Bruce Bawer, The Victims’ Revolution: The Rise of Identity Studies and the Closing of the Liberal Mind, Broadside Books, 2012, 400 pp., $25.99.
There was a time when an education in the humanities meant an introduction to the most marvelous things that have ever been written or thought. Its goal was to teach students to distinguish the beautiful from the mediocre, and to give them a life-long appreciation for the glories of Western civilization.
Not any more, warns journalist Bruce Bawer in this ruthless dissection of the self-absorption and resentment that passes for scholarship in the humanities today. Thousands of university departments now teach contempt for Western civilization, and train students to see the West only as a “hegemonic” oppressor of non-whites, women, Third-World people, homosexuals, and nearly everyone else.
Most humanities departments are now hostile to the West, but the newly established ones, such as Women’s Studies, Black Studies, Queer Studies, and Chicano Studies, are just plain vicious. They peddle what Dr. Bawer calls “identity studies” and are the main subject of this book. These new departments are run by and for the self-styled victims, and encourage students to search every detail of their lives for traces of exploitation and exclusion. They seem to have nothing resembling academic standards; only a numbingly conformist hatred for “capitalism,” “racism,” and all the other phony “isms.”
Some of the favorite tools for attacking the West come from the philosophical method known as Deconstructionism. It was invented by the Frenchman Jacques Derrida, and amplified and elaborated by the likes of Michel Foucault. Deconstructionism uses a blizzard of jargon to “deconstruct” the meanings of “texts”—novels, ad jingles, statutes, diaries are all “texts”—and lay bare their politics and prejudices.
The favorite deconstructionist angles are the holy trinity of race, class, and sex (always called “gender”), and the idea is certainly not to enjoy or understand a novel, for example, but to work up a roaring indignation over the author’s racism, classism, and sexism. As Dr. Bawer notes, a “text” is “hailed or condemned in accordance with certain political checklists.” The result, as he explains, is that “literary works were now simply fields on which to play language games and wage political battles that had little or no intrinsic connection to the works themselves.”
Dr. Bawer explains that these con artists do not just read their texts; they “interrogate” them as if they were prisoners at the dock. In this process, they “problematize” them, that is, they smoke out the unconscious sexism and classism of old fools like Herman Melville or Henry Fielding. More fun is to be had with “intersectionality,” or counting up layers of oppression: a black servant girl is a victim of all three evils: racism, sexism, and classism. Having righted all the wrongs in the “text,” the triumphant deconstructionist can claim that he has not merely “interrogated” it but “intervened” in it. Needless to say, the same pedantic self righteousness can be applied to works of art, institutions, and entire societies.
Foucault is useful because he taught that all statements are about power. Since so many great cultural figures were white men, they can all be dismissed as members of an elaborate power structure they designed to hold down everyone else. Foucault was a tireless, bath-house-prowling homosexual, and helped make his own kind another important victim category. Dr. Bawer explains that “all white, bourgeois heterosexual men are by definition powerful, while those who are nonwhite, nonheterosexual, and nonmale are by definition powerless.”
Another tenet of identity studies is that all cultures are equal. However, since European culture was built by white men, it is always the loser in any comparison.
Add to all this a heavy shellac of Marxism, and you get a state of mind that is anti-white, anti-American, anti-capitalist, and completely alien to the way normal people think. This is meat and drink to the students of identity.
Although blacks were the first victim group to get college credit for studying themselves, Dr. Bawer begins with Women’s Studies because it is the largest field. No fewer than 661 institutions offer a degree in Women’s Studies; 43 award a masters degree and 15 grant the PhD. They circulate myths about founding mothers battling the patriarchy to get recognition for Women’s Studies, but Dr. Bawer says these departments breezed onto campus.
Curiously, the field is packed with junk that does not have much to do with women: race, class, postcolonialism, erotic orientation, and queer theory. All this would be a surprise to the early feminists, such as Kate Millet and Susan Brownmiller, who stuck to the idea of male oppression and the need to fight it. However, they were both admirers of Marx, and thought the state could take care of children while their mothers ran the country, so they would be at home among the lefties.
Shrewishness, at least, is still a key element of Women’s Studies. As Brownmiller used to say, rape is “a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear.” Anti-pornography crusader Andrea Dworkin explained that “intercourse is the pure, sterile, formal expression of men’s contempt for women.” Mary Daly of Boston College, for whom feminism was nothing but rage and revenge, would not let men take her courses, and refused to call on them in mixed audiences. Robin Morgan of the Women’s Media Center explains that “man hating” is “an honorable and viable political act.”
As Dr. Bawer explains, feminists “ ‘interpret’ men’s lives in light of the doctrine that men are by definition oppressors, warmongers, potential rapists, and beneficiaries of patriarchal social structures.” “Take Back the Night” campaigns are still the campus rage. The theory is that men turn into werewolves after dark, so women must scare them off with candles.
