Wow. Just wow.

This is quite a study in how neo-progressivism can destroy some facets of rationality, while preserving the ability to rationalize. It's actually very depressing and frightening. DiAngelo and Kendi are being very successful in reprograming significant subsets of the society - unfortunately concentrated among the cultural, educational, and economic elites who have disproportionate power.

I did think you were a bit snippy and sarcastic. And that it would take a saint not to be in that context. I think it's a type of coping mechanism when confronted with "logic" so bad you don't know whether to laugh or cry - or look for another planet.

And yet J appears to be educated and intelligent and caring and to be trying to "do the right thing". Not motivated by simple ignorance, stupidity or malice. And yet...


Let me say more about the depressing part. For a long time, we've counted on the idea that good ideas can displace bad ideas, that good reasoning and evidence can win in the end. But I don't see any sign that your solid points are denting J's ideological armor. Maybe enlightenment values are meeting their match?

One of my "pet theories" is that in the West, the tools of the Enlightenment and science were sufficient to overturn the hegemony of the Church and traditional restricted thought (eg: kings rule by divine right) and created a more secular society. Not quickly or painlessly, but eventually.

However, neo-progressivism (with roots in postmodernism and critical theory) is like a new species of weed which emerged in a field previously controlled by herbicides. Obviously, such a new weed must have evolved resistance to the existing herbicides, or it would not be spreading.

Neo-progressivism (sometimes called "the successor ideology") aims to displace liberalism (in the broader sense of "liberal western democracy" not in the narrower US sense of Democrats). And as a competing mind virus emerging now, it has great resistance to control measure like logic and evidence, free speech, listening to all sides - better resistance than the now-relatively-tamed Church had. Postmodernism seems to be based on a challenge not to facts, but even to the nature of knowledge - a meta defense against rational rebuttal.

What we are seeing in the above interchange is an individual herbicide resistant weed (in the above metaphor, trying to describe the dynamics, not to disparage with emotive slurs). Spray, spray - weed sits there unhindered. Not just frustrating, but alarming for what it may portend. (Especially given that there are other alarming trends on the other side of the aisle).


What can we do but slog on? Keep trying. It may work on some, especially as some neo-progressives (at least on the margins) begin to realize that the new strategy is NOT accomplishing it's promised improvements to society and an endless set of excuses ("our strategies haven't worked yet because systemic racism/patriarchy is so deep that we activists need more power over society to root it out, so let us double down - again") doesn't change that failure.

Maybe the problem is not that the reality feedback loop is not working, but that it operates on a longer timespan than I expect.

Actually that last is almost certainly true - if the infection spreads widely enough, the society will collapse and other societies (displaced in time and/or space) will learn from that what to avoid. I'm pretty sure that China is watching and learning what to avoid. I'm just hoping for a shorter timescale than that, for reality feedback to bear fruit before that collapse - and before helping install an authoritarian right wing regime.


To balance the "pesticide resistant weed" metaphor, let's note that ideas like representative democracies operating under a charter have spread like weeds before. Being hard to suppress is not always a bad thing. But I believe that this time it is, and we may not realize it until too late, especially in the context of the "perfect storm" of other existential threats that are peaking at the same time (climate change, peak oil, fresh water shortage, antibiotic resistance, surveillance technology, maybe even the singularity, etc).


"Great pep talk, Pash, I feel much better now".

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"I did think you were a bit snippy and sarcastic"

Yeah, guilty as charged.😅 All I'll say in my defence is that I've literally spent months talking to J and working very hard to do so in good faith (I've been wanting to post one of our conversations for a while but they're usually absurdly long and go on all kinds of twists and tangents).

At first, he just seemed a little lost and confused (I still think he is) and he asked me to help him work through some of his internal conflicts about racism, which I tried to do.

But yeah, after a few months of that, and after seeing him cling to the Kendi-ism and the victimhood ideation, despite him seeing how the logic of his arguments would fall apart, it became hard to take him seriously.

He *knows* what he's saying is silly. Or at least logically incoherent. Note how he doesn't even try to counter the sarcasm or back up his arguments with anything except more word salad. Not a single fact or concrete rationale to be found.

For some people, seeing themselves as the underdog in some existential struggle against "the system," and convincing themselves they're among the anointed few who are smart enough to see it, is too intoxicating to let mere logic or reason or facts get in the way.

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There's one set as you mention that think they have mutant level intelligence and insight in understanding that the Democrats are a big letdown. They spend days, weeks, months, years sneering at an imaginary ideology of Democratic loyalists who still believe that the Ds are looking out for working class people, and that only they have the clarity of vision to see this isn't so.

