Note: My book The Victims’ Revolution was first published by Broadside Books, a HarperCollins imprint, in 2012. In February, Post Hill Press will issue the paperback edition, which includes a new foreword by Douglas Murray and a new introduction by me. Here is the latter.
Disney, which brought you Bambi and the Little Mermaid, creates a female Muslim superhero named “Ms. Marvel” and a robot who asks a transgender man for advice on female sanitary product. Larry Elder, a black GOP candidate for governor of California, is smeared by the Los Angeles Times as “the black face of white supremacy” for preaching a message essentially identical to that of Martin Luther King, Jr. When an 80-year-old woman complains to her local YMCA about a biological male lurking in the women’s locker room, she’s banned for being a transphobe. The Hachette publishing group cancels the memoirs of our most acclaimed living movie director because of discredited, decades-old molestation charges. The Biden Administration sets down strict vaccination rules for those entering the country with legitimate visas, but exempts people crossing the southern border illegally.
All this insanity didn’t come out of nowhere. Since the 1960s, as I describe in Chapter One of this book, the study of literature and other fields in the humanities and social sciences has been gradually transformed into something very different – and extremely distressing. An increasing focus on group identity – and on the strict division of humankind into oppressor groups and victim groups – fed the growth of such disciplines as Women’s Studies, Black Studies, Queer Studies, and Chicano Studies. I’m not alone in calling them “grievance studies,” and in considering them to be inimical to the serious study of human beings as complex individuals with a variety of virtues and defects.
This book is about those “grievance studies.” In preparing it, I read voluminously in these fields, attended conferences, sat in on classes, and performed interviews. I knew that I was taking on not just the entire American higher-education establishment but also the elite media that are its ideological allies. So it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when the New York Times Book Review ran – on its front page, no less – a loftily dismissive account of my book by a purported education expert who, calling it “out of date,” claimed that identity studies represented “a shrinking sector of academic life” and that his “younger colleagues” at a certain Ivy League college were “returning to close readings of literary classics.”
Those familiar with – and critical of – the actual situation in academia recognized this as a lie, and praised The Victims’ Revolution as truth-telling, plain and simple. Calling it “indispensable,” Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, theorized that the Times had judged the book “too important to ignore,” hence the dishonest review. George Leef of the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal agreed. “It’s revealing,” Leef wrote, “that the NYT editor realized that the book couldn’t be ignored, but had to be panned.” And Hoover Institution fellow Bruce Thornton called the Times review “a textbook illustration of how the academic establishment goes after anyone who exposes the corruption of a reactionary, failing institution.”
As it turned out, The Victims’ Revolution wasn’t only right on the money about what was going on at America’s most respected colleges. It was prescient. I don’t know of any other book from 2012 that so much as hinted at what the world of 2022 might look like. But to read The Victims’ Revolution is to see pretty much every crazy social development of the last decade in chrysalis. “The future of America,” I wrote in its last sentence, “hangs in the balance.” My point was that what was being taught widely on America’s campuses wouldn’t be confined to those campuses for long.
Unfortunately, I was right. The ideological toxins at the heart of identity studies escaped the academy like a virus escaping a Chinese lab. The general culture was infected. And suddenly the world was turned upside down.
* * *
To borrow from the current lexicon, the world went woke. It happened because college graduates who’d been marinated in identity studies introduced the cockamamie concepts they’d picked up in class into their new workplaces and communities.
Women’s Studies? The #metoo movement, which started by bringing down serial sex offenders like Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, was soon ruining the lives of men who’d done next to nothing. The vengeful hysteria of many #metoo activists stunned more than a few observers – but wouldn’t have surprised anyone who’d read in my Women’s Studies chapter about students being fed grotesquely exaggerated rape statistics and being taught to regard men (Western men, anyway) as predatory and violent by nature.
Black Studies? The year 2018 saw the publication of White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, who argued that all whites are eternally guilty of race hatred and all blacks their eternal victims. The following year saw the publication of How to Be an Antiracist by Black Studies graduate Ibram X. Kendi and the introduction of the New York Times’s 1619 Project, which attributes the American founding to racism. And 2020 saw the death of a criminal named George Floyd, who became an internationally famous martyr and casus belli. Suddenly, Critical Race Theory was everywhere, including in primary-school syllabi. For most Americans it was all new and baffling; but every bit of it was all straight out of Black Studies, which had been founded by race hustlers skilled at guilt-tripping whites – precisely the talent to which both DiAngelo and Kendi owe their success.
Chicano Studies? Donald Trump’s call for a border wall was cheered by American workers who’d seen no wage growth for decades owing to job competition from illegals – but it sparked outrage not only among these illegals’ employers but also among the innumerable college graduates who’d learned in Chicano Studies classrooms to view the U.S. as an an illegal occupier of “Aztlán” – that is, the regions once been ruled by Spain and then by Mexico – and to regard Chicanos, therefore, as America’s dispossessed, having far more of a right to live in the U.S. than any native-born citizen.
