No Minister

The Struggle Sessions: Woke Roots

In my first post on our modern Struggle Sessions I made reference to an article that Andrew Sullivan wrote in 2018 describing how We all live on campus now.

Recently Sullivan did a followup column, looking at where this garbage came from: The Roots of Wokeness. I highly recommend you read it just in case you still think this is such insane crap that nobody would believe it, let alone act on it. But notably, this latest article had to be written for his own blog. It’s perhaps a bit lengthy so here are the key bits.

Looking at [NYT] stories from 1970 to 2018, several terms came out of nowhere in the past few years to reach sudden new heights of repetition and frequency. Here’s a list of the most successful neologisms: non-binary, toxic masculinity, white supremacy, traumatizing, queer, transphobia, whiteness, mansplaining. And here are a few that were rising in frequency in the last decade but only took off in the last few years: triggering, hurtful, gender, stereotypes

Language changes but this has been rapid and not from everyday grassroots culture as with slang. With regard to the NYT Sullivan points out that: “In the last few years, its pages have been flushed with so many neologisms that a reader from, say, a decade ago would have a hard time understanding large swathes of it.”

For anybody who has ever tried to plough through post-modernist tombs I’d say that last is deliberate. Finnegans Wake makes more bloody sense. But Sullivan correctly says that we can’t dismiss this:

We need to understand that all these words have one thing in common: they are products of an esoteric, academic discipline called critical theory, which has gained extraordinary popularity in elite education in the past few decades, and appears to have reached a cultural tipping point in the middle of the 2010s.

He goes on to point out that while most people have never heard of this theory it is not just changing written and spoken words but the rationale of civil democratic institutions. Postmodernism is the root philosophy and has been around since the 1960’s:

Beginning as a critique of all grand theories of meaning—from Christianity to Marxism—postmodernism is a project to subvert the intellectual foundations of western culture. The entire concept of reason—whether the Enlightenment version or  even the ancient Socratic understanding—is a myth designed to serve the interests of those in power,…

Postmodernism gets stuck into such power, but leaves nothing in its place.

The idea of objective truth—even if it is viewed as always somewhat beyond our reach—is abandoned. All we have are narratives, stories, whose meaning is entirely provisional, and can in turn be subverted or problematized...

There is no distinction between objective truth and subjective experience, because the former is an illusion created by the latter. So instead of an argument, you merely have an identity showdown, in which the more oppressed always wins, because that subverts the hierarchy. 

I think we escaped this crap for a long time precisely because it offered nothing in itself, and also because many people either avoided university or emerged from it to enter a world where reason and objective truth were vital to living. But that “power” bit was the key to weaponising the theory and sending it out into the real world. It was turned into Social Justice (quite different to the old Christian concept) and Critical Theory.

Truth is always and only a function of power. So, for example, science has no claim on objective truth, because science itself is a cultural construct, created out of power differentials, set up by white cis straight males… There’s no conspiracy: we all act unknowingly in perpetuating systems of thought that oppress other groups…

There is no such thing as persuasion in this paradigm, because persuasion assumes an equal relationship between two people based on reason. And there is no reason and no equality. There is only power. 

Moreover that power is zero-sum. If you have power then others do not, so that’s another count against persuasion or reasoning. And forget individualism; that’s actually a threat to the group (as ever in history).

You have no independent existence outside these power dynamics. I am never just me. I’m a point where the intersecting identities of white, gay, male, Catholic, immigrant, HIV-positive, cis, and English all somehow collide...

Hence the term “Intersectionality“. And of course language is vital to critical theory – not as a means of reasoning but for resisting oppressive discourses. As a result there’s as much fighting over language as other things: that fight has to be won right from the start, which is why these terms are entering everyday speech of the MSM, if not that of ordinary people – yet. Even in that case there are two terms that ordinary people seem to becoming aware of and using outside forums like this. First up is “Check Your Privilege“:

This is the point of telling students, for example, to “check their privilege” before opening their mouths on campus. You have to measure the power dynamic between you and the other person first of all; you do this by quickly noting your interlocutor’s place in the system of oppression, and your own, before any dialogue can occur. And if your interlocutor is lower down in the matrix of identity, your job is to defer and to listen.

And then there’s “Woke”:

Becoming “woke” to these power dynamics alters your perspective of reality...

This is the reality of our world, the critical theorists argue, even if we cannot see it. A gay person is not an individual who makes her own mind up about the world and can have any politics or religion she wants; she is “queer,” part of an identity that interrogates and subverts heteronormativity.

Same with other identities. And don’t even think about questioning any of this.

Questioning whether a trans woman is entirely interchangeable with a woman—or bringing up biology to distinguish between men and women—is not a mode of inquiry. It is itself a form of “transphobia”, of fear and loathing of an entire group of people and a desire to exterminate them. It’s an assault.

This is how your free speech becomes violence, whereas their violence is just free speech. Of course there is also “silence is violence“. All very Nineteen Eighty Four, although there’s a large chunk of the famous Kafka Trapping as well.

A sophistical and unfalsifiable form of argument that attempts to overcome an opponent by inducing a sense of guilt and using the opponent’s denial of guilt as further evidence of guilt.

