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At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

What “Caitlyn” Jenner and Rachel Dolezal Teach Us About the “Progressive” Worldview

posted by Jack Kerwick

The events of Rachel Dolezal and “Caitlyn” Jenner are classic textbook case studies in the intellectual and moral incoherence of the contemporary leftist/progressive worldview.

Dolezal is a biologically white person who has spent years passing herself off as black. She continues to self-identify as black.

Jenner is biologically male but self-identifies as female.

In both instances, one hallmark idea of the left figures centrally. This is the notion of human malleability, the idea that there is no hard, stable nature or “external world,” as philosophers call it. The only “reality” with which we’re familiar is a “social construction” that, as such, can be “deconstructed.”

The sky’s the limit.

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Given the similarity of the two tales in this regard, one must wonder why Dolezal has been (almost) universally condemned for living a lie while Jenner, in glaring contrast, has been (almost) universally celebrated.

Some questions and comments for the left:

(1)Both Dolezal and Jenner maintain that the physical reality of their respective circumstances is no obstacle to fulfilling their goals and expressing their true selves, the knowledge of which is widely held to be radically subjective (Who are you to tell me who I really am?). If, then, it is immoral for us to deny Jenner’s claim that, biology be damned, “she” is really a woman “trapped” in a man’s body, then why isn’t it immoral for us to deny Dolezal’s claim that, biology be damned, she is really a black woman trapped in a white woman’s body?

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(2)For all of my lifetime, leftists, especially black leftists, have charged such black conservatives as Clarence Thomas and Thomas Sowell (to name but two) with being “oreos,” i.e. white men trapped in black men’s bodies. Bill Clinton was heralded by some notable blacks as America’s first black president. Biracial celebrities like Barack Obama and Halle Berry, in spite of having been abandoned by their black fathers and raised by their white family members, and in spite of having lived a fairly privileged existence, insist upon self-identifying as “black.”

In other words, the words and actions of leftists all point to one conclusion: Particularly in regard to “blacks,” race is not only—maybe not even—fundamentally biological. Ideology or culture has at least as much, and probably more, to do with being black than mere physical reality.

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Besides this, don’t leftists insist that “race” is just a social construct, that there are no races save the human race?

So, why should anyone who accepts any of this have problems with Dolezal identifying herself as black?

(3)Gender, like race, is also a social construct, according to leftists. This, I suppose, is why the rest of us have been lectured on the need to accept at face value Bruce Jenner’s claim to being a woman, irrespective of all of the physical evidence to the contrary.

At the same time, though, doesn’t this line about the socially constructed nature of gender identity actually contradict the idea that Jenner is, by nature, a woman inhabiting a man’s body?! If there is nothing natural about gender—if the body is just an external trapping—then there is no reality underneath the surface, right?

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And if gender roles are in principle the products of time and place, then isn’t it so that in self-identifying as a woman because, for example—and this is the only example that he’s given for his claim to really being a woman—Jenner enjoys dressing in women’s clothing, that he proves just how confused he is on this question? Doesn’t he prove that, far from being an icon that promises to advance the cause of the trans-gendered community, Jenner is a retrograde that threatens to plunge us back into the bad old days when it was held that there really are women’s and “men’s” clothing?

(4)A colleague of mine expressed the standard leftist objection to Dolezal’s self-identifying as black when he argued that, not having been born with a black body, Dolezal can’t relate to and, hence, shouldn’t be able to capitalize upon the suffering that those with black bodies have historically had to endure in America.

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However, for a very long time, the left has been making similar assertions regarding women. Women, we are constantly assured, are as well victims of centuries and millennia of male patriarchal, sexist oppression.

Well, this being so, isn’t it unjust for Bruce Jenner to capitalize on the suffering that being a woman invites? After all, given that he/she has lived as a man for some 65 years, Jenner has never had to endure the indignities and hardships, the exploitation, to which women are regularly subjected. Thus he can’t relate, can he (or she)?

