Months ago one of the twitterati asked whether false consciousness was Marxist for cuck. Time has elapsed, the topic hasn’t inspired me to write a full account of the nature of false consciousness, and now it’s time to throw out some cursory remarks instead.
First, false consciousness is not intrinsically “the Marxist term for” anything at all. The broader family of concepts to which false consciousness belongs has deep roots, goes back at least as far as Plato in the Western tradition, and may be inseparable from abstract thought itself. There is at least one book which follows the conceptual career of false consciousness from La Boétie through to Adorno. I disagree with some of Rosen’s conclusions, but I won’t try to reinvent the wheel here. If you want the full history, get thee to a library! Otherwise, take my word for it that there is a history of thinking about false consciousness in general; there is a way of thinking about false consciousness specific to German Idealists, and in particular to Hegel and Hegelians, and most particularly to Young Hegelians who wanted to replace some of Hegel’s Geist with more neutral, materialistic terminology; there is false consciousness as it appeared in Marx; and finally, there is false consciousness as it appears in the work of the Frankfurt School and the “Cultural Marxists” more generally, where culture and ideology assumed larger roles than orthodox Marxist-Leninist doctrine had allowed.
Limiting ourselves to Marxist approaches to false consciousness, the basic idea is threefold:
- Men have perspectives on the world that are determined by their social classes. A peer will see the world in a different way than a peasant. To some extent the peer’s perspective will simply be different; to some extent it will magnify what the peer values, and belittle what he despises; and it will also, in many places, build the peers tacit self-justifications into his experience of the world (and into any descriptions based on it).
- In any modestly complex society, there will be many roles to fill which have an ideological function (i.e., part of what they do is tell people what to think). The ruling class tends to fill these roles with people who defend the status quo. (An explicit desire for propagandists is only one of many forces driving this tendency.)
- No matter what one’s social status or one’s attitude towards the ruling class, anyone who lives in a society will be familiar with certain broad features of that society and their ramifications, and unfamiliar with alternative social structures.
According to the Marxist account, everything one reads in a class society will have been (a) disproportionately produced by members of the ruling class, rather than the ruled classes, (b) disproportionately produced by paid ideologues, and (c) disproportionately produced by those whose minds are narrowly habituated to the current year. So a well-read peasant, who would have received the typical peasant perspective on the world from plowing his fields, going to peasant dances, attending the local parish, and stealing firewood from his lord’s forest, can instead end up with his lord’s perspective on the world, as embodied in books he been reading. Someone who is born a peasant and lives as a peasant ordinarily has the consciousness of a peasant; but the more a peasant tries to learn about the world by studying the products of ruling-class culture, the more he will have the consciousness typical for the ruling class instead. If a peasant sees his peasant life through the eyes of a lord, that is false consciousness.
The logic of the argument about learning through the perspectives of others is sound even if you reject the empirical claims of a Marxist theory of false consciousness. Think of all the news, all the cultural commentary, and all the novels produced by people living in New York City. Now think about how much of that prose is read by people who have never lived in New York City, who have never lived anywhere similar to New York City, and who would never in the ordinary course of things learn much about New Yorkers. In America in 2016 there are undoubtedly rural bookworms who know the names of the boroughs of New York, but not of the neighboring counties; who can name more streets in NYC than streams in the nearest state park; who are curious to try the immigrant cuisines New Yorkers allude to, but have no interest in their grandmothers’ family recipes. — Or think about the way a woman’s perspective on the world is forced onto young boys by overbearing female relatives, self-righteous teachers, and (increasingly) by deliberately feminized books, movies, toys, games, and music. — Or consider a young American whose school teaches him about Egyptian gods, about American Indian cosmology, about Buddhist meditation techniques, but who never receives any explicit instruction concerning the Christian civilization into which he was born.
Even if you do not think that socioeconomic class makes the largest contribution to an individual’s perspective on the world, you do not have to be a Marxist to like the Marxist model of false consciousness. In fact, there is a deep thematic connection between the Dark Enlightenment’s advocacy of teleology and the idea of having one’s own proper point of view (see also DR’s account of stabilizing functions). A bat has evolved a certain perspective on the world which harmonizes with a bat’s habits (nocturnal), goals (hunting in the dark), and interactions with the environment (emitting high-pitched shrieks). Bat-consciousness is not, to a first approximation, true or false, illusory or genuine, but simply highly functional… for a bat. A bat who saw things the way a human does would presumably not reproduce as frequently, or else bats would experience the world the same way we do (and vice-versa for blind, echolocating humans). Human consciousness and bat consciousness are each teleofunctional. Differences between them correspond to differences between the evolutionary fitness environments humans and bats face. The differences between human populations’ forms of consciousness are not quite so drastic, and not as overwhelmingly shaped by selective fitness pressures, but they are real.
