'You Are Not You'

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'You Are Not You'

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https://financialpost.com/opinion/teren ... cf5e8e37d/

Terence Corcoran: You are not you, and other truths of the new world
The effort to sideline individualism and associated economic ideas is being propelled by journalists, academics and political forces in the name of fighting racism and other isms
Author of the article:
Terence Corcoran
Publishing date:
Sep 02, 2020 • Last Updated 11 hours ago • 12 minute read

The storm has been moving in for some time, building up over decades of political and academic activism fuelled by the ideological advocacy of a long line of leftist intellectuals and writers, from Karl Marx through Herbert Marcuse’s New Left celebrations of the ‘60s and ‘70s to the Occupy Movement to Naomi Klein. After half a century of torch-passing from one anti-liberal theorist to another, North America and other Western nations have settled on a final truth: You are not an individual.
In the new world, people are slotted into assorted collective categories: white or Black, oppressed or oppressor, straight or LGBQ, steeped in inequality, male or female or other, green or a denier, young sidelined millennial or aging privileged colonialist, a Muslim or a Jew or a Christian. From now on, these are the primary labels that define and describe your role in life and shape the content of your mind and character. Forget and submerge your individual capacities and abilities, your intellectual independence, your personal perspectives, ambitions and failures.
Individualism is dead. In its place is a new political environment in which all people are supposedly driven by and classified according to their membership in one of dozens of collective categories that determine each person’s world view and behaviour that is controlled by ingrained collective bias and beliefs. You may or may not even be conscious of your motivations. In this new era, people are said to be motivated by “unconscious bias” rather than their own thinking.
To reach this new era of anti-individualism, the greatest political and philosophical achievements of the last few centuries are being deliberately eroded. Classical liberalism and other core political and philosophical foundations supporting individualism are being turfed and replaced by a new world order: systemic collectivism.
The core elements of the Enlightenment, the 300-year-old philosophical breakthrough founded by the greatest minds in history — from Locke, Rousseau, Hobbes and later by Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill and others — created the ideological foundation for a prosperous world: individualism, capitalism, the scientific method, reason, logic, objectivity, liberty, globalization, secularism, free markets, the pursuit of happiness and well being, free speech, optimism and hope.
The overthrow of these core concepts is not a secret or clandestine campaign but a calculated and highly public effort to destroy the great fundamental principles that have lifted human beings from ignorance and servitude into a three-century explosion of freedom, growth, human progress and achievement.
Under systemic collectivism, essentially all of the Enlightenment ideas are now branded as causes of racism and other forms of oppression that foster inequality and generate human suffering. Enlightenment ideas are held responsible for pollution, economic inequality, global warming, suppression of women, corporate tyrannies, wealth gaps and more.
We would all agree that racism, poverty, sexism and other manifestations of human weakness need to be eradicated, but the main economic and political story of the last 300 years demonstrates how eradication has worked. Enlightenment ideas created the conditions that led to the positive transformation of human life, including the phase out of slavery. When Harvard’s Steven Pinker made that point in his 2018 best-seller, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress, he was widely attacked, although Pinker responded to his critics by observing that slavery and racism existed for centuries and “It was only during the Enlightenment that people singled them out as moral blights and sought to eliminate them from the human condition.”
But Pinker and scores of other defenders of Enlightenment principles, including Jordan Peterson, have not been able to stop the anti-Enlightenment attacks. A famous 1987 best-seller, one of the earlier warnings of the intellectual turn to anti-Enlightenment ideas, was Allan Bloom, whose book The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students sold a million copies. But it failed to stop the advance of anti-Enlightenmentism.
Today minds are closed as systemic collectivism gains mainstream acceptance. The main current effort to sideline individualism and associated economic ideas is being propelled by journalists, academics and political forces in the name of fighting racism and other isms. In this fashionable woke world view, individual freedom and its associated ideas are vehicles of white dominance, sexism and cultural suppression.
If you think this is all exaggerated, polemical blather, consider the following brief review of a few of the contributors to the idea that the Enlightenment is a curse and new forms of thinking and new political systems.
Never mind Marx and the New and Old Left activists of the 20th century — from Herbert Marcuse to Noam Chomsky. Let’s start with a summer walk through the main promotional bookshelves of Canada’s flagship bookseller, Indigo. Lined on the walls and tables for summer reading while in COVID lockdown are the works of American and Canadian advocates for the destruction of capitalism and its associated principles — including four books on the Globe and Mail non-fiction best- seller list: #5 White Fragility; #7 The Skin We’re In; #8 Me and White Supremacy; #9 How to be an Antiracist.
