Saturday, May 15, 2021

Not With a Pang But a Simper

Update: The original version version of this post was deleted by Blogger during a long moment of weirdness at the platform, after a complaint, they said at various points, that it might contain a virus or malware,. or represented a phishing attack. So I posted this version, eliminating a couple of hyperlinks I thought might be the problem, if there actually was a problem, which there apparently wasn't, since they have now reinstated it, or rather allowed me to reinstate it. 

 Both versions have attracted great comments, so I'm leaving both of them up.


Recently I took a friend with no more than a University of Chicago history B.A. and a seven-figure salary writing 800 words a week for the middlebrow New York Times to listen to some intellectual talk. Insensitively, I brought him to a conference at Bryn Mawr College, where students are well-steeped in doctrines of intersectionality, "white fragility", anti-racism, and all the rest. Suddenly, I saw his face grow dark and panicky as he looked at the schedule and its unfamiliar words like "heteronormativity", "cisgender", and "patriarchal". Quickly, I asked him if he wanted to go somewhere else and with a fearful gesture he assented and we went instead to the local Y, where we listened to a nice talk about five ideas from social psychology that can help you turn your life around.

Yes, it's David F. Brooks acknowledging that maybe  his conservative friends ought to lighten up a little bit on the wokeness threat ("How Wokeness Ends"), in the first place because it's a case of the curate's egg, good in parts:

At its core is an honest and good-faith effort to grapple with the legacies of racism. In 2021, this element of wokeness has produced more understanding, inclusion and racial progress than we’ve seen in over 50 years. This part of wokeness is great.

Racism died a while back, thank goodness, but it left legacies, and here's some wokeness for dealing with them. Let's admit that it has its good side!

On the other hand, however, wokeness is kind of like one of those fancy sandwich delis where they sell things with unpronounceable names like "soppressata" and "capicola", if you know what I mean and I expect you do. Those woke people really need to check their privilege! 

But wokeness gets weirder when it’s entangled in the perversities of our meritocracy, when it involves demonstrating one’s enlightenment by using language — “problematize,” “heteronormativity,” “cisgender,” “intersectionality” — inculcated in elite schools or with difficult texts.

In an essay titled “The Language of Privilege,” in Tablet, Nicholas Clairmont argues that the difficulty of the language is the point — to exclude those with less educational capital.

People who engage in this discourse have been enculturated by our best and most expensive schools. If you look at the places where the splashy woke controversies have taken place, they have often been posh prep schools, like Harvard-Westlake or Dalton, or pricey colleges, like Bryn Mawr [Quillette link deleted] or Princeton.

All those fancy-ass Dalton kids speak Wokese, as Nicholas Clairmont calls it, the "language of privilege",  and so do the honchos at the CIA, Disney, Major League Baseball, and Coca-Cola who will employ them after they finish college:

The people at the C.I.A., Disney, Major League Baseball and Coca-Cola aren’t faking it when they perform the acts we now call woke capitalism. They went to the same schools and share the same dominant culture and want the same reputational benefits.

Matter of fact, CIA also recruits at Baruch College, CUNY, where my son went, in-state tuition $8,071 per year. Disney does too. Though the amount of Wokese you hear being spoken varies, depending on who your friends are. People who are smarter than David F. Brooks are everywhere, many of them totally unaware of how privileged they are or how bad they are making him feel with their special vocabulary.

Brooks doesn't think those companies are going to do anything durable in the struggle for equity and equality—he quotes himself (Bobos in Paradise) as a commentator on the "thinning" of hippie values in the 1970s and 1980s, and the degeneration of the counterculture of those days into Whole Foods, and expects the same thing to happen to what he calls "wokeness". How wokeness ends, he conjectures, is not with a pang but a simper.

I think we shouldn't be overly optimistic, but something serious really could be going on at those companies, more than at Harvard-Westlake or Princeton, because they have a legitimate interest in getting to know their markets better, as the country's demographics change and the majority-minority society takes shape. Minority recruitment and inclusivity talk at the most exclusive prep schools and colleges look like tokenism, but a lot of non-white people love baseball and drink Coke! There are profits to be extracted from those demographics! And the same could go even more for the CIA, which has a legitimate interest in Intelligence, shall we say. It's amazing that Brooks and the conservatives have been unable to see that that comical CIA recruitment ad wasn't aimed at Bryn Mawr grads with degrees in Critical Race Theory but at members of minorities, race and gender diversity and even disability inclusion (that's what the "generalized anxiety disorder" line was about), from all kinds of schools, even the cheapo public ones. 

Brooks is simply unable to see minorities at all, other than as the objects of charity, the "disadvantaged" who will receive benefits from the good side of wokeness. He's unable to see that the prime movers of Critical Race Theory, with its difficulty and polysyllabicity, are Black intellectuals, because he has no idea that they exist. His own critical view is limited to white people of means and conventional family structures, because that's all he can really imagine, and as a result he's profoundly unable to gather any idea at all of what's going on.

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