforms are censoring contrary opinions—even by experts).
When confronted by two experts with differing opinions who does the non-expert choose as the authoritative one? If one takes his time to study the respective opinions of these experts, perhaps even consult the scientific literature on the subject matter, then he might be able to rationally judge which of them has the better opinion. But, short of putting in this work, which people rarely do (who has the time?), it is likely that the non-expert is going to arbitrarily pick one of them. I say arbitrary here not in the sense of random choice or personal whim, but rather for some reason not based on fact or reason. The choice will be ideological. It will be political.
For the non-expert who selects his opinions on a political-ideological basis, the expert selected will be quite naturally the one who agrees with his opinion, which is by definition not an expert one since it is held by a non-expert. By the critic’s own standard, why should we listen to his opinion? By my standard, which is to avoid uncritically relying on an opinion formed merely on the basis of appeal to authority, I shouldn’t listen to his opinion. Not that expertise doesn’t matter. But the critic is not an expert. By this own admission. He knows an expert when he sees one.
But have you noticed that those who chastise others for not “listening to the experts” or “trusting the science” don’t really listen to experts or trust the science? I am an expert in several areas of sociology. Among my areas of expertise are race, crime, and criminal justice. You might use me as an expert opinion on the question of systemic racism in policing, for example. Those who insist on listening to the experts and trusting the science might appeal to my expertise. But in my experience, this only happens when my opinion agrees with their opinion. They want me to say something, but only when what I say is agreeable. When it isn’t, they disregard my expertise. (Hell, as I discuss in a moment, they disregard me altogether.) If a conversation ensures, it proceeds as if the lay person has as much knowledge about or training in my area of expertise. They rarely do.
Sometimes people get mad at me or tell me that they are disappointed in me when I express a disagreeable opinion, even when my opinion is formed on the basis of my expertise and represents a reasonable conclusion from the scientific literature on a subject (which I have been trained to analyze). On occasion (too many these days) I have had faculty (anonymously), family, friends, and students telling me that I am not the person they thought I was or, more generously, that, somewhere, somehow, I lost my way. Some bad opinion has corrupted, polluted, or radicalized me. With expressions of profound dismay, sometimes dressed in feigned empathy, more often aimed with shame, they tell me that they hope I will find my way back to their opinion.
Their opinion. That’s really what their complaint is all about, isn’t it? They thought I upheld their judgment. Far more important than my expertise—for if it were truly important, then they would consider my opinion—is whether my opinion aligns with theirs. At best, my agreeable opinion only served as an expert endorsement of their lay opinion, which is correct regardless of facts and reason. They exploited my esteem to bolster their case. They wanted to wear my authority. When I no longer agreed with them, I was no longer useful to them.
More than this, I became an adversary, one whose expertise could potentially sway those around them, which is all the more reason to dismiss my opinion as issuing from a man lost in the wilderness. “Don’t listen to him. Something happened to him.” The possibility that they may be confused or deluded by propaganda or ideology is skirted by portraying the expert—whose scientific training is fungible across a range of disciplines—as the ideologue. They are not unreasonable for clinging to an opinion this expert finds disagreeable. The expert is unreasonable and others shouldn’t trust him. Because, in faith-belief, it’s all about trust. This does not damage the practice of appealing to expertise because it is a cynical appeal. There are other experts out there who will articulate a more agreeable opinion. Cite them as the authority.
I am no elitist. I want people without expertise to throw themselves into an area and gain useful knowledge about it. If people want to challenge a trained sociologist, then bring it on. Plenty of people are smart and knowledgeable enough about subject areas in which they have little or no training to make for interesting conversations. But the amateur advances knowledge really only if he knows what he’s talking about or knows what he’s doing. And he usually doesn’t. Indeed, one thing expertise is good for is knowing when people don’t know what they’re talking about. But I’m damned here, as well; I am arrogantly lording my expertise over the amateur if I expose his lack of knowledge.
Barbara Sprunt, for National Public Radio, in “The Brewing Political Battle Over Critical Race Theory,” describes CRT as “an academic approach that examines how race and racism function in American institutions.” I’m a sociologist who has taught law and society, race and ethnicity, and social theory (among other things) for a quarter century. I teach critical race theory. I understand it. I’m not going to let NPR lie about it.