Queer Studies? When The Victims’ Revolution came out, gender dysphoria was an exceedingly rare phenomenon. A few years later, claims of transgender identity had become a trendy lifestyle choice and the supposed right of people to be recognized as members of the opposite sex (or of any one of dozens of other gender-identity categories) had become sacred.
This and other recent unsettling developments are natural outgrowths of queer theory, which, as can be seen in my chapter on Queer Studies, is far less concerned with studying sexual orientation than with celebrating gender.
There are other obvious continuities between identity studies and current social trends. The poisonous racism of Whiteness Studies, which a decade ago was almost entirely confined to the classroom, has gone mainstream, with white children being inculcated with self-hatred and black children being trained to see themselves as victims. (Robin DiAngelo, note well, is a leading Whiteness Studies figure.) Similarly, the reality series and fashion-magazine covers that celebrate the morbidly obese can be traced directly to the medically perilous claims of Fat Studies.
In short, the book I published in 2012 about certain unsettling tendencies on American campuses is no longer just about the academy. It’s a guidebook to – and a genealogy of – the most noxious of the strange new ideas that now suffuse our mainstream culture. How lamentable it is that conservatives, moderates, and classical liberals weren’t able to keep these ideas from taking over the colleges and universities; and how alarming it is that the sensible majority of citizens weren’t able to keep them from conquering society at large, where they are now reshaping our culture and rewiring our children’s minds.
As Fifth Circuit Judge James C. Ho said in a September 2022 speech announcing that he would no longer be hiring law clerks from Yale – where these lethal new ideas are particularly prevalent – “Our whole country has become a campus.”
* * *
The question before us today, of course, is what to do now that these toxins have escaped into the mainstream.
To begin with, it’s important to recognize that this isn’t a minor or fleeting development that you or I can hope to ignore, keeping our heads down until the freak parade passes by. These changes have already begun to take root and won’t get uprooted unless the sane and hitherto silent majority of the public resolves to give them the heave-ho.
And how to do that? For one thing, speak up every time you interact with somebody whom you suspect of being a party to this madness. What does your family doctor think, for instance, about giving hormone blockers to children? Ask her. If you don’t like her answer, challenge her on it. And if she stands her ground, tell her you consider her to have betrayed her Hippocratic oath, and then walk away and find another doctor.
Remember that the main reason why so many teachers, school psychologists, endocrinologists, surgeons, and other professionals are going along with trans ideology is not that they believe it: it’s that they’re taking what is, at the moment, the easy route, because virtually all the pressure they’re feeling is coming from the woke side. They need to know that there are more people who oppose this insanity than who support it, and that those opponents can exert pressure, too – and that if they want to preserve their livelihoods, they’d better do what’s right.
Some of the most inspiring videos I’ve seen in the last couple of years have been of school-board meetings at which parents have eloquently challenged the woke politics that schools have been shoving down their children’s throats. If every parent could be that involved, the problems we face would be very quickly and dramatically diminished. Be one of those parents. If you don’t like what your school-board members are saying, vote them off. If necessary, run for school board yourself. If these pedagogical practices aren’t nipped in the bud when your kids are still small, it may already be too late to scrub the nonsense out of their brains.
In fact, you could do worse than to get informed, and get involved, in electoral politics at all levels, from City Council on up. It’s not enough to vote for candidates who don’t parrot the woke agenda. Find candidates who are gutsy enough to oppose it passionately. And if such candidates don’t seem to be on offer in your neck of the woods, run yourself – or talk a like-minded friend into running. This is our country, and the only way to take it back from the woke brigade is to do so one elective office at a time.
Of course, institutions of higher education continue to be Ground Zero for all this drivel. Are you an alumnus of a college that’s gone woke? Do you nonetheless still send that college a check every year? If so, why? Have you ever picked up the phone to complain to the college president, or written a letter to the board of trustees, to criticize the ideological direction that your alma mater has taken? Have you threatened to cut it off financially?
Another crucial point about colleges. However appealing it might seem in the very short term, don’t let your babies grow up to be Yalies. It astonishes me that friends of mine who know very well – and deplore – what’s going on at Ivy League colleges nonetheless brag excitedly about their kids being admitted to these places. Are you one of those parents? If so, ask yourself what’s more important to you: the actual education your kid will get, or the purported cachet of a Harvard or Stanford diploma?
