Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Critical Theory . . . It’s Complicated

Critical theory is being thrown under the bus . . . yet again, and so it has propelled me out from under my quarantine rock to defend it. Like most people, I would imagine, the pandemic and the necessity of self-isolation has led me to spend more time online than I would normally like. And recent events in the wake of even more murders of black men by police officers as well as the utter incompetence, inaction, and treasonous behavior of the stupidest man to ever hold the office of President, have given me plenty of content to consume. The specific content that has spurred me to action this time is a recent episode of the Joe Rogan Experience in which Rogan’s guest was author James Lindsay. Lindsay was on the program to promote his forthcoming book, Cynical Theories, which he co-authored with Helen Pluckrose and is due out in August. My typical pattern is to watch one or two of the clips from the show, and if I like the guest and the conversation I’ll go ahead and watch the whole podcast. The clip in question was intriguing, as in it Lindsay began by talking about how Wokeness will eventually destroy itself from within, ironically, when people “wake up” to the fact of what is really going on. That was good enough for me, and so I cued up Rogan’s show #1501 and began to watch

Lindsay, who I had never heard of before this, is someone for whom I would seem to have a natural affinity, a religious and cultural critic who also has a scientific background. As the show began, he and Rogan were discussing the negative aspects of keeping animals in zoos, and from there went on to point out the way some people today have the audacity to criticize things that others have done in their childhood as if it still represents them now, and then on to the Woke Movement in particular. Lindsay rightly says at this point, “The theory that is fueling this . . . is this idea that comes from French philosophy that words and ideas and thoughts and patterns have traces that don’t ever really go away. And so if something used to be associated with something bad and we still use the word, or even if you pretend that it was the case and you still use the word, then it carries this negative trace.” Rogan asks the obvious question at this point, if people are really aware of the ideological underpinnings of their outrage. For the average person, Lindsay says, it’s unlikely, and then he compares the whole thing to religious hierarchy with deconstructionist professors playing the part of priests and theologians. So far, so good. But then Rogan tries to sum it all up this way: “So, you’ve got the Woke academics, the serious Woke people, that are teaching it to kids, that really teach it as critical theory, like critical race theory.” And when Lindsay responds with “That’s right,” my heart sank.

In the end it’s a small thing, I realize, as what Lindsay was really agreeing with was the way that academics—college professors, mostly—preach their deconstructionist dogma as a way of making themselves feel as if they’re smarter than everyone else, and yet remain oblivious to the damage they are doing to society as a whole by inculcating college students into believing in an entirely fictitious narrative—which really is very similar to religion. What I object to, however, is the way that Lindsay’s assent blithely lumps German Critical Theory in with French Deconstructionist philosophy, when the two could not be more different. At this point he and Rogan go on to discuss the execrable book White Fragility, and compare that author’s seminars to something resembling cult indoctrination. One of Lindsay’s interesting arguments is the idea that there is also a moral component to this type of race shaming, which makes the religious comparisons even more obvious. Then he gets back to Critical Theory territory when he says that a person’s denial of racist beliefs is actually proof to the Woke crowd of implicit guilt because, “one of the symptoms of participation in systemic racism is an inability to see it if you’re white. It’s invisible to you.” Then Lindsay goes on to explain how all of this evolved.

          It is Marx who cooked up this idea called conflict theory. He actually took it from other German
          philosophers . . . He changed Hagel’s idea of what’s called—you can’t even say this anymore, the
          master-slave dialectic, because master and slave have traces. Even though that’s what it was called,
          you can’t talk about it . . . Hagel wrote that people have power, and then there are people who don’t
          have power. The person that’s being oppressed by the power understands the oppression, whereas
          the person who’s doing the oppression can’t. Simple enough. Marx cooked this up into this idea called
          conflict theory that says, oh, different groups in society—and he mostly meant rich people versus poor
          people—are completely separate from each other and there’s no idea that they help each other . . .
          So, what Marx’s idea was is that the oppressor class is always the enemy of the underclass. And this
          has actually traced down through history.

