As I whimsically speculated at the end of the previous Chronicle, the current debacle of Western civilization—from which I still hope, without much confidence, that it will recover—strikes me as not merely a matter of transferring power from the West to China et al. It reflects not merely the fatigue of leadership but the beginning of a transition to a wholly new model of social organization. I am not qualified to discuss the technical details of what appears to be our future, and in any case, predictions even by the best-informed are seldom borne out. What is important is to attempt to understand the general direction these changes appear to be taking.
The “independent variable” in my explanation of wokeness has been the digitalization of human affairs, from manufacturing to entertainment and the rest, and the consequent premium placed on symbol-manipulation. This last has been until now an activity unique to the human brain. But ominously, it is proving to be a mechanizable activity increasingly independent of the human brain.
Not only have electro-mechanical devices become able to replace humans in an increasing number of activities, they have reached the point of being able to “learn” procedures beyond the capacities of their human programmers to discover for themselves. The contrast between such “labor” and Marx’s idea, conceived not all that long ago, of quasi-uniform human “labor power” is not just striking but disquieting.
The fact that the intensification of this development coincides with the West’s quasi-suicidal rejection of objective criteria of intellectual ability in the name of “equity” is ironic, but not at all incomprehensible. Just when, not coincidentally in the age of AI, our society is threatened by a formidable rival and should presumably be (as I pollyannishly speculated in the New Year Chronicle 683) making every effort at mobilizing its population’s loyalty and strivings for excellence, the exact opposite is occurring. Now that the wokization of the entire educational system is all but complete, learners from 3 to 30 are taught that our civilization is unworthy of their loyalty, and that inculcating the seriousness hitherto characteristic of civilization in general is one more example of systemic racism.
Exceeding and “supplementing” resentment, victimary thinking is a malignant outgrowth of Christianity, and more specifically, of the scandalous flaws in Judeo-Christian civilization revealed in the first half of the 20th century. It reflects a failure of nerve, but it is driven by a sense of civilizational failure that goes much deeper.
In the wake of the horrors of Communism and Nazism, this latest shameful, if less murderous, distortion of Christianity is no longer a Western effort, however misguided, toward creating a better (classless, racially pure) world, but a way of resigning itself to defeat. When a society reaches the point of teaching its children that it is founded on slavery and colonization and remains permeated by “systemic racism,” that society is informing the world that it no longer cares, nor deserves, to defend itself. The fact that most respectable white Americans—no doubt a larger percentage than of those of color—have largely bought into this perspective, makes argument useless.
How much longer will the Bronx High School of Science maintain its competitive entrance examination against the pressure of “equity”? But why bother? Meritocratic examinations have been part of Chinese culture for millennia. Those raised in the Chinese tradition, including other Asians, are demonstrating their ability to work within the West’s meritocratic systems at the very moment when our institutions are turning to anti-white “racialism,” expanded to include “near-white” Asians who have the bad taste to be academically successful. So far this has not prevented our economy from functioning; but it is a daily increasing handicap, as if we are daring China to defeat us at Go even as we keep allowing them extra turns.
I doubt if ever in world history has respectability among the elite been so turned against the public order that a self-respecting life depends on. Respectability is now defined by the principled rejection of any criterion that correlates with “privilege,” irrespective of merit.
What is valued instead, by those who can afford it is “quality,” or rather, luxury—paying several times as much for a name brand or an upscale restaurant meal or a better seat in a plane (for those not yet ready for private jets). In contrast, “the rest,” who buy “ordinary” products, are lumped together; the middle class is included in the elite’s contempt for the tastes of the lower classes, while its traditional marks of respectability are denounced as “white privilege.”
The victim-worship that is the core of wokeness is a caricature of the Christian respect for the humble, children, the poor—attitudes that tacitly assume on the part of their recipients a genuine absence of agency, whereas the effect of wokeness perversely stimulates the “victims’” agency all the more by its insistent denial. Although the typical member of a victim class is only mildly benefited by his new status through affirmative action of various kinds, vast new opportunities for wealth and power cannot escape the attention of those willing and able to profit from the victimary role.
