Bari Weiss on the need for moxie

October 20, 2021 • 11:00 am

We all know who the cowards are, though they’re not branded as such by the Left. They include entire universities and their presidents, like Evergreen State, Oberlin, Yale, and Bryn Mawr. They include Dean Baquet, the editor of the New York Times, and other media like New York Magazine and the New Yorker, who always take the safe stands on every issue, never challenging our thoughts. They include the Dean and head of the EAPS department at MIT, who disinvited Dorian Abbot from a prestigious lecture at MIT.  They are all the people who bow to unreasonable demands, or accept lies, or refuse to question dogma—all out of fear for their careers. And they are many.

In her Commentary article this week (also highlighted on her website in a short piece called “Some thoughts about courage“), Bari Weiss first defines wokeness (the bad kind) and then recites many instances of people who have had their lives or careers damaged by cowards. She recounts tales of those who have fought back. You already know many of these stories. Click on the screenshot below to read. Weiss introduces her piece this way on her Substack site:

If you read this newsletter — and if you are new here, welcome! — you are by now quite familiar with the features of the great unraveling. The politicization of everything. The re-racialization of everyone. The demonization of those with a different perspective. The forced conformity. The ideological capture of our schools. The betrayal of liberalism by the institutions meant to uphold it. The denial of obvious truths by our most trusted experts. The replacement of forgiveness and mercy with perpetual punishment.

How did this happen?

Here’s what I write in Commentary:


The message is simple: when you run up against irrational wokeness, as in the examples she gives, have some moxie, cojones, guts, chutzpah, or whatever you call it, because standing up against this stuff is the only way to quash it. However, given that most people are fearful of being called racists, or being ruined, by opposing insanity, more than half of students are afraid to speak their minds in such situations. The only way that will change is when there are examples like Andrew Sullivan, Matt Taibbi, Bari Weiss, or other people who, though liberal, are not swept up in the tide of ultra-wokeness.

This is the same way atheism began to spread: a few people like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens spoke out (granted, only Harris had something to lose), and then smaller fish like me, heartened, wrote books and gave talks on the perniciousness of religion. Many times I’ve heard that reading this site, or hearing my talks, have given people the courage to “come out” and leave their faith. Wokeness, too, is a faith, and will be dispelled the same way—one example of “coming out” after another.

I don’t really have to say more. I’ll just give one of Weiss’s examples of courage—one I didn’t know of—and her conclusion:

Gordon Klein, a professor at UCLA, recently filed suit against his own university. Why? A student asked him to grade black students with “greater leniency.” He refused, given that such a racial preference would violate UCLA’s anti-discrimination policies (and maybe even the law). But the people in charge of UCLA’s Anderson School launched a racial-discrimination complaint into him. They denounced him, banned him from campus, appointed a monitor to look at his emails, and suspended him. He eventually was reinstated—because he had done absolutely nothing wrong—but not before his reputation and career were severely damaged. “I don’t want to see anyone else’s life destroyed as they attempted to do to me,” Klein told me. “Few have the intestinal fortitude to fight cancel culture. I do. This is about sending a message to every petty tyrant out there.”

There are other examples of people who have fought back, brought lawsuits, or (like Peter Boghossian) quit rather than tender fulsome apologies to save their skins. It’s a long article, and I think it’s worth reading even though the message may not be novel.

Part of Weiss’s conclusion:

But let’s start with a little courage.

Courage means, first off, the unqualified rejection of lies. Do not speak untruths, either about yourself or anyone else, no matter the comfort offered by the mob. And do not genially accept the lies told to you. If possible, be vocal in rejecting claims you know to be false. Courage can be contagious, and your example may serve as a means of transmission.

When you’re told that traits such as industriousness and punctuality are the legacy of white supremacy, don’t hesitate to reject it. When you’re told that statues of figures such as Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass are offensive, explain that they are national heroes. When you’re told that “nothing has changed” in this country for minorities, don’t dishonor the memory of civil-rights pioneers by agreeing. And when you’re told that America was founded in order to perpetuate slavery, don’t take part in rewriting the country’s history. [JAC: This of course is a slap at the NYT’s 1619 Project.]

America is imperfect. I always knew it, as we all do—and the past few years have rocked my faith like no others in my lifetime. But America and we Americans are far from irredeemable. . . .

. . . Every day I hear from people who are living in fear in the freest society humankind has ever known. Dissidents in a democracy, practicing doublespeak. That is what is happening right now. What happens five, 10, 20 years from now if we don’t speak up and defend the ideas that have made all of our lives possible?

You have to number Weiss among the courageous ones. After all, she walked away from the biggest plum in journalism: a column in the New York Times. Granted, she was harassed by her colleagues, but she was not fired. But she’d rather say what she sees as true without having Dean Baquet breathing down her back or her colleagues demonize her for wrongthink.


