The Ideas Behind Today’s Cultural Wars
Post modern thinking arose along with the abandonment of Christianity in the west from the second half of the twentieth century. Some of its early promoters were French and inheritors of republicanism and existentialism. Post-modernism is characterised by scepticism, suspicion of reason and cynicism about political power. More extreme applications evolved rejecting European civilisation as a whole. In American universities critical research theories of race, colonialism, politics and gender spread quickly and widely. Social activism followed. Black Lives Matter and Antifa are examples. Disability and fat studies were added as more minorities sought to articulate perceived grievances. Post-modern Critical Theory and Research Justice ideologies have taken over universities, politics, the media and public discourse in Britain also.
Race and Colour
Critical race theory begins with merit due to the historic abuse of African slaves and the grievous treatment of African-Americans throughout the centuries. It is important to distinguish this American application. Europe never had institutional slavery although collectively it tolerated private citizen ownership of slaves in foreign lands. America fought a murderous civil war (1861 -1865) over the right to keep slaves. Jim Crow was a theatre character giving a racist depiction of African-Americans and the Jim Crow laws legalised segregation in the southern states in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Civil Rights Movement of the nineteen-sixties succeeded in having segregation abolished but continuing inequalities and the arbitrary killing of black men and women by police as late as 2021 acted as a rallying point for a new wave of violent and uncompromising campaigning very different from that of Martin Luther King. The backdrop was and remains the plight of many poor African-Americans. Paradoxically, critical race theory does not emphasise economic issues. It is promulgated largely by comfortably off academics.
Most decent people agree that equality of opportunity means not taking a person’s skin colour into consideration. Critical race theory insists that colour of skin must be recognised as the starting point of socially marginalised identity. It can even suggest that desegregation was allowed only to further white interests. How do America’s many black intellectuals, politicians, artists, musicians, scientists and athletes fit into this model? Postmodern social construction theory holds that race is the product of social thought and relations. Only white people can be racist. Intersectionality holds that different forms of prejudice are meted out to individuals with two or more marginalised identities, for example, black lesbian women. The critical factor is the seeking out of perceived racism and attributing racism collectively and racially to white people, especially white men. This has led it to emphasise micro-agressions, hate speech, safe spaces, cultural appropriation, implicit association and media representation issues in the content of current discourse referred to as the Social Justice agenda.
Post-modern critical research holds that western philosophy is Eurocentric, having largely been written by privileged white men. For that reason it can be rejected in its totality. This rejection extends to science and mathematics dismissing even western concepts of space and time. Such opinion is offered without proof or correspondence to reality. Post-modern Research Justice seeks to replace science, reason, empiricism, universality, objectivity and subjectivity as means of obtaining knowledge in favour of emotion, experience, traditional narratives and beliefs (African, native American, Maori, Aboriginal, for example). However, many indigenous customs and practices were harmful and dangerous. Among the Meru of Kenya if a young couple were found to have had sex before marriage, they were brought to the centre of the village, laid down on the ground, the man on top of the woman, and a wooden stake was driven through their necks. The killing of twins through superstition among the Okoyong of Nigeria was abrogated through the Christian missionary Mary Slessor (1848 – 1915). These examples highlight the lack of perspective and proper evaluation in Research Justice theory.
The term ‘epistemic violence’ is employed to describe the overtaking of traditional modes of understanding by colonising powers. Research justice seeks to admit different forms of knowledge on equal or even superior footing. Decolonisation of knowledge is advocated. Replacement epistemologies are advocated based on identity. No evaluation of colonised belief systems is offered. It is well known that in India in 1829 the British abolished ‘suttee’, the indigenous practice of coercing Hindu women to fall on their husbands’ funeral biers and die with them. What do critical research feminists think of this? Does this colonial reform balance the British massacre of Sikhs at Amritsar in 1919 or the rest of Britain’s involvement in India? Post-modern decolonisation ideology does not compromise. Its logic requires wholesale rejection. Was exploitation and commercialism by the British East India Company offset by the benefits of colonisation to India's peoples; language and literacy, the amelioration of caste, coherent government, democracy and access to the modern world?
