The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show or by BJ Campbell. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.
Jim: Today, we have BJ Campbell on. BJ is a very interesting writer. He writes currently on Medium on the publication Handwaving Freakoutery. How about that for a title? He’ll soon be moving to Substack. So, check him out. Well-worth the read. He also writes on opensourcedefense.org, which is pretty interesting. It’s a gun-related online publication but one that choose the culture wars. He doesn’t play politics other than the politics of gun rights.
Jim: I took a quick look at it. It looks quite interesting, particularly people who, frankly like myself, are strong proponents of gun rights but don’t otherwise align myself with team read politically. It’s actually good that there is such a venue out there and taking a look at it. The quality of the writing looks pretty good. So, anyway. Welcome, BJ.
BJ: Thank you.
Jim: Yeah, good to have you on. I’ve been reading some of your stuff. And I both laugh and think, which is a good thing.
BJ: I appreciate that.
Jim: Today, we’re mostly going to focus on an essay you wrote written back in 2018. So, the languages maybe a little different than you might have written it today. It’s called Social Justice is a Crowdsourced Religion. Let’s start off by defining what you mean when you say, social justice.
BJ: Yeah. Having these discussions is, it’s very tough unless you bang the semantics out first, which is what you’ll find anytime you interact with social justice folks, if you’re trying to come to a resolution or an agreement, you have to really spend some time defining terms. Because the terms that they use internally are different or they’re using the same words and have different meanings. The potential for talking past people is very high.
BJ: One of the things that I’ve tried to do as I’ve dove into this is just to not adopt a position, pro or against any of this stuff. And what you’re seeing now, and we can maybe round back to this topic later on in the podcast, is you’re seeing a political realignment instead of it being left, right, and woke, anti-woke. And a lot of the disagreements inside this space are even more difficult to resolve because of the language barrier.
BJ: So, there is a cast of people in the country who have adopted a set of ideologies and a set of procedures of how they adopt their ideologies, and they don’t have a name for themselves at all, right? If you ask them, “What’s the name of your radiology?” And they’ll say something like, “Well, it’s being a decent human being,” right? Because that’s how they perceive it. But for a while, it was PC. It was politically correct. And then, there was social justice.
BJ: And then, there’s a pejorative that came in where they were branded social justice warriors. And so, they pivoted over to woke. And now, they’re not even calling themselves woke either. And part of the reason why they’re not is because the woke terminology was hijacked and stolen from the Black community, quite honestly. And so, they’re pivoting away from talking about woke now as a deference to the Black community that the term was stolen from.
BJ: So, anytime this thing gets branded, it gets branded from the outside. And right now, again, in early 2021/most of 2020, people who are writing about it from the outside have been calling it woke, wokeness, or things like that. And so, for the purposes of our discussion, we’ll call it social justice. We’ll call it woke. And when somebody tunes to this podcast in 2025, there might be a different name for this thing, but the thing is going to be around.
BJ: And I think it’s going to be around forever. And one of the reasons why is because of the architecture, of how it’s built. So, I mean, that’s an important thing.
Jim: Okay. When you talk about it as a religion, religion could be almost anything, from nontheistic religion like Buddhism to people who worship rocks and trees, to the Abrahamic religion, with the old dude in the cloud with a beard. When you talk about religion, what’s your framing?
BJ: Well, what I have been thinking about for a long time is identifying religion like properties that it carries. And then, having a deeper thought about what the purpose of religion is, what function religion serves inside of society, right? You could go back through history, there’s no good examples of a great society that did not have a religion. And I think that it’s reasonable to make the case that the reason why is that religion serves an important part for great societies, and that it conveys behavioral indoctrinations.
BJ: And it creates a sense of unity, right? So, if it’s not a religion to pseudoreligion or it’s something else that’s providing all the same machinery that’s necessary from a religion, and has filled the void that has been left when Western society started abandoning religion, and they needed something else to fill the same function. Does that make sense?
Jim: Yeah, indeed.
BJ: So, you have like religion, it’s a meaning-making structure. It conveys moral principles, and they always have scripture. The scripture conveys the ideologies. It focuses on moral purity. It focuses on in-group behavior. It demonizes out-group behavior. Religions have the function to excommunicate blasphemers. Religions give a sense of control over uncontrollable circumstances.
BJ: The primary function of religion, like I said, is to promulgate behavioral indoctrination scripts, things that you just do without having to think about them, right?
Jim: Yeah. And you make the point that thinking is hard, frankly. And most people ain’t very good at it. So, probably through evolution, we have found… at least for humans, that having behavioral scripts for most humans seems to be relatively efficacious. And you also talked about the efficaciousness of religions, and not all religions are equally efficacious. So, maybe talk about that concept a little bit.
BJ: Well, I mean, I think if you want to throw a Darwinist lens over the idea of cultures, which I think very heavily in these terms, it’s how I like to think about history. We probably had 2,000, 3,000 some odd religions 2,000 years ago right across the globe. And over time, we’ve had a religious Darwinism thing going on where all the different religions died out for one reason or another. And you might have the cult of Yahweh and the cult of Baal back in the time of Canaan.
