John McWhorter starts off with a bang - the current state of the far left is that it has been taken over by an evangelical religion. McWhorter doesn't say that it has been taken over by something "like" a religion - in his words "This new ideology is actually a religion in all but name and this explains why something so destructive and incoherent is attractive to so many good people". In other words this ideology has taken the place of a religion for so many people and it functions for all intents and purposes as a substitute for religion.
This contention makes tremendous amounts of sense when I think about religion in both it's most positive and negative connotations. Religion gives tremendous meaning to people's lives. The idea that our suffering on this earth can be redeemed through our thoughts and actions can give great comfort and motivation.
At the same time, the idea that those who are a member of a particular religion are in the "right" and as such they have a moral obligation to "spread the gospel". Because they do so with a sense of a moral imperitive they don't necessarily mind or bother thinking about any of the logical incongruencies of their tenets. For example; one tenet of the current belief is the idea that only white people can be racist because racist = power + prejudice. If you are part of a group that doesn't have "power" then you can't be racist. You can be individually prejudiced but you can't be racist. So according to this logic, the out of power Hutu majority, which over 100 days in 1994, brutally killed over a million of the Tutsi people. The fact that they hacked children apart with machetes wasn't an act of racism according to the logic of this religion because the Hutu's were out of the traditional power structure. The genocide they attempted to commit has to be considered "acts of individual prejudice".
This idea is clearly ludicrous on its surface. But if you were to bring this up to someone who strongly believes in these ideals you would likely get an eye roll and an attempt to shift the conversation if you were talking with someone who liked you. If you were talking with someone else you would likely get a response that would either strongly imply or directly state that this very line of questioning is racist.
This to me is the strongest indication that this worldview is religious in nature. There are questions in religion that are considered blasphemous; questioning authority of the word is blasphemy. There are certain words in religion that are considered "heretical" to say. Today there are words that used to be considered exceedingly vulgar and a sign of being low class. Those words today are considered so heretical that even saying their euphemistic versions can get you in trouble, as was the case in a law school where on a test the phrase "the N-Word" was written. Students complained about seeing that phrase exactly as I wrote it on a test and demanded that the test be invalidated because of the "trauma" of thinking about the phrase.
McWhorter contends that this religious revival is not good for the people who are in the "church of the woke" and that it is doubly harmful for the people that the church members are purportedly acting on their behalf. The fundamental premises that the church of the woke aspire to infantilizes black people and does not actually do anything to help them.
I completely agree with McWhorter. I am someone who cares tremendously about making visible and measurable progress. Constant talking about feelings doesn't make anything better. It might make someone feel good in the moment; tapping into the part of our brain responsible for getting pleasure from self righteousness is temporarily pleasurable for the individuals involved it is not good for the individual in the long run and it is especially bad for the people they are seeking to help out.
Because the reality is the so called "solutions" that the woke seek have not helped improve the disparities that we see between blacks and whites. Eliminating the SAT will not improve graduation rates among black people. Particularly black men. If people believe that the SAT is just inherently racist then why would they bother to study for the exam? Why would they bother to look at the fact that Asians do the best on the exam? Why would they bother to see that the average score for blacks has increased by 200 points since the late 90s, when only 70 black people nationwide scored above a 700 on the verbal section of the SAT? If the exam is irredemably racist how can we account for the improvement of a 700 combined score average in the mid 90s to a 930 average today? If the exam deliberately was seeking to keep people down then does that mean that the exam has failed to do so as the average score has increased significantly?
I think people prefer to keep discussions in the vague and nebulous specifically because they can keep the focus on feeling good. When you bring the discussion into the specifics it becomes hard to point a finger. This is why the strongest proponents of this religion continually seek to bring the discussion back to the vague and poorly defined idea of "systemic/institutional racism". It is a term that is supposedly loaded with meaning but can't be specifically defined.
McWhorter does offer some concrete proposals at the end of the book. He offers three specific proposals to help reduce inequity in America. His specific ideas are:
- End the war on drugs
- Teaching reading the right way - with a focus on phonics to help decrease the reading gap
- making vocational training as easy to achieve as college education
McWhorter contends that these three specific, measurable goals, will do more to address issues of inequity than any other moralizing or screaming or on campus demands ever will.
I think McWhorter is fundamentally right. His points are logically expressed and coherent. His suggestions for society are short and sweet and can be achieved if people were motivated by a desire to genuinely improve things instead of a motivation to point fingers.
