From Affirmative Action to Cancel Culture: Americans, You Were Warned

Civil Rights: The Early Ideals and Their Breakdown.

In 1961, JFK signed an executive order telling employers to “take affirmative action” to end racial discrimination. In 1965, LBJ signed another order repeating JFK’s almost verbatim.

The Civil Rights Act had been passed (1964). It used the phrase once, in almost the same way: suggestive of doing something, but not formulating a specific policy.

The phrase stuck, and by 1970 affirmative action was the definitive phrase for efforts to force an end to discrimination against blacks.

Many of us who came of age back then were sympathetic. Probably the majority of us baby-boomers who grew up in the 1960s thought discrimination was morally wrong. Dr. King’s call for people to be judged “not by the color of their skin but the content of their character” resonated with us.

So how did it all go off the rails so horribly?

First, when key policy terms aren’t defined, what happens? Usually, the courts hammer out their meaning and bureaucracies form to carry out whatever the courts order.

The catastrophic Griggs v. Duke Power Supreme Court decision (1971) redefined discrimination from an action taken by someone on the basis of race to lack of politically acceptable statistical outcomes. The Court (led by Chief Justice Warren E. Burger who had posed as a conservative) presumed that blacks and whites were equal in both intelligence and motivation, and that imbalances in a workforce or applicant pool, measured against the ratio in the community, indicated “unconscious” or “systemic” bias. The Griggs decision deserves more attention than it gets, because its redefinition of discrimination was a major turning point.

The problem that led to Griggs: by 1970 the available stats wouldn’t balance. Low-level government bureaucracies had started to fill with blacks, but not leadership positions, or indeed, any occupation that called for any real abilities much beyond shuffling papers. Universities, too, could not seem to recruit more than a small handful of black faculty. Black students were recruited, but needed slates of remedial courses. Their attrition rates were much higher than those of their white peers.

If you’re an employer or a university admissions recruiter, how do you prove to skeptical or hostile bureaucrats that you haven’t discriminated? Proving a negative is never simple. The best you can do is collect data, and that was done. Every employer, every university hiring committee and admissions board, and nearly everyone else, assembled data on every job applicant, every applicant for admission to a college or university respectively, every applicant for admission to every professional program, and every applicant for every faculty position. The latter, I learned, if permanent had to be nationally advertised. Affirmative action oriented job publications soon appeared.

This enhanced, not lessened, an emphasis on race. I don’t doubt there were idealists among the rank and file who believed in colorblindness and worked to try to achieve it. They were soon disappointed, for there was nothing colorblind in any of this, and nothing to encourage colorblindness.

Affirmative action quickly expanded to include women, since the majority of CEOS and others atop corporate and governmental ladders were men, in a population slightly over half of whom were women.

Increasing women’s numbers was possible, but not to that extent. This should have indicated something wrong with reducing discrimination to unwanted ratios, but did not.

Relatively few women, moreover, were drawn to corporate ladder climbing or assuming positions in bureaucracies. Most were content to stay home and raise families as long as this was economically feasible (eventually, for entirely different reasons, it wasn’t). Feminist ideologues soon concocted the idea of a “patriarchy” of male domination holding women back. By the 1980s they were going full Marxist and making “bad faith” pronouncements, that “bourgeois” (middle class family-focused) women had “false consciouness” and contributing to their own “repression.”

Hiring or admitting to achieve race/sex balances as an end in itself guarantees two results. First,  you’ll end up with marginally qualified or even unqualified people, many of them there for the wrong reasons. This is how academia began to fill up with tenured radicals (Roger Kimball’s term) who cared only about their political agendas.

Second, despite all the denial, such decisions will automatically disadvantage white males in their job searches and admission to university professional programs.

By the mid-1970s some had begun to notice, and the first post-Griggs case of note was Bakke (1978), in which the Court’s decision confused rather than clarified. It repudiated hard statistical ratios (quotas), but allowed race to be taken into consideration as a factor, one presumably of many, in a university admission.

In other words, you guys figure it out!

The stage was set for more lawsuits. If I listed them, we’d be here all night. Lawyers and bureaucrats thrived; no one else did.

The stage was also set for higher education’s downward spiral which has continued ever since.