NPR turns to academics to back up its claim that opposition to CRT is a reflection of right-wing anxieties. They didn’t talk to me. Believe me, academics are among the most deeply indoctrinated people on the planet. As cultural managers, it is crucial to get them on board, and decades have been spent recruiting people into humanities and social sciences to take up and dissiminate New Left and postmodernist doctrines. The truth is that CRT is an illiberal doctrine masquerading as an academic approach. That it prevails in our cultural institutions demonstrates the success of corporate power leveraging the neo-Marxist strategy of the “long march.”
Sprunt quotes Republican Ralph Norman as saying, “Critical race theory asserts that people with white skin are inherently racist, not because of their actions, words or what they actually believe in their heart—but by virtue of the color of their skin.” Norman is correct. According to CRT doctrine, white people are racist by virtue of their skin color. The only way to lessen one’s racism is to be an ally by proclaiming anti-racism and anti-whiteness. You cannot be non-racist, according to the anti-racist worldview. This is why you are forced into diversity training sessions—you are presumed racist. Denying you are racist is a sign of fragility, which loops back to race privilege, which whites possess at birth.
CRT asserts that our legal system is an institution designed by whites to reproduce white racial power. CRT says MLK, Jr.’s dream of a colorblind society is a form of white power. King was, from this view, a naive preacher sucking up to white people. He bought into the American creed, which CRT claims to reveal as racist. CRT rejects colorblindness for law and policy based explicitly on racial categories. CRT is a system of formulas that pull social structures from thin air. Its fallacies make it easy to demolish, but you have to escape the church of the woke to get the critique.
What makes CRT so fundamentally illiberal, and by that I mean authoritarian, is that it equates liberalism, the foundation of law and policy in the West, the ideas that make of free people, with white supremacy. It then demands the dismantling of white supremacy by dismantling the present legal order. CRT seeks to replace Enlightenment notions of individual rights and the presumption of innocence, with the burden of proof lying with those making accusations, with group-based rights, and the presumption of guilt on that basis, with no possibility of denying guilt, thus shifting law and policy away from a equality to equity, where those have less take from those who have more on the basis of racial identity.
If it is unclear from which group wealth is to be appropriated, then let me make it clear: white people owe black people because of things dead white people did to black people a long time ago. It’s a doctrine of original sin, and whites are the eternal sinners. CRT leads us into the absurdity of poor whites enjoying race privilege while rich blacks suffer race oppression. You can only get to that lunatic conclusion by assuming all whites are racist.
The function of CRT is to distract the masses from class struggle and economic inequality by ramping up antagonisms and resentments based on supposed tribal differences. That it’s the Democrats pushing this, while Republicans, especially the populists, resist it, tells you which party best represents the interests of the ruling economic class. That progressives push open borders and populists push back is another clue as to who best represents the ruling economic class. CRT and open borders benefits corporations and the protects the system that secures their power.
We see the same thing in the United Kingdom, where the Labour Party has redesigned its politics to appeal to affluent white progressives and a constellation of minority groups claiming victimhood status over against working class Brits. Populism in the West is pushing back. This is why we hear so much in the corporate media about white reactionaries resisting CRT. But they aren’t white reactionaries. They have liberal instincts.
I want to use today’s blog to talk about two things. First, COVID-19 appears to be winding down. It will likely make a comeback next winter, since strains of the coronavirus pass through the population every year (many of you reading this blog have already had a coronavirus at some point in your lives), but because of herd immunity, it likely won’t be as bad as it appears it was this time around. Second, the reparations discussion, like the coronavirus, is also making the rounds again. However, unlike the coronavirus, there appears to be no effective immune response to the virus of racial animosity and resentment. We have to expose the agenda behind it.
On the COVID-19 front, we are now at a weekly average of cases we haven’t seen since March 2020. On June 1, 2021, the seven-day case average was 17,119. It is almost certain that there were far more cases in March of last year. We are currently daily testing many thousands of more subjects for the virus than we were back then. Cases began falling after the peak in early January, 2021, indicating that the population had reached herd immunity.
Although authorities are eager to promote vaccines as the reason for the sharp decrease in cases, the vaccines cannot be responsible for most of it. The peak case frequency was January 8, 2021 (more than 300 thousand cases). At that point 0 percent of the population was fully vaccinated and only 2 percent had received one of the mRNA vaccine. By March 10, 2021, with only 10 percent of the population fully vaccinated, we had already seen a more than 80 percent decrease in daily cases from the January 8 peak. Many of those who have been vaccinated had already had the virus, so any efficacy claims later in the year is confounded with what we now know is effective natural immunity from SARS-CoV-2 (if you have had COVID-19 a vaccine is unnecessary).
