Trigger warning (snicker): here be politics. Feel free to skip it if you wish.
The origin of cultural Marxism
Ideological warfare goes by two avenues: direct and memetic. Direct appeals include advertisements, posters, websites, documentaries, and so forth, either produced by an individual or a particular organized group. A meme is an idea transmitted from one person to another. The advantage is that this is free advertisement, sometimes a follow-on effect of direct appeals. The disadvantage is that it is out of control of the originating group. Therefore, these ideas can mutate over time. This is how ideologies take on a life of their own. Communism engaged in an extensive ideological warfare campaign, and Critical Theory was an independent branch of it operating within Western academic circles.
To deal with cultural Marxism, we must understand their motivations and belief system. History is one of my specialties, and I’ve done a good bit of research on tracing the influences of ideas. It all began with the University of Frankfurt’s sociology department. The short version of the story is that that they were Communists who were shocked that the proletariat didn’t rise as Marx had predicted. The masses just weren’t interested in overthrowing the rich and the bourgeoisie. Since they didn’t have the popular support to stage a world revolution, they decided to “go stealth” and change society to pave the way. They came up with Critical Theory: the essence of Communism, minus the class struggle by the proletariat, and adding a dash of Freud for flavoring. The goal of cultural Marxism is breaking down traditional loyalties (family, nation, and religion). With those swept out of the way, the people would embrace universalism and accept rule by a one-world government, or so it was expected.
During the 1930s, the professors of the Frankfurt School found themselves unwelcome in Germany for two fairly obvious reasons, and moved to the USA. Their strategy to undermine the country that gave them refuge was the “long march through the institutions” – as Italian Communist theoretician Antonio Gramsci put it. This involved ensconcing themselves into places of influence, most especially the media and academia. (It’s basically the approach Scientology has taken with Hollywood, though on a broader scale.) Once they had enough influence within a faculty department, they hired new professors with similar ideologies or who were at least sympathetic, excluding others not sharing their views. They’ve been quite successful with this phase of operations. The next phase, of course, is indoctrinating the public, which has been under way for quite some time. Critical Theory operated in the academic hothouses, educated a generation of students in the 1960s, and the students eventually became professors. (If you’ve been to college, you know the type, and now you know how it got this way.) They went on to indoctrinate other students, which of course includes future journalists, teachers, and professors. Eventually their world view filtered out into the public consciousness, and the origin of these ideas has been largely forgotten.
Perhaps some might think this sounds like something the John Birch society came up with, but I highly encourage anyone who is skeptical to research it in depth. The Marxists themselves freely acknowledge that the Frankfurt School was a Communist movement. In any case, this watered-down, rebranded version is worse in many ways than the real thing. They lost something vital when they stopped appealing to the workers and farmers on economic grounds and started turning it into social nihilism. I would much prefer to keep company with a Russian steel mill worker my age who thinks of the Brezhnev administration as the good old days – or for that matter, a former Eastern Bloc economic planner who spent years working on developing his country – than some trustafarian sociology student with purple dreadlocks screaming about “microaggressions”. Further, old-school Communists placed lots of emphasis on hard work; the American left is fine with half the public dependent on government benefits and pushes for open borders, and the European left is hell-bent on bringing in more “refugees” who don’t work and (to put it very mildly) don’t fit into their society. The future isn’t looking so good, since the right is largely a controlled token opposition that doesn’t do anything about these problems, but all that’s another discussion entirely.
The common thread in cultural Marxism is stirring up grievances in any group considered “marginalized” (one of their favorite words). Volumes could be written about that, in fact. No compromise on the part of society is good enough; success emboldens them, they become shriller than ever, and new demands are imposed. Basically, the goalposts keep getting moved. You can reach an acceptable middle ground with reasonable people, but cultural Marxists do not negotiate in good faith. Those familiar with Communist ideology will recognize that this is a dialectical strategy. Even when they experience a setback, they’re not too bothered by this, since they’re already planning their next move. When dealing with them, the rhetorical “slippery slope” isn’t a fallacy; it’s their strategy.
