I’ve written twice before about the doings of Anna Krylov, a quantum chemist who’s a Professor of Chemistry at the University of Southern California. She’s had a distinguished career even though she’s still young, but my interest was in her recent piece in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters: “The Peril of Politicizing Science“, which I highlighted in this post.
The piece is a hard-hitting critique of the intrusion of ideology of any sort—from woke to right-wing to Communism—into science, much of the piece based on comparing what happened in Russia (where Anna lived) with what’s happening with the increasing wokeness of science in the U.S. and U.K. With statements like the one below, her essay aroused both approbation and opprobrium. Kudos to the brave editor who published it!
A short excerpt. I’ve eliminated her numerical references to make reading easier:
Just as during the time of the Great Terror [in the Soviet Union], dangerous conspiracies and plots against the World Revolution were seen everywhere, from illustrations in children’s books to hairstyles and fashions; today we are told that racism, patriarchy, misogyny, and other reprehensible ideas are encoded in scientific terms, names of equations, and in plain English words. We are told that in order to build a better world and to address societal inequalities, we need to purge our literature of the names of people whose personal records are not up to the high standards of the self-anointed bearers of the new truth, the Elect. We are told that we need to rewrite our syllabi and change the way we teach and speak.
As an example of political censorship and cancel culture, consider a recent viewpoint discussing the centuries-old tradition of attaching names to scientific concepts and discoveries (Archimede’s [sic] Principle, Newton’s Laws of Motion, Schrödinger equation, Curie Law, etc.). The authors call for vigilance in naming discoveries and assert that “basing the name with inclusive priorities may provide a path to a richer, deeper, and more robust understanding of the science and its advancement.” Really? On what empirical grounds is this based? History teaches us the opposite: the outcomes of the merit-based science of liberal, pluralistic societies are vastly superior to those of the ideologically controlled science of the USSR and other totalitarian regimes. The authors call for removing the names of people who “crossed the line” of moral or ethical standards. Examples include Fritz Haber, Peter Debye, and William Shockley, but the list could have been easily extended to include Stark (defended expulsion of Jews from German institutions),( Heisenberg (led Germany’s nuclear weapons program),) and Schrödinger (had romantic relationships with under-age girls). Indeed, learned societies are now devoting considerable effort to such renaming campaigns—among the most-recent cancellations is the renaming of the Fisher Prize by the Evolution Society, despite well-argued opposition by 10 past presidents and vice-presidents of the society.
I added a link to the last example since I was part of that effort.
Krylov is an outspoken advocate of freedom of speech and academic freedom. She is a founding member of the Academic Freedom Alliance and a member of its academic leadership committee. Her paper, “The Peril of Politicizing Science,” has received 55,000 views and, according to Altmetric, is the all-time highest-ranked article in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters.
Note, though, that Krylov is no opponent of diversity. Like many of us, she is a liberal, and Wikipedia adds this:
Krylov is active in the promotion of gender equality in STEM fields, especially in theoretical chemistry. She created and maintains the web directory Women in Theoretical and Computational Chemistry, Material Science, and Biochemistry, which currently lists more than 400 scientists holding tenure and tenure track academic positions, or equivalent positions in industry, national laboratories, and other leading research establishments. She has delivered several talks on gender equality in STEM including a lecture at the international symposium in Uppsala, Sweden.
Later in August, I reported on a letter written by Krylov and many colleagues to her own university, objecting to public statements by USC’s Department of Gender and Sexuality studies about the Israel/Palestine conflict and the general atmosphere of anti-Semitism at her school.
This is all by way of background for the very short report below. Anna, who was in London, informed me that she had a great trip to the Natural History Museum, one that she documented in some of her pictures of London here.
But there was one fly in the ointment. As she said, “I I was shocked to see these stickers all over the place” in the Museum:
In other words, “Watch this space for self flagellation.”
That sticker bugs me as well. Why does every institution, including natural history museums, feel that they have to apologize for and somehow rectify the views of our predecessors whose morality doesn’t comport with current views? As Anna said, this isn’t just one sticker—there are many. I expect that every museum, art gallery, and historical display in the U.K. is going to go this way. They have no choice.
But Anna didn’t just get peeved, she wrote an email to the Museum which I reproduce below with permission (click to enlarge)
If the Natural History Museum responds (I’m not hopeful), I’ll let you know what they say.
Reader Paul called my attention to a “newsletter” on Arc Digital by journalist Cathy Young; it started in April and I overlooked it, though a) she writes very well and is thoughtful and b) it covers topics that many of us are concerned with (check out the list of columns here). Some of the content is free while other stuff requires a subscription. As always, if you’re a frequent reader you should subscribe.
Young’s column, “Defining Wokeness”, is free, and answers a challenge posed by a senior correspondent on the wokey Vox site:
Have any of the writers who use the term "wokeness" or "wokeism" as if it is an ideology actually bothered to define the term?
Young takes up the challenge and lists what she sees as the defining characteristics of wokeness, many of which are also the defining characteristics of Critical Race Theory. She expands on each of them, but I’ll just give the list. If you want a reference post on what “wokeness” really is, this is a pretty good one.
Her “core tenets”:
Modern Western societies are built on pervasive “systems of oppression,” particularly race- and gender-based.
Everyone who belongs to a non-oppressed category in some core aspect of identity (white, male, heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied, Christian, non-immigrant)possesses “privilege,” enjoys unearned benefits at the expense of the oppressed, and is implicated in oppression.
Because various oppressions are so deeply embedded in everything around us, all actions that do not actively challenge it actively perpetuate it.Challenging oppression and inequality requires not only combating injustices and reforming or dismantling oppressive institutions, but eradicating the unconscious biases we have all learned.
Challenging oppression and inequality requires not only combating injustices and reforming or dismantling oppressive institutions, but eradicating the unconscious biases we have all learned. Language plays a key role in perpetuating oppression, and must be reformed and controlled to achieve equality.
Language plays a key role in perpetuating oppression, and must be reformed and controlled to achieve equality.
Social justice advocacy must be intersectional—that is, must support all movement-approved forms of advocacy for oppressed identities.
Moral judgments of virtually any situation should be based primarily on where the people involved stand in the power/privilege hierarchy.
All claims and accounts of identity-based oppression, abuse, or prejudice must be accorded the presumption of belief; to challenge or deny them is oppressive.
The privileged can easily harm people with marginalized identities by “appropriating” their voices or aspects of their culture such as dress or food.Institutions and cultural products are irrevocably tainted by historical connections to oppressive practices or bigoted beliefs, whose effects remain deeply embedded.
Western civilization (loosely defined as Europe and the “Anglosphere” of North America and Australia) is uniquely brutal and oppressive.
I would add two more tenets here, which are really subtenets of the ones above:
Science and its methods are not better at arriving at truth than are personal “lived experiences”. If data contradicts one of the tenets above, the data are to be ignored.
Freedom of speech is overrated, and in fact should be suppressed if it causes harm to those seen as oppressed. One form of “harm” is simple offense.
If you have other tenets to add, by all means list them below.