During the early 1970s there were animated discussions of whether affirmative action led to race and gender preferences, and since this was obvious, whether they should do so as a condition of “social justice.” Discussions ranged from academic journals to newspaper op-eds. They were pretty much open, and while one couldn’t defend the view that there might be a connection between race and intelligence, much else stayed on the table including the idea that affirmative action as more than outreach resulted in unjust reverse discrimination against white men.

But by mid-1980s, these discussions had almost disappeared. You could find defenses of affirmative action in academic journals, but criticisms were rare, limited to places where there might still be a lone conservative (or possibly a libertarian) on the editorial board.

A handful of dissident scholars began writing how affirmative action had gone off course, part of the left-liberal welfare state that was hurting blacks more than it was helping them, one of its casualties being the black nuclear family. A complaint surfaced that affirmative action mainly helped middle- to -upper-class white women, usually those with leftist beliefs (pro-abort, men-are-potential-rapists, etc.). The percentage, e.g., of black faculty had barely budged.

In 1985, philosopher Nicholas Capaldi published Out of Order: Affirmative Action and the Crisis of Doctrinaire Liberalism. In 1989, sociologist Frederick R. Lynch published Invisible Victims: White Males and the Crisis of Affirmative Action. Roger Kimball then documented the radical-left tilt of humanities disciplines in Tenured Radicals: How Politics Has Corrupted Our Higher Education (1990). Finally Dinesh D’Souza — love him or not — published Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus in 1991, drawing attention to the increasing intolerance of the campus left against intellectual diversity.

Indeed, my discipline of philosophy had already seen an incursion of people I found it hard to think of as scholars because the differences between what I, my mentors, those around me, and those I respected were doing, versus what they were doing, was palpable. Radical feminists in particular struck me as bullies. Administrators and their own superiors seemed afraid of them. soon found out why. At a national meeting in the late 1980s I watched from a doorway as a group of radical women disrupted a presentation at which dissident “old wave” feminist Christina Hoff Sommers presented a paper entitled “Feminism Against the Family” which was spot on both in its exposure of the Marxist roots of “new wave” radical feminism and its actual efforts against women’s autonomy if they made the “wrong” choices (e.g., to stay home and raise children).

The radicals were drawing freely on French postmodernist writers and occasionally on thinkers I had studied in depth, such as Thomas S. Kuhn, author of the widely-read The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962, 1970), a book they sometimes cited but clearly did not understand. Their primary root, though, connecting them to affirmative action as a policy of preferences and to thought control to protect such policies from criticism, was Frankfurt School Marxist Herbert Marcuse. Marcuse’s 1965 essay “Repressive Tolerance” explicitly called for differential treatment to replace traditional, Constitutional free speech, as the latter would only “privilege” the white male standpoint.

An atmosphere of repression had thus set in, some of it in reaction to the perceived conservatism of the Reagan years. We’d seen efforts by more conservative-leaning courts to roll affirmative action back, as with Croson and Ward’s Cove (both 1989). But not in academia or mainstream media. Efforts to shut down dialogue that would air opinions critical of affirmative action and direct beneficiaries such as new wave or “gender” feminism had already begun. In time, they would get worse. Much worse.

As a young scholar struggling without academic tenure, I experienced the beginnings of this. In 1989, and antsy from recalling the disrupted meeting mentioned above, I read a paper critical of affirmative action at a regional humanities meeting and noted a distinct chill in the air despite a civility that almost certainly wouldn’t exist today. After the Q&A I tried to engage a (tenured) woman academic who had expressed doubt about “some of your assumptions.” Since she hadn’t been specific, during the reception afterwards I invited her to elaborate. I was polite, trying to avoid putting her on the defensive. Perhaps we could begin a dialogue.

“I’ve heard all that before!” she snapped, her eyes averted.

It was that eye-aversion that stuck in my mind.

It’s a given that when someone can’t look you in the eye, they are evading and avoiding. I’ve seen it time and time again.

The Early Political Correctness Era (the 1990s).

We started hearing about political correctness in the early 1990s, and the idea opened a cleavage between those who saw the “new inquisition” as an obvious fact and an increasing threat to free speech, and leftists who denied there was any such thing beyond paranoid white males who saw their “privileges” threatened. Around this time I began to research and write Civil Wrongs: What Went Wrong With Affirmative Action: expanded initially from the paper I’d read at the above meeting. The manuscript was rejected by around 80 publishers, some with nasty rejection letters. A handful asked to see it, but then sat on it indefinitely. Finally, a small California-based conservative policy institute took a chance on it if I would rewrite it for their audience.

