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Saturday, July 10, 2021

The Woke Rule the Media

 When the words "woke" or "wokeness" come up on facebook, many people immediately declare them meaningless, simply right wing epithets designed to discredit leftists.  Liberals who are not woke, however, such as myself, are reminded every morning that wokeness rules our major urban newspapers and most of the television news operations, as well as academia.  Yesterday the New York Times provided an excellent concise example of wokeness in a column by op-ed regular Gail Collins about presidential rankings.  Historians have just generated a new set--because I have never been designated a "presidential historian," I was not consulted.  Collins commented on the list from her perspective, and I am going to quote some of her comments in detail for non-commercial use only.

Here is her first substantive paragraph.  

 "Of course, Abraham Lincoln came in first. Lincoln almost always wins. After that, reservations begin to rise. George Washington came next, as usual, but you can’t ignore the slave-owning. Then it’s Franklin Roosevelt (depends on how much you like the federal government) and Theodore Roosevelt (depends on how much you like imperialism)."

Now as it happens, I do think that ranking Theodore Roosevelt fourth is much too high.  Having researched his presidency myself now, I think his primary contribution had to do with how he taught Americans to think about the great issues of the twentieth century.  He recognized excessive corporate power as a serious danger, although he proposed rather tentative solutions and had relatively little impact on our economic structure.  He correctly identified the US as a great power in a world of great powers that might have to fight in a great intercontinental war at some point in the future. He pursued various forms of imperialism in Latin America, although he didn't annex any new territory and regarded our possession of the Philippines as temporary.  As for Franklin Roosevelt, he not only vastly expanded the federal government, but also did more than any other President to reduce economic inequality and created the postwar world as Collins (born 1945) and I have known it all our lives.  Given that our own generation has undone most of his legacy, it is not too surprising that she doesn't value it any more. 

Collins then says that she has "always really disliked Thomas Jefferson.  (Yeah, yeah, I know, the Declaration of Independence.)" The first reason she cites is a pair of very sexist comments in letters to two different women, one of them his own daughter.  The second involves Sally Hemmings and I'll take that one up in a moment.

This is a fine example of a woke feminist perspective.  Collins doesn't care that Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence (which, of course, he did not do as President).  She also doesn't care--and may not even know--that Jefferson brought to an end our first era of truly bitter partisan political conflict, one perhaps as bad as the one we are in now.  Nor does she care, apparently, about the Louisiana Purchase, or Jefferson's attempts to find a way to protect America's interests during a world war without going to war, or that he signed the law outlawing the importation of slaves from Africa that Congress passed just as soon as the Constitution allowed it to do so.  Because Collins is a woman, apparently, she thinks she has a right--if not a duty--to judge Jefferson mainly on his attitudes towards women--even if those attitudes were anything but unusual in his time.   Jefferson remains a key historical figure because his ideas on other topics--such as how societies should be governed--were unusual.  Nor is it far to say that he contributed nothing to women's rights. The idea of equal rights between women and men, I would suggest, was inconceivable so long as society was divided into different orders with different rights.  That was the idea that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution struck down.  And contrary to what many wokesters will tell you, as soon as they did so, both women and others who did not yet enjoy those writes began pointing to the language of those documents to argue that they should be included, and within another 142 years, they were.  None of that could have happened if Jefferson and the other founding fathers had not taken the crucial first step.

Collins continues as follows: "Take that, Thomas Jefferson. And, of course, I haven’t even gotten around to the part about fathering at least six children with Sally Hemmings, a woman he had enslaved."

The substitution of "enslaved persons" for "slaves" had become fashionable by 2015, although it was still controversial then.  It is now mainstream, justified on the grounds that it gives slaves more dignity.  The use of "enslaver," or phrases like "a woman he had enslaved," goes further, and seriously distorts history.  To say that Thomas Jefferson "enslaved" Sally Hemmings would imply, to me, that she was originally a free person whom he personally turned into a slave.  Of course he did not.  She was the daughter of a slave (and, as it happens, of Jefferson's father-in-law), and thus, under the laws of Virginia at that time, she was born a slave.  No one in colonial America had the right to turn a free person into a slave.  Collins herself refers correctly to Washington as "slave-owning" rather than "enslaving," but Jefferson doesn't get the same courtesy.

