August 2020: I read this essay and added commentary for Episode 363 of the Everything Voluntary podcast.
I just listened to a Munk Debate titled, “Be it resolved, what you call political correctness, I call progress…” (found here). It was semi-interesting. Much to Stephen Fry’s and my own disappointment, “political correctness” was hardly discussed or debated at all.
Still, what was discussed had my mind bouncing around different ideas on race and gender. Psychologist Jordan Peterson made the point that only individuals have rights (and thus responsibilities), not groups, and when we assign groups rights without responsibilities (his opponents weren’t interested in doing so), disaster likely ensues.
I wasn’t quite sure why at the time, but this brought to my mind cultural Marxism. It was not a term used the debate at all, but it is a term associated with the idea of political correctness. And in fact, I’m not well versed on what it even means, so I did some searching. I read the introduction on the Wikipedia page, which wasn’t very helpful. Then I watched this video explaining cultural Marxism, linked to by the Mises Institute.
The foundational claims made by cultural Marxists seems to be that 1) groups exist, 2) groups act, 3) groups are either oppressive or oppressed, 4) group identity is mostly unchosen, but not always (eg. transgenders), and 5) group identity entails privilege, or not.
As a cisgendered “white” heterosexual male, I am a member of a number of groups that have historically and contemporaneously been categorized as oppressive and privileged. The funny thing is, the only person I have ever oppressed is my cisgendered “white” heterosexual (I think) son. I oppressed him violently, actually.
Cultural Marxists would argue that cisgendered “white” heterosexual males have, at least in the Western world (and for heterosexual males, the entire world), been the group that has oppressed all others, those who identify with groups such as women, “people of color”, homosexuals, and transgenders. Seems inarguable as we survey the history of the West, does it not?
And as oppressors, they have enjoyed political and legal privileges not afforded these other groups. This also seems inarguable as we survey history. But there seems to me to be something wrong with this so-called “critical theory” approach to topics of oppression and privilege.
This brings us to what seems to be the fundamental flaw in cultural Marxism: the refusal to engage in methodological individualism. From the Mises Wiki:
Methodological individualism is the theory that social and economic phenomena can be explained by reference to the actions of individuals rather than groups or collectives. Based on this theory groups and collectives are not entities which can act in and of themselves but only through the action of the individual members of which they are composed.
If instead we approach the analysis of oppression and privilege under methodological individualism, what you see when you look at me as an individual who happens to be cisgendered, “white”, heterosexual, and male is not an oppressor of women, “people of color”, homosexuals, and transgenders. Never once in my life have I done any such thing (except, again, toward my son). Nor, to my knowledge, has my father (except to his children).
And when I look out at my group peers, I see nary an individual who has oppressed anyone (except perhaps their children, at some point). You see, I am not an oppressor, and when I was, it was only toward another single individual. It was never toward a group, nor any of the above listed groups.
For that I consider myself a good person, a good man. And I believe that there are many other good people, good men from “my” group, in this world. And not only my contemporaries, but throughout history. There have been many who have been good men, and most men have never wielded any political power.
Yet here are the cultural Marxists (and social justice warriors), in their fight against oppression and privilege, grouping good men like myself in with bad men just because we share characteristics. I find that sickening. Not only am I being grouped in with violent pricks, but violent pricks are and have been quite arguably the minority of “my” group.
And here as a supposed member of “my” group, I must feel guilty for it’s abhorrent actions and “check” the privilege I supposedly have, which having was never in my control to begin with. If you think telling me these things and making demands on me is going to be received with supplication, you are a certifiable idiot.
I don’t wonder why other cisgendered “white” heterosexual males get pulled into identity politics on the right. I know exactly why. It’s because they’re being accused of doing something horrendous which they have no recollection of doing as individuals. It creates resentment, which breeds radicalism, and when they live in a society ruled by one-size-fits-all policy, which we most unfortunately do, they just might feel like violence, either through the ballot box or not, is their only recourse.
So no, unless I’m totally mistaken on the details, I don’t consider myself a cultural Marxist. It’s fundamentally flawed because it fails to recognize that groups are imaginary and that only individuals exist and act. And further, it seems to call for political solutions, which are by definition violent, and in this case, violent toward individuals by virtue of group identity. No, thank you.