BJ: And let’s pretend… I don’t know this, but let’s just make up that the cult of Baal like to drink pig’s blood every Tuesday, and the cult of Yahweh like to bathe every day, because that’s what baptism is. And so, the cult of Yahweh beats out the cult of the Baal, right? So, you have this system where different religions in different areas of the world, all the ones that succeeded beat out the ones that failed because the behavioral indoctrinations between the religions were beneficial to society, right?
BJ: Now, whether one of them is right, one of them might be right, or not. The reason why they look similar is because they’ve been roasted through the fires of Darwinism to find out which ones work the best, right? And so, I don’t know, there’s a lot of interesting history behind like the Templars or Rosicrucians, and whatnot, they all went out to the Middle East, and they discovered that Middle East had a whole bunch of different religions, that all had the same stuff.
BJ: And so, they made up the story that the Masons follow, that all of the religions had the same seed. But it could just very well be that they just evolved to the same solutions. And so, these things, the golden rule shows up in every religion that’s left, right? And the reason why is because the golden rule works a lot better than the, kill your neighbor and steal his beer rule, right? And if we had that rule, then there wouldn’t be enough cops to be able to manage the society.
BJ: So, these indoctrinated behavioral patterns are important to convey in a society in some function or another. And if you’re abandoning religion, then that leaves a gap where something else has got to jump into the gap, and it’s got to fill the role of conveying these behavioral indoctrinations. I mean, do you open the door for a lady, Jim?
Jim: Oh, definitely. Well, it depends. I size her up and figure how feminist she is. But a woman of my mother’s generation, born in the late ’20s, definitely, right?
BJ: So, you’re doing more thinking about it than I am, right? I just do. And so, we have all these… because that’s a script. I just adopted that script, and I go by it, right? And in prior generations, we got these behavioral scripts out of Sunday school. And now, we get them all over the place. We get it from TV. We get it from the internet, get it from Disney movies. But lacking a central control over that and lacking any gatekeeper about what is or isn’t appropriate behavior, the social media organism has created some gatekeeper.
BJ: And that’s the driving factor behind the emergence of the social justice movement or the woke movement, or whatnot. It is a set of behavioral indoctrination scripts that you’re supposed to follow in order to be a decent human being. But the weird thing about it is that it’s organic, and it’s been invented on the fly. And that could be good, and it has some interesting useful properties, especially if you look at it through a futures lens.
BJ: But it also ends up adopting some of the trappings and failures, and parameters we don’t necessarily like about some of the old-world religions as well, right? And that’s where a lot of the friction comes from when you’re looking at this thing. It establishes a hierarchy of value, but the hierarchy of value flows from Kimberle Crenshaw’s intersectionality theory, which is a little bit weird. We can bring that up a little bit later, but it has virtue signaling via symbols and phrases.
BJ: And this is not unique. A lot of people like to break the wokes over the calls for virtue signaling so much when they’re… change your Facebook avatar to whatever the most popular thing is at the day. I mean, virtue signaling is something that’s… I live out in the country, and I see somebody driving FT50 down the road with a, real men love Jesus, bumper sticker, that’s a virtue signal too. It’s just a virtue signal to a different culture, right?
BJ: And the other things that really tie it into being a religion in some, religions convey ideas in a way that becomes unfalsifiable. So, that way, it makes it harder to challenge the idea. So, where somebody who’s a very traditionalist Christian might say, “Well, the Earth is 5,000 years old, and I know this because God put the dinosaur bones there.” That makes the 5,000-year-old indoctrination unfalsifiable. The way the social justice folks do this or the woke folks is through standpoint epistemology.
BJ: Which is, the thing where they talk about, “Well, my lived experience is this, and my standpoint is just as valuable as your standpoint,” which is a way to undermine anybody, disproving at a statistical level the indoctrination that they have to be talking about, right? And that all flows from a postmodernist backbone. If there’s no such thing as objective reality, then my subjective reality is just as valid as your subjective reality, right? So, that’s why a lot of this stuff is tied in its kernel, its original form, with the Frankfurt School and with a lot of those contemporary philosophical underpinnings and whatnot.
BJ: They provided the backbone for this thing to emerge.
Jim: Yeah. I had James Lindsay on not too long ago, and we talked about his book, Cynical Theories, where he does a great job and going back to the roots of this, and showing that the falsifiability actually comes from the incorporation of some of these postmodern concepts. I like your analogy, the dinosaur bones one actually rings home for me, because our household was radically atheistic. And our daughter adopted it even more than me.
Jim: And she was chatting with one of her friends. Actually, she spent the night, and they were talking religion. The friend was really religious. And my daughter said, “Well, how do you explain the dinosaur bones?” And the friend had the canned answer, the script, that was even better than the one you gave as the example, which was, “That God put the dinosaur bones there to test our faith.”
