On one of today’s gender-and-politics threads, a reader comments:
I’m a teacher at a public high school in California, and so I think my perspective on this could be useful.
My students do not even know about this gender identity ideology. The few who have heard of it (including a couple of rather extreme leftist students) are mostly perplexed by it. The vast majority of the students are heterosexual, conventionally masculine or feminine, and completely unaware of the gender and sexuality politics of the day.
There are a few gay kids, and there have been some transgender and non-binary students. Even they are usually rather tentative about it. No student has ever asked me to use unconventional pronouns, for instance (in fact, as an English teacher, I’ll say very few could tell you what a pronoun is.)
However, I nevertheless think this ideology is dangerous. The students are unaware of it, but some of my colleagues are wholehearted supporters of it. The average student has no defense mechanism against it. The community used to be rather apolitical, but has become more left-leaning in reaction to Trump (my school is over 90% Hispanic). The local Catholic Church is essentially a club for immigrants: I tried to confess there once, and the priest doesn’t even speak English. The Protestant Churches are small and mostly inclined towards community work rather than doctrinal teaching.
In other words, my students are rhetorically unprepared to voice their objections to the radical ideology. They know they don’t really believe it, but they lack the tools to respond to it meaningfully. I suspect many students are in the same boat. The gender ideology frightens me not because so many people believe it, but because it is so hard for the average person (educated to favor left-wing, egalitarian movements) to resist.
Emphasis mine. This is a hugely important point. The left has acculturated people into thinking in terms of identity politics — a way of thinking that is strongly reinforced by the radical individualism of our liberal, capitalist society. It is very hard for ordinary people to figure out how to resist this stuff, because it exploits what people already believe about individualism, identity, and the sanctity of personal choice. Plus, institutions and authorities in this culture have constructed and are constructing a framework in which opposing this ideology will make it harder for you to progress within those institutions.
On the same thread, a different reader writes, about the politics of gender ideology:
You assume that the middle and the right will win this fight. I certainly hope so.
One question is which way will the public schools, corporations, and all the rest of the middle management that runs our country jump. One expects that they will jump in the direction that helps grow their importance. Language policing gives money and power to middle management and wonderfully unearned sense of self-righteousness. Most totalitarian states were filled with people who swallowed lots of lies and things they hated and just kept their heads down while the radicals ran things. We may go down just the same roads.
Your anonymous source had no problem with any of this till it bit him on his own rear. He is unwilling to work for reform in his preferred political party. He didn’t make a stink and fight back. He is hoping that someone else will help fix things and he’d be open for a soft landing somewhere less toxic and crazy. I submit that such paragons of courage won’t alter things. The moderate left is useless and toothless.
The biggest issue in terms of confronting this insanity is that there is no easy and bright line that separates the hard left from the moderate left. The hard right has racial superiority as an easy marker to say, “No, I am not like that. Go away Richard Spencer”. The left has no such clear and understandable and reducible line demarking the moderate and the hard left. [Emphasis mine — RD]
Your anonymous analyst looking at it in terms of top, middle and bottom of the left/dem coalition is foolish. The idea that the top, middle or bottom would be particularly situated or capable or interested in fighting these ideas assumes that there is an intellectual, moral, or self-interested reason to do so. There isn’t. To have an intellectually coherent, moral or self-interested capacity to combat this will immediately eject you out of the left and into the right.
The intellectual right has been toothless for decades. Jordan Peterson seems about the only evidence of someone who is actually winning some cultural war issues. He was forced to choose this same ground as his hill to die upon. But, he is one person, not American, and much of his appeal has been by largely staying above specific political fights.
So, this will be a fight to the death between the hard left and everyone else. The moderate left, intellectual right and most everyone else won’t have a thing to do with who wins this fight. Your friend won’t. Almost none of our institutions will do anything substantive about this. Media and Arts, nope. Schools, nope. Churches, nope. Right think tanks and media, nope. If the left loses this it will almost be completely because en masse most of the people in the the country reject these ideas and actually punish them and their allies. I expect that whatever annoyance the hard left creates will be deflected into Trump hatred, or other issues till they are able to completely grasp the reigns of power.