You have more patience than I, Steve, and I have a lot more comfort in drawing lines. If I determine to my satisfaction that my interlocutor is debating in bad faith I walk away. And, yes, sometimes I block.

I have a few thresholds.

* Democrat as adjective

* science denial (vaccines, AGW or flat earth, I don't care)

* Trump support

* "who gets to decide" as an argument

Any one of these, and there are others, means I withdraw from the conversation, with or without explanation. I take it that most of the time you will keep going, Well, despite appearances I am near the end of my seventh decade and much closer to life's end than its beginning and I don't have time to argue with the unreachable nor do I have any illusions about effecting change one recalcitrant person at a time.

In all my decades online I can think of exactly two who have emerged from whatever stage conservatism was in at the time (neocons, tea party, MAGA) into a more reasonable outlook. That is, for all intensive porpoises, none.

The irony of J telling a thoughtful person such as yourself to "wake up."

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Would you mind saying more on the "who get's to decide" argument? That's a new phrase to me. (Although perhaps an old experience that I just haven't recognized as a pattern.)

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Sure. Easiest illustrated by example.

Suppose the topic is inhibiting concentration of wealth. I say there should be a maximum amount of money that one person or family can control, since past that point it's not more luxury or safety, just more power. But we never get to the reasons because sure as taxes someone will burst in with "who gets to decide" how much wealth is too much.

The actual discussion disintegrates because someone showed a potential for —choke—subjectivity.

As if we couldn't come up with some deterministic criteria for the corrosiveness of the megabillionaire.

I usually block people like that, because it's an asinine objection and I am disgusted with the whole "subjectivity" dodge.

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I read McWhorter's Woke Racism and had mixed feelings. A lot that I liked and enough that I didn't like to give it a so-so rating. One of the things I really didn't care for in that book was the idea that the infernal Woke are too far gone to even try to sway. McWhorter comes from the stance that they are lost and so trying to debate them would be to channel Sissyphus rolling that rock uphill. I thought that was a really binary thing of McWhorter to say and disagreed wholeheartedly. Maybe this was my inner humanist reacting. Who is really, truly "lost" anyway?

Well, I think now I get where he was coming from. J seems not just very, very lost but also unable to even have a good faith exchange of ideas. And my God, the smug complacency & entitlement just oozes off of each their responses. It's simultaneously frustrating, disturbing, and disgusting to see. Debating with him is like staring into the abyss but the abyss isn't staring back, it's trying to suck you in.

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"One of the things I really didn't care for in that book was the idea that the infernal Woke are too far gone to even try to sway. McWhorter comes from the stance that they are lost and so trying to debate them would be to channel Sissyphus rolling that rock uphill."

Yeah, I'm torn on this point. I have a lot of faith in human beings, so I don't ever think they're hopeless (or at least not when they're just at the "making silly arguments on the internet" phase). I also understand that in most cases, it's not that people can't think, it's that the ideology they've bought into (and there are many), offers them something that objective reality doesn't. So they cling to it, in the face of all logic and evidence to the contrary.

I've spent a lot of time talking to J over the past few months. He derives a lot of his sense of self from this notion of oppression and struggle. That's hard to convince people to let go of, even though I'm absolutely certain he'd be happier if he did. But I've also seen many people who *do* eventually let go of it. Or at least loosen their grip.

J, believe it or not, is less insufferable than when we first started talking. As Passion pointed out, I was more sarcastic than I'd normally allow myself to be, because we've gone around enough times that we *both* know his arguments are hollow.

What he needs now, and what everybody needs when they're shaking off an old ideology, is a better way to think about the world.Something that allows them to function as well as before, without the burden of clinging to what they know full well are lies. Which is why he keeps coming back to my comments with some new nugget of Kendi-ism to debunk.

The abyss is within J. And what's staring back is reality. I don't know if he'll find the courage to look at it. But in his own way, I think he's actually trying. I'm just unlucky enough to be the person he's chosen to help him.😅

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You are doing good work then - and you certainly have much more patience than I could ever imagine having! I'm glad that they may not be the extremely extreme case that I was seeing in their responses.

And I agree with you re. how people can truly let go of such things. I've seen it at my agency's volunteer trainings, where the ideology & values espoused are liberal-humanist rather than reactionary-woke.

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All Your points are well-taken, M. Monday.

