Tuesday, September 8, 2020
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Tuesday, September 8th, 2020. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Defending Looting? National Public Radio Airs Interview Highlighting Book That Defends Looting
The title of the book is controversial enough, In Defense of Looting, the subtitle, A Riotous History of Uncivil Action. The author identified as Vicky Osterweil. But the book got even more attention when National Public Radio's Code Switch program released an interview with the author on August the 27th. That interview was very controversial because, after all, the most important word in National Public Radio is public. It was established by the federal government, it is in trust of the American people, and it's supported with taxpayer money. That's right, your money.
NPR has always leaned to the left, as does public television. But in this case, it leaned way too far, so much so that it has had to issue corrections to the interview and what amounts to an apology for airing it in the first place. As of last night, the broadcast of the interview did not seem to be available on the websites of National Public Radio.
As the book came out, Publishers Weekly, which is something of The Wall Street Journal of the publishing industry told us what the book was going to be about. We're told, "The New Inquiry contributor Osterweil debuts with a provocative, Marxist-informed defense of looting as a radical and effective protest tactic. Osterweil argues that the surplus wealth that allowed capitalism and modern property rights to flourish only existed because European colonialists in the New World stole land from and committed genocide against Indigenous peoples and enslaved Africans in order to produce the commodities that created that surplus."
Listen to these words, "Therefore, Osterweil contends, when protestors loot and riot as part of an anti-police uprising, they are confronting and exposing the inextricable links between America’s economic and social structures and white supremacy. Moreover, in her analysis, the 'threat' that looting and rioting pose to the established order is necessary 'to overturn this miserable world of white supremacy, anti-Blackness, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, empire, and property.'"
Now I was able to obtain a copy of this book and, ironically enough, I paid for it because, after all, this is a book about morally justifying stealing. Stealing is an act of revolution and a necessary act of pushback against white supremacy, anti-Blackness, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, empire, and property.
In the book, the author refers to the police with a word I can't use on The Briefing that's actually a chapter title, but goes on to call the police a "despicable occupying army." You only have to get to page three of the book to read the author write, "Looting attacks some of the core beliefs and structures of cisheteropatriarchal, racial capitalist society, and so frightens and disturbs nearly everyone, even some of its participants."
"After all," the author says, "we have all been raised and trained to hold, follow, and reproduce those beliefs every day. Looting rejects the legitimacy of ownership, rights, and property, the moral injunction to work for a living, and the justice of law and order." "Looting reveals," says the author, "all these for what they are, not natural facts, but social constructs benefiting a few at the expense of the many upheld by ideology, economy, and state violence."
Now remember the category of intersectionality. That's the variant of critical theory that holds that oppression is to be revealed at the intersections of various personal and group identities. And so, the argument is that an African American woman is probably more oppressed and, thus, is to be privileged and heard over an African American male because the African American male suffers by being African American in the power structure, but benefits by being male. But then you add the LGBTQ revolution and you can tell where all this is going. But by now you may have guessed where the book is going.
I read from page 13. "With that understanding in mind, we can begin to analyze riots as births. Riots are violent, extreme, and femme." I'm going to skip some of it here for language. "They rip, tear, burn, and destroy to give birth to a new world that can emerge from rising tensions and lead to nothing, a miscarriage, or be the height and end point of a given movement. In most instances, however, they transform and build a nascent moment into a movement. Rioting, as the Black-trans women of Stonewall showed us, is a form of queer birth." A direct quote from the book.
So now looting and rioting are justified not only in terms of economic and racial oppression, but also as part of the transgender or LGBTQ revolution. Now put a little footnote in there because if you do a bit of research, as I did, you'll discover that Vicky Osterweil had evidently written on this very same theme some years ago with the name Willie Osterweil.
So all of this is mixed together in a book that was published by Bold Type Books, which, by the way, advertises itself as telling stories that inspire and then they go on to say lead to action. The motto, "Challenging power, one book at a time".
Now this book is about the total unstructuring, destructuring, subversion of capitalism in the very idea of private property. The author writes, "Looting, especially when committed by racialized people rising up against the police and the state, cuts straight through heart of that history. It shows that goods can be had for free if we all fight together and that we would be able to live without a wage if we freely share the products of society."
Now at one point you could simply say this is the most radical and naive version of economic Marxism you could possibly envision, and it's added to the entire Black Lives Matter kind of critical race theory and call for social action, abolish the police, defund the police, abolish the prisons. It's the entire package.
But just remember, in order for me to have bought a copy of this book, someone had to have published it. Behind that, someone had to have printed it. Someone had to have paid for it to take this shape. Someone had to get it cataloged by a major publisher and advertised. Someone had to get it to a retailer where I could obtain it online. In other words, you need the capitalist system.
