Let Them Eat Ivory: Vol. I
We have Bolsheviks fleeing Nazi Germany to thank for the inarticulate caterwauling, the incongruent theories of “social justice,” and an ever-expanding series of a la carte issues de rigeur on college campuses today. It was at Columbia University in the mid-1930s the oppressor/oppressed paradigm of the Frankfurt School found a new home (is it any wonder the spectacle of entitlement has metastasized most heavily on Ivy League campuses?). The Frankfurt School and their intellectual post-modernist heirs proceeded to re-frame Marxism in an American context, stripped of its overt communist sympathies and charged with a new politics of victimhood. Soon the unfurling tentacles of “critical theory” began to find their way into institutions of higher learning across the country and started to choke out dissenting viewpoints. It has heretofore been a long, shambling march to oblivion, but in the last five years or so, things have catalyzed and hit a fever pitch. The overly reductive, good-versus-evil moral narcissism of Leftist ideologues has come to so wholly encompass the better part of a generation that the very foundations of our society are under direct threat.
My intention is not to provide a comprehensive history lesson of the Frankfurt School and its disciples—there are a number of great articles on the topic—but to begin to examine the germination of critical theory, victim theory, Cultural Marxism, and neo-feminism—all cousins of the same invasive species digging their roots into American soil and killing the native flora of Age of Enlightenment ideals and American exceptionalism. These imported ideologies have grown unchecked through grassroots Saul Alinsky-informed activism, and even more insidiously, the institutions of higher learning where impressionable young men and women matriculate in order to develop their minds, worldviews, and identities.
This is one of the main reasons why Leftist indoctrination on campuses is so pernicious—these students are on the precipice of adulthood and remain, to varying degrees, impressionable. For many, this is their first time away from home for an extended period, their first time interacting with and encountering new people and ideas, and we need to be very wary about straight-jacketing their thinking. The public school system is rigid enough as it is, forcing the practice of “teaching to the test,” and critical thinking is rarely emphasized. There are many teachers who strive to move beyond orthodoxy and Common Core, but they are certainly not encouraged to do so, nor are they rewarded for their efforts. They are far more likely to be reprimanded instead. The university, then, should be that crucial bridge where the pretense of childhood is removed and various challenges are presented so the students may grow and, ultimately, flourish.
The Leftist campaign to turn universities into indoctrination mills has got to stop. This was never meant to be their function, nor should it ever be their function. The university should be a bastion of the highest ideals and most advanced inquiry, where students and professors are free to chart their own course within reasonable parameters, without having to constantly self-censor for fear of reprisal. One wrong move, one transgression, one mistake, and a promising career can be destroyed in an instant. There are people who sincerely believe ruining someone’s life, or at the very least taking away their livelihood, is a perfectly justifiable punishment for having the “wrong” viewpoint. Adjunct professors in particular are in a very vulnerable position with semester-to-semester contracts the university is under no obligation to renew.
So, what is the correct viewpoint? In many respects, this is a moving target; in order to begin to assess this question, it is crucial to understand that these Cultural Marxists, Social Justice Warriors, whatever tag you want to give them (frankly, there’s little to differentiate them at this point, particularly as everything must be “de-constructed”), are concerned with their narrative above all else. It’s why despite a stark shortage of actual active bigots, the Left must either provoke certain situations (think of “The Gay Wedding Cake”—sounds like a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode) or resort to outright fabrication (Kansas State University, Eastern Michigan University, Indiana State University, the Air Force Academy Preparatory Academy, Boston College) in order for the supply to meet the demand. Barring an “incident,” the definitions of racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia—take your pick—must be expanded beyond any rational parameters. Leftism cannot exist without a steady supply of grievances and social justice causes, and therefore, despite a preponderance of evidence to the contrary, they must craft narratives of systemic racism, bigotry, et cetera. The Narrative of Progress is one of religious salvation, where anyone who stands in the way of the march to utopian egalitarianism must be crushed.
All of this ties neatly into the oppressor/oppressed paradigm first popularized by the fledgling Frankfurt School. Without the ideological impediment of overt Marxism, the egalitarians could begin to expand the paradigm to fit just about any perception of inequality. Even more useful, the Sartres, Derridas, and Foucaults added a nice dash of non-binary, relativist, post-everything to the Horkheimer/Marcuse dish. Marcuse, incidentally, claimed only those that criticize normative discourse have their free speech protected. The irony of course is that in the university, these people are the normative discourse. “It’s all relative,” though, right? And now we have a basis to make non-binary and relativist claims that align with this worldview. Now we have a basis in the academy to begin to undermine, revise, and fundamentally alter the canon of Western art, literature, and thought.
Great art should not need justification, caveat, or categorization to have meaning, and it certainly should not serve an agenda. I’m just as enraptured by Sappho, Dickinson, and H.D. as I am by Catullus, Marlowe, and Donne. I am not an ideologue and I can appreciate beauty or meaning wherever it may be found. Now, from a practical perspective, a university must create subcategories in order for the material to be given adequate attention and focus. Hence, Literature of the Italian Renaissance, for example, makes sense as a course because it is looking at a particular context and set of works. There is plenty of room in the humanities for the many voices of the American (or German, or Kenyan) tapestry, typically taught by specialists in those areas, but denying each culture its central voices is tantamount to creating a yawning void of cultural amnesia. The point is that leveling the canon doesn’t make things more “inclusive”—it knocks yet another pillar of identity and source of strength down in order to make room for the Leftist egalitarian parking lot. The Leftist mouthpieces shout for inclusive spaces—all the while excluding anything they don’t agree with. Rigorous debate can only sharpen your intellect; exposure to unfamiliar and contrary ideas expands your knowledge base and gives you the tools to defend your positions and views.
