I realized that Critical Social Justice ideology is not only intellectually vacuous; it is downright dangerous, and that the reason it has captivated so many minds is not because of the strength of its ideas, but because it has succeeded in silencing more reasonable and time-tested principles….If we want to understand why this ideology is winning over the young, we have to understand its appeal. American culture is becoming increasingly secular, which means that more young people don’t have a faith tradition, and social justice ideology is, as many have discussed, filling a religious void. The woke have a messianic complex, a (if you’ll excuse the pun, millenarian) goal to remake society, and view anyone who is opposed to their project not as simply having a different worldview, but as evil.
I have a Ph.D. in Women’s Studies, but I’m not woke anymore. I write under a pseudonym because, if my colleagues were to find out about my criticisms of this field, I would be unable to find any employment in academia. That someone who critiques the axioms of a field of study feels compelled to write under an assumed name tells you everything you need to know about the authoritarianism underpinning this ideology. I no longer believe that the fundamental ideas of Women’s Studies, and of Critical Social Justice more generally, describe reality; they are at best partial explanations—hyperbolic ideology, not fact-based analysis. I have seen this ideology up close and seen how it consumes and even destroys people, while dehumanizing anyone who dissents.
I’m sad to say it, but I believe that Critical Social Justice ideology—if not beaten in the war of ideas—will destroy the liberal foundation of American society. By liberal I mean principles including, but not limited to, constitutional republican government, equality under the law, due process, a commitment to reason and science, individual liberty, and freedom—of speech, of the press, and of religion. Because Critical Social Justice ideology is now the dominant paradigm in American academia, it has flowed into all other major societal institutions, the media, and even corporations. Far from being counter-cultural, Critical Social Justice ideology is now the cultural mainstream. A diverse spectrum of liberals, libertarians, conservatives, and all others who, to put it bluntly, want the American constitution to continue to serve as the basis for our society have to team up to prevent this ideology from destroying our country.
I became “woke” around 2003, so I have nearly two decades of experience with Critical Social Justice ideology. As the oldest daughter in a working-class family with six kids, neither of my parents had a college degree, although my mom had taken some community college classes. My high school teachers emphasized the importance of going to college. While I wasn’t sure what opportunities a college education would bring, I decided that it would best to attend, given the urgency with which all the teachers and guidance counselors discussed college as a necessity. I was a good, not great, student, who scored highly very highly on the verbal component of standardized tests. I loved literature and writing, so I figured that I’d get a bachelor’s degree in English literature, then maybe find a job as an administrative assistant and write in my free time. For a seventeen year-old girl who wasn’t especially ambitious, it seemed like a decent plan. At least it was better, I thought, than continuing to work part-time as a waitress. And through a combination of scholarships and part-time work, I realized that I’d be able to complete a bachelor’s degree without incurring any debt.
When I began attending college classes in 2000, I registered for a Western civilization course and fell in love with the Greek and Roman classics, so I continued to take additional courses of this type. The twentieth-century Western civilization course was taught by a very personable and funny women’s studies professor. I don’t think it is widely understood that first-generation college students, in general, don’t know the politics behind who becomes university professors. I naively assumed that professors are among the smartest people in the country, and I had no idea that the professoriate is heavily slanted to the ideological left. I now understand that Critical Social Justice professors are evangelists for their faith and the university is their mission field. Their goal is to take young students—inexperienced, eager to succeed—unmoor them from any faith tradition they might have, even if it’s just American civics, and replace that with Critical Social Justice ideology. And, for the most part, these professors succeed. They are, on the whole, likable people—energetic, personable, and caring.
