Why the West Has Gone Blind
It is becoming apparent that certain modern frameworks of morality and meaning, held by a vocal and growing minority on the political left, are acquiring an increasingly fundamentalist and religious character. These frameworks can be described as Intersectional-related orthodoxies. The new orthodoxies have arisen primarily within Anglophone countries and Western Europe during a period of remarkable peace and rising atheism.
This essay explores the foundations of the new faith.
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Humans have lived in a perilous world for hundreds of thousands of years. In primeval times, saber tooth tigers, poisonous snakes, and predatory birds preyed on children while packs of wolves and hyenas prowled. Hominid killed hominid, similar to how our chimpanzee cousins murder outgroup chimpanzees today. Furthermore, massacre and ethnic cleansing have been regular features of tribal wars around the world throughout most of the history of the species. For a modern Westerner, it is almost impossible to comprehend the daily stresses our ancestors faced amid continuous threats.
While premature, violent death was widespread in ancient times (and is relatively common among today’s hunter gatherers), the onset of highly organized nation-state warfare in the 20th century spawned an even more dangerous world. For example, 870,000 citizens of the United States and United Kingdom died in World War II, along with 7 million Germans and 560,000 French. The national draft lottery held in the Vietnam War conscripted 2 million young men for military service, 58,000 of whom eventually became casualties. It was virtually impossible to live through such times and not personally know men and women who had been wounded or killed in war.
Conversely, for many people alive today and for Western citizens in particular, life has never been so safe. The fall of the Iron Curtain and end of the Cold War in 1991 left Western nations facing perhaps the least significant external threats in world history. In addition to unparalleled state security, wealthy Western societies have witnessed a profound drop in infant and maternal mortality, a significant increase in lifespan, and new technologies that greatly improve quality of life. Western citizens are currently living in an unprecedented state of freedom from war, while experiencing some of the highest collective living standards in world history.
Joseph Henrich and colleagues recently discovered that people living in this rare environment are very unique in their psychology and moral reasoning. Western Educated Industrialized Rich Democratic (WEIRD) citizens differ strikingly from the rest of the world in terms of self-concept, trust, economic behavior, and reasoning style. They exhibit marked differences even with regard to their visual and spatial cognition. Henrich notes that WEIRD citizens “are some of the most unusual people on earth.” Within this WEIRD categorical framework, Westerners with liberal political beliefs exhibit psychology and moral reasoning that is even more of an outlier.
Evidence suggests that Western conservatives and non-Western adults generally employ a wider range of moral foundations when making value judgments than do secular Western liberals. Moral Foundations Theory proposes that from five moral foundations of Care, Fairness, Authority, Ingroup Loyalty and Purity, secular Western liberals rely almost exclusively on the two “individualizing” foundations: Care and Fairness. In contrast, Western conservatives and non-Westerners typically emphasize the three “socially binding” foundations of Authority, Ingroup Loyalty, and Purity, in addition to Care and Fairness. For liberals, Fairness often implies equality and social justice. For conservatives, Fairness is primarily about proportionality, where hard work should be rewarded, but free riding should not. Liberalism has also been linked with greater openness to novel experiences, and conservatism has been associated with a preference for tradition and a heightened perception of social danger.
Data from the World Values Survey and research by Lazar Stankov has highlighted the fact that Western Europe has become the most liberal (and atheistic) region in the world. The United States has also recently witnessed a substantial leftward political shift, particularly among democrats.
While a wealth of evidence indicates that moral and political traits have a genetic basis, prior research also strongly supports the influence of environmental pressures on these characteristics. For example, studies investigating how people respond to large-scale attacks have found that individuals will often shift toward conservative moral matrices. After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, public trust in American government rose to a level not seen since the mid-1960s. 64% of the public said they trusted the government to do what is right either “just about always” or “most of the time,” up from 29% pre-attack. Surveys taken before and after the Madrid train bombings of 2004 and the London bombings of 2005 also showed increased support for Authority and Ingroup Loyalty, respectively. Further, recent studies suggest a connection between historical rates of parasite and pathogen prevalence and the endorsement of conservative moral foundations. Both the subjective perception of infection risk and the historical prevalence of pathogens on a national level correlate with greater endorsement of Ingroup Loyalty, Authority, and Purity, controlling for GDP per capita.