If the rest of us are having a tough time keeping up with progressivism, we should take comfort in the fact that we are not the problem.

The problem is the progressive’s worldview itself.

 

 

 

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The Last of the True Progressives Weighs in More on Caitlyn Jenner

posted by Jack Kerwick

Leon Marlensky (an alias for a fellow academic who wishes to remain anonymous) elaborates more on his disgust over, as he sees it, the betrayal of progressivism as revealed via the coverage of the Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner issue.

To Those of You Who Claim to be Progressive:

No event in the pop culture more attests to the right-wing’s hold over it than the celebration visited upon the Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner phenomenon.

Notice, the narrative here—Jenner has all along really been Caitlyn, a woman trapped inside a man’s body from which she deserves to be emancipated—expresses the same mind-body dualism that has been used from at least the time of Plato to justify all manner of oppression.

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From the perspective of this invidious ontology, a person is “essentially” his or her mind; he or she just happens to have a body. What this in turn means is that one’s body is fundamentally no different than any other object that one happens to own. And like any other object or thing that one owns, it is at the mercies of the mind’s desires.

“Feminists” have realized that the gender oppression that has defined Western civilization for all of its history ultimately turns on the binary opposition of mind/body, for mind has always been masculinized and the feminine, equated with mindless matter, subordinated to it.

However, what “feminists” give with one hand they take with another: No group of people have done more to entrench reactionary politics in America than “feminists.”

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For starters, the very name “feminism” legitimizes the burdensome masculine/feminine distinction. In doing so, “feminists” as well legitimize the mind/body dualism that is the locus of the oppression that pervades Western structures of power.

Even beyond the name, however, “feminists” have perpetuated the subjugation of the estrogen-endowed, the environment, animals, plants, people of color, homosexuals, etc. by way of the standard argument that they use to substantiate abortion. When it is claimed that abortion is morally right because “women”—a word, like “feminine,” that denigrates for its implication that the estrogen-endowed derive both their being and their worth from men —“own” their bodies, it should be obvious that matter is once more trampled underfoot.

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It isn’t, then, just the prenatal entity growing in the mother’s womb that now becomes but another commodity in a merciless capitalist system. Since land, water, air, animals, and plants are treated as manifestations of body or mindless matter, they too are now transformed into the properties of those who lay claim to them. If a woman owns her body and, thus, can and should be permitted to use it for whatever purposes she deems fit—including those purposes of self-mutilation (“sexual reassignment surgery”) or killing a fetus for occupying her body without her express “consent”—then nothing that lacks, or is deemed to lack, rationality is immune to the depredations of an avaricious mind.

There is another crucial respect in which Caitlyn Jenner’s public debut revealed the incorrigible bigotry against the chromosomally female that still saturates our culture: When Caitlyn debuted, she did so in such a way as to reinforce the most invidious stereotypes regarding “women.”

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Caitlyn splashed her face and body across the cover of a tremendously popular magazine as a sex symbol.

As if matters weren’t retrograde enough, along with her collaborators at Vogue and to the satisfaction of her accomplices throughout the rest of the media and the popular culture, Caitlyn made sure that she exemplified a Eurocentric conception of beauty—the same conception that has been equated with Beauty itself and, thus, wielded as but another instrument in the degradation and humiliation of non-European peoples.

In affirming mind/body dualism—to repeat, the position that one’s true or essential identity is one’s mind—Caitlyn Jenner and her millions of admirers affirm another pernicious fiction that, unsurprisingly, is also traceable to the ancient Greeks: the dichotomy between nature and artifice. By insisting that she is really a woman, Jenner insists that she is essentially, by nature, a woman.

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But gender identity is not a brute fact given by “nature.” Gender, by which we mean gender roles—it can mean nothing else—is a social construct. Self-avowed leftist progressives, before the Age of Jenner dawned upon us, claimed to know this. Yet if gender is socially constructed—and it is—then the gender-determinism on exhibit in the case of Jenner isn’t just nonsense; it is nonsense on stilts, to borrow Jeremy Bentham’s colorful phrase.