All of this makes sense, as Deconstructionism has much more to do with Marx’s theory than anything else: the unconscious behavior of the oppressor class is the culprit for the unhappiness in the world. But then Lindsay takes his history lesson a step too far. “This philosophical school started in Germany at first, moved to Columbia University during World War Two. It’s called the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory.” The problem here is that when Lindsay says “this” it sounds as if he’s talking about the ideas of Marx and Hegel and that this Frankfurt School decided to take the ideas of the master-slave dialectic and conflict theory and run with them. In point of fact, the Frankfurt School thought that Marx was wrong in one very significant way: it wasn’t the oppressor class that was unconscious about what was going on, it was the oppressed. What that means is that Critical Theory actually believed the opposite of what Marx had proposed, which Lindsay seems to understand, as he then adds, “They moved it into ideology and culture. So the dominant culture, whoever has the most status and power, the elites, which at the time was generally white, straight men for the most part, those people basically brainwash the underclass into not realizing that they should rise up against it.” This is clearly a significant difference from Marx, and yet the “it” makes it sound as if he’s still saying that it’s the ideas of Marx and Hegel that the Frankfurt School are promulgating. And then he makes the disappointing mistake of completely submerging Critical Theory back into Marxist theory when he says, “So you have this whole dynamic of conflict where the oppressor class doesn’t realize what it’s like to be oppressed, the oppressed class constantly can’t get away from it . . . and then the underclass always has to be at war to try to overturn the power above them . . . This stuff all has a very long history. It didn’t just pop up in 2014.”

This is an incredibly frustrating description, because while Lindsay apparently understands the distinction between Marx’s unconscious oppressor class and the Frankfurt School’s unconscious underclass, he not only fails to make that distinction clear to the listener, but instead he folds Critical Theory right back into Marxist theory as if they were one in the same. It would be nice to think that was an accident, but later on in the podcast he confirms his misunderstanding when he says, “Critical Theory was how you complain that things aren’t Marxist enough . . . People bomb me for saying that, but it is actually, generally true.” No, it’s not. It’s also a gross misrepresentation of Marx’s goal, which was to improve the lives of everyone in society rather than making the working class the economic slaves of the moneyed elite. As stated earlier, Critical Theory was a reaction against one of Marx’s main ideas. The problem wasn’t that the underclass was constantly at war with their oppressors, it was that they didn’t realize the oppressor class was constantly at war with them. Just one of the ways that the oppressor class wages their war on the unconscious underclass—and there are many—is by keeping them distracted and absorbed in meaningless pursuits, especially things like sports and celebrity. With men spending all their time glued to ESPN and fantasy sports leagues, in addition to the real thing, and women obsessed with the supposedly real housewives of this or that city, and poring over People magazine, the oppressors keep the oppressed so preoccupied with what amounts to nothing that the oppressed have no time or energy to devote to overturning the power of the elites, much less even realize that’s what’s going on in the first place.

But it wasn’t enough for the capitalist oligarchy in this country to make cultural and economic slaves of their fellow citizens. In order to make even more money, corporate elites decided that overseas markets were the way to go. This phenomenon was explained by writer and historian Joseph E. Green, in his book Dissenting Views. U.S. citizens can only spend so much time and money numbing their brains in meaningless pursuits, while subjecting the rest of the world to the same fate seemed like the new version of Manifest Destiny to corporate America, something Green labeled the American Idea.

          If we speak solely of the cinema, music, and television—the pop cultural milieu that forms one of
          the last remaining exports of the United States—we cannot help but notice the overwhelming
          juggernaut that is most obviously expressed in the worldwide interest in film and music stars. What
          Americans sell to other countries is the stuff that dreams are made on. For we are out of the manu-
          facturing business . . . but we remain experts in the various aspects of the mellifluous nothing we
          might call the American Idea.

Critical Theory, which began at the end of World War One in Germany, had been around for nearly forty years before French theorists used it as an inspiration to go off in a completely different direction in response to American cultural hegemony in the world, which itself was a direct result of the American capitalist desire to expand markets for overseas exports of American cultural products. Green explains the effect this had on some European intellectuals.

          Not everyone likes the American Idea. The French, we might say, are at the forefront of the resistance
          movement against this wave. Indeed, one could characterize the works of Michel Foucault and Jaques
          Derrida, for example, as little more than attempts to undermine or otherwise get around the American
          Idea, as it is instantiated in monopoly capitalism . . . [and] there are many [others] who have gone on
          the record as lamenting the fact that universal ties between human beings are [now being] formed
          along the lines of reality television stars rather than anything of consequence in the real world.

Green is right when he says that French deconstructionist philosophy was developed in some sense as a bulwark against the American cultural invasion of Europe. By breaking down any piece of literature, texts, films, what have you, and deconstructing it into its constituent parts, those parts quickly become meaningless when separated from their overall context. Thus, essentially having no meaning at that point, those individual parts can then be assigned any meaning the reader or viewer wants them to have. The real evil genius in the philosophy, however, is that once those parts with their new meaning attached are reassembled, this new meaning now informs the entire work, usually damning it as the product of corporate American designs to flood the rest of the world with “mellifluous nothing” in its mission to extract as much money from that world as possible without any thought to the consequences for the people themselves. Meanwhile, this idea was soon picked up by American university professors who had lost the ability to analyze literature and needed some way to justify their existence. Using these principles they were able to deconstruct literature and show how it actually meant whatever they wanted it to mean rather than what the text explicitly said. In this case, however, the underlying meaning they assigned was one that indicted whites over blacks, men over women, straights over gays, and any other cultural disparity that could be exploited in the name of publishing rather than perishing. In fact, James Lindsay himself, along with a couple of colleagues, wrote out meaningless academic papers a few years ago that they crammed full of deconstructionist ideas and jargon, and of the twenty they submitted to peer-reviewed journals, seven were actually accepted for publication. One was even given an award by the journal that accepted it.

