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The Media Construction Of Woke Reality

The current American crisis didn't just happen. Our media played a key role in manufacturing it
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Sorry for the light posting. I’ve been struggling with jet lag and with the coming Sweet Meteor of Death™ catastrophe that is going to be dealing with my infirm mother when we bring her home from the rehab center, where she’s recovering from breaking her hip. She seems to have it firmly fixed in her mind that by sheer force of will she can overcome all limitations of her body, and continue to maintain her independent lifestyle. I am deliberately understating it. This is like me saying that the Golden Horde appears to believe it has the right to trespass upon the lands of European sovereigns, and behave rudely to the locals.

On the journey home from Europe, I read this incredible paper analyzing the frequency of use of “prejudice-denoting words in news media discourse.” This chart from the paper gives you an idea of what it’s about:

Incredible. I wrote about this phenomenon in Live Not By Lies, but this is further confirmation of it. Here’s how I mention it in LNBL:

Propaganda helps change the world by creating a false impression of the way the world is. Writes Arendt, “The force possessed by totalitarian propaganda—before the movement has the power to drop the iron curtains to prevent anyone’s disturbing, by the slightest reality, the gruesome quiet of an entirely imaginary world—lies in its ability to shut the masses off from the real world.”

In 2019, Zach Goldberg, a political science PhD student at Georgia Tech, did a deep dive on LexisNexis, the world’s largest database of publicly available documents, including media reports. He found that over a nine-year period, the rate of news stories using progressive jargon associated with left-wing critical theory and social justice concepts shot into the stratosphere.

What does this mean? That the mainstream media is framing the general public’s understanding of news and events according to what was until very recently a radical ideology confined to left-wing intellectual elites.

It must be conceded that right-wing media, though outside the mainstream, often has a similar effect on conservatives: affirming to them that what they believe about the world is true. For all users of social media—including the nearly three quarters of US adults who use Facebook and the 22 percent who use Twitter—reinforcement of prior political beliefs is built into the system. We are being conditioned to accept as true whatever feels right to us. As Arendt wrote about the pre-totalitarian masses:

They do not believe in anything visible, in the reality of their own experience; they do not trust their eyes and ears but only their imaginations, which may be caught by anything that is at once universal and consistent with itself. What convinces masses are not facts, and not even invented facts, but only the consistency of the system of which they are presumably part.

I was thinking about how to write about the new information here when I saw that Ed West of UnHerd did a bang-up essay on it today. Excerpt:

The paper also found that this process long predated Trump and that in 2014: “The usage of words denoting racism, homophobia, transphobia or sexism were at or near, up to that year, all-time highs. These results suggest that the trend of increasing prevalence of prejudice related words in media discourse precedes the political emergence of Donald Trump — although Trump’s presidency and subsequent reactions to it may have exacerbated these trends.”

Centrist outlets were least likely to use these terms, presumably because Right-wing websites spend so much of their time Owning the Libs and responding to the R-word, while centrist publications are busy focusing on unimportant stuff like climate change and people having enough food to eat.

The paper, like Zach Goldberg’s work in similar areas, points to a seismic shift in American liberal opinion from about 2013, a change in worldview almost without precedent; even during the 1960s and 70s public opinion changed quite slowly in western countries, and in Britain the basic premises of the sexual revolution weren’t accepted by the majority until well into the 1990s.

This is a form of runaway progressivism, driven by status anxiety, and it is usually attributed to social media and the iPhone, which encourages clickbait and dopamine-producing culture war content.

The shifting political position of upper-middle class Americans and the proliferation of prejudice-related words are obviously not unrelated, and presumably the causal arrow goes both ways. A radicalised population demands more morally-affirming condemnation of the sinners, but the proliferation of prejudice words pushes people into more radical political positions.

Read it all. 

The point is, progressives in media began to radicalize us all about a decade ago by framing ordinary human experience in highly prejudicial language. They still do. The problem is that progressive elites really don’t seem to grasp what they’re doing. They have absorbed this radicalism as normative, and demonize people who haven’t. As Ed West says, this pushes the demonized into more radical political positions too.

Consider the situation in Hungary, where a mostly secular population is nevertheless socially conservative. Hungary is being beaten up by the European Union now for holding to media standards for the presentation of sexualized content to children that would have been uncontroversial in many European countries fifteen or twenty years ago. EU elites, having absorbed current-year thinking as eternal universal truths, are trying to construe those who don’t accept them as enemies of the human race. Now, think about it: if you are Viktor Orban, the elected right-wing leader of Hungary, and you see charts like the one above showing how media discourse around race and sexuality has changed US society in ways you find profoundly destructive, how eager are you going to be to sit back and let that happen in your country?

This is how you get progressives in high places driving conservatives more to the Right.

Here is how you get people on the Right to turn against Woke Capitalists. Writing in the New York Post, the invaluable Chris Rufo reports that American Express has been captured by the neoracist Left. Excerpt:

American Express, which made a $2.3 billion profit last quarter, invited the great-grandson of the Nation of Islam’s founder to tell its employees that capitalism is evil.

It was part of the credit card giant’s critical race theory training program, which asks workers to deconstruct their racial and sexual identities, then rank themselves on a hierarchy of “privilege.”

According to a trove of documents I’ve reviewed, AmEx executives created an internal “Anti-Racism Initiative” after George Floyd’s death last year, subjecting employees to a training program based on the core CRT tenets, including intersectionality, which reduces individuals to a tangle of racial, gender and sexual identities that determine whether he is an “oppressor” or “oppressed” in a given situation.

