And Then You Woke Up
I just read the following headline from the Associated Press: “Fauci says pandemic exposed ‘undeniable effects of racism.'” And Dr. Fauci’s self-serving deference to the latest trends in neo-Marxist race politics is worth discussing because…?
A couple of days back, I read of an adjunct instructor in literature at St. John’s University in New York who uttered “the n-word” during an online lecture about Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson, and was subsequently suspended by the Catholic university because several students claimed to have been harmed by hearing that unmentionable word.
First of all, I do not believe for one second that any student suffered any measurable pain from hearing that word. The attempt to delete and condemn old language, while enshrining and sanctifying new language, is entirely an activist agenda item, and has nothing whatsoever to do with redressing personal emotional struggles — which is why the alleged “victims” of the “harm” in these frequent cases never solve their problem through sympathetic discussion with the instructor, but always through public attack and a demand for heads on a platter.
Secondly, I do not believe that university teaching, intellectual investigation, or in general adult conversation, can survive the demand that no one ever be made uncomfortable, since it is of the essence of the best adult conversation, most intellectual investigation, and all university teaching, that one must be open to being made uncomfortable. And I note that the course in which this supposed offense occurred was called “Literature of Satire.” Imagine a satire in which no one were offended. Who would take a university course on satire without expecting, even desiring, to read and hear “offensive” things? The purpose of satire, much like the purpose of real university education, is to “offend” sensibilities, to touch sensitive spots, to challenge self-certainties and comfortable presumptions. A satire, or university education, that did not do any of that could only be considered a failure. And that is precisely what “wokeness” and “cancel culture” are intended to engender: a failure of learning, a failure of genuine intellectual challenge — which means nothing less than a failure to promote spiritual growth. In its place, the neo-Marxists hope to reinvent education, higher and lower, as nothing but a formal means of restricting growth, by condemning and removing all sources of challenge and discomfort. In this new education — and this is merely a realization of John Dewey’s actual recommendations for the modern teaching of old literature — Mark Twain must be presented, if at all, only as a source of evidence of the systemic oppression which justifies socialist revolution. Forced adherence to the present orthodoxy at all costs, and the systematic refusal to give a hearing to any challenges to that orthodoxy, is the exact meaning of the phrase, “the death of education.”
Thirdly, I do not believe that the “harmed” students in question would have withdrawn their complaints if the university had said it was condemning their instructor to a public flogging, the rack, or the electric chair for her verbal transgression. There is no single element of today’s “woke culture” more transparently obvious or self-disqualifying than the intrinsic and definitive lack of mercy, compassion, or simple fellow-feeling displayed daily by these supposed defenders of justice and equality. They do not care that an older lady with a part-time teaching position has lost her job because of their complaints. On the contrary, they are undoubtedly proud of themselves for dragging this lover of classic literature, their teacher, into the public square for a mass shaming; they are pumping their fists in exultation at having gotten “action” from the university’s administration; and they are loving the feeling of power they have gained over another person’s life through their ridiculous claims of being hurt by a word, no doubt already driving forward toward their next great conquest. That these punks, who claim to have been hurt by a college teacher’s quotation of a “painful” word from an old book, seem not to have considered for one moment how an older woman might be “hurt” by losing her job of teaching literature she loves to young people, a job she has been doing for twenty years, is so revealing of the progressive soul that the sight is downright nauseating. Who knows? With a little luck, perhaps they can get their own grandmothers pilloried on the steps of city hall for having once written the word “black” without a capital B.
(See my “Thought Terminated, or Kafka at Kansas University” for another case of the same thuggery, and more evidence for my judgment of the moral character of the thugs.)
A lieutenant-colonel in the U.S. military has been removed from his commander position for publicly questioning the neo-Marxist agenda he (like all of us) sees being actively embedded within the ranks. He specifically drew attention to the dissemination of the so-called “1619 Project,” a made-up pile of absurdities from the New York Times which seeks to entrench the idea that America is systemically racist by reimagining the U.S. founding as having been at its core an attempt to codify white supremacy and black slavery as essential American institutions.