So, what the hell does any of this have to do with Critical Theory? The short answer is, almost nothing. Critical Theory is about as responsible for Deconstructionism as classical music is responsible for smooth jazz. Sure, both Mozart and Kenny G use the twelve-tone scale of Western music, but there the similarity ends. And while Mozart represents a high point in Western culture and rewards repeated listening, the loss of Kenny G’s music might actually be a cultural gain for society. Similarly, while both Critical Theory and Deconstructionism share an emphasis on trying to understand the hidden forms of oppression in society, there the similarity also ends, and the loss of deconstructionist principles would also be a net gain for the American people. The confusion comes from the fact that American academics co-opted the name, probably because it sounds a lot better than Deconstructionism. Rather than the utter destruction and dismantling of the literature and culture that academics are pretending to analyze—which is all that deconstruction really accomplishes—the term Critical Theory instead turns these faux intellectuals into genius analysts who can see what others are oblivious to. I have no issue with the use of the word “theory,” as in race theory, feminist theory, or queer theory—though the philosophies themselves are overtly damaging to society—but once they tack on the word “critical” it winds up dragging the Frankfurt School into ideologies they have no business being associated with, let alone the responsibility for.

The only tenuous connection that Critical Theory has with Deconstructionism is in the idea that things are not really what they seem, and that oppression can be lurking in those unseen hidden depths. But where Deconstructionism sees oppression in other people, and makes them personally responsible for the systemic disenfranchisement of perceived victims that they couldn’t possibly be responsible for, Critical Theory tries to open the mind to the ways in which the system itself is responsible for the oppression of everyone, and that it’s the victims themselves who need to take personal responsibility for their own complicity in that oppression. Sports and celebrity, for instance, would seem to be an innocent pastime, a hobby to enjoy as a respite from work and other obligations, and for some people that may be the case. What the Frankfurt School was attempting to demonstrate, however, is that when seen within the totality of a person’s life, those things are nothing more than distractions to keep people from using their energies to actually make their lives better, and by extension improving the lives of everyone around them. The idea was to see things as they really are, not simply make up some meaning that justifies a person’s inchoate and incorrect ideas about their own perceived victimhood. For the Frankfurt School the most oppressive form of control was that of the workplace, but they quickly branched out into other areas as well, especially the numerous ways that the capitalist oligarchy—first in Europe but later in the U.S.—was controlling the masses through the manipulation of the media and entertainment as well as commerce.

The ultimate refinement of this goal, it has become pretty obvious, is the smart phone, whose very presence in people’s lives robs users of their own smarts by plugging them instead into a corporate matrix that delivers non-stop sports and entertainment, or anger-fueled social commentary and meaningless connection rather than real life experience. And it is in the toxic sphere of modern social media where both of the ideas of oppressor manipulation and deconstructionism come together. As Rogan says, “The format of Twitter itself, I think it’s detrimental to people’s mental health. Communicating through these small, little sentences, and little paragraphs of two hundred and eighty characters.” And then Lindsay naturally goes on to make the obvious connection. “I actually call Twitter a deconstruction machine.

          Deconstruction is the idea that we’re going to take a thing apart, make it look absurd, or show it in
          a particular light, pull it apart until you don’t really trust its validity anymore. And so anything you put
          on Twitter, once you get an account of a certain size at least, [there’s] a one hundred percent chance
          that some jackass is going to say something that just messes with your head. Somebody’s going to
          take it out of context, or they’re going to tell you what they thought you mean, and now that’s the
          thing you mean . . . So they take you apart, they deconstruct you, the real Joe Rogan, your real
          intentions and your real meaning, and then they put it out into the world and now there’s this new
          Joe Rogan that does terrible things, or there’s this new Joe Rogan that’s maybe a saint.