I don’t like what this reader — henceforth “Reader Two” — says, but I find it hard to disagree with him. I have no doubt at all where most of the institutions of American culture are going to move on gender ideology: to the left. This is because gender ideology has captured the ruling class (and by “ruling class,” I don’t mean the upper elites; I mean the same people the Democratic pollster means: the people who staff the managerial ranks of political parties, churches, universities, corporations, and so forth. They too will have come through colleges and other formative institutions where this kind of insanity is gospel. To reject it will be a sign of low social status.
Reader Two is right: the reaction to the degeneration of left-liberalism into a sex-and-identity-politics cult — if there is to be a reaction — is not going to have much to do with people like me. It’s going to be a very rough thing, a very populist thing. In that case, I don’t have much confidence that the firewall against white identitarianism on the Right is going to hold. In fact, it’s hard to see what holds us together, period.
Reading Reader Two’s post, I got the feeling that I’m reading a prophecy about the terms of the decisive political battle to come here in Weimar America. Someone — I think the Muslim thinker Shadi Hamid, but I might be mistaken — said that we are headed to a condition in which we can have either liberalism or democracy, but not both.
Question to the room: are these two readers right about there being no principles or forces on the Left that have the power to stop the crazy train? I’m asking seriously. Are there any meaningful institutions lined up against it? I see none. The Catholic Church is mostly sitting this one out, Mainliners are institutionally all in for the radicalizing left, and Evangelical churches, as far as I can tell, don’t even recognize what’s going on. Who else?
(Note to all: I’m posting this on Thursday night. Tomorrow is Orthodox Good Friday. I will not be online. I will approve comments until bedtime tonight, but not during the day tomorrow.)
UPDATE: A reader comments:
The idea that we don’t have the tools to reject it is absolutely correct.
99.99% of the population knows it’s crazy. But we have no defense against cries like “transphobic!” and the devastating retaliatory techniques they have at their disposal – the law, emotional blackmail, destruction of your reputation and your livelihood. Any personal victory you may achieve by engaging with these people would be Pyrrhic.
I imagine this is very much like what living in a cult is like. Every single person in the cult feels uneasy yet they can’t articulate why they feel uneasy but they know that if they cry out about the unease a bright light will be shone in their face where whatever they do manage to say will be ripped apart and they will be gaslighted and humiliated and put back into line, much worse off than where they started. Others desperately want to have that light kept away from them so they will act as enforcers. Everyone is a villain in it, everyone is a victim of it.
The analogy with the Soviet Union is very good – think of how you couldn’t be the first person to stop clapping at a Stalin rally. The thunderous applause goes on and on for 15 minutes and it only ends after one person stops and everyone else gradually feels safe to stop clapping, but that first person to stop clapping ends up in the gulag. Nobody wants to go to the gulag, so we all keep clapping.
UPDATE.2: Reader WWMA writes:
“are these two readers right about there being no principles or forces on the Left that have the power to stop the crazy train?”
I’m afraid so — at the least, there aren’t very strong forces of resistance. My husband and I are growing afraid. We *****hate****** Trump. Hate. Him. We are elite-educated lefties of the old school variety: pro-liberty (NOT of the Ayn Rand sort), more interested in economic revolution/anti-exploitation (i.e. the economic vision of Bernie Sanders = our views) than anything related to identity politics.
As a woman I don’t think I could ever vote for Trump, but my husband is, to his own horror, warming to the idea, and I don’t blame him. Need examples of what has been horrifying? Our friends, also elite-educated, urban-dwelling Millennial liberals, say things like they’ll never vote for a white man, regardless of qualifications. They claim representation by race and gender is more important than qualifications because “the policies are all the same anyway.” This is racism and sexism, and it’s dangerous.
All things equal, I too would vote for the person of color and/or the woman. But our friends do not use this caveat. They don’t care who’s more qualified, they just want the person in office to look like them. If people start voting like this en masse, we will have supremely unqualified candidates elected on a wave of racism and sexism. It will be dangerous (and potentially just highly dysfunctional — Trump has given us a view of how well places are run when the guy in charge has no experience!) for those who do not assent.
Here’s another one for you: a friend, again a graduate of our top tier school, was telling me recently 1. how much she hates Trump (duh) 2. how women don’t need men, let’s just pump them for their semen and freeze it and 3. Melania is smart and great, as are all the women Trump surrounds himself with. I said no she’s a f******* gold digger — how can we despise Trump but respect the women who associate with him?
My point isn’t that you should or shouldn’t like Melania or should or shouldn’t like Trump. My point is that my friend’s logic, her rationale makes no sense: You hate Trump but love the woman who decided to marry him? You respect her for no reason other than her genitals?