Twenty years ago, when it was still somewhat possible to make jokes, Norm MacDonald, as Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” host, addressed a story of Marlon Brando having publicly stated that Hollywood was controlled by Jews. In the ensuing “controversy” over this unacceptable remark, Brando met with “Jewish leaders” and apologized for his statement. MacDonald’s newscaster quip: “The Jewish leaders said that they accepted Brando’s apology, and that the actor is now free to work again.”
Twenty years later, the world having been stripped of every shred of both irony and honesty, there are no longer any jokes in the world. Hence, a lieutenant-colonel remarks publicly that he believes the military is increasingly being controlled by a Marxist agenda. Military leaders express their objection to this characterization by demoting the officer for daring to call attention to their Marxist agenda in public.
Harvey Mansfield, William Kristol’s old professor and one of the last surviving members of the first-generation Straussians (the intellectual fathers of the neo-conservative faction of American politics), during a 2017 YouTube video discussion with Kristol in which he butchers an attempt at an esoteric reading of Gulliver’s Travels, mentions in passing that leftist activists had recently demanded — successfully, of course — that the term “house master,” the traditional title for the heads of Harvard’s residence halls, be deleted on the grounds that some students were triggered by the term’s implications of slavery. So because some heavily propagandized young people apparently cannot play word association without half the English language evoking racism in their minds, an elite university must stop using the proper title for certain honorary positions on campus.
But if “master” is too offensive to the radicalized students because it reminds them of slavery (which none of them have personally experienced, of course, and which was unquestionably experienced by ancestors of every racial origin at various points in history), then must we not also bar the use, in respectable society, of the word “owner,” which has the same connotations? What about “property,” “trade,” “buying,” “selling”? What about “whip,” as in whipped cream or whipping things into shape? What about “plant,” which is obviously the root of “plantation,” which in turn can mean only one thing in today’s politicized (i.e., ignorant) mind? (Consider the actual case from a few years ago, when it suddenly became off-limits for a white person to make reference to the act of picking cotton, as if only slaves ever did that.) What about “chain,” as in chain of command or chain reaction? Or “leash” or “bond”? Or “ship,” for that matter, since it might evoke images of the slave trade. And of course we must not overlook such linguistic nightmares as “slavish,” as in “He had a slavish desire for her,” or even “slave” itself, as in “Dad had us working like slaves to get the house ready for Mom’s return from the hospital with our new baby brother”?
In general, I would say, to be generous to the point of false naivety, that the chief sources of this extreme sensitivity to language, which makes simple word association (a subjective mental reflex) a virtual minefield of systemic oppression, are two:
(1) Years of continuous overexposure to neo-Marxist propaganda which leaves its victimized minds so immersed in the muck of progressive abstractions that they can barely look at a sandwich without seeing bread oppressing roast beef. No one obsessed with any single thought can avoid perceiving the subject of that thought everywhere. The lover sees his beloved in every flower or dewdrop. The Freudian sees phallic symbolism in every building or plate of food. Similarly, the indoctrinated progressive finds affronts to equality and social justice in every word uttered, regardless of context or intention.
(2) A pervasive and extreme degradation of general education, such that young people today lack the simple awareness of history and literacy that naturally broadens horizons and reveals worlds of possibility and meaning beyond the narrow, single-minded clamor and chanting of the abrasively proximate, tribally aggressive voice of the immediate moment. This degradation, of course, was achieved by design, following the progressive education model, as noted above with respect to its seminal thinker John Dewey, according to which the historical, the classic, and the longstanding must be presented only within the pre-established framework of radical critique, which is to say that nothing outside of today’s required attitudes and beliefs must ever be allowed to reach young people’s minds at face value, on its own terms, in its own words –meaning without the progressive (re-)interpretive context that automatically reduces everything to mere precursors (good or bad) to the unquestionable (and pragmatic) Truth of the neo-Marxist “social mind.”