Home/Rod Dreher/Reality Vs. Pseudo-Realities

Reality Vs. Pseudo-Realities

Racist sportscaster Jemele Hill, being herself on Instagram

Here is a recent shot of the black sportscaster and media personality Jemele Hill, from her Instagram account:

 

 

This is all a big game to the Left. Ha ha! Jemele is keepin’ it real, or whatever. You would think that if people were starting to talk seriously about the possibility of some kind of American civil war, people would be a lot less likely to be provocative in this way. But that’s not how the game is played. On that same Instagram thread, a white reader objected:

Jemele Hill replied:

Duly chastened, the white guy accepts the antiwhite racism, and thanks Hill for correcting him:

So here’s how that went down, in three acts:

Act 1: reasonable objection on basic liberal principles.

Act 2: pushback with patent exaggeration and unfalsifiable platitudes from a race bully.

Act 3: white persons cared of being called a racist, retreats to pathetic submission to ideological bully.

From my point of view, Chosen_Rosen22 ought to be ashamed of himself. He has allowed someone to demean him on racial grounds, and accepted that he deserves to be. More broadly, Jemele Hill and Chosen_Rosen22, as well as the business executives who make Hill’s career possible, are building a culture in which antiwhite racism is not only tolerated, but celebrated. A culture in which people are taught to take pleasure in the racial humiliation of others.

They must believe there will be no backlash here, that all white people are going to respond like the tame Chosen_Rosen22 will. I guess that’s because how all the white people in their circles do.

But that’s not the whole country.

I am on record here saying that QAnon is psychotic, that extreme MAGA is bonkers, that Trump deserved his second impeachment, and that everybody who invaded the Capitol ought to go to jail. Read my latest here. 

But I have to say that you Woke people — the ones in charge of institutions, in particular media institutions — you are making the conflict much worse. 

You amplify racist antiwhite voices and messages, and you expect that this will have no effect? You expect every white person in the world to react to their demonization and dispossession meekly, accepting the place in the world that you have assigned for them?

Not going to happen. I’ve been saying for years in this space that the Woke Left is awakening demons that it cannot control. If you are on the Left, and you can’t see this, then you are as deluded as the QAnon crackpots who live in their own reality.

What the mainstreaming of antiwhite racism does is completely discredit classically liberal voices on the Right that criticize racism, and try to convince other whites to treat everyone not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. I try to be one of those people, because I believe it’s morally right, and because I see it as my duty as a follower of Christ. Christians are not permitted to respond to the race hatred of a Jemele Hill with hatred. But I can tell you that I get emails and comments (which I spike) from white racialists who call me and other Christians pathetic weaklings who ought to be preparing for violent conflict.

If these white nationalist types have any kind of Christian faith, there is some common ground that people like me can use to talk them out of it. But most of these people are not Christians, or have such a weak and sketchy background in Christianity that it’s useless. And they don’t believe — or no longer believe — in color-blind liberalism, because they see that nobody in power believes in it anymore. It’s all “smash whiteness”. These people decline to go meekly to their own smashing.

Jemele Hill and other leftists, and and the corporate and media people (e.g., The Atlantic, which runs her columns) — they are complete idiots if they don’t think there will be a backlash. I’ve read commentators calling the January 6 thing a “white nationalist uprising,” or something similar. I don’t know how true that is (though there was no doubt an element of that present), but if there is anything to it, well, what do you expect? That all white people are going to be Chosen_Rosen22, and be grateful for their humiliation? Or that they’re going to be a Christians and lean into our religious duty to fight back against any temptation to hate those who hate us and our families because of the color of our skin, or our politics?

People on the Left and the Right should both be asking, before the shooting starts: Do we want to live in peace? Because if we do, then garbage like Jemele Hill’s performative antiwhite racism needs to go away, and go away fast. The fact that she can do this, and nobody in power notices or cares (in fact, she is rewarded for it), whereas any white person who came within a thousand million miles of mocking “black tears” or any such thing, would find himself cast into outer employment darkness — it tells you something about power in contemporary America. It tells you something that liberals and progressives cannot see, because they are as caught up in their own pseudo-reality as any QAnon crackpot is in his.

Let’s talk about pseudo-realities. James Lindsay has a great essay on them. It begins like this:

Pseudo-realities, being false and unreal, will always generate tragedy and evil on a scale that is at least proportional to the reach of their grip on power—which is their chief interest—whether social, cultural, economic, political, or (particularly) a combination of several or all of these. So important to the development and tragedies of societies are these pseudo-realities when they arise and take root that it is worth outlining their basic properties and structure so that they can be identified and properly resisted before they result in sociopolitical calamities—up to and including war, genocide, and even civilizational collapse, all of which can take many millions of lives and can ruin many millions more in the vain pursuit of a fiction whose believers are, or are made, sufficiently intolerant.