"And my God, the smug complacency & entitlement just oozes off of each their responses. It's simultaneously frustrating, disturbing, and disgusting to see."

Couldn't help but notice this myself.

"Debating with him is like staring into the abyss but the abyss isn't staring back, it's trying to suck you in."

I'll hafta use this line, it was *that* good! TY for Your comment, Sir.

Oh! Thanking Steve for the article. That goes without saying, but I sometimes forget to say it.

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J has probably never worked a real job where he had performance reviews. You have to set goals that are measurable.

The stupid thing is that the "I'll know it when I see it" metrics he proposes are exactly the sort that allow for bias to seep in and color (no pun intensed) decisions. If I interview people and only go by my gut then it's possible that tj decision will be biased. But if I use a systematic process, that likelihood will be reduced

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Yep, it's very telling that the mere idea of measurable, objective goals seemed alien to him. But when all you're interested in is validating your feelings and trying to sound as if you've figured out some great, unseen truth, there's zero motivation to use metrics that might show you that you're wrong about the scale and the scope of the problem.

As you say, the same people who insist on objective processes to eliminate racial bias, often lack the insight to see that they should apply those processes to their own thinking.

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A metacomment,, not about this subject but more general. Not sure where else to post it.

Steve, I perceive this substack as in part a kind of space for you to come back to when you need to recharge, when you need to rotate off the front lines and spend some time in a community which on the whole "gets it", where sanity is prevalent. It's not a simple echo chamber; you may also get challenged or questioned - but mostly in a rational and thoughtful way, not for virtue points. You quote some wacko interactions, and it must be sometimes exhausting to keep politely engaging in other spaces (mainly on Medium?).

If so, I am glad to provide that kind of support. "Thank you for your service" out there, and I'm glad if I can help assure your unconscious that yes, objective reality is still a thing, despite rumors of its death.

And I use it that way as well. An oasis of thoughtfulness amidst a culture which seems to be losing it's collective mind in many ways. It's not just "these people think the same way I do so I'm comfortable here" (tho I cannot honestly deny that there is any element of that), but also that "these people THINK so I'm engaged and less frustrated here". I feel heard, and I learn from listening to others here.

You've attracted a small but very interesting group to this substack. Thank you for that too.

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May 24, 2022·edited May 26, 2022Author

"I perceive this substack as in part a kind of space for you to come back to when you need to recharge, when you need to rotate off the front lines and spend some time in a community which on the whole "gets it", where sanity is prevalent."

Hey there! Yeah, this isn't too far off the mark. I created this place as a space for honest, unrestricted conversation. There's a widespread belief in online spaces that people can't be trusted to express their ideas honestly *and* compassionately. And worse, that anybody who is exposed to an imperfectly phrased sentence will be "harmed." So this place is a really gratifying refutation of that idea. And, I think, proof that when people are allowed to speak freely, they're more likely to do so politely.

I think a good percentage of the nastiness we see online is caused by people who either find themselves in an environment where nastiness is the norm/rewarded, or by people who want to say what they're thinking, but are frustrated because they feel unable to do so. So they overcorrect and say something meaner and more simplistic than what's actually on their mind.

Not quite sure how to do something like this at scale yet, but I'm working on it😁

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May 20, 2022Liked by Steve QJ

Hey Steve, I'm not sure how you continued such a long conversation with this guy. After a short time I just can't talk to these people, because they have no logic.

I was recently silenced on Medium for calling out one of these people since it was obvious she was virtue signaling. Telling the rest of us how racist we all are. Now I'm no longer on Medium. Oh well!

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Hey Scott! I think I just have a morbid fascination with how long a person can watch their arguments crumble around them before self-awareness kicks in. Because the truth is, this is how a meaningful number of people, some of whom have actual power and influence, think about racial issues. Thankfully though, these conversations usually take place over several days. So they aren't as infuriating as they would be if I tried to have them in one go.

Also, that sucks about Medium. There are a few Medium exiles here!😅 It seems they've gotten extremely trigger happy with banning people for hurting the feelings of their "professional victims."

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May 21, 2022Liked by Steve QJ

Yep, I simply told the author, by The way they were talking, it seemed they had never had a personal relationship with a person of color. This person used every foul word they could think of to call me. So I asked them if they kissed their grandmother with that mouth. Next thing I know I was restricted from commenting. So, I left Medium.

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"Seriously Steve, you need to WAKE UP."

