Here’s another slant on The Elect as a religion. In Magic, Science and Religion, the anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski distinguishes these three things, and the distinctions might be summed up in this manner: science is the pursuit of (extrinsic) natural ends by natural means. Religion is the pursuit of supernatural ends by supernatural means (prayer, for instance, calling upon another being or beings to effect desired change); and is in some sense at least an end in itself. So science is instrumental and natural; religion is supernatural. Magic is intermediary: it is like science in choosing natural means instrumentally, while like science its ends are supernatural. Unlike the priest, the magician does not pray (though he may, and will, use language -- magic words, and spells -- to effect what changes he desires); like religion, magic is something to which people resort when purely natural measures come up short.

Malinowski’s account is richer than this (and incurs certain problems; does he perhaps conflate science with technology? In what sense is religion really not the instrumental pursuit of extrinsic ends?) but that is the gist of it.

One could say that The Elect is more magic than religion. Prayer is notably missing.

The Elect do entertain millennarian hopes (they wish for equity, bye-and-bye, on some day of racial reckoning), but they do wish to shame racism directly in the here-and-now (through degradation ceremonies such as privilege walks, genuflection, cancellation, etc.) Their vision of any secular pathway to equity and the end of racism is fuzzy (creating a federal Department of Antiracism?); but while they do harangue, the one thing they do not do is pray some higher being or beings to effect the desired change. (This is a religion absent any Higher Power, as well as absent redemption; but such things are not unknown among actual religions.) MLK’s religion allowed him to say that the arc of (secular) history bends toward justice in the long run; the religion of The Elect has given up on history and progress in the usual senses. Does this all amount to supernatural ends by natural means, i.e., magic (rather than religion)?

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I'm trying to educate myself on CRT, but I'm having a hard time finding out what is meant by it apart from those foundational articles.

Where could I find the current architects of CRT in schools and their writings? Is it all under the term of Critical Pedagogy?

I'm just trying to set straight in my mind what is being done in schools in the name of critical race theory.

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In the event it you haven't read it and that it hasn't already been suggested, try 'Cynical Theories' by Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay, who have done all of the hard work researching and distilling the rather Byzantine and manifold origins of CRT and other postmodern activist theories. It clearly delineates the tenets of these ideologies, the sometimes good intentions, but ultimately poor resolutions intended to be prescriptive.

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What’s an academic to do? After George Floyd’s murder we got letters to sign in support of BLM, etc.—one version for ‘BIPOCs’, the other for ‘White Allies’. Then we got letters to sign with a litany of confessions of anti-Asian sentiment, accursing ourselves of not knowing of any Asians other than popular entertainers and mispronouncing Asian names. Then a cadre of students petitioned to have a law professor fired because, in a blog not on the university server, he had opined that the claim that Covid wasn’t a lab leak was ‘Chinese cock swaddle’. Now, because we’re hiring, all members of my department are required to complete two online diversity trainings. Meanwhile another department has a reading group on _White Fragility_. I won’t even describe the bs I had to write in a proposal for a course to satisfy requirements for ‘Ethical Inquiry’ and ‘Diversity, Inclusion, and Social Justice: Level 2: Global’. OK, yeah, K-12 is worse. At least this bs doesn’t impinge on what we do in class or in our research. But because this stuff is just peripheral time-wasting no one but cranks like me are moved to object.

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*this being the article. I liked that particular quote, but it’s not the “this!”

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This is what needs to be said from all sides and from both races. It’s illogical to pursue any other strategy.

“In other words, the issue here is not whether schoolkids should learn about racism. A certain kind of person loves to stand and breezily say that there are swarms of people out there who don't want kids to know about racism – and they say this with admirable oppositional poise but not a shred of evidence.”

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I was introduced to concepts like white privilege and systems that have disproportionately negative impact on Blacks in the 1990s and they were helpful. More then helpful. It opened my mind and heart in being able to hear and see injustices. However what I have seen over the past 5 years is something that has gone amuck and instead of helping anyone it will hurt. I am beginning to see it as a form of classism which fits right in with you using the term “elite”. When it crossed the line of becoming truly dangerous was when I heard how it was revealing itself in math and science.

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Wow! Just when you thought you were alone . . .

I have mentioned favorably the writing of Helen Pluckrose (co-author of Cynical Critical Theories -- which I regard as one of the more important pieces of literature in the debate about CRT). She is a founder of a group called Counterweight. Its home page is https://counterweightsupport.com/ I don’t have any particular vested interest in this organization, but I do notice they have an extensive list of partner organizations. The list includes Free Black Thought which defines its mission thus:

. . . a small group of scholars, technologists, parents, and above all American citizens determined to amplify heterodox black voices that are rarely heard on mainstream platforms. We seek to . . . honor independent black thinkers who do not regularly appear on CNN giving the “black” perspective, or write the books pushed by Amazon and adapted by HBO.

“Listen to black voices” is a demand heard constantly these days, but what is really meant is “listen to the right black voices.” We believe that black people have never been a monolith and have never had just one narrative or perspective, as the mainstream elite media would have you believe.

No idea if they themselves are members of this group, but it sounds a lot like what McWhorter and Loury frequently argue. I’m going to look into it, and the others on the list; but I suspect I am not alone on this one either, and so other readers of this site might be interested likewise. So let me contribute to the bibliography. The list is available at: https://counterweightsupport.com/partner-organizations/ There is an impressive number of organizations!

Looks like tere are more of us out there, Horatio, than are dreamt of by the New York Times . . .

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Understand this: the real left—not the minions of the obvious woke and elect—are way ahead of us. They’re like the magician who shows us the pledge, then directs us to the turn while already knowing the secret hidden in the prestige. So the question we should be asking is not how did they gain the upper hand today but what’s coming? What can’t we see? Don’t fool yourself into complacency because part of society is now reacting negatively to CRT or cancel culture. They are merely elements of The Turn. Their “prestige moment” has already been planned. Anyone have insights into their diabolical scheming? What say you Scribe McWhorter? I’ve peaked behind the curtain and it’s a scary sight.

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Might you be referring to something like the Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement?

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"this kind of thought should certainly not be the fulcrum of a school’s entire curriculum, as has been reported at schools like Dalton and others in New York."

