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Villanova and the Compulsory Pieties of Higher Education

I. All We Like Sheep

In the 1980s, when the Reagan administration chose the name “Peacekeeper” for an intercontinental ballistic missile sporting 300-kiloton nuclear warheads, critics of the program were over a barrel. “Peacekeepers kill!” “Down with Peacekeepers!” “Support for Peacekeepers is support for war!” You see the problem.

Higher education gets similar rhetorical insulation with phrases like “Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion,” which is why on American college campuses pledges of fidelity to some version of this trinity have been slipped into annual reviews, teaching evaluations, and applications for employment with hardly a whisper of opposition. Dissent always sounds diabolical.

This was demonstrated last spring when two Villanova professors objected in a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed to their institution’s new teaching evaluation form which asks students to comment on the professor’s “cultural awareness” and sensitivity to “individual differences” and “social identities.” The calumny wrote itself. A “Response” signed by one hundred Villanova professors implied that Doctors Sheehan and Wilson, unlike the faculty signatories, do not take seriously “charges of insensitivity, injustice, and bigotry.” Villanova’s President and Provost attributed to Sheehan and Wilson the belief that “a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion is antithetical to a liberal arts education.” Only warmongers could oppose Peacekeepers, after all.

The trouble is, words and phrases that have ordinary meanings outside the academy have been given extraordinary meanings inside. Consider, for example, what “sensitivity” to race and ethnicity means according to the magna carta of campus cultural awareness, “Racial Microaggressions in Everyday Life,” by Teachers College professor Derald Wing Sue. Suppose a white professor wants to hear more from a reserved student in her class, and in office hours encourages the student to speak up: “We want to know what you think. Speak up more.” According to Professor Sue, if this reserved student is black or white, the professor is on safe ground. But if the student is Asian—and I’m not making this up—the professor has potentially committed a micro-aggression. Why? Because being quiet is evidently an Asian “cultural value.” In suggesting that the Asian student “be more verbal,” the professor is requiring him to “assimilate to the dominant [White, and evidently louder] culture.”

If the professor urges an Asian student to “calm down” and to stop being “so loud,” she is apparently back on safe ground. But if the professor asks the same of a black student, she may have committed yet another microaggression, for the remarkable reason that being “loud” and “animated” is evidently a “cultural value” for black people. In other words, demonstrating “cultural awareness” often means trafficking in facile ethno-racial stereotypes, which the illiberal Left has repackaged as “social identities.”

Then there’s the question of how one is to determine the racial, cultural, sexual, and religious “identities” of one’s students in the first place. Common sense and classroom experience suggest that it’s best to focus squarely on the course’s subject matter and to engage students according to what they say and write, without attempting to ascribe to them anything so essentializing as an “identity.” Nothing I’ve read about “inclusive classrooms” dissuades me from this view. On the contrary. Take a passage from the University of Michigan’s guide to “Creating Inclusive College Classrooms” which says that “among students who are different in a highly visible way” are women who wear “Islamic clothing.” Apart from the fact that both Christian and Jewish women in various parts of the Middle East wear what the Michigan guide calls “Islamic” clothing, the more significant point is that the guide’s authors have decided for 750 million women around the world that to be a Muslim is to wear the Abaya, Burkha, Chador, Hijab, Jilbab, or the Niqab. Surely this decision is offensive to, and exclusive of, millions of Muslim women like Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, who described such clothing in her book Refusing the Veil as “degrading to women,” “a cover for sexism and violence,” and inimical to the true spirit of Islam.

Even if a professor were to establish the various “identities” of her students, it’s unclear what being sensitive to those identities entails. The philosopher Erich Voegelin asserted that mass extermination in the name of religious belief is the product of monotheism—more specifically, “an innovation of Deuteronomy.” Would quoting Voegelin’s claim be considered insensitive to conservative Christian or orthodox Jewish students in the class? Or would it be offensive to assume that any of them would be offended, implying as it does that they’re uncritical pietists?

