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The Photo-Negative Ideology

Left antisemitism, acceptable racism, and the post-liberalism of fools

B. Duncan Moench
June 17, 2024

Original image: Library of Congress

Original image: Library of Congress

Nothing allows one to dismiss, demean, and murder fellow humans quite like a widely held myth. Whether old or new, left or right, progressive or reactionary, myths allow one to view others as obstacles to the erection of the ideal world. Most people have a hard time justifying murder—or, say, ruining a stranger’s career—out of naked self-interest. That judgment, though, changes once we’re talking about the advancement of “my people” or protecting history’s eternal “victims.” Then, violence and persecution of others become not only rational deeds but a duty to the cause.

One of the least studied areas of ideology remains its use of ethnopolitical myths that link fictional ethnic storylines with political philosophy and a mythic vision of the coming ideal world. After the terrifying rise of German fascism in the middle of the 20th century, a movement which used ethnopolitical myth in spades, scholars have hesitated to acknowledge the modern uses of such myths. First, out of ignorance and, second, for fear of comparing contemporary progressive actors who often traffic in cinema-friendly myths—and are overwhelmingly depicted as heroes—to Adolf Hitler, a man most would agree is the closest thing humanity has seen to an antichrist. While one should be careful in offering direct comparisons to the nightmarish praxis of the Nazis, it is still important to acknowledge that our so-called multicultural era—and its “whites” versus “color” ethnopolitics—is a myth, one that exists in our minds alone.

The U.S. is not—and never was—a “nation of immigrants,” nor is it now or was it ever a true multicultural society. Historically and culturally speaking, America is a nation founded by Anglo-Protestant Puritan extremists during the initial stages of classical liberalism’s formation in the 17th and 18th centuries. Early classical liberalism is an Anglo-Protestant-derived system of political thought nearly from beginning to end. The country’s overfocus on the individual, obsession with a “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” Protestant work ethic, and constant pursuit of moral purity all derive from the nation’s LASP—liberal Anglo Saxon Protestant—point of origin. Having a bunch of “ethnic” restaurants or multiethnic casting in Hollywood films and corporate advertisements does not a multicultural society make.

The woke take America’s foundational ‘city on the hill’ mythos and reverse it—creating a photo-negative version of our national fable.

The fact that America no longer officially acknowledges itself as LASP in character does not change the fundamental reality of American society. Regardless of whether a truly “multicultural” society would be desirable or not, nations can never fully detach from their origin points, especially when they maintain the exact same legal structure established by their founders and operate within it for nearly two and a half centuries and counting.

In the late 17th century, Puritans risked their lives traveling across the Atlantic Ocean to settle in Massachusetts Bay. There, they would complete an “errand in the wilderness” for God. Within no time, they believed, the rest of the world would witness how great their new “sinless” British North America was and convert en masse to Calvinist Protestantism. Jesus would then come back down from the heavens, the boundless misery of humanity would end, and the chosen would be reunited with their beloved dead relatives in the clouds. Meanwhile, the wicked would be punished with fiery brimstone. As a nation, we are special, the “Earth’s last, best hope,” as Abraham Lincoln said. If we don’t stick our military—and trillion-dollar investments—in Ukraine, the Middle East, and everywhere else the world will simply fall apart. Because everything depends on us, you see.

The woke take America’s foundational “city on the hill” mythos and reverse it—creating a photo-negative version of our national fable grounded in the same exceptionalist and Zionist mythos. In the new woke myth, America is no longer the global savior or promised land. Instead, America is responsible for everything bad in the world. There would be no human tragedies if not for Judeo-Christian “settler colonialists.” If it wanted to, the U.S. government could fix all contemporary injustice and even historical wrongs—the legacy of slavery, colonialism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, you name it. All it must do is wave its imperial magic wand and bring global misfortune to an end—starting in Gaza.

Wokeness, or whatever you choose to call it, is a photo-negative ideology that merely inverts the country’s old Ku Klux Klan-style ethnopolitical mythos and updates it for today’s secularized—pseudo-multicultural and self-hating—era of Anglo American liberal culture. In wokeness’s new mythic ideal, no longer should the dreaded “white working class” MAGA Trump supporters be on top; rather, they should be on the bottom (double entendre intended), while their opposite-world enemies—Black, trans, handi-capable, antifa sex workers—should instead receive institutional preferences via DEI and whatever more aggressive social engineering project is planned next.

