Noah Karl contends that the Woke cultural shift that has swept through the Community of Fashion in recent years can be traced to the Civil Rights Movement and to the massive leftward shift of Academia.
The Professoriate used to be conventionally Liberal. Today it is conventionally Radical. One key reason for that shift is the dramatic increase of female academics.
I suspect that most of academia’s leftward shift was due to self-reinforcing processes: social homophily (conservatives not wanting to enter a profession where there aren’t many conservatives); political typing (conservatives feeling that an academic career “isn’t for them” in the same way that some women feel that a construction career “isn’t for them”); and discrimination (conservatives being discriminated against in hiring, research and funding).
However, one other possible cause of academia’s leftward shift, and of the rise of woke activism in particular, is the influx of women into that institution. …
[W]hy would the influx of women into academia have contributed to its leftward shift, and to the rise of woke activism in particular? As the psychologist Cory Clark notes, women are consistently less supportive of free speech than men, and consistently more supportive of censorship. Compared to men, they’re more likely to say: that hate speech is violence; that it’s acceptable to shout down a speaker; that controversial scientific findings should be censored; that people need to be more careful about the language they use; and that it should be illegal to say offensive things about minorities.
Clark argues, convincingly in my view, that this stems from women’s greater aversion to harm and conflict. They interpret various forms of speech as harmful to vulnerable groups, and wish to censor them for that reason. Whether these gender differences are cross-cultural universals remains a matter of debate. Women being more averse to harm and conflict would certainly make sense from an evolutionary point of view, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the differences are hard-wired. As with most traits that vary, I suspect there’s both a genetic and an environmental component. Whatever the precise mix, women’s greater aversion to harm and conflict does show up in many WEIRD countries, not least the United States.
Clark isn’t the only scholar to have noticed that women’s aversion to harm and conflict has profound implications for academia. Drawing on the work of psychologist Joyce Benenson, Arnold Kling notes: “Women have a social strategy that works well for protecting their individual health and the health of their children: emphasize safety, covertly undermine the status of unrelated females, and exclude rivals rather than reconcile with them.” This leads him to speculate that adding a lot of women to formerly male domains has made the culture of those domains more consistent with female tendencies. “The older culture valued open debate,” Kling notes. “The newer culture seeks to curtail speech it regards as dangerous.”
We know that, on average, women are less favourable to free speech and more favourable to censorship.
Unlike the Germans with their ponderous celebration of Goethe and Schiller, or the French with their adulation of Molière or Victor Hugo, the English celebrate their favourite authors with a lighter touch. Societies dedicated to the lovers of the works of a given author are common, but are generally private, amateur and low-key. Groups of amiable middle-aged to elderly bibliophiles with no particular academic pretension but a love for, and a generally encyclopaedic knowledge of, the writing of a particular person get together to enjoy convivial company and, as often as not, a posh dinner in London or Oxford once a year. Organisations such as the Sherlock Holmes Society or the Trollope Society publish slightly recherché background papers, such as Why Holmes Went German at St James’s Hall: The Reason Behind His Musical Taste, or From Winchester to Barsetshire: Anthony Trollope’s links with Hampshire. Addresses at formal events organised by these clubs are likely to be witty and reasonably erudite, but not over-intellectual or over-taxing on the audience.
What you won’t get from any of these amateur gatherings is anything like the high-pressure, jargon-ridden writing one sees in academic journals, or the deadly serious arguments, incomprehensible to non-initiates, that one increasingly hears in university lecture halls. They are emphatically societies, not research institutes.
Or at least most of them are. In the last year something very curious seems to have overtaken one of them, the Tolkien Society, founded in 1969 to celebrate the life and work of the author of the Lord of The Rings. Until 2020 the society was what you might expect: talks on music and Tolkien’s landscape, naming astronomical bodies after Tolkien place-names, the elvish language, and so on.
This year, by contrast, it has gone full-on woke, as witness the programme for its 2021 Annual Seminar, beginning on Saturday week. A straw in the wind came with the announcement of the theme, which read more than anything else like a formal call for papers from some new university anxious to make its mark on modernity with a trail-blazing conference. Contributions were demanded on Tolkien’s approach to colonialism and neo-colonialism, representation of race, gender, sexuality and the rest in Tolkien, and so on.