BJ: Yeah. It’s a good one.
Jim: Perfect, right?
BJ: Right. Right. Right.
Jim: It’s an unfalsifiable script, right? Which is something that Marxist-Leninism had a whole bunch of those. The Nazis had a bunch of those. Any ideology that is going to triumph even for a while needs to have defenses against reality, but if it’s a nonreality-based ideology, which most of them are.
BJ: Well, I mean, you see those crop up with other ideologies too. Nationalism will have these sorts of non-defensive Bible scripts and whatnot. When you talk about James Lindsay, I mean, I had been thinking about this stuff for a while, and I was half done with all my architecture for this article that you were mentioning. And when I stumbled into James Lindsay’s work on this same topic, yeah, he had a huge… I don’t know. After I wrote that, he wrote another really good 60-minute long read.
BJ: He put up on Areo or however you pronounce that, about the same topic, about social justice being a religion. But the thing that frustrates me about James, and I have the book too. I have the Cynical Theories book. I haven’t read it yet. It’s just sitting on a shelf. I’ll pull it out and read it one day. The thing that frustrates me about James is that he’s a really good analyst, and he’s really good at unpacking all of this stuff. And then, he’s he coauthored a book about having productive disagreements.
BJ: But then, if you were to jump on Twitter and follow him, all he does is just have unproductive disagreements.
Jim: Yeah. And we talked to him about that, and he admitted the fact that he’s basically just being a confrontational dramatist on Twitter, which is unfortunate, because his work is really quite exquisite. But it does not surface itself well on his tweet dream, I must confess.
BJ: He’s a very poor ambassador of this concept, right? And I think that when you look at people who you admire, we all look at him for what to do and what not to do. And his approach I think is just, to this whole deal of… it feels to me like what he’s doing is he’s trying to jump into the culture war as a culture warrior instead of as a culture war analyst. And that’s certainly a better way to gain traffic and better way to get your name out there and that kind of thing.
BJ: Because the culture war is what gets clicks in the media nowadays. But I just don’t feel it’s productive. I try to stay as culture agnostic and conscientious objector to it as I can.
Jim: That’s good. But on the other hand, if we’re going to have a culture war, it’s got to be two sides. So, I think that’s the other argument of it. I also want to hit on another phrase that you mentioned, which is one of my pet peeves. The people that play this card, lived experience, right? As if that Trumps say, a scientific analysis. And this goes all the way back to one of my favorite teachers on 7th grade, Mr. Williams. He made a very interesting point.
Jim: How do we know the world is round, right? He didn’t use the language, but he was essentially pointing to intersubjective reality that science creates, right? How do we know the world’s around, right? And he made it very clear, and we thought about it. None of us in our lives, up to that point, have ever seen any actual evidence that the world was round. And since that time, I’ve kept my eye out for proofs, and maybe five or six times in my life have I seen tolerably good proof that the world is round.
Jim: Probably most people never have, or if they have, they didn’t notice. So, their lived experience is that the world is flat. And yet, we laugh at the flat earthers. And so, this laying out the card, lived experience, is to my mind, not very different than laying out a card that says, “I’m a flat earther because that’s what my lived experience has been.”
BJ: Yeah. I mean, lived experience is a way to bypass statistical arguments, right? I mean, a lived experience is one anecdote, one data point. And then, statistical analysis is to gather as many of those as you can in a sample, and then do math on it, right? And that’s how science works.
Jim: Or to do an experiment, right? You either gather data, which is one way to do science. And the other way is to set up a controlled experiment, do the experiment and see what happens, right? And I thought that was a very nice parallel between that you pointed out, that just like many religions, not all religions, but many, particularly the more hot religions like Abrahamic religions, tend to have been, at least in their heyday, very anti-science.
Jim: And they had their ways of deflecting as in, “God put the dinosaur bones there to test our faith,” right? And then, more sophisticated ways. But social justice pretty much has to do the same. So, maybe talk a little bit about the conflict between social justice as an ideology and science.
BJ: And we pretty much already covered that topic, honestly. It’s like anytime you see something that is going to… if science shows up as something that is problematic, there’s a good word, to the etiology, then what the etiology does is explain that away by saying, “Oh, this is problematic.” And that goes back to those lexicon and elements of stealing the lexicon of parallels from James. Because he’s one of the first person, people I know, to really point out a more exhaustive list.
BJ: So, anything that hurt is heretical, is problematic. Anything that’s blasphemy is politically incorrect. Original Sin is privilege, right? The church is the safe space. The meek shall inherit the earth is the future is intersectional. That’s almost an exact mapping. And born again is woke. And it’s not a coincidence that these things have been mapped over like that because it’s… you look at the history of Christianity. Christianity was spread throughout Europe by piggybacking itself of European paganism, right?
