Words Are More Fluid Than Gender

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I'm strangely fascinated by the (what I'll call) the War on Woke. No, not the effort to combat the lefty ideology; I'm all for that. I'm talking about the squabble over what the word means.

Here's Samuel Mangold-Lenett at the Federalist, with his observation on the fray: Saying 'Woke' Is Bad For The Left's Brand, And Libs Can't Stand It.

Woke-ism is simultaneously a persistent ideological framework and a general inclination — it depends on the person or institution in question at the time. But both rely upon a consistent smorgasbord of Marxian dialectics and ideological accouterment — gender theory, critical race theory, et al. — that seeks to usurp the ideals of the American founding and impose contemporary whims. 

The word has become as commonplace among the current-day conservative movement as MAGA hats and “lock her up” chants were at 2016 Trump rallies. And this is, to be fair, totally warranted; what other slogany-sounding word really works as a catch-all for what leftism has become?

Sure, it would help if the right had a more tactical approach to diagnosing and labeling each and every radical change introduced to our society at breakneck speed, but that’s not how people work. The right can and should identify the unique threats of identitarian Marxism, managerialism, and contemporary Lysenkoism, but is labeling all of these things useful?

Using “woke” as a catch-all label for radical leftism is effective. That’s one of the major reasons why the left hates it. They lost complete control of the English language, and the word they used to indicate their radicalism to one another is being used to expose that radicalism to the rest of the world.

Woke-ism is an intentionally ambiguous framework that is meant to keep out interlopers and reward its advocates. Therefore, simply describing it as what it is, is anathema to those who wish for its intentions to remain ambiguous.

Simply saying “woke” works.

And then there's Thomas Chatterton Williams, claiming (in the Atlantic): You Can’t Define Woke.

As I was preparing to go onstage for an event recently, the moderator warned my co-panelist and me that the very first prompt would be “Please define the word woke for the audience.” We all sighed and laughed. It’s a fraught task, requiring qualification and nuance, because woke has acquired what the French philosopher Raymond Aron termed “subtle,” or “esoteric,” and “literal,” or “vulgar,” interpretations. Put simply, social-justice-movement insiders have different associations and uses for the word than do those outside these progressive circles. Before you can attempt to define what “wokeness” is, you should acknowledge this basic fact. Going further, you should acknowledge that as with cancel culture, critical race theory, and even structural racism, the contested nature of the term imposes a preemptive barrier to productive disagreement.

Merriam-Webster offers this definition: “aware of and actively attentive to important societal facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).” That’s not bad so far as it goes, and there is a secondary definition that encapsulates the “vulgar” (or common) understanding that the attention is excessive: “disapproving: politically liberal (as in matters of racial and social justice) especially in a way that is considered unreasonable or extreme.” But neither adequately conveys the implication that the point of the attention is fundamentally to remake society. Progressives sometimes exploit these ambiguities to accuse the “anti-woke” side of rejecting near-consensus beliefs, such as the need to call out and remedy actual instances of racism.

Tom, I think this means that Merriam-Webster is swimming in the lefty ocean. But that's OK. Does it bother you that you're writing for a publication too woke to employ Kevin D. Williamson?

I also liked (of course) Jonah Goldberg who wants to be Hitting Rewind on ‘Woke’. He makes the point that words are slippery, with the classic example of literally coming to mean, essentially not literally. (Don't believe me? Say hello to my friends at Merriam-Webster, definition two.)

But here's the thing:

[W]ords are all we’ve got. As humans, among all our comparative evolutionary advantages—opposable thumbs, walking upright, evaporative sweat, omnivorous teeth, etc.—words have to be near the top. Words turn experiences into transferable lessons and rules; they let us explain how to do things—or avoid doing other things—without actually having to do them first. Words are crucial to explaining where the sabretooth tigers are. And man, when we figured out how to put words in books, we really took off as a species. We use words to tell ourselves who we are and who we should be. Try explaining how to build a nuclear reactor without words—take my word for it, it’s hard. Longest game of charades, ever!

There's more. Check it out.

Briefly noted:

  • George Will welcomes our new economic ideology: With the Silicon Valley Bank rescue, welcome to capitalism without risk.

    In 1994, President Clinton’s certitudes included these: By 2000, America’s high school graduation rate would be 90 percent (it is still not) and students would be among the world’s best in math and science (they are not). Such blithe thinking frequently caused Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan to lament “the leakage of reality from American life.” Today, the leakage is a torrent.

    Silicon Valley Bank ($209 billion in assets) was America’s 16th-largest bank, only 6.5 percent the size of the largest (JPMorgan Chase, $3.2 trillion) and 2.3 percent the size of the four largest combined ($9.1 trillion). Yet SVB’s death-by-mismanagement supposedly posed a “systemic risk” to the financial system? Joe Biden’s administration evidently thinks this system is as perishable as it believes the planet is. If everything is brittle, politicians have endless crises to justify aggrandizing their powers.

    The law limits government guarantees to deposits only up to $250,000. Legal limits, however, cannot inhibit a president who thinks he can unilaterally scatter $400-plus billion with student loan forgiveness. So, suddenly there is an implicit guarantee of all deposits. Biden says the bailout of depositors at failed banks will be paid by fees on other banks, and — leakage alert — the cost will not be passed on to anyone.

    We are living in Robert Higgs-land, specifically the one described in Crisis and Leviathan.

  • In case you need the lesson, David Henderson describes Why Bailing Out SVB Is A Bad Idea.

    On CBS’s Sunday morning interview show, Face the Nation, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen stated clearly that the federal government would not bail out the failed Silicon Valley Bank. Many of us took that to mean that there would be no bailout. But Yellen said in the same interview that the feds would try to meet the needs of depositors. Translation: there would be a bailout, not of the shareholders of SVB, but of depositors. This would include those whose deposits were above the FDIC-insured limit of $250,000.

    The bailout is a terrible idea. It increases moral hazard. It creates uncertainty about the rules. And it suggests to participants in a market economy that if they have ins with the people in power, they will get special treatment. The bailout adds, in short, to what philosophical novelist Ayn Rand called the “aristocracy of pull.”

    Read on as David elaborates on that argument.

  • And, oh yeah: the Usual Suspects are on board to tout turning the Regulation Dial back up to eleven. Bring back Glass-Steagall! At Reason, Elizabeth Nolan Brown suggests that's pointless and stupid: New Financial Regulations Won't Stop the Next Bank Collapse.

    But guess whose pic illustrates ENB's article! Our state's senior senator, Jeanne Shaheen!

    "Moderate Senate Democrats who voted to loosen regulations on midsize banks in 2018 are standing by their votes in the wake of Silicon Valley Bank's collapse, joining Republicans in resisting enhanced scrutiny for financial institutions," reports Sahil Kapur at NBC News:

    Sens. Tom Carper, D-Del., and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., both said they stand by their votes for the 2018 deregulatory bill.

    "It's early. I think we need to complete the investigation of what actually happened at Silicon Valley Bank. All the regulation in the world isn't going to fix bad management practices, and it appears that that's one of the problems at SVB," Shaheen said, while keeping the door open to revisiting the bill if the findings sway her….

    Asked whether the 2018 bill was a mistake, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., responded: "I would say no. The work that I did on it was targeted toward small banks and toward rural banks."

    Sen. Mark Warner (D–Va.) also defended the 2018 rollback while appearing on ABC's This Week last Sunday. "I think it put in place an appropriate level of regulation on midsize banks," he said.

    When Jeanne is a lonely voice of sanity, we've gone pretty far left.

Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:29 AM EDT