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A Wretched ur text
A model for toxic patterns.
What became clear when reading Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth and looking into the history — including Fanon’s personal history — is how much this book has proved to be the ur-text, not merely for Postcolonial Theory, but for the patterns that have increasingly turned Western universities into toxic nonsense factories.
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One such pattern is romantic identification with a people, culture or civilisation not your own. Admittedly, this has a long history in Western thought, going back to the noble savage fantasies of C17th and C18th French philosophes.
In Fanon’s case, his identification with Arab Algeria was — given he was Afro-Caribbean — particularly disturbing. Especially so was his identification of them as oppressed natives.
Arabs are not even close to being the original inhabitants of the Maghreb. They arrived there through a process of imperial conquest and settlement, as later did the French.
Romanticising the descendants of one process of imperialism and settlement while demonising those of another is disturbing enough. What made Fanon’s romanticisation of Arab Algeria much more disturbing — he being the ancestrally-displaced descendant of enslaved Africans — was that Islam was a great enslaving civilisation1 that pioneered racist anti-black discourse. Even worse, it was specifically Muslim intellectuals from al-Andalus and the Maghreb that did so.
For Fanon to so romanticise Arab identity and struggle is both historically false and emotionally dysfunctional. Fanon does refer in The Wretched of the Earth to tensions between Black and Arab identities, but in a very superficial way.
Fanon — and those that follow him in ignoring the historical normality of imperialism — are very far from following Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s dictum to live not by lies. On the contrary, statements made for rhetorical effect without regard for their truth is much more the pattern.
This was hardly the only way The Wretched of the Earth seemed to be the Ur-text of recurring patterns. There are so many. They include such patterns as:
Footnoted rants that strike the “correct” moral-emotional poses being passed off as “analysis”.
Theory being used as evidence, or as substitute for the same.
The sophistry of Theory, where the conclusion and narrative is pre-set and events are cherry-picked to fit.
Marxian rhetoric as providing some — spurious — moral authority or analytical seriousness.
Treating oppression as the salient moral fact of European/Western civilisation.
Moral strictures not applying to the oppressed: so the FLN slogan to settlers to flee or die of “a suitcase or a coffin” (“La valise ou le cercueil”) fits right in.
This all feeds into the pattern, going back to Hegel, of pouring the spiritual into the social. This re-enchants the world by putting meaning and transcendence back in through fighting “oppression” and embracing the politics of the transformational future.
The imagined future becomes the source of (divine) authority — the realm of authority from which there is no feedback, there being no information from the future. Meanwhile, various oppressed victim groups are elevated to being sacred victims by being exempted from constraining trade-offs: such as the implications of varying capacities or life-strategies.
As oppression is the salient moral fact of Western societies, all group disparities become evidence of oppression. A form of “reasoning” — to use the term loosely — that is analytical nonsense. The sort of analytical nonsense that comes readily from failing to ground social “science” in biology.
Social “sciences” have generated a great deal of toxic nonsense through failing the fundamental requirement of consilience with more fundamental science.2 All social phenomena is emergent from the biological, hence any social science worth the name has to be consilient with biology, as biology has to be consilient with chemistry and chemistry with physics.
The notion that sexually reproducing — so genetically variant — organisms will have equivalent outcomes across categories, that they will show no patterns of variance in life strategies and the execution thereof, is utter nonsense for any species. It is even more complete nonsense for Homo sapiens, who also display such marked cultural variance, even within shared societies.
As part of taking oppression to be the salient moral fact of Western societies — a claim that is, to be quite clear, an utter lie that destroys any serious notion of human achievement — various hyper-real identities are created. In such hyper-real identities, the sacredness from being oppressed x generations ago is transmitted to current members of that identity, while the oppressing y generations ago is transmitted as a benighted identity to current members of that identity, for oppression is the morally salient fact.
As the past cannot be changed, this creates a permanent moral caste system.3 That Fanon’s narrative is built around generic colonisers and generic natives in generic imperial possessions leads naturally to the creation and elevation of such hyper-real identities.
Oppression becomes the morally salient factor, which then requires having the correct opinions about the same, as all moral legitimacy comes from commitment to the transformative, oppression-free future. Without such commitment, one is complicit in such oppression. Conversely, rejecting the heritage of oppression, walking the path of such transformative politics, provides justificatory legitimacy that supports both status strategies and social leverage.