This call was answered with appropriate gusto. The programme for the event is too large to reproduce here: but we can give a flavour of it. It kicks off with Gondor in Transition: A Brief Introduction to Transgender Realities in The Lord of the Rings. We then have delights such as “The Burnt Hand Teaches Most About Fire”: Applying Traumatic Stress and Ecological Frameworks to Narratives of Displacement and Resettlement Across Cultures in Tolkien’s Middle-earth; and The Lossoth: Indigeneity, Identity, and Antiracism. The second day continues with more in the same vein: “Something Mighty Queer”: Destabilizing Cishetero Amatonormativity in the Works of Tolkien; Questions of Caste in The Lord of the Rings and its Multiple Chinese Translations; and something which should puzzle anyone, Hidden Visions: Iconographies of Alterity in Soviet Bloc Illustrations for The Lord of the Rings.
This menu, more appropriate to a series of dreary staff seminars in a second-rate polytechnic than an event set up for a club of book-lovers, has already attracted deserved derision.
When you live to get old, you see a lot of changes, not all of them good. I doubt anybody could ever have predicted an America in which Christopher Columbus, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Lewis and Clark, and Robert E. Lee would be vilified, when the extremist politics of 150 years ago would return with new vigor, when the status of Reconstruction would be reconsidered and essentially resumed, and when liberals would reject Free Speech and the ABA ban books.
Biden’s secretary of state, Antony Blinken, has invited in the U.N. to assess whether the United States meets global standards of justice or, in fact, is racist and in need of global censure: “I urge all U.N. member states to join the United States in this effort, and confront the scourge of racism, racial discrimination, and xenophobia,” he said last week.
That is like asking Libya in 2001 to assess whether our airline pilot training met proper standards or having China adjudicate the conditions in U.S. prisons.
America went from the freest country in the world in December 2019 to a repressive, and frightening place by July 2021. It went not so much hard-Left, as stark-raving mad.
That abrupt descent, too, is not workable and millions will collectively decide they have no choice but to push back and conclude, “In the 233rd year of our republic, we tens of millions are not going to cede freedom of thought and expression to thousands of Maoists. Sorry, no can do.”
The inversion of values here redefines the heroic figures of American and Western History in general as villains guilty of “colonization” and oppression and dismisses the all of the artistic, intellectual, technological, and political achievements of America and the entirety of European Civilization as completely and utterly tainted and delegitimatized by the supposed crimes of Slavery, Military Aggression, Imperialism, and Racism.
This decisive moral standard is applied one-sidedly. There is no problem whatsoever with conquest, war, brutality, or slavery on the part of any nation or peoples outside of Europe and America. The abolition of Slavery by the West in the 19th Century, the elimination of Southern segregation sixty years ago, the succeeding decades and decades of racial favoritism have no significance. The crimes of the White Race are so uniquely terrible that they can never be erased either by the passage of time or by compensatory privilege and reparations. And neither the whole nor any part of the Ideology of the Grievances of the People of Color is open to debate. The question or attempt to debate any of it constitutes in itself yet another crime of violence and aggression.
Left-wingers look with delight on large-scale Third World Immigration and visualize an America in which persons of European descent will be an impotent and out-voted minority. Meanwhile, the universities, Big Business, and elite institutions generally have enthusiastically signed on in complete agreement with all the crazed rhetoric emanating from Marxist agitators and from all the crackpot pseudo-academics hired via Affirmative Action to staff up the constellation of intellectually-bogus Identity Studies departments.
The 1619 Project and all the rest of the “Critical Studies” folderol is nothing more than self-flattering fantasies and illusions masquerading as scholarship.
Wesley Yang, a couple of years ago, produced a Twitter thread that proposed referring to so-called Critical Studies as “The Successor Ideology.”
Everything old becomes new again. What we have here is the same “Rising Tide of Color” that Lothrop Stoddard and Houston Stewart Chamberlain fretted over during the early years of the last century, the same diabolical scheme to unite the primitive seething masses of the Third World to overthrow and replace the Civilization of the West on the part of Dr. Fu Manchu and the Si Fan that Nayland Smith was always thwarting, only this time it’s for real and the Western Community of Fashion is on its side.