The punishments which the Koran’s Allah promises to exact on non-believers provide more evidence for Voegelin’s claim. Would remarking the Koran’s florid fantasies of violence be considered evidence of the professor’s cultural insensitivity? It wouldn’t be if students were taught to distinguish between criticizing a religion’s ideas on the one hand, and discriminating against its followers on the other. Are they so taught? The faculty “Response” to Professors Sheehan and Wilson insists that Villanova should be free of, among other things, “Islamophobia”—a term which obscures precisely this distinction between anti-Muslim bigotry and criticism of Islam. “A new word had been created to help the blind remain blind: Islamophobia,” writes Salman Rushdie in Joseph Anton, reiterating a point he made along with eleven other writers more than a decade ago in the pages of Charlie Hebdo, where “Islamophobia” was described as a “wretched concept” used to intimidate the religion’s critics and reformers into silence. Support for that claim would seem to have been offered inadvertently by the Islamic Human Rights Commission, which named Charlie HebdoIslamophobe of the Year” in March of 2015, just two months after 12 members of the satirical weekly were massacred in their Paris offices by Islamic terrorists. Yet the Villanova faculty “Response” uses the term “Islamophobia” as if it were an unequivocal tool of the morally upright.

The 100 faculty signatories also want their university to be free of “anti-LGBTQ sentiments”—a consummation devoutly to be wished. But when a conservative Muslim student devoutly wishes to condemn homosexuality and transsexuality on religious grounds, should the professor risk being labeled Islamophobic for condemning the student’s transphobia and homophobia, or risk being labeled homophobic and transphobic for refusing to?

Suppose the professor’s refusal stems from the recognition that the very ideas of “transphobia” and “homophobia” are themselves historico-cultural pejoratives posing as transhistorical, transcultural psychiatric disorders, and thus Eurocentric in principle and potentially xenophobic in practice. A far-fetched hypothetical? Last spring hundreds of predominantly Muslim parents at Britain’s Parkfield Community School withdrew their 600 children from classes because of a “No Outsiders” program which taught that “it’s okay to be gay.” “We respect the British values,” said one parent, who felt that the program was not, however, “respecting our ethos as a community.”

There is immediate evidence too for the parochialism of the term “Islamophobia”: in 2017 the Chinese government medicalized Islamophilia, declaring “extremist” Uighur-Muslim ideas to be an “ideological illness” which requires hospitalization for those who have been “infected.” A 12-minute Uighur-language recording issued by the Chinese Communist Party explains that while some people infected with the ideas “have not committed any crimes … [t]here is always the risk that the illness will manifest itself at any moment, which would cause serious harm to the public.” China’s response to this illness, the internment and “re-education” of between one and two million Uighurs, likely constitutes the largest incarceration of an ethnic minority since World War II.

Would remarking on this fact signal a professor’s laudable condemnation of Islamophobia, or her latent and objectionable Sinophobia? According to the “Michigan Guide on Inclusive Classrooms,” professors should not present the policies of foreign governments “as either wholly good or wholly bad,” and should avoid regularly making invidious distinctions between American policies and, for example, “social policies in China.”

Perhaps the invidiousness of the distinction between Chinese and U.S. policies could be softened if the professor noted that Beijing insisting that Xinjiang be free of pro-Muslim sentiments is not in principle different from 100 faculty in an American University insisting that their campus be free of “anti-LGBTQ sentiments.” Or, since Villanova is a private school, maybe a closer comparison is the one between the Chinese government requiring “treatments” for an “ideological illness” in 2017, and the University of Delaware—an American state school—administering what it called “treatments” for potentially retrograde political attitudes of its entering students a decade earlier in 2007. It’s a small world after all.

II. Cult Awareness as Cultural Awareness

Highlighting the authoritarian tendencies of activist faculty and administrators is obviously not an intended outcome of “cultural awareness” and “anti-bias” campaigns. Nor for that matter is exposing the Eurocentric potential of the pejorative “homophobic,” the Sinophobic potential of the pejorative “Islamophobic,” the Islamophobic potential of the pejoratives “Sinophobic” and “homophobic,” or the xenophobic potential of compulsory multiculturalism, whose premises are by no means transcultural. But given the ease with which these intersectional prohibitions become a web of unavoidable tripwires, what’s to keep those who promote the prohibitions from being ensnared themselves? Theoretically nothing, but practically everything. With rare exception, if you’ve signaled your allegiance to the question-begging version of “social justice” now current in colleges and universities, you’ve got something close to the benefit of clergy.