Despite this, the campaign to be vaccinated is now targeting children. It is profoundly unethical to persuade children to take an experimental vaccine for a virus that, for the vast majority of them (and for the vast majority of the general population), carries no deleterious effects (see “A Moral Panic. A Year Later”). That we got to the point where parents would not en masse rise up and protest the exploitation of children as experimental subjects indicates that we are far down the authoritarian road of trusting corporate power and the functionaries in its employ (fear and misinformation haves played roles in this; see “‘Whatever that number is’”). And how forgotten the horrors that produced the Nuremberg Code (“The Immorality of Vaccine Passports and the Demands of Nuremberg”).
We already had an indication of how far down that road we already are when virtually the whole of the medical-industrial complex, for the sake of investments in vaccines, refused to treat those with COVID-19 or at risk from COVID-19 with therapeutics, such as hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin, and the public dutifully went along with it (“The Enduring Panic Over SARS-CoV-2”). Tens of thousands of people died unnecessarily. At least from a moral standpoint (corporate profits do not seek moral means when they don’t have to). Perhaps now that Trump is no longer in office, and we are actually able to publicly question the role of the People’s Republic of China in spreading and possibly manufacturing SARS-CoV-2, we can shake up popular consciousness.
(Note: I have written extensively on the COVID-19 pandemic on Freedom and Reason going back to March 2020. To find those blogs, search site:andrewaustin.blog and “COVID-19” or “SARS-CoV-2.”)
In an article in Politico concerning the one hundredth anniversary of the Tulsa massacre of black Americans by white Americans, a descendent of a survivor, Anneliese Bruner, calls on the former vice-president Joe Biden to embrace reparations. For his part, the former vice-president, in a speech from Tulsa n May 31, 2021, spoke about “reaffirming our commitment to advance racial justice through the whole of our government, and working to root out systemic racism from our laws, our policies, and our hearts.”
“The argument was a striking contrast from his predecessor, Donald Trump, who promoted a heroic vision of American history,” David Smith of The Guardian writes. In typical Trump-bashing: “On the massacre’s 99th anniversary, Trump had posed with a Bible outside a historic church after security forces teargassed protesters outside the White House. He headed to Tulsa later that month for a campaign rally that breached coronavirus safety guidelines.” Smith continues, “Biden’s message appeared to be the opposite of ‘Make America great again’ [referencing the slogan President Trump lifted from Ronald Reagan]—an acknowledgment that America’s history includes slavery and segregation, and that only looking that fully in the face can allow it to move forward.”
In that speech, Biden claims that, “there was a clear effort to erase [the Tulsa massacre] from our memory, our collective memory.” I have long known about the Tulsa massacre. I lecture on it in my sociology courses. But even before that, I knew about it and discussed it with those around me. I am not aware of any efforts to erase the event from history. Biden means to represent the case as something hidden from Americans in order renew the reaction to crimes perpetrated long ago in order to advance the antiracist project of racial justice. To remember something does not mean it was forgotten.
Although unintentional, Smith’s characterization of Biden’s speech as lying opposite to Trump’s draws a nice contrast between the attempt to portray America as fixed and frozen and those who tout the record of America’s progress. In the former, America’s historic paralysis is found in its establishment in 1619 as a racist slave state. In the latter, America’s progress is thanks to its founding in 1776 on the Enlightenment principles of equality and liberty for all. In other words, Trump’s MAGA slogan has its antithesis in Biden’s speech: MARA, or “Make America racist again.” (See “Truth in the Face of the 1619 Project: The United States and the West Did Not Establish Slavery—They Abolished It.”)
The title of Smith’s article: “Joe Biden calls for US to confront its past on 100th anniversary of Tulsa massacre” suggests we haven’t. The facts determine whether this claim is true. Since Tulsa, the United States has abolished Jim Crow segregation, passed landmark civil rights legislation, and made discrimination against black Americans illegal. Before Tulsa, our ancestors overthrew monarchy and established a democratic republic that protects free speech rights, the right to assembly, the right to privacy, and the right to self-defense. Having inherited slavery from a world in which the practice was ubiquitous, our ancestors abolished the slave trade and fought a devastating civil war to emancipate blacks from slavery, setting an example for the whole world. More Americans died in that war than any other war America has fought. Having inherited patriarchy from a world in which sexism was ubiquitous, the United States affirmed the right of women to participate in politics. In the 1940s, the United States help lead the effort in defeating the threat of world fascism, a war that encompassed the globe, and in its aftermath led the world in the global recognition of universal human rights (and in establishing the Nuremberg Code). More recently, the United States led the way in marriage equality. Let’s celebrate our past instead. The claim is untrue.
