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James Lindsay has been analyzing and criticizing Wokeism for some time now.
I was recently asked by someone reading my forthcoming book with Helen Pluckrose, Cynical Theories, if I would explain the relationship between Marxism and the Critical Social Justice ideology we trace a partial history of in that book. The reason for the question is that Cynical Theories obviously focuses upon the postmodern elements of Critical Social Justice scholarship and activism, and yet many people, particularly among conservatives, identify obvious relationships to Marxism within that scholarship and activism that seems poorly accounted for by talking about postmodernism. This confusion makes sense because postmodernism was always explicitly critical of Marxism, naming it among the grand, sweeping universalizing explanations of reality that it called “metanarratives,” of which it advised us to be radically skeptical.
The goal of Cynical Theories is to add clarity to this admittedly complicated discussion and lay out how postmodernism is of central importance to the development of what we now call “Critical Social Justice” or “Woke” scholarship and ideology. This is actually only one part in a far broader history that certainly draws upon Marx (and thus all the German idealists he drew upon), though in a very peculiar way and through a number of fascinating and, themselves, complex historical and philosophical twists.
One of these is the development of postmodernism, upon which we write, and another is the development of “neo-Marxism,” which is sometimes referred to as “Cultural Marxism.” This is a development of the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory, and it too was explicitly highly critical of Marxism in its economic particulars, though it retained the underlying ethos and ambition of overthrowing the ruling classes and establishing some variation on communism. Clearly, a third line of thought that bears some relevance is the long and, again, complex history of “social justice” thought, which can be approached in any number of ways, including religious, liberal, communist, and, as we explain in the book, “Woke,” which must be understood to be its own thing in its own context, whatever its intellectual history.
[...]In all of this, Marxism, though, which is conflict theory applied to Industrial Age capitalist economics, is more or less completely lost, except as a thing that people occasionally yell about without any apparent deep understanding. Class struggle, to Marxists, unites people across identity groups—“workers of the world, unite!”—so identity groups are mostly irrelevant to Marxism except in the effort to outline the specific ways that capitalism might uniquely exploit them. In fact, the proper Marxists of today don’t like Critical Social Justice at all because of its divisiveness around identity within class and its overwhelmingly obvious
| Douglas Murray
Outstanding and truthful editorial. I have seen James Lindsay on Oxford Union.
Initially used as a term to empower awareness of systemic inequalities in society, wokeism is now a deeply divisive term. The media's perpetuation of woke culture has made this term a buzzword. For some, being woke is part of the antidote of acknowledging the instruments of oppression. For others, it is a dangerously absolutist ideology, a sort of reverse McCarthyism, corroding liberal society and encouraging self-imposed victimhood. Is the 'war on woke' a legitimate phenomenon, or a reactionary distraction from the real problems being 'woke' addresses?
| Woke Culture HAS NOT Gone Too Far -
6/8 | Oxford Union
12 Jan 2023
A special thanks for that!
This man knows what he is talking about!,
At the beginning of that time period, historians agree, came the founding document of identity politics itself: "The Combahee River Collective Statement," a declaration that grew out of several years of meetings among black feminists in Massachussetts.
The key assertion of this manifesto, which prefigures the politics to come, is that "this focus on our own oppression is embodied in the concept of identity politics. We believe that the most profound and potentially most radical politics come directly out of our own identity, as opposed to working to end someone else's oppression.
And who is the "someone else" to whom the document refers? Men. "Contemporary Black feminism," the authors explain, "is the outgrowth of countless generations of personal sacrifice, militancy, and work by our mothers and sisters [emphasis added]." When men are mentioned in the Combahee document, it is largely as adversaries with "habitually sexist ways of interacting with and oppressing Black women." Similarly: "The reaction of Black men to feminism has been notoriously negative. They are, of course even more threatened than Black women by the possibility that Black feminists might organize around their own needs."
The founding document of identity politics, in other words, reflects aspects of the world as many African American women would have found it in the 1970s-- and they had become the canaries in the coal mines of the revolution. Ahead of other groups, they were early witnesses to the transformations that are now the stuff of daily conversation and reality for all: a world in which men have become ever less trustworthy and reliable, in which relations between the sexes have become chronically estranged and consumerist, and in which marriage has become thin on the ground. African American were-- and still are-- disproportionately affected by abortion, out-of-wedlock births, fatherless homes, and related metrics. ...