The successor ideology is what happens when ideas meant to encourage critical self-reflection become a part of an echo chamber and grow increasingly divorced from reality.
The list takes on the coloration of every romantic, reactionary, and left-wing shibboleth ever created.
Yesterday, Yale President Peter Salovey announced nine actions “to enhance diversity, promote equity on campus, and foster an environment in which all community members feel welcome, included, and respected,” causing rational alumni, en masse, to go and throw up in the street.
If you want to read a really choice example of vacuous and pretentious academic blather, go and check out:
Dollar quote: “Yale can and must improve in how it creates a climate where all feel safe and valued.”
The mind boggles. Snowflakes don’t feel “safe and valued” at Yale, surrounded by all that opulent and luxurious architecture; their needs attended to by an immense staff of servants; with access to the tutelage of world-ranked scholars, one of the top research libraries, as well as the nation’s finest recreational facilities; their future paths to wealth, power, success, and fame stretching shining before them? What more could it possibly take?
A friend of mine used to remark that “Life after Yale is a constant struggle to live as well as you did as an undergraduate.”
Outsiders at Yale, sons of working class families, those of us of non-New England blue-blood Protestant descent, used to consider ourselves truly blessed to be permitted to attend Yale, to share in a different people’s and a different class’s ancient and illustrious tradition, and to obtain thereby potential entry into membership in the national elite.
Today’s outsiders expect not only admission. They expect to revise the identity and character of the university. They demand faculty and administrators and academic departments of their own. They want the university’s, the nation’s, and the world’s history censored and revised to flatter their own amour propre and to punish historical figures they’ve decided, on the basis of their slender knowledge, are their enemies. They expect to move in, replace the furniture, remodel the house, and change the address.
In today’s America, alas! the national establishment elite has so declined in character and intelligence that its members routinely manifest guilt and a consciousness of their own unworthiness. They are only too eager to grovel, abase themselves, and surrender to the insolent and irrational demands of a deluded radical fringe, addled and intoxicated with a pernicious ideology hostile to Civilization, America, and Yale itself. The people entrusted with custodianship of the Culture and the Canon are classic examples of C.S. Lewis’s “Men Without Chests,” who care for nothing, who believe in nothing beyond personal advancement and the sweet smell of success, and who will reliably pay homage to the latest emotional upheaval afflicting the national community of fashion. Men like Peter Salovey are incapable of conserving anything, of defending anything.
Natalia Dashan brilliantly explains why the Radical Left is winning at elite schools like Yale and everywhere else in the National Establishment.
Western elites are not comfortable with their place in society and the responsibilities that come with it, and realize that there are deep structural problems with the old systems of coordination. But lacking the capacity for an orderly restructuring, or even a diagnosis of problems and needs, we dive deeper into a chaotic ideological mode of coordination that sweeps away the old structures.
When you live with this mindset, what you end up with is not an establishment where a woke upper class rallies and advocates for the rights of minorities, the poor, and underprivileged groups. What you have is a blind and self-righteous upper class that becomes structurally unable to take coordinated responsibility. You get stuck in an ideological mode of coordination, where no one can speak the truth to correct collective mistakes and overreaches without losing position.
This ideology is promulgated and advertised by universities, but it doesnâ€™t start or stop at universities. All the fundraisers. All the corporate events. The Oscars. Letâ€™s take down the Man. They say this in front of their PowerPoints. They clink champagne glasses. Letâ€™s take down the Man! But there is no real spirit of revolution in these words. It is all in the language they understandâ€”polite and clean, because it isnâ€™t really real. It is a performative spectacle about their own morale and guilt.
If you were the ruler while everything was burning around you, and you didnâ€™t know what to do, what would you do? You would deny that you are in charge. And you would recuperate the growing discontented masses into your own power base, so that things stay comfortable for you.