Given what poor listeners most people are, how much credence are we to give to these "reports", though?

I happen to think there is a way of presenting the ideas of CRT without making anyone feel guilty (in fact, just the opposite), and without making it appear that blacks have no agency (in fact, just the opposite). Granted, this takes some skilled teaching.

It would be ironic if a pointless squabble over the existence and extent of tribalism were to exacerbate tribalism.

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But would a sanewashed CRT still remain CRT?

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RE: "It would be ironic if a pointless squabble over the existence and extent of tribalism were to exacerbate tribalism."

I think that it's rather your own remark (cited here) which holds the irony. "CRT" is the practical renewal within what we think of as the most technologically-advanced societies of pre-democratic tribalism; that is, of tribalism "on steroids." It takes even the advantages of classical Please explain to us a coherent conception of some narrative of human history prior to the rise of the nation-state which leaves tribal society out of the picture or, perhaps, failing that, please point out to us a credible text for such a presentation, then. Thank you.


for reference:

Fustel de Coulanges, Numa Denis

The Ancient City: A Study on the Religion, Laws, and Institutions of Ancient Greece and Rome by (1864) | https://archive.org/details/anctt

Finley, M. (1977). The Ancient City: From Fustel de Coulanges to Max Weber and Beyond. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 19(3), 305-327. doi:10.1017/S0010417500008732

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Fustel de Coulanges AND Max Weber! Lest we forget . . .

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Not a great fan. As I see it, Max Weber's main work is due a good deal of sterner scrutiny and, though I don't know it that well, I've read some astute critiques (esp. of "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism") by others who do. Between them, I have much more respect for Fustel de Coulange's insights. Much more. Coulanges, Émile Durkheim, Georges Balandier, Daniel L. Everett, Douglas Murray and René Girard. _Geniuses_.

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correction/addendum: to finish an incompleted sentence from above --

... It takes even the advantages of classical Greek society and dismisses them, tosses them aside as having no import for us.

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Do you dispute that welfare, diversity programs, and affirmative action represent paternalism on the part of the majority tribe toward a "lesser" tribe?

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Ron Warrick:

"Do you dispute that welfare, diversity programs, and affirmative action represent paternalism on the part of the majority tribe toward a 'lesser' tribe?"

To be brief in an answer, Yes, I do dispute that even while accepting as a primordial feature of human social organization the central importance of tribes and tribal society. However, with the rise of both the ancient city-state and, moreover, the _modern_ _nation_-state, this most basic of social organizations was supplanted by organized legal entities--city-states, cities and states.

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I dispute that the term "_lesser_ tribe" now applies in some valid and practical sense to the legal system (in theory and most practice) in place in much of the present-day socio-economically-advanced world--I expressly except from that what is commonly found in modern (usually Near or Middle East) theocracies. There are, yes, in some modern technologically advanced nation-states what are, in effect, greater or lesser (in their influence) tribe-like groups but this doesn't apply north of the Rio Grande and certainly not even everywhere south of the Rio Grande. If you insist on expanding the term "tribe" to what denotes "techno"-tribes, then you're effectively leaving a racial feature out of the picture--and joining John's thesis in the process. Tribes _by_ _"race"_ no longer have any practical use or meaning in the general habits of societies in the United States.

An excerpt from Fustel de Coulange's study:

... "The tribes that united to form a city never failed to light a sacred fire, and to adopt a common religion. Thus human society, in this race, did not enlarge like a circle, which increases on all sides, gaining little by little. There were, on the contrary, small groups, which, having been long established, were finally joined together in larger ones. Several families formed the phratry, several phratries the tribe, several tribes the city. Family, phratry, tribe, city, were, more-over, societies exactly similar to each other, which were formed one after the other by a series of federations. We must remark, also, that when the different groups became thus associated, none of them lost its individuality, or its independence. Although several families were united in a phratry·, each one of them remained constituted just as it had been when separate. Nothing was changed in it, neither worship nor priesthood, nor property nor internal justice. Curies afterwards became associated, but each retained its worship, its assemblies, its festivals, its chief. From the tribe men passed to the city; but the tribe was not dissolved on that account, and each of them continued to form a body, very much as if the city had not existed. In religion there subsisted a multitude of subordinate worships, above which was established one common to all; in politics, numerous little governments conti11ued to act, while above them a common government was founded. The city was a confederation. Hence it was obliged, at least for several centuries, to respect the religious and civil independence of the tribes, curies, and families, and had not the right, at first, to interfere in the private affairs of each of these little bodies. It had nothing to do in the interior of a family; it was not the judge of what passed there; it left to the father the right and duty of judging his wife, his son, and his client. It is for this reason that private law, which had been fixed at the time when families were isolated, could subsist in the city, and was modified only at a very late period." ...

(pp. 127-128) (Translated (as "Aryan civilization : its religious origin and its progress, with an account of the religion, laws, and institutions, of Greece and Rome, based on the work of de Coulanges") (c. 1878) in a condensed edition from French by Thomas Childe Barker)

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Part of the point of Fustel's narrative (and this is where it parallels Weber's) is to explain why the Hellenes did NOT develop a large, national state. (Because the tribal, ancestor-worshiping religion of pietas set an absolute demographic ceiling on organizational expansion.) That is, why the ancient city SO contrasts with what Fustel's follower Durkheim would later describe as the "organic solidarity" of modern social organization and modern urbanization. Therefore despite its intrinsic interest (and this is considerable), Fustel's account is NOT a good model to use in characterizing tribalism in modern societies, such as our own.

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My citation of Fustel was not intended as supporting evidence of how "tribalism" in modern society parallels that known to Greek or Roman cities or city-states; it was cited to help show that "tribalism", properly understood (and, as it should be clear, R. Warrick does not understand that) no longer applies, if it ever did, to European settlements in the continent of North America since their earliest days and, still less, to our own or any other rightly comparable contemporary society. Tribal social organization is among the earliest--if not, indeed, the earliest of any group of homo sapiens. It's a wholly natural, organic phenomenon of social organization and I doubt that it was ever something which, given material conditions, might have been "skipped" in the course of human social development. That said, since the advent of the modern nation-state, "tribes", rightly understood, as important as they were, no longer apply to us.

