An academic journal published an article by a scholar arguing that if there is “trangenderism,” in which a person’s sexual identity is determined by an individual’s choice, then there also needs to be “transracialism,” in which a person’s racial identity is a matter of an individual’s choice. Though the article is impeccably liberal, it brought out the “outrage mobs,” who forced both the journal editors and the scholar to do penance for their sins.
At the end of a discussion of this particular case, Nathanael Blake draws some close parallels between the “outrage mobs” and a particular kind of religiosity, one that is all about purity and language taboos, but lacking a concept of grace or redemption.
From Nathanael Blake, Hysteria Over ‘Transracialism’ Article Outs The New Left As Witch Hunters, The Federalist:
There has been a rediscovery of sin as an inescapable condition of human existence, although not in traditional Christian terms. We are, this secular faith holds, all born into systems of oppression that can never be fully abolished, and the greater our privileges the greater our guilt. Sin is everywhere and there is no grace or redemption, only the struggle.
Human existence, finite and conditional, necessitates that we constantly participate in social and political systems that are unjust. As we do so, even seemingly innocuous actions perpetuate injustice, even if we do not intend it. And to perpetuate an unjust system is to perpetuate its inherent violence, regardless of intention.
It’s very similar to Christian teaching, in which all sin, no matter how seemingly minor, separates us from a holy and perfect God. So also in this secular faith, all participation in injustice sullies us. Our very existence implicates us in injustice, often without us realizing it. The doctrine of microaggressions is one articulation of this, the preaching on privilege is another.There is no redemption or eschaton in this intersectional faith, but that does not mean that it lacks a sense of righteousness. Victimhood is one way to righteousness, with those most harmed by the overlapping systems of oppression (based on race, class, gender, etc.) able to claim the most moral authority. Righteousness may also be had by those who articulate doctrine accurately and deconstruct their own original sins of privilege.
Additionally, a certain type of religious person will demonstrate sanctity by detecting sin in ever-smaller doses and increasingly violent reactions to it. The merest hint of heresy or blasphemy is sniffed out and denounced as if it were a complete denial of the sacred creed. The lack of proportion is the point, for one’s holiness and righteous purification is assured and confirmed by the vehemence with which one discovers and denounces every smidgen of sin.
So there are the outrage mobs, whose actions are a performative religious ritual—a symbolic purification and cleansing in which heretics and blasphemers are punished and witches sniffed out and vilified. “Witch hunts” is a particularly apt term, if we juxtapose the alleged wrongs (words that inflict “harm” and “enact violence”) with the centrality of words of power, especially names, to magical systems. Substituting “the witch cursed me” for complaints about “misgendering” or “deadnaming” only be clarifies the accusation.
The roots of these witch hunts are found in the psychological pathologies that sometimes appear in religious persons. Thus, we see a magical belief in the power of words, especially names, to shape reality, and observe attempts to assert one’s righteousness against the omnipresence of sin in human existence through preposterous overreactions to the merest hint of sin.
Print: “The Witch. No. 2” By Baker, Joseph E., ca. 1837-1914, artist. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons