In August of 1619, a ship appeared on this horizon, near point comfort, a coastal port in the English colony of Virginia. It carried more than 20 enslaved Africans, who were sold to the colonists. No aspect of the country that would be formed here has been untouched by the years of slavery that followed. On the 400th anniversary of this fateful moment, it is finally time to tell our story truthfully.The New York Times Magazine
Anti-Racism as a New Religion
In the vacuum created by the decline of traditional religion in America, a new religion is taking the world by storm. This is the religion of anti-racism. If Americans can come to a consensus on anything today, it is that slavery and racism are wrong. The popularity of the best-selling book How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi and the 1619 Project of the New York Times led by reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones attest to the strong desire of Americans to address the legacy of racism.
These popular narratives share themes with a large number of courses on Critical Race Theory taught in major universities that
“view racism as institutional and as baked into both American law and society…. that doctrines such as the intent requirement (the idea that discrimination must be intentional in order to be actionable) as overly narrow and reformist rather than structural in nature.”1Introduction to UCLA course Law 266, Critical Race Theory, https://law.ucla.edu/academics/curriculum/critical-race-theory
Critics of critical race theory argue that it is a narrative disconnected from reason, science, and neutral principles of constitutional law.2For example, Jeffrey S. Pyle wrote in the Boston College Law Review (Vol. 40, p. 788), “Critical race theorists attack the very foundations of the liberal legal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law. These liberal values, they allege, have no enduring basis in principle, but are mere social constructs calculated to legitimate white supremacy.” This criticism describes the way Critical Race Theory is used and taught today, because its doctrines are disconnected from reason and evidence if not opposed to science, and even math,3https://www.hoover.org/research/seattle-schools-propose-teach-math-education-racist-will-california-be-far-behindseattle as a form of white supremacy. But critical theory is not possible without reason, science, or the Enlightenment, and proponents of Critical Race Theory who say otherwise reveal an ignorance of critical theory.
Discussions of race and critical theory should not be simply dismissed because of this widespread ignorance that turns Critical Race Theory into a religious form of anti-racism. Rather, there is a need for critical discussions of Critical Race Theory that could mature university courses into something that could be legitimately called critical race theory. There are a growing number of scholars talking about this problem. Linguistics professor John McWhorter at Columbia University has compared watching the religion of anti-racism taking root in America to watching the rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire. 4 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MPHUu9sAGKo, see also his earlier Atlantic article: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/12/why-third-wave-anti-racism-dead-end/578764/ Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay have identified this religion of anti-racism as a symptom of a larger problem in which a number of social-activist organizations have sought to gain funding and support using the philosophical banner of “critical theory.” This behavior is usually well-intended because the activist, like a religious “convert,” holds onto Critical Race Theory as doctrines held with firm religious belief, not subject to debate or scientific study. Pluckrose and Lindsay see this as fraudulent use of “critical theory,” and used the term “cynical theory” in the title of their book because it uses emotional appeal to manipulate others. 5Helen Pluckrose and James A. Lindsay, Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity―and Why This Harms Everybody, Durham, North Carolina: Pitchstone Publishing, 2020.
Critical theory, as a prominent feature of “progressive” or “post-modern” philosophy has power in its criticism of the limits of science and logic in the pursuit of truth. But science and logic are, nevertheless, immensly valuable in the pursuit of truth. The dilemma postmodernists face is succinctly described by the author of The Meta Monocle:
Postmodernism is a concept now close to the center of public discourse. Some consider it the cause of social discord, while others defend it as an important cornerstone of social progress. In fact, both positions are right, yet we require a clear theory of postmodernism in order to understand why.