Traditional monotheistic religion tends to be associated with conservative morality in the West. However, many of today’s secular Western leftists practice what is essentially a novel religion: Intersectionality. In its current and popular form, Intersectionality portrays social reality as an arena rife with oppression and controlled by a white male supremacy that is almost supernatural in power. This new religion has accumulated powerful taboos, particularly around the topic of immigration. As documented by Peter Beinart in The Atlantic, it has become almost impossible in the United States to have an honest discussion on immigration which includes any negative social or economic effects.
Intersectionality is also characterised by a strong aversion to national borders and a dislike of national pride. Ironically, this orthodoxy holds up a monochromatic and hypercritical lens to Western societies, but routinely preaches tolerance and relativism toward non-Western cultures.
Like all religions, Intersectionality has its own jargon, dogmas, and degrees of piety. It is Neo-Marxist in the sense that it views social reality as a conflict between interlocking systems of oppression. While original Marxist theory proposed the vertical binary of the bourgeoisie oppressing the proletariat, Intersectionality can be viewed as a pyramid structure with hierarchical levels of oppression. This pyramid structure was recently illustrated by a graduate teaching assistant at the University of Pennsylvania, who explained, “I will always call on my Black women students first. Other POC [People of Color] get second tier priority. WW [white women] come next. And, if I have to, white men.”
For the most devout followers of this new religion, the designated sacred minority groups must be protected at all costs. When a left-wing German woman was gang raped in 2016, she initially claimed her attackers were German nationals, only later to admit that they were actually immigrants. In an open letter to her attackers, she apologized for what she called Germany’s racist society and wrote “I will not stand by idly and watch as racists and concerned citizens call you a problem. You are not a problem at all. You most often are a wonderful human being…”1
In the city of Rotherham, England, 1400 white girls mostly between the ages of 11 and 16 were trafficked and raped by gangs of predominantly British-Pakistani men. A government report concluded that the local police and city council turned a blind eye to the abuse for years because they were afraid of being called racist. When victims tried to get help, “they were threatened with wasting police time, they were told they had consented to sex and, on occasion, they were arrested at the scene of a crime, rather than the perpetrators.”
Similar child sex slave rings have been uncovered in other English towns. In 2016, Labour party MP Sarah Champion called for an investigation into why the majority of the hundreds of perpetrators have been Pakistani Muslim men acting in gangs that preyed on white teenage girls. She was forced to resign by leader of the Labour party Jeremy Corbyn within a week. Fellow Labour MP Naz Shah claimed Champion’s comments were “Islamophobic” and Corbyn himself wrote that they “were wrong, dangerous, and must be condemned.” Later that same month, Naz Shah “liked” and retweeted a message stating, “Those abused girls in Rotherham and elsewhere just need to shut their mouths. For the good of diversity.”
The United Kingdom, Canada, and Sweden have all signaled plans for the reintegration of their jihadist citizens who travelled abroad to Syria and Iraq to fight for ISIS, the apocalyptic religious organization dedicated to the destruction of Western Civilization and the conversion of all non-believers to their form of Islam. The group is responsible for numerous crimes against humanity including torture, child murder, the re-establishment of slavery, and systematic rape. Quebec MP Gerard Deltell criticized the Canadian plan, saying, “It is as if in July 1945, 60 ‘SS’ members headed back to Canada.” The analogy would be more thorough if it included the fact that the returning Nazi SS members were to be welcomed with generous welfare benefits including the creation of a government agency specially tailored to their needs.