And there it is, Steve, there's your problem: You're not 'woke' :)

'Woke' in my mind has become the left-wing 'MAGA': It's just a massive mental mindblock. Racist, bigoted, sexist, infantilizing, anti-science, and religiously fundementedlist. They're two sides to the same social problems, and they've chosen to be the problems rather than the solutions.

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"'Woke' in my mind has become the left-wing 'MAGA'"

100%. Both ideologies absolutely rot people's brains (as ideologies tend to do).I'm not convinced either of the extremes is trying to solve problems though. The "woke" want the grievances to last forever, and the MAGAts want to pretend that any problems that don't materially impact *them* don't exist.

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Amen. In particular I agree that there need to be concrete things to work on otherwise it's all just pontification. Don't like contract buying or redlining? Pass a fair housing act and enforce it relentlessly. Takes time, but the progress is real and measurable. All of this "dismantling structures" nonsense is just inchoate Utopian bloviating that helps no one. And by wasting time and energy that could be used productively, is actually a big minus.

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May 16, 2022Liked by Steve QJ

"Midwits" is my new favorite term!

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This morning, I'm still ruinating on that exchange (and responses), to see what can be learned from it. Thinking about approaches to doing something, not just agreeing that its bad out there.


My partner read it this morning, and a while ago I heard her laughing out loud from her office - you win the prize today, Mark, with your abyss statement!


My own understanding of the dynamics of the neo-progressive ideology (mind virus) is that it thrives among those whose world view valorizes caring about the downtrodden AND who carry a load of historic guilt. It hijacks those tendencies to gain control of their semantic systems. The infected are genuinely Trying To Do the Right Thing; that isn't just a pretense. But they are also trying to feel ok about themselves without actually giving up any of what they consider their privilege (which cognitive dissonance requires them to hide from themselves), creating an internal tension which distorts their thinking and reasoning. And then the ideology corrupts the most positive original motivations that drew them in, by providing a holier-than-thou payoff to the psyche. When you have the moral high ground, you don't need to be mutually respectful any more, or to seek reciprocal rights or mutual benefit win/win options - the other side owes you! Yes, it can be intoxicating. You can even be nasty to other people while feeling smugly superior rather than guilty about it, if that payoff appeals to you.

Once a person's perceptions and internal reward systems have been thoroughly hijacked by this mind virus, it's very hard to reach them. What do we have to offer such a person in the way of alternative rewards to the psyche or ego? "Come on over to our side, where you have to THINK, to tolerate dissent, to question your own narratives? Admit to yourself that you have been in something like a cult, and that your recent history of smug superiority was a sham you cannot be proud of" (even if we don't try to rub it in).

The payoffs of feeling like we're moving incrementally in the direction of a more accurate internal model of the world which will help up create more effective interventions - are thin gruel for somebody addicted to the spicy payoffs of being morally superior and on the right side of history. Especially because if they reject it, they will likely lose many of the friends and community they have built upon their ideology. It's not a very good sales proposition for our side.

So while I'm not casually rejecting the deeply woke as completely unsalvageable, they on average are going to be bad prospects, mostly a waste of our limited time (unless they are close to us, perhaps). Debating them with the goal of rationally persuading them is mostly spinning our wheels (if the real goal is to affect other readers, that can be a different case!); we have no traction. We might as well try to reason somebody out of a meth addiction. It might work - but very rarely.

What we need to do is contest the ideas at an earlier stage of the infection, and among the semi-woke where their interpretational and motivational systems have not yet been too hijacked.

In that light, the conversation you have excerpted, Steve, could be useful in identifying some of the memes that have been useful to the ideology in infecting people. Of course we can find many of them directly in DiAngelo, Kendi and Critical Race Theory - which we also need to analyze. But J offers us a glimpse into the ideas and framings which were actually effective in seducing his/her thought process.

This is more than a little analogous to analyzing a viral genome to see which genes help it to attach to a cell, penetrate the cell wall, fend off the cell's resistance, and hijack the cell's information reproducing mechanisms to replicate itself, and then spread to other cells. Knowing all that doesn't mean we can repair already throughly hijacked infected cells, but it may help us slow the reproduction and even to restore lightly infected cells to health, metaphorically.

As an example, consider the following meme from J (I use "meme" in Dawkin's sense of an idea seen as a self replicating information pattern spread from host mind to host mind, not "internet memes" of pictures with text on them; they were meant to be analogized to (selfish) genes in biology)

>"Now you just have to see that anyone not actively dismantling that racial hierarchy is in fact participating in it, since the system works mostly through passive consent."

