It’s been a while. Check out my new Translation Project, for which I’ll be rolling up my sleeves and doing some academic labour that it seems nobody else wants to do. More to come.
2015 saw a flurry of anti-racist protests on American college campuses, from Mizzou to Princeton, led by students who might be described as Racial Justice Warriors (if we adopt current social media terminology and classify the RJW as a subtype of the ubiquitous SJW or “Social Justice Warrior”). I know very well that protests and PC outrageousness have been part of college life for many decades, but there are some new factors in the recent unrest that have led me to think it’s different this time. These factors are 1) the contrast between the ideological intensity of the new RJWs and their almost complete lack of coherent grievances, and 2) the varieties of popular reaction against the new RJWs on social media, which have emerged from a new generation of rightists who may be referred to collectively as the “Alternative Right” (to borrow a label they sometimes use as a blanket term, although I know such labels are subjects of controversy). I’d like to propose, in light of these two factors, that we are not living through a rerun of the same old debates regarding political correctness, but rather that we are witnessing a new blossoming in the West of what for a long time has been the true “love that dare not speak its name”: racial fellow-feeling. I suspect that this much-unloved form of love, submerged and denied for so long, has risen again to grip the hearts of the millennial left and right for the same underlying reason: millennials are beginning to doubt and fear the false god of global liberalism. Of the two millennial factions I am referring to, I think the members of the Alternative Right are more honest about their motivations, and I share some, but certainly not all, of their political convictions. The RJWs are plainly misguided, but we can always hope that one day they will transcend their current impasse.
Although I know I risk being labelled a “cuck” by some Twitter rightists, and though I know this would make any RJW groan, I must preface my remarks by stating that I am not racist, at least in the precise sense of the term (meaning someone who thinks race is a primary determining factor in human behaviour), or even an advocate of cultural chauvinism. I have genuine respect, although not fawning admiration, for people of all races and ethnicities and consider myself an unconventional multiculturalist. I do, however, think that race is a biological reality, and that the American, Canadian, and European varieties of multiculturalism, and their respective attitudes toward race, may contain within themselves the seeds of future race conflict. The melting pot and the cultural mosaic did not destroy racial fellow-feeling; they merely snipped its roots and naively expected that it would wither and die. It did not die, and was instead set free to mutate with abandon. It has popped up in some very unexpected places, and it could do some serious damage unless we make an effort to ‘put race in its place’ and keep it there.
The RJW protests have emerged in response to provocations that for many observers seem to have little trace of either racist intent or racist meaning. College campuses are some of the most “inclusive” spaces in North America, but the RJWs see them as havens of white supremacy. How can this be? The answer is that the secular university is a microcosm of global liberalism, and is thus unacceptable to the RJWs in its current form. Global liberalism, which neuters race, culture, and religion in order to foster co-operation and humanitarianism, is what most people think they want, but the heart rebels, and the RJWs feel this internal rebellion keenly. On some level, they recognize global liberalism as the destroyer of traditional virtues like courage and hope, of transforming experiences like suffering and despair, and of the bonds of blood that unite families, tribes, and races. There is no mystery, adventure, defeat, or triumph in global liberalism, and no genuine love. Liberalism recognizes difference, but only after difference has been relativized and deflated. Life under global liberalism is, in a word, boring, and where there is boredom there will soon be revolt. To escape from boredom, the RJWs project an image of white hegemony upon the campus; the more inclusive and diverse the campus is, the more attention they must draw to the supposedly systemic nature of white supremacy and the more obscure and detached from reality their complaints become.
Although I can’t prove it (for such things cannot be tested), I suspect, as I have already stated, that under the RJW anger lies a simple desire, unacceptable under global liberalism, for the expression of racial fellow-feeling, or the recognition and valuing of those who share an inborn “likeness” with oneself. What is a “safe space” for students of a particular race other than a form of self-segregation–a space in which one is safe to express racial fellow-feeling? There is nothing inherently wrong with racial fellow-feeling, as long as it does not rob the soul of charity toward the rest of humanity; liberalism, however, will not tolerate it, and the RJWs can only practice it by positing a systemic white supremacy of such pervasiveness that segregation and racial fellow-feeling can masquerade as a simple survival tactic.