BJ: And the easiest way to spread a meme is to attach it to a familiar meme. And social justice stuff has evolved. It’s evolved from the crowd and whatever is the most viral or gains the most traction is an idea that gets elevated to the forefront because it could spread the most. So, this is a viral religion. And so, what it spreads the most inside the United States is stuff that is familiar to people who have a familiarity with American Protestantism.
BJ: So, a lot of these concepts just get remapped in the same way that the gods got remapped into saints in Europe, and that’s how it’s been able to propagate very well. And looking at the features, aspect of it, it’s probably one of the reasons why it has very little traction in places like the Pacific Rim or areas that don’t have this Protestant background because the concepts aren’t easy to map over, right? This thing’s never going to get hold in China. So, it has some limits to it.
BJ: And it’s only able to really spread in areas that are ripe for it because the analogies are already baked into the dialogue. So, it becomes easy to make the jump. Does that make sense?
Jim: That’s very interesting. I hadn’t thought about that before, but you’re right. It used to be no sign at all. In fact, having talked from people from East Asia, they do indeed find it hilariously laughable. And actually, I wonder if there’s an interesting experiment here. Your conjecture would suggest that Catholic countries are probably less susceptible to wokism than are Protestant countries. So, it might be interesting to come up with a neutral survey of wokism and give it in countries that are same culture but different religions.
Jim: For instance, Germany, where there’s Protestant regions and Catholic regions. And the same is true in Switzerland, where there are Protestant regions and Catholic regions, and see if there is a difference in the score on wokeness. Of course, you could even do it in the United States, people who are Protestant and Catholic by their pronounced religion. Though truthfully, even Catholics in the United States have imbibed a lot of Protestantism with their Americanism over the years.
Jim: So, it might not be so good. But I would point out, there’s a testable proposition to your conjecture.
BJ: Well, I mean, the big thing to do would be tested in the South America, right? That’s still very deeply Catholic. But you bring up a bigger point that I think is something that folks in this space need to have their mindset around, is that there’s very little study on how prevalent these ideas are. And so, as we’ve… shifting from a left, right political dynamic into a woke, anti-woke political dynamic, somebody like James, James Lindsay, spends all day on Twitter trolling the wokes and then get trolled back.
BJ: Now, his world, all of our worlds now, are made up of what we see on our glowing screens instead of what we see out on our windows. This is no good way to know how prevalent the woke thing is. It might just be loud in our phones and quiet out the window. And I don’t know that anybody’s ever done an actual, even in just within the United States, an American survey of the prevalence of woke ideologies, right?
BJ: That’s something that hasn’t really been studied. Because truthfully, the people who would study it are the people doing humanity studies, and they’re already woke. So, if there’s nobody who was really available in academia to look at the thing from the outside, I don’t know how prevalent this stuff is. And it seems prevalent for anybody who lives on Twitter, but a lot of people use Twitter by ratio.
Jim: Exactly, yeah. In my own sense, and I’ve thought about this quite a lot, is that actual postmodernists actually, people who understand and practice postmodern theory, is probably 1% to 3% of the population. And that those who have absorbed wokeness, in a reasonably full form, are probably not more than 10% to 15% of the population, which is a pretty big number, but not nearly as number as large as their seeming dominance in popular culture would indicate.
Jim: And I know a lot of folks, and I can only think of one who’s actually a hardcore woke, which is interesting.
BJ: Well, you’re older than I am. So, you probably know less of them. I know a lot more. And I hang out with them. They’re my friends, that kind of thing. But what I found is that… because it was very difficult to try and interact with these folks for a long time, until I had this, “Oh, it’s a religion epiphany,” because I can hang out with Christians and Muslims, and Jews, and any religion. And I know what to say and not say around them to make sure I don’t offend them.
BJ: One of the problems with interacting with woke people, it becomes easier once you realize… or it’s at least a pseudoreligion, is that the main feature of wokeness and the feature that is the most interesting and the most new, and the most relevant to future’s thought, is that the indoctrinations are not fixed. They’re malleable, and they catch them all on the feed. And this is an extremely important thing to understand. And I don’t think, even like folks like James, really understand the implications of this.
BJ: People who have adopted the anti-woke position and are fighting them, they’re trying to set up knockdown ideologies, right? They’re like, “Oh, this ideology is dumb, and that ideology is dumb.” Whatever, and they’re not realizing that the overall program is not… the true feature of it is not its body of ideologies, because ideologies can change. You get updates, right? And there’s a lot of good examples of these. I mean, you used to be able to identify as Black, and then you couldn’t.
BJ: And then, they cancelled Rachel Dolezal, right? You remember that?
Jim: Yeah. You couldn’t identify as Black if you weren’t Black, I suppose, but yeah.
BJ: Yeah. Well, what used to inside woke dogma, you could do it. And then, you couldn’t do it. They changed the rule. And then, everybody forgets that it used to be that the rule was that you could, or that you followed the gender thing. How many genders are there today? In 2012, there were two. And then, 2014, there were three. And then, 2017, there were 37. And Tinder added 37 different gender options for trans inclusivity. And then, that wasn’t enough.