At René Girard’s funeral celebration in Palo Alto in 2015, at which a requiem mass was said (in Latin) for his soul, I was surprised to see Jerry Brown, at the time governor of California, who attended the mass as a simple mourner, without any kind of entourage. During the reception following the ceremony, Brown became engaged with a middle-aged woman who seemed to have wandered into the group without any particular reason, perhaps because she normally hung around the church. In any case, seeing that she was having difficulty getting into a boot that she had taken off, Brown knelt down and came to her aid. Jean-Pierre Dupuy (whose prior association with Brown may well have been the source of the latter’s interest in Girard) whispered to me the word “Jesus!”
To be fair to Brown, his gesture was clearly spontaneous, not intended for public consumption. Whether or not this makes him a candidate for sainthood, his action was a perfect counter-example to the gesture last June of the members of Congress, wearing Ashanti scarves (unaware that the Ashanti had been notorious slave-traders), in kneeling before BLM representatives.
Brown wasn’t humiliating himself; he was making himself useful. In other words, he was illustrating on the most fundamental level how one’s firstness can be of benefit to another: helping a weaker person to put on her shoe. When the Pope washes the feet of the poor on Holy Thursday—or when Jesus performed the same act—the same characterization holds true. It is a demonstration of moral equality that depends at the same time on firstness, the greater capacity of some for worldly activity.
In contrast, kneeling before other human beings to express (not my own but) my race’s White Guilt is an action of abjection, not of nobility, and the only benefit it provides its recipients is a false sense of their own moral superiority.
Yet much as I find this act morally repulsive, and have little reason to judge such as Nancy Pelosi as any less so, what strikes me as the most horrible thing about it is that those who performed it did so not merely for the sake of publicity and “virtue-signaling,” but because (assuming that even the most cynical politicians have souls) they honestly believed it was a righteous—and not merely self-righteous—act. As virtually all those who follow the woke creed, cynically or otherwise, believe in the “virtue” they are signaling. If their acts were purely cynical, I would find them less perturbing.
Moral equality, the lesson of humanity’s originary event, is not in itself a problem; it is our default attitude, all other things being equal. But in the real world, outside the sacred scene, they are generally not. Whence the failure of all large-scale attempts to adopt equalitarianism as an ethic.
Mimetic rivalry concerns all as “equals,” but as the originary event showed, humans were able to solve, or rather, defer this problem through the agency of the sacred, which imposes its will that the fundamental values of life be shared “equally.” The more tenacious difficulty posed to humans, even in an egalitarian setting, is not equality but firstness.
The two-phase structure of both God’s creation/fall of man in Genesis and Rousseau’s distinction between la société commencée and the moment at which someone first says Ceci est à moi reflect the same tension between the moral and the ethical, between equality before the sacred and inequality in the activities of life.
The originary society of equals, as we know, was anything but peaceful. Equal sharing has never functioned above an elementary level of culture, and attempts to revive it, such as on the Israeli kibbutz, even with the best will and motives, have never succeeded for long. Whatever the task, some are better at it than others. The great error of woke moralists is to judge firstness as a moral evil in itself, as though the victors in every war deserved to lose.
The function of religion has been to maintain the presence of the sacred as a providential will in society as it is, in the world beyond the scene. Voegelin’s contrast between the “compact” ancient empires and the “differentiated” societies that emerged in the Axial Age turns on the birth of “new” religions that accept the historical nature of the division between morality and ethics rather than continuing to assimilate the two. The contrast between the two Christian kingdoms of heaven and earth, God and Caesar, allow for the emergence of a truly anthropological ethic, one that respects the originary nature of morality while attempting to adapt it to the ethical needs of social reality.
Whereas the “moral model” of reciprocal morality can be said with assurance to date from man’s earliest moments, embodied as it is in language itself and in the form of collective rituals, justifying firstness—hierarchical differentiation—with respect to the scene has been the chief task of religion in historical societies, where affirming the sacred’s protection of the social order depends on granting legitimacy to political authority.