Wokeness represents modern American culture’s inability to come to grips with the failure of the country’s greatest LASP myth—the “American dream.” A mythos that denies the importance of socioeconomic class and tells us everyone can live in their own liberal-individual “success” bubble; occupy a home bubble with an individual fenced in yard; arrive at work in a protected individual metal automobile bubble. Watch personalized entertainment and, at all times, have a fully liberal-individual experience—judged entirely on its own personal merits. In the end, wokeness represents the post-liberalism of the fools. For, it recognizes the indelibly unfair outcomes of liberal capitalism but—as with the “socialism of the fools” that antisemitism so often represents—wokeness scapegoats its way toward a new system of racial stigmatizing as the solution. Instead of all non-Anglos and non-Protestants being the source of inferiority, a photo-negative KKK mythos has erected from the frustrated minds of academics disgusted with their own society. A wannabe multicultural nativism where “deplorable” “straight white men” are the source of all cultural backward inferiority and, therefore, everything wrong with the world. In the end, wokeness is not a true rebellion but merely a bizarro redrawing of old American ethnopolitical prejudices.

Yet bizarro Superman is still Superman. All the distinguishing aspects of the character remain recognizable even when artists draw his color scheme differently and reverse the giant “S” on his chest. The same principle applies with wokeness’s photo-negative, white supremacy mythology, which consists of the LASP-exclusivist bigotries of the Klan now inverted to target “white people.” Key to photo-negative thinking is its attempted reversal of the postwar Judeo-Christian alliance, which features radical Islamists—not as backward terrorists—but as the progress parade’s lead baton twirlers. At the core of the Marxist paradigm lies something scholars call the “labor metaphysic.” The phrase connotes the idea that only the working class can bring about true revolutionary change—not the peasants, nor the farmers, nor the bourgeoisie. In wokeness’s new revolutionary metaphysic, Marx’s beloved proletariat has been replaced with a progress-flag collage of morally superior, third world “people of color” and they/them nonbinary heroines. The discordance of queer activism with Palestinian activism is ignored by the woke because to acknowledge that Islamist political culture is violently anti-queer destroys their QTPOC revolutionary metaphysic, which the woke must believe is actionable for the rest of their photo-negative fantasy to hold. As with Marx’s folklore of all the workers of the world uniting to overthrow capitalism, global “decolonialization” can arrive only when all non-European “persons of color”—and “LGBTQ2SIAA” non-heterosexuals—unite and lead humanity to the intersectional Shangri-la.

Here the Palestinians play a central role. Palestinians—as reigning intersectional grand champions—represent the “true Jews” of the bizarro America that the woke wish to manifest into existence. And if, as prophesied in Deuteronomy, Jews must return to their homeland for Christ’s second coming then, through photo-negative logic, the Palestinians—as bizarro Jews—must have a state, which will be the true Israel. Then, and only then, can the day of true global liberation finally arrive.

While wokeness daguerreotypes old-fashioned white supremacism, there’s no “reverse racism” here. To label wokeness’s photo-negative thinking this way is to concede the argument—seeing ethnic prejudice as something that’s only existed historically in the pro-European and pro-Christian sense, as if each continent and country has not witnessed a kaleidoscope of racial and religious bigotries over time. Along with the new mythology of “only Europeans have ever been racist historically,” the woke must also insist on a new matching, present-focused mythology. It looks something like this: Today’s people of non-European “color” can never be racist, for racism entails “institutional power.”

Wokeness is a system of myths. There is no universal ethnic or religious experience. Such claims—no matter who they are directed at—are ahistorical, unscientific, and anti-intellectual. They are the essence of racism.

This gaslighting myth attempts to establish the imperviousness of the woke’s preferred groups to basic human bigotry. Its rhetoric arrives without any acknowledgment that affirmative action programs have existed for more than 50 years and have only increased their aggressiveness and pervasiveness over time. One can see this photo-negative logic throughout the ideology of wokeness. As Ibram X. Kendi explains, old Jim Crow policies, redlining, and cultural norms that favored European immigrants represented bad racism. Therefore, new DEI policies and hiring norms favoring non-European “POCs” today merely amounts to an “anti-racist” corrective. In other words, good racism.