Of course they still exist: on the continents of Africa and South America in their genuine primitive forms. See, for example,

(https://www.worldcat.org/title/dont-sleep-there-are-snakes-life-and-language-in-the-amazonian-junjle/oclc/794329489&referer=brief_results) Everett, Daniel; "Don't Sleep, There are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle (2008).

My contention is that "modern societies, such as our own" _don't_ consist of "tribes" as that is properly understood except on formal tribal (i.e. American Indian) reservations.

If we want a good, reasonable term for what we do have, I think one should be designated and taught about and defended--in anthropology and sociology disciplines. "Tribe" isn't that term; it already has a very clear meaning in ethnography which has been valid for over a century. If Ron Warrick doesn't understand this, it's his failing, not mine.

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Over most of my lifetime, the culturally dominant “tribe” has been the “middle class”. In the mind of its members, it did not include blacks and Hispanics.

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Every discernible socio-economic "class" (group) has a culture of its "own" in and to the extent that people "identify themselves" as belonging to it. If and when asked, Americans of every skin-color, and other identifying feature shall spontaneously identify (claim their place in, their membership in) what they themselves refer to as "the middle-class." That is true of every socio-economic class in the U.S., among whose extremely rich or poor one finds all "races" and skin-colors.

What, I wonder, does this

..." the culturally dominant “tribe” has been the “middle class”. In the mind of its members,"

even mean? You put this out but give us nothing other than your "good word" in support of it. I don't know what "culturally-dominant" is supposed to mean there. With few exceptions, we live and move within class identity groups. When we depart from their usual confines, _we_ _are_ _aware_ of that.

Open you bedroom closet, your kitchen pantry, if you have these, and have a look. You'll find there the things which materially belong to and are typical of others in your socio-economic class.

Again, across the range of skin-colors, it's simply no longer possible to have any very detailed and reliable idea of which articles shall or shall not be found hanging in the closet or stored in the kitchen cupboard merely by one single factor: the resident(s)' skin color. You'd have to go into and look around the bathroom for a particular set of hair-care products (or their absence) to have a decent chance of determining whether or not there are "Black" or "White" (or both) people in residence. The library, the music collection, the art on the wall--if there are any such-- might and probably should give you hints. But you'd be very foolish to bet your life on such indications' accuracy in revealing the residents' skin-color(s). Some Blacks, Whites and Latin Americans know and read Chinese-language works. So their presence in the bookshelf isn't (in the U.S.) a sure indication.

It's no longer possible in the U.S. to make reliable deductions about a stranger's income, religious beliefs, education or work-place history based solely on his or her skin-color information.

Unless you can point to credible information which refutes these things, I don't see your points standing up to plain common sense scruntiny--so I suspect you hold them for the sake of some prejudiced-based "comfort".

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I don’t know the precise parameters of the timeline to which “most of [your] lifetime” refers. But that’s one colossal act of mind reading of an entire expansive social class. One thing we know from survey data is that the middle class has for a long time (perhaps less so lately) been a capacious category and one to which most Americans saw themselves belonging. In studying politics, I can’t remember encountering 0middle class” as a racially coded or exclusionary term. Anecdotally, I’ve not, at least since my teens, encountered anyone who’s expressed or implied that middle class is objectively or normatively a white phenomenon. On the contrary, racial integration and upward mobility into the middle class and above, by Black and Latino and Asian Americans and new immigrants from everywhere has been pretty universally celebrated as an American success story. In a way, this is the older idea of Melting Pot America - so loathed and dismissed by left identitarians - updated and expanded to encompass all of us. It’s an entirely mainstream, centrist, even conservative ideal as it implies things like home ownership, stable marriage and employment, investment in the local community, etc. When you consider that most Americans tend to marry within social class, steadily rising rates of interracial dating and marriage are another indication of like recognizing like socioeconomically, across what were once (and hopefully won’t be again) harder racial lines.

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For CRT, I just leave out the "critical" (too much gravitas) and call it "race theory", which seems both accurate and odious enough.

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Well, the term "critical" IS misused here. (Helen Pluckrose among others draws an important contrast between the goal of fostering "critical thinking" in education, and what is called "critical pedagogy" which seeks to propagate and enforce a party line -- these things are opposites.) HOWEVER: it is crucial to recognize that "Critical Race Theory" has a lineage in "Critical Theory" (i.e, that body of thought, associated with the Frankfurt School, responding to the failure of classical Marxist prediction about proletarian revolution in developed countries in the 20th c). I always thought Socrates, Plato & Aristotle would be amused: "theory" was uncritical for millennia, until Adorno came along? That is why the term is misused. But it is important to keep the CT lineage of CRT in mind -- especially now when there is a narrative afoot (see discussions above of Adam Harris' recent Atlantic piece; & NPR last Sunday) which wants to reduce criticism of CRT -- such as we indulge in here -- to merely some right-wing ploy.

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Then what would we call a theory that is critical of "Critical Theory"? Some names are just unreasonable and self-aggrandizing.

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Good question. If one wishes to oppose antiracism, should one become an "anti-antiracist?" (Sounds like "pro-racist!") Or, one could borrow (perversely) from Orwell's 1984 and say: "ante-antiracist." In this sense Socrates, Plato & Aristotle (Kant, Hegel, Marx -- & Sartre) were "ante-Critical Theorists." The pun conveys the point without the logical conundrum -- also without having to forget the lineage of CRT.

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We can have a zero-racism policy that permits neither racism not antiracism.

New theories always involve criticism of what came before, making the name Critical Theory redundant at least (not that the practitioners care). It is a dumb name.

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To follow up what arrow63 said about Adam Harris’ article in the Atlantic, today (20 June) Weekend Edition had a report by Barbara Sprunt and Lulu Garcia-Navarro that takes essentially the same line: CRT is just an obscure theory buried in ‘90’s law school, and dredging it up is just a Republican ploy to stifle all uncomfortable discussion. One can hear the report at https://www.npr.org/2021/06/20/1008449181/understanding-the-republican-opposition-to-critical-race-theory

I wrote the following response and sent it to NPR. Perhaps it is worth sharing with the Substack readership:

I am a long-time NPR listener and subscriber. I must note that today’s report on Critical Race Theory by Barbara Sprunt & Lulu is a bit tendentious.