Yale students, if they werenâ€™t powerful when they came in (and most of them were), they gain power by being bestowed a Yale degree. What would you do with this power? You donâ€™t want to abuse it; youâ€™re not outright evil. No, you want something different. You want to be absolved of your power. You are ashamed of your power. Why should you have it, and not somebody elseâ€”maybe somebody more deserving? You never really signed up for this. You would rather be somebody normal. But not, â€œnormal,â€ normal. More like normal with options and vacations and money â€œnormal.â€ Normal but still powerful. Or you want to be something even better than normal. You want to be the underdog. There is always a certain strange sense of pleasure in being an underdog. Expectations are lower. Whenever you accomplish anything at allâ€”it is an accomplishment. You would rather have a narrative story of â€œcoming up from the bottom.â€ Someone who not only does not have the responsibility of power, but someone who has a right to feel resentful of those who do. And better yetâ€”someone who can use this resentment as a tool for self-interest.
How do Yale students give up their power? They do this in one of two ways. One way is termed selling out. This usually means taking a high-paying job at an institution that is at worst blatantly unethical, and at best not intentionally idealistic. A consulting job, a meaningless tech job, or a position at an investment bank. This is generally seen as the selfish route.
But there is more to selling out that nobody talks about. These jobs are the dream jobs of the middle class. Theyâ€™re not supposed to be jobs for the sons and daughters of millionaires and billionairesâ€”these kids donâ€™t actually need the money. They want independence from their parents and proof that they can make it on their ownâ€”and prestigious work experienceâ€”but they have wealth acquired through generations that they can always fall back on. These people are generally as harmless as the middle classâ€”which is to say completely harmless. They keep to themselves. They quietly grow their bank accounts and their 401ks. And just like the real middle class, they donâ€™t want to risk their next promotion through being too outspoken. They have virtually no political power. This mindset is best encapsulated by: â€œIâ€™ll go with the program. Please leave me alone to be comfortable and quietly make money.â€
They effectively become middle class, because there is no longer any socially esteemed notion of upper class. They have a base of power, of f-you money, that they could use to become something greater than just another office worker or businessperson. But there is no script for that, no institutional or ideological support. What would it even mean to be an esteemed, blue-blooded aristocrat in 2019? So they take the easy and safe way.
How else do Yale students give up their responsibility?
They go in the other direction. These are the people who call themselves idealists and say they want to save the world. They feel the weight of responsibility from their social statusâ€”but they donâ€™t know how to process and integrate this responsibility into their lives properly. Traditionally, structurally well-organized elite institutions would absorb and direct this benevolent impulse to useful purpose. But our traditional institutions have decayed and lost their credibility, so these idealists start looking for alternatives, and start signalling dissociation from those now-disreputable class markers.
But the capacity to really think through what an alternative should look like, and create one, is so rare as to be effectively nonexistent. Instead, idealists are forced to take the easy way of just going along with dominant ideological narratives of what it means to do good. They feel guilty about their wealth and privileges, and feel that they wonâ€™t be doing their part unless they do something very altruistic, and the idealistic ideologies reinforce these feelings. So they go overboard, and rush headlong into whatever they are supposed to do. They purport to speak for and be allied with underprivileged groups. They get their professors fired for minor infractions. They frantically tear down whatever vestiges of the old institutions and hierarchies that they can, and conspicuously feel guilty about the rest.
These are the people who buy clothes from Salvation Army and decline your Sunday brunch invitation because itâ€™s too expensive, sometimes with the implication that they are saving their money to donate to more effective causes, if they arenâ€™t pretending not to have it. They are the people who might attack or cut off their friends for ideological reasons. They discharge their personal responsibility by sacrificing everything outside of their distant mission, including friendships and social fabric.
Itâ€™s an understandable impulse. After all, given the state of legacy institutions, what else are you going to do with the energy of idealism? But ultimately, by going along with the narratives of an ideology that can efficiently capture these impulses, but has no structural ability to deliver on its promises, just diverts more energy from what a normal benevolent elite should be doing.
These people might sometimes say that they are â€œtired of fightingâ€â€”but this is not the full truth. Fighting is fun. It is always very fun to be a warriorâ€”to have something you believe in that guides you. To be part of a tribe, working for the good of mankind. To be revered and respected for being on the bleeding edge of the paradigm.