Young then discusses at length the consequences of these tenets, and not all are bad. As she says:
One reason “wokeness” or “social justice” has fairly wide appeal, at least in its more moderate guises, is that many of its ideas contain partial truths. Racism, sexism, and other bigotries have an ugly history and are still with us, and we should strive to overcome them. If you advocate for a minority group, you should also favor human rights for other groups. Small indignities based on membership in a traditionally disadvantaged group can have a damaging effect, especially if they accumulate. Entertainment, literature, and everyday language can normalize insidious biases, accidentally or not. Humor that feels innocuous when directed at the majority (“All these white girls look alike!”) can become odiously bigoted when it “punches down” at a minority that has been the target of prejudice and discrimination.
This is correct; the sentiments behind most (not all) social justice initiatives are admirable. What I decry is when they are taken to such extremes that they become counterproductive: moving people right into the clutches of the Right—and perhaps another Trump victory. And that’s what Young spends the rest of her piece on:
However, Social Justice takes such ideas to bizarre extremes increasingly detached from common sense and reality.
There’s a long list of examples of the extremes; I’ll give just one:
But perhaps the most alarming aspect of Social Justice, as far as its effect on a liberal society, is the extent to which this ideology provides a justification for pervasive, quasi-totalitarian policing of speech, thought, and private behavior.
The language seems hyperbolic, since “wokists” are not throwing anyone in the gulag. But Social Justice is totalitarian in spirit in the same way that Trumpism is authoritarian: at least for now, both, fortunately, lack the power to enforce their will.
For one thing, Social Justice demands de facto banishment of “wrongthink” from the public square. Plenty of political movements seek to silence critics and dissenters; but Social Justice makes such silencing a moral imperative, since “bad” ideas and words are seen as inflicting “harm” or “violence.” For instance, during the 2020 controversy over the “Letter on Justice and Open Debate” published in Harper’s magazine, Vox’s Zack Beauchamp essentially argued that views such as Rowling’s are too detrimental to transgender people to be allowed in mainstream venues. (Rowling has written that while transgender people should have full respect and equality, the reality of biological sex should not be denied and debate on difficult issues—from access to single-sex spaces to transition for minor children—should not be suppressed.)
The Social Justice view of the harms of speech was even more starkly stated three years ago by activists who tried to shut down an event with Christina Hoff Sommers, a feminist who critiques feminist claims about “rape culture” and the wage gap, at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon. In their statement, the activist students wrote with the certitude of zealots who have found Truth:
We now understand how language works, and how it can be used to reproduce the systems of oppression we know we must resist at all costs. … Free speech is certainly an important tenet to a free, healthy society, but that freedom stops when it has a negative and violent impact on other individuals. There is no debate here.
The column well repays reading; I’m impressed with Young, whom I haven’t read before. Here’s her ending, dealing with an issue I’m accused of not infrequently:
Many will say that it’s frivolous to focus on the “woke left” when we face an authoritarian menace from the Trumpian right. But you can be against two forms of illiberalism at the same time—especially when they reinforce each other. If nothing else, the fact that the social justice left demonizes Western liberalism as a cover for racism at the very time that liberalism is under attack from the equally grievance-obsessed populist right should give us pause.
If you want her analysis of a specific woke fracas, read her other recent piece (click on screenshot below), about an incident I’ve mentioned in passing:
Meanwhile, I will take to social media, and hope you’ll follow for new features there. On Twitter, and soon on Facebook and Instagram, I will post two items daily: THIS CRAZY DAY IN 1972, and MIKE ROYKO 50 YEARS AGO TODAY. The first one will cull interesting items from all five of Chicago’s major daily papers in 1972—technically in 1971 until we reach January 1. For the second item, any day 50 years ago that Mike Royko wrote a column for the Chicago Daily News, you’ll find a short synopsis and snappy quote.
Why? Because 1972 was still part of the ancient times when everybody read newspapers, even kids. More on this in Chapter Three. Steve’s family read the Daily News, and the Daily News meant Mike Royko. Also, it’s both infuriating and funny to read about 1972, in real time, as it happened, in the press.
Our Twitter and Instagram handles are @RoselandChi1972. The title of the Facebook page is Roseland, Chicago: 1972,
Here we have a fairly short but scholarly and passionate piece by Nick Matzke, whose name may be familiar to you—he used to work at the National Center for Science Education and posted often on the Panda’s Thumb website. As you see from the article’s screenshot below (click on the image to see the piece or get a pdf), Nick now teaches biology and does research at The University of Auckland.
Why the renaming? Because, as I’ve explained in my previous posts, the College’s namesake, Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895), was supposed to be a racist and a eugenicist. (If you know your history of evolutionary biology, you’ll remember Huxley as “Darwin’s bulldog”, a staunch defender of his friend Charles, who was too timorous to defend his own theory set forth in The Origin.) But Huxley did a lot more than that. He was actually an anti-racist, an opponent of slavery, and a friend of women and workingmen (he campaigned for suffrage half a century before British women got the vote, and gave free lectures on science to poor working people). All of these facts, in particular Huxley’s antiracism, are explained in Nick’s piece, which is infinitely better than the “case for denaming” put on the WWU President’s website. The latter piece is embarrassingly bad and even, in parts, illiterate.
Click below to read Matzke’s vigorous nine-page defense of keeping the name. Another benefit of reading it is that you’re going to learn a lot about Thomas Henry Huxley, and, I hope, will be appalled at how WWU distorted and degraded his legacy to make him look like he was an ardent racist. (Nick has also posted the essay in full at The Panda’s Thumb.)
Now let it be admitted that Huxley, like Darwin, did make sporadic statements that, by today’s lights, would be considered unacceptably racist. All of them come from a single essay he wrote in 1865. But that was early in his career, and by its end he’d established himself as one of the rare progressives in Victorian England, favoring the abolition of slavery, the establishment of women’s rights, and acting out of concern for the “lower” classes. A few other points in Nick’s report:
a.) Several of the important assertions in the President’s report are simply dead wrong—in fact, the opposite of what Huxley said or what genetics says.
b.) Some of these errors were taken straight from the creationist literature. It appears that WWU leaned on the creationist denigration of Huxley that they’ve used for years to impugn all of evolutionary biology (“See?” they say, “Evolutionary biology is racist.”)
c.) Huxley engaged in three separate anti-racist campaigns that, in fact, made him anathema to the real British racists of his time.
d.) The report tries to tar Huxley by dissing his grandson, Julian Huxley, for being a racist eugenicist. While Julian had some views that could be interpreted as “reform eugenics”, he was an anti-racist. As Matzke notes:
Julian was also the founding director of UNESCO in 1946, and helped draft UNESCO’s famous anti-racism declarations in 1950 and 1952. The Encyclopedia of Evolution says, “largely due to his efforts, the UNESCO statement on race reported that race was a cultural, not a scientific, concept, and that any attempts to find scientific evidence of the superiority of one race over another were invalid.”
But it’s madness to conflate Julian with his grandfather, and mentioning Julian, no matter what his views, was completely irrelevant.
