What Is Cultural Marxism: A Liberal’s Critique Of The Radical Left
“The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways, but the point is to change it.” ~Marx
We live in an age where people are desperate for simple solutions, but the solutions to the problems we face as a society are by no means simple. A simple answer to a problem is often a good one, but an answer that is too simple is potentially dangerous because it opens the door to ideology. This pattern is arising in disturbingly large proportions on college campuses all across the west in the form of “cultural marxism”.
What is cultural marxism? Well, I guess it depends who you ask. It seems to be a low resolution interpretation of Marx, packaged in a very particular ideological framework that is applied to all social problems. It is taking his discovery of the conflict between social classes that comes up in the development of advanced civilizations, and assigning the same conflict narrative to all categories of people, whether it be gender, race, class, ethnicity, sexuality, and so on.
Jonathan Haidt, Social Psychologist at NYU, grounds this idea. “The key to the new morality is looking at society in terms of power and privilege. The old idea of an education is come to campus and you’ll be taught lots of perspectives to look at a single problem. What’s happening now in a few departments is they are being taught one perspective to look at everything. ‘Let’s divide everybody up by their race and gender and other categories. We’ll assign them moral merit based on their level of privilege, being bad, and victimhood, being good. Now let’s look at everything through this lens.’ So it’s this one totalizing perspective, all social problems get reduced to this simple framework. I think we’re doing students a disservice.” (On Charlie Rose)
Where does it come from? Thinkers like Camille Paglia And Jordan Peterson suspect it has its roots in the influx of postmodernism into Humanities departments in the early 1970s, through the likes of Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault among others. Jonathan Haidt seems to believe it has more to do with the polarization of the left and the right, concerning generational discrepancies in political belief. I happen to think it is more a form of narcissism than anything else, combined with a deep seated historical ignorance and a general existential angst.
Whatever dark and misinformed corner that this particular ideology happens to come from, the issue of cultural marxism is one that shouldn’t be ignored. The implementation of marxist doctrine on a socio-political level resulted in the estimated death toll of around 150 million people in the 20th century, most of it from internal oppression alone (Soviet Union, Mao’s Cultural Revolution, etc.). It has been perhaps one of the most disastrous political maneuvers to ever be pulled, which is why it is so strange to me that these ideas are preached with such an effortless finesse in the University, the one place that is meant to be the absolute beacon of historical and technical knowledge (about 18% of social scientists are self-identified Marxists).
We have seen the results: the anti free speech campus protests at Evergreen State, UofT, Middlebury, Yale, among many others. The disastrous equity policies that were revealed by James Damore in The Google Memo. The rise of identity politics on the left in the form of antifa. The passing of Bill C-16 in Canada, which substantiates a social constructionist doctrine into the very fabric of the law itself. I understand the desire of young people to change the world, but what I can’t wrap my head around is why we would choose to get behind such historically devastating and ideologically driven policies, and I can’t help but feel that this politically correct narrative is fueled by bitterness and resentment for the sheer burden of being human. In times of chaos, people cling to the intellectual effortlessness and righteous indignation that is provided by extreme ideology, and we have seen this across the fields of history.
Alexandr Solzhenitsyn portrays this quite accurately in “The Gulag Archipelago”, a book that displays in grim detail the atrocities committed by the Soviet Union. “Ideology — that is what gives evildoing its long sought justification and gives the evildoer the necessary steadfastness and determination. That is the social theory which helps to make his acts seem good instead of bad in his own and other eyes, so that he won’t hear reproaches and curses but will receive praise and honors.”
I don’t believe that an ideology that has resulted in such an unbelievably excessive amount of chaos and bloodshed can possibly be grounded in compassion and solidarity for the working class. The philosophical and psychological underpinnings of marxist ideology have a direction correlation to the systems that were created by it, and I’d like to try and iron out some of these underlying issues in an attempt to help veer my own generation away from repeating this pattern. The cost of giving credence to this ideology far outweighs the benefits. Here is my case:
1) Power Is Not Always A Bad Thing
There is no distinction made in neo marxist doctrine between individual power, in the sense of competence and influence, and the power to manipulate and oppress other people. The undying marxist emphasis on class warfare would identify power as an oppressive force in and of itself. This is a fallacy. A distinction must be made between criminal power and contributive power. As Jordan Peterson stated in a recent speech at University Of British Columbia, ‘hierarchies have been a biological reality for 350 million years, not the patriarchal invention of white european christian males in the last 300 years’. This is to say there is an evolutionary basis for hierarchies of competence and that not all power structures are socio-culturally created. In other words, power corrupts, but power is not intrinsically corrupt as the marxists would have us believe. Of course western civilization is an oppressive patriarchy, but it also happens to be the most stable and developed system of governance that has ever existed, and much of that has to do with the west’s discovery that the state should be subordinate to the individual. This has come from the myth of the hero, the archetype of the christ figure, which acts as the very bedrock of western culture. This new strain of marxism writes off the hero archetype as a justification for oppression by white male patriarchs, thereby implicitly denying the intrinsic worth of the individual in exchange for a form of collectivism that has proven itself to be a historically destructive political enterprise. So I think to myself.. What kind of person doesn’t believe in the innate power and intrinsic worth of the individual, reduces all human motivations to corruptive power, and makes society out to be one extended power play between various conflicted groups of people?.. And the only thing I can really think of is the kind of person that I probably wouldn’t want to give any power to..
