The Unity of Oppression and the Turn to Successor Ideology
Some Aspect of the Successor Ideology
I have only discussed gender ideology in passing, listing the binary structure of sexual difference as one of the myriad Great Moral Emergencies (along with the existence of police and prisons, differential outcomes on standardized tests, morphological preferences in dating, and all measurable group-based disparities in outcome) that the Professional Activist Class has declared must be eradicated at any cost. I considered for a while continuing my Twitter practice of speaking of gender ideology primarily through implication and analogy — which is to say, in a manner consistent with the esoteric strategies that enable risk minimization while airing disfavored opinion —but I recall one of the stated premises of this Substack, which is to proceed as if one were free to say what one believes.1 And when one speaks of a politics of knowledge that parasitizes truth-certifying institutions and uses them to manipulate language so as to render certain thoughts unthinkable (and thus certain political outcomes inevitable), one must speak of the movement that today serves as its ne plus ultra, the thing that is more in the nature of the thing that it is than any other thing.
The Successor Ideology posits what I call a "unity of all oppression" narrative and sets itself in opposition to what it calls "Eurocentric cisheteronormative patriarchy", which is a pretentious way of saying "the rule of straight white men". The ideology says that whites are privileged over non-whites, that men are privileged over women, that the able-bodied are privileged over the non-able-bodied, that heterosexuals are privileged over homosexuals, and that every one of us has a unique experience of both privilege and oppression structured by the dimensions along which we are privileged or oppressed that in sum accounts for who we are and where we end up in the world.
According to this account of social reality, one of the the goals of legitimate institutions, and part of the basis of their mandate to rule in the age of ideological succession, is that they must work to dismantle those implicit hierarchies in all their myriad guises. Whether or not any of them really understand that they did so, or intend to follow through on all the implications of the act, the countless private and public organizations that declared themselves “anti-racist” organizations all signed on to fulfill the agenda that flows from these principles. If they prove resistant to any specific reform demanded of them by the successor coalition, they will be confronted by their prior commitments and asked — politely at first, and then through the medium of screaming fits and claims of genocide — to live up to them.
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A manifesto posted online in 2017 by a group of black student activists at Harvard Law School referred to a "malleable and insidious" racism, found in "the architecture of expectations, the ranking of authorities, the sway of circumstance, the nudge of defaults, and the grammar of culture...It’s in the norms, customs, precedents, and incentive structures of institutions, jobs, and roles.” This is a more elaborated version of what is meant by the term “systemic racism,” and a more articulated version of what the unnamed New York Times staffer meant when she told Dean Baquet that “I just feel like racism is in everything.”
A simple paradigm case of the kind of insidious racism, preserved within the “norms, customs, precedents, and incentives structures of institutions, jobs, and roles,” to which the authors refers is the designation of the kind of kinky hair that black people have by virtue of their biological difference as inappropriate to the workplace. A grooming standard normed to what is typical for the average white person but only obtainable through expensive treatments for the typical black person will impose cost and time onto those who are systemically disfavored by it, and exact a less tangible but no less real psychic toll. The standard expresses the greater, unthinking power of the majority group held by virtue of being the majority and is a constant reminder of the existence of that power.
It’s for this reason that the New York City Human Rights council, a quasi-governmental entity that has placed itself at the vanguard of institutions advancing the Successor Ideology recently declared a right of New Yorkers to maintain “natural hair, treated or untreated hairstyles such as locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, fades, Afros, and/or the right to keep hair in an uncut or untrimmed state.” I’ll be revisiting the questions raised by the NYCHRC in a later post (the rule seems to confer a freedom from any workplace hair standard on black people that it does not seek to confer on whites), but for now, the point that matters is that we’ve established through one simple example that there really are quotidian standards of comportment that really do have racially disparate effects on minorities and that really do call out for remedial action that most reasonable people would recognize as legitimate.
Now, if we grant that this is a discrete instance of a real micro-inequity, we can also imagine several different possible inferences to be drawn from it. We can imagine that hair inequity is only one of a much wider repertoire of other such micro-equities. We might imagine that a pattern of subtle slights and incursions based on intended or unintended racism baked into the “grammar of culture”, when iterated over time, could combine to produce large disparities of outcome through a largely invisible process that produces a stratification along racial and gendered lines that would resemble what an overt oppressor would aim at without entailing actual oppression. We might end up calling this process of oppression without oppressors, as the Successor Ideologists do, “oppression”. And we might demand that true equality means a root and branch criticism of all that exists in order to ferret out inequity still baked into our societal operating systems, followed by a transformation of all those institutions to purge them of that inequity. And we might find that the causes of this inequity is not confined to minor matters of personal comportment such as dress or grooming, but that the infection is deep and encompasses the core institutions and practices of society such as objectivity, reason, competition, the work ethic, and so forth. We might find that the aforementioned forms of inquiry and ways of interacting purport to advance universal interests and values while in fact disguising and mystifying the operations of power that keep their makers — able-bodied cisheterosexual white men — in power.