I believe that that is one of the key memes which has facilitated the virulence of this ideology. We need to have a robust counterpoint - not because it will ever convince J, but because it might help prevent other people from suffering the same fate.

For some of the folks on this site, that concept seems immediately ridiculous, but obviously it has traction among many liberals - we cannot rely on their semantic immune systems automatically rejecting it. We need to develop and spread counter-arguments with traction on the psyches of non-infected (or lightly-infected) people.

And those counter-arguments cannot be evaluated by seeing whether or not they work on people like J! Bringing J back to reality cannot be our metric, we need to test it against our real target audience - the susceptible but not yet converted.

Does this make sense to anybody?

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All of this makes a lot of sense. I appreciate the deep dive analysis!

You are right about how that passive consent idea can be so virulent. Hypnotic as well. However, I've noted that my colleagues who are not recent college grads (and perhaps have no secondary education) are often less prone to falling prey to this argument. I think that says something about where this virulence is primarily first launched and who is most susceptible. Which is... depressing.

I've mentally divided my colleagues into (1) progressives/light woke, (2) liberal but vaguely anti-woke (based on how much they even think about woke ideology outside of trainings), and (3) deep woke.

I step carefully but deliberately with the first category - which is nearly all of my direct reports. These folks are far from "unsalvageable" (my terminology, not yours) and I've seen that the straightforward, simple repetition of and strong adherence to liberal-humanist values whenever certain topics come up can help people not go to darker places of pure essentialism (let alone DiAngelo-speak) and other forms are extremist thought.

The third category is a very small minority and one where I have learned that I just need to practice my own personal form of Stoicism whenever they go on a woke monologue or attempt (and fail) to enact radical change. It is so easy to get drawn into muddy waters (during what can barely be considered dialogue) when such folks reject even the idea of "assume good intentions" as foundational to discussion. So I've learned to just work around them/ignore them/model active listening/pray that they find a place more in alignment with their ideology to work. And many have!

The second category are often the people I commiserate with. And drink with :)

Glad you enjoyed the abyss comment!

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>"However, I've noted that my colleagues who are not recent college grads (and perhaps have no secondary education) are often less prone to falling prey to this argument."

The new ideology began in universities (from what I've read, often making early inroads among schools of education), especially the more elite universities, from which it spread to less elite universities, media, the arts, government, K12 education, and other industries who employ and empower college graduates. This has given it disproportionate influence, and made it extremely difficult to dislodge, even though less elite portions of the population are much less affected. The media control is especially troubling because that allows it to infect more ordinary people. The university infection is problematic because it disables part of our cultural immune system. The school infection gives it access to children in their formative ages. Overall, it's a brilliant strategy (or a lucky one if one does not consider it deliberately designed).

And that creates one of the key distinctions from traditional progressivism - the neo-progressives have a lot of disdain for the (less infected) working class, who are not their base. Unconscious classist undertones are common.

My sense is that a lot of the (relative) elite feel more guilty about that now, and thus more susceptible. People who come from the working class and are struggling themselves are less likely to feel pervasive guilt about their white/male/cis/het/able-bodied/neurotypical "privilege". (While those raised with middle class advantages and expectations, but facing elite overproduction wherein their liberal arts degrees are not reliably maintaining their economic prospects today, may be even more susceptible in some ways).

Note: I put "privilege" in quotes not because there is nothing in our society which could reasonably be considered privilege, but because the most common politically weaponized usage of the term is mainly to conflate being "somewhat less oppressed" with being the "oppressor" - in turn not because that's a more insightful analysis, but because it's a more effective tool for evoking guilt from a wider group of people. It's to the point that anybody who, for example, does not suffer from significant mental illness, is considered inherently "privileged" thereby.

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Privilege comes up in our peer support trainings (which all volunteers and staff attend). We discuss the concept quickly but deeply. I don't like to spend a lot of time on the topic because folks can really get in their heads about it and we want to train people to engage with each other in ways that don't become similar to deer in headlights, lost in navel-gazing, instead of being their authentic selves with clients & colleagues. We do our best to train people while also trying to reduce overthinking things.

I do see privilege as real. My training posits that (1) literally everyone has forms of privilege, (2) it is both earned & unearned, and (3) it should never be seen as an automatically negative factor. We position the understanding of privilege as a way for us to simply be respectful to our colleagues and clients. For example, a doctor has earned privilege via their medical degree, so those without often privileged medical information need to have that information explained to them in ways that they can understand. Or, an able-bodied person has unearned privilege (again, not a negative thing) when it comes to mobility, so should have awareness of where they schedule meetings with folks who are not able-bodied (e.g. not in places where a person in a wheelchair can't go).

