Postmodernism/ Critical Theory obsesses over structural systems of inequality. When they use the term “systemic racism” it is an allusion to a particular vision of the world that sees the current society and I mean Western civilization itself as inherently corrupt. It cannot be redeemed. Instead it needs to be torn down. I am not saying that the majority of leaders are calling for revolution and social upheaval, but what I am saying is that the postmodern and critical theory is designed to disrupt the current power structures primarily through the weaponization of language. They believe that the more they can disrupt the metanarrative which is the overarching story of Western Civilization in this case, then the more likely people will begin to see it for what it is… a lie. I will be able to explain more in future episodes, but let me help you wrap your head around this with an analogy by using the movie, The Matrix. Hopefully you’ve seen it but here’s a quick synopsis if not:
A guy named Mr. Anderson who also goes by the hacker alias “Neo” lives a boring life in Chicago in the year 1999. He’s a computer programmer who is eventually tracked down by this mysterious network of hackers. Morpheus is the leader and he meets with Neo.
Morpheus says to Neo: Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain. But you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life. That there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I’m talking about?
Neo: The Matrix?
Morpheus: Do you want to know what IT is? The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us, even now in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Morpheus: That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage, born into a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch. A prison for your mind…. Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.
Neo eventually finds out that all of his life he has been hooked up to a neural network of virtual reality along with the rest of humanity. All humans believed that they were really living life as we understand it but in reality they lived and died their entire lives in this virtual reality world. The point that Morpheus drives home to Neo is that what we think is real is not real at all. Much like the postmodern view that there is no objective reality, no capital T truth.
Then Morpheus begins to train Neo to be part of his elite team that hacks back into the Matrix to rescue people out, but they can only rescue people who are already searching for the answers to the Matrix. The rest of humanity is senselessly content to never awaken.
At one point Morpheus has Neo in a virtual reality training simulation and he says:
“The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you’re inside, you look around. What do you see. Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system, and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inert, so hopelessly dependent on the system that they will fight to protect it.”
These words summarize the vision of the postmodern critical theorists. We live in a social construct that is a system. And that system is the enemy of humanity. That system is as irredeemable as the evil Matrix in the movie which was built for the sole purpose of enslaving people. The goal is to rescue people out of the system by disrupting the system from within, but still so many will defend their stubborn Western Values because they don’t realize that they are truly slaves.
The postmodern wants to disrupt the matrix as much as possible in order to awaken people to realize that the whole thing needs to be overthrown. There is no room for reform. In the movie, notice that when neo and morpheus go into the Matrix with their team to rescue people, they don’t go in to affect more social justice, they don’t go in and try to raise up leaders who can build a better society. To them that would be like trying to rescue the Titanic by investing in the crew when the whole ship is doomed. Instead neo’s team goes into the Matrix to rescue people so they can enlist them in their army… and that army is being built so that they can overthrow the whole system because the entire system is corrupt. Because in the Matrix it doesn’t matter if you’re a billionaire or if you’re poor because everyone is a slave to that particular system.
So when Critical Theorists like Robin Diangelo use the word “systemic racism” first of all remember that critical theory has managed to jockey its way to become the dominant voice in our culture which means that its definition is orthodoxy. And most of all remember the movie “The Matrix” because the goal is revolution the goal is to overthrow and destroy the whole thing. Like Jacques rousseau said “man is born free but is everywhere in chains.” for them The goal is to throw off the chains and begin a whole new free world… but most of all a world of absolute equality. This is the systemic Vision of Postmodern Critical Theory.