Most RJWs, of course, would deny that they have any racial fellow-feeling, and would insist that what they share with other students of their race is the trauma of racial oppression and exclusion. They have taken to heart the words of their anthropology and sociology professors and believe that race does not exist, biologically speaking. They see race as a social construct, but not a construct that has no impact on the individual or community; it is rather a construct of such malevolence that its tendrils penetrate the very skin, organs, and minds of those in our society who are “racialized.” For a racialized person, to be confronted by signs that are in any way linked to racialization triggers a painful internal response. These signs remind the racialized person of the continuing existence of systemic white supremacy, which is the titanic “other” in the Manichean worldview of anti-racist thought and which overwhelms the racialized person with its ideological size and weight. The external, objective context in which such triggering signs appear is irrelevant, for the triggered pain and emotion is subjective and felt in a subjective context. At the same time, the pain caused by these triggers does not simply injure and weaken the victimized subject; it is a shaping pain, through which a racialized identity is imprinted or branded upon the subject. It defines, in ever-more specific and excruciating detail, a racialized person and a racialized community: an ideological prison that monitors and controls but through which an “identity politics” may nevertheless be practiced through acts of resistance and the creation of small spaces of safety and solidarity.
The problem is that when one’s very identity as a racialized person is conceived of as a construct imposed by white supremacy, the only way to express racial fellow-feeling, and to foster resistance and solidarity, is to appropriate this construct, embrace one’s racialized identity, and even engage in activities intended to provoke further racialization. The protesters seek the same sense of fellow feeling that binds, for example, soldiers of the same nation or religion, although in their case the binding agent is racialization. The idea of a “colourblind” society is anathema to them, for such a society, especially if it were universal in scope, would create a black hole into which racial identity would vanish forever. For the RJWs, protest is a means of self-definition rather than an honest call for change. It is the negative expression of a racial fellow-feeling that can’t be expressed positively because to do so would rob white supremacy of its supposed identity-inscribing power. When white supremacist society fails to signal its hate, or even worse, when it opens its arms to embrace the racialized, panic sets in. Something must be done to reignite conflict, and thus the RJWs look for any excuse to protest and sometimes go as far as to fake the signs of white supremacy. They are caught in a tragic situation, seeking racial persecution as a substitute for racial togetherness. Co-opting the construct provides a substitute for racial fellow-feeling, but at the same time it makes the real thing impossible to obtain. The university educator becomes both the liberator and the oppressor, which perhaps explains why racialized students sometimes turn against their supportive professors.
The mainstream conservative media (represented by such publications as the National Review) have certainly been harsh toward the RJWs, but they are careful to couch their critiques in the language of classical liberalism. The task of defending the white race, for better or for worse, has been taken up by an ever-growing number of traditionalist, ethnonationalist and neo-fascist communities on social media, many of which have only surfaced over the last five or six years: the aforementioned Alternative Right. Their members appear to be largely from the same millennial generation as the new RJWs (although there are certainly older members as well), and they almost all reject mainstream “Cuckservative” movements like neoconservatism. Many of these groups display an attitude toward race that they sometimes describe as “race realism,” based on the principles of “Human Biodiversity” (or HBD), and a smaller number embrace outright “ethnonationalism” and actively campaign against what they refer to as “white genocide.” Racial fellow-feeling is something they are entirely comfortable with, although I feel they often grant race an unjustifiably high status. In any case, they are the rightist street-fighters of the Twitter era, waging a rhetorical war against RJWs and SJWs wherever they may be found, and I suspect their ideas will have an influence on college campuses in years to come.
I bring up the Alternative Right because I wonder if they share some similarities with the RJWs, underneath all the many obvious differences. The similarities between these two groups go beyond the generational link, and extend to their common embrace of racial fellow-feeling (overt in the former group and covert in the latter) and their rejection of the global liberalism that most likely nurtured them in their youth. The millennial reactionaries, certainly, are not products of traditions of racism and bigotry, since most of them grew up during the great “end of history” that was the 1990s, and would have been, like everyone else, supersaturated with liberal dogma and postmodern fancies. They were raised as global citizens and were expected to, as adults, obediently carry the 21st-century version of “the White Man’s burden,” dispensing invitations, gifts and salutations to the non-white world with one hand while tossing branches on their own funeral pyre with the other (to borrow loosely a simile of Enoch Powell’s). Through the continuous ingestion of liberal media on television and the Internet, and through the education system, they would have developed an elaborate mechanism of self-censorship, present in both the individual and the culture, to ensure the absence of all racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia or intolerance of any kind. The millennials who now belong to the Alternative Right are those who felt some kind of pang of discomfort as they were being told of the countless evil deeds of the white man and the West. Their hearts rebelled, and they set out on the painful path away from liberal orthodoxy.
