From Self Help to Societal Harm

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 because they need a common terminology; that is, a series of definitions and words that make it possible to function within the religion. Sometimes, these terms are spun out of whole cloth, appearing spontaneously either at the beginning or as time goes by. And sometimes, these terms are taken from “the outside world” and may, or may not, retain a close relation to their original meaning.

 “The Elect” have actually taken much of their terminology from the self-help and therapy movements. This usurpation gives the public a feeling 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 successfully have – introduce their belief system into society like an ideological Trojan Horse.

Take, for example, the term “trigger.” 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 closely associated with that behavior. For example, if you’re trying to give up alcohol, don’t hang out at the local bar every day. If you’re in anger management, don’t argue politics with your idiot brother-in-law knowing those confrontations get a bit pushy. If you’re trying to diet, don’t go down the ice cream aisle at the supermarket because that literally puts weight gain back on the table.

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 induce 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. But of course, now leftists use the term simply to silence those with whom they disagree.

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 without fear of judgment (think: group therapy), it now refers to an environment that allows only thoughts and actions that the dominant group pre-approves (no matter how that group is delineated). Again, a seemingly similar but, in fact, a radically different concept.
  • Doing the Work – In self-help groups, it means a constant personal process of self-evaluation and being careful about addictive or other problematic behaviors. As The Elect uses it, it means permanently and eternally attempting to atone for the Original Sin of whiteness, maleness, straightness, or any perceived trait that The Elect defines as inappropriately advantageous and/or putatively powerful.
  • Speaking Your Truth – In many therapeutic settings, a useful first step to understand oneself is to speak from a very personal perspective about how one perceives the world. From knowing this, a person is better able to move forward. Speaking one’s truth is specifically not immutable and should not be taken, in the long run, as final and actual truth. In The Elect version, however, 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 for all people wishing to get help with whatever problem they may be facing. However, such inclusivity can lead groups to become insular and unwilling to look at those with similar issues who have chosen not to join the group as others. One can become wary of those outside the group. The Elect takes this occasional negative off-shoot of selective inclusivity and extends it to its absurd but, in a way, logical conclusion: Anyone whom they think should join the group but has refused is, by definition, less of a person.
  • Ridding of Toxic Elements – Hearkening back somewhat to the discussion of triggers, in a therapeutic setting this means, not just to avoid potential recovery pitfalls, but also actively to seek out and eliminate certain things from one’s life. The Elect, however, defines toxic elements as anyone, anything, or any idea with which The Elect disagrees or that could possibly change its collective way of thinking. (If you think about 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 if they should even attend - you get the drift).
  • Lived-In Experience – As with “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 experiences,” or at least how you perceived them. The Elect has 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 it possible for discrete individuals to come together to form a society.

By using the cudgel of familiarity -- the slippery slope of “that rings a bell, so it can’t be that weird” -- The Elect has 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.

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*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.

Thomas Buckley is the former Mayor of Lake Elsinore and a former newspaper reporter. He is currently the operator of a small communications and planning consultancy and can be reached directly at planbuckley@gmail.com. You can read more of his work at https://thomas699.substack.com/

IMAGE: Men’s therapy group scene from eMANcipation by Philipp Müller-Dorn. CC BY-SA 4.0.

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