The idea behind Deconstructionism as it is used in this country today, first as a way of making literature mean whatever university professors want it to mean so that they don’t have to go through the arduous task of working out what an author is actually saying, is then passed on to their students, who are now stuck with these specious theories as a way to try and understand the world around them. Except they end up doing exactly the opposite. Instead of being able to undertake the difficult intellectual work of making sense of the world as it is, people now have permission to make up whatever kind of world they want, seeing people and institutions and politics not for what they really are, but as whatever the individual wants those things to be, increasingly either a comfort or an outrage and with almost no gray area in between. My issue with Lindsay’s history lesson is that he makes absolutely no distinction between Critical Theory and the Deconstructionist philosophy that emerged out of it much later, when the reality is they are really quite different. Critical Theory. It’s right in the name. The Frankfurt school was critical of Marxist theory as a way of accurately explaining what was going on in the world, and so they took a far more nuanced look at the forces at work in capitalist oligarchies to explain it. Instead it is Deconstructionist theory, not the Frankfurt School’s Critical Theory, that is the driving force behind the Political Correctness Movement and it’s current incarnation in Woke philosophy, which has resulted in the absolutely bizarre creation of right-wing fascism by left-wing zealots in our country.

What’s so ironic in all of this is that Lindsay has no trouble at all making distinctions when it comes to religion.

          I used to be kind of hard ass about religion, a tough, angry atheist, but I’ve thought about it more—
          which you’re not allowed to think about things and change your mind now, but I did—and what I
          realized is that some religions look up, they’re looking at God and they’re afraid of sin, but they’re
          paying attention to God, they’re thinking about renewal, they’re thinking about redemption, they’re
          thinking about forgiveness. And then some religions look down, and all they do is look at the sin,
          and they focus on the sin and that’s where the witch hunts came from . . . If you look up, then religion
          can be great, it can actually lead people to spiritual development and community and so on. But if
          you’re looking down, you’re going to start obsessing—and if you’re obsessing about sin you’re going
          to start obsessing about everybody else’s sin too.

When Lindsay talks about the difference between upward looking Christians and downward looking Christians this is exactly the same distinction he needs to be making with regard to Critical Theory and its monumental difference from Deconstructionism. Unfortunately, because of the informal nature of their discussion, which was primarily focused on the end results, that distinction is left unclear, and Critical Theory once again winds up being held responsible for the evils of modern social fascism and is unfairly maligned in the process.

Putting definitions and distinctions aside for a moment, it’s once again fascinating to see Lindsay make the connection between religion and Deconstructionism because the Bible is the ultimate deconstructionist text. For every passage that promotes peace and love and turning the other cheek—those the upward looking Christians focus on—there are just as many, if not more, passages promoting hatred toward others, enslaving them, raping them, killing them, all in the name of trying to be the people God likes best and justifying all manner of inhumanity to others as a result. As the saying goes, believers need only to pick their poison. For downward looking Christians it’s not enough to rid themselves of sin, they somehow feel mandated to remove everyone else’s imaginary sin as well—and through whatever means necessary. This translates quite easily into Woke philosophy as it is not enough for people to act in non-prejudicial ways, and instead it is the mandate of the Woke to root out prejudice where it is hiding in the minds of people, even if it’s not really there. This same phenomenon is one that Arthur Miller wrote about nearly seventy years ago in the contextual narrative portions of The Crucible, his play about the Salem Witch Trials.

          Our difficulty in believing the—for want of a better word—political inspiration of the Devil is due in
          great part to the fact that he is called up and damned not only by our social antagonists but by our
          own side, whatever it may be . . . In the countries of the Communist ideology, all resistance of any
          import is linked to the totally malign capitalist succubi, and in America any man who is not reactionary
          in his views is open to the charge of alliance with the Red hell. Political opposition, thereby, is given
          an inhumane overlay which then justifies the abrogation of all normally applied customs of civilized
          intercourse. A political policy is equated with moral right, and opposition to it with diabolical malevo-
          lence. Once such an equation is effectively made, society becomes a congerie of plots and counter-
          plots . . . The results of this process are no different now from what they ever were, except some-
          times in the degree of cruelty inflicted, and not always even in that department. Normally the actions
          and deeds of a man were all that society felt comfortable in judging. The secret intent of an action
          was left to the ministers, priests, and rabbis to deal with. When diabolism rises, however, actions
          are the least important manifests of the true nature of a man.