So, how can one defend postmoderism while also defending those criticizing or impugning it? The reason is very simply that there exists authentic postmodern awareness of varying degrees of maturity, and inauthentic dogmas pretending to an awareness that has yet to be realized. It is ironic, then, that many people with authentic postmodern awareness end up criticizing dogmas masquerading as postmodern, while people who have yet to awaken authentic postmodern awareness attack those fielding the critiques, humorously defending the melange of dogmas mistakenly perceived as “postmodern.”6Note this blog is written anonymously. I suspect that the author could be worried about university politics and keeping a job if not anonymous. https://metamonocle.com/2021/03/15/on-postmodernism/?fbclid=IwAR3R0qCMqbBHPpbLNIDWzhl-dZcndTacqpz6TkxLa2Jn4xAGjoI12NyEf5I
Social historian Ernst Troeltsch confronted this same problem of faith and reason in early 20th century Germany. He referred to the dogmatic way of clinging to beliefs as naive absolutness.7Ernst Troeltsch, The Absoluteness of Christianity and the History of Religions, Richmond, VA: John Knox Press, 1971, pp. 131-163. Troeltsch was wrestling with the impact of the rational and critical study of Christianity. Many rationalists had rejected religion altogether, and following Nietzsche, many believed that the direction of society was all about power. Although Hitler had not yet taken power, Troeltsch was concerned about the fate of a society that completely rejected religious values that had evolved over centuries and undergird Western civilization. Troeltsh sought to integrate religious and scientific truth in a mature way of thinking that retained religious values, while subjecting them to scientific scrutiny.8Ibid.
When people holding strong inherited beliefs confront realities that falsify those beliefs, they suffer cognitive dissonance. People can react or respond to cognitive dissonance in one of three ways. The first (1), is a conservative reaction, what Marxists often call reactionary thinking, that retrenches in one’s worldview and refuses to look at the evidence that disconfirms it. The second (2), a revolutionary reaction that seeks to dismantle everything in the past because part of it is disconfirmed. This type of reaction, associated with “converts,” still reflects a naive way of thinking, because it views things with black and white absolutist thought that either blindly supports or rejects them. The third (3) a mature response, is to integrate information and to transform one’s one worldview rather than blindly promoting that of someone else. This is what Troeltsch called the “mature way of thinking,” or what contemporary psychologist Ken Wilber would call “integral awareness.”9Ken Wilber, The Religion of Tomorrow (Boulder, CO: Shambala, 2017), p. 406. Wilber also refers to this as a feature of “growing up” that follows “waking up.”10Ibid., pp. 8-85.
Integral Knowledge: Both Right and Left Brain
Let’s look at McWhorter’s observation of parallels existing between the collapse of faith in the Roman Empire and the rise of Christianity to the collapse of faith in the American Empire and the rise of new cults like “wokism.” In both cases political corruption and dysfunction led to cognitive dissonance and disillusionment.
In the Roman Empire, there was disillusion with the leaders and the legitimacy of their rule. They were seen as corrupt, self-serving, and ignoring the needs of the citizens. Christianity was adopted, at least in part, because, before it became the religion of the Empire, Christians were known for their honest behavior. They would not kill, steal, or lie because they believed it was an offense against God. And, they were willing to suffer personal sacrifice and forgive others, supererogatory behavior necessary for healing in society.
After the collapse of the Roman Empire and the proclamation of Christianity as the official religion, several hundred years of “dark ages” followed. In this period the criticism of religious doctrine was not allowed and scientific knowledge generally opposed. The burning of the library of Alexandria , the main repository of Ancient knowledge, parallels the desire of “cancel culture” to destroy knowledge today. Ancient knowledge had enabled Egyptians to build pyramids, the Greeks to build elaborate calculators, and the Phonecians to sail around the world. The destruction of this knowledge, combined with corruption and abuses of power, destroyed the widespread prosperity and the middle classes that existed in the Roman Empire and led to feudalism, which is a variation on slavery.
Human flourishing requires knowledge of the world, not only an official faith and dogma combined with the arbitrary proclamations of rulers. Integral knowledge contains both the lessons of history, like the Ten Commandments, passed on through religious and cultural traditions, and the rational and scientific study of the world we live in, including the study of our traditions. Without integral knowledge, the world is seized by elites with wealth, power, who claim a monopoly on truth to rule over the masses. The dark ages were an example of right-brain suppression of the left brain or religious suppression of science.
An integral approach to society uses the qualities of both the right and left brain. These two sides of the brain can be compared to intuition and reason, or religion and science. Human flourishing was delayed until the Renaissance challenged the monopoly of truth by the Church of Rome. This enabled the rise of science, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment that advanced the study of the natural world, politics, and human society. Advances in science occurred most visibly in the Netherlands and the United States, both of which constitutionally allowed freedom of religion, and thus freedom of thought and reasoning.
