When we think of “Newspeak,” the fictional language invented by George Orwell for his dystopian novel 1984, we typically think of powerful authoritarian governments manipulating language for the advancement of power and ideology. In such a case, the language substitutes for reality itself to protect the perceived infallibility of totalitarian leadership and its totalist ideology.
But the battle for language is not restricted to governments. Newspeak develops wherever a totalist ideology emerges—it is, in fact, a necessary characteristic of the ideology. Such battles for language dominance are ongoing all the time, and the chief locus for these battles is the university campus, that petri dish of leftist ideologies.
Today’s best example of this language struggle is the rigid artificial vernacular adopted by those who propound critical racialism. Critical racialism is an umbrella term that captures the indistinguishable variants of critical race theory, critical pedagogy, antiracist pedagogy, “decolonization,” and the odd, degenerative project of “indigenous knowledge.”
The endless repetition of bombastic assertions is characteristic of all social-justice themes.This vernacular and its ritual use arise from the stolid linguistic formula caricatured by Orwell’s Newspeak: 1) division of the world into a binary of those who are correct and those who are not and 2) paranoid, broad-brush labeling of opponents, as was done in Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and Communist China.
The first part of the formula is little more than crude, circular sophistry—it means that I am correct and you are wrong, because I have critical consciousness and you have false consciousness. Because this childlike assertion is nowhere acceptable for modern discourse, an entire vernacular is constructed to prop it up, and mantras are repeated ad nauseam to establish a faux legitimacy. In fact, the endless repetition of bombastic assertions is characteristic of all social-justice themes.
The second goal is to generate a “devil word” to represent (or constitute) a ubiquitous enemy. This enemy is defined only by the fact that it opposes the totalist orthodoxy. Political scientist John Wesley Young characterized this as a technique to “coin or borrow a devil-term and tack it on indiscriminately to all of one’s adversaries.” He also noted that “the technique involved here requires little sophistication but much malice.”
History is replete with examples of this thuggish technique, with perhaps the most vividly obscene emerging from the Nazi period in Germany. In the Third Reich, anti-Semitism infected every aspect of German society, even the domain of science. This was most memorable in the anti-Semitism that corrupted the discipline of physics. In accord with the Nazi authorities, the work of Jewish scientists was delegitimized by declaration. The Nazis dismissed the theories of Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr as “Jewish Physics,” “Jewish Science,” “Jewish World-Bluff,” and the product of “Jewish Spirit.” Something called Aryan Physics was erected as the authentic alternative.
The major characteristic of such a primitive patois is that it attracts and works for only two types of people—those stupid enough to actually believe it (the storm-trooper class) and those who don’t believe it but see it as a useful tool to achieve their vision (vanguard puppeteers). When Polish dissident Michael Glowinski wrote of a “vision … constructed as if it revealed certain features of the world that are inaccessible to the uninitiated,” he might well have been describing the doctrines that animate today’s “DEI” apparatuses on college campuses and their academic counterparts in “social-justice education.” Some really do “see” the antiracist vision in question; others pretend to do so in order to bring on the all-purpose revolution they desire.
Today’s enemies of science, logic, reason, and progress have established beachheads on almost every campus in America.The dullards and malcontents among us are always anxious to acquire by coercion and bullying what they cannot gain by merit. Because of this, their simple-minded doctrine is attractive for a certain type of disaffected bureaucrat. Today’s enemies of science, logic, reason, and progress have established beachheads on almost every campus in America.
These are the advocates for “social-justice education,” along with the elevation of myth, storytelling, narrative, and magical thinking to a par with science. Advocates of “other ways of knowing” and “indigeneity,” who exalt anti-scientific enterprises, share common characteristics (such as an inability to publish genuine research) and have obtained new academic life by their adoption of the critical-racialist oeuvre of paranoia, hyper-narcissism, pseudo-science, and magical thinking that would take us back to a pre-medieval world of superstition, sorcery, and shamans.
The tactic is well known and quite useful for leftist ideologues. All disagreements with the unique truths of “social-justice education” are met with the “Jew Physics” trope. In fact, “white privilege” and its variants constitute the “Jew Physics” of the 21st century.