I’ll give one quote from Nick, but you should read his piece:
How does it serve justice to treat T.H. Huxley as if he were [the vicious British racists] James Hunt or Governor Eyre, when he actually was their vehement opponent? Removing Huxley’s name from the College would in fact be removing the name of a pioneer for educational inclusion, a key figure in scientifically establishing that all humans are one species, and undermining the concept of biological “race.” Doing so while relying on propaganda deriving from fundamentalist creationists and other right-wing provocateurs would be falling into the exact trap arranged by these provocateurs: namely, to drive a wedge between science and the causes of social and racial justice. Helping to drive this wedge deeper cannot help increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in science. Imagine creationists, for the next several decades, going to legislatures and state school boards with a line like: “Evolution is a racist theory. After all, Western Washington University acknowledged this when they removed the name ‘Huxley’ from their College of the Environment.”
WWU hasn’t decided formally on the renaming, but, as I noted, they appear to have put it off until December so it would look like it wasn’t a rush to judgment. Look at this duplicity! (bolding is mine)
. . . One Board member suggested voting at the October meeting. The president suggested it would be better to do so at the December meeting, or it will look like it was all worked out in advance. Several others concurred and suggested that the October meeting focus on communicating the rationale for the denaming.
It was worked out in advance, and what we have here is the appearance of due diligence without the diligence itself. It’s a case once again of a university truckling to a mob who knows virtually nothing about the salient issues.
By my own standards, in which a name should be kept if two criteria are met, Huxley College should definitely NOT be renamed. But tell that to the administration, who must meet the demands of WWU’s Black Students Organization as well as many other students. I venture to guess that almost none of those calling for Huxley’s cancellation knows anything about the man or what he really did.
My criteria for keeping a name or a statue:
1.) Does the name or statue honor the good things that the person did?
2.) Was the person’s life a net good, making a positive difference in the world?
For Thomas Henry Huxley, the answer to both questions is, “Hell, yes!” Huxley College should not be renamed. But I’d bet big bucks it will, for you know how these campaigns go.
Yes, that’s right: this is a real op-ed from Scientific American, which, if the magazine goes on in this vein, is going to fold—or at least should fold. Click on the screenshot to read. The word “problematic” should be your first clue that this is going to be painful:
I’ll give you the first of five reasons it’s “problematic” in full and then list the other four with an explanatory sentence or two from the piece. Remember, this is not a joke and it’s not April 1. This is intended as a real contribution to social justice.
As we will argue, our justice-oriented projects should approach connections to the Jedi and Star Wars with great caution, and perhaps even avoid the acronym JEDI entirely.Below, we outline five reasons why.
The Jedi are inappropriate mascots for social justice. Although they’re ostensibly heroes within the Star Wars universe, the Jedi are inappropriate symbols for justice work. They are a religious order of intergalactic police-monks, prone to (white) saviorism and toxically masculine approaches to conflict resolution (violent duels with phallic lightsabers, gaslighting by means of “Jedi mind tricks,” etc.). The Jedi are also an exclusionary cult, membership to which is partly predicated on the possession of heightened psychic and physical abilities (or “Force-sensitivity”). Strikingly, Force-wielding talents are narratively explained in Star Wars not merely in spiritual terms but also in ableist and eugenic ones: These supernatural powers are naturalized as biological, hereditary attributes. So it is that Force potential is framed as a dynastic property of noble bloodlines (for example, theSkywalker dynasty), and Force disparities are rendered innate physical properties, measurable via “midi-chlorian” counts (not unlike a “Force genetics” test) and augmentable via human(oid) engineering. The heroic Jedi are thus emblems for a host of dangerously reactionary values and assumptions. Sending the message that justice work is akin to cosplay is bad enough; dressing up our initiatives in the symbolic garb of the Jedi is worse.
This caution about JEDI can be generalized: We must be intentional about how we name our work and mindful of the associations any name may bring up—perhaps particularly when such names double as existing words with complex histories.
If you see lightsabers as “phallic”, you’re trying very hard to be offended.
The others (the explanation is much longer than I’ve excerpted)
2.) Star Wars has a problematic cultural legacy. The space opera franchise has been critiqued for trafficking in injustices such as sexism, racism and ableism.
3.) JEDI connects justice initiatives to corporate capital. JEDI/Jedi is more than just a name: It’s a product. Circulating that product’s name can promote and benefit the corporation that owns it, even if we do not mean to do so. We are, in effect, providing that corporation—Disney—with a form of free advertising, commodifying and cheapening our justice work in the process.
4.) Aligning justice work with Star Wars risks threatening inclusion and sense of belonging. While an overarching goal of JEDI initiatives is to promote inclusion, the term JEDI might make people feel excluded. Star Wars is popular but divisive. Identifying our initiatives with it may nudge them closer to the realm of fandom, manufacturing in-groups and out-groups.
5.) The abbreviation JEDI can distract from justice, equity, diversity and inclusion. When you think about the word JEDI, what comes to mind? Chances are good that for many, the immediate answer isn’t the concept “justice” (or its comrades “equity,” “diversity” and “inclusion”). Instead this acronym likely conjures a pageant of spaceships, lightsabers and blaster-wielding stormtroopers. Even if we set aside the four cautions above, the acronym JEDI still evokes imagery that diverts attention away from the meanings of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion.
I really don’t have anything to say about this except that Scientific American keeps pumping out the most ludicrous op-eds, some of which, like the one above, suggests that there are many people who would rather problematize acronyms than actually do anything for social justice. What this has to do with science is beyond me.
This is the first case of acronym-policing that I’m aware of, so it deserves some attention as a new sign of the insanity that is becoming normal in academic circles.
And I had to ensure that the authors are real because this is one of those pieces so close to satire that Titania McGrath (below) could claim credit for its authorship. But yes, the authors are real humans.
Thank you @sciam for publishing my article on the problematic nature of Star Wars and the term “Jedi”.
I’ve just taken Andrew Sullivan’s new collection of writings out of the university library; I was surprised that they had it, already bound in library covers, since it came out only a month ago. I haven’t read it yet, as I’m taking it to Boston with me next week as my travel book.
(By the way, I finished Evita: The Real Life of Eva Peron, by Nicholas Fraser and Marysa Navarro, and recommend it very highly. It’s a biography embedded in a political history, and her life is so fascinating and ambiguous that, by the end, you don’t know whether to love her, despise her, or, like me, have both feelings at once. But you must learn about her, as she played—and continues to play—a substantial role in the history and politics of Argentina.)
But I digress. The main part of Andrew’s column this week (click on screenshot) is his optimistic analysis that Wokeness may be on the wane. He sees at least eight signs of this, which I’ll list (he doesn’t enumerate them), and though I’m not as optimistic as he, I’ve already posted on this website about several of these. At least we can say that some pushback against Wokeness is emerging.
Click on the screenshot to read (and please subscribe if you read regularly):
Here are Sullivan’s eight incidents that he sees as the beginning of the Decline and Fall of American Wokeness.
1.) The new The White Lotus HBO miniseries on t.v. (The scene he discusses is here on YouTube, and you can watch the first episode for free at the title link.) What Sullivan likes about it is that some of the people are woke, but they’re also flawed—the show is, as he says, “humane”. I haven’t watched the episode, but here’s a few words from Sullivan:
Mike White’s “The White Lotus” is a tragicomic exposé of our current moneyed elites and the psychological dysfunction they labor so mightily under.
