The arc of the impact on Western civilization of the allegedly ‘progressive Left has evolved over the last couple of years from being laughable and irritating to frustrating and tedious to truly freakin’ scary. The number of people I encounter on comment sections of mainstream media outlets lately who simply parrot generic ‘progressive’-Left ideological slogans and talking points… essentially verbatim… and present them as if they were expressing ideas of their own is genuinely chilling.
I see a lot of this sort of thing:
Richard H: “If we cannot acknowledge the residue of Patriarchal systems how can we ever rectify the fall out. The ‘Me Too’ & LGBTQ movements are a sign that we have to allow these archaic systems of Patrriarchy to collapse in order to bring a more inclusive one.”
I can’t read that and not instantly be reminded of scenes in the John Hurt movie version of Orwell’s 1984 in which drab, deeply conditioned members of the ‘outer Party’ obsequiously and enthusiastically regurgitate official Party doctrine.
As the perfectly conditioned, obedient group-thinker in the above scene makes clear:
“The secret is to move from translation to direct thought to automatic response.”
And few things strike me as providing a better example of the reality of the Orwellian conditioning that has gripped Western societies than the hideous and deeply racist concept of ‘white privilege’.
In fact, to even call it a ‘concept’ is giving it too much credit. It is little more than taking two unrelated words that when jammed together generate a ‘feeling‘ or an ‘impression‘ of something vaguely pernicious. It’s the kind of thing that a lot of people find themselves reflexively nodding along in agreement about how pervasive and terrible it is long before noticing they couldn’t tell you what it specifically means, where the expression came from or why it’s supposedly an issue in the first place.
One can’t help but suspect that this is in large part the intention.
It is an example of using language to obscure and manipulate rather than to illuminate and clarify. The phrase is sufficiently vague to make it a catch-all explanation for essentially anything you want. Rather than pointing to an objective fact… the way classifications such as ‘cumulus clouds’ or ‘arrhythmic heartbeat’ point to specific, observable phenomena … ‘white privilege’ is designed to validate subjective impressions and conclusions. “I’m right and you’re wrong… because white privilege”. That sort of thing.
We live in an era in which terms and phrases that seem to have come out of nowhere are almost instantly adopted into common usage and parroted. Take a fairly harmless but ubiquitous example: How many grown men and women now routinely incorporate generic, adolescent Internet abbreviations like ‘LOL’ into their written forms of communication without ever thinking about it? Despite the fact that no one would ever deliberately use the phrase ‘laugh out loud’… millions of people reflexively type out the abbreviation for this rather oblique phrase everyday when writing their emails, text messages and the comments they post online. Why do people do this? Presumably it’s because they saw other people using ‘LOL’ on the Internet at some point and so they started reflexively mimicking the behaviour themselves. And because no one points out how weird it is that everyone suddenly started typing the same three letter abbreviation for a phrase that no one would ever deliberately use… it never occurs to anyone to notice just how truly weird it is.
There is undoubtedly something about the technology of the Internet that takes this mostly unconscious human instinct for mimicking behaviour and supercharges it.
This slightly dispiriting but reasonably benign example of how technology magnifies our impulse for unthinking conformity turns into something significantly more odious when the terms and phrases that seem to appear out of nowhere and are instantly parroted are associated with specific ideological conceptions and agendas.
Sometimes these are real words with little genuine relevance beyond the arcane interests of scholars of history… like ‘patriarchy’ and ‘colonialist’… but which have been re-purposed by ideologues as ‘titles’ for their skewed social and political interpretations.
Other terms are simply invented out of thin air… much like an advertiser will market a product by constructing a slogan designed to evoke the desired emotional response without engaging any conscious thought on behalf of the consumer.
Recently coined terms like “mansplaining”, “rape culture”, “wage gap”, “male privilege” and of course, “white privilege” are examples of this.
Just as with the marketing campaign for a product, these catchy, bumper-sticker phrases bypass critical thinking and appeal directly to the predispositions of the target audience.
So for instance, a woman who already harbours resentment or hostility towards men or who is insecure or uncomfortable about engaging men in verbal confrontation may encounter the term ‘mansplaining’ and find it instantly appealing. It provides external validation for her resentment: “Yes! That’s the explanation for my inability to represent my views effectively! That’s the explanation for why not everyone agrees with me! There’s something wrong with men!”