First, there is indeed a continuity between CRT as first articulated in law school by Derrick Bell, Kimberle Crenshaw and others, and the current trend of KenDiAngelo anti-racism/white fragility. The link is well documented in Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay, Cynical Critical Theory (Pitchstone 2020).

Second, opposition to CRT is by no means the monopoly of the Republicans and the mean-spirited. One can hear this articulated all the time in the exchanges between John McWhorter and Glenn Loury on The Glenn Show. Likewise on Bret Weinstein’s Dark Horse podcast. The criticism, in other words, cannot be reduced just to Christopher Rufo and Donald Trump.

Third, CRT is not just buried in esoteric grad school offerings. “Critical Pedagogy” is the latest name for the result of a Long March among educators; it reaches out of universities to K12, and indeed outside of schools to corporate sensitivity training as well. The organization FAIR (Foundation Against Intolerance & Racism) documents numerous instances, starting with places like the Brearley School and the Dalton School.

WE Sunday should follow up by talking to Helen Pluckrose or John McWhorter or Bret Weinstein. None are right-wing. Each has some serious criticism of CRT and its current role in education. To do so would be to move closer toward the whole truth than this morning’s report did.

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Thanks for pushing back and at least giving these reporters credible left of center sources to investigate should they be willing to do more than merely dismiss any arguments which might puncture their echo chamber as coming from solely malign sources with cynical motives. You can lead a horse to water….

I’m afraid we’re reaching a point where, no matter how compelling an argument or credible a source, if someone finds it at all discomfiting or posing a risk of cognitive dissonance, the most comforting move is to immediately impugn the motives of the source by a sort of magical conflation: any information I don’t like is by definition from as malign and cynical source as it takes for me to comfortably dismiss it. By this defensive move, everything we know about the careers, character, and politics of Pluckrose, Weinstein, or McWhorter no longer matters. All are converted into “alt-right grifters” or “Trump apologists”.

It doesn’t matter how solid the evidence or arguments are. If you’ve heard, second, third, or fourth-hand, that a source is not entirely of and for your religious crusade, nothing else matters. Christopher Rufo may or may not be a Trumpian right-winger - I don’t know. He’s certainly conservative. When I shared with a friend slides from a nasty, humiliating, scapegoating, coerced CRT-derived DEI training imposed solely on white Seattle city employees, she dismissed it because she’d heard somewhere Rufo was right-wing. I said: “ok, maybe so, and I may not share most of his politics either, but these are entirely primary the documents used by the trainers which he secured via a formal freedom of information request”. Her reply to that was: “well, that doesn’t tell me anything; it all depends on how this material was taught”. None of the jaw dropping literal text of the trainers own curriculum was admissible. Because DEI was always a good thing to her, this training must have been magically presented in a positive way.

I’m afraid we’re getting further and further from this actual Civil Rights hero’s brilliantly self-confident dictum:

If a bigot says to me, the sun is shining. If the sun is shining, I say, yes the sun is shining, because I want to tell the truth.

-Bayard Rustin

I thought this friend and I had managed to disagree respectfully and show we still cared about each other. Six months later, however, I ran afoul of her for good by daring to express concern, from a liberal-left civil libertarian and empirical/historical perspective, about the collusion between tech monopolists, unchecked federal law enforcement and spy agencies, and left activists and DNC elites in giddily seeking to censor and sideline if not imprison political enemies. I was accused of “mansplaining” and refusing to acknowledge by “White male privilege”. When I objected to her immediately going ad hominem and making inherited physical characteristics the issue, she called me “a gaslighting narcissist”(!) There are a frightening number of people out there who may have once been friends and allies who are hurting and are all too ready to smear and condemn in order reassure themselves of their superior righteousness and secure place in an comfortingly, reductively certain tribal community. All I know to do is say something like: I love you and care about you and I’m sorry it’s come to this, but friendship and respect are truly a two-way street.

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1) Ouch.

2) Good for Bayard Rustin! (His sort of common sense is now so ante-antiracist . . . ) We need to get closer and closer rather than further and further.

Even the Devil can cite scripture; yes, sometimes good things can come even from Nazareth.

Earlier I remarked on how the Elect are sometime condemned as "progressives," when (lacking any real concept of History, and thus also of progress) they have not clearly earned such derision. They also tend to take moral high ground, unearned. Among these folx (your examples show this) often the ad hominem is seen not so much as a logical offence, but as a way of life. The ad hominem (as the genetic fallacy more generally) arises (as William James says) by confusing the root of a thing with the fruit of a thing.

I say, call them on it. Think of Hitchens: confronted with this sort of thing, he would tell the proponents: "I have not yet heard an argument from you." One wants the high moral ground of seeming smarter than the average bear? Then prove it. Stop pointing fingers at persons, roots, origins. Do something fruitful. State an argument.

Yes, you can lead a horse to water; no, you cannot make him drink; but maybe you can wet his muzzle for starters.

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Following up on the genetic fallacy, I just read an interesting interview with historian Matthew Karp on how the search for origins -- that obsession with “roots not fruits” -- is fundamentally conservative -- a propos of the 1619 Project, but it relates to what I observed earlier about alleged “progressives” not being progressive inasmuch as they lack a sense of History. It is at https://www.chronicle.com/newsletter/chronicle-review/2021-06-21?utm_source=Iterable&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=campaign_2484551_nl_Academe-Today_date_20210621&cid=at&source=&sourceId=

Here are some excerpts:

. . . In this recent round of the history wars, the authority and respect which mainstream liberal politics accords historians derives from this intense interest in history. If you don’t have a deep faith in your ability to shape the future, you turn to hold the past responsible. You prosecute the past. This is Wendy Brown’s argument from the ’90s. For liberal discourse, this has been a way of reckoning with the impenetrable gridlock and hopelessness of our politics.

. . . But I do think there’s a danger in the dominant mode that the discourse has gone in, in “1619" but also in Isabel Wilkerson’s book Caste. Liberal historians have volunteered to accept these originalist metaphors, which I think are troubling. The critique of origins is pretty old and distinguished — Marc Bloch in the ’50s wrote about the “idol of origins,” confusing ancestry with explanation. I think the discourse of original sin, and all of the biological and genetic metaphors that “1619" works with and that a lot of historians have adopted as well are mythical origin stories rather than historical beginning stories.

