In the previous articles, we looked at the development of postmodernism as a reaction against the modern world, including particularly the rejection of Western cultural superiority, white racial superiority, colonialism, and industrialization, which was identified not only with Western ideas of progress but with pollution and environmental degradation. We also looked at Gramsci and the Frankfurt School, noting that their ideas have helped set much of the agenda of the modern progressive movement. In this article, we will look at ways in which postmodernism and Cultural Marxism interact in shaping worldviews and policy in America today.
Setting the Agenda
We need to begin with the postmodern idea of reality as a social construct. By this, as we have seen, the postmodern thinker means that everything we think we know about the world and about reality comes from our cultural interpretations of what we experience. These interpretations may or may not accurately reflect reality as it exists. Objective knowledge of the world is impossible since all our thinking is filtered through cultural (or possibly other) lenses that we can never transcend.
This has enormous implications for society, particularly for people influenced by Cultural Marxism. The Cultural Marxist believes that the barrier to a more just and fair society is the worldview of the elites that is then adopted by the masses. This shapes culture and thus shapes what is accepted as reality.
This insight, then, determined the agenda for Cultural Marxists and progressives: they set out to take control of the levers that control culture and thus to change what people understand as truth, reality, justice, good and evil, etc. So how do you do this? There are a variety of approaches, including:
- Control of media: what you consume shapes how you think
- Control of education: inculcate the values and ideas you want to see embodied by the next generation
- Control of government: use legislation, regulation, and the judiciary to impose your views on the country
- Control of language: if you control what people can say and how they can say it, you control what they can think
Ultimately, like Marxism and all other Utopian systems, this is a totalitarian program aimed at controlling not only all of culture, but also our private thoughts and even our consciences. Failure to do so means the Utopia might not arrive.
Oppressors and Oppressed
So, what is the nature of the Cultural Marxist Utopia?
Classical Marxists believe that the fundamental contradiction in society is between the owners or the means of production and the workers who actually do the work of production. History’s trajectory is bent toward the liberation of the workers: They will eventually seize control of the means of production, and thus the workers will become the owners, ending the contradiction and bringing history to its end.
Cultural Marxists take this basic idea and expand it. Rather than owners and workers, the Cultural Marxist sees society in terms of oppressors and oppressed, defined in much broader terms than in Classical Marxism. Although Gramsci and other Cultural Marxists did not see historical developments as inevitable, everything they advocated was aimed at the liberation of groups they saw as oppressed; many of their followers returned to the Classical Marxist idea of historical inevitability, arguing that liberating the oppressed was being “on the right side of history.”
The Zero-Sum Game
So who are the oppressed? The best way to understand this is to think of the world as a Zero-Sum Game. The world is a fixed pie: In order for anyone to advance or to get ahead, someone else has to fall behind. If I have more, you must have less. The most common application of this idea is in economics: The only way for the uber-wealthy to get rich is through exploitation of the working classes. (This is bad economics, but it is a common idea nonetheless.) But Cultural Marxists see the Zero-Sum Game as much bigger than economics:Tthey apply it systematically to all areas of life:
- Whites have cultural power because they have taken it from people of color
- Men are dominant because they oppress women
- Heterosexuals have a privileged position because they suppress LGBTQIA people
- Christians are the dominant religion because they have persecuted others
- Western Civilization has become the dominant religion globally because it suppressed other cultures
- America is the dominant nation globally because we have abused and taken power from other nations
Postmodern Ethics and Moral Authority
This leads us to the two key themes of postmodern ethics. First, because of cultural and moral relativity and the fact that reality is a cultural construct, the unforgivable sin is imposing your views on someone else: Your views are no better than anyone else’s, and so you have no right to try to make them adopt your ideas about life, religion, morality, etc. In practice, however, this principle is qualified by the next point.
Second, moral authority is also a Zero-Sum Game. Oppression is bad—in many, though not all, cases, it is a result of imposing views on others. Oppressors thus lose moral authority, which means that the oppressed gain moral authority. Thus, people of color are more virtuous (to use an old-fashioned word) than whites, women than men, LGBTQIA than heterosexuals, transgender than cisgender, non-Christians (e.g. Muslims) than Christians, non-Western civilizations than Western civilization, and other countries than America.
In order to gain authority, people influenced by Cultural Marxism want to be identified with a grievance group. This creates some strange bedfellows. For example, some feminists and LGBTQIA activists will make common cause with Islam even though in most Muslim countries ruled by Sharia, women have far fewer rights than men and people who engage in homosexual activity are executed. Or feminists will support transgender rights to the point where biological males who self-identify as female can compete in sports against biological females, and then cheer when the biological male wins state championships against girls.
This seems incoherent, but the Zero-Sum Game implies that all of these oppressed groups carry moral authority, that suffering oppression creates a community of virtue, and that there needs to be solidarity among the oppressed to build a better world.
This solidarity is explained through the recently popularized concept of intersectionality. Intersectionality says that all oppressions are connected and thus that all grievance groups are fighting for a common cause, the end of oppression. Solidarity thus is essential in the face of the various forms of violence, from demeaning words to police brutality, deployed against the marginalized in society.
Intersectionality thus provides an explanation for why people of color should care about gays, why gays should care about Muslims, why feminists should support transgender students, and so on. But it also provides a useful scale by which we can measure moral authority: The more oppressed groups you belong to, the greater moral clout you have and the more authoritative your voice.
For example, African Americans are oppressed, but whites aren’t; women are oppressed but men aren’t; gays are oppressed but straights aren’t. An African American woman is more oppressed than an African American man or a white woman, and if she is a lesbian, she is even more oppressed. The intersections of these various forms of oppression give us the term intersectionality. And it is precisely the voices of those who fall into multiple grievance categories who are seen as having the most important things to say about any issue related to oppression.
What if you do not fall into many or even any of the oppressed groups? Is there any hope for you? Yes, but only if you are “woke,” meaning that you endorse and embrace the cause of the various oppressed groups, agree with intersectionality, leave your tribe, and join the fight for “social justice,” meaning unconditional support for all the marginalized groups. This is what passes for salvation in the Social Justice Gospel, and while it applies especially to white heterosexual males, it should be embraced naturally by everyone in all the oppressed groups as well.
Of course, different groups or individuals will focus on different things, and not all of them feel drawn to the whole program; in fact, some groups such as ethnic neo-pagans may explicitly reject many of the assumptions and programs of the Social Justice Gospel. We will begin examining some of these particular emphases in the next article, beginning with issues surrounding gender.