Then too, the political monoculture that especially prevails in the humanities and social sciences has meant that most undergraduates are kept in the dark about the contradictory claims of intersectionality, in precisely the same way that novitiates are kept in the dark about the contradictory claims of Holy Writ. Once the institutions become ideologically homogenous within, the only credible threats are the ones from without: hence the importance of deplatforming outside speakers. Although deplatforming pretends to be about protecting fragile students from hateful ideas, it’s really about protecting fragile ideology from meaningful critique. Seton Hall’s decision to disinvite Stanley Fish from speaking on campus, for example, is as disingenuously self-serving as the Church of Scientology’s decision to disinvite Sara Kelly from attending L. Ron Hubbard’s posthumous 91st birthday bash. Kelly’s sin was trashing the film adaptation of Battlefield Earth. Fish’s sin was critiquing higher ed’s “regime of virtue.”

Charges of indoctrination are vehemently denied by academics themselves, of course, and a common defensive strategy is to wax indignant on behalf of students. Back in 2007, an administrator at the University of Delaware blamed the critics of its infamously politicized orientation program for implying that Delaware undergraduates were “so empty-headed and ignorant that they could be ‘indoctrinated’ with ease.” The Villanova faculty “Response” reprises that argument—minus the accidental self-indictment—by suggesting that Professors Sheehan and Wilson’s concerns about indoctrination were “insulting to students who are adults … capable of critical thinking and making their own decisions.”

But compare this public defense of student autonomy to what one of the two co-authors of Villanova’s faculty “Response” says when writing for a coterie audience of fellow academics. In a 2014 essay, Villanova Professor Billie Murray urges her colleagues to “establish parameters for students’ explorations of communication activism,” and explicitly rejects a non-partisan pedagogy that would let students “participate in public discussions on issues that they choose.’” Professor Murray says that her own course doesn’t simply offer a “set of tactics and strategies, but a clear understanding of what it means to work toward a world free of domination and oppression.” In practice, this means that, for example, working for Planned Parenthood is one of her course’s five service options, whereas working for a pro-life group is not. Although I support a woman’s right to choose, it is worth asking: Is this what Villanova’s President and Provost mean when they laud their institution’s commitment to a “pedagogy that recognizes that knowledge creation is part of the dynamic exchange among and between perspectives”?

The President and Provost also trumpet Villanova’s dedication “to the highest academic standards” in their dismissal of Wilson and Sheehan’s concerns about political indoctrination. Since we recently passed the fifth anniversary of the tragic events in Ferguson and the shooting of Michael Brown, I thought I’d test that by plugging the terms “Villanova, Ferguson, Bias” into a Google search. On the first page of results was a Villanova Tedx talk entitled “Being White and Seeing Black: Ferguson, Neuroscience and Imagination” by Villanova Professor Tim Horner, one of the signatories of the faculty “Response.” In his talk, Professor Horner confesses to his own racial bias, citing as evidence both the dispiriting results of his implicit bias test (“a moderate preference for white faces”), and the sweat-inducing fear he experienced as a young college student on Chicago’s L-train when, late one night, two black men entered the car that he occupied alone. After a brief foray into the “neuroscience of racial bias,” Professor Horner concludes that the fear Darren Wilson experienced in the moments before he shot and killed Michael Brown, was as baseless and as racially biased as the fear he himself had experienced on Chicago’s L-train all those years ago.

Excluded tout court from this analysis are the Obama Justice Department findings, readily available for six months at the time of the talk, which expose the bad faith of this conclusion. To mention the most relevant of the findings: 1) Darren Wilson rightly suspected that Michael Brown had just strong-armed a convenient store clerk during the theft of cigars; 2) as confirmed by eyewitness testimony and forensic evidence, Darren Wilson was assaulted through the driver-side window of his SUV by Brown who, in a struggle to get control of Wilson’s pistol, was shot in the hand; 3) after fleeing, Brown turned back toward Wilson, ignored repeated commands to stop, and was “moving forward,” “running toward,” or “charging” Wilson when he was finally killed—this according to both Wilson and credible eyewitnesses, most of whom were African Americans.