More:

Pseudo-realities are, simply put, false constructions of reality. It is hopefully obvious that among the features of pseudo-realities is that they must present a plausible but deliberately wrong understanding of reality. They are cult “realities” in the sense that they are the way that members of cults experience and interpret the world—both social and material—around them. We should immediately recognize that these deliberately incorrect interpretations of reality serve two related functions. First, they are meant to mold the world to accommodate small proportions of people who suffer pathological limitations on their abilities to cope with reality as it is. Second, they are designed to replace all other analyses and motivations with power, which these essentially or functionally psychopathic individuals will contort and deform to their permanent advantage so long as their pseudo-real regime can last.

Pseudo-realities are always social fictions, which, in light of the above, means political fictions. That is, they are maintained not because they are true, in the sense that they correspond to reality, either material or human, but because a sufficient quantity of people in the society they attack either believe them or refuse to challenge them. This implies that pseudo-realities are linguistic phenomena above all else, and where power-granting linguistic distortions are present, it is likely that they are there to create and prop up some pseudo-reality. This also means that they require power, coercion, manipulation, and eventually force to keep them in place. Thus, they are the natural playground of psychopaths, and they are enabled by cowards and rationalizers. Most importantly, pseudo-realities do not attempt to describe reality as it is but rather as it “should be,” as determined by the relatively small fraction of the population who cannot bear living in reality unless it is bent to enable their own psychopathologies, which will be projected upon their enemies, which means all normal people.

Normal people do not accept pseudo-reality and interpret reality more or less accurately, granting the usual biases and limitations of human perspective. Their common heuristic is called common sense, though much more refined forms exist in the uncorrupted sciences. In reality, both of these are handmaidens of power, but in pseudo-realities, this is inverted. In pseudo-reality, common sense is denigrated as bias or some kind of false consciousness, and science is replaced by a scientism that is a tool of power itself. For all his faults and the faults of his philosophy (which enable much ideological pseudo-reality), Michel Foucault warned us about this abuse quite cogently, especially under the labels “biopower” and “biopolitics.” These accusations of bias and false consciousness are, of course, projections of the ideological pseudo-realist, who, by sheer force of rhetoric, transforms limitations on power into applications of power and thus his own applications of power into liberation from it. Foucault, for any insight he provided, is also guilty of this charge.

Notice this:

It must be observed that people who accept pseudo-realities as though they are “real” are no longer normal people. They perceive pseudo-reality in place of reality, and the more thoroughly they take on this delusional position, the more functional psychopathy they necessarily exhibit and thus the less normal they become. Importantly, normal people consistently and consequentially fail to realize this about their reprogrammed neighbors. Perceiving them as normal people when they are not, normal people will reliably misunderstand the motivations of ideological pseudo-realists—power and the universal installation of their own ideology so that everyone lives in a pseudo-reality that enables their pathologies—usually until it is far too late.

And:

Pseudo-realities may have any degree of plausibility in their distorted descriptions of reality, and thus may recruit different numbers of adherents. They are often said to be accessible only by applying a “theoretical lens,” awakening a specialized “consciousness,” or by means of some pathological form of faith. Whether by “lens,” “consciousness,” or “faith,” these intellectual constructs exist to make the pseudo-reality seem more plausible, to drag people into participating in it against their will, and to distinguish those who “can see,” “are awake,” or “believe” from those who cannot or, as it always eventually goes, will not. That is, they are the pretext to tell people who inhabit reality instead of pseudo-reality that they’re not looking at “reality” correctly, which means as pseudo-reality. This will typically be characterized as a kind of willful ignorance of the pseudo-reality, which will subsequently be described paradoxically as unconsciously maintained. Notice that this puts the burden of epistemic and moral responsibility on the person inhabiting reality, not the person positing its replacement with an absurd pseudo-reality. This is a key functional manipulation of pseudo-realists that must be understood. The ability to recognize this phenomenon when it occurs and to resist it is, at scale, the life and death of civilizations.

This is what so many of us on the normie Right failed to grasp about QAnon’s pervasiveness among our side. This is also what the Left is failing to perceive about Wokeness. Lindsay goes on:

[T]he pseudo-reality is always constructed such that it structurally advantages those who accept it over those who do not, frequently by overt double standards and through moral-linguistic traps. Double standards in this regard will always favor those who accept pseudo-reality as reality and will always disfavor those who seek the truth. … [M]any normal people will fail to realize the pseudo-reality is false because they cannot see outside of the frame of normality that they charitably extend to all people, whether normal or not.

You can see that play out in a crude way in the exchange between Hill and her interlocutor.