This might seem like a pretty bold claim, but the LGBT movement is a pretty telling example, one front in the culture war. First they asked for acceptance. (Personally, that much seems reasonable enough to me.) They gained a lot of traction in the 1970s, then some resistance in the 1980s, and finally acquiescence in the 1990s. Then gays in the military became the cause du jour. They arrived at the “don’t ask, don’t tell” compromise, then acquiescence some years later. (For the military, this issue is a distraction at best, and a potential source of friction at worst; guys don’t like to take showers with guys who like to take showers with guys.) Then came the Boy Scouts issue; they finally had to give in on the “morally straight” business. (This wasn’t about inclusion; this was to punish a group that disagreed with them. Parents don’t want to send their boys out into the woods with a gay guy, and the activists were well aware of that.) The next push was gay marriage, which they lawyered up until the cows came home. The public was strongly against this, and it was rejected anywhere it was put to a democratic vote, even in California. Finally, the Supreme Court took their side, citing a Constitutional amendment intended to make sure that crimes against freedmen wouldn’t get ignored by local law enforcement. Right after they got their way with that one, the latest big hoopla is about transsexual bathroom preferences. One can only wonder what the next cause du jour will be. For the record, if two dudes want to hit it off in the privacy of their own homes, I’m not bothered by that. However, this small fraction of the public insisting that society bend over backwards on everything they ask for is a little much.
Feminism became a major front of the culture war. The first wave was moderate for the most part, and had achieved its goals of equality under the law by 1963. Then, influenced by cultural Marxism, the second wave began, which was anything but moderate. Few people who haven’t taken their indoctrination courses in college are aware of how extreme it is. Worse, they’ve driven a wedge deep into the heart of the public. Going over the damage this has caused would be enough for another article. The early radical feminists were fully aware of how they were attempting to disrupt society. These days, it’s taken on a life of its own.
Political correctness is another result of the memes launched by the Critical Theory movement. We laughed about it back in the ’90s, but this too has taken on a life of its own and become an orthodoxy. This one really shows their subjectivist roots. Reframing has its uses, but changing the language doesn’t change reality. Even so, the Newspeak was only the beginning. The end result of PC is that you’re not allowed to criticize anyone considered “underprivileged”, and we have to walk on eggshells. Consequentially, entire policy arguments are forbidden. That’s really the whole purpose of political correctness; it’s not about avoiding hurt feelings. For instance, if you say that multiculturalism brings more friction into society – which is pretty obvious – then you’d better be careful about who’s listening. This encourages rotten double standards: some social groups are encouraged to exercise solidarity to the point of hypersensitivity; other groups aren’t even allowed to say they deserve to exist, much less advocate their own interests like everybody else does. Sure, it’s still a free country in that you won’t get put in jail for criticizing the government, but saying the wrong thing might earn you a visit from your HR department, get you in trouble with campus “speech codes”, or put you on the naughty list of some alphabet soup outfit.
The SJW phenomenon
In recent times, cultural Marxism has brought us the Social Justice Warriors. Rather than doing battle with spears, swords, or rifles, they fight behind the safety of a keyboard. This includes online mobs shouting down opponents or pressuring employers to fire those who disagree with their dogma. In the real world, they participate in noisy demonstrations, and sometimes disrupt meetings. Young people already get plenty of propaganda from television and public schools, but colleges are the major indoctrination centers. There have been campus radicals since the 1960s, but these days, some of them basically make a religion out of it. Although many consider SJWs to be anything from misguided youths to a plague on society (even moderate liberals think they’re barking up the wrong tree) we should take the time to figure out where they’re coming from.
So what motivates these stormtroopers of political correctness? People want something to believe in. Earlier, religion met this need. Since the 1960s, the “question everything” atmosphere that Critical Theory helped bring about has done much more to weaken the hold of faith than the theory of evolution ever did. The rightful place of religion in society is another debate entirely; the point is that people these days tend to be as obsessed with ideology as people in the Middle Ages were obsessed with religion and other supernatural matters. When people aren’t focused on religion (personal salvation or getting right with God) they’ll often turn to secular concerns: that is, making the world a better place, as they see it. The personal goals in religion and ideology are similar: people want to do the right thing. Unfortunately, this desire to do good can get contorted and spiral out of control, causing people to get carried away in the moment and lose sight of their positive goals. Historical grudges can worsen things; likewise, demagoguery can result in mob violence. At the worst extreme, this has led to wars of religion and craziness like the Chinese Cultural Revolution.
