Of course people will say “well actually the white men with guitars critique is quite complicated and nuanced, the point is not that all white men with guitars are the same, or that their music is bad,” etc etc. The trouble with this defense is that we live in a discursive environment, with opinions orbiting all around us. And the “white men with guitars” discourse, which peaked maybe five years ago or so, was never primarily that nuanced and careful critique. It was usually a bunch of (mostly white) people on Tumblr and Twitter farming likes and shares by ostentatiously invoking the phrase in the most capacious and dismissive way possible. So which claim actually ruled? The careful argument about the need for greater accessibility in music making, which for the record the Minutemen lived rather than just wrote about? Or the preachy, self-impressed and reductive version that got the engagement on social media?
The point, obviously, is that you can generalize all of this. Categorical moral claims blunt the demand for individual moral responsibility. If you’re a young white man who is politically undifferentiated, and you looked out at the world of social justice politics, why would you ever be compelled to get on board? You’re told every day that you hurt marginalized people through your very existence. Your white privilege is inherent to your body and you can’t get rid of it, and it damages POC no matter what your intentions or how you live. So what do you do? The woke assumption seems to be that you should therefore go through life feeling vaguely guilty all the time and that this alone would constitute a more just world. But most of these malleable white dudes aren’t going to do that, because carrying around pointless guilt both does nothing to help anyone and is unpleasant. Meanwhile, there’s some “intellectual dark web” dickhead on YouTube telling you that you’re actually the oppressed one and you should fight back. Which program are you going to sign up for? Yes, the IDW attitude is wrong. But it’s also designed to attract converts. The social justice attitude is designed to assign people a spot in a moral aristocracy, and you were born ineligible to be one of the elect. It’s no wonder why contemporary social justice politics have achieved literally no structural change even while enjoying total dominance in our ideas industry. [emphasis added] What’s the basic theory of change?
I’ve called this tendency political Calvinism in the past - the way that totalizing identity critiques render individual choices and morality irrelevant.
As with white men and their guitars, people will inevitably say “nobody says white people are inherently racist, that’s not the argument.” But, first, there are in fact many people who indeed believe explicitly that all white people are racist, as rhetorically inconvenient as that might be for you. More importantly, even if the “anti-racist” conventional wisdom doesn’t go that far, its proponents speak so recklessly and with such an emphasis on dunking on people to impress their peers that the message they send is inevitably the caricatured version. I promise you, most white people who aren’t already savvy extremely-online types who go on social justice Twitter will come away with the impression that they’re saying that all white people are racist. Which of course triggers the part of the brain that says “so I’ll be a racist, then.” [emphasis added] Similarly, mockery of the phrase “not all men” may not usually be meant to imply that all men are guilty of whatever crime, though there is a vast second-wave feminist literature that insists very explicitly that yes, all men. Either way, the average dude is most certainly going to come away from the “not all men” discourse thinking that the point is that he’s bad merely by dint of being a dude. Is that fair? Who cares?
Now as an actual Calvinist I "could" contest deBoer's working definition of "political Calvinism" and go on and on about how I think the real dogmatic problem within Anglo-American political-religious legacies has been postmillennialism, but I don't plan to do that. Instead I'm going to charitably reinterpret what deBoer is getting at in light of understanding he's not religious and doesn't steep himself in religious ideas.
As it happens some commenters have already proposed at his substack that the problem is people have a firm working definition of original sin and group sin without any corresponding concept of atonement or expiation of sin. That is, as a matter of fact, something like what John McWhorter has been saying for years, only he has pointed out that contemporary anti-racism has reformulated Original Sin as the ontological sin of whiteness that can only be atoned for, apparently, by hiring (or buying the products of) the likes of Kendi and DiAngelo to pronounce expiation.