This is just one of the ways that we try to foster understanding about how each and every one of us moves about in the world. And, more implicitly, it is also about taking back more pernicious and certainly divisive ideas that have come up around the idea. I do the same thing when it comes to speaking on intersectionalism. We do not come up with a hierarchy or pyramid of oppression in which cis white men are representative at the top, as the enemy or oppressor. Instead, we flatten the concept.

We all have privileges; we all are the intersection of many identities. This is true for both the disabled elderly woman who didn't graduate high school and the straight, college-educated, white-passing man sitting right next to her. Both have the privilege of having enough time to volunteer or the ability to work 35 hours a week & get paid reasonably.

An overarching theme of the training is recognizing commonalities. Another is respecting individuality. Trainees must hold both concepts as inherently equal and important.

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In general, I am heartened by the sensible liberalism and pragmatic humanism you have been able to manifest in your organization. It gives me hope that neo-progressivism can be pushed back.

However, I'd like to explore the concept of privilege a bit further with you, philosophically. I have come to believe that this conceptualization is generally more damaging than helpful; I get that you have detoxified it to some degree by flattening it, but I wonder if it should be more challenged?

What I see the as the most common function of the "privilege narrative" in neo-progressivism is to conflate being "somewhat less oppressed" with being the oppressor. If you ask them what to call those without privilege, 99% of the time the answer is "oppressed". The world is divided into the oppressed and the privileged with nobody left out; so which group are considered the oppressors? The privileged are clearly being held responsible for that oppression (one way or another).

So it feels to me, in terms of its rhetorical function, to be a way of making those labeled as "privileged" feel that they are "oppressors", while bypassing some of the pushback that might come from directly calling them that. That is, the privileged have the responsibility for oppression without having had the power to do the oppressing (or to cease doing it).

Note that I have never seen them divide the world into 3 groups: Oppressor, Privileged, and Oppressed. Instead the first two are kinda quietly treated as effectively the same.

(Some might note that this framing prevents the More Oppressed from uniting with the Less Oppressed against the Oppressors - by relabeling the Less Oppressed as Privileged and implying they are responsible. A more conspiracy minded person might make much of that and whose interest this narrative served, but we will move on.)

For example, DiAngelo uses as evidence of white privilege the disproportionate white representation (by <0.01% of the population) in positions of high power - as if white coal miners are somehow automatically privileged compared to Black ones if the mine owner is white. The white miners may in many cases not have any more real power or be treated any better, but they do look visually more similar to the tiny fraction who have a lot of power, so they are in the crosshairs as Privileged.

Traditionally, a privileged life was about the elite (whether aristocracy or jet-setter celebrities) that they were set apart from the masses; the "privileged" were inherently a small batch with great wealth or power. This can now be inverted, where 99% of the population (ie: the masses) are "privileged" (if the other 1% is oppressed, eg: trans). The only privileged group by the new redefinition which isn't a substantial statistical majority, is males. Nevertheless, the resentment and stigma of traditional privilege is still associated with that 50-99%.

Is privilege a good thing or a bad thing? Like having enough to eat, or being treated professionally by police. A majority of the examples that advocates give are actually things we aspire to give to everybody, which is a semantic mess if privilege is a bad thing. In general, the higher the portion of the society that receives "privilege", the closer that society is to reaching it's ideals! When 80%, then 90%, then 99% of the population has such privileges, the privilege is a bad thing and it's spreading, but as soon as it becomes 100% we have reached success. That's seriously confusing our inner psyches!

My point is is that the privilege looks through the wrong end of the telescope. In general, the problem is not with people having the characteristics which get labeled as privilege, it's the folks who don't have those characteristics - the underprivileged.

For example, the "privilege" of good police protection is not a problem; NOT getting good police protection is the problem. If we focus in *reducing* bad policing there is no semantic sleight of hand - if it goes from 20% to 10% to 1% and then to 0%, each step is an improvement.

So why would we put so much focus, and apply a negative stigma borrowed from the traditional "privilege" associated with the aristocracy, to the cases where society is succeeding, rather than focus on fixing the places where it's not yet succeeding?

Because it's a guilt trip. The implicit narrative is that we have to make those who are not quite as oppressed feel bad, or they won't help those who are more oppressed. If you have clean tap water, you are as bad as an oppressor, if anybody else doesn't have clean tap water.

So society increasing the number of people with good water is framed as increasing the number of privileged people, rather than as reducing the number of people with bad water.