Today’s photo-negative mythos plays off white guilt while demanding we perpetuate the exact same fictional race categories the KKK adhered to —white, Black, red, yellow, and brown—but with one key difference: The cultural, religious, and racial heroes of the Klan’s old Anglo-Protestant ethnopolitical supremacy myths are turned upside down. Instead of LASP ethnopolitics on top, now they’re forever “stained,” as Joshua Mitchell observes.

Fear not, though, salvation can still be obtained. Stained European American sinners can escape their lot if they “check their privilege” by allowing applicants with the highest-ranking intersectional scores to take coveted positions of power in their place.

Here’s where antisemitism again fits into the photo-negative ideology and its new mythology. To acknowledge the enormity of Jewish tragedy and antisemitism’s presence across nearly the entire globe—as well as the fact that Jewish Americans had almost nothing to do with slavery, much less Jim Crow—is to acknowledge that there is huge variability within the European American “white” experience, which is not something that the totalizing white privilege mythology can withstand.

Jewish hardship and prejudice must therefore be systematically attributed to factors aside from Jewishness. The Holocaust? An eruption of white nationalist hate, which Jews themselves now mimic in Gaza, as proven by the indictment of Israel’s prime minister before the International Criminal Court. Jewish financial and intellectual successes relative to their peers? Such accoutrements must be received not achieved, turning them into proofs of illegitimate Jewish “privilege,” which was awarded due to their whiteness and at the expense of POCs. Otherwise, the woke are forced to admit their folklore of all whites as uniformly guilty and privileged is bunk.

For how can all European American “whites” hold “historical responsibility” for slavery? Basic math betrays the notion. Less than 1.3% of the total U.S. population owned slaves at the practice’s high point in 1860. Most slaves were owned on large plantations by the top 20% of the Southern gentry. At its peak, roughly 80,000 wealthy Southerners—including a handful of Blacks—owned the vast majority of enslaved people.

If these facts aren’t dispelling enough, consider that the largest numbers of 19th-century European American immigrants—especially non-British and French—arrived long after the Civil War concluded. Whereas, Southern slave owners were almost exclusively British and French, which is why you almost never find an African American today with a Germanic surname like Schmidt, despite German-speaking territories representing the largest source of immigration to the U.S. during the entire 19th century. With the exception of Missouri, German Americans also rarely settled in slave states and were, as a mid-19th-century immigrant community, as close to universally opposed to slavery as any group at the time. Meanwhile, 19th-century Irish Americans were in general far too poor to even contemplate such an expensive purchase. Regardless, German and Irish immigrants made up some of the largest segments of Union troops—more than 360,000 of whom gave their lives to end slavery in the bloodiest war in U.S. history.

The largest points of national origin for today’s European American “white” population? German, first. Irish, second. A demographic composition which has been true for at least 100 years. These are the “whites” we should be discriminating against in the name of “anti-racism”?

Knowledge of U.S. immigration numbers and patterns allows one to see that the claims of universal white guilt are a myth. Many powerful European Americans, like actor Ben Affleck, who embrace the universal white privilege mythos do so because they descend from wealthy, long-standing American families that did in fact own slaves. In its 2015 investigation, the PBS Show Finding Your Roots found that Affleck’s great-great-great grandfather Benjamin Cole enslaved 25 people of African descent. Upon receiving the researchers’ revelation, Affleck’s representatives successfully demanded producers edit out that discovery from the episode. Not long after, Affleck went on Bill Maher’s HBO show and accused Sam Harris of “ugly racism” for daring to critique Muslim culture’s illiberal—and often inhumane—treatment of women.

Embracing a universal white guilt mythos allows wealthy and well-connected individuals like Affleck to offload their own direct familial guilt for slavery onto uninvolved Middle Americans who, as a result, must now bear the brunt of DEI application favoritism practices carried out to avenge sins that their ancestors were never wealthy enough to commit, not even 159 years ago—which is the last time slavery was legal anywhere in the United States.

The concept of universal white guilt could easily be put to bed with an all-encompassing American ancestry study. Commission an organization that maintains totalizing U.S. ancestry files—like or the Mormon Church—to definitively establish how many Americans today actually descend from slave owners. Such a study would almost certainly reveal that 99% of all European American genes today derive from individuals who never owned slaves. More so, the great majority of European American “whites” likely descend from individuals who never inhabited any U.S. territory—at any point in time—where slavery was even legal.

That study will never happen, of course. Without the myth of universal white guilt there can be no eternal demands for reparations and ever more aggressive employment and college admissions skewing as well as make-work academic departments devoted to “me-search” explorations of the “diaspora” pain of all non-European groups.