I worry, though, that the rediscovery of racial fellow-feeling among both the RJWs and the Alternative Right may one day ignite ugly conflict. I have no stomach for racial violence, especially since it serves no purpose in our time: like it or not, given the progress of globalization, we are all multiculturalists now. However, the reawakening of racial fellow-feeling, if it does not blow up in our faces, may bring some peace. Given the rapid disintegration of the moral authority the nation-state, we are finding new ways to relate with one another and form political bonds. A gentle, gradual revival of racial fellow-feeling may help to weaken global liberalism and establish a new global multiculturalism, where like may live with like without shame, and where people may take pride in their racial roots without imagining themselves a master race.
To put race in its place we must think hierarchically. Race is not everything, but it is certainly not nothing; nor is it merely a construct. What is required to subdue the twin heresies of racism and anti-racism is to establish a permanent place for race in the hierarchy of qualities that comprise the human person. In their own ways, both the RJWs and the Alternative Right are exploring this question, although the RJWs do not realize it and the Alternative Right are rapidly becoming obsessed with it. In any case, these millennial malcontents are stirring up trouble on the great ship of global liberalism, and it remains to be seen whether their efforts will provoke outright mutiny. Surely though, as they both recognize, some rocking of the boat is necessary.
In my last post I discussed the incorporative nature of the new electronic media and the impending rise of the Global Person, and presented a quote from Marshall McLuhan’s 1969 Playboy interview in which he offhandedly relates the concept of “Psychic communal integration, made possible at last by the electronic media” (262) to the Mystical Body of Christ. In order to proceed, I must clarify the latter concept, which I can’t assume is familiar to most readers.
The Mystical Body of Christ, for Catholics, is the Church understood as a single corporate entity stretching from our material realm, through Purgatory, to Heaven. At baptism, we are incorporated into the Mystical Body. The Head of the Mystical Body is Jesus Christ, and the Soul of the Mystical Body is the Holy Spirit. The Mystical Body on Earth is the Church Militant; the Mystical Body in Purgatory is the Church Suffering or Church Expectant; and the Mystical Body in Heaven is the Church Triumphant. The members of these three parts of the Church form the Communion of Saints within the Mystical Body. Communication between the parts of the Mystical Body occurs primarily through the sacraments and the medium of prayer. Communication within the Church Militant (the Mystical Body on Earth), however, makes use of all the usual “earthly” forms of media we have at our disposal. The Mystical Body inhabits our media, through channels that may have nothing to do with specifically Catholic communications, reaching out through the wires, cables, and airwaves to incorporate any who open their hearts to Jesus Christ.
The Venerable Fulton J. Sheen (1895-1979), in his 1935 book The Mystical Body of Christ, describes the Mystical Body with an eloquence far greater than I can hope to muster:
“The plan of the Incarnation was based upon the communication of the Divine through the human, the invisible through the visible, and the eternal through the temporal. It was, in a certain sense, the foundation of a Sacramental universe in which material things would be used as channels for the spiritual. The footprints of the Eternal Galilean were soon to fade from the sands of the seashore and the dust of Jerusalem’s streets; even the beautiful body which He took from His mother would be so tortured by men as to lose all its comeliness before assuming that glorified state in which men could no longer touch it. But though He knew He was soon to leave, He would not be an Architect who lays a foundation and then disappears, nor a Teacher who ceases to teach, nor a King who ceases to govern, nor a Priest who ceases to sanctify. He would be with men even to the consummation of the world. In order that this union might be effective, He said that He would assume a new body which should not indeed be like the physical body which He assumed from the Blessed Virgin, but another body, a kingdom, a social unit, a spiritual corporation of regenerate souls, a new humanity, a new race” (33-34).
