* Updated on 4/30 *
Although it requires further effort and explanation, to keep it brief, mainstream social justice ideologies are incoherent. By design, these theories are less interested in truth and internal consistency between its tenets than enacting change. Are most social justice warriors aware of or if cognizant, even care to address these implications, precarious as they undoubtedly are?
Don’t count on it.
Both this incoherence and willful ignorance is perhaps best demonstrated by the use of the concept of “cultural appropriation.” According to “MTV Decoded” host Franchesca Ramsey, “The main problem with cultural appropriation comes from dominant groups ‘borrowing’ from marginalized groups who face oppression or have been stigmatized for their cultural practices throughout history” (00:36 – 00:46). She utilizes the example of cornrows and makes what is a false comparison between blacks being fired or told not to wear these type of hairstyles as a matter of workplace etiquette and white celebrities who are praised for wearing them in the contexts of fashion. Additionally, YouTube personality Kat Blaque opines, “Cultural appropriation can kind of be defined as a sort of taking of different aspects of culture, and in the process, kind of erasing the meaning and the importance of these aspects” (02:40 – 02:51). Both Ramsey and Blaque also intimate as racist the “monetization” of these cultural “aspects”; both will also be haunted by the specter of their own words.
See, not that I’ve ever taken a course in ethnic studies, but I wager most instructors aren’t too keen on teaching their students who came up with Critical Theory — of which Critical Race Theory is a particular genus — and where this intellectual tradition of “Critique” comes from…
….that’s right — white men! Although there were others, these were the three main guys who believed that philosophy ought to serve as handmaiden for the social liberation of the downtrodden against forms of oppression. Simply put, they conceived of Critical Theory to pursue such an end.
Now if I was a black, Critical Race Theory-espousing professor decrying the injustices of cultural appropriation during lecture and instilling the spirit of black emancipation against white hegemony into my budding activist students, I imagine, if I had any integrity, it would feel a tad bit awkward and self-contradictory to relay the fact that our entire crusade is indebted to whitey.
But if there is one consistent thing about social justice warriors, it’s that they have no integrity. Thus, if confronted with this information the likes of Ramsey and Blaque would probably distance themselves from their intellectual benefactors, responding that as white men, Horkheimer, Adorno, Marcuse, et al. were the privileged of the privileged and truly could not fathom the sort of oppressive systems and structures “people of color” face daily. They’re part of the “dominant” group, so they and their ideas couldn’t be and aren’t subject to cultural appropriation.
Nice try, but I can’t help but find that reply about as useful as a riposte that skewers oneself. Horkheimer, Adorno, Marcuse and their colleagues are not only white but Jews — Jews who lived in Germany during 1920s and 30s. They literally fled their country because of the antisemitism and anticommunism of the Nazis. Therefore, it’s untenable to imply that men who escaped the white supremacist clutches of the Third Reich and otherwise would have been likely victims of the Holocaust, who also pioneered and wrote the first books on “structures of oppression,” overall lacked firsthand knowledge of racial discrimination and were more privileged than Ramsey and Blaque, who get in a tizzy when Kylie Jenner has the gall to wear cornrows or dreads.
In other circumstances I might be inclined to agree that the Kardashians are worse than the Nazis, though methinks what we have here is a rampant case of foot-in-mouth syndrome. Oh, and this gaffe is the gift that keeps on giving. There’s more of their own rope to be hanged upon, more of their own petard by which to be hoisted.
Remember Blaque mentioned that the “taking of different aspects of culture” trivializes their value and meaning? Well, to really understand Critical Theory and the work of Horkheimer, Adorno, Marcuse and at least the first generation of the Frankfurt School, one can’t downplay the roles of the Holocaust, the rise of fascists like the Nazis, mass media, consumer culture and the influences of Marx, Hegel and Freud in their thinking. Yet, there’s little doubt that Ramsey, Blaque and their brethren probably have never heard of the Frankfurt School let alone read the works of its most prolific thinkers. But that hasn’t stopped them from liberally “borrowing” various elements of these men’s work and “in the process, kind of erasing the meaning and the importance of these aspects” within the greater context of their thought and annals of philosophy.