Caitlyn Jenner—it is no surprise that she is a conservative, Christian Republican—has scored a huge victory for the radical right-wing. Yet she never could’ve done it without faux leftists in her corner.

Sincerely,

Leon Marlensky, Ph.D. Literary Studies and Studies in Global Justice (University undisclosed)

 

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The Right Has Won: The Last of the True Leftists Speaks

posted by Jack Kerwick

“Leon Marlensky” is an alias that a fellow academic insists upon using in order to protect his identity. “Leon” insists that he is the last of the true leftists, that “the right,” as he calls it, has won.  The coverage of the Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner and Rachel Dolezal events proves this, Leon argues.  This makes for an interesting read, for Leon Marlensky is nothing if not consistent–at least most of the time.

To Those of You Who Claim to be Progressive:

There is much talk these days about the “leftward” drift of American society. To hear the right tell it, from academia to Hollywood, from the media to Washington, “the left” controls virtually every precinct of our culture.

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If only it were true.

Tragically, there is no left. Not any longer. Even the rhetoric of self-styled “leftists” betrays the near total extent to which our society remains captive to a regressive political agenda.

The right-wing is winning.

No, it has won.

No event in the pop culture more attests to this than the celebration of Bruce Jenner’s “transition” to “Caitlyn.”

To hear Jenner—and his legions of admirers—tell it, there is no sex change here: “Bruce” was born Caitlyn. “Bruce” had always been a mask that Caitlyn, due to the tragedy of having been born into some male’s body, had been forced to wear. But now, at long last, she can shed this vessel and assume one that she finds more congenial to her gender.

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What an awful story.

And it is awful precisely because it perpetuates precisely the same mind-body dualism that has been used from at least the time of Plato to justify all manner of oppression. Since, from the perspective of this invidious ontology, a person is “essentially” his or her mind, he or she just happens to have a body. What this in turn means is that one’s body is fundamentally no different than any other object that one happens to own. Thus, the body, having but a contingent relationship to the mind to which it belongs, is objectified, denigrated, another resource to be expropriated courtesy of the exploitative designs of the mind that rules over it.

In their more honest and sober moments, “feminists”—I hate this word—have realized that the gender oppression that has defined Western civilization for all of its history has depended upon casting thought in terms of the binary opposition of mind/body, for the latter has paralleled that of masculine/feminine inasmuch as the “feminine” has been depicted at the level of body while masculine has been associated with mind.

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Yet now these same feminists, along with every other troglodyte, celebrate from the hilltops Bruce Jenner’s “transition” to Caitlyn Jenner.

Of course, this is scarcely the only time that “feminists” have doomed themselves.

For starters, the very name of “feminism,” far from so much as ameliorating, much less eliminating, gender oppression, only serves to strengthen it. Again, the masculine/feminine binary has just as long of a history in the West as does that of the mind/body. There’s a reason for this: In practice, the two are inseparable. “Feminists” legitimize these binaries. In doing so, they legitimate both the idea that there really is an “essential” difference between men and women and the idea that women, as the “natural” counterpart(s) to body, deserve to be ruled by men.

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“Feminists” have also argued for abortion on grounds that reinforce mind/body dualism: When it is claimed that abortion is morally right because “women”—another word, implying as it does that women derive their being and worth from men, is radically self-defeating—“own” their bodies, it should be obvious that the body generally and women’s bodies in particular are objectified. However, objects are mere means toward the ends of those who, by nature, lord it over them.