Very weird territory we’re in here… Logic’s been subtracted from the left’s statements, in a basic, technical sense. It’s not just “oh these lefties say some crazy sh*t,” it’s that they have actually lost logic, their statements do not make the standard 1+1=2 sense, they are only motivated by racism and sexism and a sense of entitlement and victimhood.
There are a lot of crappy people on both sides, to be sure. The Right has actual Nazis. But the creep of fascism has arrived, and it’s coming from the Left.
My hope is that their numbers just aren’t high enough, but we can’t be naive and need to plan for the worst. Resist, but please resist with reason and compassion. My friends mentioned above are not struggling economically, but there are so many people who are in dire economic straits who will be very tempted by the extremism of either side. We need to love and help these vulnerable groups and reach out to them — it is our moral duty to them, and it is our duty to our country and the world.
Reader Jones writes:
A ton of interesting stuff to say . . . also, wish I had commented on the feminization of religion post . . . that was excellent. Glad to see that issue finally addressed.
One really interesting question raised here is about whether there’s any resistance from the “center-left.” Or, whether liberalism, the venerable political tradition, will offer any resistance to progressivism, the new, noxious weed.
I used to think so, and used to comment here saying so. I was one of the people saying progressive extremism was not a major phenomenon and would eventually be cabined. I was simply wrong. There is no resistance from the center-left. The situation is pretty much symmetrical to what’s going on between the Trumpist hard-right and the center-right. It’s worth asking how and why this is happening — why the extremists are suddenly succeeding at seizing power at everyone else’s expense.
I think the people who continue writing in here to say that there’s no risk of this dominating the culture are badly mistaken. I have no idea what they think is holding it all together; what they think defines and animates the imaginary center. I suspect these people have a laundry list of views they believe are “reasonable,” and infer that because those views are so obviously “reasonable” that everyone will somehow converge on them. For us (religious people), the present appears very differently. What these other people consider reasonable is just a grab bag of beliefs invented yesterday. Whatever principles have been invoked in their support can be used to justify far nuttier and more extreme views — and they inevitably will be. We see this more clearly, because much of what the supposedly reasonable center left believes is not reasonable to us at all. Rather, it doesn’t matter to us one whit whether it’s “reasonable” or not, but whether it’s false. In any case, when did the average, “normal” Russian decide it was a good idea to kill tens of millions of people? And yet that happened. Anyone with a basic grasp of political theory should understand that many thing happen in society without any specific person or group of people deciding ex ante that this is the desired path.
I do agree that the vast majority of people are instinctually averse to these sorts of things. They have an inbuilt orientation to common sense, which they will follow if left alone. But they won’t be left alone.
The other really interesting issue raised here is the question of how radical individualism collapses into radical collectivism. At first glance, it’s a very strange phenomenon. Here’s a hypothesis though.
Radical individualism makes people weak. It makes them weak because it insists that nothing should stand between them and the fulfillment of their desires, causing them to abandon the moral discipline that is necessary to becoming worth anything. At a minimum, it fails to instruct them in that moral discipline. Radical individualism also cuts people off from their community, from the group — and this also renders them weak. It renders them weak because individuals on their own are not capable of much. So if you are too cool and sophisticated to belong to anything; you find every institution and every organized group you encounter inadequate to your brilliant personal qualities; you will lack the strength that comes from being able to move with a group.
Once you’re dealing with a large herd of weak people, collectivism of a primitive, unsophisticated sort re-emerges. Rather than the complex, finely tuned collectivism of a major world religion like Islam, we are dumbed down to something far more crude — e.g., your racial “identity,” which is literally just a color that you happened to have been born with. Rather than taking on the complex set of roles associated with a gender, with the larger story that backs them up about how you are contributing to society, you have the anarchic fiat currency of modern conceptions of gender, which is about destroying the possibility of any meaningful gender roles, and whatever connection to community or society that might come from them.
So radical individualism first grants people license — it tells them that they are perfect exactly as they are, right where they are. Do not think about moving a muscle trying to improve yourself, or conforming to any higher ideal of worth. Just wallow in your idios. But the resulting people are now slaves to their desires, and hence easily manipulable by demagogues. And because they are trapped in their idios, they are starved for belonging and the power that comes with belonging. But the belonging they get is crude and primitive — in any human endeavor, that is inevitably what you get when you insist on starting from scratch.