Critical Theory can live inside a Classically Liberal society but the reverse is not true. And the more that this theory spreads the further it strangles the latter.

11 Responses

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  1. As I’ve posted elsewhere, and good on you for getting to the ideological/epistemological root of what is going on with the language and action of groups like Antifa and the wider “Woke” movement, it is simply the repackaged dialectical theory of Marxism, with a new clash of ruling hegemony and oppressed marginalised. Older readers should recognise it, indeed some of you fought it in Vietnam some 50 years ago.

    So instead of the class struggle that was all the rage with Leninist, Trotskyites and Maoists some 50 years ago (and I’m assured by those who were on campus some 50 years ago they did exist)

    …the “struggle/revolution” is now expanded as shown by Feminist Studies to male vs female, by Ethnic Studies to White vs Coloured and Indigenous, by Queer Studies to heterosexual vs LGBTQI, and beyond that to the CIS vs Transgender Gender shit fight. Then, if you want to/have to combine them you have a multi-directional clash of all these dialectic struggles in intersectionalism.

    Oh, yeah, and “Wokeness” is just a repackaged warmed up version of what the Marxists call “consciousness raising”. In other words persuading others that the vast formal and informal conspiracy by ruling groups to keep the exploited in their place really exists, indeed it is the primary, in fact only determinant of reality, and that you have nothing to loose but your chains by joining the revolution…which is guaranteed to succeed as it is a scientific and historical inevitability. So, basically you are signing up to a non-negotiable ideological cult with their own language and vocabulary to capture and then command the narrative, and that will brook no opposition within or without. Indeed, when they turn on their own it gets especially nasty. We can laugh at Monty Python’s PFJ from the life of Brian, but you get on the wrong side of the revolution and you get the proverbial ice pick to the head as per Trotsky‘s literal fate.

    But one thing, and it’s an epistemological error Jordan Peterson has perpetuated and disseminated. Post-modernism and it’s methodology of deconstructionism is NOT Radical-Critical Theory, and you are pointing at the wrong culprits fingering Foucault, Derrida etc. Instead they are independent stand-alone Philosophies of reality.

    Instead, in line with their “by any means necessary to achieve the revolution”, the various practitioners use the deconstruction and arguments of Post-Modernism that there is no objectivity to undermine the positivist objectivism of Classical Liberalism because they view the latter as a tool of the exploitative hegemony. But once that is done, very very quickly for all practical purposes the successful revolution is regarded as objective reality and self-evident truth. And if you disagree it is re—education or liquidation for you. Hence the observation that revolutions start off to the left, then very quickly hard right.

    A good antidote that most can grasp when the “Woke/consciousness raising/dialectic disharmony and grievance merchants come a knocking with their deconstruction m, trying to draw others into the narrative of overwhelming subjectivity, is the post-positivist position. There may indeed be objective reality and facts, but yes, you are right, due to finite and flawed human nature, we may not be able to know for sure. But what we most likely can do is provisionally know what is the truth to a sufficient level. And if we don’t know yet, we will keep on searching, knowing from pragmatic experience that Classic Liberalism as per the assumptions and tools of the Scientific Method and other Empirical fruits of the Enlightenment project have discovered much that is of obvious tangible benefit.


    August 23, 2020 at 6:25 pm

  2. Post-modernism and it’s methodology of deconstructionism is NOT Radical-Critical Theory, and you are pointing at the wrong culprits fingering Foucault, Derrida etc. Instead they are independent stand-alone Philosophies of reality.

    Agreed that they’re not and I thought I’d made that clear but perhaps the confusion is due to the fact that the latter grew from the former. I don’t think that’s wrong. It’s hard to see how Critical Theory (CT) could have just emerged in its own and it certainly has much in common with Postmodernist theory.

    You’re correct that once it has achieved its objectives in deconstructing the “power structures” it identifies, CT wants to “switch off”, and not be subjected to any deconstruction of itself by Postmodernism, and CT certainly looks like Marxism in that respect. Sullivan specifically refers to Neo-Marxism where the oppressd identities replace the old Classes. He probably feels that “Neo-Marxism” sounds better than “Cultural-Marxism”, which the Left often (always?) sneer at.

    But I don’t think that disconnects CT’s roots in Postmodernism.

    Tom Hunter

    August 23, 2020 at 7:25 pm

    • Yeah, nah sorry to be an ideological nut picker but as per my first post, Radical-Critical Theory has its roots in Hegelian dialectic Marxism, and the Frankfurt School of the 1920s and 30s. Both of which predate Derrida and Foucault in the 60s. So no, I’m not buying, in the absence of additional data (and I’ll do some digging) that Post-Modernism gave birth to Radical Critical Theory. They are each independent just as is Classical Liberal Positivism. But sometimes their methods cross the ideological boundaries, hence a RC practitioner uses the deconstructionism of PM, or a Positivist uses the dialectic method to reveal hidden power structures. Or even deconstructionism to pick apart a purported and potentially bogus claim of truth.

      But as I suggested, Radical-Critical Theory is a form Marxism, or more precisely, Marxism was the first manifestation of what is now called Radical-Critical Theory.