Do you see where this thinking gets us? It isn’t just the prenatal entity growing in the mother’s womb that now becomes but another commodity in a merciless capitalist system. Since the environment generally, and animals and plants specifically, are manifestations of body or mindless matter, they too are now transformed into the properties of those who lay claim to them. If a woman owns her body and, thus, can and should be permitted to use it for whatever purposes she deems fit—including that of killing a fetus for occupying her body without her express “consent”—then to the extent that humans, being minds, can make property claims to all other mindless beings, humans can and should be permitted to use animals and plants in whatever ways that they wish to use them—even if this means destroying them for fun.

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This mind/body dualism that has blighted the Western imagination since nearly its inception has and continues to account for all manner of degradation and brutality. Yet the Republican conservative Caitlyn Jenner—it is wholly unsurprising that she is a right-winger—and her “progressive” allies have just done more to market it than anyone of recent memory. Plato would be proud.

Though in the common parlance these evils are none other than “racism,” “sexism,” “homophobia,” “colonialism,” “imperialism,” and the like, common usage reflects and exacerbates the hegemonic rule of Eurocentric thought over the rest of the globe.

The notion that, for example, “racism” is an evil is a function of the notion that “the individual” assumes moral priority. In other words, if it is true that “racism” is a great evil, then “individualism” is normative. But “individualism” is a uniquely Eurocentric or Western moral doctrine. By promoting the idea that “racism” is an evil, people of European descent are guilty of doing what they’ve been doing for centuries.

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They are guilty of coercing, whether overtly or subtly, by a thousand cuts, as it were, those outside of their group into accepting their own vision of morality.

What a vision this is.

This bourgeois doctrine of “individualism,” indispensable as it is to the rise and legitimation of the savage capitalism that has reduced everything that it touches to things to be bought and sold, is only kept alive by packaging evils in terms of “racism” and the like.

Discourse over issues of race and “racism” is another area that puts the lie to the fiction that the left has achieved some sort of cultural dominance.

Right now, a young estrogen-bearer by the name of Rachel Dolezal is at the heart of a media-contrived controversy. Even though Dolezal, the president of the Spokane (Washington) chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), is of European descent, she claims to be “black.”

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This is the controversy.

A reporter asked Dolezal if she was “African-American.” To her credit, Dolezal responded with incredulity, insisting to the reporter that she didn’t understand his question.

If the left was a real influence in this country, the question itself would’ve been seen for the racially inflammatory—the “racist”—garbage that it is.

The term “African-American” is offensive. First, no inhabitant of the land mass referred to as “Africa” ever used this name until it was assigned by Europeans. “African” has etymological roots in Latin, the language used by the Romans. There was no “Africa” until the Romans declared it so.

As for “America,” this name too is of European lineage, for what we now know as America was named after the Italian explorer, Amerigo Vespucci. “African-American” is a Eurocentric fiction, a category straightjacket within which people of European descent seek to corral and trap those with salient Negroid features.

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“Black” is just as racially offensive as the term “African-American.” White/black are among those binary oppositions that Westerners have relied upon to oppress those deemed more like body and, hence, inferior. Furthermore, “black” is another category that people of European descent invented to render invisible the diversities that exist among those taken from “Africa.” “Black” implies not white. With one simple word, the personhood of hundreds of millions of human beings around the globe is eliminated.

A true leftist, a consistent leftist, wouldn’t need for all of this to be spelled out.

Sincerely,

Leon Marlensky, Ph.D. Literary Studies and Studies in Global Justice (University undisclosed)

 

 

 

 

 

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Academia, Mental Conformity, and Evil

posted by Jack Kerwick

St. Louis University, a Roman Catholic institution of “higher learning,” capitulated to student and faculty demands to remove a 19th century statue from campus.

The statue, which commemorates the missionary efforts of Jesuit priest, Pierre-Jean De Smet, depicts the latter on an elevated platform holding a cross over the heads of two American Indians.

The school paper, The University News, featured an editorial by SLU student, Ryan McKinley. According to McKinley, the statue deserves to be removed from campus because it reflects “a history of colonialism, imperialism, racism and of Christian and white supremacy.”