What did the Romans do for Europe? What did the Normans add to medieval Britain? Is it not the case that in every time and generation a certain people, nation or empire holds sway over others due to sense of purpose, intelligence (benevolent and malevolent) and superiority of military arms? Is this not true of humanity’s twenty-three empires including the British Empire? Comparisons are required however. The USSR empire was not benevolent. Neither was the Nazi empire. Muslims seek to build a world wide ‘umma’ making of all humanity a single Nation of Islam. Violence is part of their strategy to achieve this. The current Chinese empire is exploitative of nations, poor and rich alike.
The Romans left their language, building expertise, comparative civilisation for the time and the means for Christianity to spread from Judea to northern Europe. The Normans left the feudal society but also the architecture on which Britain’s churches and cathedrals were modelled giving character to so many cities, towns and villages. The British gave up their empire in response to various liberation movements. We retain an empire in name only, The Commonwealth. The American empire has already passed its zenith. It has preserved the balance of competing empires. It has been cultural as well as political, military and economic. Hollywood, Coca Cola, jeans, T-shirts, computers, mobile phones and social media platforms now exist alongside nuclear capability. Scotland, though held to be a nation is perceived by many Scots to have been colonised requiring freedom from its larger once Anglo-Saxon now multi-cultural neighbour. What kind of empire does post-modern critical research theory envision for itself? It is advancing rapidly throughout western institutions, universities, commerce, government, education, media and society. It has become an empire and a tyranny of the mind by identity groups.
Post-modern Social Justice theory holds that history is human made and can be unmade, hence the toppling of statues in racial cultural warfare. Edinburgh City Council placed a plaque below the statue of Henry Dundas (1742- 1811) which sought to balance the hitherto uncritical representation of his life. It read ‘While Home Secretary in 1792, and the first Secretary of State for War in 1796, he was instrumental in deferring the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade. Slave trading by British ships was not abolished until 1807. As a result of this delay, more than half a million enslaved Africans crossed the Atlantic’. The historian Sir Tom Devine contested this language suggesting that the reality at the time was more nuanced and that Dundas could not himself have abolished slavery. He held a debate with Sir Geoff Palmer who became the first black professor in Scotland in 1989. It became acrimonious. ‘Dundas’s gradualism is like gradual murder’, said Palmer, not yielding anything in the argument. There is a sense that black people are saying now what they have been wanting to say for some time. Scotland's greatest philosopher David Hume (1711- 1776) wrote ‘I am apt to suspect the negroes to be naturally inferior to the whites. There scarcely ever was a civilised nation of that complexion nor even any individual eminent either in action or speculation’. Hume was critical of slavery and said so, a less than sufficient mitigation. There is a great mystery as to why sub-Saharan peoples did not advance as northern Africans and Europeans did. Perhaps they had everything they needed in that generous climate. No-one even made a wheel. Recently, an Anglican priest, Rev Jarel Robinson-Brown criticised the Prime Minister’s request for people to clap for Captain Sir Tom Moore and the NHS. He wrote ‘The cult of Captain Tom Moore is a cult of White British nationalism’. His Church obliged him to apologise for the timing and insensitivity of his criticism. This is post modern identity politics. The same Rev Jarel Robinson-Brown published a book called ‘Black, Gay, British, Christian, Queer’ in which he called for the church to ‘associate queerness with holiness’. He criticised ‘ignorant, white Christian men’. His is an extreme perspective which does not correspond to Christian teaching and piety or to common sense social reality.