I dissent from that being a functional and sustainable strategy (just as I did against guilt trips from conservatives in the past). Guilt tripping as a motivating force burns badly and leaves problematic psychic residues even if it works; but it often does not work, because people rebel against being manipulate by guilt trip. They might even elect a dangerously unbalanced leader whose main value is that they push back against what feels like an unfair guilt trip.

I am positing that the privilege narrative in contemporary neo-progressivism is inherently flawed and corrupts clear thinking. It's not very salvagable; if you incorporate it into your foundation, the structure will be vulnerable.

Notice that I'm not denying that there is any difference in "privilege"; I'm challenging whether building one's political philosophy atop that concept is going to achieve what one hopes (or smugly "knows") it will.


And the other side, one of the variants of the concept of "privilege" which I've encountered - fairly distinct from the above but co-existing in different diversity trainings - does seem to me to have real validity.

A few people talk about "privilege" in terms of a kind of blinders, where people implicitly assume that the way they are treated is the same as the way others are treated. So, for example, if your interactions with police in your town have been more or less reasonable, you might (often unconsciously) assume that same it typical everywhere for everybody. But sometimes other people receive different treatment, and not realizing that is labeled as "privilege".

I think that dynamic is a great thing to raise awareness about. That cognitive distortion is both important and fairly prevalent. And if that was all that the diversity trainers were teaching, I would be happy with where it was leading our society.

However, this is a distinctly minority interpretation among the neo-progressive trainers. Why? I believe that it's less popular because it's not inherently a guilt trip, it's a raised awareness about a cognitive flaw shared by humans of all races and income levels. There's no inherent moral high ground to weaponize. ALL of us can benefit from more consciously recognizing that our own experience may not be typical for everybody - so it's worth being more curious and less accusatory.

So I'm all for expanding awareness of this concept, but it should not be promoted under the word "privilege". For one thing, the connection to the traditional meaning of "privilege" is weak at best; if one has no agenda of borrowing the resentment and stigma for guilt tripping purposes, redefining the word "privilege" for this enhancing of awareness makes no sense - even if the guilt-trip usage had never existed.

But the privilege as guilt trip usage is omnipresent today, and using the same word for the more valid usage would be very confusing indeed, with people talking past each other routinely. Even the same person may be calling to mine one of these concepts in one sentence, and another in the next - producing a mott and bailey type effect in many cases.


So, I've tried to lay out why I think that accepting the privilege narrative associated with the term "privilege" needs to be seriously challenged. We need to focus on fixing the problems, not on guilt tripping anybody who is not having the problem but who did not "take" anything from those who do have the problem (along with the twisted logic used to somehow make people responsible things they did not cause and are not significantly more empowered to fix).

Let's be clear - if somebody DID cause a given problem and has the power to fix it, then by all means we should go after them directly. Like, say, a polluter. But the strategy of guilt tripping ordinary folks trying to live their lives by labeling them 'privileged' just because they are not suffering from said pollution, is an unwarranted expansion. And the mental gyrations and rationalizations need to justify that expansion are corrosive to good logic and healthy problem solving.

There is actually many pages of background behind all this, but I've written more than enough for now. I'd be interested in your reaction, as somebody with more practical experience and successes in countering the undermining effects of neo-progressive ideology. If you think accepting a flattened concept of privilege is a good building block which will not come back to bite you later, I'm very interested in some reasoned pushback. I am giving parts of my (current, evolving) understanding, which I know will always need more refinement. I'm more interested in seeking truth together, than in defending to the death my pet theories.

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I agree with basically everything you say here. And don't get me started on DiAngelo LOL!

Your take on privilege is my take. Specifically, that it would be great if everyone had the same level of (unearned) privilege. (Earned is another thing entirely of course.) A person should not be feeling guilty and weepy over having something that, in a perfect world, everyone would have. And so my tone when discussing privilege is not a negative one. I don't prop up privilege as an indicator of a problem - which is central to most discussions of privilege. Instead I treat recognizing privilege as just being able to access another tool that could make a person more aware of the world around them and how they individually engage with that world. My team and I make sure that the discussion is neither a demonization session or an oppression olympics, but rather a straightforward discussion of how difference can be recognized (we are all individuals) and how privilege is something everyone has (we all have commonalities). And so far, over I'd say >50 trainings since we first started discussing it, we've managed to have zero nonsensical lashing in/lashing out.

