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‘People Are Getting Sick Of It’

James Lindsay and Helen Pluckrose chortle over the hoax they played on Grievance Studies journals (Watch the video here)

I strongly recommend that you follow the Twitter feed of James Lindsay. He’s a mathematician who, along with Helen Pluckrose and Peter Boghossian, pulled off that awesome Grievance Studies hoax, in which they published absurd papers in academic journals devoted to feminism, queer studies, etc. For example, they reformulated concepts from Mein Kampf in feminist language, and published it under a fake name in an unsuspecting feminist journal. Lindsay is a combative atheist and, as far as I can tell, no kind of conservative. But he hates hates hates Social Justice Warriors, and he is not afraid of them. You have to admire that. Here is a threadroll of a recent series of his tweets:

Helen, Peter, and I just had a fairly interesting interview about the Grievance Studies Affair for the BBC, and the questions being so focused on the university and academia made me realize something I’m not talking about often enough: academia is barely a tithe of the problem.

It is absolutely true that Critical Social Justice ideas have been refined, developed, often produced, and most importantly given massive legitimacy they don’t deserve as a result of the university. It’s also absolutely true that they’re taught there as though they’re true.

It’s also true that academia has dropped its central charge of being a purely academic source of knowledge production and dissemination, plus being a cultural center, all of which the public generally relies upon to be nonpartisan (unlike think tanks, e.g.) and not-corporate.

Nevertheless, the reason people are taking to the right, and to authoritarians in right-wing populism and voting almost single-issue over Critical Social Justice stuff is only barely the university. It’s not even Fox News and other outlets cherry picking examples of the problem.

There’s an underlying reason those cherry-picked examples (available literally every day, often not looking like cherry picking at all, e.g., the Washington State legislature) are connecting with people and driving them away from the left, if not right: they connect.

Fox would be able to pull of some propagandist fooling of some of the people some of the time — its hardest base for sure — but nothing works better than telling that story and it really feeling true, and not just because it comes up all the time, like a drumbeat of propaganda.

Everyday people go to work every day and get emails about “diversity, equity, and inclusion.” They get demanded to sign on to these, take trainings in these, pay attention to these, hear about these, do these… day after day, week after week. It connects.

Everyday people come home from work every day and hear about “diversity, equity, and inclusion” programs in their kids’ schools, their grandkids’ schools. What did you learn about in school today? How America is racist? Oh… It happens a lot. It connects.

Everyday people go come home from work every day and turn on the TV, or get on the internet, and they see commercials touting diversity, shows with blatant Social Justice themes. People talking on the news about “racism” in everything again and again and again. It connects.

The problem of Critical Social Justice isn’t just a thing off in the universities somewhere in Narnia, and it’s not just some weird kids or activists. It’s at work. It’s at school. It’s at home. It’s in your relaxation and entertainment. People are getting sick of it.

Man, is this ever true. What I can’t figure out is whether the progressives who deny it really know what they’re doing, or are just so immersed in this stuff that they are completely insensitive to its ubiquity and noxiousness. Probably more the latter than the former. I haven’t worked in an office environment for a decade, but even in the old days, I watched the pre-SJW version of this stuff just turn the brains of journalists to mush. Robert Conquest’s Second Law of Politics helps explain American journalism: “Any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing.” What I saw in my twenty years of working in newsrooms was liberals — even skeptical ones — collapsing in the face of therapeutic progressivism around race, sex, and gender, and other progressive shibboleths. This stuff is kryptonite among journalists, who cannot resist the opportunity to crusade for those they hold to be victims.

But this is hardly surprising. Journalism is an overwhelmingly liberal profession! What is more interesting is how the corporate world has been taken over by these same values. The idea that corporations are in any way conservative is a badly outdated concept. What I hear often from conservatives within corporate environments is how progressive social beliefs are made the law (so to speak) of the workplace by being disguised as therapeutic methods of achieving diversity, inclusion, and equity. As ever, LGBT activists were pioneers in this, conquering elementary and secondary school culture by selling progressive cultural politics as “safety” measures. Middle, upper-middle, and wealthy people who populate these institutions and professions, especially in managerial ranks, quickly absorb this cultish religion, which they then use to bully people who don’t agree — especially both religious people and working-class people who have not been acculturated into these norms via college education — into submission.

