The search is on for new words for old ideas. “Cancel culture” and “woke” have become overused and abused, part of a struggle to define one’s political opponents in the harshest possible way, to dismiss ideas as not only wrong or harmful, but intolerable.
As a nonnative English speaker, I am content to avoid rhetorical fashion and use older phrases. Call it the mob mentality, groupthink, or punitive neo-Puritan orthodoxy. It is the abuse of power—mostly social, not yet governmental—to silence debate and paralyze the spread of any ideas that challenge the prevailing ideological dogma. It is the coordinated, coercive attempt to win a debate by ending debate—to punish, not to educate.
The leading practitioners of these tactics have two contradictory responses to criticism. First, they say it isn’t happening, that it doesn’t exist, that drawing attention to it is a rhetorical whine to silence critics of the establishment and shield the privileged from accountability. Second, they blame the victims, calling them bad people with bad ideas who should be banished to make room for more diverse voices. Claiming you are fighting fire with fire can be used to justify any excess; the only way to fight back is to take freedom away from someone else.
The politics of personal destruction have run amok online and off. Full disclosure: I’ve been friends with Peter Thiel for years. I disagree with him on many things, especially lately, but the attacks on him have been disturbing. In his recent book “The Contrarian,” journalist Max Chafkin assigns an ideology to Mr. Thiel, then defines it as “fascist” and even tries to blame this concocted “Thielism” for the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. There is little doubt that the book would never have come to be had Mr. Thiel not supported Donald Trump in 2016. Suddenly, a secretive libertarian tech investor with a complex history and identity—immigrant, gay, Stanford Law grad, coastal elite—became simply evil, and Mr. Chafkin was quickly paid to fill hundreds of pages to support that preordained conclusion.
Criticism of politically active billionaires and tech giants is essential. But as the left did with the Koch brothers and the right has done with George Soros, demonizing people for wealth and political activity can spin out of control. Muckraking books, screaming mobs—in person, not only online—and rumors about your personal life shouldn’t be the price of political involvement in a democracy.
Tearing down the powerful may be satisfying, if briefly, but remember who inevitably suffers most when justice is abandoned in favor of vengeance and destruction. Black Lives Matter, a necessary idea and important human-rights movement, has been hijacked by leaders who seek only power—and who are willing to sacrifice their supposed beneficiaries to achieve it. Who will be harmed most when the police are defunded, the public education system wrecked? Not the elites. The Russian Revolution dispatched some wealthy landowners, but its natural outcome was a new form of slavery under totalitarian Communism—all in the name of equality and freedom, of course.
Putting ideology and politics ahead of reason is as dangerous as putting them ahead of justice. Mr. Trump and his administration used the possibility that Covid-19 originated in a Wuhan laboratory to bash China and deflect attention from his administration’s catastrophic pandemic response. A corresponding rise in hate crimes against Asians helped turn a crucial line of inquiry into a politicized bludgeon.
The left’s reaction to Mr. Trump’s rhetoric was instructive. Anyone who mentioned the lab-leak theory was assailed as pro-Trump. Social-media companies removed posts mentioning it. By January 2021, it was obvious that shutting down debate was the true antiscience position. Invaluable months were lost, time the Chinese Communist Party used to destroy data and spread disinformation about the virus’s origins. We may never know the truth, but we do know there was a coverup.
Increasing numbers of Americans believe their freedom is under attack, and I agree. Antidemocratic forces are on the rise. Election results are treated as suspect. Threats of violence are becoming routine.
Schools are being pressured to remove books and cancel professors for spreading the “wrong” ideas. These sentiments are all too familiar to me, and to anyone who has survived life in a dictatorship. The only answer is more freedom, more speech, not less.
This is why the Renew Democracy Initiative launched the Frontlines of Freedom project, which gives voice to dissidents from authoritarian regimes around the world. Americans have the rights and self-determination that people in Russia, Hong Kong and Zimbabwe are literally dying for. We see the pillars of American democracy under attack from within, by rioters at the Capitol and online mobs. Rights are violated in the U.S. when the system fails. They are violated in dictatorships when the system works as intended. Heed this warning.
Destroying the mechanisms of democracy to preserve democracy won’t work. We can’t promote marginalized voices by telling them what is acceptable to say. We must fight to preserve the free flow of ideas, of debate and an open society, however uncomfortable it makes us. Democracy has never been a safe space.
Mr. Kasparov is chairman of the Renew Democracy Initiative.
“Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.” — George Orwell, “Animal Farm”
What were we to make of multimillionaire Barack Obama’s 60th birthday bash at his Martha’s Vineyard estate, and the throng of the woke wealthy and their masked helot attendants?
Was socialist Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) suffering for the people when she wore a designer dress to the more than $30,000-a-ticket Met gala? Her entourage needs were certainly well-attended to by masked Morlock servants.
Did the leftist celebrities at the recent Emmy awards gather to discuss opening Malibu beaches to the homeless when the (unmasked) stars virtue-signaled their wokeness?
For answers about these hypocritical wokists, always turn first to George Orwell. In his brief allegorical novella, “Animal Farm,” an array of animal characters—led by the thinking pigs of the farm—staged a revolution, driving out their human overseers.
The anti-human animal comrades started out sounding like zealous Russian Bolsheviks (“four legs good, two legs bad”). But soon they ended up conned by a murderous cult of pigs under a Joseph Stalin-like leader. And so, the revolution became what it once had opposed (“four legs good, two legs better”).
Our own woke, year-zero revolution is now in its second year. Yet last year’s four-legged revolutionaries are already strutting on two legs. They are not just hobnobbing with the “white supremacists” and “capitalists,” but outdoing them in their revolutionary zeal for the rarified privileges of the material good life.
The Marxist co-founder of BLM, Patrisse Cullors, is now on her fourth woke home. She has moved on from the barricades to the security fences of her Topanga Canyon digs in a mostly all-white, all-rich rural paradise—the rewards for revolutionary service.
Professor Ibram X. Kendi has evolved from the edgy revolutionary work of flying all over the country, hawking his Orwellian message of “All racism bad! But some racism good!” Now he has mastered the art of zooming the wannabe woke for his $20,000 an hour avant-garde hectoring.
What of Colin Kaepernick, the mediocre second-string quarterback turned sudden firebrand? He refused to stand for the national anthem and spread his “take a knee” kitsch throughout professional sports.
Kaepernick became a boutique revolutionary multimillionaire. For $12 million a year, he pitches Nike sneakers, often made in Chinese forced-labor camps.
Woke NBA star LeBron James, from his $23 million Brentwood mansion, blasts America for its endless unfairness—in service to his totalitarian Chinese paymasters who will ensure his good life with an eventual lifetime $1 billion payout for hawking their goods.
Our other elite wokists navigating around the revolution are even more cynical. The corporate and Wall Street capitalists feel that a little virtue signaling, showy diversity coordinators, and woke advertising will more or less buy off the latest version of Al-Sharpton-like shake-down artists.
Then there are the trimmers and enablers. These are the wealthy, rich, and the professional classes. They feel—in abstract—absolutely terrible about inequality, but hardly enough in the concrete to mix with the unwashed.
For them, wokism is like party membership in the late ethically bankrupt Soviet Union. It is necessary for peace of mind and good income, but otherwise not an obstacle for the continuance of the privileged, comfortable life.
The more TV news hosts rant about “systemic” this and “supremacy” that, and the more college presidents write stern penance memos to their faculty about “that’s not who we are,” the more they feel not just good about themselves, but relieved of any real obligation to live and socialize with the Other.
As for the self-declared non-white Other, wokism is also a top-down revolution of celebrities, intellectuals, actors, activists, academics, grifters, lawyers, and the upper-middle class and rich. And they are not calling for a Marshall Plan to bring classical education to the inner city. They themselves have little desire to move in or spread their wealth. They rarely mentor others on their shrewd capitalist expertise that made themselves rich.
They are far more cynical than that. The regrettable violence of the street, the 120 days of 2020 looting, death and arson, are the levers of the woke professionals. They fight with the various tribes of the same class and mindset over the slices of the same coveted elite pies. But they bring to the scrap the unspoken cudgel that without greater non-white de facto quotas in comic books, TV commercials, Ivy League faculties and students, symphonies, and sit-coms, then “systemic racism” could once again ignite downtown Portland or Seattle or Baltimore.
Orwell would say of the woke Obamas, Nancy Pelosi, AOC, Bernie Sanders, LeBron James, or Ibram Kendi—and their supposedly unwoke, but similarly rich and privileged enemies—“It was impossible to say which was which.”
Some of the core tenets of the “woke” ideology spreading around the country mimic ideas used to justify many of the most horrendous atrocities of the past century, according to several experts.
A recently released documentary exploring the topic, called “Better Left Unsaid,” concludes that the self-identified “radical left” endorses four fundamental “truths” that they “hold to be self-evident,” noting that these tenets have also been used to justify and incite many of the worst massacres of the 20th century.