. . . And the most repellent characters are two elite-college sophomores, Olivia and Paula, packed to the gills with the fathomlessly entitled smugness that is beginning to typify the first generation re-programmed by critical theory fanatics.
. . . “The White Lotus” is not an anti-woke jeremiad. It’s much subtler than that. Even the sophomores seem more naïve and callow than actively sexist and racist. The miniseries doesn’t look away from the staggering social inequality we now live in; and gives us a classic white, straight, male, rich narcissist in the finance jock. But it’s humane. It sees the unique drama of the individual and how that can never be reduced to categories or classes or identities.
Well, I’m not that heartened by this show and the scenes I watched, and it looks a bit like Sullivan is grasping at straws, hoping for a sign from god that the Zeitgeist is changing. But the other seven bits are more heartening.
2.) and 3.) Articles in The Atlantic and New Yorker (!!) that, explicitly and implicitly, criticize wokeness:
Both The Atlantic and The New Yorker have just published long essays that push back against woke authoritarianism and cruelty. Since both magazines have long capitulated to rank illiberalism, this is encouraging. And since critical theory is an entirely elite-imposed orthodoxy, it matters when the ranks of the elite crack a little.
Anne Applebaum links the woke phenomenon to previous moral panics and mob persecutions, which is where it belongs.
I wrote about Applebaum’s article in The Economist about a week ago, and you can find the link and my analysis here.
The New Yorker article (free if you didn’t exceed your clicks there) was a real surprise becayse it presented a fair and sympathetic view of behavioral geneticist Kathryn Paige Harden, a University of Texas professor who is a social-justice advocate but at the same time a person who sticks to genetic data. And that data says that many of the traits variable among individual people, including IQ, have a substantial genetic basis. I was going to write about this but I was so taken aback that I couldn’t (just kidding). Harden has a book coming out that you’ll want to read:
This fall, Princeton University Press will publish Harden’s book, “The Genetic Lottery: Why DNA Matters for Social Equality,” which attempts to reconcile the findings of her field with her commitments to social justice. As she writes, “Yes, the genetic differences between any two people are tiny when compared to the long stretches of DNA coiled in every human cell. But these differences loom large when trying to understand why, for example, one child has autism and another doesn’t; why one is deaf and another hearing; and—as I will describe in this book—why one child will struggle with school and another will not. Genetic differences between us matter for our lives. They cause differences in things we care about. Building a commitment to egalitarianism on our genetic uniformity is building a house on sand.”
That’s incendiary for the New Yorker. Differences in achievement based on genetic differences??? As Sullivan notes:
At some point, this will require a measure of rethinking, a moderation of the left’s absolutist blank-slatism just as the evidence is finally disproving it once and for all. The Successor Ideology, remember, holds that genetics play no role in human society, and that all inequalities are a function of the environment. Take that absolute claim away — which is to say to subject it to empirical testing — and it crumbles. And TheNew Yorker just took it away.
But the Woke will just ignore Harden or revile her, as they’ve been doing, even though she’s somewhat of a Social-Justice warrior. She’s fiercely smart and someone to admire.
4.) The Economist‘s two articles criticizing Wokeness. I discussed them separately, here and here, and those posts give the links. Remember, folks: you read it here first!
5.) A “nuanced” review by Jesse Singal in the New York Times Book Review about a new book by Helen Joyce on trans ideology. I hadn’t read this, but have now (see it by clicking screenshot below),
Singal, who himself has criticized the view that you are whatever sex or gender you declare yourself to be, is sympathetic to Joyce’s views. From the review:
Joyce is no conservative hard-liner, nor is she seeking some reactionary rollback of trans rights — she favorably cites the United Kingdom’s status quo on these issues, which balances legally enshrined protections for trans people with exceptions that allow for truly single-sex spaces in some settings, such as rape shelters. She also opposes legislation that strictly polices trans people’s access to bathrooms.
But she does believe that biological sex matters, that females have a right to truly sex-segregated spaces (with some compromise-oriented exceptions), and that gender-identity ideology threatens these ideals. Treating transgender people with dignity and respect and accommodation, Joyce says, does not require embracing a worldview she describes as fundamentally anti-scientific. Here she appeals directly to liberal ideals of religious tolerance: “I demand the same freedom to reject and oppose gender-identity ideology, and in return gladly accept that others have the right to preach it and live by it.”
Many of Joyce’s arguments boil down to the idea that trans people aren’t the only ones with skin in the game here. Where self-ID reigns, she writes, other vulnerable groups potentially suffer. Cisgender women, for instance, lose full access to truly sex-segregated realms that offer protection and other benefits, such as locker rooms, sports teams and prisons, because the primacy of gender identity within this ideology renders the concept of biological sex fundamentally irrelevant.
. . . “Trans” is a compelling, overdue argument for viewing self-ID more critically. Even those outraged by Joyce’s positions would benefit from understanding them, given that, as she notes, self-ID polls quite poorly when its actual tenets are fully described to Americans and to the British.
Again, I’m surprised at the NYT publishing Singal’s positive review. Had it appeared on Science-Based Medicine, Novella and Gorski would have removed it immediately, as they did with Harriet Hall’s positive review of Irreversible Damage by Abigail Shrier. Another crack in the wall.
6.) The New York Times adding John McWhorter as a twice-a-week columnist. As you know, McWhorter does not conform to current Woke ideology on race, but he’s annoying the hell out of the Woke because he’s a liberal black man with contrarian views. If you subscribe to the NYT, you can get his columns emailed to you for free; sign up here. But the columns show up on the regular pages a day after they’re emailed, so you can read them all here a bit late. His latest, “What should we do about systemic racism?“, reprises the reasons he sees for the black/white achievement gap in academic performance. You’ve probably read his arguments in these pages as they were adumbrated in McWhorter’s now-defunct Substack posts.
7.) People accosting Sullivan to tell him that they’re sick of woke behavior. His quote:
And then there’s a purely anecdotal reflection, to be taken for no more than that: all summer, I’ve been struck by how many people, mostly complete strangers, have come up to me and told me some horror story of an unjust firing, a workplace they’re afraid to speak in, a colleague who has used antiracism for purely vindictive or careerist purposes, or a hiring policy so crudely racist it beggars belief. The toll is mounting. And the anger is growing. The fury at CRT in high schools continues to roil school board meetings across the country. Some Americans are not taking this new illiberalism on the chin.
8.) Finally, Peter Boghassian’s resignation from Portland State University on the grounds that it was so woke they harassed him constantly for questioning Accepted Woke Ideology. I wrote about this here, and you can read Peter’s resignation letter at Bari Weiss’s Substack site. Sullivan says this shows how far the rot has spread.
Taken together, these eight episodes hearten Andrew, who says, “It’s clear to me that the antibodies to this new McCarthyism are beginning to propagate, and a calmer, middle way will at some point emerge. Which is another way of saying: as long as the First Amendment is intact, hang in, and know hope.”
