We hear a lot about what is called the “Cancel Culture” and wokeism, especially from those on the political right who see these forces as threatening our civilization with its law and order. I’ve seen many on the right such as Tucker Carlson or Sean Hannity bemoan this destructive trend but without offering a good explanation why this is happening or what can be done to stop it. For explanations of the ideas behind these forces of deconstruction I recommend Stephen Hicks’ book Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault and Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity―and Why This Harms Everybody by Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay.
I would now add Marcuse-Anon: Cult of the Pseudo-Intellectual, an insightful essay by Matt Taibbi, who writes for Rolling Stone and wrote books such as Hate Inc.: Why Today’s Media Makes Us Despise One Another. Taibbi comes from a journalist background and is politically on the left. However, I’d say he is closer to being a traditional liberal than a progressive one. His essay builds a case for explaining a lot of what is happening stems from Herbert Marcuse, a Marxist philosopher. My blog post won’t be able to do justice to Taibbi’s article, so I won’t try to summarize his argument or key points here. Instead, I’ll share some key quotes that stood out.
Here are selected quotes from different parts of the essay.
Most Americans have never heard of him — he died in 1979 — but his ideas today are ubiquitous as Edison’s lightbulbs. He gave us everything from “Silence Equals Violence” to “Too Much Democracy” to the “Crisis of Misinformation” to In Defense of Looting to the 1619 Project and Antiracist Baby, and from the grave has cheered countless recent news stories, from the firing of Mandalorian actress Gina Corano to the erasure of raw footage of the Capitol riot from YouTube.He was the real-world embodiment of Orwell’s utopian linguists who were impatient to rid the world of all those annoying words for shades of difference. Once you have a lock on “good,” why bother litigating degrees of its opposite? Bad is bad. He thought in binary pairs, and freely conflated concepts like inadequacy, misgovernment, and indifference with cruelty, repression, persecution, and terror, a habit of mind that’s inspired a generation of catastrophizing neurotics who genuinely don’t know the difference between disagreement and an attempt on their lives.We saw it in health officials who went from condemning anti-lockdown protests to, a week or two later, declaring that racism — not on their radar prior to the murder of George Floyd — was a “lethal public health issue” superseding the pandemic. We saw it with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez applying the transitive property of whatever nineteen times over to make Ted Cruz’s decision to refuse certification of the Electoral College mean he was “trying to murder me” and “almost had me murdered.” Same with the New York Times employees who declared their lives were thrust in peril by soon-to-be-fired editor James Bennet’s decision to run an editorial by Senator Tom Cotton.Summing up, this is a theory of an intellectual elite forced to seize absolute power on behalf of racial minorities, the disabled, and other oppressed groups, while canceling free speech and civil rights for all others, and especially for the corrupted mass of working-class people, who are no friends of the revolution but actually ignorant conservatives obstructing the road to “pacification and liberation.” Does this sound familiar?
It does indeed sound all too familiar!
I find Taibbi’s respect for facts and objectivity refreshing so I always look forward to his commentary and analysis, even when I disagree with him. These disagreements give me the chance to test my beliefs.