Those who claim no progress have an agenda (see “The Elite Obsession with Race Reveals a Project to Divide the Working Class and Dismantle the American Republic.”) Critical race theory is organized to overthrow liberalism and replace it with an illiberal system of group rights based on race. Instead of equality before the law, antiracists call for equity, in which those who have little make a claim on those who have more and do so on the basis of ancestry. Moral entrepreneurs are exploiting Tulsa and other unforgotten moments in history to extract wealth from others on account of the suffering of others, most of whom are long in their graves.
To be sure, those who perpetrated the Tulsa massacre should have been held accountable for their actions. Are there any still alive? We know there are three survivors. Are there surviving perpetrators? There is no statute of limitations on murder (that goes for lynching, too). Find them and drag them into court. Justice delayed or never made is justice denied. While we can regret that nothing was done then, the crimes are in the distant past and, without perpetrators to hold responsible, nothing can be done now—not without creating more victims.
Nobody is to blame for criminal actions except those who perpetrate them or, perhaps, those who could have prevented them but didn’t. To ask the descendants of those who perpetrated a massacre a century ago to pay money to those descended from the massacred is to hold children guilty for the crimes of their parents. This is a deeply immoral principle. Blood guilt is a primitive quasi-religious notion. Surely we’re not talking about reparations from all those who share the skin color of those who perpetrated the massacre. That would be a deeply racist proposition.
* * *
Imagine, if you will, a theory that explains the evolution of natural life by idenfiying God as the causal force. In order to see God, one needs a specific language that reveals him, since God is the unseen causal force operating behind the seen/scene. Now imagine that this theory catches on at colleges and corporations and administrators set up training sessions to make sure all employees align their thinking with the theory. Let’s call the theory “creationism.”
Now consider a theory that purports to explain the evolution of social life by identifying racism as the cause force. In order to see racism one needs a specific language that reveals it, since racism is the unseen causal force operating behind the seen/scene. The theory has caught on at colleges and corporations and administrators have set up training sessions to make sure all employees align their thinking with the theory. Let’s call the theory “critical race theory.”
You can substitute natural selection for God in the first paragraph. We teach natural selection in the classroom. But we don’t require all employees to attend training sessions to make sure they align their thinking with natural selection. There are college professors who believe in creationism. We don’t send them to struggle sessions or cancel them on the basis of their beliefs. Moreover, there are competing ideas in the field of natural history. We don’t punish a teacher for teaching punctuated equilibrium. We do worry when they teach creationism, since this is a secular society.
However, critical race theory is not comparable to established theories of natural history. Critical race theory is comparable to the first theory I articulated, the one that appeals to supernatural forces. Critical race theory comes replete with a theory of original sin and collective guilt. A child is guilty for the crimes of his parents and on account of his race, an abstraction without any empirical underpinnings. Natural selection proceeds by induction from empirical generalization. There is a world of difference between critical race theory and science.
In this blog I show that critical race theory (CRT) advances anti-Enlightenment standards and explain why this would be a disaster for education and the law. In the process, I talk about moment in my awakening to the problems of what we might call the “Awokening.”
* * *
States have been moving to prohibit the inclusion of critical race theory (CRT), a quasi-religious doctrine smuggled in through, among other things, the revisionist “1619 project,” and, more broadly, antiracist politics, in public school curricula. (Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, South Dakota, and Texas have passed or are debating legislations restricting or banning the teaching of CRT and related ideas.
One of the latest state government to protect children from this malevolent ideology is my home state of Tennessee. The Tennessee State House voted to ban CRT from public schools. The legislation, which now moves to the Tennessee State Senate, prohibits public schools from promoting collective guilt and race essentialism.
The founder of the “1619 project,” journalist Nikole Hannah Jones, decries resistance to CRT as an attack on freedom of thought. Her characterization of the resistance as anti-intellectualism is wrong. The resistance is about limiting the indoctrination of students in what Manhattan Institute’s Christopher Rufo correctly identifies as state-sanctioned racism (see Rufo’s piece in The New York Post, adapted from his article in City Journal).
In this blog, I show that critical race theory (CRT) advances anti-Enlightenment standards and explain why this would be a disaster for education and the law. In the process, I talk about moment in my awakening to the problems of the Awokening that I alluded to on my previous blog entry.