The unspoken multiculturalist mythos insists that European groups do not have their own global diasporas, which of course they do. There is a British diaspora (you’re living in it). A Spanish diaspora (Central and South America, minus Brazil). A French diaspora. A Portuguese diaspora and even a German diaspora. Ninety-plus percent of modern Argentina remains European in descent. Uruguay’s population is roughly the same.

Brazil imported more than 5 million African slaves—10 times as many as their British American or French American counterparts. The Portuguese also used slaves long before British settlements in Jamestown, nor was their slavery confined to any particular region of the country either. Slavery was so essential to Brazilian society even the nation’s religious institutions often maintained slaves. Not only that, Brazilians also held onto their system of slavery until 1888—a quarter century after our Juneteenth.

So where is the logic in preferring the descendants of South American slave owners or Spanish Conquistadors over Jews, Asians, or the descendants of poor Irish, Nordic, or Germanic settlers for admissions to American universities or jobs in prestige institutions? It’s impossible to make sense of—outside of the functioning of myth.

In his research, the late Joseph Campbell found that dreams and myth come from the same place. Myths allow us to caricature others, scapegoat them for all our problems and maintain unwarranted resentment toward entire groups of people—most of whom we know next to nothing about. On the flip side, myths allow us to fall in love with our own tribes, deify our own religious or ethnic groups, and ignore our own failings.

Wokeness is a system of myths. Yet its accompanying rhetoric of “white privilege” and “white fragility” isn’t harmless. They are terms of hate. All people of an ethnic or religious group do not do anything. There is no universal ethnic or religious experience. Such claims—no matter who they are directed at—are ahistorical, unscientific, and anti-intellectual. They are the essence of racism. People forget the racial mythos of the KKK and the Nazis was chic among wealthy elites during their time. Wokeness and its photo-negative ideology is simply the racism en vogue now. Fashion, while nearly always nonsensical, also is not harmless. Today’s woke ethnopolitical mythology—like that of the Klan and the Nazis—demands a thought process intent on destroying everything in its path until its dream vision is actualized.

There are many oddities in woke thought and its mythology. However, wokeness and its photo-negative logic takes shape—like German fascism—as something quintessentially reactionary. Not leftist, or radical, despite its own self-conception. Right-wing critics would love for wokeness to represent “Marxism,” “Maoism,” “Gnosticism,” or pretty much anything other than an ideology that grows out of the worst aspects of our culture—the same way Hitlerian national socialism grew out of the worst aspects of post-Versailles Germany. Far be it from me to defend Karl Marx, but wokeness ain’t “Marxist.” Woke thought borrows from Marx in the same manner Bob Dylan “borrowed” from Woody Guthrie—assiduously learning the man’s basic mannerisms, then jettisoning his unprofitable affections for the poor in order to create a marketable caricature pleasing to college kids who cannot distinguish between genuine folk art and the vapid mimicry of an opportunist.

The woke are right that inequality of wealth and opportunity is a tragedy, especially for many Black people. They are wrong in asserting that any of that will be solved by DEI, affirmative action, or making comic book movies where the protagonists are indigenous, nonbinary martial artists. In his research on comparative mythology, Campbell found that myths are not the “search for meaning”; rather, they are the experience of meaning.

In the woke mythos, sexism, racism, and colonialism “intersect” because, emotionally, its believers need the answer to be that simple. All their academic texts speaking in swift-shooting pleonastic tongue, encampment protests with senseless demands, and Puritanical cancellation mob actions allow the woke to experience meaning in our now secularized world. If creating a better world can be straightforward—just end bigotry and decolonialize!—then trust-fund hipsters get to storm university campuses pretending to be revolutionaries, ruthlessly troll people whose politics they don’t like online, and never have to worry about how incredibly difficult it is to create actual improvements in the social world. Wokeness acknowledges the routinely unequal and unfair outcomes of liberal capitalism yet—just as with the “socialism of the fools” that fascism typified—scapegoats its way to a tantalizing licensing of group hatreds through myths of collective oppression and victimhood. History should have already taught us just how toxic and dangerous that combination is likely to be.

B. Duncan Moench is Tablet’s social critic at large, a Research Fellow at Heterodox Academy’s Segal Center for Academic Pluralism, and a contributing writer at County Highway.

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