Later in the same work he explains that the Mystical Body is part of the yet larger Mystical Person of Christ:
“Christ and His Mystical Body make but one Mystical Person. A Mystical Person has a double existence: one in Himself as Head of the Mystical Body, and the other in the Body of the faithful who receive His Life. Inasmuch as He exists in Himself, He is a single Person; but inasmuch as He subsists mystically in His members, He fills the role of Personality. Thus united to us, Christ shares His Life by a kind of ‘communication of idioms’ somewhat akin to that which is established between his two natures” (67-68).
If, as I suggested in my last post, electronic media has made possible the creation of the Global Person, it has also made possible (even if seemingly unlikely) the rapid and totally immersive incorporation of all humanity into the Mystical Person of Christ. The way forward for any Christian is clear: if we are to become part of a Mystical Body of a Mystical Person, it should have Christ as its Head. I can’t say for sure whether McLuhan saw electronic media as a potential path to salvation, but the quotation from his Playboy interview shows he understood that the incorporative nature of electronic media is at least analogous to the spiritually incorporative nature of the Mystical Body of Christ. There is also, as I noted in an earlier post, strong evidence that underneath his non-moral exterior McLuhan was, as Mark Krupnick asserts, “a belated modernist who was hoping that the new science might be used to reverse the effects of Gutenberg technology, thereby restoring us to the unified oral world of the Catholic Middle Ages” (113).
If McLuhan’s thoughts on the use of electronic media for spiritual advancement are ambiguous, his concerns regarding its potential for spiritual degradation are less so. In the same Playboy interview, on the topic of the eventual impact of technological development, McLuhan remarks, “There are grounds for both optimism and pessimism. The extensions of man’s consciousness induced by the electric media could conceivably usher in the millennium, but it also holds the potential for realizing the Anti-Christ—Yeats’ rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouching toward Bethlehem to be born” (268). In a similar vein, in a 1969 letter to Jacques Maritain, McLuhan writes, “Electronic information environments being utterly ethereal fosters the illusion of the world as a spiritual substance. It is now a reasonable facsimile of the mystical body, a blatant manifestation of the Anti-Christ. After all, the Prince of this World is a very great electric engineer” (72). McLuhan seems to be pointing to two possible outcomes of the further development of incorporative electronic media: the extension of the Mystical Body of Christ, or the development of the Mystical Body of Anti-Christ.
Sheen also writes of the Mystical Body of Anti-Christ in an oft-quoted (on the Internet) passage from his 1948 book Communism and the Conscience of the West, using language that McLuhan echoes in his letter to Maritain. Speaking not of the electronic media but of a new political order, Sheen states, “He [the Anti-Christ or Devil] will set up a counterchurch which will be the ape of the Church, because he, the Devil, is the ape of God. It will have all the notes and characteristics of the Church, but in reverse and emptied of its divine content. It will be a mystical body of the Antichrist that will in all externals resemble the mystical body of Christ” (24-25?).
In my next post, I will take a closer look at this great Ape of God, the Mystical Body of Anti-Christ: where It dwells in our media environment, how It functions, and how Its battle with Christ is conducted.
Krupnick, Mark. “Marshall McLuhan Revisited: Media Guru as Catholic Modernist.” Rev. of Marshall McLuhan, Escape into Understanding: A Biography, by W. Terrence Gordon. Modernism/modernity 5.3 (1998): 107-22.
McLuhan, Marshall. Letter to Jacques Maritain, 6 May 1969, from Toronto. The Medium and the Light: Reflections on Religion. Eds. Eric McLuhan and Jacek Szklarek. Toronto: Stoddart, 1999. 70-73.
McLuhan, Marshall. “Playboy Interview – A candid conversation with the high priest of popcult and metaphysician of media.” Rpt. From Playboy (March 1969). Essential McLuhan. Eds. Eric McLuhan and Frank Zingrone. Concord, Ontario: Anansi, 1995. 233-69.
Sheen, Fulton J. Communism and the Conscience of the West. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merril Company, 1948. Note: I do not have a copy of this book, so I am trusting the accuracy of the many Internet sites that quote from it. I have no reason, however, to believe that the passage I have quoted is inaccurate.