I’m not as sanguine as Sullivan, and don’t know much hope. After all, the colleges and universities of both Britain and America are solid bastions of wokeness, and their young, elite graduates are beginning to take over the mainstream liberal media. Yes, that MSM will publish pushback, as we see above, but to expect, for instance, that American universities will eventually dismantle their Diversity and Inclusion initiatives, or take down their ridiculous “bias reporting incident” sites, is to hope for too much. So long as liberals fear being called bigots and racists—and most still do—the Offended will always have the power. But, as I always say, I urge everyone to fight the madness, push back, and push back forcefully and not anonymously. When that happens, maybe the wall will start tumbling.
In a comment on the Boghossian resignation post, reader Mike called this article to our attention as an example of Peak Wokeness. Unsurprisingly, it’s in Canada, which has turned out to be the epicenter of North American Wokeness, but Americans, being parochial, don’t know as much as they should about Canada. Usually what we find out is good stuff, but not in this case.
(Here’s a theory which is mine: Canada may be more susceptible to wokeness because of the citizens’ vaunted—and genuine—politeness. They are perhaps more likely to defer to the demands of those who are loud and persistent.)
Granted, this book-burning event took place in 2019, and the burners—”an Ontario francophone school board” (a SCHOOL BOARD!!!)—admitted it erred, but the news, as you see from the National Post article below, just came out. It’s pretty dire, for book-burning really does conjure up attempts at censorship, more so than a bunch of publishing employees protesting their company’s publishing a book they don’t like. It even conjures up Nazi book burnings, which were so numerous that the practice has its own article on Wikipedia.
It was all motivated in an attempt to reconcile the descendants of “settlers” with the Indigenous People (First People) of Canada. Representatives of the First People gave advice on the titles to be burned, supposedly for “educational purposes”—the education apparently being which books are offensive. From the article:
A book burning held by an Ontario francophone school board as an act of reconciliation with Indigenous people has received sharp condemnation from Canadian political leaders and the board itself now says it regrets its symbolic gesture.
The “flame purification” ceremony, first reported by Radio Canada, was held in 2019 by the Conseil scolaire catholique Providence, which oversees elementary and secondary schools in southwestern Ontario. Some 30 books, the national broadcaster reported, were burned for “educational purposes” and then the ashes were used as fertilizer to plant a tree.
“We bury the ashes of racism, discrimination and stereotypes in the hope that we will grow up in an inclusive country where all can live in prosperity and security,” says a video prepared for students about the book burning, Radio Canada reported.In total, more than 4,700 books were removed from library shelves at 30 schools across the school board, and they have since been destroyed or are in the process of being recycled, Radio Canada reported.
Lyne Cossette, the board’s spokesperson, told National Post that the board formed a committee and “many Aboriginal knowledge keepers and elders participated and were consulted at various stages, from the conceptualization to the evaluation of the books, to the tree planting initiative.”
“Symbolically, some books were used as fertilizer,” Cossette wrote in an email.
Some of the books that were burned, and granted, many of them did have racist, bigoted, or offended images. But you’re not supposed to destroy the books, but rather counter them with speech or other books! Even Mein Kampf is still in print. Here’s what was seen as offensive:
A 165-page school board document includes analysis of all the books removed from shelves, Radio Canada reported.
Among them are classic titles, such as Tintin in America, which was withdrawn for its “negative portrayal of indigenous peoples and offending Aboriginal representation in the drawings.”
Also removed were books that allegedly contain cultural appropriation, as well as outdated history books, such as two biographies of Jacques Cartier, a French explorer who mapped the St. Lawrence, and another of explorer Étienne Brûlé.
I’m not sure what kind of cultural appropriation they’re talking about, but perhaps readers can enlighten me.
Cossette did apologize, but not really—it’s an apology of the form “we are sorry that some people were hurt by our book burning”:
“We regret that we did not intervene to ensure a more appropriate plan for the commemorative ceremony and that it was offensive to some members of the community. We sincerely regret the negative impact of this initiative intended as a gesture of reconciliation,” Cossette wrote. When are people going to apologize properly?: “We weren’t thinking properly and we did something wrong. It won’t happen again.”
And Justin Trudeau made a mealymouthed statement designed to placate everyone:
Asked about the book burning, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said it’s not up to non-Indigenous people “to tell Indigenous people how they should feel or act to advance reconciliation.”
“On a personal level, I would never agree to the burning of books,” Trudeau said.
Actually, it’s perfectly fine for non-indigenous people to tell indigenous people that they’re making a tactical and political mistake, and I suppose that’s telling them in some sense “how to feel.” That is, you (and right now I) am saying, “You shouldn’t feel that burning books is a good way to reconcile with non-indigenous people, and you should also realize that book-burning never works and is counter to liberal, humanistic principles.”
Well, this is all done and dusted, as the Brits say, but I’d like to hear some Canadians compare their national Wokeness with that of the United States.
UPDATE: From Anne-Marie in Canada, who says, “From Serge Chapleau, la caricature of the day about the book-burning in Ontario.”
I’m having a new operating system installed on my computer today, so posting will be light (these things take time!).
But I just got this news from reader Larry, and then from a half dozen others, and thought I’d pass it on. I’ve known Peter Boghossian for some years, and I’ve found him a smart, friendly, and decent guy as well as a great person to discuss philosophy with. But he’s also a big critic of wokeness (in the pejorative sense), and was one of the three perpetrators of the “grievance studies affair” in 2017 and 2018 that exposed the intellectual vacuity of some humanities journals (which, by extension, says something about the intellectual rigor of the fields those journal draw from). And since he was untenured at Portland State University, with Portland, Oregon being the Mecca of Wokeness, he always told me that he was sure he’d be fired some day, or at least never get tenure. (He’s an untenured assistant professor of philosophy.) He’s also been disciplined by PSU (see below) for a ridiculous reason.
And by all accounts he’s a terrific teacher. He gets a 4.7 out of 5 rating at Rate My Professors, with 95% of applicants saying that’s take a course from him again. I can believe it: he’s even-tempered, kind, and uses the Socratic method when teaching, his goal always being to get students to think rather than agree with a preordained conclusion. And that’s what having a conversation with him is like, too. When I visited PSU to give a talk to his class, we had a lot of discussion on the side, and he was always challenging my views in a Socratic way. I could barely get him to tell me what he thought!
Well, PSU didn’t fire him. He decided to quit.
You can read about it by clicking on the screenshot below, which takes you to a letter of resignation Peter sent to his provost this morning. It’s published on Bari Weiss’s Substack site:
Here are just a few quotes from the eloquent but sad letter. He begins by describing all the diverse speakers he invited to his classes: flat-earthers, creationists, climate-change skeptics, and of course me (I talked about the incompatibility of science and religion). In every case he was trying to challenge the “conventional” ideas his students had absorbed before college. And so he describes why he can no longer fulfill his mission as a philosophy teacher.
I never once believed — nor do I now — that the purpose of instruction was to lead my students to a particular conclusion. Rather, I sought to create the conditions for rigorous thought; to help them gain the tools to hunt and furrow for their own conclusions. This is why I became a teacher and why I love teaching.
But brick by brick, the university has made this kind of intellectual exploration impossible. It has transformed a bastion of free inquiry into a Social Justice factory whose only inputs were race, gender, and victimhood and whose only outputs were grievance and division.
Students at Portland State are not being taught to think. Rather, they are being trained to mimic the moral certainty of ideologues. Faculty and administrators have abdicated the university’s truth-seeking mission and instead drive intolerance of divergent beliefs and opinions. This has created a culture of offense where students are now afraid to speak openly and honestly.
