Some questions have recently been raised on the GAlist concerning my claim that wokeness is a radical development of the epistemology of resentment, which may be defined as the critique of ethical values on the basis of the moral model. In particular, Adam Katz wondered why, if this model implies perfectly symmetrical relationships on the part of all members of society, the woke apply it insistently to ascriptive categories such as race, but not in its traditional realm of application, that of the unequal distribution of material goods.
I don’t think the point of this criticism is that I am blind to this apparent anomaly, but that I have not seen the need to provide for it a theoretical justification. Differences of wealth and income are indeed “immoral” from the originary standpoint, and were the focus of John Rawls’ attempt to create a model ethic for modern societies in his Theory of Justice, where the question posed to the participants in the “original position” is essentially that of how well/badly off they would accept to be were they the least favored members of society. Like Rawls, the woke imagination too asks us to identify with those least favored, but effectively only in the mode of feeling guilty that our white privilege makes sharing their fate impossible.
Indeed, all the talk about “Marxism” today, which takes its model from the “cultural Marxism” of Gramsci and the Frankfurt School, passes a little too quickly over the economic theory that is not merely the basis but the substance of Marxism. Back in the days when I called myself a Marxist, in youthful ignorance of the horrors of Stalinism and Maoism, I was less concerned with revolution than with Marx’s theory of the evolution of capitalism into socialism. Today the woke speak much of “socialism,” but their actions and activism obey only the haziest economic ideology. Their focus on racism is only peripherally on the exploitation of blacks by whites or their relative income distribution, and obsessively on the psychological reality of “white privilege” and on “cancelling” people—such as recently NFL coach Jon Gruden, for making racially insensitive remarks.
Thus the question that requires an answer is how such “symbolic” phenomena can become the exclusive focus of groups whose wokeness I claim derives from the reciprocal equality of the originary event.
Clearly the political agenda of the woke is not really designed, as its partisans claim, to undermine “capitalism” and install “socialism,” let alone “Marxism.” The popularity of wokeness in corporate offices and university administrations is not founded on a common desire to expropriate the expropriators. On the contrary, the “expropriators” are the all-important source of the woke movement’s finances, with George Soros being far from alone in his generosity. The real point of the quasi-religion of wokeness, not necessarily from the perspective of the youthful crusaders but from that of its worldly implementers, is to impose mentally through the media, mainstream and social, and physically via administrative coercion, the reduction of moral equality to the subjective domain, where we must all examine our souls for traces of such things as white privilege, while otherwise leaving the power structure much as it was. Our sins, in a word, are in our souls, not in the world.
The source of this operation’s credibility is that, in contrast with impersonal market relations, our relationship with other individuals, although it may reflect institutional structures, is experienced on a personal, which is to say, a scenic basis. Orwell’s resentment at being a scholarship boy at Eton was a reaction, not to the greater wealth of his schoolmates, but to their supercilious behavior. Race relations considered independently of income and status under the heading of “white privilege” and “unconscious racism” deliberately situate us in an abstract “community” in which we relate to each other only as “superior” to “inferior” races, a quintessential violation of the moral model of reciprocal symmetry. How convenient for the billionaires who reproach working class whites with inherent racism while never being required to encounter those, white or black, who dine at the Olive Garden.
This is not, of course, the whole story. The ubiquity of video-capable cell-phones and the social media make it possible to publicize specific instances of apparent racial injustice that would previously have been non-events—beginning with Rodney King’s beating in 1992 and culminating in the 2020 death of George Floyd. Whether or not such events are frequent or “typical”—see, e.g., Heather Mac Donald’s https://www.nationalreview.com/2019/07/white-cops-dont-commit-more-shootings/— is simply irrelevant to their apparent revelation of white sinfulness.
American politics today is at the mercy of the mob because the means of communication have made the mob their model, however different today’s mob may be from the sans-culottes of revolutionary Paris. It is populated mostly by youthful activists and financed by the class of billionaire globalists whose “leftism” is about as far from the original sense of Marxism as one can get. Traditional race hustlers such as Al Sharpton are to richly funded BLM as the one-horse shay to a Tesla.
When people remark on the breakdown in France and Germany of the traditional right-left divisions, they tend to pass over the US, where the traditional parties remain the only game in town. But although these parties remain easily recognizable as liberal-left and conservative-right, their dominant constituencies have largely switched places.
Today’s Democrats—and Dinesh D’Souza (The Death of a Nation) traces this back to the anti-emancipation Southern Democrats of the Civil War era—are increasingly like the old British Tory party, a wealthy, “enlightened” aristocracy “protecting”—and relying on the votes of—what D’Souza calls the “plantation,” while defending the hegemony of the big (but woke!) corporations and doing business with the most undemocratic societies, China in particular. Whereas the “populist” Trump voters who dominate the Republican Party are predominantly lower middle- and working-class residents of “flyover country.”
