Monday, February 22, 2016

Don't Cross the Streams

Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn:

For the therapeutic society, such a goal continually recedes beyond the horizon. These therapies share many of the new assumptions about race: racism continues unabated; all slights are equal; anyone who endures racial slights of any kind or degree is a victim or a survivor who needs help; racism is an illness shared by all oppressors, who also need therapy; and small-group interactions and emotional catharsis are the primary ways in which the racial problems of the country should be faced. That there is never an end in sight — racism remains completely unchanged — handily gives the new therapies the rationale not just for persevering but for proselytizing through pamphlets, books, journals, classes, workshops and retreats.

...The therapeutic movement, with this ethos of empowerment, has trumped the civil rights movement, with its vision of the just society and the good life. The culture of therapy's view that the problem for everyone — bigots, oppressors and leaders alike — is a lack of nurture, validation and support has inspired numerous best-selling books and talk shows. The spirit of the movement is that we are all owed unconditional acceptance at all times, and that any weaknesses we have are not our own responsibility.

...The notion of incorrect attitudes — stereotypes — both expands and diminishes the extent of the problem. No one is truly guilty here — no one is actually at fault — because it is society that breeds the wrong attitudes. Yet everyone must be subjected to self-examination, because everyone harbors these attitudes. Thus any distinction between a racially motivated act — like refusing to hire or promote someone or chasing someone out of one's neighborhood on account of race, or worse — and a passive misconception one might have about a group one has never known intimately gets lost. This focus on attitudes of nebulous origin, and the misleading assumption that they are universal and as lethal as racist acts, comes from a loss of judgment and proportion. This loss of proportion and inability to distinguish among wrong acts rests on the idea that stereotypes are responsible for racism, not individuals.

I became interested in reading this book after seeing an intriguing reference to it in a Spiked article a few months ago. Shortly afterward, I fortuitously came across a copy in a secondhand bookstore. Having now read it, I have to amend my thinking a bit. You've heard me say many times that the trendy emphasis on intersectional social justice is merely the millennial generation's twist on the tired old fashion of left-wing identity politics. I still think this is true, but slightly incomplete. Lasch-Quinn's book does a very good job of illustrating the overlooked fact that both the vocabulary and the rhetorical framework favored by social justice warriors owe as much to the maudlin, emotionally-incontinent therapeutic culture as to the New Left. Truly, a grim example of the worst of both worlds combining as one.