In his book, The Strange Death of Europe, Douglas Murray notes that many Belgian jihadists collected welfare benefits while plotting terrorist acts. “Indeed, Salah Abdeslam, the lead surviving suspect of the November 2015 Paris attacks, had collected unemployment benefit to the tune of 19,000 Euros in the period preceding the attacks. He had collected his last benefits only weeks before, making European societies among the first in history to pay people to attack them.”
The new religion has become increasingly radicalized at an accelerating pace. Just a decade ago, Bill Clinton openly decried “the abuse of our immigration laws” while leftist journalist and editor Glenn Greenwald wrote that “illegal immigration wreaks havoc economically, socially, and culturally.” By 2017, Ralph Northam, the Virginia Democrat and candidate for governor, was called racist by a progressive group after he simply voiced opposition to the concept of sanctuary cities (the state had none). The sanctuary city policy of San Francisco was recently implicated in the shooting death of Kate Steinle at the hands of a homeless illegal immigrant, who had been shielded by city officials from deportation despite a history of seven felony convictions.
Today, it appears that no Democratic Party politician dares to speak of any potential downsides to immigration, or indeed even utter the words “illegal immigrant.” In September 2017, liberal Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi was shouted down at her own press conference by self-described “undocumented youth” who proclaimed:
“First you said you supported a clean Dream Act. And last week you announced that you had agreed and I quote you, ‘To work out a package of border security.’ Your words. Or were you misquoted? We cannot say, however, that we are surprised.”
The fact that Pelosi was even willing to discuss border security was heresy. Jonathan Haidt and Jesse Graham foreshadowed this surreal event in 2012 when they wrote, “trade offs or compromises involving what is sacralized…are felt to be acts of betrayal…” While discussing this new leftist ideology and its rapid spread, Haidt recently said, “We are fundamentally religious creatures…It’s a great achievement to create a scientific establishment and an academic establishment that keeps that way of thinking out. Scientific thinking is not natural thinking. Religious thinking is natural thinking. What’s happening to us in the last few years…is a flooding in of religious thinking.”
Multiple factors have contributed to the rise of Intersectional orthodoxies, the sanctification of particular identity groups, and the growing radicalism and blindness on the far left. Haidt has identified factors specific to the United States, including the rise of a helicopter parenting style that has increased psychological fragility and contributed to a culture of sacred victimhood. Jordan Peterson has argued that the postmodernist thought of Foucault and Derrida has supplied the intellectual foundations for a Neo-Marxist worldview suffused with resentment and fixated on power and oppression. Douglas Murray has highlighted the enormous white guilt that arose as a reaction to colonialist atrocities and 20th century fascism, and how for some modern Westerners guilt has become a powerful moral intoxicant. Many commentators have pointed to deficiencies in Western education, where students are taught extensively about the history of Western iniquities but remain largely unaware of the horrors committed by non-Western peoples, in particular those perpetrated by communist regimes.
While the eruption of religious thinking manifested by the more extreme forms of Intersectionality has many causes, underlying them all is the incredible and historically unprecedented low level of threat in the West. For a species long accustomed to inter-tribal violence, catastrophic plague, and war, this lack of threat has shifted moral phenotypes in a left-wing direction, leading to the birth of a moral matrix that dislikes traditional religion but remains predisposed toward religious thinking. Intersectional orthodoxies thus grew from the moral foundation of Care in the service of the liberal variant of the moral foundation of Fairness. In practice, this has meant that Care has been directed almost exclusively toward the sacred identity groups perceived to be oppressed. Tragically, thousands of girls in Rotherham learned this firsthand.
How the West navigates this new fundamentalism on the left, the familiar fundamentalism on the right, and the recent surge of Islamic fundamentalism, will determine if we proceed to a new age of Enlightenment or regress to the old darkness.
1. See Douglas Murray’s The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam, Pg. 197, Bloomsbury, 2017