Incredibly, intersectionalist applications are being used by Muslims to blame colonisation for the troubles of the Muslim world. There is a total and uncompromising denunciation of Britain's past and present. It is held to be as unredeemably racist as America is held to be in critical race theory. Muslims are not a race though. They are adherents of an ideology. A more honest analysis would look at the origins of Islam and of Christianity. Colonisers are also held to be to blame for Muslim attitudes to sex and gender. This beggars belief. Mohammad had 13 wives, the youngest was just a child of 9 years. What of the continuing harems and the polygamy and the summary divorce? Intersectionalist Muslims seek to excuse Islamic violence as a colonial construct whereas Mohammad used systematic violence to establish Islam and expand its power over large parts of the middle east and to subjugate many. What of ISIS, an explicitly Koranic based organisation? Violence is central to the methods of Islamic expansion in sub-Saharan Africa at the present time with terrorising in Mozambique, Sudan, Kenya, Congo, Cameroon, Mauritania, Chad, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and northern Nigeria by Islamic Jihadis including Boko Haram and the self-proclaimed Islamic State of West Africa. The UK Government holds the names of 43,000 resident Muslims whom it regards as threats to national security. Muslim intersectionalists present Britain as being an anti-Muslim state. These mental gymnastics do not correspond to reality. Islam is a colonising ideology which seeks complete dominance over all humanity. Its pathology is rooted in its rejection of Jesus Christ. Thereafter all must be self-justifying even if its logic is false. The proclamation of Islam does not make it true. The brutalism of Islam is corroboration of its comparative regression from Christianity. Muslims living in Christianised countries benefit from their tolerances. They cannot find within their own ideology the basis for the political settlements of the western democracies.
Critical research queer theory holds that categories of sex, gender and sexuality are oppressive and rejects that these are based on biological realities. It claims that a person can be male or female or neither or neuter. This is promoted by sexual minorities who say that gender is socially constructed. They hold that categories such as ‘woman’ causes oppressive discourse. This ideology subverts the evidence that humans as a species reproduce sexually. It negates the very largest majority of women and men in the world. It explains the disproportionate prominence of transgender issues in politics, the media and society. The ideas of such micro-minorities have not only to be heard but are to become the default understanding for everyone. Genesis 1 : 27 reads ‘So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them’. This inherited ancient wisdom which corresponds to physical reality on earth must be discarded along with the universal relevance and application which it implies. Christianity, which was and remains for many the vehicle for the expansion of this factually based human understanding must be also discarded as patriarchal and sexist. Paradoxically, queer research theory uses modern techniques to argue that binary description does not take account of variations of emphasis in human sexuality, male and female. If gender is socially constructed does this not mean that queer ideology is also socially constructed and is not biologically based? There are very few examples of gender dysphoria in cultures that refuse to deny human biological reality (China, for example). There is a straight line between post-modern rejection of western philosophy, western science and the rejection of biology.
This is also an attack on white men. It is held that marginalised groups have to conform to masculinist ways of knowing. The content of this knowing is not evaluated. What about the American astronauts who landed on the moon in 1969 and returned to earth? What about the maths, physics, engineering and medicine which enabled this first space colonisation? Mobile phones, lap tops and personal computers are used to disseminate post modern ideology. These by and large are the products of masculine discovery and knowing. This is not acknowledged. The term ‘toxic masculinity’ is used to describe domination, devaluation of women, homophobia and violence. Is this the whole description of men? Jesus was not a white man. He was Jewish and middle eastern. None of the toxicity attributed applies to him. In 1847, the Scottish obstetrician James Simpson was the first to demonstrate the anaesthetic properties of chloroform on humans and helped to popularise the drug for use in medicine, especially childbirth. Earl Hass invented the tampon in 1931. Toxic males? Is Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa an example of male toxicity? What about the millions of libraries of novels, poems and songs written for women by men? ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate’, (William Shakespeare, Sonnett 18). Is John Lennon’s song ‘Woman’ to be regarded as toxic because it was written by a white male? ‘Woman, I know you understand The little child inside the man, Please remember my life is in your hands, And, woman, hold me close to your heart, However distant don't keep us apart’. Identity politics limit knowledge. They do not increase it. They damage knowledge, they do not enhance it. They pervert knowledge, they do not magnify it. Ideological hatred of men is irrational and introverted. White men are implicated in their own existence as shame. This however is payback and is a reversal of historic colonial views of black people as less than fully human.