The parallels between the American and Roman Empires have been increasingly cited since the U.S. became the sole superpower with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The first parallels were more to that of Rome in its glory, but recently partisan politics, inept leadership, corruption and moral decay have stimulated comparisons to Rome in its decline.
Wokeness and Cancel Culture
It is no accident that traditional culture is being challenged by something called “woke.” The Cambridge dictionary defines wokeness as “a state of being aware, especially of social problems such as racism and inequality.” This awareness is caused by cognitive dissonance related to the effects of discrimination against race, sex, religion, class, and other social groupings. Wokeness is a good example of the revolutionary type of reaction to cognitive dissonance described above—a desire to reject the past and start over with the “woke” in charge. “Cancel culture” is a symptom of naive absolutness reacting against to traditional values associated with Christianity, self-determination, and the American Dream. It parallels the burning of the library of Alexandria, the book-burnings by the Medieval Church, and the pogroms against Jews in Spain. These are all examples of dogmatic attempts by people to destroy those who would question their orthodoxies. The naive defense of orthodoxies that attempts to silence those with other views has not “grown up” or matured into an integrated form of thinking.
“Wokeism” and cultural Marxism, as reactions to social injustice are forms of naive absolutism and do not yet reflect the mature consciousness or worldly skills needed to guide a complex modern society. Rather than displaying professional leadership, this naive absolutness reacts by blaming the problems on straw enemies to expunge. Marx blamed “capitalists,” Hitler the Jews, and now Woke anti-racists blame all whites. This blaming that fails to act with an integral consciousness leads to social division, economic collapse, genocide, and totalitarian power grabs. Labeling straw enemies as “evil” and then refusing to discuss social ills in any way, except to blame others and impose their own doctrines on everyone, is a symptom of immaturity, and a typical characteristic often attributed by these same people to fundamentalist religion. The mature response to the cognitive dissonance who be genuinely seeking through integration of knowledge and scientific identification of, and solutions to, social problems.
The scientific study of religion and society can either falsify or corroborate the truth of religious doctrines and revolutionary claims. Science, as a method used for gaining knowledge of the world, is more open to unexpected findings than promoters of fervently held doctrines. The scientific study of the Bible and Christianity through literary and historical criticism, archaeological discoveries, and comparative religion has significantly informed and challenged fundamentalist believers who blindly accept church doctrines or literal interpretations of the Bible. It has forced religion believers searching for truth to transform into a mature way of thinking.
But this problem of naive absoluteness does not only permeate churches. It is a characteristic commonly found of NGOs, government agencies, corporations, the media, schools, and other social institutions. People and institutions become complicit or remain silent when illogical ideas are promoted because challenging this new orthodoxy might affect one’s paycheck or community standing.
The Need for the Scientific Study of Structural Racism
Understanding and solving problems like “structural racism” need the same kind of intensity of study that has been applied to critical historical, linguistic, and data-driven analysis of religions. Critical Race Theory, which underpins the woke expressions of anti-racism, is taught as doctrine in universities, and those who profess it do not show an openness to its critical discussion from historical, linguistic, analytical, sociological, and anthropological points of view. The revolutionary desire to discard all of the cultural evolution that enabled civilization to reach its current level of complex development reflects a naivete that “throws out the baby with the bathwater.”
Troeltsch believed that elements of Christian teaching, such as the evils of murder, theft, and adultery, had allowed Western civilization to provide a more secure, prosperous, and just life for people. The fundamental Christian teachings of “love your enemy” and “God so loved the world” have pushed the evolution of Western consciousness to transcend group consciousness and encourage Westerners to people of all identity groups to have equal intrinsic worth. This principle of loving all people led to transcending the identity politics that justified slavery in the past, and the decline of this religious idea that promoted the end of racial discrimination, is allowing identity politics and discrimination to increase again.
The abolition of slavery through the Civil War and the Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s reflect the evolution of this consciousness of fundamental equality in the legal system of the United States. This only left a more subtle aspect of racism that is called “structural racism.” Structural racism is not about the relations between individuals, but about the racism inherent in group identities and social institutions. The mature study of structural racism, like the mature study of any topic, needs the integration of the cultural values that guide human society forward and the rational and scientific study of the real world. Ejecting the ideas that all are created equal and the civil rights legislation that followed from these ideas, puts us back as square one, with the views of the groups in power imposed on everyone else as structural oppression.