BJ: So then, we went to infinite. And then, now, if you go back to the boundary case on this, which is Tinder, the trans women on Tinder are just they’re not adopting a different pronoun. They’re just saying they’re women. And then, you have this transwomen or women thing, which is what they’re doing now. But the blue checks on Twitter still haven’t updated to that because they’re still doing the him, her gender pronoun thing. There’s very few people within the social justice thing that are still adopting alternate pronouns.
BJ: So, that thing is probably going to get depreciated at some point. And they went through a whole big change, and this is something that’s very… how many genders there are? It’s a very fundamental thing, right? But it got adjusted over and over, and over again, over the past five years. That’s a very short timeframe to adjust something that’s fundamental. A good example of just this past year was we had this whole thing going on in social media where leaving the house is murder during COVID.
BJ: And then, that pivoted straight in the span of a week to not leaving the house as racist. And there was no… and people look on the outside looking in. We’re like, “Don’t you see the cognitive dissonance there? Don’t you see how that’s…” But the folks who are catching their updates on the feed. There was no cognitive dissonance installed because there was just a sense of, “Oh. Well, this is what we’re doing now because we got our update.” And so, our behavioral indoctrination changed.
BJ: Another good one was, there was a big push in two or three years ago inside the woke spaces that the definition of transphobia was not wanting to have sex with a trans person, right? And that became a big thing for about a year. And then, pushback from within the gay community caused that to get depreciated. So, the ideologies that are on this thing, they’re really malleable. You don’t know where they’re going to end up. And that makes it a little bit frustrating to deal with this, the folks who are woke, because you don’t know what… if you’re not plugged into the feed and get your update, you don’t know what you can and can’t say around them at any given time.
BJ: That makes it especially difficult for… once canceled culture gets put into it because you might see something today that becomes unwoke five years from now. And then, it gets canceled. So, you see a lot of people who were having opinions or topics of the day that are getting retroactively burned nowadays. I mean, a great one was during the confirmation hearings for Amy Coney Barrett. I think she said the phrase, sexual preference, instead of sexual orientation.
BJ: And the reason she said that was she hadn’t got her woke update, right? And so, then, there was this giant freak out about it. And it’s like, “Well, if she’d had our woke update, then she would have said the other word.” But then, they went back and changed the dictionary after the freak out to keep up because Webster’s wasn’t even up-to-date on the woke, right? So, it’s this thing. It’s constantly changing. You could end up in a scenario, and 10 years let’s say, that the wokes all go vegan, as an example, let’s just say, for example.
BJ: We could be tearing down statues of Martin Luther King for eating a hamburger, right? So, you don’t know where this thing is going. And that’s one of the things that makes it frustrating to deal with. But from a future standpoint, the fact that it has updates at all, is it gives it a really robust nature to makes it a lot more anti-fragile than a lot of traditional religions, which have a book that’s thousands of years old. And it takes a Council of Nicaea to change the book. It can’t change fast enough to keep up with the times, right?
BJ: So, for future religions or any new religion to emerge in the 21st century and beyond in the internet age, I think that they’re going to have to come up with some way to compete with this update mechanic. You see what I’m saying?
Jim: Oh, yeah. Yeah. I would describe it in a language that borrowed from John Robb, who I have on the show fairly recently. In fact, I just had him on the other day, is the way you’re describing it. We could think of wokism as a self-organizing network tribe and network-based, self-organizing network drive. And that covers what you’re talking about because it exists as a standing wave on the network. And those standing waves are subject to change at any time, right?
Jim: Say this term is no longer within our tribe, we now use this. We can switch that very quickly because we’re all highly interconnected to those of us who are on the inner circle of… or the inner enough circle network. And then, that gets out to people just a little further out. And within a couple of days or a week or two, if you make a change, everybody hears about it, because it’s a self-organizing network tribe. And of course, where that becomes the… I’ll steal the term, problematic, is yeah.
Jim: If they want to use their own language, that’s fine, right? Who cares, right? If a self-organizing tribe wants to have its own language, it’s well within their rights. It’s when they start to insist that other people use that language when it becomes annoying, problematic, and potentially a source of serious conflict. If Amy Coney Barrett did not consider herself woke, which as far as I can tell, she doesn’t, there shouldn’t be… or at least one could argue that there should not be any obligation on her to use their vocabulary.
Jim: Just like you would not require a Buddhist to use Catholic terminology. You wouldn’t expect a Buddhist to be required to talk about Original Sin or the Trinity, or virgin birth, or any of that stuff. So, that’s where it gets annoying, where the wokes don’t want to just use their terminology amongst themselves. They want to force everybody to use it. It makes it like Islam during the hot period, 750 AD, where the Islamists went out, conquered everybody else, and converted a bunch of them at sword point, say, “Hey, you got to think about the world this way.”
