Towards a better understanding of status and victimhood.
"Today, those who condemned essentializing not two decades past are content to whittle all the elements of our identity down to two: race and gender."
There are many aspects of wokeness worth criticizing, but the reduction of individuals to their race and gender is, in my opinion, one of its biggest and most consequential failures. I've not lived in the US since 2016, but when I did, I had friends, acquaintances, and colleagues of different races and sexes, and I barely even noticed it. I certainly never thought anything of it. If anything, I found that I got on better with my female friends than my male ones, but that's a different story.
Same goes as it relates to a transgender university instructor I had circa 2007. In that classroom, we were just students and a teacher. People seeing and treating each other as other people. Gender identity mattered not at all. Nor did anyone's race. But because we now look at everything (obsessively, I would say) through the lenses of race and sex (not to mention introduce ourselves by gender), it's like we simultaneously want those to be the most and least defining things about us, and as a result, I find it much harder to just see and treat people as people. That's on me. Not on wokeness. But still, it's a struggle for me now when it wasn't 10 years ago. Unfortunately, I suspect I'm far from alone in that. And as I mentioned up top, we should regard that as a massive failure of wokeness (by which I mean the excessive and counterproductive reality that the term represents, not the original definition of it that gets thrown around as an unimpeachable moral good, and that distorts its dissenters as monsters against good.)
"Until the middle of the twentieth century, no one who was asked about a person’s identity would have mentioned race, sex, class, nationality, region or religion."
A brief review of just about any book in the bible would soundly refute this statement.
I found Susan Neiman’s Evil in Modern Thought a fascinating, tightly argued book. This attempt to posit a leftist alternative to the “woke” doesn’t convince me, in part because it’s built on questionable foundations, in part because it slips around among ideas of the left, sentimentalizing the internationalist left, bending over backward to accommodate victims identified by identity, and leaving a concrete idea of a leftist path forward unclear.
As others have noted, the proposition that basing identity on race, religion, ethnicity or sex is a mid-twentieth century invention is refuted by history. (It would be interesting to know the context for the quote from Kwame Anthony Appiah.)
The popular and facile claim that history is always written by the victors is also refuted by history, or historians. A few examples: The Athenian Thucydides wrote the history of the Peloponnesian war, a war ultimately won by Sparta. Tacitus, Senator of imperial Rome, quoted (or put into the mouth of) a Germanic chieftain the famous indictment of imperial peace, “Desertum faciunt pacem appellant.” [“They make a desert and call it peace.”] The Southern “Lost Cause” idea of the US Civil War predominated until the revisionist history of the Sixties. Perhaps the last example can suggest that a (self-professed) victim’s story is not the only story, and not always true.
Neiman’s argument is at its slipperiest when she critiques the politics, psychology, and moral value of victimization while bending over backward to express solidarity with any and all victims, to the point of slipping in a call not just for “empathy” but for “reparations wherever possible.” Neiman mentions several examples of people making fraudulent claims of (officially victimized) identity, presumably in search of influence or power, or just a job. How about the hope of free money as a motive to keep the wheels of grievance turning?
Neiman’s view of the internationalist left strikes me as sentimental: the left was never as united as she makes it sound. Under the stirring picture of the International Brigade, the Spanish Civil War saw fierce in-fighting between Communist and liberal opponents of fascism. The resistance movements of countries like Italy and Greece likewise saw combat between partisan groups of varying leftist allegiance, struggles for power in the post-war world. As for universalism, it is to the left of the Soviet Union and Maoist China that we owe the phrase “political correctness,” now usurped by “woke,” which seems to be following—or trying to follow—its totalitarian trajectory, universalism as a source of control rather than solidarity.
I’d like to think there is a left alternative to “woke,” one that focuses on the traditional concerns of labor (fair wages, workplace safety, the right to unionize) and seeks to expand the social safety net (quality public education, affordable healthcare, environmental protections, affordable retirement) to all, covering the cost by raising taxes those who have profited obscenely in the last 40 years. That’s one version of a nuts-and-bolts center left platform that could win popular support. If someone comes up with the language in which to frame it and pulls together a coalition big enough to deny activists, left and right, a veto. I’m not holding my breath.
Left may not be 'woke' in theory. In practice, the left is totally 'woke'.
Excellent! I would add that recognition of injustice and its victims used to be grounded in universal values. In other words, the crime was not the age-old accusation, "Your tribe hurt my tribe." The crime was that people were not treated as individuals of equal worth and dignity, regardless of race, sex, creed, and so on. The crime was, at a minimum, stealing the individual's right to be themselves. The universalist stance -- the focus on universal human rights -- doesn't wash away identity. It protects it.
Meanwhile, in a debate in the Missouri legislature over DEI funding, when asked about what ethnicity he identified as, a Black Republican representative stated "I identify as an American".
I can see clearly what is the thoughtful basis for woke. It is a strategy for a power and money-making cut in line. Males, specifically white males... it isn't so much that they have been privileged because of gender or race, it is that they and the market-based system evolved into a high-performance meritocracy that they adopted. Basically, the system rewarded a certain mindset and certain performance related behaviors only because it worked the best, and it was only because males and white males dominated the working/career demographic that they dominated economic outcomes.
The way forward is education and practiced skills development for the other demographic groups to emulate what works and allows them to compete effectively. However, this is hard work and takes time. Better for those greedy for power and money to undertake a grievance project to destroy the working meritocracy system and replace it with one that selects on victim demographics rather than real demonstrated capability.
The problem with woke other than it being a racist immoral ideology at odds with the design of the American system, is that private business cannot survive if it destroys hiring and promotion based on anything other than capability. The competitor that rejects woke employees has a better chance of winning in the market. And the employee that demonstrates stronger performance, work-ethic... basically capability to produce... they will be higher-valued by these employers.
I don't care about the educated female demographic here. They have it great today... except that they are brainwashed by their campus experience and media feeds... but what can be done about that?
But they have weaponized gender and sexuality pulled minorities into this cult project... disingenuously... and again delayed, for example, the final integration of the black community into the mainstream social and economic systems.
Thinking there are shortcuts is understood with the media sensationalism of the small number of people who manage big economic wins. But it is the wrong message and lesson. Most people with a high income and wealth had to grow their skills over time. They had to work their asses off while becoming effective at maneuvering the needed personal relationships to support their career advancement.
Woke is a lie to everyone that needs this message and focus. Basically woke is an immoral attempt by hating, malcontent, educated, power-obsessed, upper-class, liberal feminists, throwing everyone else under the bus to be run over and destroyed only to achieve their goals of dominance of everone else. Anyone that buys into it is complicit in what are crimes against humanity.
Convictions not blood !
Eloquent and essential reminder
Recalls Abraham Lincoln’s July 1858 Electric Cord speech. He confronted the xenophobia of the Know-Nothings:
There are men among us now who cannot trace their ancestry back to the Founders when we celebrate the Fourth — but “if they believe what those old men wrote, they are blood of the blood and flesh of the flesh” of our ancestors….no less than we ourselves
One should read this marvelous speech in its entirety
Recalls also Ernest Renan’s “Qu’est-ce qu’une nation?”
Explicitly counters contemporary competing notion of Volk with that of a people united by shared memories and principles, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen
We all know the subsequent history of these notions in Europe