Ironically, it’s a shame that this event gained national news coverage, for in doing so, the public risks receiving the impression that there is something unusual afoot at SLU.   However, the tragic truth of the matter is that the anti-Western ideology—and, hence, the anti-white, anti-Christian, anti-American, anti-male ideology—underwriting the fuss over the De Smet statue is the conceptual lens of the whole academic world.

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But it’s even worse than this: The ideology on display at SLU transcends academia, for it is the Zeitgeist of contemporary Western and American culture.

What all of this in turn means is that academics are guilty on three scores.

First, they stand convicted of preaching an ideology—any ideology—while they should have been teaching.

Secondly, in advancing the anti-Western ideology that is our culture’s dominant worldview, academics are guilty of promoting an especially pernicious ideology.

Thirdly—and this is the most egregious of the crimes for which they stand condemned—academics are guilty of promoting an ideology that is their culture’s dominant worldview, i.e. the status quo.

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When Hannah Arendt observed the trials of Nazi war criminals, she claimed to have been struck by “the curious, but quite authentic, inability” on their part “to think.” It is this phenomenon, Arendt noted, and not any especially wicked motives, that accounted for the Holocaust. Neither Adolph Eichmann nor any of his partners in crime were inclined to think beyond their stock of conventional phrases and clichés. This inability or unwillingness to think critically is inseparable from, if it isn’t identical with, an inability or unwillingness to exercise self-rule or autonomy: the defendants were only interested in obeying others.

Of course, Arendt knew that there was nothing unique about the Nazis in this regard. Most people much of the time and all people some of the time succumb to the temptation to relinquish critical thought. After all, it is far easier to go along in order to get along. It requires no courage, no mental exertions, to conform to prevailing opinion, to “obey.”

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Yet this inability to think, to obey The Majority, has given rise to the worst sorts of evils.

It is this inclination toward mental conformity that accounts for the readiness with which otherwise reasonable, intelligent people imbibe the ideology of the students and faculty at St. Louis University. It is this inclination that explains the seeming inability of such folks to think or speak beyond the ideology’s stock terms.

“Colonialism;” “imperialism;” “racism;” “white supremacy;” “Christian supremacy”—these are the soundbites, the talking points, the bumper sticker slogans, that define both the substance and the boundaries of the PC Zeitgeist. A Taoist scholar once wrote that every “ism” is a “wasm.” His point is that once a current of thought has been abstracted from its place in the complex of mental activities and frozen as a doctrine, an “ism,” it has been divested of the dynamic character, the nuances and open-endedness that originally made it a living belief.   The dogma that replaces it is necessarily an oversimplification, a caricature.

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It’s of no surprise that our student and faculty activists at SLU (and everywhere else) must think in terms of “isms.”

Yet, as I mentioned, students don’t start learning about the “isms” once they get to the university. Regrettably, the ideology that their professors reinforce in the college classroom is the same ideology on which their minds have been fed by the larger culture all of their lives.

From their first day in college, students are disposed to acquiesce in the ideology with which their professors will besiege them for the next four (or more) years. So, rather than inculcate in students those intellectual virtues—curiosity, daring, discernment, and excitement—necessary for challenging the prejudices that they’ve inherited from the larger society, faculty strengthen those prejudices.

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In doing so, faculty strengthen their students’ “curious, but quite authentic inability to think.”

But in burdening them with this handicap, the self-same professors who ache to make their students into little saviors of the world actually frustrate the pursuit of their own goal, for, as Arendt observed, the inability or unwillingness to think—to cultivate individuality—all too often translates into the ability and willingness to aid and abet evil.

Edmund Burke famously said that the only thing that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. He was right. However, there are plenty of reasonably decent people that may not be aware that evil is in their midst if they lack the ability, or the willingness, to genuinely, thoroughly, think about the ideas that “everyone” accepts as true.

As for those who dare to think, they don’t have their college professors to thank for it.

 

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