Some have noted that SJWs are engaging in “virtue signaling”, or even attempting to get sex by desperately ingratiating themselves to feminists. (I really doubt that the “holier than thou” type status-jockeying or the supplication gets them very far!) Be that as it may, SJWs who spend hours posting bumper sticker logic on Tumblr really do believe that what they do makes the world a better place. If instead they were posting well thought-out essays explaining their views, people would take them more seriously.
Aside from giving people the belief that they’re fighting the good fight, cults provide some other benefits too. One of them is certainty in an uncertain world. The Critical Theory folks put a lot of energy into getting the “question everything” meme out there, but they also presented their own narrative (another of their favorite words) of how the world works. Another benefit is the feeling of belonging to something. People haven’t lost the instinct to band together in tribes. In a city of millions of strangers, finding a social group is important. (Some religious cults use “love bombing” on new recruits, though SJW hug-fests would be hard to imagine.) At most campuses, freshmen new in town can fit into the radical scene; the only price of admission is to embrace their world view, even if it’s something very different from the tradition in which they were raised. Out in the vast wasteland of cyberspace, anyone no matter how shy or geographically isolated can join their ranks too. Solidarity is a powerful feeling. Finally, this provides opportunities for enthusiasm. Chanting at a demonstration can be a thrilling activity, just as much as a vivacious church service, or for that matter cheering on your team at a game.
Religions and ideologies share the following characteristics:
- They provide a ready-made framework for understanding the world (it might be pretty much true, it might be nonsense; either way, the effects are the same);
- For people on the inside, it makes perfect sense; those looking at it from the outside often find it weird or even menacing;
- They provide a sense of belonging (be it a church or an activist cell);
- The believers sometimes see themselves as righteous outsiders in opposition to a corrupt, hostile world;
- They offer a model of salvation (“do these things and you’ll go to heaven” or “restructure society these ways to create heaven on earth”);
- They typically have influential figures, past and present, sometimes very highly revered;
- If people take it too far, it turns into a cult, leading to logical bifurcation (black-and-white thinking), “us versus them” mentality, animosity, and violence in the worst cases; and
- Related belief systems (and occasionally very different ones) can form alliances on common causes, though sometimes even closely-related ones can have bitter disputes about nit-picking matters.
I should point out that belief systems aren’t necessarily a bad thing. They’re a fact of life, and they do have good characteristics (obviously some much more than others), though it is right to criticize their excesses. Even the ideologies I generally agree with aren’t immune to nearsightedness, extremism, and resultant strategic errors.
How to fight cultural Marxism
Countering a dialectical strategy – characterized by creeping gradualism and moving the goalposts after previous demands have been acquiesced to – can be a very difficult task. Appeasement isn’t going to work, and tactical efforts at resistance won’t be very effective until the adults get in charge again. So, the question is “What is to be done?” (Bonus points to anyone who gets that reference!) Calling them out for who they are is a decent first step; hopefully this article will be educational. Most people don’t know that a subversive ideological warfare campaign started campus radicalism and political correctness, along with heavy involvement in the grievance politics from the 1960s onward. These days, even the subscribers to the above are mostly unaware of it. Communism proved to be a failure, and was abandoned by the Eastern Bloc nations. Not even the Chinese Communist Party takes Communism very seriously any more; they’d rather export consumer goods than revolution. Still, the memes took on a life of their own, even when their reason for existence was no longer present. It’s like a science fiction story in which a menacing robot continues to act on orders from a long-dead creator.
Attacking the premises of cultural Marxism is another necessary step. The truth is that throwing out social norms is a bad idea, radical feminism screwed up society, and multiculturalism doesn’t work. In ideological warfare, the counter to bad information is good information. Convincing the public determines victory. This is the road we’ll have to take. Although the media is made up of a small group of left-leaning corporations with a stranglehold on mainstream information distribution, we’ve made some surprising advances in getting our word out there. A great many Blue Pill people get all their answers from their televisions, but still feel that something is dreadfully wrong and can’t quite put their finger on it. This is an opportunity for us. The fact is, we’re going to have to become pharmacists for the Red Pill. Unplugging people from the Matrix isn’t easy (neither is cult deprogramming) but someone has to do it.