Sheen, Fulton J. The Mystical Body of Christ. New York: Sheed & Ward, 1935.
I’ll begin this post with a relevant quotation from Wyndham Lewis (not to be confused with his much milder contemporary D.B. Wyndham Lewis), taken from his 1926 work of political analysis, The Art of Being Ruled. The passage speaks to the problems that Ontarians are facing as radical feminism, rekindled by gender theory and LGBTTIQQ2S (or whatever) activism, becomes more and more an essential element of Canadian public policy. Such activist theory has recently crept into Ontario’s new Health and Physical Education curriculum, which unfortunately must be followed in both public and Catholic elementary schools and high schools. (The curriculum is normally available here but the government site is down for some reason.)
Keep in mind that Lewis’s prophetic quote is from a book published almost ninety years ago.
“Now what really is happening today (and this will continue until the full circle of social revolution has been described) is that the opposite of the initiatory ceremonies of puberty, universal amongst primitive people, are performed. The puberty ceremony of primitive life was directed to separating the adolescent male from the women and children (with whom up to then he had lived) for ever. Simultaneously he became a ‘tribesman,’ and was initiated into the ceremonies over which the male leaders of the tribe presided. Today at the age of puberty, or indeed long before, the child receives, and is destined more and more to receive, an intensive ritualistic teaching opposite in its aim: namely, away from the traditions of the tribe and its traditional rulers. He, he is told, is henceforth the ruler. (This in effect would be the rule not by childhood, of course, but by the mentor or teacher, the dominy, and by the queen-mother, sitting upon an ideologic matriarchal throne.)” (Lewis 253-54)
Lewis is describing the development of our inversional culture; this development started long ago—it’s not even remotely new. Even in the Britain of 1926, traditional families and communities were already being turned inside out and transformed according to the logic of “social revolution.” Lewis saw the coming of the man-child, the teacher-ruler, and the ideological matriarch. Under such a system, the child (and especially the male child) is forced to remain a child indefinitely with a sexual drive that has been stunted and misdirected by what is indeed “an intensive ritualistic teaching.” This teaching is ritualistic in the sense that it demands participation and repetitive acts of affirmation. All of us are part of the ritual, in some sense, in that we are daily assaulted by the percussive messaging of feminism and gay rights; it commands us to conform, against every natural instinct.
Ontario’s ideological matriarch is Premier Kathleen Wynne, and her Ministry of Education is her hive of teacher-rulers. That being said, I don’t think she is the head of any conscious conspiracy to sow moral chaos. I doubt she thinks that what she’s doing is controversial at all. As you can tell from her grating smile and DeGenerestic spunk, her eyes are filled with rainbows and she genuinely believes she is on the side of the angels.
The problem with the new curriculum is not its explicitness. The problem is that it seeks to enshrine, within our school systems and within the minds of young Canadians, a warped sense of sexuality and gender. To show this, I’ll highlight several of the key elements of the ‘teaching’ contained in the curriculum. I’ll try to do this without hyperbole, so as to avoid the usual accusation that anyone who objects to the curriculum is a prudish bigot.
Element 1: the usual (for sex-ed) sterilization of the topic of sexuality
As in the past, the curriculum treats reproductive organs as if they are mere pleasure-organs that must be handled carefully so as to avoid disease or pregnancy. Never mind that the purpose of these organs is, first and foremost, the creation of new life. The idea of sex as consummation is ignored, as is any connection between sex and marriage. The new guidelines even discourage children from using the terms “husband” and “wife,” except in situations where those terms are approved as being appropriate.
Element 2: the separation of sex (as biology) and gender (as social construct)
The new curriculum confidently treats gender as a social construct when in fact the boundaries between nature and nurture in gender expression are not at all clear. (Indeed, the document contradicts itself when it describes “gender identity,” in a sample Grade 5 student response, as one of the “things I cannot control.” If gender identity is a social construct, it is not an unchangeable essence.) The stark sexuality/gender divide allows for a distinction between gender identities (“e.g., male, female, two-spirited, transgender, transsexual, intersex”) and sexual orientation (“e.g., heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual”). How is an elementary school student supposed to use this model of sexuality and gender as a guide when it is based on confused activist theory rather than fact? Why not simply explain that most people are either male or female in both sex and gender although there are many variations from the norm?