I didn't steal this book. I bought it. The irony is rich because the book was actually published, as I said, by Bold Type Books, which is a subsection of Hachette Publishing, the Hachette Book Group, which is itself a part of a giant French conglomerate. It's estimated that Hachette has revenues of between $100 million and $500 million a year. The parent company, business of upwards of $10 billion a year.
Folks, this is not a Marxist enterprise. It reminds us of the statement often attributed to Lenin, that when the time comes to hang the capitalists, the capitalists will compete in order to sell the rope. In this case, you have a major capitalist corporation, the third largest book publisher in the entire world, calling for an end to the capitalist system, basically undoing everything the publisher represents, undoing everything its own stockholders have invested in.
I can assure you, as much as this publisher has a released this book In Defense of Looting, it will take action if you try to loot the book In Defense of Looting, which it just published. There you go. Lenin must be not only grinning, but laughing from the grave.
But as I said, the controversy is increased in the American context because of the involvement of the Code Switch program of National Public Radio. Natalie Escobar was the correspondent assigned to the story. The Code Switch website advertising the interview says this: "In her provocative book, writer Vicky Osterweil argues that looting is a tool to bring about change in society."
The author does not hide radical notions. In the interview, we read this, "It," meaning looting, "also attacks the very way in which food and things are distributed. It attacks the idea of property and it attacks the idea that in order for someone to have a roof over their head or have a meal ticket, they have to work for a boss in order to buy things that people just like them somewhere else in the world had to make under the same conditions. It points to the way in which that's unjust. And the reason that the world is organized that way obviously is for the profit of the people who own the stores and the factories. So you get to the heart of that property relation and demonstrate that without police and without state oppression, we can have things for free."
Now the first observation you might want to make is that this is absolute insanity. It's irrationality. No, we can't have things for free. Someone has to raise the crop. Someone has to, for that matter, plant the crop. Someone has to organize. Someone has to own the land. Someone has to distribute the food. Someone has to take the risk and make the investment. Someone has to do the work.
Yes, forming a corporation means that somebody is going to work for the boss, but that's how you get jobs. That has led, through the system of free market economics, to the biggest expansion of human wealth in the world, the emergence of what is in reality a middle class, the fact that, yes, we have all kinds of consumer goods, which, by the way, don't come out of mass political action. They come out of entrepreneurship, hard work.
They come out of the kinds of technologies that would produce a flat screen television, which, by the way, the author tells us is just as righteously looted as food or necessities because, as the author says, no one has the right to tell people without a flat screen television that they don't deserve one simply because they don't have a job and they don't work for it. It is there to be had for free. It is simply the redistribution of goods in society by means of stealing.
Now we're not talking about a small book here. It's a book of about 200 pages. As you look at the interview with National Public Radio, you come to understand why this would be a problem. It was released on August the 27th. The website of the interview states this: "This story was updated on September 1, 2020. The original version of this story, which is an interview with an author who holds strong political views and ideas, did not provide readers enough context for them to fully assess some of the controversial opinions discussed."
But the book is not only controversial because National Public Radio's Code Switch program featured an interview with the author, but also because people on the left who aren't this far-left are afraid that this kind of book and argument and the controversy about it are going to give the left a bad name.
But that's exactly where the logic leads. You have someone like Graeme Wood writing at The Atlantic. The headline, “The Pinnacle of Looting Apologia,” and the subhead, "If the real, lasting change you wish to effect is burning society to cinders, then perhaps looting is the right tool."
Well, good. Graeme Woods come out to say looting is not good. It is not a morally righteous act. So far so good. But here's the thing. If you buy into the base theory that society in the west, western civilization, the United States in particular, is based upon nothing but systemic oppression, then you should approve of looting. You should call for reducing the society to cinders. You should say that there should be anarchy and unrest and outrage and protest and riots and looting in the street, because if you believe the United States of America has to be undone, then perhaps that's the way to undo it.
I was quite interested to see an opinion piece that ran on September the 1st by Bret Stephens in the New York Times. Bret Stephens identifies as something of a right-wing columnist at the New York Times, which, after all, requires a bit of context in itself. He is a very clear Never Trumper. But here's how he begins his article.
"On Thursday, as Donald Trump was about to accept the Republican nomination from the South Lawn of the White House with warnings that 'No one will be safe in Biden’s America,”' National Public Radio was doing its small part to make sure the president would be re-elected." The next line, "NPR’s assistance in this matter was surely unwitting. But that doesn’t make it any less effective."
Now Bret Stephens goes on to lament the fact the National Public Radio's Code Switch did the interview with the author identified as Vicky Osterweil. But the point is this. He says NPR's assistance, that's the way he would put it, in this matter was surely unwitting. How can it be unwitting? Unwitting means you don't know what you're doing. But Code Switch had to know what it was doing.