My first encounters with Critical Social Justice came during the feminism unit of this course, which included works by Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan, Angela Davis, bell hooks, and Shulamith Firestone, among others. I was interested in learning about feminism, but Firestone’s argument to eliminate the biological family alarmed me, as I hoped to have both a career and children someday. Also, I didn’t believe Firestone’s argument that motherhood is inherently oppressive. From witnessing my mom’s own experiences with having six kids, I knew that she wasn’t oppressed. It was a choice she freely made because she loved children and felt that taking care of them, in spite of the difficulties, was rewarding. In spite of my reservations about Firestone’s book, I became interested in learning more about feminism and began to check out more women’s studies books from the library. As a young university student, encountering Critical Social Justice ideas felt intoxicating, like stumbling onto a portal into a new world. I felt like a detective, with my newly developing critical consciousness understanding society for the first time—all the oppression, the sexism, racism, the evils of capitalism, and so on. It felt righteous, like I was part of a counter-cultural movement, a vanguard helping to bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice.
The women’s studies professor, sensing that she had an acolyte, encouraged my interest in becoming more involved in advocacy for women. Over the summer, I worked as an intern at a feminist nonprofit and met a lot of people on the radical left, including anarchists. Around this time, I attended a few protests for various causes, but after a couple of years with this ideology as my guiding framework, I grew exhausted by feeling constant anger. I became tired of focusing on all the injustices of the world, not on what I had to be grateful for. It was a miserable, resentment-based life, and I felt helpless to solve the world’s problems.
My foray into radical politics ended around the time I started a master’s program in creative writing. I focused on reading literature and my colleagues’ works, which were complex and nuanced, not ideologically motivated in the slightest degree. After finishing my master’s degree, I taught writing as a college lecturer for a couple of years, then decided to apply for Ph.D. programs in hopes that having a doctorate would increase my pay. One of the most galling forms of hypocrisy I’ve experienced is that leftist professors claim a commitment to “social justice,” yet the academic departments they run employ large numbers of underpaid adjunct instructors who are closed out of the high pay and job security of the tenured radicals.
When I began my Ph.D. program in 2013 at a highly ranked university, I began to see that something about my new colleagues was different from what I remembered about my colleagues just a few years earlier. At first, I chalked this up to the fact that I was a handful of years older than most of the students, many of whom had recently completed their undergraduate degrees. They seemed angry, self-righteous, and determined, lacking the intellectual humility that I had admired so much in the friends I’d made in my master’s program. I now realize that these students were “woke.” Having spent the past couple of years teaching writing to working-class students, I hadn’t been exposed to Critical Social Justice ideology in some time, and I was surprised to see the inroads it had made in the decade since I’d first encountered it.
I realized that Critical Social Justice was no longer a fringe intellectual field of study, but a real force that was reshaping the university. Early on in my program, I recall a panic about racism at the university, and many students issued social media demands of the administration to increase minority enrollment. While I fully support that goal, I feel that such efforts are best advanced through mentoring and guiding promising young students beginning in elementary school, not waiting until they reach adulthood and then attempting to force equal outcomes. Around this time, I became extremely disturbed when, while serving on a committee that gave writing awards, I was attacked by other committee members for judging on merit, for not taking into account skin color or gender.
Yet I don’t think I fully understand the authoritarian aspects of woke ideology until after Trump won the 2016 election. In late 2016 and early 2017, I witnessed shocking behavior from my colleagues, who began attacking Republicans, white people, conservatives, and Christians as oppressors. They attacked free speech, saying that some people did not deserve a platform because they were engaging in “hate speech.” I argued that there isn’t a clear definition of what constitutes hate speech; and that the constitution protects all speech, save for incitement to imminent lawless action. For saying this, I was attacked as stupid, a bad person, a “right-winger.” Early in Trump’s administration, one of my colleagues said that political violence was justified as a response to his “evil” policies. While I’m no fan of Trump, I oppose violence—a basic principle I thought that all Americans shared. It was in this context that I became disillusioned with the ideology in which I had been immersed for years.
I decided to seek out and try to understand other points of view, so I read books by authors to whom I had never been exposed, such as F.A. Hayek, Ronald Bork, Jonathan Haidt, Thomas Sowell, and others. I began to read and listen to conservative, classically liberal, and libertarian thinkers—people whose ideas I had never encountered in all my years of so-called “higher” education. I listened with an open mind, and I didn’t see any hatred from these thinkers. On the contrary, I discovered carefully reasoned, evidence-based arguments that had much greater explanatory abilities than anything I’d read in the Critical Social Justice literature.