The feminists like “social construction,” or the view that socially enforced role models rather than human nature explain behavior. Or, as Dr. Bawer explains, they use it when it suits them. Everything they don’t like about women is “socially constructed” whereas everything they like about women is essential and inherent. Men, however, are almost never socially constructed: They are bad by nature.
Biology is a mystery to the students of women. On the one hand, they refuse to admit that boys and girls have any biologically oriented behavior differences, but they crow about “women’s supposedly distinct—and, of course, always superior—‘ways of knowing’.”
The high priestesses of the cult are now heavily lesbian, and they are happy to recruit. Women are attracted to men only because society “genders” them that way, so with an effort of consciousness a student can cast off the shackles of heterosexuality and have sex with her teacher. This emphasis on lesbianism casts one of the famous early feminists, Betty Friedan, in an uncertain light. She despised lesbians and thought they would give feminism a bad name, so she has disappeared from most reading lists.
It’s bad luck for Women’s Studies, but “sexism” always takes a back seat to “racism.” It used to be doctrine that any time a woman claimed she had been raped, she was certain to be telling the truth. Then blacks complained that “brothers” had been lynched merely on the say-so of some nasty white women, so the feminists had to scuttle that doctrine.
Likewise, white women don’t have the right to complain about the way Muslims treat women. You would think “feminists” would be bawling nonstop about genital mutilation, polygamy, and wrapping women in black sheets, but that would be “Islamophobia,” which is far worse than carving off a woman’s clitoris. The way a non-white man behaves is part of his superior non-Western culture, and earnest white lesbians must never be guilty of “neo-colonialism.” Another way around the problem is to pretend that the uniquely twisted hegemonic nature of white men makes them just as bad as Muslims. It is also permissible to argue that if Muslims are brutes it is only because the West has oppressed them, so the way to cure them is through revolution here at home.
In identity studies, the student is often the subject of the course, so there is likely to be plenty of classroom “sharing” and exhibitionism. At the same time, since women are supposed to be non-hierarchical, non-judgmental, and communal, some professors refuse to put themselves above their students and actually teach anything. Classes then become nothing more than venting and therapy, and everyone gets an A. If a teacher assigns work and expects students to do it, she may be accused of betraying the sisterhood.
Women’s Studies was supposed to be about “giving voice to the silent,” but it has its own powerful silencing mechanisms. The people who run identity studies think like gulag guards and do not tolerate dissent. As Dr. Bawer points out, its purpose was always political indoctrination masquerading as education. The result is that women come out of these programs thinking they have learned how to transform the world, but can’t get a job or even get along with normal people.
Unlike Women’s Studies, Black Studies has not been diluted with “intersectionality” and other mush; it has always been about money and power for the brothers. The first departments were established through pure intimidation. The 1960s were a time of race riots and black power. Black radicals hectored and threatened San Francisco State College (now University) into setting up the first Black Studies department in 1969. Students at other campuses used the same tactics, and after Harvard and Yale gave in, there were few holdouts. Dr. Bawer notes that black colleges initially resisted the fad, but eventually they fell into line, too. There are now 800 tenured Black Studies professors in the United States, and countless lesser fry.
Dr. Bawer interviewed Shelby Steele of the Hoover Institution who, in his younger days, helped browbeat white administrators. Dr. Steele now wishes he had failed. He admits that blacks had no idea what the new departments would even teach, and he feels sorry for students who waste their time and money studying resentment rather than learning something.
The idea, as one militant explained was to “decolonize the minds of black people.” The problem was that “A lot of folks didn’t even know they were black. A lot of people thought they were Americans.”
In Black Studies these days, everyone agrees that the Greeks stole all their good ideas from the ancient Egyptians, who were black. Africans sailed to South America long before Columbus and founded the Olmec civilization. Every bad thing that has ever happened to blacks anywhere any time is the fault of white people.
Dr. Bawer points out that the basic stance of Black Studies is a fraud. Maulana Karenga, the inventor of Kwanza and the head of Black Studies at UC Long Beach, is a good example. “A black education which is not revolutionary in the current day is both irrelevant and useless,” he says, from his plush nest as a tenured professor. Like so many “revolutionaries,” he has long ago discovered that he is far better off within the system so long as he can keep whitey on the hop, and the more power blacks have—within the system they are supposed to be overthrowing—the more they can make whitey hop: “We must move on every level to get power. We must have an organization that thinks, acts, breathes and sleeps on the question of power.”