The program had to get not only past the reporter correspondent, but past producers, editors, and others, and it was released by National Public Radio. It's the height of insanity to say that NPR was surely unwitting, at least the Code Switch program in this respect, but it also tells you why at least some people looking at this controversy are afraid of it and appalled by it, not because of the ideological issues that are at stake here, the absolutely heinous nature of the ideas, but rather the fact that it will have a political effect they do not want.
In the original article, the author had made this point. "In the 400 years of barbaric white supremacist colonial and genocidal history known as the United States." Well, there you have it. The United States is simply dismissed as being barbaric, white supremacist, colonial, genocidal, and, of course that other word which I used, but did not pause to explain or to define. Let's do so now.
The word "cisheteropatriarchalism." What is that? Well, let's tear it apart. The last part of it is patriarchy. That means the fact that men in control are, by definition, oppressors. Patriarchy is one of those oppressive realities that the modern revolutionary say we have to be rid of entirely. As you know now, that basically means any distinction between men and women whatsoever.
But before that is hetero, heteropatriarchalism. So that means patriarchalism based upon a heterosexual worldview. That means the idea of marriage is the union of a man and a woman and that heterosexuality ought to be normative for the society. Again, I'll just point out any society in which is not normative is a society that does not reproduce and does not survive. But that's too obvious to have to spend much time on.
The first word before that is cis. Cisheteropatriarchalism. What is cis? Well, that means cisgender, which is the word that the modern ideologues of the moral, sexual, and gender revolution had to come up with to refer to the opposite of nonbinary or transsexual. In this case, it's cis. Cisgendered means that you identify with the sexual or gender identity of the sex you were assigned at birth, which means you were born a boy and you still consider yourself a man. You were born a female and you still consider yourself female. If you fit those categories, then you are cisgender.
That again is simply a lexical trap. What do I mean by that? I mean it's a vocabulary trap. It is a trap into which you fall if you accept the validity of the fact that you need any word to describe what human beings have needed no word for throughout all of human history, which is other than man and woman or male and female or boy and girl. Nothing else has been necessary.
The fact that as a man or a woman, you identify with the sex assigned at birth, no one has needed a word for that throughout all of human history. That word that was invented by the gender theorists is a word that, as I say, is a trap. If you begin to use that word and you use it as if you believe it, then you're buying into the modern ideology that suggests that gender is nothing more than a social construct and that we have the right in establishing our own personal identity to identify however we may choose.
How Does Identity Theory Work? Massive Controversy at George Washington University as Professor Admits Claiming Black Identities
But that then takes us to the second big issue of the day, because it flows necessarily from the first, the idea of identity, identity politics, and in this case the matter of race. Now identity politics as a category, basically comes from the late 1970s. It came from a collective of African American women who are trying to identify a way to revolutionize politics by means of asserting identity first. This means racial identity, ethnic identity, gender identity, all kinds of ideological constructs going on here.
The idea is that it's a politics of one identity versus another identity, submerged and restricted and oppressed identities over against dominant identities. But the bottom line is that identity politics is antithetical to the Christian worldview. It's antithetical to the Christian doctrine of creation and our understanding of human dignity.
It is also absolutely toxic for politics, it's toxic anywhere. But every once in a while, there comes along, well, an event that serves as a teaching opportunity to understand the toxicity. In this case, it was a blog post that was written by a professor at George Washington University by the name of Jessica A. Krug.
In this essay that was released on the 3rd of September, Krug wrote, "For the better part of my adult life, every move I’ve made, every relationship I’ve formed, has been rooted in the napalm toxic soil of lies. Not just any lies."
She continued, "To an escalating degree over my adult life, I have eschewed my lived experience as a white Jewish child in suburban Kansas City under various assumed identities within a Blackness that I had no right to claim: first North African Blackness, then US rooted Blackness, then Caribbean rooted Bronx Blackness."
By the way, some of these words are actually capitalized as if they are proper nouns, but, nonetheless, the author goes on to say, "I have not only claimed these identities as my own when I had absolutely no right to do so — when doing so is the very epitome of violence, of thievery and appropriation, of the myriad ways in which non-Black people continue to use and abuse Black identities and cultures — but I have formed intimate relationships with loving, compassionate people who have trusted and cared for me when I have deserved neither trust nor caring."
Well, she goes on and on, but what she basically reveals here is that she never was Black. She says that she had assumed a Black identity. First of all, North African Blackness, then US rooted Blackness, then Caribbean rooted Bronx Blackness. But now she says that she should be canceled. Indeed, she says she cancels herself.
It's actually a fairly long essay, but the point is, well, it's created a controversy because, after all, this is not just a professor at George Washington University. We're talking about a professor in the area of, well, the very same controversy.
The very next day, her academic department at George Washington University released this statement: "The members of the faculty of the George Washington University Department of History are shocked and appalled by Dr. Jessica Krug's admission, that she has lied about her identity for her entire career.