And, over the ten years he was there, he discovered that PSU was uber-Woke and had no patience for a Socratic-style teacher who questioned not only ideas in general, but the University’s own dictates in particular. One might call it Structural Intolerance:
. . .I began networking with student groups who had similar concerns and brought in speakers to explore these subjects from a critical perspective. And it became increasingly clear to me that the incidents of illiberalism I had witnessed over the years were not just isolated events, but part of an institution-wide problem.
The more I spoke out about these issues, the more retaliation I faced.
He describes some of the retaliation he experiences, which continued right up to the present, but he doesn’t want to dwell on it because, after all, victimization is not his thing.. The Grievance Studies affair was the beginning of the end:
I continued to believe, perhaps naively, that if I exposed the flawed thinking on which Portland State’s new values were based, I could shake the university from its madness. In 2018 I co-published a series of absurd or morally repugnant peer-reviewed articles in journals that focused on issues of race and gender. In one of them we argued that there was an epidemic of dog rape at dog parks and proposed that we leash men the way we leash dogs. Our purpose was to show that certain kinds of “scholarship” are based not on finding truth but on advancing social grievances. This worldview is not scientific, and it is not rigorous.
Administrators and faculty were so angered by the papers that they published an anonymous piece in the student paper and Portland State filed formal charges against me. Their accusation? “Research misconduct” based on the absurd premise that the journal editors who accepted our intentionally deranged articles were “human subjects.” I was found guilty of not receiving approval to experiment on human subjects.
Meanwhile, ideological intolerance continued to grow at Portland State. . . .
You can read about the harassment, which included graffiti and disruptions of his classes and panels, none of which was ever investigated nor were any students disciplined. Finally, he had enough, and resigned out of frustration due to the inability to maintain his own principles (he’d been silenced to some extent):
This isn’t about me. This is about the kind of institutions we want and the values we choose. Every idea that has advanced human freedom has always, and without fail, been initially condemned. As individuals, we often seem incapable of remembering this lesson, but that is exactly what our institutions are for: to remind us that the freedom to question is our fundamental right. Educational institutions should remind us that that right is also our duty.
Portland State University has failed in fulfilling this duty. In doing so it has failed not only its students but the public that supports it. While I am grateful for the opportunity to have taught at Portland State for over a decade, it has become clear to me that this institution is no place for people who intend to think freely and explore ideas.
This is not the outcome I wanted. But I feel morally obligated to make this choice. For ten years, I have taught my students the importance of living by your principles. One of mine is to defend our system of liberal education from those who seek to destroy it. Who would I be if I didn’t?
So he’s voluntarily given up his job and his income. I hope some other school snaps him up, but things being what they are, he’s surely been tainted by opposing the Woke. And the Woke run nearly all the universities.
I doubt PSU realizes what a great professor it’s losing. I’m sure they’re relieved that they’re free of an anti-Woke faculty member who challenged their ideas and was subject to complaints. Well, it’s their loss. PSU is going the way of Evergreen State, purging “dissident” professors and enforcing intellectual conformity. I know there are some parents and prospective college students who still want a challenging education—who want to learn to think and analyze rather than absorb and parrot whatever dogma their professors feed them. Those people should avoid PSU like the plague.
The Economist‘s article on the origins and effects of Wokeism, which we discussed yesterday, has been supplemented by a short new piece on the “movement” seen as a religion that has various ways to bend people to its will. The piece lists six ways of keeping believers in the fold, all of which were used by Catholicism and other faiths; and gives an example of each as adopted by the Woke. This isn’t a new idea, as John McWhorter has especially emphasized Wokeism as a religion, calling adherents “The Elect”. (That was the title of his forthcoming book, but he wisely changed the name.) And, of course, many ideological movements, like Russian or Maoist Communism, share the same characteristics.
Part II of Everything You Need to Know about Wokeism can be read for free by clicking on the screenshot below.
The article begins by noting that one of the great accomplishments of The Enlightenment was to dismantle “the confessional state”—the power of the Church—that had ruled Europe for centuries. People like Milton, Spinoza, and Mill, followed by Jefferson in America, pried apart church and state, though more successfully in Europe than the U.S. Nevertheless, as religion wanes in the West, The Economist avers that it’s simply being replaced with Wokeism:
Yet something extraordinary is happening in the West: a new generation of progressives is reviving methods that uncannily resemble those of the confessional state, with modern versions of loyalty oaths and blasphemy laws. And this effort is being spearheaded in the heartland of Anglo-Saxon liberalism—often by people who call themselves liberals. Here is how the old tactics are being revived.
By the way, you needn’t comment that the Right is more of a danger to our Republican than is Wokeism. I already know that! But I don’t want to spend my time bashing Republicans, because that’s what everybody else does. I bash them enough for you to know where I stand.
Here are the methods that, says the article, are paralleled by Wokeism and religion. I’ll give a quote from each section (indented when it’s a quote).
1.) Imposing orthodoxy.
The progressive left is even more dominant among students. There’s nothing new about left-wing student revolts, but the protests of the 1960s were against the remnants of the confessional state: radicals at Berkeley in California turned Sproul Plaza into a free-speech zone, where anything could be said, and People’s Park into a free-for-all zone, where anything could be done. Today’s radicals demand the enforcement of codes of behaviour and speech. A poll of more than 4,000 four-year college students for the Knight Foundation in 2019 found that 68% felt that students cannot say what they think because their classmates might find it offensive.
I’ve put two sentences in bold because I think they’re right on the nose:
Progressives replace the liberal emphasis on tolerance and choice with a focus on compulsion and power. As in many religions, righteous folk have a duty to challenge immorality wherever they find it. They find a lot of it, believing that white people can be guilty of racism even if they don’t consciously discriminate against others on the basis of race, because they are beneficiaries of a system of exploitation. Classical liberals conceded that your freedom to swing your fist stops where my nose begins. Today’s progressives argue that your freedom to express your opinions stops where my feelings begin.
3.) Expelling heretics. There are too many stories to tell here, although The Economist gives only one. You can think of many more. This is what’s known as “cancellation”.
4.) Book banning. Attempts to do this with people like J. K. Rowling and Abigail Shrier haven’t worked, and it’s a stupid tactic because, according to the Streisand Effect, a book that’s banned simply attracts more interest. But here’s one example I may have written about before:
Alexandra Duncan, a white American, even cancelled her own book, “Ember Days”, after writing from the point of view of a black woman, something that is now dismissed as “cultural appropriation”.
You can read a bit more about this at Kirkus. I needn’t list all the books written by people who aren’t of the group they’re writing about. It’s ridiculous to call this “cultural appropriation.” It’s ART!
5.) Creeds. To the author of this article, the creeds are “diversity statements”, though they could also be the recitations by white people that they are racists, even if they don’t know it.
My emphasis below.
Churches demanded that people sign a statement of religious beliefs, like the Anglican church’s 39 Articles, before they could hold civil office. The University of California (uc) is doing something similar. Applicants for faculty posts have to complete statements about how they will advance diversity and inclusion.
