Critical theory serves the dominant elites
Has anyone thought to ask why politicians, corporations, universities, billionaires, celebrities, and many others in the 1% network, are going woke? Because they support what keeps them in power. In his 1998 book Achieving Our Country, the philosopher Richard Rorty predicted that elites would throw their weight behind what he called the ‘cultural left’ (i.e. the woke crowd), because it keeps the dominated classes distracted and divided by non-economic issues (e.g. the gender of a toy potato, or what pronoun to use):
The super-rich will have to keep up the pretense that national politics might someday make a difference. Since economic decisions are their prerogative, they will encourage politicians of both the Left and the Right, to specialize in cultural issues. The aim will be to keep the minds of the proles elsewhere — to keep the bottom 75 percent of Americans and the bottom 95 percent of the world’s population busy with ethnic and religious hostilities, and with debates about sexual mores. If the proles can be distracted from their own despair by media-created pseudo-events…the super-rich will have little to fear.
Rorty’s theory generates a prediction. The more friction and division a ‘woke’ issue creates, the more likely it will be pushed by elites through governments, corporations, media, education, and foundation-supported NGOs. This prediction is coming true, literally before our eyes. Just look at last year’s headlines. The more contentious the idea, the more it seems to get traction at the top, and pushed down on the rest of us.
The elites always had lots of help from self-deceiving ‘progressive’ thinkers. In the 1950s and 60s, when workers in the West decided a capitalist (or social democratic) bird in the hand was worth two socialist utopias in the bush, Leftist intellectuals were puzzled. Blithely ignoring the horrors of communist regimes worldwide, and the elementary lessons of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the turtleneck-wearers decided the fault lay not with their own delusions, but with the ‘unenlightened’ proletariat who labored under a complex, multi-faceted ‘false consciousness’.
Frankfurt School proteges soon weaved a web of systemic, unconscious biases on which to blame the public’s lack of interest in the USSR or Cuba as a franchise. Being mostly men, these scholars paid close attention to certain ostensible delusions of classical feminism. Woke pundits concluded that contrary to the extensive medical literature, testosterone has nothing to do with aggression and a desire for dominance in biological males. Oh no, the power of the dominant class (who just happen to be overwhelmingly male) is ‘distributed’ and ‘dispersed’, i.e. it’s everybody’s fault.
Critical theorists claim that men are equally victims. Boo-hoo-hoo. According to the cultural left, ‘Man’ and ‘woman’ are companion ideological constructs in an oppressive conceptual scheme that deludes both parties into believing they should conform to their respective stereotypes. Because woke intellectuals deny a role for biology (e.g. testosterone) in the dominance of a particular group (i.e. men), they are free to argue that ‘maleness’ is produced by, rather than producing, the oppressive system of power. ‘Maleness’ or ‘femaleness’ is about the ideological roles the categories play, rather than about biological determinism.
For example, a Black man is (metaphorically) emasculated by being subordinate to other (White) men. Even if he identifies as ‘male’, he is not allowed to fully partake in — or is not viewed as a paradigm case of — ‘maleness’, lest he dilute that category’s legitimating power. Correspondingly, a Black woman who marries a White man can, by sharing in his status, partake in both ‘maleness’ and ‘whiteness’. So the woke view concludes that ‘maleness’ or ‘whiteness’ isn’t a matter of biology, but are more amorphous ideological categories, which people can identify or be identified with in varying degrees, even without the typical biological traits. This semantic anti-essentialism, whereby a concept has no necessary traits, but rather a set of variable markers, is a product of the family resemblance theory of meaning, the flaws of which I’ve discussed elsewhere. Suffice it to say that identifying sex with biological properties does not rule out ‘fe/maleness’ (i.e. gender) having connotations that play an ideological role. Hence the sex/gender distinction.
This idea of concepts as inter-penetrating and intersecting ideological buttresses offers a convenient get-out-of-arguments-free card. Facts don’t agree with you? ‘Fact’ is an ideological construct. Women don’t like what you’re saying? ‘Woman’ is an ideological construct. If you’re woke, there’s no point arguing with your detractors, because their conceptual schemes are ‘incommensurate’ with yours, since they don’t recognize the power structures that underlie theirs. They’re talking apples, you’re talking Foucault. Of course, this gives everyone an excuse to avoid dialogue and compromise. Rather, they withdraw into silos of collective self-delusion. The result? More division, intolerance, and friction.
None of this would matter much if the elites didn’t see an opportunity to capitalize on it. Every kind of institution that supports the 1% has jumped on the wokie bandwagon, because the chance to distract and divide the proles is just too good to ignore. Laws are passed, corporate policies changed, media campaigns launched, billions in grant money poured into woke studies and activism, critics intimidated and cancelled, and people generally cowed into accepting the multiplying divisions in society. When will it end? Only when most of us realize that wokism is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It doesn’t work for us, it works for The Man; and we should treat it — not as a liberating paradigm — but as the tool of oppression and exploitation that it really is.