I outlined the premises of the liberal-left worldview, including the victim mindset. I connected preferential policies to the radical “new wave” fake-scholarship, noting how its illogic illustrated how preferences got academic jobs for marginal people. They drew on postmodernist attacks on the idea of standards as part of a more generalized attack on the very concepts of rationality, objectivity, and so on, because they could not meet such standards. Thus they portrayed their targets as “privileged white male bias” and hence as racist and sexist. My answer was that few if any of the “new scholars” could measure up to the academic standards that had held as recently as 30 years before. (I supplied numerous choice quotations from their writings to illustrate how lunatic many of these people really are.)

Political correctness was how they intended to keep preferences and fake scholarship in place, protecting it from criticism, weaponizing the language of race and gender to maintain a fake moral high ground. If this theme was not taken up by conservatives, I argued, or by libertarians, or by an alliance of traditional-minded scholars including both, or by someone able to get the job done, this mindset would spread from academic through law schools and journalism schools until it controlled every institution in the country, transforming the country itself into something we would no longer recognize!

That was my warning to America, and I began sounding it in the early 1990s!

There were a few organizations (the National Association  of Scholars comes to mind), but despite solidly reasoned exposés they seemed impotent to stop something already moving forward rapidly. This including forced admission of women to traditionally male military academies (e.g., the Citadel, in Charleston, S.C.), sending women into combat, removing the Confederate flag and other Southern symbols of “hate,” increasing the visibility of homosexuals as the newest victim group, ratcheting up an antiwhite/antimale bias in journalism, and finally blacking out reports of or data on black-on-white violent crime.

Civil Wrongs came out late in 1994. I was low key about it. Knowing I have a short fuse where bullies of any sort are concerned, I was unsure how I would respond if some group tried to disrupt one of my classes. I made some off-campus appearances, did some talk radio interviews, penned a handful of promotional articles, and after spring semester of 1995, found myself shown the door where I’d been teaching.

How Nazism and Communism work: dissidents and undesirables are sent to camps or gulags. How American academic capitalism works: dissidents and undesirables are thrown to the wolves and told, “It’s your own damn fault for opening your stupid mouth!”

At first I barely survived. During the interim I borrowed money and earned another advanced degree, in public health education — keeping my head down about my past, as that field, too, is rife with left-liberals (who believe it “healthy” that women can have their unborn babies killed; they decoupled sex from morality long ago — but that’s another article).

Finally, I did a perhaps inadvisable thing, and scraped and clawed my way back into academia.

Academic Philosophy:  My Return; My Second Departure.

First, I saw a growing danger: an entire generation would soon come of age that had never known a world without political correctness: millennials. I called them the Brave New Generation, and their behavior was already sometimes worse than the radical faculty Roger Kimball had profiled. Students have since become far more dedicated social justice warriors than their professors.

Second, those responsible for the work that had inspired me to want to be a philosopher were either dead, or aging and retiring. Some had magnificent intellects! They were not being replaced. Fields like mine faced a brain drain, as conservatives interested in philosophy were going the computer science / AI route, keeping philosophy as an eccentric hobby. I had also predicted that as the older generation disappeared, the door would be wide open to more and more hard-leftists ending their “long march through the institutions” controlling them. They already controlled fields like comparative literature via the Modern Language Association, and had for years.

Finally, I believed I still had something to contribute. Somewhere back in the 1990s, the word homophobia got coined for critics of the homosexual agenda and its incorporation into the radical-left ethos. I dug out my dogeared copies of major works by Ludwig Wittgenstein, the Austrian-born genius philosopher of language who influenced the generation that came up in the 1950s (and 1960s). He’d written (I am paraphrasing) of how great insights can be had by noting what we use a word or phrase to do, and of how philosophy is a “battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language” (Philosophical Investigations).

Applying: a phobia is an irrational fear. There are, of course, real phobias such as claustrophobia and agoraphobia. One does not try to reason about them with their sufferers; one tries to cure or at least manage them. If critics of the homosexual agenda are branded phobics, there is no need to listen to them. Shame them, ostracize them, send them to “sensitivity training” re-education sessions to “cure” them of their “irrational fears” of gays/lesbians.