 The old phraseology--that men including Washington, Jefferson and James Madison owned slaves--remains more accurate because it describes legal reality, however repugnant we find that legal reality today.   Wokeness, however, has no respect for law as such, only for morality as it is now understood.  Laws contradicting that morality are unworthy of mention, much less obedience. And if men violated present-day morality--e.g., by owning slaves--nothing else they did can be very significant.

Collins concludes by comparing John Quincy Adams to Joe Biden.  "John Quincy Adams was our sixth president, who came into the job with a strong history in foreign affairs and diplomacy. He won an election that left the opposition irate — Andrew Jackson’s fans never quit complaining about the 'corrupt bargain.'”  Well--not exactly.  Adams lost the popular vote to Jackson, failed to win an electoral college majority, and was chosen by the House of Representatives after Henry Clay swung his supporters to Adams. Adams then made Clay Secretary of State, and his popularity never recovered. And after Jackson defeated Adams in 1828, he immediately asked Congress to abolish the electoral college!  Adams was the first of five presidents--Trump was the last--to win election while losing the popular vote. It would be foolish, however, to expect an editor at today's New York Times to know anything about this--facts are quite passé. 

The essence of wokeness is self-centeredness based on race, gender, and sexual orientation.  It stems from the postmodern idea that those attributes determine everyone's perspective. Originally it held that every perspective is equally valid, but now it privileges [sic] the perspectives of oppressed groups, since oppressors--straight white males--supposedly never think about anything but maintaining themselves in power.   It thus denies the very idea of universal principles such as those reflected in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  It also denies the relevance, really of any history before the great awakening of the late 1960s, except as a record of what we should not be. In so doing, it threatens to sweep away the whole legal and political basis on which modern society--including the idea of equality--was built.  This is a huge risk for all of us, and particularly for the less powerful.  All our major intellectual and artistic institutions are now contributing to that risk.

8 comments:

Energyflow said...

Do trends die of themselves like clothing fads? After decades of increasing Supreme Court votes against religious rights, things have changed directions. This has to do with who controls the institutions. Conservative press, blogs, etc will come to dominate perhaps as the public stops using, buying, trusting Woke media of all sorts. The market will make the decision but it needs an infrastructure. Legal changes limiting tech censorship, dwindling viwership and readership of CNN, NYT will all be factors. If you lose power and are contradicted and ridiculed by those who obtain it then you will change your tune. This might take some time. I think the left is at its crest of power and such censorship habits and extreme leftwing opinions called wokeness are signs of the end of the road as common sense is athe basis for a shared society.

Bozon said...

Professor
For me, from where I stand, as anti Woke and Anti Whig history in general, this is the most piquaint hor d'oeuvres you have dished.

Given my interpretation of this material, which differs markedly from yours, and your ouvres, it nevertheless seems to me, in spite of your fervent, and earnest, refusal and rejection of the Woke moniker and its various agendas, to be very intramural a dispute between yourself and the NYT's Collins, a dispute between White liberals, a dispute between Whig liberals, even to some extent between what I call white Stokelys, about how woke to be or not to be.

All the best

Bozon said...

Professor

Perhaps at this juncture, it may be as good a time as any to broach a sore subject, original sin, in connection with The 1619 Project and BLM, Wilkerson's diatribe, and Carmichael's institutional and or systemic racism terminology, etc, recherche though this topic may be.

BLM started out with Stay Woke meaning bringing together only American negroes, not white Stokelys: "The movement started out with the goal of connecting African-Americans who share a similar battle with racism and injustice." Wikipedia. Those who were Woke were only negroes.

Just call this comment "Blunt Talk on Original Sin," a "pivot" of the discussion, so to speak.

I have long argued that American negroes have been the NYT's proxy, and stooge, for anti Semitism.

Erik Snyder's recent opinion has brought that obvious fact, a propaganda conspiracy in plain view, into the open: the NYTouting its own underlying agenda.

But why should they, either liberal or orthodox Jews, have been willing to embrace a doctrine impugning all, or almost all, white people in the concept of original sin of negro enslavement, from which racism originally emerged on the world stage?

