Richard Gale & Gary Null PhD
Progressive Radio Network, January 7, 2022
During the past two years, the rise in wokeness and its cancel culture has shocked the sensibilities and moral fabric of the nation. It has fuelled divisions between races, class and economic status, levels of education and political allegiances. However, the anger that wokeness has carried into civil discourse is a symptom of a much deeper causal factor buried in the national psyche; that is, America’s pervasive “reality deficit disorder (RDD).” This is a condition that has proliferated across the American landscape since the Age of Enlightenment and the 19th century’s advent of scientific materialism as a secular religion. The proponents of modern behaviorism and the neurosciences are likewise saturated with RDD. The Woke self-congratulating experts and false prophets are its public face. These are plastic liberal intellectuals who have found reinforced their sense of self-righteousness by spreading the post-modern gospel of Robin DiAngelo’s 2018 bestseller White Fragility. Despite the widespread adulation DiAngelo has received from liberal educators, the mega-corporate elite, and the left media, she has managed to jockey herself away from the deep scrutiny her writings and lectures deserve. An exception is Jonathan Church, author of Reinventing Racism, who brilliantly exposes DiAngelo’s flaws and deconstructs her façade of her impartial objectivity. Church takes a more philosophical offensive to shed light on DiAngelo’s implicit biases and contradictions that in turn distort the very ideas she attempts to proselytize. While we agree wholeheartedly with Church’s polemic, we would take a more cognitive approach and state that DiAngelo’s racial theories of irredeemable Whiteness as an inherent social construct have no basis in reality whatsoever. White Fragility reads like a tantrum by an author with a third-rate intellect who is deeply confused about her own gender and racial identity. “All white people,” DiAngelo wants us to believe, “are invested in and collude with racism.” If you were born White then racism is built into your socialized development and behavior regardless whether your family background is exemplary of racial justice or not. There can be no escape from this curse, DiAngelo suggests, no redemption or purification by fire regardless of how much penitence, public service or charity you perform for the greater good. We wonder whether she would include the indigenous blond hair, blue-eyed Finno-Ugric peoples inhabiting the northern forests and tundra of Scandinavia and Russia’s Kola Peninsula as being socially structured and therefore colluding in the world’s racism. The author reminds us of someone who has read every published book about chocolate and thus feels qualified to write one of her own despite never having tasted chocolate. Philosophy and postmodern sociology in general, notably the modern philosophies of science and mind, often suffer from this mental affliction. They write books about other philosophers’ books who in turn wrote books about their predecessors’ scribbling. Right-wing critics of wokeness and certain factions within postmodern Critical Race Theory likewise indulge in a similar cognitive hallucination built upon feeble-minded pre-Galilean superstitions. Their perceptions about themselves and the world, their righteous anger and biases, are similar to dreamscapes, phantoms they have conjured and which can have dire long-term consequences to the welfare of innocent victims prejudiced and canceled by their vitriol and condemnation. There have always been conflicting ideologies, cherished beliefs and inflamed emotions towards racial discrepancies, social order and justice or how the nation should be governed. But today these cognitive afflictions, masquerading as passions and righteous causes have disintegrated into tribalism. This is now fomenting new class and racial distinctions and struggles as well as media turf wars. No one can accurately predict where this collective reality deficit disorder will lead ultimately but it certainly won’t contribute to a positive advancement of human well-being. It repeats the old adage of garbage in, garbage out. “The greatest need of our time,” the Trappist monk Thomas Merton wrote in his Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, “is to clean out the enormous mass of mental and emotional rubbish that clutters our minds and makes all political and social life a mass illness. Without this housecleaning we cannot begin to see. Unless we see we cannot think.” Merton believed that this “purification must begin with the mass media.” We would suggest it also begins with our educational institutions. Teachers who embrace White Fragility’s social folly and logical fallacies need to introspectively gaze and observe the destructive ataxia nesting in their own minds. If anyone wonders why the nation is so angry, screaming and protesting, one reason is because the failed neoliberal experiment, the culture of political nepotism, a captured and biased media, and a thoroughly corrupt judiciary have created this horror show. And DiAngelo seemingly wants to gather tinder to keep racial conflagrations burning. "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous," Martin Luther King lamented, "than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." It is our deep ignorance about not first knowing ourselves and appreciating our intrinsic interconnections with each other and the environment that perpetuates the suffering around us. These deeper existential relationships can potentially outsmart and surpass the benefits Critical Race Theory has to offer. Underlying any social structure is to be found cognitive causal relationships. This includes our attachments to whatever accomplishments and failures we experience in our lives through racial identity, which may lead to a reality deficit with all of its superiority complexes, apathy and depression. First, there is sufficient empirical science to reach a consensus that we are a culture that has become habituated to mistaking its unfounded perceptions about itself and the