The Progressive Hammers Are Out, Looking For Nails

by Christina Rees October 14, 2021

From George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”: the great Ralph Steadman illustrates how the distortion of language — not organic change, but forced and fast — is a central tool used by the pigs to confuse and control the other farm animals.


“If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” 

– Abraham Maslow

Three years ago, after taking a trip to Russia to study its Revolution and pay my respects to Dostoyevsky, I wrote an op-ed here titled Good News: Texas Isn’t Russia, and Never Will Be. I’d like to revisit that thought, because it turns out I was wrong. Keep in mind that Glasstire covers all of Texas, most thoroughly its largest metropolitan areas with the biggest art scenes. I see some very chilling Soviet-syle traits rolling through our collective art and creative scenes in these bigger cities, where the most progressive (and “progressive”) people live and work.

Let me back up a bit.

Here are some traits we associate with very young children: lack of emotional regulation; an inability to understand that someone can say “no” to them and it does not make that someone a monster (in psychology it’s called “splitting” or binary thinking); a need for attention and approval now; testing the limits of tantrums to get adults and other children to fold to their demands. Empathy isn’t quite available to them yet at this age, because empathy does not live in the toddler brain of me, me, me. And most kids grow out of it. 

People who have Cluster B personality disorders — Borderline, Narcissism, Histrionic and Antisocial — actually never grow out of the emotional cesspool that keeps them in this headspace, where no one else exists outside of what they can do for them. For a Cluster B person, other people are merely tools. Despite their age or status in the world, Cluster B people are still toddlers. It leads to behaviors that, in the adult world, would be considered pathological. Their interpersonal relationships are fraught, to say the least.

We had one of these assholes, the orange one, in charge of the country up until pretty recently. People who are familiar with Cluster B personality disorders clocked that man well before his election to office. He’s an outsized and grandiose example amongst this Cluster B cohort; many Cluster B people are highly intelligent, charming, and seemingly fully functional… until they don’t seem so great after all. 

We have them in our families, at school, at work. They were our ill-advised best friends in middle school or our cubicle mate at the office. And they are awful: manipulative, aggressive, relentless — and one of their most effective tools is playing victim. Their paranoia about their place in the world eats at them. Luckily, they are probably only about one percent of the population. 

But, unfortunately, they are overrepresented in community leadership roles, and in the communal influencer-type spheres of social media (and increasingly, in real life). They are power-hungry, and again, they need a tremendous amount of attention and validation. They may attach themselves to a cause, including causes that tout compassion or justice as the goal, if it will get them some of that juicy, juicy attention. But the politics are always beside the point. They hitch up to what works. 

And the traits associated with Cluster B can start to metastasize to whole sectors of a community, or to a whole society. The seduction of identifying as a victim is huge right now — it’s where the power actually is. There are people playing victim on both the right and the left of the political spectrum. It’s a vicious kind of tail-eating snake, in that each side can yell about being victimized by the other ad nauseam. 

I won’t play both sides here. I know that the biggest threat to our democracy is a mounting fascism coming from the right. I am a catastrophist these days, and I’m pretty sure the next few elections will spell the end of democracy in this country. But America as we know could be over no matter what, I believe, because even if far-left progressives get their way instead — with Cluster B types leading the charge — democracy is just as over. Free speech and free expression is over, and due process is over. The ability to see your neighbor as a good person is over. 

The utopia that the ultra-left agitates for (not just equal rights, but equal outcomes)… well, all I can respond to that with is: take a look at the 20th century, and tell me how all those revolutions played out. Most of them stemmed from a progressive belief system — the kind that casts everyone as either oppressed or oppressor (just like today), the kind that calls for a dismantling and reordering of real or perceived power structures. And millions and millions died as a result. The forces that caused this destruction, the underlying pathology of the whole project, were solidly and disastrously Cluster B. It’s happening again. It’s happening in our art scenes across Texas. 

How bad is it, and how did we get here? 