And that said, I also agree that this is not necessarily the definition of "privilege" in its modern usage. I'm stretching it, purposely. Believe me, I would love having the discussion without even using that damned word. But the word is out there - and remember, I live in SF - so the word is not just one that all trainees have heard of a lot about, it has strong potential to become an actual barrier to them being authentic and to stoke divisiveness and inability to connect with a client or colleague. And so I attempt to defang the word by coming at it from an angle that channels both universalism and individualism.

So far it has not come back to bite me, and I've been incorporating a talk on "privilege" for about a decade now, ever since it became a thing for my staff (and so, by extension, our training participants). If anything, I'm both checking the box of Must Discuss Privilege while also extending/reframing the value of recognizing both commonalities & differences.

What did bite me, over 20 years ago, was the reaction of a young, straight, white man to my supportive response to a bi woman - he reacted angrily to my saying something along the lines of "as another bisexual, I understand where you are coming from; we live in a straight world, and that can feel overwhelming". For some dumbass reason, he thought that my comment othered him as a straight man. Now I may dismiss his reaction to my boilerplate supportive comment as dumbass (I'll stick by that!)... but I am also not a trainer who wants ANYONE to feel othered. And so I've become more and more expansive in my language. Today, I'd probably refine my response to the bi woman into something like "I think I understand where you are coming from; it can feel overwhelming to be in a minority - we don't often see other people who are like us. And that's true for so many people, maybe even everyone to an extent, because we all can sometimes feel alone & invisible in this world."

That need to be expansive is how we can take back concepts like "privilege" that toxify conversations where it's all about identifying who has and who does not have privilege. When privilege is discussed in terms of being an automatic part of the human condition, people don't automatically get their backs up. And they are able to understand the message being delivered i.e. we all just need to be aware of our differences so that we can be kinder. No guilt tripping is taking place and so no need for anyone to get defensive or tune out.

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Re DiAngelo. Before the pandemic, a few people in an personal growth organization we've long volunteered for suggested White Fragility to us. My partner read it in good faith, but was appalled by a good deal of it so called it to my attention. We worked together on a review of sorts, which became more of a critique. We put the critique up and linked to it from the organization's discussion list for volunteers. Kaboom! Major upset. It turned out that the leadership of the org had been using the book as a key part of their internal training, and we were attacking a sacred cow. To make it worse, we later learned that this landed just after an apparently stressful leadership retreat on DEI issues, as people were trying to recover from the heated discussion (of which we know no details) - and so to them it felt like somebody just threw another match on fire they were trying to put out. Worst case landing.

We are in our own ways beloved and respected by the long timers there, but for some of the newer folks we are seen as a bit dicey to this day - we heard that some who didn't know us wondered if we were white suprematicists (and one person simply called my partner one to her face and refused to discuss it further - a behavior which would have been very alien to the heartful organization this used to be, which teaches good communication).

As it becomes infused by concepts from neo-progressivism, long time norms of behavior and framing get trumped by the prescriptions and values of that political ideology.

We are about to go to the first in-person broader retreat (for leadership and volunteers) since then. It will be interesting. We are not in any position of power, as you are with your organization. We have puzzled about how to have a constructive impact; there are many ways to fail in this situation.

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Mark, your wisdom continues to impress me.

And regarding "privilege", your response is very thoughtful. In fact even as I was laying out a summary of my* general case against using the (most common) neo-progressive framing of privilege as a building block for any healthy political philosophy, I was in the back of my mind wondering if in a situation like yours, it might be impossible to avoid the word in your training. And if so, then perhaps the best strategy might be like fighting a wildfire, where setting a controlled backfire moving towards the flames can burn up the fuel load and make a firebreak.

And indeed, that sounds pretty similar to what you describe! (Except I was just speculating, and you have been doing it!). Hats off.

You are using the word, but avoiding the toxic redefinition used by neo-progressives. Your usage is close enough to theirs to not trigger too many autopilot responses from the woke, and you are checking the box ("yep, they did discuss privilege, if they had not it would be bogus") but associating it with a more benign concept, and then giving it minimal emphasis by moving on to more actionable and relevant ways to be a good volunteer. Or at least that's my take-away.

It's so encouraging, as well as intellectually engaging, to discuss this stuff with you!

(* note from above; when I speak of "my" ideas or case etc, it's a shorthand for writing purposes; in reality my partner and I discuss these things frequently so they are "our" ideas, hard to disentangle individual authorship after 47 years of ongoing conversations!)

We live about an hour north of SF, so if the opportunity arises to talk in person some time, we'd love that. Cheers!

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