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Sunday, February 20, 2022

An Individual Perspective

This week I have read Woke, Inc., Inside Corporate America's Social Justice Scam, by 37-year old Vivek Ramaswamy--a book notable both for its content and for who wrote it.  Ramaswamy is a second-generation American, the son of immigrants from India.  Like so many second-generation Americans in previous, he rose to the top of our society via the educational system, attending a Catholic high school in the Cincinnati area and graduating from Harvard in 2007 and from Yale Law School some time later.  Rather than practice law, he worked in hedge funds for a few years and then started a biotech company, Roivant, which has created a number of FDA-approved drugs.  He stepped down as CEO of Roivant in 2021, partly because of disputes with employees over the company's response to the death of George Floyd.  He is a real individualist with an unusual and provocative set of views--many informed by the kind of intense, personal vision of what the United States should be that children of immigrant families often have.

Ramaswamy has experienced the great wave of Wokeness first hand both in academia and in the business world.  He was at Harvard when Larry Summers was forced out as president after presenting data suggesting that actual differences between men and women might explain male predominance in academic science.  For reasons familiar to those who have read my autobiography, my opinion of Summers happens to much lower than his, but it was interesting to learn that Ramaswamy was a student representative on the committee charged with finding Summers' successor and that it was clear that the choice simply had to be a woman.  Then, in 2020-1, he was a CEO when corporate America jumped on the anti-racist bandwagon in the wake of George Floyd's murder.  He objected to this mainly on the grounds that the business of corporations, in his view, should be business, and that they serve their shareholders and employees by making money and serve the public by making useful products--just as universities should serve the public by providing excellent education at a reasonable cost. Thus he especially dislikes of "stakeholder capitalism"--a euphemism for adopting certain political causes--and the ESG funds that favor enterprises that profess proper environmental, social and governance goals.  Taking up popular woke causes, he argues convincingly, allows corporations and universities (on whom he spends much less time) to claim moral superiority without necessarily performing the tasks they are designed to do.  In addition, he argues that their new emphasis on diversity is really false and destructive, since it really values people who hold identical views about the importance of diversity and what it should mean--diversity based on race, gender, and sexual orientation--rather than diversity itself, which would include--if not emphasize--a diversity of views and perspectives.  

None of this is particularly original of course, but Ramaswamy's later chapters provide some new information about corporate America's policies and its relationship to wokeness that I found very striking.  One chapter deals with the way that major corporations such as movie studios and the National Basketball Association kowtow to Communist China to maintain access to its market.  Disney filmed Mulan in Xinjiang province despite the campaign of ethnic intimidation that the Chinese government is carrying out against the Uighurs there, but it announced that it would find it very difficult to film in Georgia if Georgia adopted new laws on voting procedures.  It also dropped a Tibetan character from another movie, Dr. Strange, when the Chinese objected since they do not recognize Tibet as a country,.  Air BnB has shared data on millions of users with the Chinese government.  When the general manager of the Houston Rockets tweeted in support of Hong Kong's democracy protesters, the NBA and several leading players denounced him and professed their love for China.  Perhaps, Ramaswamy suggests, gestures towards social justice activists at home can make up for damage to their image based on unsavory relationships abroad.  Both Google and Apple, he claims, have allowed Chinese surveillance agencies to use data they gather on users. 

Several chapters of the book deal with the growing power of social media to censor ideas, even in the midst of elections, and what might be done with it.  Ramaswamy in thee chapters puts his legal training to good use.  He is evidently a free speech absolutist and he is shocked that conservative voices, including of course Donald Trump, have simply been banned from these platforms.  He is equally angry that social media decided to block references to a New York Post story about Hunter Biden's lobbying activities at the height of the 2020 election campaign--a story that now seems to have been essentially true.  Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 gives them this power. On the one hand, it exempts the owners of social media platforms for liability for anything people use them to say; on the other, it immunizes them from liability for "any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively biolent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected. [emphasis added]."   This is, he argues, subcontracting censorship--and he cites some Supreme Court precedents stating that the federal government cannot in fact authorize private enterprise to take steps violating rights which the federal government cannot take itself.    Another extended legal argument from the book questions whether companies have the right to fire people simply for making statements that offend woke orthodoxy, such as the Google engineer who suggested that there might be reasons other than sexism why most coders were men.  Wokeness, he argues--echoing John McWhorter, whom he quotes--is really a religion, and the Supreme Court has ruled that one cannot be fired either because of his religion, or because he refuses to accept the religion of his employer.