Lindsay says that liberalism — by which he means classical liberalism — has a bias against pseudo-reality because it contains within it the means to test propositions and reject them. Ideologies based on pseudo-reality — QAnon, Wokeness — depend on capturing powerful, intelligent people, who use their power and intelligence to compel the masses to believe pseudo-real claims. Lindsay:

The trend toward puritan-style pietism, authoritarianism, and eventually totalitarianism in application of this paramorality is a virtual certainty of acceptance of an ideological pseudo-reality, and these abuses will be visited not only on every participant in the constructed fictional reality but also to everyone who can be found or placed within its shadow (which can come to include entire nations or peoples or, in fact, everyone, even those who reject it). Again, this is the true alchemy of the pseudo-realist program; it transforms normal, moral people into immoral agents who must perpetrate evil to feel good and perceive as evil those who do good.

Lindsay explains that fellow travelers in cult ideologies end up thinking that the non-cultists are the crazy ones who have to be suppressed. “This represents a complete reversal of sanity, and the conversion of normal to ideologically psychopathic is, by that point, complete,” writes Lindsay. “These people, as many have learned the hard way throughout history, are the otherwise good people who are capable of perpetrating genocides.”

Lindsay’s is a very sophisticated analysis that I attempted to make in more basic, general terms in Live Not By Lies. The book is an attempt to do what Lindsay says is the first step in resisting pseudo-reality: understand how it works, and refuse to live your life as if it is true. Lindsay warns — as do I, as does the experience of anti-Soviet dissidents — that this is going to be costly:

 The paralogic will interpret direct dissent as stupid or crazy, and the paramorality will characterize it as evil (or motivated by evil intentions, even if unconscious ones outside of the dissenter’s awareness). The courage to bear these outrageous insults and slander, and to bear its unjust social consequences, is therefore a necessary precondition to putting a halt to totalitarianism. It is understandable why most will not choose this path, but be warned: the longer one waits, the worse this gets. … The challenging part is that you, who dares resist their games and who eludes their trap, becomes the target of their psychopathic ire, and many sympathizers who you would usually count as friends will take sides against you (there is no neutral in the paramorality). The earlier one enters this fight, the more courage it takes and yet the more valuable it is.

Read the whole Lindsay essay. It’s dense, but brilliant, and necessary if you want to understand our current moment, and resist it. Lindsay does not offer a five-point plan for defeating pseudo-reality, because there isn’t one available to us yet. Whatever forms resistance may take, it must start by first understanding how pseudo-reality works, and second by refusing to live by it, no matter what it costs, and thus showing the world that it is possible to live in truth (Vaclav Havel’s phrase).

Fighting the pseudo-reality of Wokeness requires a commitment to struggling to see and to hold on to reality. QAnon and extreme MAGA-ism are potent pseudo-realities that arose in part as a form of resistance to Wokeness. We are no better off using one set of lies to fight another. 

We see now, more clearly, how the pseudo-reality of Trumpworld, especially QAnon, works, and the destruction that it causes. We have to be very clear, though, that surrendering to Wokeness amounts to trading one pseudo-reality for another. And vice versa.

One danger that all of us face is that an enemy mob may come for us, and we will be defenseless. This, I think, is when the temptation to surrender to pseudo-reality based on tribal affiliation is strongest. Prisoners are often compelled to affiliate with racial gangs within prisons as a matter of self-protection. You may not be a white supremacist (or black supremacist, or Latino supremacist), but to keep yourself from being beaten or killed, you may feel compelled to affirm the tribe’s lies. Post-liberal America is going to increasingly represent a prison in this respect. When the law does not protect you — when there is no relatively impartial structure governing your world by force — then you are thrown into a world in which accepting pseudo-reality appears to be the only way you can survive.

But the cost will be your soul.

I would no more want to live in a country and a society governed by QAnon’s principles than I would live in a country and a society governed by Wokeness’s principles. Because the Right has been so bad at resisting, on classical liberal principles, the march of Wokeness through the institutions, a shocking number of right-wing people are going over to QAnon/MAGA ideology. In the ideal world, the Republican Party and its leaders would have been speaking out aggressively against Wokeness, and fighting for laws and policies to refute it and disempower it. This has not happened. In the ideal world, left-wing liberals would have been doing the same. This has not happened either — in fact, left-liberals have embraced Woke pseudo-reality. In the wake of the MAGA attack on the Capitol, Wokeness in power is going to use that power, through the State, the Media, and Corporations, empowered by Tech, to crush all forms of resistance to Wokeness. As Lindsay understands, the Woke perceive any and all resistance to its pseudo-real claims as immoral and even evil.