Radical Leftist ideologues want to de-construct and “problematize” almost everything hierarchical in structure, unless of course it would be to their detriment. Their conception of hierarchies is that those on top must be there on the broken backs of the many below. The fallacy of this notion hardly needs to be addressed, but it is important to remember that everything in the Leftist worldview is filtered through the oppressor/oppressed lens. Men earn more because of a rigged system, not because they work longer hours, choose different careers, and need less time off for child-rearing. The Left’s attempted over-correction of the “problem” is that in the under-35 age bracket, women now earn more than men, acquire more college degrees than men, and have more opportunities for advancement…because they’re women? I know it’s a “microaggression” to say so, but what if we simply let a person’s qualifications and the strength of their interview be the determining factors?
Equity of opportunity is not equity of outcome. It is the freedom to choose your career with no artificial impediments to access. Cultural Marxists simply cannot accept the fact that in places like pre-sharia Sweden, which was arguably the most gender egalitarian country on the planet, free to gravitate to their preferred careers, men outnumbered women almost twenty-to-one in STEM, and women outnumbered men almost twenty-to-one in teaching, pediatrics, and nursing. This does not compute with the Cultural Marxist worldview, however. The enforcement of artificial quotas to attain a desired result, or have the appearance of equality, is called equity of outcome. The moral narcissism of the far Left is such that there can be no doubt this is being done for everyone’s benefit—many students and professors are lock-step in the belief that this is sound practice, and as universities ultimately feed the labor market, many businesses and other organizations are following suit.
Now, even if we accept that students are by definition immature relative to their professors and most professors are far to the left, it is the explosion in bureaucratic paper-shuffling, mid-level functionaries, and administrators with a vested interest in creating victims that has enabled many of these negative changes to take root and expand. It is a conscious re-shaping of the university system to indoctrinate and achieve very specific outcomes which must be the result of manipulation, for they would never happen naturally. It is scientific fact that pre-natal testosterone levels have a direct impact on activity predilection, problem-solving abilities, and inter-personal relationships. I’ll spell it out, though: this is not a universal, but a general rule. I know many on the far Left favor strict cut-and-dry pronouncements (ironic, given that everything else is “non-binary” or a social construct), so I want to make this crystal clear. It is the result of natural predisposition and not some nefarious patriarchal plot to keep women out of STEM fields that largely explains male-female percentages in these occupations. Simply put, more men gravitate to, and complete degrees in, STEM. A great many qualified individuals would be shut out of a career in STEM fields if an artificial quota of 50-50 in the workplace was enforced. I don’t hear anyone screaming about the matriarchy with 75% of humanities degrees conferred to women, though employment in this arena doesn’t necessarily follow the same linear track as many of the STEM fields.
The Leftist project is to fundamentally alter society both from top-down imposition and ground-up indoctrination, while simultaneously de-constructing all “problematic” hierarchical structures ad infinitum. Everything, then, exists on a spectrum, and we must avoid categorical claims and conceive of identity and sexuality in much more “fluid” terms. Many of the post-modernists even theorized that language itself was a mode of oppression, therefore the re-shaping of language to create an alternative terrain of discourse is central to the Leftist project. When Professor Jordan B. Peterson of the University of Toronto spoke out about the enforced use of gender pronouns, he was striking at something much deeper than what for many appeared to be simply accommodating those who did not ascribe to traditional gender roles—he was sounding the alarm for, as he says, “Compelled speech with the full weight of the law behind it.” Leftist (il)logic is a Gordian knot of monoliths of identity politics and designer intersectional identities, irreconcilable and yet inextricably intertwined.
Given the Left’s insistence that adherence to binary thinking is harmful and marginalizes people, it is surprising to witness the ready acceptance of gender and race quotas in hiring and student acceptance rates. The sum of a human being is much more than “intersectional” parts, but many on the Left can’t seem to grasp that. Confronted with a multi-factorial issue, or a person who does not conform to “type,” the Left’s one-issue-at-a-time, case-by-case a la carte propaganda machine begins to break down. Binaries are useful to organize society and allow an individual to expend minimal bandwidth on situationally trivial distinctions, but the vast majority of people are able to color for exceptions to the rule and a singular person’s complexity on an individual-to-individual basis. Basic common sense dictates exceptions to the rule, but without rough structures and hierarchies, there can be no society. It’s simply not practical to ask everyone you meet, “What are your pronouns?” In a social setting this may be much more feasible, but on a macro scale, the constant push to de-construct, to de-stigmatize, pick your buzzword, is causing a breakdown of social norms. Because the far Left is so insistent on the strange paradox of reactionary politics and the progressive narrative, they have no cohesive worldview, which makes the ability to determine the “correct” viewpoint I discussed earlier, to quote Ms. Annie Lennox, like “Walking on, walking on broken glass.”