Just a word about Kamala Harris’ recent non-Sister Souljah moment (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sister_Souljah_moment), which makes us realize how far we have come from Bill Clinton’s common-sense liberalism of 29 years ago. It goes without saying that a young woman’s absurd allegations of Israeli genocide have no more basis than the old blood libel about using Christian children’s blood to make matzah—or that if asked, Harris herself would reject them. But given the Jews’ eternal “white privilege,” her therapeutic reaction to the girl’s tears is what one must expect. Not the substance of the accusation, but the pain it purportedly reflects is an expression of a violated woke sense of justice, a sin against the moral model. It would have taken courage such as Harris has never shown to dare denounce this suffering as not in fact suffering at all, but cry-bullying, enlisting our sympathy against those pre-cast as victimizers.
Now that Critical Race Theory has become an established dogma, woke attention is increasingly focused on the tiny minority of transgendered people. I often wonder whether most genuine transgenders, who wish to pass for members of their chosen as opposed to given sex, identify with all this high-publicity nonsense. Whichever one’s sex, if one were really concerned to live as a member of the opposite one, I imagine that the last thing one would do would be to draw attention to the disparity. No doubt the drag queen phenomenon plays on this difference, but precisely, drag queens make no pretense of being real women. They express man’s envy of woman’s role as the sex whose bodily attributes, for reasons too obvious to mention, are, shall we say, more salient.
For some men who become transwomen (we never hear about transmen in this context), the trans phenomenon seems suspiciously akin to a particular form of crybullying, for which the point is to take on the appearance of a transvestite while obliging others to pretend not to notice. Rachel Levine, the current HHS Assistant Secretary for Health, is a particularly notable example, to whom we might oppose Caitlin Jenner, who simply asks us to forget his/her former masculinity.
In Chronicle 708 I attempted to analyze this development as blackmailing the society into rejecting the principle of biological sexuality in favor of the “true” sexuality in one’s soul, which, we should recall, is the repository of the originary conscience and its moral law.
It is particularly notable that in striking contrast to all this trans-talk, the recent pandemic of transgenderism concerns large numbers of adolescent girls who see themselves as male. But this trend remains understood as essentially a quasi-pathological development among adolescents, unlike the opposite transition, which appeals to the woke conscience. Indeed, the only concern being shown for these girls is by the non-woke, who point out the potentially disastrous consequences of carrying out “gender-replacement” treatments, including such things as breast amputation, on immature subjects.
The situation is complicated by the fact that, in Western society at least, women have not merely been prized and “protected” for their reproductive abilities, but treated with gentlemanly gallantry, as objects of desire but also of respectful care. Hence although in everyday life males are the privileged sex, in the transworld, this polarity is reversed. Men who would be women thus risk being accused of seeking to gain advantages reserved for the latter, even (heaven forbid) of seeking access to women’s spaces for nefarious purposes. Such persons have indeed been known to commit rapes in women’s prisons, and certainly often win races at women’s track meets.
The non-woke may therefore suspect these transwomen of being dishonorably motivated by proximity to the more attractive sex, competition with the weaker sex… But not at all! Given the originary nature of the patriarchy, unlike whites who would pass for blacks, transwomen cannot be suspected of duplicity: each is truly a woman in her/his heart. By espousing womanhood despite the evidence of anatomy and chromosomes, the transwoman accepts the patriarchically inferior position, and must consequently be allowed to compete in women’s sports, as well as to use their toilet and shower facilities, proudly bearing, as appears often to be the case, their male genitals as a sacrificial offering to their inner femininity.
This demonstrates once more the primary objective of wokeness: the translation of “moral equality” from the objective to the subjective domain. Kamala’s sympathy for the young antisemite demonstrates the lower status of objective truth than the pain in one’s heart. How not only cruel but illusory to make the “white’ claim that there is a correct answer to a mathematics problem!
A final observation. The humiliating outrage to common sense of being forced to apologize for saying that women bear children, as opposed merely to admitting one’s white privilege, underlines an aspect of wokeness anticipated by Stalin and denounced in prescient terms in 1984: its anti-Parmenidean corruption of language.
How Orwell would have felt confirmed by learning that in our digital age, instead of having constantly to reprint texts to keep up with Newspeak, they could be instantly corrected in the “cloud.” Or that institutional forms increasingly ask for one’s “chosen” gender in addition to that of one’s birth, not infrequently including a request for one’s “pronouns.”
Has anyone pointed out that the pronouns in question being neither first nor second but third person, they can be used only in conversations with others than the interested party. Why should someone be able to dictate what pronoun I use to refer to him/her in a conversation in which he/she is not included? But that is precisely the point…
In conclusion, I cannot deny that, however much I sharpen my definition of how wokeness reflects the originary moral model, my socio-political observations are ad hoc and not based on data. In this regard, I happily, if not optimistically, support in principle Adam’s efforts to extend GA into the sociological realm by seeking to integrate originary thinking with a systems-theory approach to human institutions. (See his book review in the forthcoming issue of Anthropoetics.) The better we can assemble and process data on the interconnections among the institutions I have mentioned here, and others of which I may not be aware, the better we will understand our society and its ethical needs, and the more effective we will hopefully become at helping it through its current crisis.
Yet it remains to be seen in what measure a sharper analysis of the institutional/financial base of wokeness—as frequently documented on a journalistic level by someone like Daniel Greenfield at https://www.frontpagemag.com—would be of service to a movement seeking to rehabilitate the “Western” ethical values that still remain—but for how much longer?—the norm throughout the civilized world.