From Self Help to Societal Harm:
The Woke Co-Option of the Language of Personal Improvement and Therapy
Thanks to the American Thinker for running this piece this morning. You can check out the website at https://www.americanthinker.com/
John McWhorter, the distinguished linguist, has an ecclesiastical term for the members of the current woke/progressive/CRT movement: The Elect. He has chosen that term to emphasize the fact that the movement is not just like a religion, but actually is a religion (or at least a cult).*
All religions are alike in certain ways, especially in the need for a common terminology, a series of definitions and words that make it possible to function within said religion. Sometimes these terms are spun out of whole cloth, appearing sui generis either at the beginning or as time goes by. Sometimes these terms are taken from “the outside world” and may, or may not, retain a close relation to their original meaning.
With The Elect (capitalization intentional), much of the terminology is actually taken directly from the self-help and therapy movements. This usurpation gives the terms a feeling to the public of general familiarity, lending a certain comfort when encountering them. By taking what, in many cases, was non-confrontational “feel good” terminology and warping it for their own purposes, The Elect can, and so far sadly successfully, “Trojan Horse” their belief system into society as a whole.
To start, take for example the term “trigger.” Essentially this word originally arose from self-help groups as a kind of shorthand to remind people to avoid situations that could lead to a relapse into whatever problematic behavior they wish to stop. Triggers were past activities one closely associated with that behavior – don’t hang out at the local bar every day because that makes drinking easier, don’t argue politics with your idiot brother-in-law because that makes going to jail again for no matter how justifiable assault more possible, don’t go down the ice cream aisle at the supermarket because that literally puts weight gain back on the table, etc.
Those triggers varied wildly from behavior to behavior, from individual to individual. What did not vary, though, was the sense that it was incumbent upon the individual to take responsibility for avoiding those triggers, to stay out of harm’s way, as it were.
But, as currently defined, “trigger warnings,” while bearing a facile resemblance to the original meaning, have mutated from an individual responsibility to a societal one. What was once a personal self-improvement tool has become a way for individuals to demand that society refrains from exposing them to anything that could cause even mild discomfort, real or even self-induced, under any circumstances.
If the term still had its original meaning, just as walking into a bar can “trigger” an alcoholic’s relapse, apparently discussing slavery in a college classroom could somehow trigger a relapse into the practice of slavery on campus.
Other examples of this type of dishonest co-option abound:
· Safe Space – Once a term for an environment that allowed its members to express themselves honestly and openly (think group therapy) without fear of judgement is now held to be an environment in which only thoughts and actions that are pre-approved by the group (no matter how that group is delineated) are allowed. Again, seemingly similar but in fact radically different.
· Doing the Work – In self-help groups, it means a constant personal process of self-evaluation, of being careful of addictive or other problematic behaviors. Now, in the current context, it means permanently and eternally attempting to atone for the Original Sin of whiteness, or maleness, or straightness, or any perceived trait that is defined by The Elect as inappropriately advantageous and/or putatively powerful.
· Speaking Your Truth – In many therapeutic settings, speaking from a very personal perspective about how one perceives the world is a useful first step in better understanding oneself and, therefore, be better able to move forward. It is, however, specifically not immutable and to be taken, in the long run, as final and actual truth. In The Elect version, personal truth is just as valid and is to be given the same cloak of universality as actual, real-world truth and therefore cannot be questioned. This has the effect of moving society’s goalposts from “speaking truth to power” to “speaking your own truth to gain power.”
· Crosstalk – Depending on a particular group’s norms, crosstalk can range from asking someone to clarify a statement, to asking if that person knows the reason for his actions, to directly challenging another person’s version of events. This last is usually at least frowned upon if not banned from the environment. The Elect has lifted this premise entirely and foisted it onto society as a whole because it is convenient to use it to silence dissent, disagreement, or mere questions. Doing any one of these things is deemed counter-productive and, according to The Elect, reflects the dissenters’ tacit admission of continuing fault, or at least their purposeful denial of the problem (as they define it).
· Inclusivity – Self-help and therapy groups are inclusive of anyone wishing to get help with whatever problem they may be facing. However, such inclusivity can lead to insularness and an unwillingness to look at those with similar issues who have chosen not to join the group as others, people to be wary of. The Elect take this occasional negative off-shoot of selective inclusivity and extend it to its absurd but in a way logical conclusion – anyone who they think should join the group and has refused is, therefore, by definition less of a person.
· Ridding of Toxic Elements – Hearkening back somewhat to the discussion of triggers, in a therapeutic setting this means to not just avoid potential recovery pitfalls but to also actively seek out and eliminate certain things from your life. The Elect define toxic elements as anyone or anything or any idea that you either do not agree with or could possibly change your way of thinking. (If you remember the many, many articles advising people on how they should handle discussing any even vaguely political issue with their old, out-of-touch, angry, less than progressive parents at a holiday meal – and whether or not they should even attend - you get the drift).
· Lived-In Experience – Like “your truth,” the idea is that everyone’s statement of their own lived-in experience cannot be questioned. Not only is it “your truth,” it actually has the merit of being supported by “your experience,” or at least how you perceived them. The Elect have morphed the “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” aphorism into a way to silence any criticism while simultaneously denying the very existence of the human empathy that makes the coming together of discrete individuals to form a society possible.
By using the cudgel of familiarity, the slippery slope of “that rings a bell, so it can’t be that weird,” The Elect have bastardized these terms to advance their political and social agenda. This dishonest slither of co-option needs to be seen for what it is – a very narcissistic wolf in a very trusting sheep’s clothing.
*McWhorter's book, The Elect, is due out this fall, but he has been serializing the work on his “It Bears Mentioning” Substack site which can be found here. It's really worth checking out.
Author’s Note: None of the above is meant to denigrate using self-help groups and therapy when appropriate or their possible efficacy. And I’m sorry this trigger warning is at the end of the article.