world as reality-based. This applies to our cognitive conceptions of Whiteness, Blackness, Yellowness, etc. Church makes this clear; DiAngelo’s use of the term Whiteness is “nebulous” and “vague.” He points out that her logic falls into a Kafka Trap, referring to Kafka’s novel The Trial when an unassuming man is dragged into court and accused for an unspecified crime; subsequently his unwavering denial is itself interpreted as absolute proof that the accusation is true. “Yes, all white people are complicit with racism,” writes DiAngelo, “People will insist that they are not racist… This is the kind of evidence that many white people used to exempt themselves from that system. It is not possible to be exempt from it.” Consequently, for DiAngelo, Whites can only speak about their “whiteness” in terms of how it reinforces an implicit racism within the social system. But from a neuro-scientific perspective, all colored racisms are skewed perceptions of reality. For example, when we gaze into a deep azure sky we immediately assume there is physical blue over our heads. However, there are no blue-colored photons reaching our retinas. Rather, our brains receive the emitted photons and through a complex channeling of information from the eye to the visual cortex. The brain then Photoshops the color azure and projects it through our glance into the empty space of the sky. The same is true whether we gaze at a verdant forest canopy, a fiery sunset, the fluorescent, shimmering hues of a fanning peacock’s feathers or observing an African, Asian or European person crossing the street. There is nothing mysterious behind this; it is visual brain science 101. No neuroscientist questions this visual phenomenon. We reify the sensory stimuli the brain receives from the objective world and then grasp and cling to these as being factually real. Theoretically race may be understood as only a conventional or relative appearance arising to our mental perceptions. No absolute objective claims can be made about it; therefore, there cannot be any absolute analyses or one-size-fits-all solutions for confronting racism either. In striking contrast to White Fragility’s cognitive deficiencies, we may consider an argument posed by the great Jewish German existentialist Martin Buber. Buber speaks of an I-You relationship when we engage with another person as another subject instead of as an object. There’s a subject there, and that subject is every bit as real as the subject over here. For example, as much as I might care about my own well-being, then so does another person. To transcend White Fragility’s divisions and its many shortcomings, which relate to others as I-Its -- as mere objects -- we simply need to be aware of Buber’s advice, and become fully engaged with that reality. Buber highlights this as a profoundly existential problem in modern society. It is debilitating. It is dehumanizing, although for DiAngelo and the cancel culture preserving racial I-It relationships is not only valid but essential. When we regard others simply in terms of whether the color of their skin is appealing or unappealing, pleasant or unpleasant, superior or inferior, and so forth we are bifurcating impressions that have no substance in reality. We are simply treating other sentient beings as if they have no more sentience, no more subjectivity, no more presence from their own side than a robot or computer. But that seems fine for DiAngelo and her tragic dehumanizing dogma. If DiAngelo were unintelligent or had severe brain damage, we might understand and would certainly sympathize. But she -- and we would argue many of those who would carry White Fragility’s banner into school classrooms -- are likely very educated people. That is the calamity and the clear evidence for the deep-seated spiritual impoverishment when a person is viewed as nothing more than the race of their physical bodies. If anti-racial wokeness is true, then the more deeply we probe and investigate it, the truer it should appear. This was one of William James’ fundamental principles when he made efforts to turn the psychology of his day into a valid science. If James’ methodology had not been obliterated by the rise of behaviorism in 1910, psychology would be completely different today. We might actually be treating and curing people of mental disorders without prescribing life-long medications. On the other hand, if DiAngelo’s hypothesis is false, the more deeply one investigates, which includes introspection, the more false it will appear. That is where robust inquiry comes in: to determine what is simply true regardless of whatever your personal unsubstantiated and biased beliefs about it might be. What you believe has absolutely no impact upon whether something is true or not. This is also basic Buddhist epistemology that has been repeatedly replicated by contemplatives for several millennia. Neuroscience, including its gross failures and tendencies towards metaphysical realism, has more to tell us about the inherent dangers in White Fragility’s doctrine. First, modern brain science has not produced an iota of evidence to confirm that the mind and consciousness are solely a product or output originating in neuron and synaptic activity. None. Contrary to the evidence, most neuroscientists and evolutionary biologists nevertheless embrace this opinion as a settled matter. But it is ridiculous to believe that evolution somehow dragged along our ancient single-celled ancestors until some point was reached when a conscious mind -- a “nothing” that is not observable, not measurable, not quantifiable, without atoms or photons, mass, electric charge or spin – mysteriously arose out of something, such as genes and biomolecular phenomena. Therefore cognitive scientists pretend to know something about the mind and consciousness when in fact they haven’t a clue. Although DiAngelo is not stating that socialized racism among Whites is genetically determined, the trajectory of her argument has the potential to lead towards that conclusion. She does consider systemic White racism as being unconscious. Therefore she has moved her social theory into