This is a lot to take in, and so it’s important to give Miller’s words the kind of analysis they need in order to be crystal clear about how they describe the societal fascism that’s coming from the left today. He begins by mentioning the “political inspiration of the Devil,” by which he means using the idea of evil, or sin, or criminality, as a way of controlling people. The use of the Devil as a means of control in organized religion is fairly obvious, especially for those downward looking Christians. But in addition to the diabolism imagined by religion, there is also a new secular diabolism that manifests itself in the form of racism, sexism, homophobia and a host of other perceived sins. Then Miller goes on to say that anyone who is not reactionary in their views against obvious evils—even if those evils are only obvious to a specific group—automatically aligns them with and makes them part of that evil. The same thing is true in Woke philosophy. Bill Maher talked about this earlier in the year on Rogan’s podcast #1413, and illuminates the fact that Miller’s observation from the middle of the previous century is even worse today. Rogan begins by stating, “The left has this dirty thing that if you disagree with them in any way you become an alt right person,” which Maher picks up on and further refines. “I am always reading a story, daily I read something, and what goes through my mind is, ‘This country now is completely binary.’ There’s only two camps. We’re totally tribal. You’re either red or blue, liberal or conservative, and everything that one side does, that anybody does that represents that side, has to be owned by that entire side.” Rogan then articulates the way this perverts important issues by creating false conflicts, when in reality the major problems faced by this country should be seen as major problems by everyone. “It should be something that everybody rejects; it should be something that angers everyone; it shouldn’t be tied to one party or another party.”

What comes next is rather chilling. As Miller states, once this type of dynamic is embraced, the “normally applied customs of civilized intercourse” are thrown out the window. Once the enemy has been labeled as such they become evil, and because of that its perfectly permissible to attack them in any manner deemed necessary, no matter how violent or cruelly inflicted. Even more disturbing, in a properly functioning society the secret intent behind a person’s actions is not something that other people can know or should at all be concerned with, but once secular diabolism is assumed to be present, then a person’s actions become irrelevant in the face of presumed bigotry. By using deconstructionist principles it actually becomes very easy to ignore people’s actions and simply assume that every person who finds themselves born into a privileged class is automatically guilty of oppressing others. What Lindsay sees in this kind of behavior, however, is merely a form of projection.

          That’s what I’m thinking is going on. I’ve thought this for a number of years, that a lot of this stuff
          where you get these Woke activists doing their blogs or these scholars writing this stuff down is
          that they’re looking at their own lives. So you have these people walking down the street, or what-
          ever, they walk into the hotel, they walk into the restaurant, and [they think], “I saw a black guy.”
          And then it’s, “I’m not supposed to notice that.” And they start having this thing in their head, and
          then they go write an angry blog about how terrible racism is because they’re wrestling with it
          themselves . . . And now “everybody’s a racist” is kind of the vibe of the new thing.

What’s so fascinating is that this is a perfect example of what Critical Theory predicts. Rather than fighting systemic racism and other kinds of oppression where it really lies, with people using their considerable energy to eliminate it by working together, politically correct deconstructionism turns people against themselves. And so instead of waging war where it will do the most good, people become distracted by attempting to police everyone else’s thoughts. The biggest problem with this kind of focus is that it turns out to be a completely meaningless exercise. In speaking about the book White Fragility, Lindsay had this to say about the type of seminars the author gives around the country, and the ludicrous extremes to which that type of thinking is taken when pushed to its illogical conclusion.

          This lady emailed me the other day, this Indian woman. So this lady says “I had to go through
          this Brown Fragility training at work.” What happened was, they explained to the whole group—
          it was done in a room in front of a bunch of people—and they explained Brown people in general
          have anti-black racism, too, and that upholds white supremacy. And it’s almost like cold reading.
          They wait for somebody to start looking like they’re getting the sweats or something happening,
          and then they say, “Now, what we need to do, now that we’ve introduced this idea of your brown
          fragility and your anti-blackness, is we need to interrogate the feelings that came up.” And so they
          go one by one through the room and made every single one of them confess their feelings. Who’s
          not going to participate? And here’s that double bind, because it gets to you, right? And so what
          do you say? You say, “Well, I don’t really know what you’re talking about.” They’ll say you’re
          ignoring it, and then if you confess to it, then you’re falling in.

The only thing this kind of inquisition demonstrates is that people have racist thoughts . . . all people, which doesn’t really seem to have a point. For the Woke crowd, however, that’s enough to condemn them outright. But those kinds of assumptions only expose the illegitimacy of that way of thinking. Because if having racist thoughts is enough to make a person a racist, then the Woke Movement needs to be just as vigilant about condemning blacks for the very same thoughts. That’s right. Racist thoughts don’t just come out of nowhere, they are inculcated into people by others who want to indoctrinate them into a specific way of thinking. And as far as Critical Theory is concerned, propaganda makes no concession to race. It is equally damaging to all citizens, including blacks. A perfect explanation of this comes in the film 13th. In her documentary about the propaganda campaign that led to the mass incarceration of blacks in this country, Ava DuVernay interviewed a number of people, but it’s black activist Malkia Cyril who makes this point the most eloquently. “So you have then educated a public deliberately, over years, over decades, to believe that black men in particular, and black people in general, are criminals. I want to be clear, because I’m not just saying that white people believe this, right? Black people also believe this and are terrified of our own selves.”