How to be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi, a New York Times best-selling U.S. historian, is actually a primer on How to be an Anti-capitalist. Writes Kendi: “Capitalism is essentially racist; racism is essentially capitalist.” And, he adds, “To love capitalism is to end up loving racism. To love racism is to end up loving capitalism.” The link between racism and capitalism, says Kendi, was established a century ago by Karl Marx, the godfather of socialism and communism. After quoting a sentence from Chapter 31 of Das Capital, Kendi concludes “Marx recognized the birth of the conjoined twins.”
While Kendi warns that socialism can be racist, his economic solution leans to the radical left. In one of his many overwrought chapters, he offers what he describes as a conservative definition of capitalism: “The freedom to exploit people into economic ruin; the freedom to assassinate unions; the freedom to prey on unprotected consumers, workers and environments; the freedom to value quarterly profits over climate change; the freedom to undermine small business and cushion corporations, … the freedom to keep poor people poor and middle-income people struggling to stay middle income, and make rich people richer.”
Further along the Indigo bookshelf of anti-individualism is U.S. sociologist Robin Diangelo, author of the best-selling White Fragility: Why it’s so Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. She argues that it is impossible to convey the depth of the racism in Western cultures such as Canada or the United States “because of two key Western ideologies: Individualism and objectivity.”
Diangelo, considered to be in the “front ranks” of white anti-racist thinkers, rejects the whole idea of individuality because “it holds that we are each unique and stand apart from others, even those within our social groups.” As for objectivity, Diangelo dismisses the idea that it is possible for individuals to be free of collective bias. Those tired old Enlightenment concepts “make it very difficult for white people to explore the collective aspects of the white experience.”
Under systemic collectivism, an aging Indigenous man can only see the world through his collective prism as an aging Indigenous man, not as an individual with his own intellect and thoughts. A young white woman working at a downtown Toronto bank can only grasp the world around her through her white female privilege. She cannot think for herself.
Not to be left out of the capitalism-bashing ritual is Desmond Cole. In his book, The Skin We’re In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power, the Toronto journalist who was fired from the Toronto Star for failing to observe journalism’s general adherence to objectivity, Cole states that “White power works in concert with other forms of power — including capitalism (the dominance of private profit over public benefit).”
The physical bookshelves are filled with these ideas, as are the online services and publication lists of university presses, which crank them out by the hundreds.
The overthrow of these core concepts is a calculated and highly public effort to destroy the great fundamental principles that have lifted human beings from ignorance and servitude
These shots at capitalism and individualism as oppressive scourges did not fly into the text of today’s best-sellers on the wings of a dove. They have been systematically implanted in the culture over the last half-century by ideological warriors camouflaged as opponents of racism, sexism, inequality, homophobia, colonialism. After straight-up Marxism had self-destructed by the middle of the 20th century, after the workers of the world failed to unite around a communist revolution, cabals of neo-Marxists developed new theories. If we cannot succeed with workers, maybe we can overthrow capitalism and its enabling Enlightenment individualism by appealing to a much larger middle-class population by weaving racism, sexism, inequality, globalization and climate change into one big movement.
Those of us who witnessed the New Left enthusiasms of the ‘60s and ‘70s will recall the rapture heaped on neo-Marxists such as Herbert Marcuse, the German/American academic whose books, including One Dimensional Man, swept through university campuses.
Marcuse and others followed many streams that failed to spark a leftist revolution, but they eventually grew into prominence in academic circles under the name Critical Theory. The Critical Theory movement is rarely cited in mainstream media, but it is recognized as a major influence, even a controlling influence, on current political developments.
From cancel culture to the current fixation on systemic racism, the fingers of neo-Marxist Critical Theory are everywhere, pulling strings and pushing buttons. Writing in the Financial Post last June, Queen’s University law professor Bruce Pardy concluded that today the “final conquest” of Critical Theory is creeping through science, technology, engineering and medical faculties of Canadian and American universities.
One of the core concepts of the Critical Theory movement is “intersectionality,” the claim that all the struggles of race, class, inequality, sexism, colonialism, oppression can be merged and adapted into a single campaign to overthrow the Enlightenment. In her book, Intersectionality as Critical Social Theory, U.S. academic Patricia Collins lists some of the identities that can be blended into a revolutionary force: “Black people, indigenous peoples, women, Latinx, LGBTQ people, differently abled people, religious and ethnic minorities and stateless people.”
In How to be an Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi acknowledges that while the “red scares of the 1950s” drove the Marxist offensive underground, they resurfaced in the 1960s “and they are resurfacing again in the 21st century in the wake of the Great Recession, the Occupy Movement, the movement for Black Lives Matter, and the campaigns of democratic socialists.”