By contrast, Professor Horner 1) had no reason to suspect his fellow L-train passengers of anything, 2) had no contact with them during the trip, and 3) arrived at his destination without incident. Nevertheless, the only difference Dr. Horner discerns between his fear of the two black men in his train car and Wilson’s fear of Michael Brown is one which redounds to the credit of his own metacognitive acumen: “that’s the difference between him and me,” he says to his approving audience: “I no longer trust that fear—I have become mindful of how my brain constructed that bias.”

This illustrates the speciousness of the claim made by Villanova’s President and Provost that “there is no conflict between academic standards and the values of unity and love.” The problem isn’t simply that a lecture on “the science of racial bias” places a transparently un-scientific embargo on all facts uncongenial to its thesis, or even that its baseless attribution of homicidal racism to Darren Wilson is published under the imprimatur of an institution of higher learning. The larger problem is that the lecture’s misrepresentations are both enabled by and advanced with a warranted confidence that no one in the audience, certainly no academic, would risk calling out these misrepresentations because of the crucial role they play in buttressing a narrative, sacrosanct on the academic Left, about black victimization and what Professor Horner calls, with crowd-pleasing racist indictment, “toxic, white ignorance.” That’s the narrative that gets you love on a college campus, and it’s the one that gets you unity. But as the most cursory reading of the DOJ Report on the death of Michael Brown will show, it gets you nowhere near an academic standard.

III. Undergraduates Unleashed

Fortunately, the vast majority of college students are less susceptible to this kind of coercive group-think than most faculty and administrators, since less depends on their acquiescence. Most undergraduates cannot in fact be “indoctrinated with ease.” A significant minority can not only be indoctrinated, however, but roused and mobilized, which is why Oberlin College’s Dean of Students, Meredith Raimondo, could write credibly in 2017 of “unleashing students” on Emeritus professor Roger Copeland, who had publicly—and presciently—condemned Oberlin’s “rush to judgement” in declaring Gibson’s Bakery “racist.” “Fuck him,” Raimondo texted Oberlin’s Vice President for Communications Ben Jones, and mentioned using students—those “adults,” capable of “making their own decisions”—to do it. There’s no evidence that Oberlin’s communications VP was in the least puzzled by Raimondo’s assertion of control.

That’s because there was nothing to be puzzled about. It’s common knowledge on many campuses that those students who, with little more than rumor to go on, are willing to declare others “bigots” or “racists” and in the process derail both their lives and livelihoods on a whim, are easily influenced by those faculty and administrators with agendas to prosecute. Although it was students, for example, who disrupted Bret Weinstein’s class at Evergreen State College and then hunted for him on campus, it was a small group of faculty and administrators who’d provided the ideological marinade for them to soak up, and President George Bridges who ordered the campus police to stand down as students searched cars and roamed the campus with baseball bats.

A more recent example comes from Professor Steven Gerrard, whose support of a free speech initiative at Williams College earned him the title “Enemy of the People.” Although he received that designation in a letter signed by a group of students, at a faculty meeting in which he attempted to respond from the podium to the students’ letter it was “a group of younger faculty,” according to Professor Gerrard, “who demanded that I be quiet and let the students speak.” It was faculty too, according to Professor Gerrard, who “not only supported . . . but instigated” the “protests, marches, threats and demands—everything but rational argument.”

It’s in the context of this kind of support-cum-instigation on the part of activist faculty that soliciting student opinion about a professor’s “cultural awareness,” or sensitivity to “individual differences” and “social identities” should be understood. Having developed and then delivered to students a terminology infused with self-contradictory intersectionalist dogma, the academic Left now suggests that these terms are non-ideological registers of pedagogical inclusiveness and rapport. They’re not. If acts of genuine bigotry and bias are committed in a classroom, students don’t need special prompting to report it. But once terms like “racist” and “white supremacist” are selectively elasticized to include everything from the electoral college and defenses of free speech, to the Democratic Party, mathematics, and the anti-abortion movement, then leading questions couched in “progressive” patois are required in order to uncover the newly-minted heresies.