These are worthy goals. But Abigail Thompson, until recently chair of maths at uc Davis and a lifelong liberal, points out that uc’s scoring system rewards a woke view of how to realise them. In 2019 the life-sciences department at uc Berkeley rejected 76% of applicants on the basis of their diversity statements without looking at their research records.
Again, this is ridiculous. If they’re looking for contributions to society by prospective faculty beyond academic endeavors, there are many ways beyond “promoting diversity.” Any form of public outreach, for example, is a good thing by faculty. Why is only striving for racial equity valuable—in fact, so valuable that it can efface everything else you’ve done in science? What about simply working at a food bank or, as I used to do, in a soup kitchen?
6.) Blasphemy. We all know of statements that simply cannot be said to the Woke, even if they’re true. One is that inequities in representation may represent something more than existing bigotry, like preferences. There are many others. But this one is recent, and I simply cannot believe it’s true (but it is!):
Scotland, a cradle of the Enlightenment, abolished the crime of blasphemy in March. At the same time, however, it reintroduced it by creating new offences such as “stirring up hatred” and “abusive speech”—punishable by up to seven years in prison.
Scotland’s just replaced one form of blasphemy with another. Has anybody been arrrested for breaking this law yet? (I think it applies only to “minoritized groups”, though not to women.)
It’s a shame that The Economist doesn’t allow authors of its articles to give their names (I’ve written for them), for then we’d know whether this analysis of American Wokeism comes from England or the U.S. (The site has offices in both places.) But it doesn’t really matter: the longish article is quite astute and also depressing, as it sees no end to the movement it defines as “Wokeism” (see below). It also traces the history of Wokeism, why it’s spread so far in America, and what’s next on its agenda.
Click on the screenshot below:
Since you can get slammed for using Wokeism, as I do, as a pejorative word, it’s important to separate it from classical liberalism. Here’s how The Economist does it:
. . . a loose constellation of ideas that is changing the way that mostly white, educated, left-leaning Americans view the world. This credo still lacks a definitive name: it is variously known as left-liberal identity politics, social-justice activism or, simply, wokeness. But it has a clear common thread: a belief that any disparities between racial groups are evidence of structural racism; that the norms of free speech, individualism and universalism which pretend to be progressive are really camouflage for this discrimination; and that injustice will persist until systems of language and privilege are dismantled.
It also is characterized by certain psychological attitudes (see below). This is certainly not classical or even centrist liberalism.
Why did this become so popular? The Economist attributes the spread of Wokeism to three factors (my emphasis):
How did this breakout happen? Three things helped prepare the ground: a disaffected student body, an academic theory that was malleable enough to be shaped into a handbook for political activism, and a pliant university administration. Let’s take them in order:
A Disaffected Student Body
How did American college students become so querulous and captious? The article refers to a book we’ve discussed before, and one well worth reading: The Coddling of the American Mind by Jon Haidt and Greg Lukianoff. If you read this site, this is one of several books you should have under your belt (including Cynical Theories, How to be an Antiracist, White Fragility, and The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race, and Identity. These cover both sides of the issue. John McWhorter’s October-issued book, Woke Racism, is also on the to-read list.
Lukianoff and Haidt trace Wokeism back to overprotective parenting, which has its own sociological explanation. This parenting has caused three mantras to be instilled in young people, and they persist throughout college and then as young adults.
1. “What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker”
2. “Always trust your feelings”
3. “Life is a battle between good people and evil people”.
This makes a lot of sense. Of course Lukianoff’s theories are untestable (the attitudes above are; whether they account for Wokeism is not). But can see these attitudes instantiated in every act of Wokeism I write about. People are fragile and should remain so, complaining about everything that offends them; feelings trump facts, and “lived experience” overturns all data to the contrary; and above all, Wokeism has a Manichaean view of politics and the world, expressed succinctly in Kendi’s view that if you’re not antiracist, you’re a racist.
You can see the rise of college Wokeism in the chart below, which I assume The Economist took from FIRE’s “disinvitation database”. It shows not only the rise of Wokeism over the last two decades, as reflected by the number of college speakers deplatformed or disinvited, but also, as I’ve emphasized repeatedly, the fact that in American colleges the Left engages in this censorship far more than the Right:
An Academic Theory That Was Malleable Enough to be Shaped Into a Handbook for Political Activism
The Economist implicates, as do many, postmodernism and “critical theory”, which have now been diluted far beyond their original construal:
Many students latched onto a body of theory which yokes obscurantist texts to calls for social action (or “praxis”) that had been developing in the academy for decades. In 1965 Herbert Marcuse, a critical theorist, coined the phrase “repressive tolerance”, the notion that freedom of speech should be withdrawn from the political right in order to bring about progress, since the “cancellation of the liberal creed of free and equal discussion” might be necessary to end oppression. Another influence was Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator whose “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” (published in English in 1970) advocated a liberatory pedagogy in the spirit of Mao’s Cultural Revolution in which “the oppressed unveil the world of oppression and through the praxis commit themselves to its transformation”.
The emphasis on race, of course, comes from the two avatars of anti-racism, Ibram Kendi and Robin Di Angelo.
A Pliant University Administration
If you have anything to do with a campus, you’ll be getting inundated daily with diversity, equity, and inclusion material, invitations (or mandates) for diversity training, and you’ll hear or read about student demands for huge changes in the college in response to incidents that are either trivial or not even real. (Some incidents, of course, do prompt righteous anger.) Colleges don’t want to be seen as nonresponsive to student demands (and remember that the three student mantras above come from parents), and so schools wind up with a bloated and expensive bureaucracy to enforce Wokeism, sometimes even including speech codes and ways to report “bias incidents.”
The embrace of this ideology by students and professors might have remained inconsequential had it not been for the part played by administrative staff. Since 2000, such staff in the University of California system has more than doubled, outpacing the increase in faculty and students. The growth in private universities has been even faster. Between 1975 and 2005 the ranks of administrators grew by 66% in public colleges but by 135% in private ones. As their headcount grew, so did their remit—ferreting out not just overt racism or sexual harassment but implicit bias too. The University of California, Los Angeles, now insists that faculty applying for tenure include a diversity statement. [JAC: I think this is true of all University of California branches, and it’s spreading across the U.S.]
In 2018 Samuel Abrams, a political scientist at Sarah Lawrence College, published data showing that these administrators are even more left-leaning than the professors: liberals outnumber conservatives by 12 to one. For writing about this, Mr Abrams faced a campaign by outraged students aiming to revoke his tenure. Campaigns by a vocal minority of activists have cast a pall on campus life, he says. “Large numbers of people hate this. They just don’t know what to do,” he laments. “They don’t want the mob coming to them.”
An upheaval in mass communication accelerated the trend. On Twitter, a determined minority can be amplified, and an uneasy centre-left can be cowed. . .
Now that colleges are seen as stores that serve customers, and The Customer is Always Right, student demands are rarely rejected. But it happens. The University of Chicago refused to even consider student demands to defund the campus police, and Swarthmore College, whose president is a black woman, also refused to cave in to a long list of student demands. In general, though, colleges tend to accept even the most untenable demands, for the students are liberal, and if they cause a lot of attention by protesting and calling a college racist, it endangers the college’s reputation and (more important) its income.