The immense challenge to conservatives, and to traditional Christians, is going to be resisting this ideological insanity without surrendering our hearts, minds, and souls to right-wing pseudo-reality. If you haven’t yet seen Terrence Malick’s film A Hidden Life, about a real-life Catholic farmer martyred for resisting Hitler, you really should. Imagine what it was like to be Franz Jägerstätter, living in a village in which everybody around him, even his church friends, had surrendered to the pseudo-reality of the Nazi cult.

Alasdair MacIntyre saw it all coming in After Virtue, published in 1981. He grasped that we were becoming unmoored from any sense of reality, and coming to believe that what we feel is truth. I had an argument not long ago with an old friend who has fully accepted the QAnon/MAGA discourse, and tried to engage this person with logic. I might as well have been trying to fight a dragon with a marshmallow broadsword. My interlocutor kept saying that they “feel” that this is true. I kept saying that feeling something is true doesn’t make it true. I got nowhere. My interlocutor is convinced that Trump won the election, and that Antifa stormed the Capitol.

I pointed out how Trump’s rhetoric and actions are mostly performative, and have accomplished nothing tangible in the world that could not have been accomplished by normal Republicans with more creative and disciplined leadership. I pointed out that Trump gives his followers the feeling that “he fights,” but in fact he has made things objectively worse for conservatives. Half the people who invaded the Capitol were filming themselves doing it to share on the Internet — as if a display of transgression would be effective in advancing their cause. In fact, they have only succeeded in making themselves easy for the FBI to find, and in discrediting them, and everybody else on the Right.

None of this mattered one bit to my interlocutor. I might as well have been talking gibberish. This friend is living in an impenetrable pseudo-reality. My friend is a retiree, and as such does not live in a world in which there is a palpable cost to living in that pseudo-reality. Meanwhile, the rest of us who are living in the working world, or in school, or are in any way vulnerable to the punitive power of the Woke — who, again, control nearly all the institutions — are going to suffer greatly.

To be fair, my friend can see tangible evidence of how the Woke pseudo-reality moves from triumph to triumph. My friend is an older Southerner, and has lived long enough — as I have — to see how American culture has moved from one based on liberal principles that defeated white supremacy (something we both agree was a great victory) to one based on illiberal leftism, which is now instituting a racialist caste system in the name of progress. I had to decide that I can’t talk to my hardcore MAGA friends about any of this these days, because we only end up furious and talking past each other. My friend is not wrong to see the immorality, even the evil, in all this. Where my friend errs is in thinking that QAnon/MAGA is a just, moral, effective, or even sane response to it.

One reason I believe — and I am a small minority on the Right in this — that Trump has to be fully repudiated is that it will be impossible to fight effectively what the Left is planning for us if we do not live in reality. Those on the Right who have given themselves over to QAnon/MAGA pseudo-reality are useful idiots for the Woke Left, which has incomparably more power through the State, through Big Business, through Big Tech, and so forth. Under the dictatorship of Wokeness, people like Jemele Hill have the privilege to be race-baiting provocateurs and be rewarded for it. Let this be a lesson.

Even more seriously for us traditional Christians, we might get so focused on fighting the lies of the Left that we risk losing our very souls to lies of the Right. Look:

 

I’ll leave you with this quote from Live Not By Lies:

We cannot hope to resist the coming soft totalitarianism if we do not have our spiritual lives in order. This is the message of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the great anti-communist dissident, Nobel laureate, and Orthodox Christian. He believed the core of the crisis that created and sustained communism was not political but spiritual.

After the publication of his Gulag Archipelago exposed the rottenness of Soviet totalitarianism and made Solzhenitsyn a global hero, Moscow finally expelled him to the West. On the eve of his forced exile, Solzhenitsyn published a final message to the Soviet people, titled, “Live Not by Lies!” In the essay, Solzhenitsyn challenged the claim that the totalitarian system was so powerful that the ordinary man and woman cannot change it.

Nonsense, he said. The foundation of totalitarianism is an ideology made of lies. The system depends for its existence on a people’s fear of challenging the lies. Said the writer, “Our way must be: Never knowingly support lies!”You may not have the strength to stand up in public and say what you really believe, but you can at least refuse to affirm what you do not believe. You may not be able to overthrow totalitarianism, but you can find within yourself and your community the means to live in the dignity of truth. If we must live under the dictatorship of lies, the writer said, then our response must be: “Let their rule hold not through me!”

All of us, no matter where we fall on the political spectrum, had better put the question to ourselves, and answer it as honestly as we can: Is it more important to live in power, or to live in truth?

UPDATE: Here’s a warning to readers: I’m going to moderate this thread more closely than other threads. Either say something interesting that advances the discussion, or don’t say it at all. Having just done a first moderation, and gotten rid of a series of “whatabout” remarks, I’m in an irksome mood.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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