It is here, and in the “art world,” or in various art “scenes” in Texas, and of course beyond. In recent months, I’ve watched some of my artist and art-worker friends and acquaintances have their work maligned, censored, or eradicated, by progressives — they’ve had their reputations damaged by these Cluster Bs and their minions — hammers bashing nails. The artists who’ve been put through this ringer could be anyone, and includes artists of color and queer artists. Cluster B mission creep is real. No one is safe. Sometimes, it may be that these artists they go after are seen as not orthodox enoughthey are not making work that functions as the new propaganda where identity and tribal politics is the only form deemed “worthy” by the hammers. Sometimes the work is orthodox, but the hammers need to hit a lot of nails to feel alive, and they will move the goalpost to make sure they can get their targets. And let’s be real: artists get jealous of other artists. Art “activists” can be jealous of anyone getting the attention they want for themselves. I spot serial bullies in our scenes, causing the same kinds of conflicts and damage for different people, again and again. This current political environment is their playground. 

That’s just it: What makes it especially galling, and frightening, is that it’s so easy for these disingenuous “progressive” thought leaders to rope in others to their “cause” — people who are, understandably, terrified of the growing threat of the fascist right, people who are exhausted and feel guilty all the time, people who want to help, who want to make the world a safer and more inclusive place. People who are, frankly, scared of being deemed “insufficiently supportive” and attacked for it (social exile equals a kind of death). These people, mere extras in the Cluster B drama, would be called “useful idiots” by Vladimir Lenin. They take on the paranoia and self-righteousness of their Cluster B leaders. They don’t even know they’re doing it (but goddamn, it must seem great to go from feeling “powerless” to — wham! — being able to destroy another person’s career or reputation via a few social media posts or a single petition).

There’s a reason it’s gotten this bad, and that freedom of expression is the first thing to get tossed out, and for artists to be some of the earliest casualties in these revolutions. In modern and contemporary times, artists have been free thinkers who make transcendent things, and trust their audiences in the exchange of ideas. In the new orthodoxy, free-thinking artists are dangerous. The way it plays out in 2021 is this: the explosion of art by formerly marginalized artists, which is not only a good thing but a great thing, a necessary thing, has developed more recently into something really strange, that reads as both policed and self-policing. I know plenty of artists who are not making work for the public now, or making work at all. They have a reason for that. Especially when they see their peers getting thrown under the bus at the first audience “complaint,” sometimes even abandoned by the left-leaning non-profit institutions that commission the work. I never thought I would see this in my lifetime. I mean, back when I was an undergrad, we railed against Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority. 

Speaking of college, I’m not just full-time here at Glasstire; I’m in grad school full-time as well. I’d be leaving out an important part of this story if I didn’t mention just how much this hammer/nail rot owes its existence to post-modernist, post-structuralist, post-Marxist theory, a philosophical bent that’s been taught as a central tenet in humanities departments at universities since the 1980s. I guess we could blame Foucault, the kiddie-fucker philosopher who made everything about power — who has it, who does not — and the legion of academic theorists who followed him into the depths of a moral relativism that assumes the worst intentions of our fellow humans — and by now, in current form, undermines any sense of shared meaning or shared reality. There are now three generations of highly educated people out in the world who have taken up positions at all levels in our progressive institutions, who fully believe the oppressor/oppressed narrative… about everything. Bad-faith readings of other people’s intentions are built into this thinking. Victim status is built into it. That is the point. 

What a way to live. What a way to see the world. How nihilistic.

How Cluster B. 


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Robert Boyd October 14, 2021 - 09:19

To make your point, it would be better if you named names. Who has been hammered? Who has done the hammering? It seems a bit abstract the way you are describing it.

Julie Speed October 14, 2021 - 11:50

I think Christina is right not to name names. It’s not needed and would just be throwing meat to the pack (us).

Christina Rees October 14, 2021 - 09:35

Robert, I’m not dragging names out here, further exposing them. Those are their stories to tell if they choose to. I see what I see and know what I know and it’s not good.