Since black power is the main purpose of Black Studies, its aficionados do not make concessions to feminism or Queer Studies. The stars in the field are men, and they skip lightly over the homosexuality of Bayard Rustin, Langston Hughes, and the author Countee Cullen. The top stars, Dr. Bawer tells us—the likes of Henry Gates of Harvard and Cornell West of Princeton—are “expert hustlers” who have perfected the art of squeezing money and adoration out of whites. Dr. Bawer says Prof. Gates, who has collected no fewer than 51 honorary degrees, could probably crown himself president of Harvard if he set his mind to it.
Blacks were disconcerted to see Mexican-Americans, or Chicanos, hot on their heels milking the white man. They hustled college administrations just as skillfully, and Chicano Studies courses sprouted all of the country. Why “Chicano”? Rodolfo Acuna of California State University at Northridge, one of the panjandrums of the movement, explains that it “eliminates the American from the Mexican-American identity.”
However, using a Spanish word with a masculine ending brought trouble that “Mexican-American” would have avoided. The ladies beefed, so the field is full of clumsy formulations such as Chicano/a Studies or Chicana & Chicano Studies or even Chican@ studies, which is supposed to be hermaphroditic. Whatever it’s called, you can get a PhD in it.
Feminism gave the Chicanos a headache from the start. As Dr. Bawer writes, they worried that “Chicanas would fall prey to ‘white European thinking’ and ‘lose their Chicanisma or their womanhood and become a frigid gringa.’ ” The eternal debate among Chicana feminists is whether to side with Chicano men or liberated Anglo women, but no one wants to be a race traitor. The loyal Chicana squares the circle by explaining that it is not her oaf boyfriend who abuses her; it is the Anglo capitalist system that abuses the oaf.
These days, Chicano Studies is not sure what it wants. The original idea was to found Aztlán, the “bronze continent,” which would be ripped out of the southwest of the United States and purged of whites. According to the El Plan Espiritual de Aztlan, the mighty Chicano would “driv[e] the exploiter out of our communities, our pueblos, and our lands” and “defeat the gringo dollar value system.” Invertebrate college administrations approved scores of departments dedicated to dismembering the United States.
Now, says Dr. Bawer, Aztlán seems less likely, so the secessionists have become standard-issue grievance peddlers and Marxists. They teach resentment of Spain as the colonizer but outright hatred of the Anglo for taking the northern part of Mexico. They teach that the Aztecs and Mayans and Incans were generous, collectivist people who respected nature. Human sacrifice? Best not to talk about that. And, of course, to be a good Chicano you must be a lefty and admire Fidel Castro.
The founders of the Chicano racket worry that youngsters aren’t angry enough. One Chicana professor told Dr. Bawer about a young Chicana who regretted—yes, regretted—that she had never experienced racism. She was yearning to be a victim, but was thwarted. The Chicana professor had to explain to her that she was a victim of institutional racism every day. She couldn’t understand why it takes college training to sniff out Anglo wickedness.
Almost the worst nightmare for the old-timers is a rich Hispanic, because that is something the gringo dollar value system is not supposed to allow. The worst nightmare is a Hispanic who thinks he is American.
Dr. Bawer writes that like all the other victims, Chicanos love to talk about themselves—“it’s important to document our stories”—and tales of racism and the dawning of Chicano consciousness are common classroom fare. There is also a brand of Chicano Studies that treats Mexican food, music, dance, dress-making, etc., as cultural monuments. Like blacks, Hispanics have managed to keep out the homosexuals: Chicanos don’t get extra victim-bragging rights because they are gay or have AIDS; they get the bum’s rush.
In Dr. Bawer’s view, now that secession is mostly off the table the field is, “to a great extent, a locus for Marxist propaganda.”
When homosexuals study themselves they usually do it as a part of the Women’s Studies department. Perhaps this is because Gay Studies came later, and by that time Women’s Studies was awash with lesbians. In any case, Dr. Bawer, who is himself homosexual, writes that the field is almost as ferociously anti-man as Women’s Studies: “Even to suggest that it might be worthwhile to examine gay male identity, history, and experience as a topic unto itself, without constant reference to the alleged evils of patriarchy and the oppression of women, is to identify oneself as sexist.”
The lesbians claim that gay white men are not even real victims: “A lesbian, after all, cannot disguise her gender, and a black man cannot hide his color, but a gay white man can keep his sexual orientation a secret and thereby function smoothly as a member of the oppressor class.” Only if a gay white man is dying of AIDS will the lesbians consider him oppressed.
Like Women’s Studies, Gay Studies have branched off into all manner of pablum. When a man named Larry Kramer gave Yale a million dollars to start an institute for lesbian and gay studies he thought was going to get serious scholarship about homosexuality. Instead, he got courses on “Gender and Sexuality in Popular Music,” Gender Transgression,” “Beauty, Fashion, and Self-Styling,” and “Queer Ethnographies.” Mr. Kramer beefed but Yale, which is the homosexual headquarters of the Ivy League, refused to return his money.
