Salvo 10.11.2022 10 minutes

Discussing the “Agenda”


Talking with liberals can be instructive.

I recently had a long phone conversation with a liberal friend of mine. It’s an increasingly rare thing these days, one which I highly recommend. You both need a thick skin, be able to survive being hung up on, and be willing to endure calling each other “Nazi” and “Groomer.” We have always talked politics. We became friends a long time ago when we were both the functional equivalent of “soccer dads.”

You should be talking politics with liberals if you both can take it. The pushback is healthy. It makes your thinking stronger and your arguments more robust. You will also learn much about the thinking of the other side. This was one of those instructive moments for me. 

The basic thrust of his argument on the call was essentially that the culture war is over. He argued that it must be over because so many corporations support the LGBQT/Diversity, Equity, Inclusion/White fragility agenda…let’s just call it “the Agenda.” Somewhere along the way he picked up a statistic indicating 70 percent of the population supports the trans movement. This is completely validated by the indisputable fact that big business is making this issue a part of their messaging. He assumes corporations are simply responding to market forces and giving people what they want. After all, businesses place profits above all else. They do this because they want to make money. 

I offered a rejoinder, explaining to him the concept of “The Cathedral”: a distributed, open network of professionals and experts, university educated, sharing the same values, taking their cues from one another, imposing this agenda on the rest of the population whether they want it or not. It all operates at the level of what we might call an “operating system,” that is, through the mechanisms of “scientific management.” This is the stuff of policy manuals, good process, management books and leadership seminars. It is the belief that if we apply the proper expertise and give the right leadership, garner enough resources, that there is no problem that cannot be managed or solved through the application of what Jacques Ellul called “technique.”  

Whether in government bureaucracy, corporate administration, think tanks or universities, this whole group of professionals and experts are at heart organizational men and women, believing in the power of the technical. This is the operating system that binds them all together. Even when they do not share the same goals, they share the same means—the formative influence of the environment they foster and shape. It’s akin in that sense to what Marshall McLuhan meant about the medium being the message. In other words, the most significant thing is not any one cause or policy or program: the true message of the professionals is all-encompassing technical administration. It is the substrate that binds industry and government administration together. It is why the experts, professionals, managers, and technocrats can move seamlessly back and forth between government and the private sector, the universities, the media, and the think tanks. They are essentially the same thing. 

There is no formal agenda. Yet, once picked up by key influencers, voicing their concerns in this distributed network, the Agenda starts to come up in meetings, becomes a matter of focus, policies, and procedures. Soon there are educational materials being put out, seminars are conducted, and consultants are brought in. From there, best practices are quickly established. Soon there are industry standards and accreditations. And in the blink of an eye a new activist agenda has been imposed and is taken up in advertising and reinforced in the media as well. The Agenda is imposed one policy, one ratchet at a time. But it is imposed onto a sizable portion of the population who had no voice in the matter of its formation. 

While my liberal friend, who is a fully accredited member of this informal network of professionals and experts, could see that this might be a thing, he argued that if this really is an informal network, then they can’t be imposing this on anyone. They are putting all these policies in place because this is what everyone wants. That is the nature of a distributed network. It is just what you just argued, he said. This is what it means to be a professional, to be doing good, to give back, to make the workplace and society better for everyone, including the trans community. This is what good people do. They do good things. They use the tools at their disposal. 

His next response was to gloat a little…well, more than a little. I thought you, as a conservative, were pro-business. You are just mad now that businesses are recognizing that we live in an open and inclusive society, that the majority are pro LGBTQ+ and are choosing to go where the money is. Businesses just want to make money. They would not be on board with the trans agenda if they thought that it would alienate their customers. This to him is proof that the queer movement is now majoritarian. This is the will of the people. We are just making policy fit the will of the people. In the end, he says, the Left has won. You just need to deal with it. And from his perspective, he is right. By all objective measures, the culture is liberal. Most people who say they are conservatives live no differently than liberals and have many of the same goals and aspirations as liberals. 

My friend honestly believes that the Agenda is organically bubbling up from an underlying change in society. From his perspective, it is the result of genuine progress. Even when I explain to him how the whole grand march through the institutions happened, this too is simply the natural result of human progress. Of course progressivism is going to spread through the universities, through the media and through the business community. This is what progress looks like. It is the natural evolution in society. 

Even explaining to him that this kind of social change just does not happen this quickly on its own, that it was manufactured through deliberate propaganda campaigns and sophisticated political operations leaves him completely unfazed. It is not malign at all. This is what you have to do when you are intent on making society better. You have to teach them. You have to change their thinking. Sometimes you have to impose it on people. Those that resist this sort of thing are bad people anyways. My professional friend will admit it is happening and still tell me that this is a good thing. This is how you make society better. He is fully bought in. When I note that, even three years ago, he cared nothing about trans “rights,” he is nonplussed. Now he does. And this is good. We are making society a better place for everyone. More open. More inclusive. Progress. 

From my perspective as his friend, this is an observed change. As recently as three or four years ago, we argued politics in such a way that both of us more or less wanted many of the same things. There was a lot of Venn diagram overlap. We wanted the same things but would argue about the best way to achieve those things. Something has changed. Something brewing beneath the surface finally began to show itself. With the end of the Cold War and the winding down of the “global war on terror,” there was no longer an external threat to focus national energies and paper over divides in the culture. This lack of real external enemies has exposed the reality that the true enemy is internal. Covid and the Russia-Ukraine conflict did not have the effect of galvanizing the population around a single threat. Rather, they deepened and hardened the divide. The effect of this lack of external enemies was his observation, but from his perspective it has simply freed the Left to give the people the “things everyone wants.” The fact that business is trumpeting the Agenda indicates its broad acceptance among the population.

This conversation made me realize for the first time that an old friend and I were now fully on different sides of a cultural divide. He is simply no longer able to see and think “cross-culturally.” If people are afraid to speak up about certain issues, this is good because the issues are popular. Society has grown more civilized and intolerant opinions are no longer tolerated in polite society; if an opinion offends someone, then it is intolerant and deserves to be ignored or suppressed. When your bakery or pizza shop is shut down, it’s because word got out that you were a bigot and now no one will do business with you. This is the free market at work. I thought you were in favor of the free market.

The rejoinder that maybe there is nowhere else to shop, there is nowhere else to work, that this cultural project has so captured society such that there is nowhere to go and nowhere to hide does not penetrate his absolute certainty in its goodness. Many conservatives feel every day the reality that if you want to work and shop in peace, you keep your head down and your mouth shut. He simply cannot see this, or doesn’t care. He cannot look past his own position within his own cultural project to see that there is another group of people out there, at least half the population, whose value structure is very much different from his own. It is like having two countries within one contiguous border, where the politically dominant group just thinks that as long as they talk slowly and loudly enough everyone will understand them. All they know is that they are doing a good thing. It is an expansive, imperial cultural project. Everyone should support it. Anyone who doesn’t is a bad person. The only question is the form of their punishment.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

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