BJ: Right. I mean, this is another part where I break from James Lindsay’s approach here, because it seems to me that if woke folks were to go ahead and just adopt the understanding that they are in a pseudoreligion or a religion-like thing, or maybe they could come up with another word for religion and then use that, then it would make things a lot easier, or it would make things a lot less confrontational. Because then, they would be able to say, “Okay, I follow this ideology, you follow that one.”
BJ: And part of tolerance is understanding that we can exist together without different ideologies, right? And so, when I have this conversation with woke folks, I’m usually like, “You should just go ahead and do this.” You should say, “All right, this is a religion, and we’re going to adopt these views. And we’re going to lean on freedom of religion to defend any of our views that might not jive with the latest scientific study,” or something like that.
BJ: And that I think would be a positive thing where folks like James do as they say, “Your religion, and I’m going to troll you with the fact with your religion because you don’t think you are,” right? And I think that’s nonproductive. Whereas, grabbing their hand and looking them in the eye and say, “Religions are okay. You can have one.” It might be more helpful to the overall… to defusing some of the culture war rhetoric that’s going around with this thing, personally. That’s where I view it.
Jim: Well, that’s an interesting argument. But if we look at the history of religion, there’s often been totalizing religions. When you think of Catholicism in the Middle Ages and anything that even looked a little bit heretical came along, burned them at the stake, tore their villages down, killed them all. Or again, Islam, 740 to maybe 800 AD, just sweeping out across the world and forcing everybody to convert.
Jim: On the other hand, there are other religions which aren’t like that at all, Buddhism, for instance. Hinduism somewhere in between. And so, there certainly are totalizing religions. And so, one might say that if you put wokism in a basket of religion, you also have to make the second move, which was to say that in the modern world since the Enlightenment, basically since the lessons that were learned in the Thirty Years’ War, totalizing religions are no longer acceptable.
Jim: And the way woke is being practiced today is as a totalizing religion where it believes that everybody must convert.
BJ: Yeah. I mean, from an Enlightenment standpoint, I think you’re absolutely correct. I think if you dial the thing back to an even larger viewpoint, the history of the human race is a history of cultural evolution, or we might say culture war, right? There’s always been this friction between different cultures. And what has emerged so far is not going to be what it looks like in 100 years or 500 years, or something like that. Because we can’t say and it would be… it’d be very arrogant for us to say, “All right, our culture is done,” right?
BJ: And so, I get the idea that cultural evolution is important. And in the past, so cultures have won these culture wars by infiltration like the Christians did to the pagans. They’ve won at sore point. They’ve won by outbreeding each other, right? And this is something, for instance, this is stuff that you’ll see sometimes spill out of the alt-right circles, where it’s like, “Well, holy shit.” If you looked at the birth rates, the Muslims are going to win just by breeding, right?
BJ: That’s a cultural boundary, just like all these other things. And when I attacked the thing, I think about it. I think the Frankfurt School people were half right. I think that we do have these ideologies that are just made up to just fill the whitespace in our brains, and that these behavioral indoctrinations are things that we learn, and are passed down, or learn through school or such. And they make up a large portion of our behavior. And then, these culture wars are wars between the ideologies themselves.
BJ: It’s the ideologies using the people as the tools. That’s where the Frankfurt School people fail. They saw the ideologies as just ways that powerful people were using to keep other people out of power. So, they just did a power analysis, which is wrong. Well, I mean, what’s right is that the ideology itself is the powerful thing, and it’s using the humans as ants to propagate itself, right?
Jim: That’s what I call a meme space entity, which has its own evolutionary context, right? It’s not necessarily being directed for nefarious purposes, though it may be. There are times when the ideologies certainly are being directed by their authors or their inner circle. Think of Nazism for instance or Marxist-Leninism, both of which were pernicious ideology/religions that had a relatively small coherent core of people making them.
Jim: Though, it’s I think more true of something like a bootstrapping, self-evolving, network, self-organizing tribe of the sort that you’re putting the picture up here for woke. So, I think it’s more true of that particular variety than it might be other of kinds.
BJ: Right. So, Nazism or communism, or any of these things, some of these ideologies tend to be very strong, and they can grow. And they can propagate by war. They can propagate by books, right? But all of the ones prior to now really have been either a very old tradition that had evolved extremely slowly overtime because technology was also evolving extremely slowly along with it, or were things that were cooked up by an inner cabal, like you say. And the unique thing about the woke thing, the thing… the futurists got to pay attention to.
BJ: And I don’t think they are, is that this thing is a new thing. It has emerged differently. And the anti-wokes that are trying to fight it, they don’t understand what it is. Because if they were going to try and develop something that would fight it, you would have to also be an emergent crowdsource to think that. You see what I’m saying?
Jim: And while that may be happening, maybe there is an anti-woke religion that maybe some of this crazy stuff that we saw on the 6th of January is… or the Catholitic event that will produce an equally pernicious anti-woke religion could happen. The standing wave starts to explain things to people, which they then modify so it has higher binding energy and higher memetic replication. That could easily happen.