See, social justice warriors are fond about about personal narratives and subjectivity as a legitimate forms of knowledge that supersede objective facts. That’s why the claim, “All lives matter” — the truth of which is uncontroversial — as a response to the proclamation of “Black Lives Matter” is now chastised as racist because it impugns the demagogues’ war cry and their grander project for “change.” Similarly, Horkheimer criticized positivism, metaphysics and other systems of absolute truth or objectivity that emphasized and scrupulously maintained the separation of subject (knower) and object (thing to be known external to the subject). Being the good Hegelian and Marxist that he was, according to him, individuals are embedded in the existential and historical contradictions constituting class struggle — in this sense, collapsing the subject-object distinction — and thereby ought not remove themselves from the suffering experienced therein, as the scientific method mandated even if applied in matters of sociology. Thus, radical emancipation, “change,” again is forestalled.
Between these examples of Horkheimer and the typical college cry-bully, there is an implicit call for empathy and primacy of feeling in rejection of detached rationality that is seen as complicit in social domination. However, Horkheimer relies on Hegel’s understanding of society as an intertwined totality and Marx’s focus on concrete existence to buttress this conclusion. Social justice warriors and their ilk just sort of assume it, the bastards with no awareness of their intellectual parentage that they are.
Of course there is more wanton taking from their forefathers. Progressives are extremely prone to denouncing those who disagree with them as “racist,” “homophobic,” “Islamophobic,” “transphobic” and just basically mentally ill and sociopathic. Horkheimer and Adorno were the first to habitually psychoanalyze and deconstruct the supposed lurking malicious biases behind any opposition in order to dismiss it. Likewise, the notions of “safe spaces,” perceived “right not to be offended” and shutting down of dissenting conservative or otherwise critical voices echoes the one-sided tolerance for the Left that Marcuse argued for in “Repressive Tolerance.”
Furthermore, they like to plagiarize the Marxist slogan of “We have nothing to lose but our chains” and sermonize about “being on the right side of history,” extracting the determinism that characterizes Marxist theory for rhetorical effect. Ramsey and Blaque even riff off of Marxist criticisms of commodification with their reference to capitalization or “monetization” of culture.
Now, I’m not implying they are disciples of Marx; rather, I’m insinuating they are disciples to nothing but their own wills to power. For I’m willing to bet they haven’t a clue what is dialectic, remain completely oblivious to the fact that what they scrutinize in society is what Marx identified as “superstructure” and don’t have the good Left-wing Hegelian sense to reject the entire rotten whole of the white male bourgeoisie culture they’re lambasting, instead often preferring to condemn it piecemeal and by its own socially spawned and accepted terms — in 140 characters or less. Any avowed Marxist at least acknowledges dialectic and is well-versed in these concepts. Most social justice warriors would probably go, “Dia-what?”. At the most flattering, they’re the worst kind of Marxists: unconscious and non-revolutionary.
This isn’t to argue they’re not dangerous or uninfluential because they definitely are, as the recent slew of college administrators and governors who crumble to their moral bluster abundantly illustrate. However, average social justice warriors lack the intellectual firepower and mental acuity to realize that they should go all-in and maintain some semblance of ideological coherence in the service of radical change. Instead of merely flirting with it, embrace the Dark Side of the Force, as it were. Follow the logic embedded in your tirades to its utopian conclusion. Yet, more comfortable and immersed in the status quo than they realize, these creatures of habit, as a matter of course, culturally appropriate singular elements of classical German philosophy and its 20th century offshoots when it suits them rather than jumping completely into the deep end.
Thusly, these self-righteous imbeciles are the ones who show no respect for the brilliant heritage and high culture they rely upon, thereby diminishing it and the men, oppressed or not, who begot it. They strip it from its context and mystify its meaning. Sure, their irreverence isn’t for making a profit; it’s just for enriching themselves in more and more power. They’re afflicted not so much by greed but that other immemorial evil that corrupts souls — megalomania. Terms such as “privilege,” “patriarchy,” “intersectionality,” “cultural appropriation,” “problematic,” “microaggression,” “cultures of oppression,” etc. exist to offer a patina of legitimacy, a veneer of objectivity — or in a phrase from Horkheimer and Adorno — serve as a form of “instrumental reason” to justify their swift bid to remake the world in their image.
Many people like Ramsey and Blaque like Critical Theory but are anything but critical. Not in a full-blooded Marxist sense. Not in an introspective, intellectual sense. They are dilettantes. Charlatans fooled by their own con. Most of their radicalism is imitation. The pretense of revolution is hollow. They court the devil but don’t really believe in him.
However, the Father of Lies is very real, and the hour is drawing late to exorcise his demonic machinations from the West’s embattled core,