* * *
As I have noted in previous blogs, there was a period in my life in which I found critical race theory compelling. I was a graduate student in the 1990s, and I became interested in the possibility of a synthesis of historical materialism and critical race theory in which the latter would be articulated in language indicating the ontological status of the former.
As I was preparing the proposal for my dissertation, I began increasingly frustrated with description of racism as largely ideological (see the work of Barbara Fields) and endeavored instead to conceptualize racism as a material relation in the manner of social class. I used the model in my dissertation, which I successfully defended in the summer of 2000, a two-volume 800-plus page study of America’s history of class, race, and criminal justice.
I had intended to publish my dissertation as my first book after tenure (which I earned in 2005). I knew a project that large would require a lot of work to make digestible for the market, so I focused on other things. However, I began to have my doubts about the model I was using over the decade following graduate school. There were for several reasons behind my hesitation, but I will share here one moment I believe illustrates the process of waking up.
* * *
In spring 2010, I taught Law and Society (I have taught the course several times over the last twenty years). I included on the syllabus as required reading An Introduction to Critical Race Theory by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefanic. This was an undergraduate class and I felt that the book was pitched at a level that was understandable to the mostly young people who enroll in the course.
I had in senior seminar on critical legal studies included more complex writings from law journals and found that students, even though they were sympathetic to the idea of critical race theory, struggled to understand the argument. I felt that what was lacking was a basic understanding of the CRT approach. So I was going to prepare my juniors with Delgado and Stefanic.
As I was explaining the logic of CRT, I kept mentally putting the book’s claims in the critical framework I use in my Foundations of Social Research class, where students are taught the major problems with human inquiry, such as illegitimate teleology, mystification, reification, selective observation, and tautology, as well as strategies to use for detecting bullshit masquerading as rational argument and scientific knowledge.
I soon found it impossible to discuss any part of Delgado and Stefanic’s book without it evolving (devolving, I’m sure progressive students felt) into a demonstration of my debunking approach. I was compelled by conscience to apologize to students for having assigned the book, as it was not only substantially wrong on the facts of history and in its sociology, but because it was assigned to the wrong class; it would serve better as an illustration of fallacious thinking in a logic and critical thinking course.
As I remember it, the apology occurred in stages. I told them that we would not be engaging in exercises appearing at the end of some chapters that were designed to humiliate the white students in the class (which may have been all of the students in the class that semester). The book’s purpose in a legal studies class, I clarified, was to review an area of theory supposed by many to be a legitimate approach to the understanding and practice of the law, not to make white people feel complicit in racism.
We soldiered on, and I really tried to make it work, but it became increasingly clear that the book, in addition to its embarrassing errors in basic logic, was pushing an ideology that denigrated the Enlightenment principles of law, reason, and science upon which the United States and the West was founded. I expressed chagrin over having selected reading material that was more akin to religious ideology than legal theory.
I never used Delgado and Stefanic’s book again for Law and Society or any other course. If I ever use that book again, it will be in the context of a topics course deconstructing racist propaganda.
* * *
What do I mean by racist propaganda? I have written elsewhere about this, but let me explain here as concisely as possible. I wish it were necessary to do this, but since CRT is worming its way into everything, we must educate people about it.
Critical race theory describes two models of justice. The first, CRT calls the “perpetrator’s perspective,” which embodies the enlightenment principles of reason and evidence in the adjudication of guilt and responsibility of individuals, in which there is a presumption of innocence in any accusation of wrongdoing with the accuser shouldering the burden to prove, either with a preponderance of evidence or beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is culpable and acted intentionally (with varying degrees of responsibility and intentionality based on fact and principles).
Critical race theory advocates substituting for this model an alternative they call the “victim’s perspective,” which shifts the burden of proof and implicates an abstract and largely arbitrary aggregate, organized as a demographic category, as a priori guilty and responsible, what we might call the “perpetrator collective,” whereas all members of the abstract and, again, largely arbitrary demographic category as the “victim.” The formula yields the conclusion that all whites are perpetrators and all blacks victims.
The “evidence” presented in adjudicating the charge is aggregate statistical averages showing inequality, or inequity, as they would have it, between the abstract groupings, which is taken not only as prima facia evidence of injustice, reckless enough in itself, but is taken as the thing itself, i.e., the very perpetration of racism. With this move, racial disparities need not explanation. If one tries to explain disparities outside the framework of critical theory, then those who suffer from fragility (white people who cannot deal with their racism) are engaging in blaming the victim, both of which (fragility and victim blaming) are yet more expressions of racism.