So what of the hard-core SJWs? The good news is that most of them will graduate, get some real-world experience under their belt, and rejoin civilization. The bad news is that more kids will get indoctrinated with every freshman class. Convincing parents to look closely at colleges and review degree plans might be helpful. If millions of parents started doing that, funding would dry up and colleges would start getting the message. (Ideological considerations aside, sociology and any degree ending in “studies” doesn’t have much use in the real world anyway.) If we’re ever fortunate enough to have sufficient influence in the government, then we could give funding only to worthwhile programs (objectively, STEM fields are the most valuable to society) and let the grievance studies departments figure out how to pay for themselves.
On an individual level, although SJWs often come across as a bunch of screaming fanatics, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that most of them were once good kids before some professor convinced them own civilization is evil. In the best case, they can grow up and see reason again; where possible, we should accelerate this process. Actually, some hardcore leftists have become outspoken critics of their former ideology. They know the positions quite well, including their weaknesses. (Technically, I was a red diaper baby, though I got off the bus pretty early on.) So the question is how to bring about enlightenment. As for online debates, we should make our views known for benefit of the general public, since a forum with no opposition will become an echo chamber. However, if you want to talk sense into SJWs, it’s better to email them, since convincing them in a forum that they’re wrong will be very difficult. When you do so, you’ll have to be Mr. Reasonable and spoon-feed them information. “I see that you feel strongly about this, and I’m sure you have the best intentions in mind, but did you know that statistic you quoted was made up?” Cults keep their members in line by keeping them together with other like-minded followers. Engaging them personally will be best of all; knocking back a few beers with them will cause them to see you as a human being, rather than someone they can dismiss with a label. Again, this won’t be easy, but take the opportunity if you get it. (This personal engagement process will be much easier for non-fanatic Blue Pill types, though – recall the Law of Least Resistance!) If you engage them with hatred, they’ll tune you out; if you use civilized discussion, they might listen to you. Thus, “Hey, is this really constructive?” will be better than “You’re an idiot.” If you’re feeling a bit sneaky, maybe something like this: “Hey, I saw this [give link to a devastatingly well-written article], and I’d like to blog an in-depth rebuttal. Unfortunately, I can’t figure out where to go with it, and I’m afraid this might actually have some valid points.”
The weak point of cultural Marxism is ideology, which is basically everything it has for sale. Simply put, it’s out of touch with human nature, and their brand of hyper-equality isn’t in line with reality. Further, it’s not conducive to making for a harmonious and productive society. (Suppose they gain total control – how will they put things back together? They spent decades dividing society into squabbling factions, convincing large segments of the public that they’re owed a free lunch, and importing tens of millions of immigrants with similar attitudes.) Their views on any number of social matters amounts to Orwell’s formulation “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” Although there’s a kernel of truth in some of their arguments, they fill in quite a bit with phony statistics, overwrought emotional appeals, and blatant double standards. This, of course, gives us an opportunity to call out the arguments for lies, hysteria, and rotten hypocrisy. An ideology based on emotion, special pleading, and appeals to pity isn’t a sound one, full of opportunities to inject much-needed logic into the debate and highlight contradictions. For just one instance, they write radical Islam a moral blank check, despite treating women miserably and throwing gays off of buildings. You should ask a Social Justice Warrior about that some time.
Although the Frankfurt School spent quite a bit of time meticulously planning how they’d deconstruct society, their SJW ideological descendants aren’t particularly deep thinkers. They don’t spare much effort examining their dogma with a critical eye. There’s not much serious discussion involved beyond recitation of talking points. Their standard for determining who is right and worthy of support depends on who has been the most historically oppressed – the “victimization Olympics”. This is despite their assertions of absolute equality, or the fact that an argument stands or falls on its own merits rather than the speaker (the ad hominem fallacy, along with buckets of argumentum ad misericordiam). Finally, as successful as they’ve been so far, they’ve gone way off course. Although the Frankfurt School envisioned a Marxist one-world government, the true winners in the fragmented society they brought about are multinational corporate interests. In the New World Order, the billionaires won, not the proletariat. Again, these are opportunities.
On that note, the SJWs actually could be doing something helpful by calling attention to the way society has become a plutocracy; Occupy Wall Street was such an effort, while it lasted. Perhaps with a nudge in the right direction – and some remedial education, hopefully – their enthusiasm could be channeled more constructively.