“White male” and “white privilege” and “white supremacy” are manifestations of the Moloch, the Mephistopheles, the Devil that resides at the heart of critical race theory and that animates it. It is a reflexive exercise, the externalization of blame and the personification of villainy using the psychological binary of villain/victim, oppressor/oppressed, evil/good. With their fondness for the easy binary, mediocrities can embrace the formula without thinking too long or too deeply.
Duke University professor Eduardo Bonilla-Silva is one of the most shameless proponents of the 21st-century version of the “Jew Physics” trope. Together with Tukufu Zuberi, he assembled a collection of essays for the 2008 book White Logic, White Methods, a formulation that was sure to win the applause of other leftist sociologists. Another practitioner is Derald Wing Sue of the Teachers College of Columbia University.
Sue and colleagues invariably offer a “Jew Physics” response to any criticism of their substance and method—in this, they echo Stalin and Hitler, Marx and Torquemada. Sue dismisses all criticism of his construct of “racial microaggressions” with some variant of the contrived epithet “white privilege.” For example, he answers one critic by repeating his own article’s fallacy:
As a privileged White male, [Kenneth] Thomas failed to understand how European Americans have historically had the power to impose their own reality and define the reality of those with lesser power. That is perhaps one of the reasons why Thomas tried to impose his own reality so freely in his response.
One suspects that Derald Wing Sue is oblivious to his own use of the “Jew Physics” technique, so ingrained has it become in the racial microaggression lexicon. Yet Sue’s critics are guilty of practicing “white privilege” in the same way that Albert Einstein was guilty of practicing “Jew Physics.”
Critics of progressivism are guilty of practicing “white privilege” in the same way that Einstein was guilty of practicing “Jew Physics.”The “Jew Physics” pejorative has currency in the popular media, as well, and the tacit acceptance of this racist trope is troubling. For example, Monnica Williams, a clinical psychologist at the University of Connecticut, wields the “Jew Physics” trope in her own mainstream work.
Williams, who subscribes to the pseudoscience of extreme microaggression theory, tries to dismiss the criticism of more senior and accomplished psychology academics such as Jonathan Haidt and Scott Lilienfeld, as well as sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning, by noting that they are “all white males” and asserting that this is the reason they “came to the wrong conclusions about the causes and impact of microaggressions.” In other words, “Jew Physics”:
Microaggressions, which tend to be covert and subtle, may be more likely to escape the notice of those without such lived experiences and consequently be misinterpreted as oversensitivity on the part of the victim. This may explain why researchers such as Lilienfeld, Haidt, Campbell, and Manning, who are all white males, came to the wrong conclusions about the causes and impact of microaggressions. It’s also worth noting that none of these scholars conduct much, if any, diversity research, and so their their [sic] ideas should be seen as opinions and not expert consensus.
These are only a few of the examples that demonstrate the ritual use of the “Jew Physics” trope, but the technique appears literally thousands of times in the critical-racialist and social-justice literature, along with the tautological bombast of “I’m correct and you are not.”
This bigoted logical fallacy invites speculation as to why reputable publications such as Psychology Today give it credence. It is as if these journals have been overtaken by the ideologies of a Stalin, a Hitler, a Mao, or a Torquemada.
Today, shills for authoritarian ideologies are more prevalent on our campuses than is comfortable. They often try to dismiss their opponents with broad-brush labels, but in their unsophisticated name-calling, they simply mark their academic inferiority and affinity for conspiracy. They fall into the lazy linguistic habits of all henchmen, which renders them easy to identify, even as they strut about the campuses, thumping their chests and protected by a magic incantation—“Diversity!”—whose ephemeral power is already on the wane.
Their enthusiasm for totalitarian tropes might equip them to thrive in such places as Venezuela or North Korea. We should speed them on their way rather than allow them to shape our own universities. Let’s encourage them to the exits.
Stanley K. Ridgley, Ph.D., IMBA, is clinical full professor at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business. He is a former military intelligence officer with a Ph.D. from Duke University and has taught in Russia, China, India, Spain, and Colombia. He is the author of Brutal Minds: The Dark World of Left-Wing Brainwashing in Our Universities.