Defending liberal justice by emphasizing the colorblind procedure of the perpetrator’s perspective, founded as it is on individual responsibility, presumption of innocence, rational adjudication of fact, and forth, is said to be a trick, where racist patterns are maintained by denial and the pretense of equality before the law and rational procedure and process.
Thus, white people, an organic entity assumed to be an actual thing with agency, have constructed an institutional framework that, despite having largely purged thought of race prejudice, illegalized discrimination, and dismantled racist institutions, systems, and structures, remains profoundly racist and always will until its foundations are entirely replaced by a new formal system with mechanisms based on the reification of racial groups as actual things, with an official history, thus reestablishing racism systemically but with a new name: antiracism.
Today, according to CRT, America is a racist country without racists, marked by institutional racism without racist institutions, systemically racist without racist systems, structurally racist without racist structures. Racism is woven so deeply into into the warp and woof of American (and Western) society that it is an unseen part of the material only to be discovered by unraveling the fabric. In this view, whites not only bear their guilt collectively, but carry it intergenerationally—just as blacks inherit race trauma and victimization from their ancestors.
By subsuming individuals into abstractions and supposing mythic relations between abstractions, abstractions assumed to exist in asymmetrical trans-temporal power relations that “explain” statistical outcomes, CRT wipes away variation within demographic categories, committing the ecological fallacy, while also committing the fallacy of misplaced concreteness, that is treating imaginaries as actual things, mystifying the cultural and social factors that actually explain the aggregate patterns.
These errors lead to all sorts of weirdness, such as giving up on closing the gap in scholastic achievement by declaring academic standards—including even math and science—as white supremacist and demanding that institutions hold black children to a different standard, which is regarded as valid based on a postmodernist notion that ontology is reducible to epistemic frames differentiated by worldviews determined by, among other things, race essentialism.
Thus objective knowledge is upended by the epistemic privilege of race, with the race enjoying that privilege the race that has tautologically determined collective disadvantage due to systemic oppression. Critical race theory is a mess.
* * *
I was able to save the unit by going beyond the book itself to the deeper philosophical underpinnings of anti-reason, of which CRT is a species. Here, the distinction between the materialist conception of history (Marxism) and neo-Marxist critical theory, with its postmodernist corruption, came to the fore. Since I had already covered Marxian and Hegelian conceptions of law, I was able to make the critique meaningful. Let me share a bit of this with the reader, as well.
Contrary to what liberals tell us, Karl Marx remains in the Enlightenment tradition of scientific reasoning, indeed embracing both deductive and inductive procedures in the synthesis of dialectal method. For Marx, the dialect was a scientific method for explaining and understanding facts by working the concrete into abstraction via induction and then confirming the emergent concepts and their theoretical relations by using them to explain how dynamic forces of historical development produced and distorted law and consciousness. It isn’t very often put this way, but Marx was an anthropologist looking for the principles of social history in the same way Darwin studied organisms and ecosystems looking for the principles of natural history.
What differentiates Marx from Hegel is that Marx saw individual human beings as both natural and social beings, that is beings determined by natural forces and social relations, who, whatever the variability of human beings across time and space, shared a species-being. There is no spirit realm. What was supposed as the transcendent is estranged consciousness emerging from alienated social relations. In other words, because most men do not control production they are controlled by it.
Marx worked with the assumption that there was ultimately one reality even if social relations organized people into classes that came with different and conflicting interests, interests of which they may be falsely consciousness. The philosophical and political right bristles at the concept of false consciousness, but the idea that a man may be wrong about the world around him is hardly a controversial observation from the standpoint of science. Indeed, the purpose of science is to align consciousness with reality. For Marx, science is, among other things, a means for determining one’s interests vis-a-vis the social system and bring individual consciousness in phase with one’s actual position in the class structure.
Hegel, in contrast, saw individuals as personifications and instruments of the absolute idea working itself out in history. A man studies history to discover the transcendent mind grasping itself. Thus, for Hegel, the natural and social world were concrete determinations of an a priori abstract being reflecting on itself. The absolute idea in Hegel is essentially the spirit realm rejected by Marx’s atheism. Marx held that Hegel had it backwards. In truth, man makes the world. Ideas matter, to be sure, but they do not make anything without action. Moreover, Hegel conflates epistemology and ontology. Hegelian philosophy is essentially a religious doctrine, even if Hegel was an atheist.