Arnold Kling has commented on how morally unserious so much contemporary progressivism is, referring to:
… the extent to which 21st-century Progressive causes are fraudulent.
By fraudulent, I mean that they do not help the people that they purport to help. BLM does not help black people. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion does not help achieve any of those goals. The champions of the Palestinian cause do not help Palestinians. The climate alarmists probably do not help the climate. The various gender ideologues probably do not help people who are struggling with the psychological problems that accompany their gender identity issues.
But if the point is status strategies and social leverage, then not only is the failure to improve things not a problem, it is a benefit, as the disparities that generate the status strategies and social leverage go on and on.
So much of the striking-the-correct-emotional-pose footnoted ranting passed off as analysis that has become so common across those areas of academe afflicted by Theory4 is exemplified by The Wretched of the Earth. Of course any gain to human flourishing from following such lines of thought is pure happenstance.
On the contrary, the dominant pattern is that anything transformational progressives get hold of — cities, universities, schools, countries … — goes to crap. A result that flows from the pathological attitude to information, to what we can learn.
Their benchmark is the imagined future, which can be as perfect as wanted but which provides no reality test at all — there is no information from the future. Commitment to the transformational future does, however, enables a moral perfectionism that is emotionally and rhetorically powerful but a disastrous basis for judgement. For the past and present, our only sources of information, are discounted as realms of sin. There is a systematic destruction of social memory.
The combination then strips human history of any serious sense of achievement. This then destroys any sense of how achievement happens. If you turn success into vice you will create a great deal of failure.
As commitment to the transformational future is the only source of legitimacy, so transformational progressives own morality, alternative views are de-legitimised and excluded from positive consideration, further impoverishing access to information.
The past cannot teach, the present does not represent or embody achievement, for the imagined future, the splendour in their heads, is the benchmark of all worth. All of which is supported by cartoon history — history simplified to the point of simplistic nonsense — and caricature history — history distorted to the point of falsity. The cartoon and caricature history that Fanon presents so avidly, but with considerable rhetorical, indeed mythic, power in The Wretched of the Earth.
Trapped in Philosophy’s worst features, trapped in Theory, such streams of thought and action are thereby released from the constraints of truth — while maintaining a pretence of it — and from reality-tests. So, given our capacity for moralising self-deception, these streams of thought have been free to evolve to maximise their status and social leverage capacities.
So much of this entails commitment to lies. Indeed, it comes from the same root ideas that led to the tyrannising lies of the Soviet regime that Solzhenitsyn eloquently rejected and exposed.
The tyrannising comes both from the commitment to the transformational future being the only source of legitimacy, so all institutions have to conform. It also comes from the view that history has a rightful direction, which puts it at war with contingency, so with human agency. In particular, it delegitimises all “wrongful” opinions and electoral choices.
Accepting, even just passively, the lie that Western societies are structures of oppression not only de-legitimises existing societies, and their democratic structures, while blocking acknowledgement of human achievement; it also empowers deluded and manipulative narcissists while corrupting information and feedback processes.
Hence we get willful misuse of terms (e.g. genocide) so that raging narcissists can generate moralised self-importance. Western societies are not structures of oppression and it is just a long series of self-inflating lies to claim so. Such pathologies of thought end up with folk publicly excusing, or even celebrating, the first pogrom with dash-cams and hang-gliders. The latest example of over a century of practitioners of the politics of the transformational future excusing — even celebrating — murderous tyrants.
Live not by lies.
Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, Penguin,  1967.
Muhammad owned slaves, enslaved the women and children of defeated tribes, and distributed said slaves to his followers.
The way mainstream economics undervalues resilience — in biological beings, efficiency serves lineage resilience — and has a Physics fetish seriously undermines its claim to be a science.
It is very clear that humans cannot bear too much equality. As soon as some sort of general equality looks like it might become the norm, elites seek to create new moralised social hierarchies, as we can see with intersectional identity politics that comes out of elite universities, destroying the notion of service to the citizenry, and replacing it with the populace as human clay to be moulded by their “betters”.