Element 3: quantitative relativization
In the lists of available options for gender identity quoted above, we see a technique characteristic of the Marxist intellectual habitus which we might refer to as quantitative relativization. A category of human identity—in this case gender—is identified, and the spectrum of possible sub-categories is mapped out. What is crucial is that the sub-categories be listed without any reference to their actual distribution in human societies. Anyone who doesn’t spend all their time on the Internet or on university campuses knows that the overwhelming majority of people on Earth identify as either male or female (and are also “cisgendered,” to borrow a noxious term from gender theory that applies to anyone whose mode of gender expression corresponds to their biological sex), while a very small minority identify as “two-spirited, transgender, transsexual, intersex,” and so on. Yet male, female, two-spirited, transgender, transsexual, and intersex are presented in the curriculum as simple categories stripped of any quantitative data that would show the distribution of each. They are all granted equal status.
One example may demonstrate the absurdity of this type of thinking. Imagine that you are a father whose daughter is a late teenager. You decide that it’s about time she learned how to drive a vehicle. You know that there are two main types of vehicles on the road: cars (and in this category I would include SUVs and four-wheeled trucks) and motorcycles. The overwhelming majority of people drive cars, while only a small fraction of people drive motorcycles, which are more dangerous and less versatile than cars. Would you tell your daughter, “It’s about time you learned to how to drive a car or motorcycle”? No—you would tell her it’s time she learned how to drive a car. In the unlikely case that she has always dreamed of driving a motorcycle and has no interest in driving a car, you can warn her of the dangers and limitations of motorcycles and negotiate the situation from there. The motorcycle option is a special case outside the norm. In the same way, “two-spirited, transgender, transsexual, [and] intersex” gender identities are outside the norm and should be treated as special cases. Do we need to present these gender identities to children, who are awkwardly discovering their sexuality, like options at a buffet? Are male and female gender identities just two possible options among many?
Element 4: the characterization of morality as “private”
The curriculum treats morality as something relative and private and replaces it with a resolutely liberal ethical framework. Ideas of right and wrong are ignored; what matters is whether the child is able to develop a unique “self concept” and gain emotional support from similarly-oriented role-models and allies. The child is left without any means of determining what might make one self-concept better than another, except for the golden rule that one’s self-concept must not lead to intolerance toward the self-concepts of others.
The curriculum says, “A moral consideration is what you believe is right or wrong. It is influenced by your personal, family, and religious values.” Ok, fine. But then it continues with the non-sequitur that “Every person in our society should treat other people fairly and with respect.” In other words, the ethics of fairness and respect trumps morality. This would only make sense if morality could be separated from ethics, which is impossible.
Element 5: the exclusion of references to Christian traditions or teachings, although other cultural/religious traditions are mentioned
Regarding religion, the document manages to incorporate references, in the context of puberty, to Jewish (bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah) and Aboriginal traditions (rites of passage), but none to Christian or Islamic traditions. Why?
Element 6: the representation of masturbation as harmless
The curriculum states, “Exploring one’s body by touching or masturbating is something that many people do and find pleasurable. It is common and is not harmful and is one way of learning about your body.” While even the Catholic Church is lenient regarding masturbation when it comes to teenagers, there is a big difference between saying “no, it won’t make you go blind” and “it is common and is not harmful.” Chronic masturbation can lead to all sorts of harm. It can make one turn away from healthier expressions of sexuality, and it can easily lead to the use of pornography. Our culture, in many ways, has become not only inversional but also masturbatory and voyeuristic.
There are fundamental flaws in this new curriculum that make it unsuitable for use in both public and Catholic schools. Many of the opponents of this new curriculum are religious people, but the curriculum also undermines traditional secular understandings of sexuality and gender and should be of concern to non-religious people as well. This curriculum should be rejected and replaced with one that would encourage tolerance of those with sexual orientations or gender identities outside the norm without obliterating traditional concepts of sexuality and gender.
Lewis work cited:
Lewis, Wyndham. The Art of Being Ruled. Ed. Reed Way Dasenbrock. Santa Rosa: Black Sparrow Press, 1989. First published 1926.