If that doesn’t work, there’s a further step—one which I wouldn’t have thought possible had I not experienced it first-hand a few years ago when, in a review letter, an academic dean simply invented student complaints about a lack of diversity in my choice of authors for a course on the novel—a course whose connection with diversity, ironically enough, I’ve written about in the American Scholar. In any case, although not a single student, minority or otherwise, had ever made such a complaint, not even a letter from my department chair pointing out that fact could induce the dean to remove the fabrication, which remains in my file to this day. For the equity professional, the mind is its own place.

Obviously, the problem goes well beyond Villanova. But the controversy there brings to the fore what might otherwise remain hidden in colleges lacking Villanova’s Catholic affiliation—namely, the kinship between the pastoral-aggressive rhetoric of religion and that of the activist academic Left. Villanova’s President and Provost declare in the opening line of their response to Sheehan and Wilson, that “[t]here is nothing more central to Villanova’s Catholic, Augustinian identity, than our community.” It’s worth noting that this word “community,” connected here with a religious tradition, has become the preferred term in secular institutions as well to designate what we used to call a “college” or “university.” The substitution is hardly accidental. The primary values of a college are unfettered intellectual inquiry and open, civil debate; the college “community” is whatever emerges when those two principles are rigorously upheld.

But when “community” comes first, the metabolism of intellectual inquiry—a metabolism fed by debate and dissent—is suppressed in favor of reigning orthodoxies. The “Catholic, Augustinian identity” which Villanova’s President invokes, evidently without irony, offers a long history of such suppression. Central to that history is none other than Augustine himself who, as Bishop of Hippo, wrote two letters in the early fifth century, in which he developed an influential justification for using force and “salutary fear” to bring heretics in line with the institutionalized orthodoxy of the day. In no case were the suppressions Augustine’s work helped authorize for the next fifteen hundred years ever advanced under the banner of falsehood, disunion, and hatred. On the contrary, it was always truth, unity, and love that justified the persecution of those whose opinions were considered religiously incorrect.

Is it a coincidence that such an august tradition of coercion and censorship in the name of truth and justice now finds itself embracing, and embraced by, a putatively secular tradition which, with similar arrogance, presumes to dictate “what it means to work for a world free of domination and oppression”? On this point especially, the Church might have benefitted from the mirror provided by Michel de Montaigne when he wrote, “Ambition, avarice, cruelty, vengeance, do not have enough natural impetuosity of their own; let us spark them and fan their flames by the glorious title of justice and piety.” But Montaigne’s Essays, from which that remark comes, was itself deplatformed in 1676 and placed on the Roman Catholic Index of Forbidden Books. There it remained, along with thousands of other texts, for the next three centuries until the Index was itself belatedly abolished by Pope Paul VI. Old traditions die hard, and the oldest are always ripe for resurrection.

 

Lyell Asher is an associate professor of English at Lewis & Clark College.

Featured Image by Edwin Andrade on Unsplash

Comments

  1. Thanks very much for this article. I agree that the woke academics’ and activists’ actions resemble the social climbing, power and resource/sacrificial-meat acquisitional actions of the members of the priestly classes in various societies present and past. All under the guise (and frequently with the sincere intention) of fighting for the progress, righteousness, enlightenment etc. true-believers know as the highest purpose.

    I especially like the term “selectively elasticised” to denote the broadening of the meaning of a word well beyond the boundaries of what used to widely accepted - perhaps to the point where the word can no longer perform its original purpose without being accompanied by tiresome qualifications to narrow the reader’s interpretation to accord with the word’s formerly widely accepted definition.

    The elasiciser’s purpose may not be concerned with the elegance or utility of language, but with changing everyone’s understanding of the concept the word was formerly a label for. An obvious example is redefining the term “woman”, devoid of any further qualifications, to include, in particular circumstances, men (by the formerly agreed definition). With “racist”, “white supremacist” and “Nazi” being applied frequently, in the absence of detailed arguments, to one’s ideological opponents, the aim is not to change the meaning of the word, but to weaponise it as an easily deployed method of bypassing debate and negatively mischaracterising the opponent’s actions, principles and character. It is the habitual use of the formerly more narrowly understood word as a lazy, broad-brush, insult which widen’s its meaning.