It gets worse. Being deaf has usually been regarded as a limitation on life experience by those who are deaf. But critical research theory changes that. A deaf person is considered to be someone whom society has disabled by not being equally accommodating. This social model replaces the medical model. Excluding people with impairments from mainstream activity is held to be discriminatory and oppressive. This is as a result of medical discourse being accepted as truth. One proponent even describes diagnosis, treatment and cure of disabilities as cynical practice. A new term ‘ableism’ is introduced. Ableism is ‘discrimination against people with disabilities based on the belief that typical abilities are superior’ and that disabled people require 'fixing'. Frighteningly, this description is applied to disabled people who express a wish to be able. Every discovery to help the deaf and other impairments, every charity which has raised funds, every improvement over centuries up to the latest cochlear implants and the exoskeleton suit which enables paralysed people to walk are thus discounted. And what of mental illness? The seriously suffering cannot speak for themselves. Surely if they could they would say that they want to be well. All mental therapies seek the betterment of the sufferer, release from narcissism and paranoia and balance to perceptions of others, society and the world.
Another area of campaigning is ‘fat studies’. There are new terms, ‘fatphobia’, ‘fat activism’, ‘healthism’ and ‘neutritionalism’. Health perception and advocacy are considered by some post modern critical researchers as problematic. This is consistent with the rejection of science and medicine as cultural constructs. There is ample evidence that being obese affects health. To identify being fat as a marginalised minority and to justify that condition seems to be self-harming. Yet it is portrayed as seeking a supportive community. Fat shaming is wrong but fat justifying is wrong also. Logically the desire of fat people to be thin must also be classed as fat shaming. Capitalism is blamed for creating products to make fat people slim. There seem to be large numbers of heavily overweight black women and men in America. Thus intersectionalist ideology comes into play again. There are also heavily overweight white women and men in America and many in Britain. Some are strong and healthy. Some are not. Justification of the obtuse is however the prerogative of post modern critical research theorists.
Positionality and Standpoint
What is true is at stake. Research justice seeks to disempower western knowledge and the academic milieu in which it operates. Post modern theories are communicated as truths equal to or superior to inherited truths gained throughout western social evolution. Christianity, science, progress, current knowledge(s) must be deconstructed. With what? Epistemic justice (another new term). Lived experiences of and cultures of minorities must take precedence. It is considered violence not to make the effort to understand the marginalised knower on her own terms. Science and reason are unjustly privileged, the cultural property of white western men. Science is universal and not based on group identity. Social Justice demands that there are other ways of knowing than objectivity and universal applicability.
This is called standpoint theory whose goal is to highlight the men centredness, heterosexual norms and Eurocentrism underlying science and epistemology. Dominant groups only understand their own viewpoint. Minorities understand the dominant and the oppressed viewpoint. Knowledge must include the experience of minorities. How does this affect research to find vaccinations for Covid-19? At the cellular level, the virus level, the atomic level, where do race, colour, gender, body shape and group identity fit in? It is accumulated scientific knowledge that has made the creation of vaccinations for Covid-19 possible. No doubt the intersectionalist critical researcher and Social Justice warrior is in the queue for his and hers. Studies using inherited methodology show that being overweight is a vulnerability factor in relation to Covid-19. That is one of the reasons so many have died in America and in Britain.
Restrictive practices are associated with identity politics. Disagreement is not tolerated. It is cancelled, silenced, ostracised. People are cancelled. Even legitimate university student questioning is discouraged because it is claimed that spending time answering comes at a cost to marginalised groups. People are ‘no platformed’. Universities are restricting freedom of speech and beginning to restrict freedom of thinking. This is group identity falling in on itself. Disappearing up its own alimentary canal. Sanctifying victimhood. Here is a new quasi-religion hostile to reason, argument and falsification. Oppressive power dynamics are to be read into everything. All aspects of life must be politicised. Social Justice must rule.