Misinterpretations and misrepresentations of critical theory by woke exponents of Critical Race Theory have turned it an arbitrary truth rooted in group narrative and social power. We have witnessed a swing of the pendulum from the attempt to replace traditional religion with science, beginning with the philosophy of Descartes through Karl Marx, to the replacement of science with narrative disconnected from traditional religion with the philosophy of Nietzsche through Foucault. Donald Trubshaw has referred to this as “the axiological turn in epistemology” and elaborated on it in his article by that title.11https://theaxiologicalperspective.wordpress.com/2021/03/28/the-axiological-turn-in-epistemology-part-4-the-concept-of-engagement-and-the-societics-of-knowledge/
Structural Racism in Government Studies
After equal rights legislation was been passed, and racism legally expunged from access to work, education, housing, and other remnants of segregation and Jim Crow laws, there are still concerns of inequality among racial and ethnic groups. The naive way of thinking by government agencies and politicians has been to focus the study of social problems by race. Thus on many government forms, like the census, school loan applications, and government job applications, people are asked to identify their race.
The problem with such questionnaires and group identification is they fail to gather all the information that is relevant to solve individual problems. For example, do inner city blacks perform more poorly in public schools because of their skin color, or are they more likely to become drug addicts because of their skin color? Most people think it is racist do ask that question, but this is exactly what social researchers and politicians imply when they attempt to correlate school performance, drug addiction, or other social problems of people with their race.
These types of studies both lead to the wrong solution and promote racial division. I would consider them to be the leading form of structural racism. It is ironic that people cite such studies in the name of anti-racism. Real scientific analysis would correlate poor performance in school or drug addition with a host of other factors, including but not limited to, whether a family is intact, whether family members or peers value education or are addicted to drugs, education and employment of parents, and whether a family is dependent on government welfare. When such correlations are made, such as in the Moynihan Report12 https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/moynihan-report-1965/ it has been shown that race is secondary, if a factor at all, and family life and other factors are primary determinants. Further, such studies usually show that whites, latinos, or asians who do poorly in schools or are addicted to drugs are not that way because of their skin color. Their problems generally correlate to the same factors as African-Americans who suffer from these problems.
Race turns out to largely be a straw-man augment by lobbyists and politicians for purposes of their own funding and votes and has little correlation with factors that will genuinely end structural racism. Rather it turns out to be a major reason for structural racism. Solutions to problems that individuals who live in poverty, do poorly in schools, cause criminal behavior, or are addicted to drugs will not come from simplistic appeals to government money because of skin color. They come from individually helping people overcome poverty, achieve education, addiction, or criminal activity by not addressing the primary factors associated with these problems. This often means (1) solving the problems that cause dysfunctional families and communities that fail provide avenues of success for children of any race, and (2) for interaction with role models who successfully overcame these social problems who can show how it can be done.
It is true that many African-Americans still suffer disadvantages in American society. After the end of legal segregation was ended by the Supreme Court landmark decision in Brown v, Board of Education (1954) and the Civil Rights legislation of the 1960s, the structural problems of racism or no longer related to equal rights. Rather, inequalities today are related to cultural, economic, and political factors that affect the families and children of descendant of African-American slaves. There are institutional factors that are structural in nature that promote racism.
These factors are generally not those cited by educators promoting Critical Race Theory, lobbyists who play a race card to raise money for their own institutions, or politicians pandering for minority votes. Those appeals tend to be based on what we have described as naive absolutism, as they have not been open to genuine scientific scrutiny or discussion but promoted as doctrines that cannot be discussed or questioned. This new religion of anti-racism is promoting structural racism through its attempts to solve social problems through the optics of race, rather than an integral approach that examines the range of cultural, political, and economic factors that disadvantage individuals.
The Moynihan report was an early, but no less, far ranging study than those generally cited by government agencies since then. More studies like this are needed to to genuinely understand why individuals are disadvantaged, and experience economic inequity. Addressing people as individuals, not by members of an identity group, and addressing their problems individually will be the next step to overcoming structural racism–which is being perpetuated by legislation based on people citing racial statistics while leaving out other factors that are the real cause that individuals of all races suffer.