Clearly this was the purpose of weaponized terms like homophobia, its derivatives, and all similar words.

This isn’t rocket science. But my paper on the subject (not a whole lot longer than the above three paragraphs!) was rejected everywhere I sent it. After the eighth rejection I gave up.

I realized by this time I’d brought a knife to a gunfight, so to speak. You could not reason with these people. Something a few race realists had tried to tell me back in the 1990s, and I wouldn’t listen.

Even so, it was probably already too late!

The National Association of Scholars interviewed me for a job in one of their regional divisions around this time. During this interview I realized, they weren’t up to the job. After a lot of softball stuff I grew frustrated and just told them, “Look, this publishing a journal and holding meetings where you read papers to one another about how terrible things are isn’t working! The radical left isn’t playing games! Sooner or later, we’re going to have take the fight to their territory, and it might not be pretty! We might have to be openly confrontational and let the chips fall where they may.” Those might not have been my exact words, but they’re close enough.

Goes without saying, I didn’t get the job.

The Collapse of Truth and the Emergence of Cancel Culture

Fast forward to now. We now find ourselves in the Orwellian world of “woke.” Of cancel culture. A world openly hostile to everything white (“fragility”) and male (“toxic masculinity”). A world busy trying to cancel history in a manner reminiscent of 1984’s Ministry of Truth.

Christian? Forget it. Every other faith is welcome at the table in the name of “diversity.” Straight? Forget that, too. If you believe on biological grounds that there are two and only two normal sexes, that you can’t simply “choose your gender,” Twitter mobs will be after your scalp and you could lose your job. Challenge the antiwhite bias of the new forms of segregation that appear on some campuses, and fear for your safety may force you to leave. Ask Bret Weinstein, who self-identified as typically “old school” liberal.

By the middle of the last decade, campuses such as Berkeley were spending as much as $500K for security, and were still unable to guarantee the safety of visiting conservative speakers. Why visiting? Because there are virtually no conservatives in academia anymore. All have either retired or fled, as I finally did again eventually. (There are a few libertarians, who cheat by accepting the pro-abort and much of the social justice warrior stance while claiming to favor “free minds and free markets.” Neat trick, that!)

We’ve seen a total collapse of perspective, and of truth itself — another of those “straight white Christian male biased” concepts.

You may have seen videos of black students at Yale screaming — literally screaming! — at professors and administrators about the “racism” they face, how alienated they feel at Yale, all following a few officials’ hesitation to take offense over a “racist” Halloween costume.

Reality check: when you’re at Yale, you’re in the Ivy Leagues! You are not suffering from “discrimination”! You are at, or near, the top!

No perspective…. 

Few of us peons had any chance whatsoever to go to Yale, much less teach there. We had neither money nor family ties nor other connections. So much for our “white privilege,” another of those weaponized phrases we began hearing during the past decade.

There appear to have been two more turning points on our way to the present.

One was the 2012 Trayvon Martin shooting, of which George Zimmerman was (rightly) exonerated on grounds of self-defense. President Obama injected himself into that one, with the inflammatory remark that Trayvon Martin could have been his son. This was the first time in U.S. history that a U.S president injected a personal opinion into a criminal trial.

But that wasn’t the worst, which was right up front from the beginning.

From the start, mass media regaled viewers with an image of Martin as a cherub-faced boy. They used a 5-year-old photo, taken when he was around 12. The 17-year-old who jumped Zimmerman, got on top of him and begun pounding his head against the ground, was much larger!

Zimmerman’s media portrayal was also doctored, his stock photo purposefully darkened, to make him look thuggish.

No interest in truth…. 

Black Lives Matter got started in the aftermath of Zimmerman’s acquittal.

Zimmerman has since dealt with continual death threats and the occasional violent confrontation in public. He can’t work. He’ll never have any sort of “normal” career or life. He and his family remain in hiding.

The second turning point was the Michael Brown shooting in 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Again, all the physical evidence pointed to self-defense. This didn’t matter. The white police officer saw his life upended and his career ruined.

Black Lives Matter got stronger.

All lives matter suddenly became a racist taunt.