... The year of the document's publication--1977-- was a watershed of a sort. The preceding year, the out-of-wedlock birth rate for black Americans had just "tipped" over the 50 percent mark. This rate kept climbing to its current high of 70-plus percent in 2016. At the same time, other measures indicating the splintering of the nuclear and extended family expanded too. By 2012, Millennials-- women who were then under the age of thirty-- shared for the first time the out-of-wedlock birth rate of black women in 1977 (i.e., over half). Millennials, of course, are the demographic backbone of identity politics.
-- Mary Eberstadt, Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics (Templeton Press, 2019)
Interestingly, Lindsay also notes how Queer Theorists were using the phrasing of the “intersection of sex, gender, and sexuality” before Crenshaw started writing about "intersectionality".
The implementation of policies based on who belongs in which category, oppressed or oppressor, and to which level and degree, is well known from the history of Maoism:
Thanks to our vigorously redwashed education system in the West, few Americans or Canadians today know how Mao did what he did. Though there are lots of technical elements involved, including a swift and total takeover of all education from 1950–1952, he primarily achieved his aims through identity politics in which several different types of identity categories were bound together into a systematic program of (youth) radicalization and power acquisition—just like today.
Mao, following the Soviets, defined “the people” and its “enemies.” Among “the people” were the socialists and Communists, but also the peasants and laborers whose image the CCP used while failing to do much for them (and visiting untold calamity upon them over and over again). Also among “the people” were those Mao and the CCP considered able to be “reformed,” though they had a great deal of “struggle” ahead of them so that their thought could be reformed to Chinese socialism. The “enemies” of “the people” were myriad, including former Guomingdang officials and sympathizers, landlords, “rich” farmers (“kulaks”), and the unreformable—counterrevolutionaries, bad influences, and rightists. Mao advocated ruthless treatment and taught open, vicious hate of the “enemies” of the people but always held out the opportunity (often through brutal struggle, brainwashing, and labor) to become one of “the people” by adopting “socialist discipline” under his system of “democratic centralism” that would administer an economy that redistributed shares so that “the people” were made equal.
More specifically, Mao originally created ten identities for people: five “black” (bad) and five “red” (good, Communist). People and their children, grandchildren, and further descendants were classified and handled according to this system. The idea was primarily to pressure youth given black identities to want to renounce and destroy the “Four Olds” of society and become Maoist revolutionaries. A variety of identity campaigns, involving both carrots and sticks, were employed in the process. Denounce your old way of life and thinking publicly and repeatedly, undergo criticism, self-criticism, and struggle, denounce your father and family if they had the wrong kind of identity, pledge loyalty to Mao, help his revolutionary cadres and forces—those kinds of things could get you a ticket out of a “black” identity into a “red” one.
On the mass conversion of our institutions
... The National Archives in Washington, D.C., today places warning labels on the Constitution, because reading it may induce unpleasant sensations in some identity groups. Universities like Princeton now publish “antiracist toolkits” to instruct the faithful on how to “move beyond diversity” and into identity heaven. Nike, which makes sneakers, demands of its customers: “Don’t pretend there’s not a problem with America. Don’t turn your back on racism.” The Cleveland Indians and Washington Redskins, two time-honored sports franchises, for their identity sins have had their names stripped away. I could extend the list unto boredom—it would range from prestigious media institutions like the New York Times to local bodies like the San Francisco school board.
Tyler Cowen, nobody’s idea of an identity enthusiast, has declared that “wokeism”—a popular tag for the cult—“will rule the world.” “Winners win! And woke is right now one of America’s global winners,” he writes.
What, specifically, are the values that the identity creed promotes? The terms that the critics use, such as “woke” and “cancel culture,” don’t impart much information. I tend to avoid them. The words used by true believers, like all attempts to describe the ineffable, are shifting, ambivalent, and opaque. One must be initiated to grasp how many letters should go into LGBTQIA and why the damned thing keeps growing.
Wesley Yang, a critic, sees the cult as the “successor ideology” to liberalism and, more recently, has referred to it as a “successor regime” whose “year zero” began in 2021, after the electoral triumph of progressive-minded Democrats. The objective of the successor ideology is to dismantle the citizen-based ideal of equality and replace it with an identity-based system of justice and government. Here are some of Yang’s examples of how it has worked in practice:
The Small Business Administration prioritized emergency Covid grants to restaurants by race. The Department of Agriculture prioritized funding to black farmers. The state of Vermont allowed BIPOC [“Black, Indigenous, People of Color”] residents early access to the vaccine. The state of California mandates diverse representation on