The UK political scientist Eric Kauffman analyzes why parties of the Left are trapped by wokeness, even though it’s a loser for them. Excerpts:

Identity politics and multiculturalism are central motivating forces for the highly-educated activists who have dominated left-wing parties since the ’68 generation rose to prominence. These ideas tend to be considerably less popular than the Left’s economic offer, hence the bind the Left finds itself in.

Yet this alone cannot explain the inflexibility of left-wing parties. To do so requires an additional ingredient: the rise of political correctness. Political correctness functions as an emergent system that can push new ideas even when few people actually believe in them. Like the emperor’s new clothes, no one dares violate a taboo which may cost them dearly.

To be blunt, left-wing political correctness is more powerful than the right-wing variant. For instance, many social conservatives may dislike environmentalist candidates in their ranks, but dissidents on the left of a conservative party won’t have their character questioned and reputation trashed. By contrast, a left-wing politician who moves right on culture—calling for lower immigration or abolishing female-only shortlists, for instance—is likely to be accused of racism or sexism by radical online activists. This causes them intense embarrassment and, by triggering a social taboo, may lead others to pile on them to signal virtue. This can damage a person’s reputation well beyond politics. Something of this fate has befallen the patriotic leftists of Blue Labour in the UK, who are no longer welcome in Labour circles. Brexit-supporting Paul Embery, for instance, was kicked out of the Fire Brigades Union for criticizing the union’s position on Brexit. This, they alleged, made him an accomplice of the “nationalist Right” and thus a “disgrace to the traditions of the Labour movement.” No wonder few on the Left are willing to move right on culture.

The catalyst for the change has been the post-1960s “cultural turn” of the intellectual Left, away from class issues toward the problems of disadvantaged race, gender, and sexual identity groups. Social sanctions accompanied this change of sensibility.

Do they ever! In Nashville, I was asked by a visiting British person if I have any liberal friends. Yes, I said, but we never discuss politics or controversial cultural issues. I was a bit surprised to realize how completely I have shut down about politics and culture-war stuff in personal conversation with people I don’t know in advance are conservative. Many conservative friends of mine are Trump fans, and don’t like how negative I am about him, even though I’m not a NeverTrumper. But we can and do talk about it. I would never discuss things like this with liberals, not because I don’t want to hear what they have to say, but because their self-righteousness and indignation is unbearable. Not every liberal, of course, but you never really know when you’re going to find yourself in a discussion with someone on the Left who will decide that you are not just wrong, but evil, and who will take it upon themselves to campaign against you, both personally and professionally. In my own case, the nature of my job means that this kind of thing wouldn’t really hurt me professionally, but most people are not professional conservatives. I completely get why this kind of thing is not only uncomfortable in a social setting, but genuinely frightening for them in terms of their professional lives.

There’s a certain kind of person I tend to meet — people who don’t really know my work. When they find out that I work for a conservative magazine, they do a little rhetorical dance to find out where I stand on Trump. When they discover that despite my criticism of Trump, I’m not going to hate on them for being a Trump supporter, they let down their guard, and say what they really think. This happens a lot, always with middle-class corporate or professional types. It has happened so many times, usually when I’m traveling out of the South, that it makes me angry, on their behalf. These are people who have been made to feel ashamed for things they have no reason to feel ashamed of. And they live in fear in the workplace. When they hold a pro-Trump position with which I don’t agree, we talk about it like normal people. If the Left weren’t so censorious and powerful within certain institutions, liberals and progressives would be able to talk to these people and challenge them on their views. Maybe they would change the Trumpers’ minds. But that’s not how things work, not with these McCarthyite leftists.

The problem is that right-wing politicians win power when people disgusted by political correctness vote for them, but these things really don’t change. Have the media learned anything from this? Of course not — if anything, the identity-politics leftism has gotten more shrill. Has the Age of Trump caused corporations to ease up on the wokeness, or universities? Hardly! I wish Trump and the GOP would attack institutional wokeness more directly, like, for example, revoking Title IX, or at least greatly modifying it. The Republicans are scared too. Most of them come from the same bourgeois professional backgrounds, and move in the same class circles, as the shrill cultural leftists.

Did you see this piece the other day on Medium by a woman named Karlyn Borysenko, a New Hampshire Democrat who did something recently she never imagined she would do. Excerpts:

If you had told me three years ago that I would ever attend a Donald Trump rally, I would have laughed and assured you that was never going to happen. Heck, if you had told me I would do it three months ago, I probably would have done the same thing. So, how did I find myself among 11,000-plus Trump supporters in Manchester, New Hampshire? Believe it or not, it all started with knitting.