    In decades past, “Nazi” meant actual membership of, or support for, a specific Nazi party or ideology. Now it is understood to mean, in many contexts, someone whose views or actions are at odds with agreed (by all right-thinkers) lofty leftist principles. The broadening becomes cemented when the elasticised meaning but not the original is drafted into other words, such as “feminazi”.

    Language changes and adapts, but in these cases the elasticised word can no longer be used for its original purpose. It has been hijacked. A better way of developing a word for new concepts would be to use a fresh or derived word - but elasticising abusers have no interest in the word’s integrity. To them, it is just a handy weapon to use in the Good Fight.

  2. I constantly puzzle over the fact that Villanova’s biggest donors - the alumni who contribute the largest amounts of money to the university’s endowment fund - must surely be successful business and professional types who are capitalists and more or less conservative in their politics.

    Why are they so uninterested in what the author of this article describes? Why do they not band together and take action - specifically, stop donating money until such time as this nightmare at Villanova has ended?

    Why don’t they care?

  3. I think you may be skating a bit on thin ice with this and your prior post, but I also think your idea needs further investigation and following up. Probably Big Money does have a vested interest in social discohesion as you point out, but the question is, are “big money people” consciously fomenting this discohesion?

    In addition to social discohesion is the issue of the degradation of education via the postmodernist ideological assault. We see it especially in the liberal arts, which used to be considered invaluable for training people in the critical thinking skills necessary for living in a democratic republic. As Hitler once said, “How fortunate for governments that the people they administer don’t think.” Are they thinking now? But again, is the degradation of education conscious on anyone’s part? Is unconsciously allowing it to happen a function of intellectual numbing put in place by our industrial strength media/advertising/consumerist juggernaut? Which of course Big Money funds.

    I don’t pretend to know the answers to these questions, but something clearly is going on here, as you have pointed out.

  4. " A more recent example comes from Professor Steven Gerrard, whose support of a free speech initiative at Williams College earned him the title “Enemy of the People.” Although he received that designation in a letter signed by a group of students, at a faculty meeting in which he attempted to respond from the podium to the students’ letter it was “a group of younger faculty,” according to Professor Gerrard, “who demanded that I be quiet and let the students speak.” It was faculty too, according to Professor Gerrard, who “not only supported . . . but instigated” the “protests, marches, threats and demands—everything but rational argument.”

    These faculty know what side their bread is buttered on. I recently saw this op-ed piece by the president of Wesleyan University comparing the scapegoating of his SJW students to the scapegoating of poor women on welfare in the '80s – that is, “welfare queens,” using his term. He has thus assured everyone that he is on the right side of the ideological divide.

    However, his analogy is abhorrent. My mother, an immigrant and single mom, did at one point have to use social services, and I can assure anyone who is interested that her experiences had nothing in common with those of the Wesleyan students. When I first read his piece I thought surely he is unhinged. But on further thought, he is simply honoring his students by placing them firmly in the realm of victimhood, and by doing so, assuring his professional longevity.

  5. I wonder how much they are aware of, if in the US you subscribe only to the NY Times or watch ABC News you may be entirely unaware. Donors may also fall prey to the mindset of the American voter that rates congress critters very poorly but continues to vote for their own congress critter.

    Also there is the fashion statement angle. Where else can you get the same cachet for your large donation? The local boys and girls club may need money but as a donor you will not be feted by the higher levels of the nobility that you aspire to.

  6. As the author points out of the largest problems for the diversity Stasi, is these Leftist care not a wit about diversity but rather are playing the game of hierarchy. Diversity and inclusion are the clubs utilized to beat the lower or disfavored rungs of the hierarchy. The SJW sees the world as a giant hierarchy with straight white males at the top of the pyramid. The goal of the SJW is to invert this pyramid. The pyramid inversion project is paramount and must be accomplished at all costs, that any ends or actions justify the means. For this reason the conservative Christian can be an LBGT bigot where an Islamist is a protector of his cultural heritage. To the SJW this inconsistency and hypocrisy is irrelevant as it furthers the pyramid inversion goal. Diversity and inclusion are only useful to the SJW to the extent those terms can help achieve the goal. If the terms or application interfere with the goal they are rejected in that unacceptable context. If the goal requires disparate treatment subjugation or oppression that’s okay. This is how zealots think and act, nothing can interfere with the righteousness of their goal.