That’s an intellectual dead end because it doesn’t explain change, struggle, progress, and defeat. It’s also, to me, a fundamentally reactionary way of understanding the past. It has this sort of glacial conservatism about it, this kind of motionlessness, that I think is problematic on a lot of levels — not just intellectually but for any project that seeks to effect change.

The reference to Marc Bloch is The Historian’s Craft, pp. 29ff; where Bloch also cites a proverb: “Men resemble their times more than they do their fathers.” The reference to Wendy Brown is her Politics Out of History.

“If you don’t have a deep faith in your ability to shape the future, you turn to hold the past responsible. You prosecute the past.” This nails a major problem with the CRT narrative. Ditto for “It has this sort of glacial conservatism about it, this kind of motionlessness.”

I repeat myself again, but the same thing might be said for the coherence sort of truth-test: “glacial conservativism.”

Not progressivism but its very converse.

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I’m going to go out on a limb and venture that readers of this site will also find interesting the essay by Matt Karp called “The End of History.” It is accessible at https://harpers.org/archive/2021/07/history-as-end-politics-of-the-past-matthew-karp/

Karp is a lefty American historian up at Princeton. As an historian he addresses some specific flaws in the 1619 project; “[t]he 1619 Project may help explain the ‘forces that led to the election of Donald Trump,’ as the Times executive editor Dean Baquet described its mission, but it cannot fathom the forces that led to Trump’s defeat—let alone its own Pulitzer Prize.” This a general point that McWhorter & Loury have been trying to make as well. (If Dred Scott, Jim Crow, and Title VII are merely of one undifferentiated piece . . . )

But the essay is more general, in that it addresses the theme of seeking to explain history genetically (whether the origin is 1619 or 1776) rather than as a dynamic process of change (one in which progress may be possible), or whether “[t]he wheel of history spins and spins, but it doesn’t exactly move.”

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I don’t know what educators across the country are actually doing or trying to do (and in fact I think this is a problem with our school system—I’m not sure *anyone* knows), but I do know what a group of progressive educators-in-training were talking about a few years ago when I was getting my Master’s in English ed. The words “critical race theory” came up a lot; the idea that it was a specific branch of legal theory did not. At one memorable lecture, my classmates posed angry questions to a renowned prof of education as to why her book on bringing critical literary theories into the 7-12 ELA classroom didn’t include CRT. Her answer, that it did include post-colonial theory, was met with further anger, which clearly bewildered her. But what she did not say was “post-colonialism is a literary theory that is motivated by some of the same concerns as CRT, which is not (yet) a literary theory, and is therefore not in my book about literary theories.” I think most of my classmates probably didn’t know that CRT is a theory for a different discipline. That said, if they did know, they probably didn’t care. “English” as a school subject already has fuzzy and ever-expanding boundaries and a fraught relationship with its university-level corollary, so frankly, I understood my classmates’ frustration, even if I didn’t share it. To many of them, CRT simply means turning a critical eye to depictions of race in literature, just like feminism means turning a critical eye to depictions of gender. I think that way of thinking flattens and diminishes the ideas it is meant to promote, but then again, maybe flat ideas are more easily delivered. And I do think that “turning a critical eye to X” is a legitimate thing for English teachers to teach.

I think the idea of “banning CRT” in schools is ridiculous and repressive. But I also agree with John that to deny that “CRT” is being taught is disingenuous, and unlikely to help us out of the national nightmare. There are definitely teachers out there who think of what they are doing as teaching CRT; I know because I went to Ed school with them.

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> I think the idea of “banning CRT” in schools is ridiculous and repressive.

Do you trust teachers to be neutral and objective when it comes to controversial topics? I certainly don't. School is mandatory, states set the curriculum, and clamping down on race-theory indoctrination is totally reasonable.

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CRT is definitely being taught and pushed. I am also opposed the bans but I am not surprised that they are occurring. Very few who promote CRT and very few who oppose it really understand it. Those who defend "it," claim that its critics simply do not want to discuss the Black American history. That might be true! Some people do not want to discuss it. (but honestly, most people these days do want to know history). This doesn't mean that defenders fully understand what they are defending. My observations suggest to me that they do not understand and they are often titillated by the idea of revolution and the "disrupt" hashtag. It is disruption of "order," (the White one). They learn about the quashed history of many racist events and are angry about it and feel that this explains the current status of disparity and that White people are no longer to be trusted with their ancestral historical accounts. They want to find more and more accounts that have been hidden or mangled. I think the research and correction is essential. However, as John said, time has passed and we aren't the same. We are better. White people are better (save the extremists and laissez-faire racists) and we like to think Black people are faring better, though it depends on where you look and who you talk to. I don't know my own ancestors' histories and I know that it wasn't pretty; there is familial trauma and social class trauma and war trauma aplenty. Stories should be told and trauma should not repeat itself. But I never think of the story as a White story. That Black folks must tell their story from the perspective of skin color and hold accountable people of another skin color makes the story-telling, the hero's journey, complicated. White people want the story to be one about being human. Humans are fallible and this was a failure. The current CRT conversation is that White people failed the story of humanity and that they are still failing. And CRT wishes to dig way into Greek and Roman history and show that the very structure of 1st word, modern civilization is flawed at its core and that flaw is veneration of Whiteness and that veneration provides Power. What is the replacement for this flawed foundation? Who knows??? What's the alternative model to what we have? Do you make it unwhite? We always hear "when you know better, do better." Well, what's better? Shall we all return the stolen land and move back to some imaginary home world and de-settle ourselves? Knowing that we can't do that, what is the alternative? To be nicer? What does "nicer" mean? In college, years ago, there was a radical feminist scholar (can't remember name) who proposed that the only solution for smashing the patriarchy was to rid males of testosterone as young children. Maybe leave them on a mountaintop to die. The problem was testosterone. My young mind had legitimate concerns about women's rights and even I could see how warped this thinking was -- but it did plant this seed of "men are problematic because they are men and they will never be unproblematic." There is this same strain of logic in students of CRT. They will insist that they aren't trying to make white people feel guilty for being white, but it seems to me that if you are White, according to CRT, your whiteness is a fixed asset and having that asset renders you more powerful than any person of color and that society thinks you're better and you deserve more of everything if you are white. If that is true, then work should ensue that teaches how faulty that is -- we shouldn't be meditating on that, hyper-focusing on it, re-creating it. Yes of course histories need to be correct, disparities should not be ignored, and prejudices (that old fashioned word) must be abolished. I just don't see light at the end of a CRT tunnel. What is it that a white person is supposed to do? Why is everyone saying that we don't want to learn Black history? It is all around. Sometimes I wonder if Black people have suppressed their anger for so long, now that there is more freedom -- writing, historical corrections, attention being paid to disparities -- maybe they are just expressing what has been under the rug for so long. It is a terrible feeling not to be trusted by fellow humans and to have every action and non-action viewed as a continuation of racist oppression. And the response is "How do you think Black people felt all these years?" It sounds more like a bad marriage than a way forward. You can't fix it even though you keep trying with your best foot forward.