Dr. Jordan B Peterson, clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at University Of Toronto, talks about the consequences of failing to make this distinction. “This is the pernicious thing: The marxists say that ‘the reason that some people have more than others is that all hierarchies are based on arbitrary power and they’re all oppressors. The reason they have the money is because they stole it, from YOU!’ There’s some truth in that, but when you get to the point to where you fail to distinguish the productive people from the criminals, which is exactly what happened in the 1920’s in the Soviet Union, then you better watch out. When you radically make things egalitarian, then you are going to wipe out all of your productive people and then you’re going to starve.” (JRE Ep. 1006 podcast)
2) Class Based Guilt Is Dangerous
Class based guilt is an idea that arises as a consequence of splitting the world into the oppressor and the oppressed (Bourgeois and Proletariat). This is the notion that a particular class of people (today it would have more to do with gender, race, or ethnicity) are intrinsically responsibly for the suffering endured by the marginalized and mistreated segments of the population and should be looked upon as a guilty party that is complicit in the repression of the underclass. “Property is theft! Wealth is oppression!”, were some of the adages proclaimed by soviet revolutionaries. Class based guilt has proven itself to be an inherently murderous idea, because it takes the resentment of the neglected, the downtrodden, the abused, and essentially directs it towards anyone who is more fortunate than them. This is what happened in the soviet union with the genocide of the Kulaks, who were the more affluent and productive peasants that were completely wiped out by the revolutionaries as a result of this intellectual propaganda. The psychological underpinnings of inequality are complex, because someone who is driven by a sense of injustice doesn’t necessarily challenge the the oligarchic structures in a way that creates greater equality, instead they might just go out and murder their neighbor who is slightly wealthier than them. Now, why would we trust bourgeois college students and administrative bureaucrats to stand up for a working class that they have never known or understood? I don’t think this marxist badge worn by upper middle class academics is intended to help the working class on a fundamental level; it is just an outlet for angst and discontentment that is directed towards the the very structure of society itself, in spite of the security and abundance that it has provided for them. There is no gratitude here, and that is something that I simply can’t stand. In other words, the people that promote cultural marxism don’t necessarily like the poor, they just hate the rich. It is a given that the system is unfair in many ways, but this fact is not intelligently deal with by introducing a utopian vision of pure equality all across the board and calling anyone who disagrees an oppressor. Those who proudly proclaims themselves to be a leninist, a stalinist, or a marxist, without a heavy asterix around that proclamation due to the millions of people that were murdered as a consequence of those ideologies, is someone whose intentions I wouldn’t immediately assume are grounded in compassionate. A person’s class, race, gender, or ethnicity does not by default make them an oppressor…
Here’s Brett Weinstein , professor of biology at Evergreen State College, on the issue with cultural marxism. “There’s a lot in Marx’s critique of capitalism that is actually right, so that gets you through the door. Then there is the prescription, which is toxic, but it is not obvious why it is toxic. In other words, it is a pretty good story that doesn’t happen to function. People gravitate towards it because the story is compelling, but it is not game theoretically functional or stable or viable, and it always descends into this inevitable violence.” (JRE Ep. 1006 podcast)
3) Reverse Racism Is Still Racist
Racism is technically wrong. There is more variance among individuals than there are between the various groups, which is to say white people are more likely to be more distinct from other white people than white people as a collective are to be distinct from black people as a collective. This is contrary to the fundamental racist argument that there are more differences between groups than within them, and this argument is now being repeated by the far left. This is the idea of intersectionality, that the various oppressed groups are somehow homogenous as a consequence of their oppression, and are distinct from the groups that are considered more socially or politically dominant. The idea is that by including these groups of people into the socio-political sphere, we are creating greater diversity. The problem here is that the presumed homogeneity of certain groups of people is the very foundation of racism, regardless of what the stated reason happens to be. I am all for inclusion, as everyone should be, but this idea that diversity is achieved by introducing different races, genders, and ethnicities, is merely an equivalent parallel of the fundamental assumptions that are embedded in racism. The neo marxists take it even further, where if there is some sign of unequal distribution between the groups, then it is a form of systematic oppression and a direct infringement of one group upon another. There is a complete negligence of the variability of the individual because all emphasis is put on group identity. This immediately gives me warning signs. Why would we put so much emphasis on group identity, ignoring the variability of the individual, when this pattern is inherently racist from a technical perspective? I wish that I could chalk it up to mere ignorance, but I am afraid that it might be more insidious. I don’t believe that this proclaimed identification with oppressed groups has really all that much to do with improving the lives of marginalized people, instead it may just be an incredibly dishonest way of attaining power by capitalizing on the already existent friction between classes, races, and genders. The kind of person that believes in group identity more than the intrinsic worth of the individual is someone that does not value the role of the individual, and such a person should not trusted if we care at all about our autonomy as human beings.
This is the first segment of my argument. In the follow up piece I’d like to discuss the distinctions between equity and equality, the dangers of social constructionism, and the threat to the notion of objective truth that put forth by this ideology.
On a personal note, I’d also like to add that much of this is written out of concern, not out of hatred or judgement for the people that fall prey to this. Most of them are just young people looking for something to be a part of, and these ideologies provide a community and a sense of solidarity. I want to encourage young people to be more concerned with their impact on the world as individuals in their immediate circles, rather than longing to be a part of a group. This has helped me deeply in my own life, and I want others to feel the joy that comes along with taking responsibility for ourselves.
I’ll end with a quote by Jordan B Peterson in a speech at the University of British Columbia on marxism and identity politics that wraps this all up quite nicely.
“It isn’t necessary for those of us who are trying with the small part of our hearts that might be oriented towards the good, to allow people who are manipulating us with historical ignorance and philosophical slight of hand to render us so god damn guilty about what our ancestors may or may not have done, so that we allow our shame and our guilt to be used as tools to manipulate us into accepting a future that we do not want to have…. and that’s that.”