And once again, that fact in and of itself proves nothing about the person. A person’s thoughts are a person’s thoughts, and should in no way define them. Further, those who indulge in that sort of thinking are actually flying in the face of true morality. Matt Dillahunty, the current president of the Atheist Community of Austin and a regular host of that organization’s The Atheist Experience, has gone to great lengths to explode this particular myth. In one conversation with a caller to the show, Dillahunty had to explain to a morally outraged Christian why being a pedophile is not inherently immoral.

          It’s okay to have that desire, it’s not okay to act on it. In fact, the person who has that desire and
          never acts on it is engaging in a morally superior position, because they recognize the action is
          distinct and different and has consequences . . . Our actions have consequences, and it is the
          actions that matter. My desire, what goes on in my head, first of all is nobody’s business. Nobody
          can know unless I state it. Nobody can make an assessment of me. I could be sitting here every
          day on the show with really horrific desires that I never act on. I’m not, but you don’t have any
          way to know that; you don’t have any right to know it. What you’re doing is trying to make thoughts
          a crime. But thoughts aren’t a crime.

So even though it’s possible to separate thought from action, that still leaves the country with the problem of what to do with all of that previous indoctrination and the way it may inform unconscious actions today. In Miller’s day he was writing about America’s conflict with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and he went on to illuminate the real issue at the heart of the conflict in the way the Salem Witch Trials translates to modern times by pointing out that, “while there were no witches then, there are Communists and capitalists now.” A similar situation is complicating the search for answers in the twenty-first century. To recast Miller’s point in terms of racism: while not everyone the country is a racist, there is racism in the country. So even though it makes no sense on its face to assume that every non-black person in the U.S. is prejudiced against blacks, it is equally incorrect to then make the false assumption that there is no racism at all.

The pushback by many whites against the idea that there is systemic, institutionalized racism in this country is only an attempt to swing the pendulum in the opposite direction, and completely ignores the surfeit of evidence from just the past decade. One of the most embarrassing attempts to deny this reality was made by Sam Harris, who increasingly seems to be espousing views that are regressive and reactionary rather than intellectual. His podcast from June 12th of this year is profoundly disturbing in its implication that the murder of blacks by police officers, while tragic, are not really evidence of racism. “Do the dozen or so videos that have emerged in recent years,” he begins, “of black men being killed by cops, do they prove or even suggest that there is an epidemic of lethal police violence directed especially at black men, and that this violence is motivated by racism? If you take even five minutes,” he continues, “to look at the data on crime and police violence, the answer really appears to be no, in every case.” The justification he uses for this absurd assertion is that, today, “the police use more deadly force against white people, both in terms of absolute numbers, and in terms of their contribution to crime and violence in our society.” But in making this kind of argument, Harris falls victim to the most boneheaded intellectual blunder a person can make: the belief that statistics are the same thing as facts. They’re not. And this attempt—by someone who should really know better—to gaslight the country into believing that police crimes against blacks are not racially motivated is naïve at best, and insidiously divisive at worst.

There are hundreds of stories out there that make Harris’s statistics a moot point, but the one I came across in the last few days was an account of a stand up show by Dave Chappelle, and the way that his experience belies all of the statistics that Harris can dredge up. Chappelle was in New York shortly after the Eric Garner murder by police, and talked at the show about how incidents like that make him afraid for his children. Then a white woman in the audience decided to heckle him by shouting “Life’s hard. Sorry about it!” According to the description of the evening by fellow comedian Kenny DeForrest, “It takes the air completely out of the room. A collective gasp.” But as is his way, Chappelle didn’t get confrontational, and instead used the opportunity to educate the audience about the history of police violence in their interactions with black people. He went on to tell a story about being pulled over by a cop near his home, and reacting with extreme caution because of how conscious Chappelle was that he is black. The cop who pulled him over said to relax, that he knew Chappelle, and sent him off with just a warning. “The twist?” according to DeForrest, “The same cop would go on to murder John Crawford III,” a short time later. Chappelle finished by telling a story about a friend from South Africa, and what it was like right before apartheid ended, and his description was a heightened version of what happened after the George Floyd murder. “Critical mass,” Chappelle said. “That’s what we have to hit. Once enough of you care, there will be nothing they can do to stop that change.” And then he ended his set.

