Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Why, for some small group, is a demonstrable set of unpleasant lies more attractive than the appealing truth?

From Analysis of a Racism Hoax at Oberlin College by Howard S. Schwartz. The Abstract does not bode well.
It is often alleged that American society is racist, even though it is acknowledged that overt expressions of racism are extremely rare. How do people know that it is racist, then? This paper raises the possibility that this claim of racism is based on a projection. Our times have seen an overthrow of Oedipal psychology, in which the father represents objective reality, which gives us no special place. This overthrow has been in the name of the omnipotent mother, who loves us just because we are who we are. She disdains the father. Her children join her in that and believe that the love she gave him, which he was supposed to have earned, had been stolen from them. If it had not been, they would have been untouched by anything but love; an image I call the "pristine self." It has been stolen from some children more than from others, and the task of the other children is to hate the father and love those, paradigmatically of other races, who have lost the most love in the past. The deprivation of this perfect love is projected onto the father and experienced as racism. Among those who adopt this view, it provides the basis for their experience of the world, and of their proper place within it, but it is entirely in the mind and hence rests on faith. They need to keep this faith constantly renewed. I illustrate this through an analysis of the response to a racism hoax at Oberlin College in 2013, centering around an anti-racist convocation, which I compare to a religious revival meeting.
I am generally skeptical of psychoanalysis and Freudianism in particular. But when you read the body of Schwartz's text, there is a lot of resonance with Eric Hoffer's classic on mass movements, The True Believer.

Schwartz uses the 2013 case of Oberlin College where an on-campus progressive provocateur and a colleague plastered the campus with incendiary flyers, posters and graffiti targeting African-Americans and Jews. This incident led to weeks long college "conversations" about institutionalized racism and bigotry even though the police and the Oberlin administration knew from the beginning that it was all a hoax. Schwartz's article has the sorry details.

Here are some concluding paragraphs that seem to me to be contemporary examples of the sort of reality manipulation to which Hoffer alluded way back in the 1951.
We began with the question of the meaning of the charge that racism is pervasive and turned to Oberlin because, in a well documented incident, the racism it found so threatening had been manufactured. We noted that the college administration knew it had been manufactured, but allowed the mobilization against it to continue. We asked why the administration did not take the role of authority and provide a reality check.

The answer I have proposed was that reality had been redefined at Oberlin and that, within that redefinition, the charge of racism was, in effect, structural, and had come to provide the meaning of people's college experience and, indeed, of their lives. The fact that the racism had been manufactured in this instance was of no moment. What is more, the structure as it had been redefined was directed against the form of structure within which the administration had authority. The administration had no choice but to go along with the hoax. The hoax represented a deeper truth, within this reality, than anything conferred by the administration's formal position.

But in concentrating on this single incident, we are, in effect, looking at a snaphot, more properly at what amounts to a freeze-frame in an ongoing movie. For the reality at Oberlin is a moving reality. It is defined as progress toward a goal: social justice or whatever one wants to call it. It is precisely because the goal is not only in the future, but defines the future, that relegates objective considerations to secondary importance.

As we have seen, the terms of reference for Oberlin's reality exist only in the mind, and therefore the motion toward the goal of social justice must be continually reenacted in order to perform its function of structuring people's lives.
Section 56 from Hoffer.
The readiness for self-sacrifice is contingent on an imperviousness to the realities of life. ...For self-sacrifice is an unreasonable act. ...All active mass movements strive, therefore, to interpose a fact-proof screen between the faithful and the realities of the world. claiming that the ultimate and absolute truth is already embodied in their doctrine and that there is no truth nor certitude outside it. ...To rely on the evidence of senses and of reason is heresy and treason. It is startling to realize how much unbelief is necessary to make belief possible. What we know as blind faith is sustained by innumerable unbeliefs.
And Section 59.
The urge to escape our real self is also an urge to escape the rational and the obvious. The refusal to see ourselves as we are develops a distaste for facts and cold logic. There is no hope for the frustrated in the actual and the possible. Salvation can come to them only from the miraculous, which seeps through a crack in the iron wall of inexorable reality. They ask to be deceived. What Stresemann said of the Germans is true of the frustrated in general: "[They] pray not only for [their] daily bread, but also for [their] daily illusion." The rule seems to be that those who find difficulty in deceiving themselves are easily deceived by others. They are easily persuaded and led.
And Section 68
A doctrine insulates the devout not only against the realities around them but also against their own selves. The fanatical believer is not conscious of his envy, malice, pettiness and dishonesty. There is a wall of words between his consciousness and his real self.
Schwartz's final two paragraphs are a warning about the danger arising from the delusion and divisiveness of the Social Justice Warriors and their toxic brew of failed ideologies of postmodernism and critical theory.
The greatest accomplishment of Western civilization has been the development of objective self-consciousness to the point where it is truly universal and where the tribalisms of race have been left behind. In large measure, we can maneuver in that world, on an equal footing, by accepting its universalistic terms, precisely because we are reasonably confident that others will accept them as well. To the extent than any group cannot so maneuver, the doctrine of objectivity provides us with universalistic ways of correcting such a lapse from principle.

But this is exactly what is under attack. And those who have brought it under attack should consider what, in its absence, the alternative can be a except for a bottomless pit of ever-increasing toxicity.

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