  7. This was a really great article - very well written and presenting clearly the internal contradictions of identity politics and social justice ideology. The religious aspect of it is also especially well observed.

    In many ways, like Catholicism, Social Justice is a religion primarily designed around the concept of Guilt and original sin. Catholicism has changed a lot even in recent decades, but it’s an interesting idea to explore if there’s something about Guilt Religions that makes them particularly prone to explosive hatred of heretics and apostates.

  8. I think Catholicism had to learn the hard way over many years of scandals, and probably a good understanding of the history of Catholicism is helpful to understand SJ and to see parallels that exist between the two. So in this sense it could indeed be a bulwark.

    I also hate to admit it myself, but I do occasionally wonder if religion is to some extent a human need, and if it’s not better to give people some soft sensible religion to pacify that need, rather than let it bubble over into the more vindictive kinds.

  9. As part of my notion of the left as a Great Reaction, I propose that “activism” is neo-knight errantry.

    Back in the days of England’s Henry VII they had annual May tournaments, where young lordlings could demonstrate their knightly skills, setting their lances against each other, pretending to be knights-errant as in the romances.

    So it is that rich kids – the young lordlings of today – like to rehearse the glorious days when rich kids were writing manifestos and fomenting revolution to free the serfs and slaves an workers from domination and oppression.

    Only, the law making racial and sexual discrimination illegal was passed fifty years ago!

    And gay marriage is now legal.

    So all these activists are just playing at activism, as the lordlings used to play at being knights-errant back in days of yore.

  10. @neoteny & MorganFoster

    One of the defining characteristics of elites is they exempt themselves from their own legislation and actions. Have you ever heard of a Congressperson being pursued by the EEOC?

    White SJWs seem themselves being exempted from the inverse of the hierarchy as they were part of the solution.

  11. “Nazi” and “Hitler” have widely used terms as long as I can remember (I was born in 1961), to refer to someone that is overly strict/strident. “My boss is an aspiring Little Hitler.” Usually in humor or sarcasm, and not having anything to do with antisemitism. Limbaugh coined “femi-Nazi” to be funny to his audience. And it worked. I have no idea if he came up with it himself or not, but he certainly made it famous. Another famous one would be the Soup Nazi on Seinfeld. Again, it worked. And pop culture ran with it.

    See, also, Goodwin’s Law.

    IMO, this is because of frequent popular movie and television characterizations of “Nazis” going back to the 1930’s. We have been raised with countless TV shows and movies - and now the internet - full of caricatures and stereotypes of Hitler Nazis as goose stepping buffoons, e.g., Three Stooges, Hogan’s Heroes, the Producers, all those Indiana Jones movies. Nazis speaking English with an exaggerated German accent are the perfect foils - whether for drama or comedic effect.

    My Millennial kids s were raised on Star Wars and Harry Potter, among other things, where the good guys are in the “Resistance”. And now they have a chance to role play being in The Resistance! against the evil Emperor Orange-man-bad ™ and evil Republican Nazis of the White Supremacy Empire. Of course, if I was to point this out to them, I would get “OK Boomer”.

  12. You haven’t been paying much attention to Pope Francis, then; being South American, he can’t help but hear the siren song of Liberation Theology on a frequent basis, and LT has been little more than Communism wearing Catholicism as a skin suit. Lately Frankie’s even been pondering whether to canonize offenses against our stewardship of the earth, i.e., declare pollution sinful. Where things will go from there I’m not eager to see – it’s onerous enough to be told that climate change skepticism makes you a bad person, you don’t need to hear that you’re also going to hell for it.

  13. "Here’s something that’s weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshiping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship – be it Jesus Christ or Allah, be it YHWH or the Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles – is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.

    "If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you.

    "On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

    "Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.

    “But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings. They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.”

    –David Foster Wallace

  14. “Big Money certainly has a vested interest in social discohesion”

    I think you are taking this argument too far. Cultural Marxism goes back to at least the 1920s. Of course, CM has (vastly) proliferated of late. At least four reasons come to mind.