UPDATE.3: Reader Zapollo:
Bleak thought: Your reader points out that the right has a firewall against the nutjobs. It’s worth remembering why that firewall exists.
It exists because rather spectacular events forced the right to confront the extremes to which racism and anti-Semitism could lead. Prior to World War II, it was possible for the respectable right to tolerate what might be called genteel racism and anti-Semitism. Racial and anti-Semitic violence could be waved away with the explanation that it was the work of simple, thuggish vulgarians: “Of course we’re nothing like THOSE weirdos.”
The Nazis, and to a lesser extent the American Civil Rights movement, changed everything. No longer could the right hide from the monstrous consequences that could eventually flow from the toleration of bigotry. A straight line could be drawn from the witty, urbane faculty-lounge anti-Semite and the gas chambers at Auschwitz. The meek, soft-spoken egghead with his charts and graphs explaining the hierarchy of races was shown to be only a few steps away from Bull Connor. Thus, the right was forced to set up a barrier, however imperfect, and defend it ruthlessly. Yes, this has led to the unfortunate exile of several powerful and incisive, but idiosyncratic right-wing thinkers. But it had to be done.
The left has no such example to check its worst impulses; no Siberia where they can exile their absent-minded geniuses who keep wandering off into realms where Lovecraftian horrors lurk. Sure, there’s the history of totalitarian communism, but the left learned only a partial lesson from that debacle. While Marxist economics was thoroughly extingushed — even the wokest of woke young radicals these days wants a cutting-edge smartphone — the cultural notions underpinning communism, the idea that man is mere clay to be shaped and molded by human ingenuity, retain a powerful hold on the leftist mind.
Of course, most serious leftist thinkers understand that reality imposes SOME practical limits — but they regard their more extreme allies such as in essence, a bunch of harmless eccentrics. Well, that’s exactly how serious right wingers before World War II regarded their allies who were Jew-hating cranks and “race science” obsessives. My bleak thought, my fear, is that it might take another huge atrocity to wake sensible leftists from their cheerful lassitude about the cult of identity politics.
I don’t want to be accused of Godwinism here — I am emphatically NOT saying that “woke” leftists are going to recreate the Holocaust. Even the wokest people I know are not in the same universe as Nazis. The Dreher-bait examples Rod likes to post don’t strike me as the sort of people who would willingly herd “undesirables” into cattle cars.
But then, many of the polite, sophisticated and scholarly anti-Semites and racists who pre-dated the Nazis weren’t anywhere close to being Nazis, either. That’s the thing about having no guardrails, no hard and clear line you can point to and say, “not one inch beyond here.” You have to trust your own judgment about when to apply the brakes. Do liberals trust their own judgement? What if they misjudge it, and wake up one morning to realize it’s too late?
I voted for Trump, and I have to constantly stop and reassess that decision. Being on the right, I am powerully aware of what the Trumpist temptation can lead to if not watched carefully. For any thoughtful Trump voter, the man’s presidency is one ongoing, interminable crisis of conscience: Did I surrender too much in the quest for victory? (Off-the-wall liberal fanaticism makes it easier for me to salve my conscience, but intellectual honesty compels me to admit that this by itself is not a sufficient excuse.) It might do sensible leftists some good to struggle with these thoughts about their own side.
A last thought, extending my earlier comment. A lot of times when us right-wingers freak out about identity politics craziness, leftists sneeringly reply that we’ve got nothing to worry about. They’ll politely point out that their more excitable colleagues are just playing around with a bit of Swiftian exaggeration to make a point: “Nobody’s coming to throw you in camps,” they’ll say. And it’s true — for now. At least among the grown-ups.
I can’t help but think, though, of Karl Lueger, the mayor of Vienna in Hitler’s youth. Lueger often gave scorching anti-Semitic speeches, even though he had a reputation as a nice guy who had many Jewish friends. When pressed on the contradiction, he flippantly replied: “*I* decide who is a Jew.”
That’s not too far away from what I hear from my left-wing friends when I press them on identity politics madness. Their response can be summed up as: “*I* decide who is a disgusting, privileged heterosexual white male. Nothin’ to worry about, chief!”
Lueger, despite his bluster, was basically harmless. It was his intellectual descendants — the ones who didn’t grasp that his anti-Semitism was unserious and essentially performative — who caused all the problems.