Andrew Sullivan is a superb, important writer. I followed him avidly during his Daily Dish blogging years. So happy heâ€™s returned with the Weekly Dish.Â
And in this worldview, individuals only exist at all as a place where these group identities intersect. You have no independent existence outside these power dynamics. I am never just me. Iâ€™m a point where the intersecting identities of white, gay, male, Catholic, immigrant, HIV-positive, cis, and English all somehow collideâ€¦.
Just as this theory denies the individual, it also denies the universal. There are no universal truths, no objective reality, just narratives that are expressed in discourses and language that reflect one groupâ€™s power over another. There is no distinction between objective truth and subjective experience, because the former is an illusion created by the latter. So instead of an argument, you merely have an identity showdown, in which the more oppressed always wins, because that subverts the hierarchy. These discourses of power, moreover, never end; there is no progress as such, no incremental inclusion of more and more identities into a pluralist, liberal unified project; there is the permanent reality of the oppressors and the oppressed. And all that we can do is constantly expose and eternally resist these power-structures on behalf of the oppressed.
Truth is always and only a function of power. So, for example, science has no claim on objective truth, because science itself is a cultural construct, created out of power differentials, set up by white cis straight males. And the systems of thought that white cis straight men have historically set upâ€”like liberalism itselfâ€”perpetuate themselves, and are passed along unwittingly by people who simply respond to the incentives and traditions of thought that make up the entire power-system, without being aware of it. Thereâ€™s no conspiracy: we all act unknowingly in perpetuating systems of thought that oppress other groups. To be â€œwokeâ€ is to be â€œawakeâ€ to these invisible, self-reinforcing discourses, and to seek to dismantle themâ€”in ourselves and others.
There is no such thing as persuasion in this paradigm, because persuasion assumes an equal relationship between two people based on reason. And there is no reason and no equality. There is only power. This is the point of telling students, for example, to â€œcheck their privilegeâ€ before opening their mouths on campus. You have to measure the power dynamic between you and the other person first of all; you do this by quickly noting your interlocutorâ€™s place in the system of oppression, and your own, before any dialogue can occur. And if your interlocutor is lower down in the matrix of identity, your job is to defer and to listen.
Itâ€™s been difficult for me to watch an increasing number of institutions and friends be drawn with little resistance into this postmodernist vortex. I continue to hope that rationality will win out, but itâ€™s difficult to fight against prevailing windsâ€”one grows weary. There is shelter in the storm: Free speech, science, democratic liberalism, and so forth. But sometimes one wonders if itâ€™s enough.Â