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" It sounds more like a bad marriage than a way forward." Well stated. (Alas.)

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I find myself troubled by this popularr CRT even though I am removed from K-12 schools at the moment. My children are in their low- to mid-30s. Both of them, in a variety of urban American schools, received lots of multicultural elements in their education: attention to immigrant communities and stories, to slavery and segregation, to civil rights and diversity. (As a cultural anthropologist who did fieldwork overseas, I sometimes wished there was more attention to international and global concerns. But I understand the importance of focusing on American history and cultures, and I was generally pleased with what they were learning and the focus on diversity and tolerance.) At the risk of sounding like the classic old-timer complaining "it was good enough for us back in the day," I wonder why the racial reckoning of the past year means throwing out the old ways of educating kids about their country and its history rather than improving on them. If CRT is, as I suspect, a means of foregrounding power, then I hope that power is treated with the nuance it deserves. Also, at a gut level, I don't think it is wise to encourage kids to feel either guilty or victimized (or, for that matter, left out).

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McWhorter is right. Whether or not one has read Bell, Delgado, or Crenshaw (those who originally discussed the issues in CRT) is beside the point. CRT has not spread as widely as it has because it offers one single, coherent narrative for which proponents then argue, step-by-step. It does not; they do not. (Kendi or DiAngelo are innocent of references to Foucault or Marcuse, for instance. Bell and Delgado likewise; though Kendi mentions Crenshaw and DiAngelo, Bourdieu. That does not mean there is no connexion with either the early law review stuff or Left Bank postmodernism. Lindsay and Pluckrose, Critical Cynical Theories, nail this one.)

Rather, one of the factors that makes CRT go is that the fabled Long March Through the Institutions has succeeded so well, for so long; and CRT coheres with a pre-existing body of expectations. I have in mind victimhood culture, strong cultural determinism (including positionality, and denial of agency), cultural relativism, epistemic relativism, belief that tolerance is itself repressive, the death of the author -- not forgetting free-floating white guilt. These developments belong not merely to the universities but to the general society as well. They have been a long time building.

If this is correct, a grim implication follows: CRT already won before it began.

Philosophers distinguish among various kinds of what might be called truth-tests. Among philosophers ourselves the main two are correspondence and coherence; there is also the pragmatic. Truth tests are not confined to the Quad; the Man on the Clapham Omnibus uses correspondence and coherence too, and adds things not specifically in the philosophers’ tool kit: e.g., “the worst that can happen must be true” (my spouse could be cheating? then xe is! there might be a Deep State puppetmaster? then there is!). Some of the add-ons annoy philosophers, as well as cognitive psychologists (they get classified as fallacies; as types of cognitive bias) but the coherence tests may be equally annoying.

Ever notice all the memes about Quotes -- and how many people love to toss them round? There is the coherence test at work in its basest form: yeah, sure, this sounds just so obviously true. (Because it coheres with my prior outlook.) When Kendi says “The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination,” do people buy that because a) because they’re all budding Kendi scholars and grasp the intricate System and b) what he says corresponds well to facts of the matter? Of course not. CRT represents a mish-mash of ideas, probably accepted because in some way one or another of them coheres with patterns of expectation already laid down long ago by the Long March.

This of course annoys those of us -- I take it fans of McWhorter, Loury, etc are among this crowd -- who expect statements not only to be self-consistent but also to correspond to facts of the matter.

Does this lead to a counsel of despair? Not necessarily. It is still important to call out “correspondence failure.” But in doing so it is equally important to recognize that what makes CRT go is not mere irrationality, but a kind of “bounded rationality.” It is important not just to call out substantive misstatements but also to cut at the roots, in “Cynical Theory,” that the Long March has put so firmly in place, and which seem to lend basic plausibility to what is in effect nonsense.

If this is so then McWhorter is spot-on when he writes here that to “insist that ‘CRT’ must properly refer only to the contents of obscure law review articles from decades ago is a debate team stunt.” (Even if it is slightly amusing for a linguist to point out essentially what Popper said about getting too deeply involved in mere verbal disputes: “Words don’t matter.” Well, sometimes they do. But I think McWhorter is right: “sanewashing” the label CRT is one case where really they don’t.)

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Brilliantly written, Professor McWhorter. What's always been so interesting to me, the white guy growing up in 1960's Mississippi, is this: the Elect's propensity to condescension and sanctimony (in those simple binary, unthinking terms you speak of) toward those of us who actually KNOW what racism--on the ground--was and is about. The members of the Elect I've had the pleasure of knowing invariably have learned what they know about racism from their college professors at nearly all white colleges in carefully insulated parts of the country. And from the pages of the New York Times, written by similarly educated simpletons.

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From a review of Thomas Sowell's “Intellectuals and Society” by Daniel J. Mahoney:

Modern intellectuals, Sowell writes, have a “vision of themselves as a self-appointed vanguard, leading towards a better world.” Unlike advocates of the more conservative, constrained vision, this intellectual vanguard tends to take the “benefits of civilization for granted.” The “vision of the anointed” lacks respect for the wisdom inherent in experience and common opinion. Its practitioners value abstractions—dreams for a peaceful, egalitarian world where conflicts have been overcome—over the “tacit knowledge” available to the parent, the consumer, the entrepreneur, and the citizen.