In a foundational session, the outside consulting firm Paradigm trained AmEx employees to deconstruct their own intersectional identities, mapping their “race, sexual orientation, body type, religion, disability status, age, gender identity [and] citizenship” onto an official company worksheet.

Employees could then determine whether they have “privilege” or are members of a “marginalized group”: White males presumably end up in the oppressor position, while racial and sexual minorities are considered oppressed.

In a related session, trainers instruct employees how to change their behavior in the office based on their relative position on the hierarchy. The trainers provide a blue flowchart with specific rules for interacting with black, female and LGBT employees: If members of a subordinate group are present, workers should practice “intersectional allyship” and defer to them before speaking.

In another handout, the instructions for white employees are even more explicit: “identify the privileges or advantages you have”; “don’t speak over members of the black and African-American community”; “it’s not about your intent, it’s about the impact you have on your colleague.”

Read it all.

Folks, this is not Women and Women First, the feminist bookstore in Portlandia; this is American freaking Express! This is the ideology of the ruling class now, and if you aspire to be part of the ruling class, you had better sign on for racial hatred.

This is our country, Americans. This is who we are becoming. This is what we are being turned into.

Did you see that the American Medical Association is now recommending that “male” and “female” be taken off of birth certificates? The AMA is on record now advocating for the denial of one of the most basic principles of biological science. Last weekend in Esztergom, I shared a stage with a prominent Hungarian liberal critic of the Orban government, an internationally respected academic whose most recent work has been in the area of science denial. I came away thinking that Hungarian liberals really don’t understand how radical America has become. Peter Kreko, my interlocutor, said a couple of times that surely I must be citing fringe examples and claiming that they represent the mainstream. Well, in US medicine, the AMA defines the mainstream. We really are this crazy now. We are destroying ourselves.

I was e-mailing last night with a Hungarian Catholic friend whose integrity and wisdom I respect greatly. She was commenting on my belief that Hungary has something to offer American conservatives when it comes to resisting this disorder politically. She’s not so confident. She wrote:

I personally think that the coming storm will swipe aside political solutions and we will need the bare essentials — what kept those dissidents going in prison, in concentration camps, in hunger and in thirst. I have just read about this Russian poetess who was involved in a show trial and as part of it, beaten up so badly that she lost her child. What are the things that keep one going in those circumstances? As far as I can recall, it is always some version of the true, the good and the beautiful, whether religious or not. Whatever is going on right now makes many of us angry, but I don’t really think anger is the right thing to spur one. It can be helpful, but it can make one easier to manipulate. Again, building political-intellectual networks might be part of the fight. I do not want to look down on it. It is important, I think. I am only saying that this should be rightly ordered.

It has long been my conviction that we don’t have what it takes to successfully repel this stuff. I hope I’m wrong, and in any case, we are obliged to fight it. But we can (and we must!) do two things at once: we can fight it openly using the means at hand, and we can also prepare for a long underground resistance.

Here’s a piece from Benjamin Kerstein, writing in Quillette about watching America crack up from overseas. Excerpts:

When you have lived long enough in a foreign country, you eventually begin to realize that the one you left behind, once accepted as utterly unique since it was all you knew, is not particularly different from anywhere else. One can call this perspective, but it is more a recognition of the essential contingency of any nation.

This is especially true when observing a country like the United States, which raises its children to believe that it is exceptional and, being exceptional, also immortal. Indeed, living in a country like Israel, which must be ever-vigilant about existential danger, I am struck by America’s extraordinary sense of invulnerability. An unthinkably bloody civil war did not break it, nor did Pearl Harbor or even 9/11. America and Americans, by and large, think they are going to live forever. Like most Americans, I grew up reflexively believing this. It was never said or taught outright, but it was a kind of cultural assumption. America was born of the virgin Liberty, and like the son of God in which it still largely believes, will always rise from the dead.

From afar, however, you eventually realize that, just as no man is immortal, nor is any nation. It is possible, of course, that it may survive for a very long time—much longer than the lifespan of any individual citizen. But even Rome fell, and while the Jews and perhaps India and China appear to prove the possibility of perpetual existence, it is in the nature of existence itself that survival is by no means inevitable.

This disillusion has been much on my mind lately, as I gaze from this great distance at the country of my birth. Because from over here in Tel Aviv, it looks like America is in the midst of a crack-up.

Can confirm, from recent experience in Hungary. If you live in the Anglosphere media space, as I do, you can easily become numb to the insanity. But talking to Hungarians about it, you realize that what’s happening in America is not remotely normal. It is, in fact, insane. Living overseas these past few months has made me even more aware of how much faith we Americans put in the idea that bad things that happen to people in other countries cannot happen to us.

Kerstein is very hard on the delusions of both the Left and the Right. I was interested to see him use on two occasions in the essay the term “soft totalitarianism” to describe what the woke Left is bringing about. Here’s one of the instances:

None of this lets the progressives off the hook. Soft totalitarianism is still totalitarianism. It may not be openly murderous, but this is essentially irrelevant, because it can murder everything that makes men free, and with it essential things like thought, creativity, and dignity. And a totalitarian America with the facade of a republic would be even closer to collapse than it already is. Whatever their other flaws, most Americans still care deeply about their freedoms, and will eventually fight for them should they deem it necessary. In such a culture, and especially such a heavily armed culture, any attempt to impose a soft totalitarianism faces the prospect of a hard resistance.

Read it all. It’s not a cheerful essay. But it tells some hard truths about the present and the likely future. Among them:

No republic can survive if the vast majority of its citizens no longer believe in it, and it does seem that more and more Americans no longer believe in their republic.