The first of the four claims is that “the world is best viewed through a group oppression narrative lens.”
The “woke” ideology is based on a set of quasi-Marxist theories that divide society into “oppressors” and the “oppressed” based on characteristics such as race, sex, class, or sexual proclivities. “Woke” is sometimes used interchangeably with Critical Race Theory (CRT), which is one of the more prominent ideologies that operate within this framework.
The second claim is that “evidence of oppression is the inequality between groups,” the documentary says. If the designated “oppressed” group does on average worse in some regard than the designated “oppressor” group, that is taken as virtually unassailable proof of “oppression.”
The third claim is that “peaceful dialog and understanding between the groups is impossible since the dominant group’s strategy is to retain its power.”
Woke theorists have posited that the “oppressed” have a uniquely valuable perspective on reality unavailable to the “oppressors.” Meanwhile, they say, “whiteness” or “white heteropatriarchy” can’t help but to try to maintain its “hegemony.” Even if it does things that benefit members of other groups, such as by abolishing slavery or giving women and blacks the right to vote, it’s still done out of self-interest and in order to further entrench its institutions and norms and thus ensure the “privilege” of its members.
Proponents of the ideology engage in dialogue between themselves, but with everybody else the communication is supposed to generally flow in one direction—that of acceptance of their views. Any challenge to the ideology is labeled as self-serving or even as an assault on the “oppressed.”
Finally, the ideology at least implicitly acknowledges that “because of the above, violence is justified to eradicate the inequities,” the documentary says.
“From my experience, they (to the degree they can be grouped together enough to call them ‘they’) tend to advocate for violence against those oppressing and equate it to laudatory behavior; hence, ‘punch a Nazi,’” author of the documentary, Curt Jaimungal, told The Epoch Times via email.
“I have catalogs of tweets, written statements, and videos of people ranging from students to [professors] explicitly calling for violence and downplaying the violence of those on the left when compared to the right,” he added, not because of intensity or frequency of such violence, but because of the so-called “nobleness of the extreme left’s position.”
These four tenets, Jaimungal demonstrated in the documentary, are common to many of the most brutal massacres and regimes of the 20th century, from the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany to communist China and the Rwandan genocide.
In each case, an entire class of society is painted as unfairly privileged and as such inherently oppressive, with little regard to specific actions of the individual members of the group. Meanwhile, disagreement with or mere disinterest in this classification is taken as support for the perceived oppression. With reconciliation through dialog taken off the table, the only remaining recourse is conflict—a “revolutionary” action where violence is seen as inevitable and, ultimately, preferable.
“Too few people know about the ceaseless carnage that took place under the masthead of the isomers of equity,” Jaimungal narrates in the documentary.
He said he avoided using examples of atrocities committed as a consequence of the totalitarian nature of the various regimes.
“I am careful to only list or only talk about the deaths associated with the philosophical doctrine of group guilt and class guilt,” he said.
Proponents of socialism commonly argue that the movements that led to these tragedies were commandeered or hijacked by people that didn’t really believe in the ideology. But they have tended to level the argument retrospectively, after they or their like-minded predecessors initially endorsed the movements and nascent regimes, the documentary points out. Also, proponents usually stop short of detailing how the next attempt will prevent any supposed nonbelievers from taking over.
The comparison between the preludes to past massacres and the current manifestations of the woke ideology is a fair one, as long as it’s not taken as an absolute, according to Erec Smith, associate professor of Rhetoric and Composition at York College of Pennsylvania.
“We’re not saying [a massacre] is definitely going to happen, but we need to be cognizant and remember our history and be careful about what’s going on here,” he told The Epoch Times.
Jaimungal’s conclusions were also recently endorsed by several scholars of totalitarianism, all of whom are critical of woke ideology. They were invited to comment on the film by Pat Kambhampati, chemistry professor and head of the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship at McGill University in Canada.
“The same ideas that gave rise to Curt’s movie and the discussion of communism, we see a lot of parallels and isomorphisms taking place in the West and within academia,” he said during a May 31 panel discussion on topics raised by the documentary.
Janice Fiamengo, retired English professor at the University of Ottawa and self-declared anti-feminist, backed Jaimungal’s argument during the panel discussion. She was also featured in the film.
“As soon as one establishes these oppressor groups and oppressed groups, then when you are speaking supposedly on behalf of the oppressed, you can do nearly anything,” she said.