According to post-modern critical thinking mathematics are intrinsically sexist and racist because they focus on objectivity and proof. A recent study has shown that of the world’s ten leading mathematics brains, two are Russian (European and male), two were born in Hong Kong (Asian and male), one is Chinese (Asian and female), one is white English (European and male), one is Swiss (European and male), one is American (white American and male), one is Romanian (European and female) and one is Greek Cypriot/ Chinese Singaporean (Asian and male). Only two do not live and work in the west but four are Asian in origin. Mathematics is neither racist or sexist. It cannot be. Neither is its study. Yet intersectionalist critical researchers seek to stigmatise it on the basis of group identity. This is where their views make no sense, are retrogressive and are damaging to the causes there are supposed to be espousing.
Today’s cultural wars are seen conspicuously in examples of alleged micro-agressions. The number of words spoken in films by women is a study of research on sexist grounds. Actors must play parts of characters portraying their own identity groups. Wearing another group’s national dress is cultural appropriation (e.g., the kilt). Parents should apologise for not uncritically accepting their three year old child’s self defined gender identity. This is called ‘safetyism’. Pronouns must be gender neutral. The term ‘breast feeding’ is to be replaced by ‘chest feeding’ in the NHS. Those advocating this eschew ‘biological essentialism’. Australia National University’s Gender Institute Handbook. Instead of “mother”, the authors suggest “gestational parent” – and instead of “father”, they suggest “non-birthing parent”. This surely is an imprisonment of the human soul. It does not correspond with reality. It is frightening to think that children are being educated in this environment.
There are religions and philosophies which can be described as metanarratives. Human evolution in the west has produced systems of government, science and culture. Thus reasonably good societies have come into being with prosperity for many but not all. Astonishing achievements have characterised recent decades. In Asia this has happened rapidly as Japanese, Chinese and South Koreans have applied rigorous disciplines to western invention and manufacture. China’s Communist Party is totalitarian and President Xi Jinping has made himself like Augustus Caesar of old, a god to be worshipped. ‘The land of the free’ is a paradoxical entity with untold wealth garnered over centuries and most recently accrued as a result of invention, application and marketing of computer products and independent energy sourcing. America retains a racist reality still, even 156 years after the end of its civil war. It is the home of manufactured fantasy, extended adult childhood and the playful pursuit of happiness for many. For others America represents extreme poverty, deprivation and hopelessness. Yet millions seek entry there by legal and illegal means every year. So much has been achieved and is visible and quantifiable yet Social Justice theory seeks to deconstruct it in totality. America is not just bad, it is wholly bad, without redeeming features. It is primarily a racist society grounded in racism. The critical research idea of ‘blank slatism’ denies universal human nature and accentuates group identity. Post-modern Critical Theory has become a metanarrative as oppressive in its own way as communist ideology and practice.
Christianity is not just a metanarrative. It is a living dynamic, relational faith adhered to at various levels of commitment by 2.3 billion of humanity. It is universally applicable ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whomsoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life’ (John 3 : 16). It is individually based in Jesus of Nazareth ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’ (John 14 : 6). Universality and individuality are rejected by post-modern critical thinking in favour of group identity and specific positionality. Western Christianity is however at a disadvantage in critical race research due to its association with slavery and the slave trade. This was caused by wilfully selective reading of the Bible, the New Testament in particular and by cultural and political association. Hence some black people in America turned to Islam as a means of asserting their identity and independence. The Civil Rights Movement inspired by Christian Martin Luther King was non-violent. It achieved much. American Islamic leaders such as Malcolm X advocated violence because the pace of change was not fast enough and more profoundly because he was an anti-white racist himself seeking a separate nation for black people in North America. Social Justice theory is an inheritor of this separate identity and not of liberal incremental equality.
Yet it was Christianity which brought meaning, hope and comfort to enslaved black people throughout the centuries. It was worship and the singing of Christian spiritual songs and hymns that defined slave culture for long into the twentieth century. It was Christianity which inspired white abolitionists, including Abraham Lincoln. It was Christianity which inspired Frederick Douglass (1818 -1895) the great mixed race Christian orator, preacher and campaigner for abolition.