Sowell vigorously defends wisdom—practical reason—against an abstract rationalism that values ideas over the experience of actual human beings. Intellectuals, he argues, are particularly suspicious of the ties ordinary men and women feel to family, religion, and country. They look down upon “objective reality and objective criteria” in the social sciences, art, music, and philosophy. Their “systems” tend to be self-referential and lack accountability in the external world.

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This bit is hardly Sowell's finest hour. (It is some stew of German Romanticism and French legitimism, rewarmed for the 20th c.) But is it even true of the Elect intellectuals today? Case for the affirmative: they appeal to "lived experience" of the Common BIPOC ManWoman; and yet any actual BIPOC dissent gets the No True Scotsbum's rush. Case for the negative: they love the Common Twitter ManWoman and the crowdsource (subject to cherry-picking).

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Since I haven't studied philosophy in depth, you have me at a disadvantage. I do see your point. And they are definitely inconsistent with regard to how they apply their regard for "common wisdom." It appears to me at present that the "lived experience" of white people is written off as white supremacy or translated as "fragility," which is not truth, per se, but a position taken to feed a narrative.

Regardless, I believe that Sowell's assertion that intellectuals are blinded by arrogance is still true for a preponderance of Elect intellectuals based on the tantrums and howling that I have read in the media—an arena populated by the intellectual class. They have become increasingly snide and dismissive of white, working class Americans that aren't educated to their level. I could literally link dozens of articles that contain this sneer. They dehumanize and disdain these people regularly with their superior writing skills—what Sowell refers to as "verbal virtuosity." I've even read a few that flirt with the idea of disenfranchisement and/or eradication.

I tire of those intellectuals who set themselves up as gods whose special gift is directing the course of other people's lives because, well, they just know better! They are the experts! They have ALL the answers! This point is basically Sowell's main complaint in "Intellectuals and Society." I found his arguments in this book compelling if incomplete (in the sense that he should have included more right leaning intellectuals in his critique).

I may not be as smart or as educated as these learned types, but I can certainly chart my own course, thanks. I don't need to be badgered or bullied by right wing religious types or left wing philosophers/theorists to live a fulfilling life. Both of these groups are exactly the same — they both think that they have the right to coerce my beliefs and police my thoughts and that if I demur, they have a right to cause me harm by diminishing my rights, my speech, my livelihood, or in extreme cases my freedom or life. I am heartily sick of being scolded because I insist on being an individual.

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Why so bashful? Surely one of the points of acquiring formally a liberal education is to grapple in just the way you are doing. Charting one's own course. (Attributed variously to Twain and Churchill: I have never let my schooling interfere with my education. Possibly Socrates should get prior credit. It sounds to me [if I may be so bold] as if you have the better end of the stick here.)

On the other hand I have met too many people who have full sheepskin, half-education. No doubt you too can cite examples, chapter and verse.

I give my students an index for sorting universities into superior and substandard. It is in inverse proportion to advertising of credentials and expertise. For example, in my region there is a certain university in which nameplates on all the faculty doors read: "Prof X, Ph.D." (Well, nobody gets a professorial appointment absent a PhD. It is just entry-level. But you better call them all "Doctor.") On the other hand, if you go to Harvard, and take a class with Henry Kissinger, you address him as "Mr Kissinger" and he addresses you as "Mr Lightwing." Technically (he has a German degree) he is entitled to be addressed as "Herr Professor Doktor Kissinger." But in class, he has to make his bones, same as his students, by virtue of argument.

Would it surprise you if I observed that the former pattern is much more common than the latter? (This is what I meant earlier when I suggested that the university is today letting down the academy very badly.) Whether in the breach or the observance, it remains a norm of academic life that intellectuals do not bully, do not throw around the weight of credentialing, but make their best arguments. Same as anybody else.

Sowell voices a common dissatisfaction with intellectuals; many others have done so, from left as well as right. (Chomsky, for one instance.) I was simply quarreling with what I see in Sowell as a particularly boring and tendentious style of doing this. I have said elsewhere in this Substack group that I myself have learned the hard way that reading Sowell can be more rewarding (including for leftists) than his Hoover Institution affiliation would suggest; I just don't think this bit is one of his best examples.

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Yes, Sowell can be tendentious. I agree. But I love that he makes me question my assumptions and consider things from different angles. It also helps that I read much more broadly than Sowell, including fiction.

Re: the window into academia, thanks. I am unfamiliar other than what I read online which I admit is probably somewhat narrative driven. I suppose the MSM and social media both amplify this whole issue in such a way as to suggest it is ubiquitous. It's good to be reminded that it most likely is not. Proportion matters on this.

You have a wonderfully wry take on things. I think you don't take other people's foibles personally, which is refreshing. I enjoy your humor and your deft turn of phrase. Thanks!

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You’re welcome. Thank you too for your kind words. And I think we could say the same thing about McWhorter that you say about Sowell: it’s always refreshing whenever a writer “makes me question my assumptions and consider things from different angles.” Believe me, it is dreadful tedious to plow through all this CRT lit (which has occupied me steadily for the past 9-10 months . . . I am almost done preparing a talk on “Racisms & Ilk Crime” for my YouTube channel) but I always look forward to reading McWhorter; predictably I will learn something new and interesting pretty much every time.

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What I’ve been unable to avoid seeing in my very very limited use of one social media platform, as Juneteenth approaches, is what looks like a really smugly expressed, widely shared and likely to some degree actually coordinated talking point along the lines of: “It’s kind of funny [or ‘ironic-‘] how some people want to [think it’s ok to] celebrate Juneteenth, while banning any teaching of how it came to be celebrated [or what it means]. One version I saw was addressed in the now apparently fashionable posture (among woke white people and pretty transparently racist or hostile non-white people) to (implicitly) all those dumb/ignorant/racist/denialist/pitiable/repugnant/embarrassing/laughable “yt people” who are assumed, as a benighted and backwards mass, to constantly cluelessly or hurtfully assert and inflict on nobly-enlightened, endlessly-insulted but righteous Black folks, these tediously stupid and offensive thoughts, as their default but no less horrible obviously inferior way of existing and behaving.