Here, then is the conceptual turn that distinguishes Successor Ideology from the liberalism from which it emerged — the moment where it crystalizes from out of the prior framework and begins the process of cannibalizing the very set of assumptions that gave birth to it.
This framework of course proved very useful in academia. It is a machine for generating discourse and imbuing that discourse with moral and sociopolitical significance. It is most effective at propagating discourse when it unburdens itself from a burden of proof or from the tests of proportionality or reasonableness, and hardens into a dogma. It is a discourse unusually susceptible to those temptations, as it purports to speak on behalf of marginalized truths whose proof is situated in lived experiences that the logocentric system rejects in principle. In practice, the valorization of the subaltern, and the invitation to extended to the Madwoman in the Attic to speak her suppressed truth has a a way of turning into a warrant to dispense with any limiting principles on the claims one can make without challenge, and swiftly move toward totalizing accounts of reality.
A necessary condition of fighting one aspect of this many-tentacled beast is to fight all of its other aspects. Over the years, this movement has elaborated a continually advancing series of dimensions of oppression that it is necessary to invoke anytime any other dimensions of oppression are invoked, so as to ensure that the unity of all oppression is centered in our discussion of any particular of oppression. This peculiarity of the movement is rooted in both the academic parlor game of Left academe, and the prime directive of the non-profit professional activism sphere, which is to manufacture out of various discrete grievances, a single seamless synoptic picture of the world that can yoke together those various grievance under the sign of a single unifying mission.
One of the most complete evocations of what the tenets of this ideology add up to in practice was recently delivered by the historian Robin D. G. Kelley in an interview he gave to the website Truthout. Beginning as a critical reflection on the discourse around the Tulsa Massacre, it ends with an evocation of the political fantasia implicit in the Successor Ideology:
“In the United States, where the structure of colonial domination is completely shrouded in liberal multiculturalism, neoliberal homilies about freedom, colorblind discourse that undergirds criminalization and white supremacy, enabling 400 years of state-sanctioned serial murder to continue with impunity, power cannot be unseated merely through violence. (Of course, the very utterance of the word impunity reveals a contradiction, in that the point of law for the colonized is not protection but containment, discipline, and in some cases, genocide.) But we have no choice if we want to save the planet and free ourselves from liberal humanism. Decolonization, however, requires the abolition of all forms of oppression and violence. It means disbanding the military/police, opening borders, opening the prisons, freeing the body from the constraints of inherited and imposed normativities of gender and sexuality. It means ending war entirely, and that means the end of America as we know it.”
Kelley gives the uncompromising academic radical version of a creed whose sudden and surprising rise (in softer-hued versions) to a place where it does not just possess mainstream respectability but in fact defines it, is the mystery that must be solved. The mystery, simply stated, is that those who sought to pursue the cause of black equality through the instrument of the civil rights state, instead wound up providing a warrant for federal judges to regulate the manner in which local principals would set bathroom use policy .
So therefore Ibram X. Kendi, high priest of the Successor Ideology declares that:
Which sets the table for the discussion of gender ideology that will begin in the next post.
One is of course free to say what one believes in much the same way that one could insult a royal power highly constrained in its ability to see and know in the age of monarchs. The rules enjoining good and forbidding wrong were as a practical matter inoperative most of the time. But if you had the misfortune to attract the attention of the authorities then, there was no recourse to concepts of free speech or open inquiry at all, as those terms had not yet been formulated.
Today we live in an electronic panopticon that is nominally committed to the principles of free speech and open discourse, creating a different path to arriving at a similar result. One may speak freely most of the time, but the gatekeepers of the manufactured consensus can choose to target you on the basis of unclear and shifting criteria at any time. Our subject here is the onslaught of an ideology that proceeds by defining all contrary opinions — and increasingly, contrary facts — as existing in the ever-ramifying zone of exception — “hate, harassment, and misinformation” — that a faction of the legacy media, working in concert with the Successor coalition, has carved out of the nominal commitments to free speech and open discourse that still obtain, in a way that seeks to hollow out those concepts from within and result in their eventual inanition in practice. One will be free to say whatever one likes — provided one is not “a shitty person”, a concept that those groups arrogate to themselves the authority to define, redefine, apply, or withhold at will. “Cancellation” is only a means in this pursuit. It is our purpose here to specify the ends that these means serve.