Is the social justice movement that’s sweeping British and American universities a secular religion? The core beliefs of the members of this cult certainly seem to play the same psychological role as the central tenets of the world’s major religions. They furnish their adherents with rituals and blasphemy laws, a way of distinguishing between the sacred and the profane, a vision of what it is to be a good person and live in a good society, and they enable them to engage in tribal sorting, dividing people between members of the in-group and the out-group. No doubt the same could be said of most political ideologies, but there’s one aspect of left-wing identity politics in which it reveals itself as more cult-like than other belief systems. I’m thinking of its magical component.
This was brought to my attention by the psychiatrist and blogger Scott Alexander. In a post entitled Devoodooifying Psychology, he compared the concept of ‘stereotype threat’ to a voodoo hex. Stereotype threat holds that if a person is expected to perform badly in a test because she’s a member of a particular group, she will perform badly. It is invoked by the social justice left to explain the under-performance of women in Stem subjects, as well as other group discrepancies. Alexander means two things by this. First, that the effect of stereotyping someone, according to the theory, is similar to that of a voodoo curse, negatively affecting their performance. Second, that the effect isn’t real. Stereotype threat is one of the casualties of the ‘replication crisis’ afflicting psychology, with researchers unable to replicate this finding. (To read more, click here.)