Now, a cuckold is someone who, like the victim of the cuckoo bird, raises the children of others (perhaps even the children of those who are responsible for his having no children of his own to raise). In the context of identity politics, and tribal conflicts more broadly, the cuck is someone who puts the interest of other tribes above the interest of his own tribe.
If you wanted to compare cuck to false consciousness, you would have to start by asking whether the interests of economic classes are equivalent to the interests of families and tribes. If a bishop of low birth abandons the perspective (and the position) of a peasant, is he cucking out? Or if the young cleric passes up excellent opportunities to help himself (and his actual kin) out of a sentimental attachment to the grievances of the peasantry, has he been cucked by the peasants? For Marxists, explaining how the concept of class straddles the gap between self-interest and collective interest is nearly as large a problem finding a precise definition of “class” in the first place. It’s a conceptual muddle which goes a long way to explaining why Marxism has always been more appealing to would-be commissars than to the workers whose interests the ideology supposedly advances.
Now reverse the direction of the question: are cucks typically the victims of false consciousness? Not in any straightforward sense. In other words, cuckservatives whose hearts throb for the sufferings of foreigners, illegals, transsexuals, and criminal blacks are not typically in thrall to some ideology which has replaced the point of view of white American Christians with some other group’s. Instead, principles like natural rights, political liberty, and consent of the governed — all the principles to which cuckservatives cling when they are defending their latest bit of cuckery — are principles which very much grew out of a white, American, Christian milieu and which are entirely characteristic of the ethnic masochism of the cucks, and not at all characteristic of the ethnic chauvinism of the groups on whose behalf cucks cuck. If anything, whites who have spent time living amidst tribal conflict (whether in Africa, or in the more dangerous sort of American public high school) become acclimated to the tribal consciousness of non-whites and so become more ethnocentric as a result of this “false consciousness”. Bullying whites into prioritizing the interests of non-whites often involves pressuring them to obsess over pictures, videos, and literary descriptions of grueling misery. Learning that it is high-status to shut up about one’s own problems and emote about the suffering of strangers causes a form of false consciousness, but generally you consent to hours of clumsy emotional manipulation (starving children, sick children, crying mothers, angry denunciations of oppressors) because you are already cucked.
Americans’ sympathy for Israel looks like a clear case of false consciousness. Due to the silly levels of overrepresentation of jews in American media, Israel’s profile in American journalism is as high as (if not higher than) New York’s profile in American literature. Even here, however, the connection between false consciousness and cucking is tenuous. Is it cucking to advocate nationalist policies for Israel and globalist policies for the United States (if you are an American)? Yes, naturally. But do Americans who advocate more nationalist policies for Israel also tend to advocate more globalist policies for the U.S.? I’m happy to be convinced otherwise by statistics, but broadly speaking the demos that are more “cucked” on providing aid to Israel are also the most nationalist. If so, you could imagine forcing Americans to see the world from the point of view of the Israeli occupation actually creates two distinct types of “Israeli” attitudes: inchoate sympathy for Israel, and a vivid appreciation of the importance of nationalism. (Compare the experience of the white student in an inner city school who comes to share the fashion sense and musical tastes of non-white classmates, and also their visceral loyalty to the ethnic in-group.) This illustrates that it is not adopting a stranger’s point of view, a form of consciousness false to one’s own position in life, that makes the cuck. Rather, false consciousness can have a range of effects: harmful and helpful, cucked and uncucked.
More broadly, any “form of consciousness” is just a tool, as bat-consciousness or dolphin-consciousness is a tool. Where the underlying causes of a form of consciousness have been shaped almost exclusively by selective processes (as the bat’s echolocation abilities have been), the form of consciousness that is proper to a certain position has no other goal than to promote the flourishing of a creature in that position. A bat who was able to experience the world like a dolphin or a human, or even a bat who had a point-mutation in a gene that affected his sensory apparatus, would probably be a very unhappy bat. There may well be many situation where dolphin-consciousness, human-consciousness, or even mutant-bat-consciousness would be more useful (to a bat) than good old-fashioned bat-consciousness. But there are also situations where good old-fashioned bat-consciousness is better; bat-consciousness arises in the first place because bats find themselves in these types of situations more frequently than any other. Not all forms of consciousness are a result of some history of competition and selection. An industrial worker might have a way of experiencing the world uniquely suited to the flourishing of industrial workers, but only if there is a story we can tell about how an older, comparatively maladaptive form of consciousness died out because industrial workers who saw the world that way failed to flourish. Otherwise, industrial workers might share a way of experiencing the world because they live similar lives and are typically exposed to similar stimuli, without the advantages and disadvantages of industrial-worker consciousness having any special relevance to the lives of industrial workers. False consciousness cannot be identified with any vice or virtue (political or otherwise) because every form of consciousness (proper to one’s station or not) promotes both virtues and vices, and a different set of virtues and vices in every case. A fortiori, “false consciousness” isn’t Marxist for “cuck”.