Three stories have defined the summer. First, the “Google Memo”, in which an engineer was fired for presenting a statistical challenge to the company’s governing ideology on gender. Second, the Charlottesville riots, in which a protestor died and more were badly injured at the hands of a member of the Alt-Right. And now we have the resignation of Labour front-bencher Sarah Champion who – like Google’s James Damore – made an empirical attack a governing orthodoxy: in this case, that correlation between ethnic-religious culture and sexual conduct is merely circumstantial.
What did these three stories have in common? All saw the stress-testing of prevailing theory against awkward data. Only in Charlottesville did the news event initially align with the theory (that the West is under greater threat from white-nationalist terror than its anarchist and Islamist counterparts). But even here the factual headwinds were strong: Antifa condoning of illegality had already lead to a pandemic of armed rioting and two intended gun massacres. There was evidence of combatants having cherry-picked their side (“I wasn’t sure if I was racist or anti-racist,” mused one Antifa). Yet the cry of “no equivalence” was strong enough for CNN to remove the word “violent” from the headline of an article in which Antifa inteviewees openly embraced violence. A popular meme which circulated after Charlottesville tallied up more fatalities at the hands of white-nationalists than Islamists: only a closer look revealed the sample was dated from the day after 9/11.
As in the cases of Google and Sarah Champion, the thesis on Charlottesville was being sheltered from antitheses, preventing the development of meaningful hypotheses to address existential issues. A society which fought for centuries to descend from the unbridgeable heights of dogma appears to be ascending them once again: as a result, the political dialectic is breaking down and being replaced by violence. How has this happened?
The mainstream Right sometimes answers with vague grumblings about Cultural Marxism – a bogeyman which is easily ridiculed by the nu-Left as conspiracy theory. Yet return to the horse’s mouth and the vagueness soon evaporates. KGB defector Yuri Bezmenov described the goal of his work as follows: “Despite the abundance of information, no-one is able to come to sensible conclusions in the interest of defending themselves, their family, their communities… You cannot change their mind, even if you expose them to authentic information.”
Sound familiar? It should, because close on a century of intellectual history provides the waymarkers to understanding today’s ideological currents. The need to alter cultural perceptions was first identified by the Hungarian George Lukacs in the early 1920s. He blamed the cultures which had a symbiotic relationship with democracy for the failure of Western proletariats to revolt during World War I. To address this problem, he declared “Western Society is the enemy”. His associates in Frankfurt developed Critical Theory; a philosophical approach which sought to unpack all the bases of society, and Western society in particular. As such, it was willfully asymettrical. One of its key exponents, Herbert Marcuse, wrote in a seminal 1965 essay that tolerance should be a “partisan goal” – extended only to “policies, attitudes, and opinions which are outlawed or suppressed” and withdrawn from “prevailing policies, attitudes, opinions”.
If Marcuse’s “repressive tolerance” was the intellectual warhead, then his contemporary Saul Alinsky provided the delivery mechanism. Alinsky’s seminal 1971 handbook Rules for Radicals instructed social revolutionaries in the mechanics of isolating civil institutions.
Sign up for our free weekly newsletter
Join our ‘Best Of’ newsletter and we’ll send you a weekly email with highlights of what you’ve missed and details of our upcoming live events.
Lukacs’ culture-wide agenda. Marcuse’s asymmettrical tolerance. Alinsky’s cultivated hysteria. All sought both to influence and circument political process.
And so back to the present day.
First, the Google Memo. The broad-based reassessment of both sexuality and gender is not as recent as it seems. Lukacs himself perceived that society was built on family units – so to unmake society, you had to unmake sex. He did so by extending Freud’s theory of ‘polymorphic perversity’ – the stage of a young child’s life where it experiences sexual stimulation from many types of contact – into adulthood. The current trend of ‘polyamorous’ relationships and experimental sexuality is the direct heir to this thinking (unwittingly striking at the hard-won philosophical basis of the Gay Rights movements: that sexuality is not a choice). Yet by allowing itself to be be colonised by a wider political agenda, the LGBT movement – like large swathes of feminism – can now never be fulfilled. Because as long as gender remains, the cultural problem remains; and where the cultural problem remains, the political problem remains. Hence the overt response by Google to the statistical work of James Damore.
Second, the road to Charlottesville. When Alinsky wrote his Rules for Radicals, he didn’t forsee that the same activist tools could be turned against his side. Mainstream “Alt-Righter” Milo Yiannopoulos terms his activity Cultural Libertarianism precisely because it appropriates Alinsky’s tools: hyperbole, mockery, and pushing the boundaries of acceptability. Hence the broader Alt Right includes “Men’s Right Activists”, “Trump Blondes” and continual meme warfare designed to provoke. This boundary-pushing environment proved fertile ground for genuine white nationalists, who enticed Middle Americans to break out of the silo of “white privilege” by embracing white supremacy (a label to which many Trump voters had already been acclimatised by their opponents). To some, flirting with Nazi imagery probably started as the “ultimate troll”. But it is a line which cannot be re-crossed, and now Antifa has the enemy which its name has long demanded.
Third, the hounding of Sarah Champion MP for recounting her first-hand knowledge of the cultural aspect of the UK’s horrific grooming-to-gang-rape phenomenon. Only the previous weekend, The Sunday Times had studiously produced the party line: that to couch these crimes in cultural terms distracts from them. But failing to acknowledge the cultural context is precisely what allowed the activity to continue so widely in the first place. Here we find the inheritance of perhaps the most insidious waymarker: the “repressive tolerance” of Herbert Marcuse. Because what was extended to the grooming gangs – the ultimate in “outlawed or suppressed” behaviour – other than the tolerance of silence? Meanwhile their accusers, belonging to the “prevailing” culture, were suppressed.
The grand irony is that Russia, which for so long actively seeded this thinking, has recently performed a brilliant volte-face to become the champion of the political Right and of traditional social values. Only now that the Left is on the receiving end of Russia’s cultural machinations does it take umbrage at the interference. But it should be no surprise to progressives that Russia can manipulate our culture with such ease: with their agreement, it has been doing so for decades.