I’m not on Twitter (and decided late last Summer that even reading posts by a handful of smart, sincere heterodox left of center thinkers - and trying to avoid jumping down rabbit holes of retweets and replies - was simply ruining my mood and making me unproductively angry). I’ve not looked more than a handful of friends Instagram pages and can’t see most things having never signed up. My rule with FB is: use it for volunteering and to follow positive group events; and to post the occasional supportive like or reply to someone i care about whom I’m unlikely to text, email, or call; it’s also a way for an old friend or acquaintance to get in touch. I’ve learned the hard way that even very occasionally looking at an aggressively nasty, stereotyping woke post, let alone replying however mildly only invites the ugliest kinds of attacks.

I’m assuming some public figure of influencer on the angry, self-righteous identitarian left (maybe the same one our author paraphrases?) sent out this obviously cynical, manipulative, bad faith, and just plain dumb sort of non sequitur talking point: that all these dumbass insufferable “yt people” want to pose as respecting Juneteenth - but because they are all white supremacists who are trying to “ban” critical race theory, it obviously follows that they are disingenuous malign morons who are trying to ban any mention of slavery or Jim Crow and scrub anything less than purely celebratory from all educational instruction and training. Every time I look up - a post by a friend or acquaintance; a post by someone within a group that’s mission I mostly strongly support: this is the level of cynical, intentionally misleading, bad faith rhetoric I see. Howlingly ridiculous assertions, like: “It’s vastly more dangerous for a Black person to be subjected to a simple traffic stop than for a “yt” person to commit mass murder - that’s how horrible this racist country is!” Or: “Every time I step out my front door I know it’s possible - even likely - I could be murdered by racist police!” Or: the embarrassing sort of strawpersons(?) or non-sequiturs we’re treated to when someone claims, gloatingly, that if you do so much as tacitly accept Juneteenth as a holiday you can’t logically dare to oppose any aspect of CRT. Opposing CRT means you want to prevent all students from ever hearing that slavery existed, let alone learning any sort of honest, balanced history of racism in the US. These people posting and copying such talking points are not dumb - certainly not most of them. They’re almost uniformly privileged people in upbringing and stratospheric expense of education they’ve been able to access.

A very small number of people posting these sorts of things are white men (always with a piteously apologetic tone that they’ve dared say a word when they’re so obviously without standing and knowledge and are categorically at essence of and from such a shameful and inferior status). But it’s almost always women. If you have the temerity to threaten their status and standing and the purity of the echo chamber, no matter how gently and politely and reasonably, the price is both a full-on frontal attack - smearing and name-calling - and comprehensive reputational destruction behind your back in as hyperbolic and misleading a manner possible to as many people as they can reach. I don’t know if there is a strong degree of insecurity in someone challenging bad arguments or a low level of actual knowledge and experience with the claims they’re making? If there is a rage at anyone challenging the sanctity of this core identity and source of meaning and sense making and communal status that accepting and spouting these claims have come to represent to them. I don’t know if when white women do this there is partly a need to protect their status intersectionally as valid and visible sources and enforcers of woke verities? If there is both an internal status/standing insecurity, as well as a more practical need to ensure they compensate for their own identity vulnerabilities, lest the witch hunters turn on them next? Whatever, the response is from what I have seen an enraged but also tactical, methodical almost sadistic desire to harm anyone who disagrees. Whether it’s coming from woke men or women who aren’t of color or at least aren’t Black, it’s like an extreme in-group empathy turned inside out and directed with a vengeful hatred at any who marks themselves as outside the bounds of their all-defining community of righteous groupthink. I’m generalizing and being a little hyperbolic myself, but this is the sort of reaction at its most vehement that I see and hear from friends and acquaintances and members of groups with which I’m normally supportive when someone challenges and threatens the narrative.

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Revenge, schadenfreude, sanctimony, the incredible rush and hormonal high of being right: https://hbr.org/2013/02/break-your-addiction-to-being All of those lovely brain chemicals in play. I suspect it goes even deeper than this but that's just a hunch for which I have no evidence.

I have been pariah for most of my life due to my non-alignment with the “right-think” of whatever tribe I happen to be engaging with. I lost my family because I wouldn't conform to the self-flagellation they insisted I embrace. My first experiences of “right-think” were with the religiously righteous and mean girls. And it went on from there with one form or another of the behavior that you describe so eloquently above in play. (I do love word play and some of the commenters on the JM board are wonderful writers - including yourself.)

I am now stubbornly independent having sworn off joining any tribe at all outside of non-ideological business groups. When facebook came out, I did not join because I knew, due to my experiences, it would end up being a tool used to shame and enforce conformity and I wanted none of it. I do see the positives of engaging also but I have found, by and large, that joining groups ultimately requires you to mute some portion of yourself.

I value the people I meet (few and far between) who exhibit some depth of thought, some care for humility, some maturity, some awareness that life can be more that the pursuit of appetites. So very few of us are truly grown up. I despair of the childishness of the human race. No one seems to want to grow up anymore. A state of perpetual childhood, complete with tantrums. Perhaps my outlook is skewed by social media and the MSM.

I am grateful to live in a rural area where some peace may be found. I am planning a retirement filled with art and music (both the creation and consumption of) and hopefully I can completely disengage with the internet's sound and fury. It is said that you create what you focus on. That is why I mostly stay away from these vexatious spaces. The JM board in particular has been a relief for me—it is refreshing to know that there are still a few adults in the room.

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“Opposing CRT means you want to prevent all students from ever hearing that slavery existed, let alone learning any sort of honest, balanced history of racism in the US. These people posting and copying such talking points are not dumb - certainly not most of them. They’re almost uniformly privileged people in upbringing and stratospheric expense of education they’ve been able to access.”

Les bien-pensants -- and yo, dese are my people! -- have this quite annoying habit, when they assume they are talking to social inferiors, of excusing themselves from basic discourse norms.

One see this in discussions of guns: it is as if (since the other side consists of mouth-breathers deficient both morally and intellectually) I am released from having to do my basic due diligence, but can use slipshod terminology like “assault weapons hold too many bullet-shells in their clips.” (“Assault rifle” is a technical term, but there are no “assault weapons;” cartridges; “clips” are but one rare and minor type of “magazine.”) This kind of sloppiness we would never tolerate in an undergraduate essay; nor for that matter in our auto mechanic; but we allow ourselves from time to time. Likewise, as here, in discussing race.

I’m too smart to have to follow the rules of fairness and intellectual honesty, so long as I am talking down?

I wish I understood this syndrome.

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