Michael Morris October 15, 2021 - 11:30

I can see why you made this choice, but I’m a little afraid I might we might be talking past each other in my comments below because I can only imagine what you’re addressing with the general descriptions here…

Judy Adams October 14, 2021 - 10:23

You hit the nail on the head with this one! My husband and I have been lamenting the “victim” narrative that seems to be escalating in recent years (on both sides). It’s a scary trajectory. Your article had so many thoughtful points that I will need to reread it a few times, and forward to others. Thank you.

carolyn October 14, 2021 - 12:34

Thank you for broaching this complex and difficult subject. Better to start the discussion now than avoid it until some massive backlash results.

My biggest concern in this vein is that so many people seem to remember so little about why free speech matters. Among other considerations, I’m aware of no history in which censorship power (in whatever form), once granted was not ultimately used mainly against the left.

Christina Rees October 14, 2021 - 12:37


Judith Garrett Segura October 15, 2021 - 10:42

Thank you, Christina, for courageously addressing a phenomenon that is beyond easy categorizing, and which now infects/affects all cultural realms, not just art. George Orwell expressed his frustration with the complexity of a similar phenomenon of his time by writing his allegorical satire “Animal Farm” — his way of not naming names. Your ideas seemed to evolve even as you wrote, clarifying your own exasperation with the current battle for control of the narrative. I hope you will continue your thinking on this matter and about how to talk about it, which could lead us all to better understanding what’s at stake and what we can do about it. Thank you for speaking up.

Nestor Topchy October 18, 2021 - 20:37

As a member of a DP amily who emigrated west from surviving post Nazi Germany to escape Stalinist Russia I’m very grateful for the opportunities I have , one of them being to express my solidarity with you concerning well intentioned ignorant ideologies.

Hannah October 14, 2021 - 13:31

Yes! Binary thinking, just like aspects of cluster b personalities (putting aside empathy to complete a trauma surgery, etc) may have a biological imperative (danger! Safe!) but has little use for a progressive world.

Neil Fauerso October 14, 2021 - 13:40

Awesome essay, thank you for writing.

Gordy Grundy October 14, 2021 - 13:43

Bravo and well-stated. Thanks Christina!

Funny Bunny October 14, 2021 - 21:53

Can I request a translator to decipher the overly academic vagueness of this article? Why so elusive? WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO SAY?

This article reads like an elusive dance around the point that only offers tiny glimpses for any structure of meaning. If I read a tattered notebook from a lifelong schizophrenic (containing zero negative space, with words written in a spiral), it might be easier to piece together than this article. Scared of cancel culture probably, so we get this garbled big brained mess instead of real local art information. I like brave press, I crave it actually, but this falls short. I would have much rather read the first draft, before Lucia removed any assemblance of courage. Instead, be brave and re-write this properly. I shouldn’t have to decode it, or rely on my best guess for any actual comprehension.

Michael Morris October 15, 2021 - 06:12

I’ve got a lot of thoughts about this, but to keep it simple, I think it would be useful to delineate what we mean when we say “left” and “progressive” and not make it one big lump (a product of binary thinking.)

The phenomenon you’re describing is the one of the socially liberal, not the economic left–whether that takes Marxist or Keynesian inspiration (Bernie being a Keynesian, which disappoints me). When we express anxiety about the kind of social shaming that may be taking place in various art worlds, it very often has nothing to do with economic justice, and more often denies the existence of economic issues (Many of the critics in this camp would call any mention of economics or class “class reductionist”, and the mere mentioning of these things as racist). So, to get a little postmodern, I’d invoke Judith Butler and encourage noting the “left” as part of a spectrum of political positions and not one side of a binary set up with the right.

I also don’t think the “oppressor/oppressed” narrative is a particularly helpful way of identifying what’s going on since the post-structuralists became fundamental to art education.

Christina Rees October 15, 2021 - 07:46

MM, you’ve gotta admit that a lot of the academic theorists you seem so fond of are attached to a belief system — luxury beliefs — that just don’t trickle down. Instead, for people outside the ivory tower, these luxury beliefs, when turned into policy, often cause confusion and chaos — and for living, breathing artists, this evolving orthodoxy of luxury beliefs can feel like an endless set of prescriptions. Not healthy.