The best explanation, among others, is that the the concept of original sin is a Christian concept, not a Jewish one, not a Torah one, not a Talmud one, and thus also not later Judaism.

Christian doctrine also had rejected this idea, "Origen is the first to quote Romans 5:12-21, correctly translating the pertinent clause in Romans 5:12 and thus rejecting a sinful state inherited from Adam." Wikipedia

But this quasi Jewish anti original sin argument did not win out in the verdict of history, being on the wrong side of history:

So Jews have been free to embrace the Christian original sin idea for all whites other than Jews, and to use the negroes as their proxy re anti Semitism persecution.

There are many problems with this racial and social odd couple relationship, but that is for another comment.

All the best

Bozon said...

Professor

Re Woke, Caste, and The Warmth of Other Suns, about negroes finally being allowed to drift North.
Just a note on Isabel Wilkerson.
She studied journalism at Howard. Wikipedia. I find nothing showing she ever got a degree in journalism.
I saw no evidence that she ever pursued or received a degree in history of any kind.
Maybe someone can correct me.

All the best

Bozon said...

Professor
It is alleged that Wilkerson does have a degree, but it is in Education.
I have not verified that this is even true.
She certainly has neither a journalism nor a history credential showing.
All the best

Bozon said...

Professor

An old post of mine re The Woke NYT Jewish Stokely Bret Stephens re Burke and Jefferson:

Sunday, August 9, 2020
HYPOCRISY ON HYPOCRISY JERUSALEM ARTICHOKE PEEL LEAVES BACK

All the best

Bozon said...

Professor:

Re Gail Collins, Jefferson, and the Declaration of Independence

"We hold these truths to be self evident..."

Most people, including most scholars, believe that this phrase came originally from Locke, and comments made by his contemporaries in England, New England and elsewhere.

That is not correct. It came originally from Hobbes. See: state of nature. If you look at Wikipedia, only on Locke, or on Jefferson, you won't actually even see this point. "Solitary poor nasty brutish and short." This is Hobbes' description of his imagined original prehistoric state of nature, where all men are created equal at the start, in that each one can theoretically kill any other one. Leviathan That is what it had meant at the time of Locke as well.

Let's move on to Jefferson's state of nature: The Enlightenment state of nature, Krugman's, that of Locke, Diderot, and Rousseau, and of course Adam Smith, etc, was really a state of benign Godless anarchy, where isolated individuals, basically good but stupid by nature dwelt mostly in peace, plenty, and accidental harmony, pursuing their natural sense impression appetites and avoidances. See eg: Catholics and Unbelievers in 18th Century France, Index Locke, Diderot, Rousseau. See especially p 133

"Paradoxically, the men who trusted so highly in the powers of intelligence regarded the mind as essentially vacant and inert; the idea of the passive mind was indispensable to their system. it was the guarantee that the truths of nature might be perceived without distortion. It was the basis for the distinction, then so important and so clear, between enlightenment and prejudice. It was the metaphysical groundwork for the belief that men were equal, and that they possessed the quality of perfectibility, that is, susceptibility to progress. Minimizing the effects of will, denying original predisposition, refusing to see any inevitability in human nature, the doctrine was flatly contrary to the Christian idea of sin; and by representing man as a passive child of circumstances, easily abused by his environment, it slipped sometimes into a notion that human nature, when crude, is good; and that order, restraint, discipline, and suppression are affronts to man's dignity and freedom." Palmer, op. cit.

All the best

Bozon said...

Professor

"...The essence of wokeness is self-centeredness based on race, gender, and sexual orientation. It stems from the postmodern idea that those attributes determine everyone's perspective...." DK

If you look at the history of the concept of racial distinctions, it goes way back indeed.Back to the Old Testament.

The so called enlightened scientific study of man, through the 19th Century, gave us distinctions among and within races which still have a ring of truth today, as even David Reich admits.

They did not arise from postmodernism in the mid 20th Century.

Nicholas Wade discusses this history in Before the Dawn, as does Sowell in Intellectuals and Race. Study and classification of racial differences, both right and wrong, was characteristic of post enlightenment exact as well as social science.

All the best