Religion has adapted to the needs of society through the ages, but in today’s West it has become either powerless or dysfunctional. The woke antireligion operates through denial of even the most basic realities that reflect human firstness, claiming that mathematics is white, or that sexual identity is a matter of choice. In contrast with the fundamental religious notion that the sacred makes the world essentially safe for us, the reliance on the epistemology of resentment to “awoken” us to the universal applicability of the moral model has led to a vision of the human species as a dangerous interloper in the natural world, and of the Western “white” as the ruthless bringer of sin into the paradise of the noble POC.
I have already attempted to explain (see, e.g., Chronicles 684, 690) how the religion of wokeness has given rise to a near-totalitarian alliance of politicians, institutions, and media, financed by the previously inconceivable accumulations of wealth made possible by global commerce and digital near-monopolies. But in answer to the question of how a society can function under a religious dispensation that insists on its sinfulness, it is grossly misleading to view White Guilt simply as a secularized manifestation of the Calvinist roots of American Protestantism, still so vigorous at the turn of the 20th century.
The contempt of the woke for “white” Christianity is not a minor detail that can be passed over when analyzing our “psychological” dispositions. White Guilt is both untranscendable, unforgivable, and… unchangeable. That there is no God to pray to for grace is what leads to the unseemly self-abasement at the feet of representatives of our victimary betters. This stain is the mark of firstness, one inscribed not just on our souls but on our bodies, and which we can expiate only symbolically, and must continue to live with—while enjoying its benefits.
The example of Europe suggests the image of our future. Rather than remaining an exemplary national culture able to blend the world’s different ethnicities in a truly diverse yet unified civilization, the American melting pot is divided into “intersectional” victim-groups each affirming its right not merely to existence but exemplarity. The society’s birth deficit, which will only continue to increase, will be replenished by immigration, no longer seen as adding to the melting pot, but to a “non-white” population valued for its victimary status—and presumably voting accordingly. How long will it be before the disastrous proliferation of France’s “no-go zones” (zones sensibles) will be repeated here?
China and the Sacred
From the little I know of Chinese culture, the Confucian Analects are the closest thing China has to a Bible. Nothing in the Analects has anything to do with transcendence, not because they are “atheistic,” but rather because the Western tension between morality and ethics is unthinkable within the Middle Kingdom’s timeless maturity. The idea of a morality distinct from an ethic, of an “origin” and a “fall,” is simply inconceivable. China’s chief holy book is a collection of the wisdom of a minor administrator and teacher of ethics of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty in the 6th-5th centuries BC. In Confucius’ China, civilization takes itself for granted as subject to a “way” and “rites” that it is unnecessary to specify.
Reading these texts, I cannot avoid a sense of unease brought about by their everyday worldliness. Confucius is much closer to us than either the great figures of the Bible, the Buddha, or the heroes of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. His only concern is the smooth running of the social order, which he views as necessarily hierarchical, but ideally “benevolent” to the “common people.”
The moral wisdom of Confucius is universal. He recognizes the “golden rule,” stated as “Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire” (Analects 15: 24), and constantly insists that the “gentleman” must put honor and benevolence above wealth and fame. There are also religious sacrifices and “rites” that must be correctly performed. But there is no one to say, “My kingdom is not of this world.”
No doubt the roots of the scientific and industrial accomplishments of the current CCP, as well as of its political philosophy, can be found in the Western struggle between morality and ethics, submission and resentment, metaphysics and “primordial” being. But in the coming age of Artificial Intelligence, this can be of no real consequence.
If anything can be said to define the human, it is the manipulation of signs. And once this activity has become no longer a matter of différance and communion, but of algorithms and recursion, the West’s Judeo-Christian prehistory will have fulfilled its mission. We can henceforth in confidence leave the rest to the representatives of the world’s most venerable hierarchical civilization.