The real point of the story comes after the show, when the white woman from the audience asked to see Chappelle. She not only apologized for what she said, but thanked him for educating her, and said she would never talk like that again. Chappelle was gracious and thanked her in return, because now she was now part of the solution rather than the problem. She was part of the critical mass that it would take to make things better. This is in direct refutation of the deconstructionist thought-police and their indictment of those who don’t know any better simply because of the way that they were indoctrinated. “The point is,” DeForrest concludes, “It doesn’t matter what you thought before. You can always change.” But that’s not how Woke philosophy views it. To them, according to Lindsay, “It’s like everything’s a permanent stain on you. There’s no growth. You can’t become a better person over time.” This way of viewing the world essentially says, once a racist always a racist. What the Wokesters don’t realize, though, and Dave Chappelle obviously understands, is that the solution to the problem of systemic racism is education, not shame. Guilt doesn’t help anyone—which is something organized religion still hasn’t figured out. All it does is pit people who are supposed to be on the same side against each other. But this is exactly the kind of infighting that the ruling oligarchy wants to see happening because it distracts people from the real problems and the real culprits. Again, this is the precise scenario that Critical Theory warns about—in complete opposition to the Deconstructionism that creates it.

This is why Critical Theory is so frightening to the corporate-political elites on the right, because it attempts to expose the real truth for all to see. That’s why when articles and books appear on Critical Theory by those from the right, they are little more than diatribes and screeds accusing the Frankfurt School of being dedicated to the destruction of this society and the American way of life. But that argument assumes that American society and its way of life as it currently exists is actually working in a positive way for the American people, when clearly it’s not. One only has to look at what’s happened in Washington D.C. over the past year and it’s pretty clear to see that the right has become so brazenly dedicated to the acquisition of money and power, regardless of the consequences for the average citizen, that they will allow an utterly inept criminal to occupy the highest office in the land, kill hundreds of thousands of Americans through inaction, and put millions out of work just to keep the stock market humming along and be able maintain their own power. As to the desire for the destruction of that part of American society, the Frankfurt School would happily plead guilty. And it’s precisely that aspect of Marxism, to use Lindsay’s phrase, that “wasn’t Marxist enough” for them. But all revolutions are not equal, and it does a major disservice to Critical Theory to assume that the only form of revolution that results in meaningful change is a violent one. Even Lindsay confessed during the podcast that Herbert Marcuse, one of the founding members of the Frankfurt School, was unhappy with the anti-intellectual nature of the demonstrations in the late sixties. Rioting is always going to be ineffective if the people participating can’t articulate exactly why they are rebelling and exactly what they hope to gain—something the protests in the wake of the George Floyd murder have been very clear about.

To see just the kind of thing that Critical Theory hoped to destroy, it’s instructive to look at where ideas like White Fragility come from. The book’s most open critic has been Matt Taibbi, who pointed out on the news program The Hill, “the extraordinary irony of white America in the wake of this racial tragedy in Minneapolis elevating, of all things, a white corporate consultant to number one on the best seller list, because this is how they want to reinterpret racial issues . . . Corporate America views the race problem as an individual issue, where racism is sort of inexorably stuck in all of us and the only way that we can combat it is by relentlessly listening to corporate consultants tell us how to fight it.” But this is exactly what Critical Theory predicts corporations will do. By using deconstructionist principles to distract people from institutionalized racism and blaming it instead on the individual, it absolves the corporate world from their complicity in manufacturing the problem in the first place, while at the same time setting people at war with each other. All one has to do is watch the first half of Ava DuVernay’s 13th, to see that this is not the conspiracy theory that politicians, corporate executives, and misguided people like Sam Harris would have people believe. These were corporate created, politically instituted policies that were designed specifically to criminalize race and turn the rest of America against blacks. What Critical Theory wants is for people to open their eyes and see the systemic corruption right in front of them, something that has been easier than ever over the past six months.

A perfect example of this kind of revelation about what is really going on in the world, what the Frankfurt School was attempting to help regular people understand, was experienced by the novelist Stephen King when he was in college in the late sixties, and which he wrote about in Danse Macabre. During his junior year a group of Black Panthers visited the school, and calmly and rationally began to explain to the audience in attendance the way that the corporate oligarchy in America was manipulating the system to their advantage—and to the decided disadvantage of the average citizen. King wrote about the many ways he already believed that the government and corporations were responsible for a myriad of evils in the country. But the thing is, all of the things King listed were essentially scandals that had been uncovered and reported on in the big city newspapers of the time. According to the Panther speakers, however, this was just the tip of the iceberg. “These Panthers were suggesting a huge umbrella of conscious conspiracy that was laughable . . . except the audience wasn’t laughing. During the Q-and-A period, they were asking sober, concerned questions about just how the conspiracy was working, who was in charge, how they got their orders out, et cetera.” At this point King could not contain himself, and stood up to deliver a litany of ludicrous suggestions about what he called “an actual Board of Conspiracy in this country.” After he was finally shouted down by the crowd, “the Panther who spoke did not respond to my question (which, to be fair, wasn’t a question at all, really); he merely said softly, ‘You got a surprise, didn’t you, man?’ . . . I did get a surprise—and a pretty unpleasant one, at that.” Unfortunately, the surprise didn’t stick, and King allowed himself to be reeled back in by the political-industrial complex, which he clearly demonstrated when he went on to write a fantasy novel based on the preposterous notion that Lee Harvey Oswald had anything at all to do with the actual killing of President John F. Kennedy.