Michael Morris October 15, 2021 - 10:55

I’m not sure I follow what you mean, Christina. When you talk about theorists inside the ivory tower, are you referring to the economic theorists (Marx, David Harvey, The Frankfurt School, etc.) or are you referring to the Postmodernists (Foucault, Derrida, etc.). I’m not so fond of the later, and if it seemed like I was defending them, that was the opposite of my intention. Or are you just trying to say people outside universities don’t see the distinction between economics and culture, and insisting on a distinction is a fool’s errand? A quick look at “the left” on youtube or twitter should suggest the ivory tower has little to do with this conversation.

Since you invoked the idea of “trickle down”, I’ll use that as an example of the distinction I’m trying to make (between the left trying desperately to enact economic reform and the “left” shaming people for having bad or *even worse* nuanced opinions): a fight for a living wage, the strikes of IATSE, the failed unionization of Amazon workers, and bills in the senate to provide tuition free community college are fundamentally of /a different movement/ than the one that wants to de-platform complicated media figures or cancel comedians, and the economics of the later, though unspoken, is neo-liberal in nature. THAT is a failed project, and one that may have begun in academia with Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago, but the people of Chile and beyond know that what did in fact trickle down was not economic prosperity, but an ideology that has affected everyone from mcdonalds workers to farmers in mexico to adjunct professors, and yes, artists trying to find an affordable place to live and practice their work.

Please don’t lump me in with Robin DiAngelo is the short version of what I’m trying to say.

Naomi Schlinke October 15, 2021 - 17:04

Your essay is a breath of fresh air—brave and timely. Read Andrew Sullivan :

Titus October 16, 2021 - 17:29

As I was fantasy shopping for Wyoming real estate for a vanity gallery/studio I’m considering opening (with my burgeoning crypto wealth, the seed of which was a settlement from a socialist city government I once worked for as a museum curator, from a lawsuit for various forms of predictable woke discrimination, abuse, and harassment), I suddenly thought, “I wonder how woke-retarded Glasstire is these days?” I was mildly surprised to see that my old friend CR has apparently been alerted to the threat to art, culture, and civilization itself from the so-called left at this incredibly late stage, and all of its rapacious, rage-fueled, anti-historical, racist, cannibalistic, stultifying stupidity. I was unsurprised that she still thinks there is any kind of genuine threat from the so-called “right” (with the Bad Orange Man is its evil puppeteer), the remnants of which having been utterly defanged and coopted. We awaken to the effects of the red pill in stages, I guess.

The real threat to us all is materialism, not any imagined left or right, although by any measure the left is winning that race to the bottom. I am slowly rereading the behemoth “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich”, published in 1960. What is perfectly clear then and now is that Fascism and Bolshevism are two sides of one materialistic coin. The primary difference is in the solution. National Socialism (Nazism, et al) was just that – nationalistic, in a specifically anti-Christian, pagan, racialized form. Bolshevism (which has killed infinitely more people than Nazism ever did) was “International”, as their anthem clearly declared, and Satanic in essence (Marx was clear about this, and chances are your typical Antifa loser is a gleeful Satanist. “It’s just a metaphor!!!” s/he’ll inevitably shout. Sure thing, pal. How’s that working for you?). The reasons may have varied but the murderous inhuman mechanisms of control varied not at all. The contemporary so-called left is truly an unspeakable spawn of this two-headed Beast.