BJ: Well, I think that if you go back, and if you go back and read Eric Hoffer’s, True Believer, I’m sure you’ve probably read that one.
Jim: One of my favorite books, one of my favorite books. It’s a must-read for anyone who that wants to understand this stuff.
BJ: Read it again. I’m telling you because I read it. This is my third reading. I read it when I was a kid. I read it again in the early 2000s. I read it again this summer during the Floyd protest. And it is so tremendously descriptive of what’s going on right now. And one of the things that is really important about it is it talks about how societies will be fertile for the creation of mass movement, and that the nature of the mass movement is not as important as the fertility of the society to form one.
BJ: If it didn’t form one, it would form another, right? And what we have right now is we’ve really got two. If the woke is one, then the MAGA is the other one, right? And the MAGA one is set up about like the old ones were. It’s setup around a cult of personality and it’s set up with prior doctrinations. And then, the woke one is set up with a preternatural worship of the feed, right? And so, it ended. But if you look at the descriptions of the people that are most likely to be radicals within that book, it’s perfectly descriptive of the people around the streets.
BJ: It’s exactly the same. One of the things that really stood out to me about from that book, and I remember writing it down was, it is not the abject of the poor who are revolutionaries because they’re too busy trying to figure out how they’re going to put food on the table tomorrow, right? There’s the comfortable, bored poor that become revolutionaries because they’ve got everything they need, except from something that give meaning to their life.
Jim: Yeah. The other one I remember well from Hoffer is, which ties in very closely to Peter Turchin’s idea, the fact that the country is overeducated, the West is overeducated. Too many people with advanced degrees got not enough jobs for them. Hoffer talks a lot about the true believer often being the talented but frustrated. The person would say… an advanced degree who’s working at Starbucks, “They feel that they haven’t gotten their desserts in the world.”
Jim: And there’s lots and lots of people in that situation today. And that’s fertile ground for any ideological-like, religious-like mass movement. And I guess the other guy pointed out is that unlike Hoffer’s day, in those days, the technology platform radio and newspapers would tend to converge to probably no more than two mass movements at any given time. Communists versus Nazis or libertarians versus collectivists, or however you want to divide it up.
Jim: The interesting thing about self-organizing network tribes on very, very low cost, marginal cost to communicate global networks, is you can have a bunch of them. We haven’t seen it yet, but we could be more like the Spanish Civil War where there were eight factions fighting. And I think that’s worth thinking about too as we think about the future. The dynamic is there. The fuel is there and these overeducated folks who are frustrated in their lives.
Jim: So, come back in 10 years, we may have five or six of these bootstrap religious ideologies fighting it out.
BJ: So, one person that’s really [inaudible 00:42:59] with that, and you might want to look into, and I’ve appeared on his podcast material several times, is Peter Lindbergh. He’s up in Canada.
Jim: Oh, I know Peter really well. I’ve been on his thing. And of course, his internet tribes 2.0, as far as I know, it’s a little out of date, but still the best paper on how the internet is causing us to segregate into tribes. Not all those tribes have turned into ideologies by any means.
BJ: No, right. They’re not mass movements, they’re all movements. They are all micromovements, right? So, I mean, the way content is delivered to us now were AI-driven content personalization. If I were to go and Google flat earth, then it might feed me 10 articles about flat earth, and all of our exposure to the world stops going, looking at our windows and starts moving towards the glowing screen. So, it can be very easily for me to just go find myself a flat earther simply because my phone is telling me that, right?
BJ: So, what you end up with is a situation where anytime anybody gets completely interested in one topic, etiology, or whatnot, it will take you down the rabbit hole. And deep down the bottom of that rabbit hole is a set of ideologies. It’s trying to compete with all these other ideologies. So, it’s not like we don’t have a bunch of these because we do have a bunch of these. We almost have so many that it’s hard to keep track of.
BJ: And the thing that alarms me the most is… okay, here’s an example. Let’s say we go on our way back machine, and we go back in time. And we go down… you and I, we take a trip, and we go down to the Aztec civilization. We see these people, and they’re sacrificing virgins to make the sun come up, and not just one or two, like thousands or tens of thousands. But they were the most successful civilization in North America when the Europeans showed up by a wide, wide margin.
BJ: The Navajos and Cherokees didn’t have nothing on the Aztecs. I mean, they had colonies as northeast … the southern United States as far Southeast Columbia and pyramids, and great riches. And it was built around human sacrifice, obviously horrible. And we would consider that to be insane. If we tried to stop them, they would look at us like we were insane, right? And the reason why is because we don’t have the same shared reality.
BJ: You and I don’t share the reality that sacrificing virgins is a smart thing to do. So, if we grab one and we bring him back, we plop him down in LA or Atlanta, or something like that, he might be freaking out, running around, trying to sacrifice virgins, makes sun come up. And he’d get thrown in the cell. So, this thought experiment is an extreme one. But what it shows us is that what matters… the definition of sanity has to do with shared realities.