psychology. Since modern psychology today is becoming increasingly informed by the neurosciences, which in turn is being informed by evolutionary biology, it is only a small leap away to find her theory complementing genetic determinism as a means to explain Whiteness’ conditioned racism. If her socialized determinism, and that of the neuroscience and evolutionary biology fields, are correct, then it would break the fundamental physical laws of energy conservation and causal efficacy. In effect, DiAngelo is saying White people have no choice. It’s socialized chemistry or its socialized chemistry; either way its socialized chemistry. In effect, DiAngelo is admitting that her own perceptions about reality are fundamentally flawed. Why is that? Dr. Donald Hoffman has been a professor of neuroscience at the University of California at Irvine for over three decades. He has an impeccable background having studied artificial intelligence at MIT. But unlike the vast majority of his colleagues, Hoffman broke ranks and passed beyond neuroscience’s 19th century mechanistic base and dared to study modern quantum physics and relativity theory. Theoretical physics is almost anathema in human biological research and medicine, which is why these soft sciences have made so little progress to improve human health and well-being. Hoffman has performed hundreds of thousands of simulations comparing different species and their chances for survival based upon their ability to perceive and comprehend reality more accurately or not. His discoveries are startling and utterly revolutionary. Hoffman discovered, across the board, species that best perceive reality go extinct more rapidly than competing species that only perceive what is necessary for them to remain fit and survive. During an interview following a TED Talk, Hoffman stated, “according to evolution by natural selection,” – and here he is limiting himself solely to evolutionary biological theory and not the various competing theories about the nature of consciousness – “an organism that sees reality as it is will never be more fit than an organism of equal complexity that sees none of reality but is just tuned to fitness. Never.” In other words, evolution has nothing to do with perceiving reality more clearly, but only to be more fit in order to adapt, survive and procreate. And now physicists are even telling us that the primal cause behind all physical objects may be consciousness itself, which has no association whatsoever with natural selection. For example, Professor Edward Witten, regarded as “the world’s smartest” physicist at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton, has been compared to Newton and Einstein. Witten doesn’t believe science will ever understand consciousness. “I think consciousness will remain a mystery,” Witten stated during a lecture, ”I have a much easier time imagining how we understand the Big Bang than I have imagining how we can understand consciousness.” Or we can listen to Stanford University theoretical physicist Andre Linde: “The current scientific model of the material world obeying laws of physics has been so successful that we forget our starting point as conscious observers, and conclude that matter is the only reality and that perceptions are only helpful for describing it. But in fact, we are substituting the reality of our experience of the universe with a conceptually contrived belief…” One may feel our critique is too abstract with little or no practical application; however to at least conceptually understand race in terms of our sensory perceptions can have enormous benefits to cut through and lessen the false semblances that arise from reality deficit disorder that winds up producing books such as White Fragility. Moreover, contrary to DiAngelo’s arguments, British journalist Melanie Phillips offers a clearer understanding for why we should not rely upon the pundits of anti-racial wokeness to save us from ourselves. Despite disagreeing with Phillips on many of her other socio-political positions, she correctly identifies the fundamental flaws being voiced by arrested development wokeness across our campuses and within the corporate wing of the Democrat party. First, it is unable to establish a hierarchy of values and morals. For example, if one refuses to say that any lifestyle or culture is better than another, then it cannot be said that liberalism is better than conservatism or any other ideology. Consequently, faux liberalism cannot legitimately defend the very principles upon which it defines itself: racial and gender equality, freedom of speech and religion, justice and tolerance, and class struggle. It contradicts its own principles and follows DiAngelo’s footsteps to remove the dignity of the individual, which in the past was at the heart of authentic liberalism and once served as its moral backbone. What we are witnessing therefore in Woke liberalism – and in DiAngelo’s reinvention of racism -- is “the strong dominating the weak,” and this is an ill-liberal ideology that is already showing signs of having catastrophic consequences in classrooms and the workplace. Finally, if DiAngelo’s theory is correct, then all Whites, without exception, in American history, were unconsciously transmuted into racists starting at the time of their birth. What is her proof? Is there any scientific evidence to support this outrageous claim? Did she consider the lack of sensitivity towards other peoples and races who were victims of racial identity and violence, such as the Jews who experienced genocide at hands of their Nazi overlords? And what would she say against those Whites who have fought against racism throughout the American experience, such as the Abolitionists in the US and UK who put their bodies at great risk? In principle she is labeling them too as racist despite their fighting, protesting and even dying as committed anti-racists. Many Whites have embraced other races and cultures with open arms; however, DiAngelo wants us to believe this legacy was a sham, because in some strange voodoo way they were unconsciously racist. Is this not the height of hubris and arrogance?