It is a fact that the Jews share their experiences of revelation of God to them in their collective history. It is a fact that Christians have shared their experiences of God made known to them through the Jewish experience and through Jesus Christ. Christianity, this great international, interracial, egalitarian and humanitarian Faith was born of the most extreme example of marginality, the crucifixion of Jesus outside Jerusalem in 29 AD. This was intersectionalism if you want to describe it so. Jesus was male, unmarried, middle-eastern, light brown coloured, colonised, rejected, mocked, unjustly condemned, cruelly tortured and left to die slowly, hanging on a cross by nails through his hands and feet. Out of such degradation came the beauties of Christianity with its message of forgiveness, redemption and eternal life.
Thence was born the Christian Church and its mission evangelism throughout the world ever since. It became the cradle of western civilisation and the inspiration for the fields of knowledge that have improved the lives of almost all human beings no matter where they live or whatever their circumstance. Not everyone accepts the Christian story, the Christian challenge, Christian truth. At various times and in different places there has been a disconnection in history between the Church which bears His Name and Jesus Himself, His personal example and his teaching. Post-modern critical theory is not offering anything better than Jesus Christ, nothing like as inclusive to all humanity. Instead a legitimate starting point, a worthwhile research perspective and an understandable activist application have turned in on themselves to separate, discriminate and divide strategically and without any possible compromise.
* I acknowledge ‘Cynical Theories’, Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay, Pitchstone, 2020 as the source of some of the critical theory detail in this article.
Historical Background to Post-modernism
Historical background to post modernism is required. There was the ancient world with its respective wisdoms, flaws, faults and failings. Judaeo-Christianity became the defining value system for Europe. Seeds of future civilisation were sown. Knowledge of a Creator made personal in Jesus, humanitarian, moral and spiritual practice and rational apprehension of the purpose of life incubated throughout generations and centuries. Islam rose as a self-proclaimed and violent usurper of Christianity. There came the medieval world with its so-called ‘dark ages’ followed later by the human centred Renaissance and the Christian post-Reformation period with its advocacy of education for all. Modernity began in Europe with the Enlightenment and the advance of ideas, reason and science leading to discovery, industrialisation and social and material progress. Christianity continued as the underpinning belief system of European social culture and was exported to colonised nations and peoples throughout the world as an alternative to their traditional religious beliefs and practices. David Livingstone (1813 – 1873) sought to introduce ‘Christianity and Commerce’ to Africa. He was a life-long slave trade abolitionist. Christianity had been present during the African – Caribbean slave trade. It is profoundly regrettable that this was so. It should never been part of any perceived legitimising of slavery and its associated trade. Mitigation is to be found in the fact that Christians in Britain successfully brought about its abolition.
The twentieth century was tumultuous. Empire nationalism brought about the First World War with its twenty million deaths. In Russia Marxist communism rejected Christianity and became a genocidally murderous regime killing upwards of thirty million citizens. It lasted barely seventy years. Nazi Germany was born in a supposedly Christianised nation which provokes shameful reflection. Naziism survived for twelve years, caused the 2nd World War with seventy five million deaths and its legacy lies publicly in The Holocaust, the racially based genocide of six million Jews. In China atheist communism was established and maintained under the leadership of Chairman Mao using genocidal murder estimated at up to seventy million Chinese. This strategy continues to be the instrument of power and control of the Chinese Communist Party and its President Xi Jinping.
The 20th century also saw the most significant and sustained scientific and technological advancements in human social evolution. Penicillin, vaccines for polio, medicines more generally, contraceptive pills, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, internal combustion engines, jet engines, rocket propulsion, telephonics, microchips, computers, the internet, mobile phones and mapping the human genome are among many achievements recorded during this extraordinary century. In 1969 two American astronauts landed on the moon and returned safely. This was the first space colonisation. Education spread globally. The conditions of humanity’s many poor improved considerably. Progress seemed to be guaranteed and limitless. Then came fears about climate change and global warming. The Coronavirus pandemic suddenly shook human faith in itself. The future freedom from disease trope was discredited. International cyber warfare imposed itself on our consciousness. Could there even be a nuclear holocaust?