The most eye-catching story in the book, to me, appeared in the Wall Street Journal in 2016.  Essentially, it explained that the Obama Administration's Justice Department had used its power to enrich nonprofits, including specifically leftist ones such as La Raza, the National Urban League, and the National Community Reinvestment Coalition.  The Justice Department lawyers who collected billions in settlements from the big investment banks after the financial crisis allowed them to pay off the fines at a discount by donating money to approved non-profits.  A $1.5 million Bank of America donation to La Raza, for instance, wiped out $3.5 million of debt. The settlements were supposed to go for "consumer relief," but very little of the money seems to have reached the consumers who lost their homes thanks to subprime mortgages.   Unfortunately the article, which appeared on August 28, 2016 (and which I read on Proquest, not the WSJ site) included only very incomplete data on this phenomenon.

Ramaswamy believes in the American ideal partly because he spent  many summers in India while his family's ancestral village was only beginning to experience modernity.  His own politics are not easy to discern.  Anti-wokesters like himself (and myself) cover most of the political spectrum.  He is very opposed to corporate influence upon politics, which he insists should be ruled by the voters, but I don't think he ever specifically comes out against corporate campaign contributions.  He believes inequality has gone much too far in the United States, but he doesn't say much about specific steps to undo it.  He does want some form of national service for all American youth--done mainly during summers in their high school years--and he realizes what was lost when the nation abandoned the military draft.  He wants producers to produce, schools to educate, and governments to try to meet the voters needs, and he believes, as I do, that all those things can be done much better without our current obsession about race and gender.  He belongs to a growing demographic himself, and evidence is mounting that many Asian and Hispanic Americans now reject wokeness too.  They may in fact turn out to be the critical swing voters in the next few elections.


 


5 comments:

Bozon said...

Professor
Great stuff! Thanks for writing it.
I have to read this post again!

Here was my classic note (expletives deleted) on how China handles us:

"Remember the very prominent Chinese so called artist who torched a huge Christmas tree in the middle of DC, for a distinguished and appreciative American audience?

"Michael Pillsbury referred to it in The Hundred Year Marathon."

All the best

Bozon said...

Professor

This paragraph:

"...None of this is particularly original of course, but Ramaswamy's later chapters provide some new information about corporate America's policies and its relationship to wokeness that I found very striking. One chapter deals with the way that major corporations such as movie studios and the National Basketball Association kowtow to Communist China to maintain access to its market. Disney filmed Mulan in Xinjiang province despite the campaign of ethnic intimidation that the Chinese government is carrying out against the Uighurs there, but it announced that it would find it very difficult to film in Georgia if Georgia adopted new laws on vot Both Google and Apple, he claims, have allowed Chinese surveillance agencies to use data they gather on users...." DK

he is obviously a patriotic Hindu racist re the Chinese, who very much look down on Hindus of whatever caste. Who can blame him! Gandhi had been a notorious racist re all Africans, even though he had lived and worked there.

All the best

Bozon said...

Professor

Here's another author....
Your friend Bacevich loves him.

He is a classic white, original sinner, Woke Stokely.
Daniel Sjursen.

All the best

Bozon said...

Professor
I would just put it this way:

His Wokeness account of American and European history is no less farcical than the Whig history, or the Whig military history story, it confronts.

His useful farcical account of American military history does not get remedied by his even more farcical Woke History as its solution.

All the best

Bozon said...

Professor

In contrast to Sjursen, good Wokeness red meat, whose work I read some of, I picked up Ramaswamy and almost instantly returned it to the library.

All the best