    1. The rise of Cultural Marxism is too some degree, a consequence of the fall of conventional Marxism. Conventional Marxism was (slowly) dying by the 1950s. The Soviet invasion of Hungary and later Czechoslovakia alienated (or worse) a vast number of people who might have otherwise supported the Communist system. The economic failure of Eastern Europe combined with the great success of the “Little China’s” (Macau, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan) and South Korea was a great blow to the credibility of conventional Marxism. The Cambodian genocide must be mentioned in this context as well. Of course, the fall of the USSR and China’s switch to Capitalism (and subsequent success) were the final nails in the coffin.

    My sense of it is that failure of the Soviet system (and Eastern Europe) was a bigger deal than China’s switch to capitalism. The numbers make the converse case. However, I still think the failure of Soviet system (and Eastern Europe) was/is more important. I don’t agree, but that doesn’t matter.

    Of course, these were monumental blows to the traditional Left. However, the Left wasn’t about to fold its tent and disappear. For better or worse, a huge section of society will never embrace bourgeois values and will be (highly) motivated to reject them. Since conventional Marxism was “the god that failed”, the Left embraced Cultural Marxism as a substitute. Of course, Cultural Marxism is just as crazy as conventional Marxism (perhaps considerably crazier). However, we don’t have easy country comparisons to show how nuts it is (i.e. no North Korea vs. South Korea).

    Blank Slate ideology is arguably nuttier than old-style Marxism. However, we don’t (yet) have a Stalin or Mao to attack as the leader of it (Cultural Marxism).

    1. As long at the Left was committed to traditional Socialism/Marxism, the right would move heaven and earth to oppose it. Big corporations, rich people, religious people, some union people, etc. all had powerful incentives to oppose traditional Socialism/Marxism. That meant that anti-communist movements, ideas, intellectuals, etc. were assuredly substantial support as long the enemy was “Real Socialism”.

    By contrast, CM provokes no comparable opposition (from big corporations, rich people, religious people, etc.). Actually the reverse is true. party-line adherence to CM is notoriously profitable for some companies. For example, most Tech firms (Apple is a bad example) would be crucified by Democrats/Liberals/Leftists/etc. for their exploitation of the tax system. In real life, the level of criticism is near nil. By declaring their commitment to CM, they gain de facto immunity from criticism from the Left (the Right wouldn’t criticize them anyway).

    At least the indulgences sold by church cost real money. Now you just need to pay lip service to CM.

    1. There is also (predictably) a class element to this. Old-style Marxism was inherently (too some degree) a blue-collar worldview. Of course, that was never entirely true. Marx was an intellectual. The cliché that “Marxism is the Opiate of the Intellectuals” existed for a reason. However, conventional Marxism was never going to appeal to white, upper-middle class (UMC), liberals for all sorts of reasons, of which class was definitely an issue.

    However, Cultural Marxism has no such problem. White, UMC, liberals can espouse and advocate Cultural Marxism without any contradictions (as they see them) and without restraint. Indeed, they do. Studies (Yascha Mounk) have shown that “woke” progressives are one of the least diverse (in many senses of the word) groups out there. Cultural Marxism gives UMC liberals free reign to denounce “deplorables” to their hearts content. Conventional Marxism would have been much more circumspect. Of course, upscale folks have always wanted to attack (rhetorically and otherwise) the working class. However, conventional Marxism constrained the left (but not the right) from doing so.

    Cultural Marxism imposes no such limitations.

    1. In my opinion, the failure of liberalism was/is a substantial factor in the rise of CM. In the 1960s (and earlier decades and later decades) it was widely believed that liberalism would work. In other words, Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society would produce a (much) better American where poverty and race would not be intertwined and poverty itself would more or less disappear. That didn’t happen of course. Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society was roughly as successful as his war in Vietnam.

    At this point it is obvious that liberalism has failed (in attaining the goals of the 1960s). Some folks have responded to this failure by basically giving up. However, the most motivated have moved to the left (far left). Note that we here far more about “systematic racism” now (when it doesn’t exist) than we did when Jim Crow was a daily reality.

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