Trump got elected in 2016 — supported (as a few more astute leftists figured out) not just for economic reasons, on his promise to bring back jobs from overseas, but because the way he spoke to the (mostly white) GOP base: how he recognized that his base was sick of political correctness, of the tightening grip of identity politics on the country, and of being demonized as the villains of history. Trump’s election, whatever one thinks of the man personally or politically, represented the first potentially formidable pushback we had seen against both political correctness and the globalism that had added for more to Main Street American whites’ declining fortunes.

It clearly fell short. I’d go so far as to call it an abject failure, as Trump clearly had no idea of the level of power he was up against or how to confront it, and neither he nor anyone else has been able to seize that moral high ground.

Conclusion: Americans, You Were Warned!

So again, here we are.

Three decades after some of us began sounding warnings that political correctness was thought control, a dangerous rationalization for continuing race / sex preferences, and that if not competently opposed, it represented a fundamentally Marxist mindset that would transform every institution in the country. What it could not accomplish by subterfuge and misdirection, it would accomplish through systemic force: it would work against its critics by rendering them unemployable. It would institute a culture-driven mindset that would destroy the careers and lives of its critics, or just make examples of those who sometimes inadvertently ran afoul of its narratives.

America, you were warned!

Everything I predicted in Civil Wrongs has come true! I hasten to add that not that every assumption I made back then was true. There is no race realism in the book, and I was far more optimistic how things might play out in a “libertarian society” than I had any right to be. It is clear to me now that libertarianism is as much a fantasy as communism.

Black Lives Matter has risen like a tsunami, along with the openly destructive Antifa.

“Peaceful protesters,” mass media bleat as the George Floyd tribalists (many of them white!) loot businesses and burn police stations in cities controlled by Democrats.

No interest in truth….

Blacks continue to kill one another with efficiency and enthusiasm in places like southside Chicago. Some of the victims are small children.

It seems that black lives matter most when political points can be scored.

Confrontations between blacks and whites are portrayed by mass media as confrontations between social justice warriors and racists (called “Karens” if they are female).

No interest in truth….

I don’t think anyone expects truth from mainstream media anymore.

Which is why Big Tech, as a primary instrument of narrative control, has taken to censoring truth-tellers….  Deplatforming was the first phase of cancel culture. (And let’s not have any bullshit about how these are “private companies.”)

And now, Americans are so divided that some believe civil war between left and right is now unavoidable. We are seeing multiple scenarios being played out on paper or video, depending on who wins this election now less than three months away and what the losing side does.

Some on each side seem to relish the prospects of a fight, even though it would probably mean the end of the last vestiges of Constitutional government. Civil war on U.S. soil would open the door to those waiting behind the scenes.

And who might that be?

Globalists, of course, who are waiting to step forward, pick up the pieces, and restore an order the masses will willingly accept and might actually clamor for. And then do what they’ve always wanted, which is establish a world government that will answer to their corporations.

After all, globalist elites such as Soros have been bankrolling Black Lives Matter and other violent groups to the tune of hundreds of millions, just as other globalists (Rockefellers, others) have been bankrolling leftist groups and movements all along.


STEVEN YATES is an author and independent scholar with a PhD in philosophy. He works as a freelance editor and ghostwriter, and blogs at Lost Generation Philosopher. His last book was Four Cardinal Errors: Reasons for the Decline of the American Republic (Brush Fire Press International, 2011). His next book, What Should Philosophy Do? A Theory has been accepted for publication by Wipf and Stock. An expatriated U.S. citizen, he lives with his wife and two spoiled cats at a now-undisclosed location in Chile.


Enjoy this content? Please consider supporting my work on Patreon. Absent support, the lights could go out on articles like this one at any time!


About Steven Yates

I have a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Georgia and teach Critical Thinking (mostly in English) at Universidad Nacionale Andrés Bello in Santiago, Chile. I moved here in 2012 from South Carolina. My most recent book is entitled Four Cardinal Errors: Reasons for the Decline of the American Republic (2011). I am the author of an earlier book, around two dozen articles & reviews, & still more articles on commentary sites on the Web. I live in Santiago with my wife Gisela & two spoiled cats, Bo & Princesa.
This entry was posted in Academia, Culture, Higher Education Generally, Language, Media, Political Philosophy, Where is Civilization Going? and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s