For a few months now I’ve been avoiding the controversy that has been simmering in Unitarian Universalism. The fact that there are no Sunday services does help me stay out of it. Also, I just don’t need the aggravation. I have better things to do. But this week a couple of UU ministers from back east asked if I would be willing to help (in some unspecified way) with a book they’re writing on the subject. So I said, “Sure. Show me what you’ve got.”
For regular readers of this space (all three of you), perhaps I should mention that this post has nothing to do with writing fiction, except in a very, very tangential way. If you’d like to know how to peddle fiction and make it appear fact, you might pick up one or two tips.
I’m not going to say too much about the book these gentlemen are writing, because it would be premature. Having just finished reading one of the chapters, though, I’m happy to say it explains the underlying dynamic of the controversy in a way that I hadn’t quite grasped before.
To recap briefly, there’s a large and active core group in the higher levels of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) that is determined to stamp out racism within the UU community. They have some specific ideas of how to go about this.
I can’t and won’t quarrel with their objective. Overcoming racism, sexism, heterosexism, cisgenderism, and ableism — all very worth doing. The question is, how are we to go about it? Unfortunately, the tactics this core group is using are toxic, and are likely to destroy the very denomination they’re trying to save, or at least transform it into something vile.
The point I’ve been missing is that the views of this anti-racist group arise out of postmodernism. Postmodernism was a rather silly analytical theory that percolated its way through academia a few decades ago. The theory was that reality and truth are basically unknowable — that all we have are statements in the form of language. Language, or so the postmodernists held (and may still hold, for all I know), constructs what we experience as reality.
This is absurd on its face, of course, but it has a certain charm for the sort of academic pundit who enjoys intellectual masturbation.
The trouble with thorough-going postmodernism is that it eats its own tail (and its own tale, perhaps). If the theory is true, then it has no validity, because any statement of it is free-floating and can be neither validated nor disproved.
What seems to have happened, for the anti-racist faction, and this is a key insight I found in the upcoming book, is that one element has been rescued from the coils of postmodernism and posited as objectively real. That element is oppression.
Now, it’s certainly true that over the past 500 years or so, white male Europeans and Americans have been responsible for the vast majority of the oppression in the world. Nobody would deny that. It’s also the case that white male European/Americans have spent quite a lot of time justifying their oppression of non-whites, gays, and so on using specious and really insupportable arguments. Their feats of intellectual tap-dancing have been virtuosic — we can all agree on that. Their rhetoric has been used to justify oppression by denying the reality of the experience of non-white, non-hetero people.
What has happened is that the “woke” anti-racist bunch has turned this fact into a way of dismissing, using postmodernist thinking, anything at all that white men say. The explicit stance of the anti-racists seems to be that when non-white people describe their experiences, their descriptions are to be taken as factual, without any attempt to analyze them, because the only reality (in postmodern thinking) is what people say it is. If someone says they’ve encountered oppression, then, ipso facto, they have encountered oppression.
Meanwhile, any statement at all from white men is to be taken as a covert (or overt) attempt at oppression. A statement from a white man need not be and in fact cannot be analyzed to determine its truth or falsity, because, again, truth and falsity don’t exist. All that exists, in the postmodern canon, are expressions in the form of language.
The logic is simple and devastating. (a) White men rule the world. Well, most of it, anyway. (b) There is no reality except as it’s expressed in language. (c) Therefore, any statement made by a white man is an attempt to assert dominance and control over non-white people. (d) Conversely, any statement by a non-white person is to be trusted as a full and complete expression of fact. It cannot be questioned.
This is horseshit, but it’s precisely what the anti-racists within Unitarian Universalism think.
This is why the attacks on Todd Eklof’s book The Gadfly Papers appear so baffling to the uninitiated. Over and over, his attackers assert that he has caused “harm,” but they never specify a single instance of actual harm. To their way of thinking, they don’t need to. Todd Eklof is a white man. Therefore, any statement he makes, other than in agreement with their agenda, is an attempt to oppress non-white people. Merely by asking reasonable, logical questions, he is (in their minds) doing harm.
I’m not making this shit up, people. This is really what’s going on. If you don’t believe me, put on your hip boots and wade into the report of the Commission On Institutional Change, which was commissioned by the UUA. You can google it if you dare. I’m not going to link to it here. You’ll find it on the UUA website. It’s huge. It’s full of fat slabs of empty rhetoric, there’s not a smidgen of actual fact-finding or reasoned analysis anywhere in it, and it repeatedly attacks individualism. Individualism — the idea that we all ought to think for ourselves — is one of the hallmarks of the Enlightenment. But the “woke” faction doesn’t want that, because the Enlightenment was, you know, promulgated by white men. The Enlightenment enshrined reason and logic. Therefore, when Todd Eklof recommends the use of reason and logic, the “woke” bunch in the UUA rush to attack him.
As a side note, white men have, in the course of history, quite often oppressed other white men. Burned them at the stake, among other things. So the white/non-white dichotomy of oppression is not nearly as clear-cut as these folks would like you to think. Also, of course, the consistent oppression of gay people over the centuries has been spearheaded (so to speak) largely by the Christian and Islamic churches and has been pretty consistently opposed by the inheritors of the Enlightenment. The Methodist Church is currently being riven, or so I’ve read, by a schism because the African Methodists (who are, how can I put this delicately, black people) oppose the acceptance and ordination of homosexuals. The white Methodists in the U.S. have no problem with it. The reasonable conclusion is that oppression has no necessary connection either with race nor with any specific intellectual tradition such as the use of logic and reason.
But then, I’m a white male. You can’t possibly trust me.
Until I was made aware of the postmodernist subtext, I really didn’t understand how these adult human beings in the UUA could possibly be assaulting a fellow minister for using reason and logic. Now I get it.
I’ll tell you one thing, though. I’m not contributing another cent to my local UU church. Last year I chipped in a thousand bucks. This year, no. The hell of it is, I like the people in my local church. With a couple of exceptions (including, I’m sorry to say, the minister), they’re terrific people! But I still have the vestiges of an individual conscience. This here is a pile of horseshit up with which I will not put.