BJ: And if everybody’s being taken down on these different rabbit holes, then we have no shared reality. Then, everybody outside the rabbit hole is insane to us.
Jim: Yeah. Unfortunately, that’s our world, and our social platforms are causing that. In fact, tomorrow, I’ll have Tristan Harris back on the podcast, and we’ll be talking about the movie, Social Dilemma, which he was heavily involved in. And that’s his big concern, is that these algorithms, which by the way are not designed to cause fragmentation. What they’re designed to do is encourage engagement to sell advertising, right?
Jim: But there’s side effect because we have found out that false statements or inflammatory statements engage people five times as much as prosaic statements of reality. And so, an unintentional side effect of a business designed around advertising-driven business model that is then optimized using machine learning on behavioral response to content tends to divide us up into these tribes.
BJ: Right. And so, then, where do you go from here, right? Everything is completely broken up. On the social justice topic, you see that this is… it just happens to be one of the very biggest ones. And when Peter did his Memetic Tribes article, and one of the things that they did, I don’t know if you’ve got deep down into this, but they put together a matrix of all the different internet tribes and which ones they were allied with and opposed to.
BJ: And then, somebody else did a graphic diagram of this, like little bubbles and arrows, and stuff. And the one that had the most antagonist arrows out in hand was the social justice bubble. It was the most antagonistic to all the other ones, and it’s also the biggest. And one of the reasons why… and it’s gotten bigger since he wrote the article too, one of the reasons why is probably because conflict generates traffic.
Jim: Exactly. That’s the Tristan Harris view and also the scientific view. People will look at this stuff, is that… and if you think about it… now, this is actually a good conversation. If the wokes were evangelical religion, then otherwise, they’re going to have sharp elbows with everybody else set off conflicts. Conflicts make noise. Noise brings eyeballs. Some percentage of those eyeballs get converted to the new religion.
Jim: So, having sharp elbows just like the Protestants had very sharp elbows, led to the Thirty Years’ War, sorry, Thirty Years’ War. And that just generate more Protestantism. Quite interesting. Well, we’re getting late here on time. Usually, these essay-based podcasts, I try to keep under an hour. I think we’re just about at it now. I want to wrap up though on a final thought, which is one of the things that I’ll put my cards on the table.
Jim: I’m not too much a lover of woke for this sharp elbows, anti-science, warfare culture, secret code, canceled culture, all that stuff, but, and this is the big but we all have to keep in mind. At least the nominal original goals of this were good, right? We do want a society where race doesn’t matter though. The wokes won’t let you say colorblind anymore. Oh, I love this. Assholes, right?
Jim: So, they have taken what was good, the Martin Luther King style civil rights movement, where he and his people demanded the dignity of being thought of as full humans, right? This is good. I feel the same way about homosexual rights. I am glad that we reached the point where homosexual marriage is legal. Though, I’ll probably get in trouble for saying, homosexual. That’s probably not allowed anymore.
Jim: So, the thing that’s so annoying about wokeness is that the original underlying motivations were good. But through this self-organizing meme space entity, it’s developed all these other attributes which have nothing to do with the core mission, but rather make it a more effective memetic replicator.
BJ: Well, I think that you need to go back and look at what we talked about earlier to understand how and why. I mean, it’s not like any… the other religion started with all of those bad products either. They all started good as well. And then, they evolved over time. And the reason why they evolved, we might think, I postulate anyway, is that adopting those bad qualities helped them spread faster.
Jim: That was exactly my point, that they get those things because they helped spread faster, sharp elbows, arguments about words, get eyeballs help you spread. And even though it may undermine your core values like the Catholic Church Circa 1500, Jesus Christ would have been fucking appalled that He’d come back and seeing that shitshow, right?
BJ: So, the thing to keep an eye on is that if these self-organizing pseudoreligions and whatnot become the norm in the 21st century, they’re evolving more quickly. And they’re evolving more quickly because there’s a much greater information exchange rate in the internet that allows them to evolve more quickly. So, you end up with updates that come out a lot faster. And so, whatever evolves to combat woke might end up in the same rub.
BJ: And whatever comes after that might end up in the same rub too. And as the information exchange happens more quickly, the evolution of these things is going to happen more quickly. And this isn’t going to be the only one where you see this crop up. You’re going to see a crop in the next one, in the next one, in the next one. And that’s something that’s alarming.
Jim: Alarming or just is what it is, right? We’ll see. Anyway, I think we’re going to wrap it here. I want to thank BJ Campbell. You can find him at Handwaving Freakoutery on Medium currently and on Substack soon. BJ, thanks a lot for very interesting, and I hope a conversation that people will talk about a little bit.
BJ: Thanks for having me on.
Production services and audio editing by Jared Janes Consulting, Music by Tom Muller at modernspacemusic.com.