Don’t listen to me. Listen to Roger Kimball, editor of The New Criterion (and a Yale graduate), who wrote recently: “The educational establishment in its highest reaches is today a cesspool, contaminating the society it had been, at great expense, created to nurture. Still, parents are willing to climb naked over broken bottles and impoverish themselves to send their children to this cauldron of iniquity.” Or listen to Isaac Morehouse of the Institute for Humane Studies, who’s turned off not just by the Ivies but by almost all American colleges: “I can’t count the number of parents I’ve talked with who recognize that college is one of the worst places to learn and degrees are one of the weakest ways to try to get hired, but who still needlessly bite the bullet and send their kid anyway” – even though a college diploma nowadays “only proves that you were willing to follow the crowd.”
Keep in mind that a generation or so from now, either wokeism will have been vanquished, in which case diplomas handed out by the most ideologically corroded universities and colleges in the 2010s and 20s will be sources not of pride but of embarrassment, or it will have followed its natural course of development, resulting in something not unlike the Reign of Terror – in which case your highly credentialed but hopelessly brainwashed kid will eventually be the next sucker in line for the gallows.
If you do want your kids to get a real education, find a state college that still hasn’t gone fully woke. Or try Hillsdale College, whose 2022 commencement speaker was Jordan Peterson. Then there’s St. John’s College in Maryland, famous for its Great Books program. Another promising new option is the University of Austin, which was founded by Bari Weiss – a liberal lesbian who left the editorial board of the New York Times because she wasn’t woke enough for her fellow editors – and which is dedicated to “the fearless pursuit of truth.”
As you may know, even many units of the U.S. military have succumbed to woke ideology. So if your kid wants to join the service, do some research. Will they be using boot camp to build your kid’s character, self-discipline, strength, and resilience, or to produce a woke warrior? If the latter, advise your kid against taking that route – and write letters to the appropriate military officials explaining exactly why they’ll be denied the opportunity to indoctrinate your offspring.
And what about you? Has your employer ever brought in some consultant to subject you and your colleagues to a lecture about systematic racism or sexism? Did you feel that you had no choice other than to bite your tongue and get through it? Well, if it happens again, discuss it beforehand with your colleagues. Almost certainly, most of them feel pretty much the way you do. There’s strength in numbers. Often employers arrange these lectures in the first place because one or two employees pushed them to do it. If the majority of employees refuse to participate in such nonsense, it’ll stop.
Do you feel insufficiently skilled to take on woke thinking? Let me assure you that you’re not. These people are mediocrities, and their ideas are absurd. But if you want to sharpen your thoughts – well, for one thing, read this book carefully. Take notes. Then move on to books like Gad Saad’s The Parasitic Mind (2020), Abigail Shrier’s Irreversible Damage (2020), Helen Joyce’s Trans (2021), Vivek Ramaswamyi’s Woke, Inc. (2021), Andy Ngo’s Unmasked (2021), Douglas Murray’s The Madness of Crowds (2019) and The War on the West (2022), and James Lindsay’s Race Marxism (2022). Valuable interviews with and presentations by all of these writers can be found online, as can podcasts, such as Triggernometry, The Saad Truth, and The Rubin Report, on which woke ideology is discussed from sensible perspectives.
And what about the legacy media? If you read The New York Times every day, or watch CNN regularly, you can easily be deluded into thinking that you’re absolutely alone in your opposition to woke ideology. Put that thought out of your mind. It may seem impossible – it may sound like an outrageous exaggeration – but it’s true: most of the nation’s legacy media organs – including the Times, CNN, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, MSNBC, the network news divisions, and the Associated Press – are now little more than propaganda organs, marching in near-lockstep to push the same woke narrative. Fortunately, their role as go-to places for reliable news and fact-based commentary is increasingly being supplanted by a raft of first-rate online media. And allow me to underscore that this isn’t about left vs. right; it’s about ideology vs. truth. By the way, if I use the term legacy media (or, sometimes, corporate media) instead of mainstream media, it’s because those media are yesterday’s news. Every day they diminish in power and importance. Every day they’re less and less mainstream.
And that’s an important point to keep in mind. Even though woke ideology may seem at times to have conquered Western civilization, its hold on our institutions is still relatively fragile, and its supporters, however loud and aggressive, make up a small minority. To be sure, small minorities can transform a society. As late as February 1917, the Bolsheviks numbered only about 20,000; eight months later, they pulled off the October Revolution, subjecting the largest country in the world to a Communist tyranny that would not collapse until 72 years later. In the 1932 German elections, the Nazis won only 37.3% of the vote – but that was enough to give them an iron grip on the nation that was not loosened until the Allies marched in 13 years later.
But there’s only one way for a small minority of totalitarian ideologues to win in the long term – and that’s if the reasonable, common-sense majority allows itself to be scared into silence. So if this woke madness is affecting your life in any way, that means that there are people in your life who are pushing it. And the only response to that is to push back – and push back hard.