I see that at a personal level very starkly. I took my students to Puerto Rico a few years ago for their senior trip. We purchased materials and helped three families build hurricane proof rooftops and flooring for their homes. In those three days we worked for hours in the hot sun to mix, move and pour cement. When we finished we had given three poor families in one of the poorest parts of the United States a safer place to live. This work was more valuable than any black squares on social media and had done more to measurably decrease inequity than any complaining and protesting they had done in school.
I read a couple of negative reviews of this book. It wasn't clear to me that any of the negative reviewers had actually read the book. They stuck to the word salad of vague accusations; none went so far as to call McWhorter a "race traitor" but they did say that he was catering to an audience of white people who hate attempts to "address the systemic inequities of the capitalist system in which we live". The fact that people don't accuse McWhorter of being racist is important - if McWhorter were white he would not be able to write this book without tremendous backlash. I very much doubt anyone would publish this book if it were written by a white guy.
The people that ought to read this book aren't going to read it. Nobody who is a member of the woke church will read this book because they have to keep their beliefs unchallenged in order to escape the cognitive dissonance that they would inevitably encounter when they realize they can't actually defend their ideas in an rational or evidence based manner.
But there are lots of people who should read this book - the people who are confused by the evangelical strength of their friends, who 4-5 years ago didn't ever talk about these topics. The people who care about inequity but don't think that this method is doing anything meaningful beyond some virtue signaling. These are the people that should read the book.
In my life I have encountered three different types of people who are drawn to the most progressive ideology:
The true believer - these people have found an identity and a community with people who are also identity focused. It is almost impossible to have any discussion with the true believer that doesn't one way or another come back to these issues. Like the die hard evangelical their religion is never more than a stones throw away. There is a spectrum to the true believer just like there is within religious communities. The religious person who doesn't push their religion on anyone but serves as an example is very different from the religious person who doesn't accept anything less than the most pious religious gestures are both part of the same religion but not necessarily practicing it the same way.
Dealing with the true believer can be tricky. It is easy to offend the true believer and they can seem to be spoiling for a fight. The most extreme true believer's share a belief that the entire "secular" world is inherently corrupt and that we need to destroy it all to bring about some kind of utopia. At a less extreme level you have people who believe that the secular world must be lived in but needs to be constantly called out.
The challenge for the true believer is that they tend to only get traction with the second group:
The guilty liberal - people who don't necessarily go in depth in learning about religion but want to feel like they are good people. I compare them to the C&E Christians who go to church twice a year. They consider themselves more "spiritual than religious". They are good people and want people to get along. They would like to see more fairness in the world. They don't necessarily explore these issues in depth but seem to be swayed by how strongly the religious woke feel. These are the people who have put their pronouns in their email signature and go along with whatever training is asked of them. They might question whether any of this stuff really works but they don't feel so strongly about this stuff that they will deeply question it.
This is the middle age gay white man who "knows he is racist because of his upbringing". This is the 30 year old yoga teacher who would like to get more diversity in her classes but isn't quite sure what to do.
This is the cash cow - this group will donate money to social justice causes mainly to assuage their guilt for their financial level of comfort in the world. They also want to signal that they are part of the "good whites" who care about racism. If you question their beliefs they will engage in an intellectual discussion but they are not likely to go so far as to say that the beliefs of the woke are illogical because that requires a kind of intellectual consistency and conviction that is hard to achieve. These are the people that donated nearly a hundred dollars to the parent group of BLM, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the ACLU, the NAACP, the UNCF and all of the other non profit organizations that need liberal money in order to survive.
I stopped posting my book reviews on social media specifically because people were angry that I had the nerve to even read these books. People told me that I shouldn't be reading Jordan Peterson because he is a sexist and a racist. When I asked them if they had read his book they told me that they hadn't but that "they didn't need to read Mein Kampf to know that it is a bad book".
So I won't likely publicly publish this review. I will publish it and let anyone read and discuss the ideas with me but frankly I think we are still too soon into this trend for anyone to objectively look at what they are doing. My hope is that we are getting close to a reversion to the mean - this energy can't sustain itself too much longer. I believe that when we get out of the government's mandates around the pandemic and people feel safer with moving back out in the world we will see a decrease in the overall demand for this race grifting that we have seen with Robin DiAngelo and Ibram Kendi and the like. Fingers crossed we can get to a moment where we are able to have real conversations about what issues are perpetuating different outcomes in communities without the specter of being accused of today's heresies keeping us from having these conversations.