In a previous posting, I hinted that activism is prone to developing into a secular cult:
In summary, I am proposing that activists are predisposed to radicalization. One causal factor behind this radicalization is manner in which activists tend to retreat into a “safe space” where they surround themselves with people who think like they do. Within these “safe spaces,” radicalization is engendered through intellectual inbreeding among members of the in-group, then defended and sustained using the out-group as scapegoats and threats.
If you think about it some more, activists are quite similar to cultists.
And in another posting, I noted:
I haven’t given this topic a lot of consideration, but the correlation between secularism and mental illness does seem worthy of further examination. What’s more, does the social justice perspective represent a substitute for religion and functions as a way for millennials to find ” a meaningful philosophy of life?” And if so, does this social justice “religion” actually help or make things worse?
Andrew Sullivan recently supported this hypothesis through his analysis of the social justice activists who protested and shut down a speech at Middlebury College. Sullivan argues that Intersectionality is a religion. What struck me about Sullivan’s article is that he noticed what I noticed when watching the video of the intersectionality protesters: they behaved very much like cultists (I’ll put the video at the end of this posting).
Sullivan describes them as follows:
And what I saw on the video struck me most as a form of religious ritual — a secular exorcism, if you will — that reaches a frenzied, disturbing catharsis. When Murray starts to speak, the students stand and ritually turn their backs on him in silence. The heretic must not be looked at, let alone engaged. Then they recite a common liturgy in unison from sheets of paper.
And they shut down the event because intersectionality rejects the entire idea of free debate, science, or truth independent of white male power. At the end of this part of the ceremony, an individual therefore shouts: “Who is the enemy?” And the congregation responds: “White supremacy!”
They then expel the heretic in a unified chant: “Hey hey, ho ho! Charles Murray has got to go.” Then: “Racist, Sexist, Anti-gay. Charles Murray, Go away!” Murray’s old work on IQ demonstrates no meaningful difference between men and women, and Murray has long supported marriage equality. He passionately opposes eugenics. He’s a libertarian. But none of that matters. Intersectionality, remember? If you’re deemed a sinner on one count, you are a sinner on them all. If you think that race may be both a social construction and related to genetics, your claim to science is just another form of oppression. It is indeed hate speech. At a later moment, the students start clapping in unison, and you can feel the hysteria rising, as the chants grow louder. “Your message is hatred. We will not tolerate it!” The final climactic chant is “Shut it down! Shut it down!” It feels like something out of The Crucible. Most of the students have never read a word of Murray’s — and many professors who supported the shutdown admitted as much. But the intersectional zeal is so great he must be banished — even to the point of physical violence.
Like cultists, the demonstrators clearly demonstrate a hive mindset that was obviously generated through indoctrination. In fact, they are so deeply indoctrinated that they work themselves into a religious frenzy with the messages of their own chants (as the speaker says nothing). .
Sullivan also makes some good observations.
“Intersectionality” is the latest academic craze sweeping the American academy. On the surface, it’s a recent neo-Marxist theory that argues that social oppression does not simply apply to single categories of identity — such as race, gender, sexual orientation, class, etc. — but to all of them in an interlocking system of hierarchy and power. At least, that’s my best attempt to define it briefly. But watching that video helps show how an otherwise challenging social theory can often operate in practice.
It is operating, in Orwell’s words, as a “smelly little orthodoxy,” and it manifests itself, it seems to me, almost as a religion. It posits a classic orthodoxy through which all of human experience is explained — and through which all speech must be filtered. Its version of original sin is the power of some identity groups over others. To overcome this sin, you need first to confess, i.e., “check your privilege,” and subsequently live your life and order your thoughts in a way that keeps this sin at bay. The sin goes so deep into your psyche, especially if you are white or male or straight, that a profound conversion is required.
Like the Puritanism once familiar in New England, intersectionality controls language and the very terms of discourse. It enforces manners. It has an idea of virtue — and is obsessed with upholding it. The saints are the most oppressed who nonetheless resist. The sinners are categorized in various ascending categories of demographic damnation, like something out of Dante. The only thing this religion lacks, of course, is salvation. Life is simply an interlocking drama of oppression and power and resistance, ending only in death. It’s Marx without the final total liberation.
It operates as a religion in one other critical dimension: If you happen to see the world in a different way, if you’re a liberal or libertarian or even, gasp, a conservative, if you believe that a university is a place where any idea, however loathsome, can be debated and refuted, you are not just wrong, you are immoral. If you think that arguments and ideas can have a life independent of “white supremacy,” you are complicit in evil. And you are not just complicit, your heresy is a direct threat to others, and therefore needs to be extinguished. You can’t reason with heresy. You have to ban it. It will contaminate others’ souls, and wound them irreparably.
I’ll try to expand on all this shortly (I’m too tired tonight as I don’t live the leisure lifestyle of an activist).
Here’s the video. The ritual begins around 19:00