Who knows why King resisted believing what the Frankfurt School would have said was painfully obvious. Perhaps it’s because he’s made so much money that he realized he had more in common with the wealthy elite than with his fellow citizens, I don’t know. But in a tremendous irony that feels inescapably just, King recently found himself cowed before the Woke Movement. According to Lindsay, when talking to Rogan about trans-women, “Stephen King got dragged into this, with the whole trans thing.

          He’s long-time been a supporter of J.K. Rowling. J.K. Rowling has decided that she’s had enough
          of this trans rights thing, [and their] going after the women’s issues. And so at first Stephen King
          stood up for her, and she put out a Tweet saying, “You’re such a good friend, blah, blah, blah.” Then
          somebody came after him, and he [Tweets], “Trans women are women.” And it’s like, he just caved.
          He just immediately caved. It’s like: All Woke and no play makes Steve a dull boy. You get this sense
          that it’s like something out of one of the novels he would have [written]. All of a sudden it’s like Needful
          Things, the whole town going crazy because of demon possession.

But it’s not demon possession that the United States is struggling with today, its possession of the seats of government, the seats of industry, the seats of finance, all the seats of power that are held by a tiny fraction of the population. And then they use that power and control to manipulate everything to their advantage, property, education, taxes, the legal system, the financial system, the military, energy, and medicine, and leave nothing more than crumbs for everyone else. And for the coup de grâce, they get everyone else to fight among themselves for those crumbs without ever understanding that they could have so much more if they all worked together for the common good.

The thing is, it’s much too easy to blame the President for the current state of the nation, for what’s wrong with America. In reality, he is just a figurehead. The real culprit behind the failure who sits in the White House, the party truly responsible for everything that has happened in the last three and a half years, from the subversion of American elections, to the murder of blacks in the streets, to making Covid 19 even worse, are Senate and Congressional Republicans who support him despite the fact that this President has wantonly broken federal laws and misused his office to benefit himself while completely ignoring the needs of the country he is purportedly there to serve. Senate Republicans in particular, had the opportunity to rid this country of the scourge that sits in the Oval Office. It was served up to them on a silver platter. All they had to do was the right thing, the moral thing, the only thing that would have allowed them to uphold their sworn oath to the Constitution. And yet they utterly failed, just like their so-called leader. Had Senate Republicans acted as duty demanded when the President was impeached, had they responded appropriately to the will of the people when called upon by the country to remove both this man and his complicit vice-president from office, Nancy Pelosi would be the President now and the nation would not be in the miserable state it’s in, suffering not only from a global pandemic but from the economic chaos that followed in its wake.

But Republicans refuse to change, refuse to learn and grow, and refuse to admit they are wrong. They must keep up the façade of infallibility even at the expense of hundreds of thousands of American lives. At the same time, their so-called leader is truly the emperor with no clothes. He is a nakedly racist, misogynist, homophobic narcissist who is incapable of opening his mouth without lying. He is a delusional adolescent bully who maintains his position through the criminal actions of his miscreant supporters in Congress who have allowed him to remain in office despite numerous treasonous actions against our country and the Constitution he was sworn to defend. When looked at in this light, the modern Republican Party is really not that different from the Catholic Church. And just as the Vatican shielded pederast priests for decades—if not centuries—the right wing of this country is content to figuratively sodomize its own citizens in order to support a capitalist oligarchy that has become increasingly less covert in its actions. This is the very thing that the Frankfurt School and Critical Theory have been attempting to warn people about for the last hundred years. But because those on the right continue to denigrate Critical Theory, purposefully conflating it with Deconstructionism as a way of damning it in the public eye, and hopefully distracting people from the profound truths contained within, it’s vitally important, now more than ever, to remain vigilant about pointing out the distinction between the two theories and not fall prey to sloppy explication in the manner of James Lindsay. Critical Theory provides not only hope, but an answer to the debilitating conflicts that plague this country. And it’s not about being Woke. It’s about genuinely waking up to the real enemy, and realizing once and for all that it’s not each other.

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