Critical theory under the influence of postmodernism and the New Left, Hegelian in their idealism, but claiming to be Marxist in some fashion, and accused of Marxism by the political right, managed to lose both threads. Like Hegel, CRT supposes that the epistemic determines ontology. Knowledge is power. It is about how we talk about the world that makes it what it is. The word made flesh through reflection. And history is the living dead. Where it departs from Hegel is in the postmodernist notion that ontology is plural, that the variability of interests and consciousness are correlates of multiple realities with multiple logics, each determined by the imagined character or essentialism of an identity and the relative power of that identity. But it is not only imagining the world this way. We are not to be so lucky. Power is amplified by action organized around consciousness of that identity.
One becomes estranged, then, not when one fails to grasp the one albeit differentiated reality through scientific inquiry (science is merely one narrative among many and is, in the end, like all the rest of them, the expression of power), but when one breaks with doctrine revealed by grasping the essence of the group. This is why a black man who rejects CRT, who instead is searching for the terms of the common reality, a reality that exists independent of race, is a heretic worthy excommunication from the church of blackness—and all whites are perpetrators of racism. Glenn Lowry or Thomas Sowell are Galileos in the Church of Wokeness.
For critical race theory, blacks and whites cannot share the same interests and either one view dominates the other or the two build their own worlds, the latter an expression of race-nationalism. So it is that white supremacists and critical race theories can posit the same world—at least if you assume an objective standpoint.
* * *
The consequence for law if CRT is taken seriously is profound. In liberal tradition of law, based on the Enlightenment principles, reasonableness lies at the basis of everything. There is the reasonable person standard, an abstraction to which concrete individuals are compared in judging the reasonableness of their actions. We ask the jury to consider what a reasonable person would do. There is reasonableness in the realm of doubt. Juries are asked to be rational persons who, sharing the same nature, find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This standard presumes there is unreasonable doubt. If doubt is unreasonable, we should not obey it. Marx did not reject any of this, so it is incorrect, as liberal and conservative critics of critical theory often do, to saddle Marx with the irrationalism and ultimate authoritarianism of critical race theory.
We can differentiate individual or liberal style justice, with its norms and values of civil rights, equality before the law, presumption of innocence, and rational adjudication of fact, from the style supposed by critical race theory, which emphasizes group rights organized around race, equity in outcome (members of different groups should be held to different standards), presumption of guilt (members of one group are by definition “perpetrators,” while another are by definition “victims”), and treating disparities in outcomes as prima facia evidence of injustice (dispensing with cause and effect). As one can see, the latter commits numerous fallacies—ecological, reification, and self-confirming.
When a woke black jurist convicts a white cop not on the basis of the facts concerning the suspect’s death but on the basis of black lives matter and whites are racist oppressors, this is not, from the standpoint of critical race theory, unreasonable. What is reasonable is not a universal standard but rather is relative to one’s identity. This is racial tribalism. It’s racism.
* * *
My experience in Law and Society that semester reminded me of the importance of deliberately thinking about the difference between education and indoctrination in course design and execution. The former involves cultivating in individuals the capacity for differentiating between, on the one hand, claims that are logically valid and empirically sound and, on the other, those that are fallacious and unsupported by fact. The latter is aimed at persuading by irrational means—biased frames, formal and informal fallacies, false or selected facts, reification, etc.—acceptance of the alleged truth claims of ideological doctrine.
Education endeavors to question received beliefs in order to produce and refine knowledge, i.e., verified belief, which, whether pursued as a Lockean liberal or a Marxian socialist, remains firmly rooted in the Enlightenment, whereas indoctrination endeavors to compel individuals to receive beliefs from authority and to do so without question.
Eduction concerns empowering individuals by elaborating their capacity for reason. Indoctrination concerns overpowering individuals in a misuse of authority. It is not that knowledge cannot include a call to action. It is rather than distorting knowledge for the sake of an agenda founded on group-based doctrine is dangerous. Calling Enlightenment philosophy or liberal law racism of the white man does not justify the imposition of antiracism. The question is whether the “racism” of the “white man” are really such. And they really aren’t. We know this because the reasonable standard supposed by it is universal and unchanging. Human nature is not determined by ideology.