Not surprisingly, with women in charge, Gay Studies courses are crammed with true confessions, journal writing, coming-out stories, and therapy. Teachers “encourage students to consider every aspect of their daily lives fascinating and meaningful simply because they are gay.” The field is drenched in the meaningless jabber of Marx, Foucault, and Derrida.
For the most radical, no true homosexual wants to join the army or marry his lover. Authentic homos have nothing to do with bourgeois institutions, and anyone who wants in has swallowed the lies of an oppressive system. To Dr. Bawer’s annoyance, the social constructionists claim homosexuals can choose their own erotic orientation, which Dr. Bawer sees as playing into the hands of the people who want to cure homosexuality.
What seems most to anger Dr. Bawer is the pretense of “otherness.” Gay Studies are run by the most privileged, cosseted homosexuals in history, yet they write about themselves as if they can’t even walk around the block without being assaulted or at least gawked at. Their erotic orientation is their excuse and justification for hating everything about America and the West. Dr. Bawer says they are completely out of touch with younger, better adjusted homosexuals:
They [young homosexuals] don’t see themselves as different in any significant way from their straight friends; they don’t view themselves as members of a subculture or feel that their homosexuality obliges them to become political radicals or sexual libertines or to live in gay ghettos. To show young gay people today a gay newspaper or magazine from 1990 or earlier is to introduce them to a world that is completely alien to them.
The Gay Studies faculty are like the Chicano Studies faculty: They want their students to be as angry, maladjusted, and bloody-minded as they are.
There appears to be a deeper layer of Gay Studies—Queer Studies—that glorifies whatever is queer or out of step. It was invented by two women, one of whom, Eve Sedgwick, was a happily-married hetero. Dr. Bawer explains that “queer is by definition whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant. There is nothing in particular to which it necessarily refers.” By this standard the Ku Klux Klan would be a fit subject for Queer Studies. It is this adversarial queerness that authentic homosexuals are supposed to develop and cherish: “Lesbians and gay men who have no desire ‘to become queer’ have failed at a task that is obligatory for them.”
Queer Studies takes social construction to the limit: “You may be a man who has no attraction to other men at all and has never had sexual conduct with another male, but if you choose to call yourself ‘queer,’ that is what you are.” Or, you can be a homosexual who has had sex with thousands of men but if you present yourself as a hetero that is what you are. How about men and women? “Even sex differences are not properly a biological question but one on which queer theorists are supposed to pronounce.”
More snake oil
Not all of this is home grown; something called Cultural Studies infected us from Britain. It tends to be parked in English departments, where it examines everything around us “with the intention of better understanding the workings of hegemonic cultural power in everyday life.” Many of its practitioners consider themselves “artists” and “political activists” rather than academics. Dr. Bawer says they know nothing about anything; they just babble the lingo of deconstructionism.
There is even something called Disability Studies. Here, the social constructionists tread softly; even these phonies hesitate to tell a paraplegic that his condition is all in his mind. Still, the idea is to ignore biology if at all possible and blame doctors. As Dr. Bawer explains, “what disables disabled people isn’t their disabilities but white men, capitalism, and all the other usual suspects.” You can get a PhD in this.
Then there is Fat Studies. It is yet another sub-brand of women’s studies. Beauty, after all, is yet another socially constructed form of oppression, and we must overcome prejudices against the fat. The media carries on irresponsibly about “the obesity epidemic,” which is a form of “blaming and shaming.” There appear to be no men in this racket.
And finally, there is Men’s Studies, which is also a wholly owned subsidiary of Women’s Studies, and just another angle on cataloging the sins and defects of men. You can study this at 100 campuses in the US and Canada.
What can be done about this pseudo-academic landfill? Alas, not much, says Dr. Bawer. The people who peddle this stuff are dug in very deeply, and have allies in administrations. Depressingly, Dr. Bawer says that one of the best solutions would be to start a university from scratch—he says there are plenty of unemployed PhDs. How practical is that?
Surely state legislatures could clean house at public universities. The Black Studies shysters are probably invulnerable, but with budgets in the red, Queer Studies is an obvious place to start cutting. Surely, black and Hispanic legislators would join in a vote to turf out the lesbians who run Women’s Studies. Also, parents vote with their dollars. What father is going to foot the bill for a degree in Fat Studies—even if his daughter is a mountain of fat? Surely, if a program cannot attract students it will die.
Racial tension is inevitable in a multi-racial society, but no college campus should be teaching women to hate men and encouraging white students to hate their own heritage and history. Whatever solutions may be possible, it is a sign of the astonishing degeneracy of our times that universities are infested with entire disciplines devoted to destroying the West.