The nature of the spread. The Economist discusses four area to which Wokeism has spread. First, the media:
Newspapers are a prime example. The digital revolution has devastated local newspapers and crowned new online-only champions. As newsrooms adapted by aping the upstarts, hacks who had risen through the ranks thanks to shoe-leather reporting were replaced by younger staffers stuffed with new ideas from elite universities. One prominent journalist argued for replacing “neutral objectivity” with “moral clarity”—making unflinching distinctions between right and wrong.
Changes in newsrooms were also related to efforts to increase demographic diversity, on the assumption that this is the only authentic way to give voice to minorities. But the campus zeal for deplatforming voices deemed offensive and defenestrating those found guilty of violating the ethos has also been imported. (James Bennet, who resigned as editorial-page editor of the New York Times after one such row, now works for The Economist; he was not involved in this article.) Non-journalists on the staff of newspapers, including young engineers, can be even more activist in campaigning against colleagues judged to be producing content at odds with the new vision of social justice.
Second, to the Democratic Party itself. The two graphs below show how white liberals have changed their views over time, the first being about whether blacks are “mostly responsible for their own condition” versus “they can’t get ahead because of racial discrimination.” That question is ambiguous, because racial discrimination in the past is largely why blacks are held back now, and though racism still around, of course, the conditions in which blacks start with grossly unequal opportunity was caused by racism over the past two centuries. As for “structural racism now”, not so much, but the question remains ambiguous. Regardless, a lot more people now think that racial discrimination rather than self-responsibility is the reason why blacks are held back. I just don’t know what to make of this graph:
The graph below also reflects the views of white liberals (the bottom also gives data from moderates and conservatives), and shows, surprisingly that a higher percentage of white liberals than of blacks agree that blacks should be given “special favors” (i.e. forms of affirmative action), even if other minorities didn’t get them. Remember, this graph shows the percentage that disagree with the need for affirmative action:
Third, corporations, which the article indicts for their hypocrisy in being so quick to embrace the woke message. The hypocrisy comes, says the unknown author, from the conflict between capitalism (despised by the woke but a mainstay of corporations) and the Woke message in other respects:
“Corporate wokeism I believe is the product of self-interest intermingled with the appearance of pursuing social justice,” says Vivek Ramaswamy, a former biotechnology executive and author of “Woke, Inc.”. He argues that Big Tech pursues corporate wokeism because appearing to embrace social justice suits such firms’ commercial interests—both in terms of recruitment and appeal to their customers. It performs allegiance to identity politics while simultaneously rejecting the left’s critique of capitalism. “A lot of Big Tech has agreed to bend to the progressive left,” he says, but “they effectively expect that the new left look the other way when it comes to leaving their monopoly power.”
Such hypocrisy is increasingly prevalent. The founder of Salesforce, a tech behemoth based in San Francisco, is known for championing social-justice causes like a surtax to fund homelessness services in the city. Yet the firm itself paid no federal taxes on $2.6bn in profits in 2020.
Fourth and last, Wokeism is spreading to the classrooms, a battle we see fought right now in overheated squabbles about the teaching of critical race theory, attempts to dismantle meritocratic grading and ranking, and changes in curricula, infusing even the most rigorous sciences with antiracist propagandizing:
Wokeness’s next frontier, with the greatest potential to make a mark on the future, will be the classroom. In California’s recently approved ethnic-studies curriculum, which may become a high-school graduation requirement, one lesson plan aims to help students “dispel the model-minority myth” (the idea that to dwell on Asian-American success is wrong). Roughly one-sixth of the state’s proposed new maths instruction framework is devoted to social justice. It approvingly quotes from studies suggesting that word problems about boys and girls knitting scarves be accompanied by a debate about gender norms. Last month the governor of Oregon signed a bill eliminating high-school graduation requirements of proficiency in reading, writing and maths until 2024—justified as necessary to promote equity for non-white students.
As for the future, the article notes some backlash in the form of members of San Francisco’s board of education being under threat of recall elections. But the author concludes, as do I, that there’s no foreseeable end to wokeness given the liberal nature of students, the conformity of people in general, the entry of young college graduates into elite professions, and the bloated bureaucracy being installed in colleges to maintain Wokeism, a bureaucracy that of course will never dismantle itself. The author concludes “America has not yet reached peak woke.”
Perhaps true, but the real backlash against Wokeism may come in the next two elections if centrists, fed up with the excesses of “progressive leftism,” try to re-elect more Republicans or, Ceiling Cat forbid, someone like Trump.
Reader Paul sent me this tweet, which links to an article describing the most pathetic and most hilarious attempt at wokeness I’ve seen yet, and that’s saying a lot.
dr. linda manyguns, an Indigenous Person in Canada, is the associate vice-president of indigenization and decolonization at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Elsewhere she’s described as “a Blackfoot woman, born on the Tsuut’ina Nation and registered at Siksika. She is an Elder for the Buffalo Women’s Society and part of the Beaver Bundle Society.” Before moving to Mount Royal, she was a professor in and chair of the University of Lethbridge’s Department of Indigenous Studies.
She has hit upon a new form of performative wokeness: eliminating the use of all capital letters except when it comes to Indigenous People (and presumably other minorities), for those capital letters are forms of written INEQUITY.
But here’s the tweet, which links to the statement I’ve put below.
dr. linda manyguns joins the lowercase movement to reject the symbols of hierarchy wherever they are found and will not use capital letters except to acknowledge the Indigenous struggle for recognition. read her full statement: https://t.co/4CIjB5bRNppic.twitter.com/tPHDxfb3yq
this is a beginning effort at describing the use of lower case on the website of the office of indigenization and decolonization.
Indigenous people have been actively engaged in a multidimensional struggle for equality, since time immemorial. we strive for historical-cultural recognition and acknowledgment of colonial oppression that persistently devalues the diversity of our unique cultural heritages.
these sites of struggle are generally found at blockades, where demonstrations against racism occur, where racialization and cultural domination, and discrimination leave the mark of imbalance and abuses of power. sometimes these sites generate media interest but interest is generally fickle.
the explicit demonstration and practice of aboriginal culture in everyday life or at places of resistance is called by academics ‘eventing.’
the goal of equity, diversity and inclusion of all people is synonymous with the interests of Indigenous people. we support and expand the goal of equality and inclusion to all forms of life and all people. we join leaders like e. e. cummings, bell hooks, and peter kulchyski, who reject the symbols of hierarchy wherever they are found and do not use capital letters except to acknowledge the Indigenous struggle for recognition.
we resist acknowledging the power structures that oppress and join the movement that does not capitalize.
the office of indigenization and decolonization supports acts that focus on inclusion and support the right of all people to positive inclusion and change.
This is a person who is unbalanced to the point where she sees capital letters as non-inclusive symbols of inequality. They are forms of oppression; presumably the big letters are white and oppress the small LOCs (letters of color). If I were John McWhorter, I’d say that manyguns needs therapy, but I’m not him so I won’t.
The main issue is this: Will abandoning capital letters in nearly all cases help bring equality to oppressed minorities? You already know the answer. And this, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, and comrades, is your Friday Wokeness—a prime candidate for Wokest Act of 2021.