An indoctrinator is a person who, consciously or unconsciously, includes or excludes information and frames ideas in a (misleading) way serving political-ideological ends. Universities and colleges, from the classroom to the administrative office, are presently engaged in the production and dissemination of racist ideology. If education and indoctrination are to be kept distinct (and I hope it is obvious that they should and why), then nonscientific theories of history and social relations should not be taught as knowledge, and certainly not as doctrine. No doctrine should be taught to children. More than this, when such theories are demonstrably false, whether on logical or empirical grounds, they should not be taught at all.
This is not an attack on free thought. A teacher or administrator is free to believe whatever doctrine he or she wishes. Most public school teachers are Christians of one sort or another. At the same time, all teachers are forbidden to preach the Christian gospels in public schools. A teacher is not only not allowed to indoctrinate students with Christian doctrine, he or she is not allowed to use Christianity as a valid method for explaining or understanding the world. At least not in front of student. This does not preclude teaching Christianity—or Judaism or Islam—as mythology in a class where mythology is a legitimate subject of study (and there are many classes where this relevance may be had including science classes). It means religion cannot be taught as authoritative. And it should be taught as wrong, as all nonfalsifiable doctrines should be presumed.
* * *
Consider that individuals designated white by contemporary demographic schemes are an aggregate. One may identify statistical averages across numerous categories associated with an aggregate—income, occupation, family structure, and so forth. One can make predictions based on means and variations about them. But such statistics remain abstractions. They do not describe actual persons. The abstract white person has no biography. The concrete white person is not automatically a member of a political or ideological group. The white demographic has no politically active or ideologically conscious constituency. There are no elected leaders. No organizational or institutional structure. No charter, written rules and regulations, or whatever. There is no content to whiteness.
All this might strike the reader as a remarkable thing considering how many books have been written on the subject of whiteness. Just remember that library shelves are filled with books about magical nonexistent things. Fairies. Elves. Angels. Devils. Blood guilt. Original sin. Like these, critical race theory is neither logically valid nor empirically sound. If one can step outside the bubble of progressive and identitarian commitments, that this is an ideology with a quasi-religious character becomes obvious. Its claims are mythic and its structure irrational in a religious sense.
The color of my skin differentiates nothing but skin color. It doesn’t tell you anything about me, who I am, what I believe, or what I do. Any white person who presumes to speak for the white community presumes to speak for me, and he or she can only presume to do this. He wrongly does so. That there is a white community to speak for is only a presumption conjured by the fallacy of misplaced concreteness. It is no less true for blacks.
The fallacy of misplaced concreteness, or reification, is the ideological practice of substituting aggregates conceptually organized by, in this case, subjectivist and largely arbitrary accounts of race differences for individuals, then imputing motive and agency to passive demographic categories. But motive and agency can only really be present in individuals and consciously organized groups. Aggregates of people no more possess intentionality than do aggregates of stars. And people don’t exert a significant gravitational pull on one another. Put another way, CRT treats the passive constituents of aggregates and imagined communities as if they are the active constituents of organized political, religious, and social groups. This is an utterly false equation.
Critical race theory is built upon myths about history and social relations. Teaching critical race theory in public schools in social studies is therefore an analog to teaching intelligent design in a science class as a valid and sound alternative to natural history as organized by the principles of natural selection. Biology enjoys the status of knowledge because it is validated belief, verified by the scientific enterprise, the only rational way of adjudicating truth claims. Claims that deny basic biological reality are at best unverified and cannot substitute for verified belief (of course scientists welcome challenges to scientific consensus).
If a teacher wishes to teach such ideologies as intelligent design or critical race theory as examples of errors in thinking and the problematic character of ideological expressions that lie outside scientific norms, this is of course appropriate, as these ideologies are things in the world that continue to distort knowledge and retard progress. If education is anything it is teaching our youth bullshit detection. But we cannot allow bullshit to be taught as a viable method for explaining and understanding the world.
Of the two false worldviews I am citing as analogs, namely intelligent design and critical race theory, critical race theory is by far the worst. Beyond describing the world in a false way, it demonizes white children, associating them with an imagined community, blaming them for alleged wrongdoings they did not merely did not commit but couldn’t under any reasonable understanding of the operation of the real world commit.
Critical race theory is a racist doctrine in that it sorts individuals into racial groups and elevates the status of some individuals while degrades the statue of other individuals based on those groupings. For this reason, it should not appear in any institution or organization in America any more than nineteenth century racism should. One is free to believe blacks constitute a race that is inferior to whites, or that whites are a race responsible for black suffering. One cannot, however, be allowed to impose these racist doctrines on others. That we would allow this to happen in our public schools is unconscionable.