On cultural materialism, language, and the progressive gambit
From Linda Kimball at Amercan Thinker, a broad but interesting historical overview of the path Cultural Marxism has cut through the American political scene. Writes Kimball:
It is said that courage is the first of the virtues because without it fear will paralyze man, thus keeping him from acting upon his moral convictions and speaking truth. Thus bringing about a general state of paralyzing fear, apathy, and submission—the chains of tyranny—is the purpose behind psychopolitical cultural terrorism, for the communist Left’s revolutionary agenda must, at all costs, be clothed in darkness.
The antidote is courage and the light of truth. If we are to win this cultural war and reclaim and rebuild America so our children and their children’s children can live in a Ã¢â‚¬ËœShining City on the Hill’ where liberty, families, opportunity, free markets, and decency flourish, we must muster the courage to fearlessly expose the communist Left’s revolutionary agenda to the Light of Truth. Truth and the courage to speak it will set us free.
There is much truth to this—individuals must stand up both to the tyranny of political correctness and the identity politics that authors and demands it, lest individualism itself is subsumed by the collectivism I’ve gone to great lengths to point out animates many of the so-called “progressive” social movements, and, by way of fear (disguised as tolerance, which today translates to the disinclination to pass judgment on “Others”), has insinuated itself into social policy and law.
And so, while I disagree with Kimball’s implication that the way to avoid the pitfalls of cultural materialism is to embrace a metaphysical worldview (the preference being given to western monotheism)—though that may be one way to combat the deconstruction of truth in favor of consensus identity narratives and a will to power, it certainly isn’t a prerequisite, as it is just as easy to reject the project from within the materialist worldview described by the linguistic turn—I do agree that, as Kimball notes, in the advocacy of political correctness1, it is easy to locate the
strong suggestion [...] that in order for one not to be thought of as racist or fascist, then one must not only be nonjudgmental but must also embrace the Ã¢â‚¬Ëœnew’ moral absolutes: diversity, choice, sensitivity, sexual orientation, and tolerance. Political correctness is a Machiavellian psychological Ã¢â‚¬Ëœcommand and control’ device. Its purpose is the imposition of uniformity in thought, speech, and behavior.
Regular pw readers know by now just exactly how this gambit works: sub sects within individual identity groups vie for control over the group narrative, which, once it is has been decided upon, becomes an orthodoxy, capable of acting as an arbiter of “authenticity”; from there, the cultural relativism many find in the wake of “contingency” allows only those deemed authentic to level “legitimate” criticism against the group—which is itself a cynical ploy, as those whose criticisms might challenge the kernel assumptions of the group narrative have already been bracketed, and so lack the requisite authenticity necessary to give their criticisms force.
This embrace of authenticity as a determining factor for legitimate criticism—the Orientalist critique of Edward Said stripped of all its academic pretense—then sets the stage for the kind of “tolerance” that is, from the perspective of individualism, Orwellian in its application. Which is to say, “tolerance” becomes the enforcement of adherence to the cult of authenticity, and those who don’t accept the premise and who criticize identity groups from without are labeled bigots, misogynists, racists, haters, and cultural imperialists.
And it is precisely the fear of being labeled such that gives the new “tolerance” its force—in effect, constraining individualism by turning it into a pathology and a heresy insofar as the individual either sways from his prescribed identity group, or presumes to speak to issues or concerns that “belong” to Others.
I’ve noted on many occasions that I believe the animating principal that allows this maneuvering to work occurs on the linguistic level—particularly, with the decades long movement to decouple meaning from intent. This attempt to “democratize” meaning—a populist euphemism that blinds us to what is essentially a shift in the agency priviliged in hermeneutic engagements—is what (in my opinion, at least) prepares the ground for the social revolution cultural materialism hopes to bring about from within the structures of western liberalism. That is, once we accept that meaning is a product of cultural consensus rather than of individual intent, we have accepted the very premise that allows cultural materialism to take root in social policy and then to fossilize itself in law.
Each time we cede ground in the linguistic wars, we surrender a bit more ground to those who wish to subvert individual agency to the consensus of “interpretive communities,” themselves answerable only to their own interests. Epistemology becomes an exercise in relativism and will to power disguised as critical thinking. And politically, the individual—the primary locus of agency in a constitutional democracy—is forced by social circumstance either to find power in group identity, or else accept his social and political marginalition.
1Cultural materialists avoid the term “political correctness” at all costs—and in fact, tend to criticize those who use it for engaging in unfair and simplistic labeling. This, I suspect, has much to do with the way political correctness has been so forcefully deconstructed to reveal its anti-intellectual underpinnings.
However, too, “political correctness” has become a convenient shorthand (much like “postmodernism”) that is often used, incorrectly, to label anyone with whom conservatives happen to differ—and it should pointed out that to do so is to fall into very practices that give political correctness its force in the first place.