In this view, the new Marxism will land on the wings of the merged intersectionalities. “An antiracist anticapitalism,” writes Kendi, “could seal the horizontal class fissures and vertical race fissures — and, importantly, their intersections — with equalizing racial and economic policies.”
The Enlightenment is a constant target of the left. In her 2014 book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate, Naomi Klein portrayed the 1776 invention of coal-fired steam power by James Watt and the simultaneous 1776 publication of The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith as the perverted products of the science and ideological revolution launched a century earlier by Francis Bacon, the developer of the scientific method. It is not a coincidence, agrees Klein, that the market economy and fossil fuel steam power emerged in the same year on the back of Francis Bacon’s science revolution.
Today’s attempt to roll back the Enlightenment and install some other form of non-market governance and authoritarian decision-making takes the effort to new unexpected levels of influence. Even high-profile defenders of the economic and social triumph of Enlightenment ideas seem to have been caught off guard. Pinker, in his Enlightenment Now best-seller, failed to seriously acknowledge the growing power of Critical Theory activists and their takeover of universities and intersecting social movements.
While Pinker describes massive benefits of the Enlightenment, he deals dismissively with Critical Theory only in the penultimate chapter of Enlightenment Now. He does not take them seriously. They are “morose cultural pessimists who declare that modernity is odious, all statements are paradoxical, works of art are tools of oppression, liberal democracy is the same as fascism, and Western civilization is circling the drain.” With such a “cheery” view of the world, adds Pinker sarcastically, “it’s not surprising that the humanities often have trouble defining a progressive agenda for their own enterprise.”
Pinker is wrong to be so dismissive. Instead of anticipating the threat from the left’s progressive agenda, Pinker mostly focused on the rise of Donald Trump and other national leaders as the standard-bearers of what he saw as a more real threat, “authoritarian populism.”
Pinker shares at least part of the view of Anne Applebaum, whose new book, The Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism, portrays authoritarian populism as personified by Trump as a greater threat to the essential elements of the Enlightenment. Trump has proven, she writes, that “beneath the surface of American consensus, the belief in our founding fathers and the faith in our ideals, there lies another America..Trump’s America — one that sees no important distinction between democracy and dictatorship.”
But progressive authoritarian populism is now rising everywhere from the left, overshadowing the threat from the right. From cancel culture to identity politics, from Black Lives Matter to intersectionality and white fragility, from corporate schemes to use race and gender as a basis for hiring and promotion to the spread of the idea that individualism is a curse, systemic collectivism is becoming the way forward to overthrow capitalism.
From cancel culture to the current fixation on systemic racism, the fingers of neo-Marxist Critical Theory are everywhere
Fortunately, as systemic collectivists gain ground, a counter movement is also growing. Two new books document the story behind the rise of identity politics under the guidance of Critical Theory. One is The Plot to Change America: How Identity Politics is Dividing the Land of the Free. It could also be titled The Plot to Change Canada. The author — Mike Gonzalez of the Heritage Foundation — tracks back to the Marxist origins of identity politics and the methods of Critical Theorists. What we are facing, says Gonzalez, “is the division of society into subnational groups along identities that can be based on race, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and even disability status.”
Gonzales ends his book with a chapter that begins “We don’t have to accept any of this.” Changing the dominant culture — in universities and the education system, in politics and now corporations — will not be easy.
Another new book that reveals even more about the workings of Critical Theory is Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity ― and Why This Harms Everybody. The two authors, Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay, plow through some of the same history but more thoroughly and with greater academic intensity. It too ends with a call-to-action chapter: An Alternative to the Ideology of Social Justice: Liberalism without Identity Politics.
Both books, by the way, are available at Indigo online — but not in stores.
Andrew Sullivan, the New York Magazine columnist who quit during this summer’s cancel culture media storm, slammed his magazine colleagues who “seem to believe … that any writer not actively committed to Critical Theory in questions of race, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity is actively, physically harming co-workers merely by existing in the same virtual space.”
In his new blog, Sullivan favourably reviewed Cynical Theories and ended with this note. “The intellectual fight back against wokeness has now begun in earnest. Let’s do this.”
Let’s. Systemic collectivism needs to be challenged in the name of preserving the ideas of the Enlightenment. Maybe Canada’s Indigo could put a few copies of The Plot to Change America and Cynical Theories in bookstores alongside the woke works White Fragility and How to be an Antiracist, perhaps in a special section under The Enlightenment.

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