But of course, maturity and basic self-awareness places an onus on each of us to recognise that our default impulse, more often than not, is to let ourselves off the hook. To say “It isn’t me! It’s you!” To buy into the notion that it isn’t my responsibility as an autonomous adult to moderate my conduct and my emotional reactivity… but rather it’s the responsibility of all the other autonomous adults out there to moderate their behaviour so that I may avoid the unpleasantness of my own uncontrolled reactions.
In other words, it’s your responsibility not to ‘trigger‘ me. Not my responsibility to learn how to handle it.
And that my friends… is ‘social justice’ in a nutshell. This whole thing… all of the pseudo-intellectual wankery… the reams and reams of naval-gazing sociology papers and theories… the millions of dollars in public and private money poured into paying the salaries of self-appointed ‘experts’ in academia who push these concepts in the humanities departments of universities… all of the sanctimony, moral self-aggrandizement, circular reasoning and endlessly proliferating slogans, terms and expressions… the entire project is essentially the extension of one, pitifully infantile and ignoble premise: The world needs to change so that I don’t have to!
Or to put it another way… ‘It isn’t my job to grow and become a better person. It is the job of reality to reorganize itself so that I don’t have to encounter anything that challenges my ego.’
It is the inverse of character. The normalization of narcissism.
Perhaps it is an inevitable consequence of a decadent, rich and technologically advanced civilization pushing childhood into the second decade of life and beyond.
Whatever it is, it is what ultimately accounts for the widespread appeal of the ‘progressive’-Left, ‘social justice’ worldview: Instead of taking on the challenge of growing up and cultivating the skills and capacities to engage with the objective realities of life… society now gives you permission to remain a child and validates the expectation that authority structures will pander to your impulses and ego.
And these recently minted, fashionable slogans and phrases provide the mechanism for doing just that. They facilitate relocating responsibility for one’s own internal, negative emotional reactions as a response to disappointment, frustration and failed expectations from oneself to the most convenient, external source available. It is the institutionalization of scapegoating.
Here is a brief exchange with someone responding to the article by Rex Murphy referenced above. Alan is a great example of the quality of thinking of people who buy into these fashionable Leftist concepts like ‘white privilege’.
Alan W: This article has to be parody. If Murphy is being serious then his white privilege has reached a record-setting level.
Going to Getugly: I wish I could believe that your comment was a parody. But judging by the number of similar posts from people desperate to demonstrate their conformity to this currently fashionable group think I have to conclude it’s for real.
Alan W: Thanks for replying to my comment! I’m very excited to exchange ideas with you.
I regret to inform you that my post is based on fact, more precisely, the fact that white privilege is a real and observable phenomenon. In no way was I attempting to appear “fashionable” with my ideas. I was merely stating facts which are based on observation. Therefore your conclusion that my post is”real” is correct but your reasoning is false.
Going to Getugly: Here’s the thing Alan: It strikes me that the people who have adopted this generic ideological construct have done so as the result of not particularity well-developed reasoning and critical thinking skills. And the problem with “exchanging ideas” with people like this is that they are using those same poorly developed reasoning and critical thinking skills to justify their claims. For instance… your response to my criticism was to instantly default to fallacious argument. And the fact that you don’t recognize that you’ve done this or why it is a symptom of poor reasoning skills is itself evidence of the problem.
Let me show you what I mean. This is what seems to you to be a credible rebuttal:
“I regret to inform you that my post is based on fact, more precisely, the fact that white privilege is a real and observable phenomenon.”
“I was merely stating facts which are based on observation. Therefore your conclusion that my post is”real” is correct but your reasoning is false.”
Now clearly all you have done there is make the assertions that “I’m right because this is true.” And “Your reading is false because my opinion is fact.”
These are examples of ‘begging the question’. In other words, your response to criticism of your premise is to simply declare again that your premise is true without demonstrating it. It’s basic circular reasoning.
So here’s the point: People who are good at thinking… don’t do that. And by ‘good at thinking’… I mean people who have adequately cultivated specific reasoning skills and disciplines which generate effective interpretations about the objective world.
And it is predictable that people who have not cultivated those skills will, a) be oblivious to the existence and necessity of those skills, and b) be prone or susceptible to internalizing externally generated narratives that are promoted to them and which provide them with an already complete, prepackaged set of interpretations.
Ultimately, there is no point assuming that the interpretations which you are espousing have any merit until you first address the issue of the thinking skills you’ve used to generate them.
Despite Alan’s apparent initial enthusiasm for exchanging ideas…. I didn’t receive any further replies to my critique of his position.