      Anyway main “so what?” is that the Jordan Peterson’s of this world have enough on their plate wrestling the Radical Critical beast without forfeiting vital and valuable academic credibility getting some of the “tribal pedigree” basics wrong. Especially as his ideological foes – and good on Peterson for realising what is really going on, unlike Bret Weinstein’s meek colleagues slowly cooking like frogs in a pot continually increasing temperature – will use any stick they can to undermine him.

      Actually it wasn’t frogs, but instead, as per the idiot question of Cathy Newman, aka a “useful fool”, “so what you’re saying is we should live like lobsters?” 😂


      August 23, 2020 at 8:20 pm

  3. Well how about that. I have been persuaded by your argument and in future discussions of Critical Theory will make sure not to repeat the CT = PM assumptions.

    Admittedly this is also because blaming the commies for yet another stupid theory that destroys society, is right up my alley. 😃

    Tom Hunter

    August 24, 2020 at 9:28 am

    • You believed that load of shit?! 😳😂

      Joking aside and as I’ve posted before the thing about Radical Critical Theory is that, from the perspective of Classical Liberal Positivism it has no rigour. I mean, what do the dialectic brigade do other than…decide who is wearing black hats and white hats?! And they don’t even have a means by which to critique the assumptions of Radical Critical Theory.

      You could argue that neither does Logical Positivism, settling as it does for “probably” after going through the gateways of Descartes’ skeptical approach, the Scientific Method and Popper’s tests for falsifiability. But at least Logical Positivism doesn’t have a problem, in theory anyway (in practice not so much, but I’ll avoid discussing the foibles and follies of the “New Atheists” in this context 😀) in letting other theories of reality such as Post-Positivism, Post-Modernism and Radical Critical Theory act as a form of “mental hygiene” Which means even Radical Critical Theory has a use, as a tool by which we can ask the necessary question of ourselves and what we think is “obviously” true, “is this shit really so?”. In the same way Descartes kicked off the Enlightenment by asking the same question, and coming up with a starting point, Cogito ergo sum…I drink therefore I am? 😂 Hence as you rightly assess, Radical Critical Theory can exist in an academy and civilisation where Classical Liberalism rules, but not vice versa.

      But the one thing in its favour that Radical Critical Theory has is outcomes. Arguably too often lots of study and research in the Logical Positivist world just falls to th3 ground and sits there passively, like books in a library that never get touched for 50 years. There is a Radical Critical branch of academic study known as “Action Research”, and while it is just another repackaged consciousness-raising exercise among a group of subjects (not objects as per Logical Postivism!), the name says it all. Indeed it summarises what RC Theory is about.

      So you may not like the results, but unlike the usual everyday criticism of laypeople that they cannot see anything tangible or life changing that academia “does”, Radical Critical Theory is indeed “doing” something and it is very much their intention that you will experience its effect!


      August 24, 2020 at 6:26 pm

  4. I like the idea that modernity is underpinned by a rejection of the moral law. Particularly #6: no adultery. Whatever sexual depravity you can imagine, it has been harnessed as an ontology. Modernity is justification of depravity, in its many forms. Freedom is slavery though, as many are discovering. Intersectionality is a ginormous lawn mower blade that slices everyone who toys with it into mince meat.

    The campus as Cathedral was brought up by Moldbug, whom I suspect is trying to gatekeep the right. Try reading Giambattista Vico, he was a penniless family man who tried combine history and science into a coherent tale, but he was swept aside by German Idealism and a rush into materialism.


    August 24, 2020 at 6:55 pm

    • Freedom is slavery though

      Wait! What?

      Tom Hunter

      August 24, 2020 at 7:00 pm

    • Augustine. City of God: A man has as many masters as he has vices.

      Sexual freedom. Gluttony freedom. Freedom to become enraged at will.

      Freedom to salve every animal urge means you will become enslaved to that whim. Freedom (from morality) is slavery. This is the moderns curse.

      City of god is an awesome book, subtitled: rape of Rome. Written shortly after Rome was sacked by Aleric and shortly before ancient African Hippo was over run and Christianity left Africa for a thousand years.


      August 27, 2020 at 8:42 pm

  5. Radical Critical Theory is indeed “doing” something and it is very much their intention that you will experience its effect!

    Yeah. And my response is rapidly turning towards (paraphrasing Shakespeare)

    The first thing we do, let’s kill all the Critical Theorists”

    Tom Hunter

    August 24, 2020 at 6:58 pm

    • I think you may find that’s the response they want. Martyrs are always more dangerous. And these guys and girls make Jewish mothers look like amateurs when it comes to playing the martyr. 😂

      Although, despite his protestations to the contrary, I’m not buying into Gustavo Frink’s narrative that you deleting some of his posts is the equivalent of Pinochet rolling tanks into Santiago. 😂


      August 24, 2020 at 7:27 pm

    • … rolling tanks into Santiago …


      I’m surprised he hasn’t described it as me throwing him out of a helicopter somewhere over the Pacific. 🤣🤣

      Tom Hunter

      August 24, 2020 at 7:49 pm

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