22 thoughts on “Bari Weiss on the need for moxie

    1. Interesting theory, but I don’t think that’s why they’re against it. They’re against it because:
      a) It uses the n-word a lot.
      b) It portrays a white person heroically standing up to racism, and that’s not consistent with the leftist narrative of white people as irredeemable racists.
      c) In her later years, Harper Lee has shown herself to not be the anti-racist icon she was thought to be.

  1. or (like Peter Boghossian) quit rather than tender fulsome apologies to save their skins.

    I might be behind on this story, but was he given an ‘apologize or quit’ directive? As I understand it, he just quit. Hardly a moxie move, if so. Leaving a place where everyone might not agree with you to go start a podcast or something aimed at people who already agree with you (as some others have done) is a smart choice, perhaps financially, but not a portrait in courage.

    1. “Leaving a place where everyone might not agree . . . .”

      Well maybe, among other incidents (including willful rumors and charges of child abuse directed at him), he had had his fill of bags of feces tacked to his office door by noble human primates.

      Everybody rides the bucking horse better than the guy riding it.

      1. Well maybe, among other incidents (including willful rumors and charges of child abuse directed at him)

        I didn’t realized he’d been charged with anything. As I said, I am probably not up to date with the details. And I don’t imagine it was a pleasant place for him to work, at least with his colleagues, though his students seem to have loved him. So I don’t begrudge him choosing to quit at all, but didn’t really think that fell under the moxie umbrella. I could be wrong, though.

  2. The real “racism” game consists in the following:

    i.) Is anti-racism a behavioral norm, e.g., norms about how you treat other people from different backgrounds, nationalities, sex, etc.?

    ii.) Is anti-racism a set of descriptive assertions, e.g. putative facts, about the world?

    If you are conducting a debate about descriptions of the world, then the sole criterion of truth can only be based on scientific evidence, not whether a description is “racist” or not.

    If you are conducting a debate about norms, or more likely, attempting to impose a norm, then you are dealing with a question of ethics. Further, there is nothing legitimate about making the need to be politically correct higher than the truth derived from experience, ethically speaking.

    It is a game because “racism” is introduced as a set of behaviors, but then the script is flipped, and it suddenly it becomes equally “racist” to question anti-racist theological pronouncements, so you are left with squabbling authorities rather than empirical questions, and then in the last stage, the behavioral norms are flipped to support racially reductive preferences, so that ultimately you are left with a dogma and a praxis of “good” racism to replace the “bad” racism of yesteryear. And since we are all relativists at that point, the question of what makes a kind of racism “good” or “bad” goes back to whatever authority we obey.

  3. Bari Weiss is willing to fight to the last drop of everyone else’s blood here.
    This is the flip side of all the “Resistance” types who wanted people to resign from their jobs in government under Trump. There’s a “skin in the game” problem. Weiss found a path which worked for her. But it’s a rare path, and it’s not available to almost anyone else. Most people don’t want to be media figures, aren’t suited for it, and there’s relatively few slots supportable.

    Note there’s a big difference between being an atheist, which nowadays in the developed world will not cost you your job, won’t even get you much harassment, versus dealing with issues which will lead to years-long personal attacks and employment problems. What ultimately happened to James Damore after Google, anyone know?

  4. Bari Weiss’ recommendations are analogous to the advice of Vaclav Havel about how to cope with Czechoslovak life under the regime of Gustav Husak: “live not by lies”. What is extraordinary about the wokely takeover of much of academia today is its voluntary reconstruction of a little Czechoslovakia without the help of the Red Army.

    As to the infectiousness of an attitude or resistance, I am reminded of something Christopher Hitchens mentioned. After he published “God Is Not Great” in 2007, he did a book tour including states of the bible belt South. He said people in his audiences in those states repeatedly told him that they were encouraged by simply seeing other people in the same audience attending his lecture. They were
    encouraged by discovering others “coming out” as rejecting the dominant, conventional religionism.

  5. “They are the master’s tools. And the master’s tools cannot dismantle the master’s house.”

    Yeah, well, tell it to the Raj in India (oh wait, you can’t; it ain’t there no mo’), or try telling it to Thurgood Marshall and the other lawyers for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund who took down “separate but equal.”

  6. Also, odds were that Bari Weiss was not going to have that plum job at the New York Times for much longer, given the overall internal political situation there and all the people who did want her fired. It’s no sin that she jumped before she was done in. But again, it’s not something many others can do if they don’t already have a national media profile and a bunch of pre-existing relationships with sympathetic media personalities.

  7. Saddest part for me: I felt I had no choice but to walk away from organized atheism. The heroes of my youth (with few exceptions, none more notably than Dr Coyne, obviously) have gone extremely left wing and woke. The same people who prided themselves on challenging orthodoxy now will eat you alive if you question white privilege or systemic racism; they abandoned secular trail blazers like Boghossian; and it is Fox News rather than FFRF that is now pointing out open endorsement of candidates at churches violates their tax exempt status.
    For shame.a

    1. I don’t think anyone can describe Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris as “woke”; rather they are virulently attached by the woke.

  8. I think that the most egregious example of lack of “moxie” by those who should know better are the scientific societies promulgating the idea that biological sex is a spectrum.

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