With what she has termed her audaciously deceptive appropriation of an Afro Caribbean identity, she has betrayed the trust of countless current and former students, fellow scholars of Africana Studies, colleagues in our department and throughout the historical discipline, as well as community activists in New York City and beyond. The discipline of history is concerned with truth-telling about the past. With her conduct, Dr. Krug has raised questions about the veracity of her own research and teaching.
Accordingly, the department calls upon Dr. Krug to resign from her position as associate professor of history at GW. Failing that, the department recommends the rescinding of her tenure and the termination of her appointment."
But if all of that sounds hauntingly familiar, well, you're probably remembering just five years ago, 2015, the controversy concerning Rachel Dolezal. She was actually the head of the NAACP chapter in Spokane, Washington. She had been well-known in the African American activist community there until she declared herself to be the victim of a hate crime. And her family, well, they went to the press and said she's not Black. She's never been Black. She was posing as Black.
Well, that situation's a little complicated because, by means of adoption and by other means, there was a mixed racial component to her family. Furthermore, she has a son, her own biological son, who had an African American father. So she has a Black son recognized by the African American community, the Black community as Black.
But here's what's really, really interesting. Rachel Dolezal was completely ridden out based upon her argument that she had assumed an African American or a Black identity. And now Jessica Krug has been forced in almost a kind of malice cultural revolution sense to repent of ever having identified as Black when she was actually a Jewish girl with blond hair originally from Kansas city.
But here's the irony in all this, and it just shows you how toxic the entire identity politics game is, because we have two huge issues here. Number one is race merely a social construct? Is that the argument? Is it just a matter of identity? If it is, then why can't Rachel Dolezal or Jessica Krug be Black?
Frankly, it's hard to figure out how to answer that question, even given modern race theory, as argued by people who are committed to critical race theory such as Ta-Nehisi Coates. But then, remember, identity politics, which is also coming out of the very same basis in critical theory, and understand that 2015 was not only about the controversy concerning Rachel Dolezal. It was also about what the society celebrated to the max, and that was the gender transition of Bruce Jenner to Caitlyn Jenner.
The entire argument of the transgender revolution is that personal identity and identity politics is entirely according to the individual, to the extent that the entire rest of society is morally, and now legally, obligated, says the argument, to recognize an individual born male, clearly identifying throughout life naturally enough as a boy and then as a man, now declaring himself to be a female, taking the name Caitlyn.
The entire society, all the cultural elites, Hollywood, and for that matter, you can just go down the list, they're all saying, look, it's all a matter of social construction. It's all a matter of personal identity. It's all a matter of personal autonomy combined with identity politics, except that's on gender. On race, we're told, there is now a completely different set of rules, but it's the same theory. It's the same idea.
But here you see how the politics doesn't work even for the left. But they're not going to leave the ideology because this is the ideology that brought them to this moment. That is in terms of critical theory, this is the ideology that brought them to this argument.
They can't leave this argument because they have been pushing it through the academy, the publishing houses--yes, Hachette Book Group, listen up--and they've been pressing it through every single institution of society for a matter of decades now and it has now reached critical mass. But that doesn't mean it's reached any kind of coherence or even clarity.
The Toxic Ideology of Identity Politics: Why the Cultural Revolution Can’t Possibly Hold Together (Jessica Krug, Meet Caitlyn Jenner)
But before leaving all of this, I have to turn to an article about the issue that was published just over the weekend by Karen Attiah. It was at The Washington Post. She writes, here's the headline, "Jessica Krug offers a twisted example of White privilege." What's the white privilege here? Well, it is because Jessica Krug had the privilege to choose to be identified as Black. Three different and contradictory Black identities, by the way, according to the logic. But, nonetheless, she was exercising a privilege that those who are born with dark skin or with the racial assignment as Black do not have. Therefore, it's a form of white privilege, a twisted example of white privilege.
By the way, in its own sense, this is coherent. It makes sense that now this is an example of white privilege. But that also raises the issue of that contradiction when it comes to Bruce Jenner, now identified as Caitlyn Jenner, because it's also argued by some feminists and even by some in the transgender movement that Caitlyn Jenner, as the identity is now proposed, also has a demonstration of privilege and represents that privilege because, after all, Caitlyn Jenner, we are told, had the privilege of being born male and deciding to be female, whereas most females throughout all of human history, needless to say, didn't choose whether to be male or female.
But that argument from the traditional feminist and even the gender feminist got pushed aside by the transgender revolutionaries. That's the way it's working these days. The left devours the left. The further left pushes out what used to be the far left.
There is a lot going on here and, looking at these major issues, the controversy is sure to continue to unfold. That doesn't mean it's going to be illuminating, only important and, to those who are trying to understand the world through the lens of a Christian worldview, pretty urgent as well.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to spts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.