Anyway, you’ll never get the puzzle to fit together until you realize that “left” and “right” are (mostly) meaningless distinctions today, merely deployed by our corporate oligarchal masters to yank the hot polloi wherever they want them to go (it’s no coincidence the bodily symbol of woke adherence today is a ring through the nose. These things have meaning.) What will really do your head in is seeing how “art” by its very definition in the last 150 years or so is intrinsically revolutionary and subversive; its highest values are mostly all the very “Cluster B” traits you decry. There is not now, nor has there ever been, a sane balanced arbitrator of taste and excellence in Modern, much much less Contemporary, Art. It is not a mistake that contemporary art has more often than not resembled if not literally consisted of piles of garbage, for decades. Art is the very place that sociopaths congregate and settle en masse. The crazies run this asylum. They are not outside banging on the door. They are the board, the director, the guards, the staff, and the inmates. There is no dissent in the “art world”. If one arises, as this piece possibly intends, it will still misdiagnose the problems and blame the wrong people, as this piece does. Contemporary Art (of the very kind that GT was built to promote) is the tip of the woke spear, itself.

Dear CR, I send sincere prayers as you realize that everyone around you are likely Body Snatched, and that you yourself might yet need a deep dose of decontaminating serum. The zombies do not tolerate the living. They attack and eat them. You may soon be sorely tempted to take that blue pill and go back into the matrix…to just mix up all the metaphors.

Bon chance, et bon voyage.

Jon Revett October 17, 2021 - 08:14

Well said, Christina.

Tony October 17, 2021 - 10:36

Very well put, Christina. Could not agree more!

Wells Mason October 17, 2021 - 12:15

This is fantastic writing. Impassioned. Informed. And taking a position on all of it! Please don’t leave Texas. We need your voice here.

Thor Johnson October 17, 2021 - 17:54

Thank you for posting this excellent article, Christina.

Cas Milner October 17, 2021 - 18:09

“Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street and building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.”
— George Orwell, “1984”

earl October 17, 2021 - 18:58

Well said.

Franklin October 17, 2021 - 20:07

The historian John Lucaks did not think that there was a generalized form of fascism. In other words, the term pertained to the project of that name in Italy. In his estimation, Germany at the same time had more in common with the Soviet Union. In fact there were episodes of cooperation between the German communists and the National Socialists, against the Social Democrats.

That’s basically what we’re looking at now: competing autocracies that are proclaimed enemies but in practice have fewer differences with each other than they do with the liberal regime. If there is a generalized fascism, it sees identity as the ordering principle of society, and wants a fusion of state and corporate power in order to ensure the safety and hygeine of that order. That’s precisely what the progressives you’re describing want. The Cluster B leadership is an interesting commonality but it may be a side effect of the longing for a totalized politics among the followers.

I agree with you that liberal democracy is in a lot of trouble.

Loli Fernández-Andrade Kolber October 17, 2021 - 21:20

I just read it. Finally said and we’ll said Cristina! Thank you.

Loli Fernández-Andrade Kolber October 17, 2021 - 21:22

By the way, the ilustración for this article is just fabulous!

Andy don Emmons October 18, 2021 - 09:12

Sad to hear about all the artist that are being maligned.. I recently was visiting with a one of my very well known contemporaries and she said her work has been censored for years. Thanks Christinna!!

Dirty Dawg October 18, 2021 - 09:57

Please define your usage of the term “progressive.” You might consider seeking a definition from a trusted source. The individuals you identify in this article are mainstream liberals; not progressives. This article reads like a rant in the YouTube comment section.

Joachim West October 19, 2021 - 00:09

I saw that Christina isn’t working for Glasstire anymore and that this was the last article that she published before they published the one about her being “parted ways”. Did she get cancelled because she wrote this article or is this article not related to her departure?

Sanjay Sharma October 31, 2021 - 13:57

The art world has long been a place of egos, cliques, petty tyrants, makers and breakers of careers, elitism, and mutual masturbation. Maybe the players change, but the game is the same. These days, self-righteousness is our biggest cultural problem.

I don’t think viewing free thinking artists as dangerous is anything new. Artists by nature are free thinkers, and it’s why art is marginalized in our society. Artists are the exemplars of the most important bumper sticker philosophies – Question Authority and Don’t Believe Everything You Believe. (or if you prefer a more highbrow version – ‘Doubt is an uncomfortable position but certainty is absurd’ – Voltaire)


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