Gad Saad, evolutionary psychology professor at Concordia University, put forth the point during the panel that people professing utopian goals have a tendency toward eliminating those who oppose them.
“Utopians believe that the world could be a perfect place except for this one group that is stopping the world from becoming a perfect place,” he said.
Another panelist, retired New York University professor of liberal studies Michael Rectenwald, linked the woke ideology’s potential to unleash totalitarian force to its postmodern roots.
Postmodernism introduced the idea of fundamental relativism, professing that there is no objective truth, but instead the powers that be establish as true whatever is in their interest.
While the documentary notes that this notion is itself a “truth claim” and thus undermines its own validity, Rectenwald pointed out that adoption of the notion has serious real-life implications.
“The problem with this is not simply that we have no criteria for truth claims with this kind of notion, but rather it leaves open the possibility that when it has the requisite power behind it then anything can be asserted and can be asserted with force,” he said.
He gave the example of the ideology behind the transgender movement sweeping through government institutions.
“The force of the state is behind it and they can say that if you don’t accept that your child is a boy or a girl when they are the other then you could go to jail for this … or you could lose custody of your child,” he said.
“So when my truth becomes as good or better than any objective truth then we get to this point where the requisite power is applied and therefore we get the kind of authoritarianism and totalitarianism that we saw in the Soviet Union where people were forced to maintain things they knew to be false.”
Memes of Survival
Jaimungal defended in his film not only physical truths, but argued that just as there are “preserved genes” in human DNA that stand virtually unchanged through time and would be catastrophic to meddle with, there are also “preserved memes”—ideas that stand true throughout history and are similarly crucial to maintain, timeless lessons one can find in many religious scriptures and ancient stories.
These ideas are ingrained in humans, but have also been “externalized,” meaning imprinted on the external world in the form of the written word, art, rituals, and so on, he says in the film.
“Our survival depends on these ‘externalized memes.’”
Clinical psychologist and professor Jordan Peterson touched upon this topic during the panel discussion, noting the damage to the Western mythos inflicted by certain scientific theories, particularly Darwinism, and the subsequent substitution of the religious underpinnings of Western culture by an ideological ersatz.
“I could say to the atheists among the group, you know, ‘You’re not too fond of religion. How are you feeling about its replacement?’” he said.
In an “intact culture” a person is “inculturated” by the age of about 18 into “a religious belief that saturates the entire culture,” he said.
“It’s granted to you, it gives you an identity, and that’s what your identity is.”
Western culture has become in this sense fragmented, he argued, as it now lacks such a comprehensive unifying ethos.
Students still come to universities with a “messianic” urge, craving an initiation of this sort, but what they’re offered instead is an ideology, which he described as “a parasite on an underlying religious structure.”
“A proper religious structure gives you a balanced view of the world, there’s characters for that negative part of nature, there’s characters for the positive part of nature, for the negative part of culture, for the positive part of culture. [It] gives you a view that enables you to look at the world and it’s existential permanences, I guess, in a manner that allows you to live a balanced life.”
Ideology, he said, doesn’t serve this purpose.
“You get indoctrinated into an ideology and you find where Satan is, you know, it’s not in you, it’s out there in the patriarchal oppressor, let’s say. And the thing about that is that it rings true mythologically and it is also true because every culture is oppressive to some degree and we’re all crushed as individuals by the dictates of arbitrary society. And kids get into the university and they’re taught this one-sided, lopsided doctrine with a utopian end and it matches their developmental needs perfectly,” he said.
If an ideology is accepted as an intimate part of one’s identity, it becomes difficult to let go of as it provides the person’s life meaning, Fiamengo noted.
“They would actually rather die than admit that they’re wrong,” she said.
Part of the solution, the panelists agreed, would be to restore universities to their original purpose of pursuing objective truth.
We might then add that, as a hate-group, Stop Funding Hate seems to be propelled by racism and sexism. Since the initial team who are presenting shows on GB News appears to be notably more ethnically diverse, and with a better gender balance than any competitor channel, we could say that there can really be only one reason why Stop Funding Hate is trying to rid them of their salaries. And that is a desire to return women to the drudgery of household chores and ethnic minorities to the era of Jim Crow laws. Would these claims be outrageous? Certainly. Would they have any basis in fact? Only if you allow hysterics and catastrophists the right to decide that their interpretation of events is reality. But that is what Stop Funding Hate has been doing. It would be an irrational and blinkered approach — yet it is the logical extension of the world that this vicious hate group has chosen to instigate.