You might not think of the knitting world as a particularly political community, but you’d be wrong. Many knitters are active in social justice communities and love to discuss the revolutionary role knitters have played in our culture. I started noticing this about a year ago, particularly on Instagram. I knit as a way to relax and escape the drama of real life, not to further engage with it. But it was impossible to ignore after roving gangs of online social justice warriors started going after anyone in the knitting community who was not lockstep in their ideology. Knitting stars on Instagram were bullied and mobbed by hundreds of people for seemingly innocuous offenses. One man got mobbed so badly that he had a nervous breakdown and was admitted to the hospital on suicide watch. Many things were not right about the hatred, and witnessing the vitriol coming from those I had aligned myself with politically was a massive wake-up call.

She says that she has always thought of Trump and his supporters as horrible people, but the progressive bullying in her online knitting circle made her wonder if she had that right. The more she thought about it, the more curious she became about an upcoming Trump rally in her backyard. She went — and found that she really liked the people there. Even when she told them that she was a Democrat, they welcomed her. More:

Now, Trump is always going to present the best case he can. And yes, he lies. This is provable. But the strength of this rally wasn’t about the facts and figures. It was a group of people who felt like they had someone in their corner, who would fight for them. Some people say, “Well, obviously they’re having a great time. They’re in a cult.” I don’t think that’s true. The reality is that many people I spoke to do disagree with Trump on things. They don’t always like his attitude. They wish he wouldn’t tweet so much. People who are in cults don’t question their leaders. The people I spoke with did, but the pros in their eyes far outweighed the cons. They don’t love him because they think he’s perfect. They love him despite his flaws, because they believe he has their back.

Read the whole thing. Borosyenko says in the piece that she voted for Buttigieg in the NH Democratic primary, then went to change her party registration to Independent. Here’s proof:

Borysenko’s essay brought to mind this December 2016 letter I received from a reader, which I made into a blog post that drew lots of comment. It begins:

I’m a secular/agnostic Californian and longtime reader of your blog. I’ve enjoyed your books beginning with Crunchy Cons, and have valued your insights over the years.

Though you don’t know me, I feel like I know you and your family. And I want to share with you, from the liberal bastion of Northern California, that I am officially tired of the type of people who have surrounded me my entire life. In the wake of Trump’s election, I am experiencing “tribe fatigue.” I’m not tired of The Other, Detestable Tribe. I’m tired of my own.

A bit about me: I am a [deleted] with two young children. My parents were non-religious Democrats, and my ex-Catholic mom loathes organized religion to this day.

So I was raised a secular liberal. My college professors were secular liberals. During my journalism phase, my newspaper colleagues were secular liberals. My law school professors and peers were – in the vast majority – secular liberals. Almost everyone at my corporate law firm was a secular liberal. My California neighbors and friends are secular liberals, as are my colleagues. My mother, siblings, and their spouses are all secular liberals.

By all rights, I should be a member in good standing of their tribe, “liking” their Facebook posts and joining their candlelight vigils against the evil Trump Administration. But November 8 and its aftermath revealed to me that I am just so tired of these people. I can’t be like them, and I don’t want my kids turning into them.

I don’t have cable TV, so I can’t speak for television, but you know who you rarely if ever read about in The New York Times, or the Washington Post, or hear about on NPR? People like this. People like Karlyn Borysenko. To be fair to journalists, the Left has created such an environment in this country, with its cancel culture, that ordinary people are afraid to say what they really think, even if a reporter inquires in good faith. And I don’t for a second believe that both sides are equally at fault here. I remind you of Eric Kaufmann’s observation:

To be blunt, left-wing political correctness is more powerful than the right-wing variant. For instance, many social conservatives may dislike environmentalist candidates in their ranks, but dissidents on the left of a conservative party won’t have their character questioned and reputation trashed.

Are there vicious, nasty people on the Right who troll others and threaten them? Yes, there are (ask David French about that — his family was harassed mercilessly during 2016 for his Never Trump public stance). But those people are on the fringes of the Right. The haters and harassers on the Left are not just antifa, but are embedded and empowered throughout institutional bureaucracies. Remember James Lindsay:

The problem of Critical Social Justice isn’t just a thing off in the universities somewhere in Narnia, and it’s not just some weird kids or activists. It’s at work. It’s at school. It’s at home. It’s in your relaxation and entertainment. People are getting sick of it.

 

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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