How Kehinde Andrews' "Psychosis of Whiteness" helps to explain the psychology of this.
Great piece. I applaud you for diving into this very nuanced and difficult subject.
I grew up as a Catholic. Sundays were even more dreaded than Mondays. In the morning we'd be shuffled reluctantly out of the house, without breakfast, to sit and listen to some magic mantras being intoned for what seemed like an eternity.
Monday was a bit different - we'd have to sit and listen to some equally boring stuff about the Romans or trigonometry. But at least it made sense.
As I grew older, I questioned the Catholic doctrines more closely. I tried to understand something like the Trinity (which is not exclusively Catholic, it has to be said) and even read some very clever theologians try to explain it using big words and complicated sentences. Understanding and comprehension never dawned for me, because something like the Trinity is, fundamentally, nonsensical - God the Son is different from God the Father, but simultaneously the same thing.
I had lots of "could you just run that one by me again?" kind of moments.
I find myself in an almost identical position when trying to understand 'woke'.
There's a kind of "surface" reasonableness to many of the ideas, but they just fall away and vanish when examined closely. White privilege? OK - that sounds like it might be something. How do I measure it? How much of it do I have? How do I know when it no longer operates? How close are we to getting rid of it? And so on and so on.
It's the same with the word 'gender' - which I do not understand. The definitions seem to be an attempt to capture the "performative" elements expected of one's sex - but then how do we apply the definitions to understand things like non-binary, or demigirl? Both are recognized genders, but what IS gender? With a word like "tree" I have many examples of different kinds of tree - and I could tell you what a tree IS. But, even though there are many 'examples' of different genders, I can't tell you what gender IS. It's some kind of inner feeling that you are a particular gender, right? OK - what is that thing, that gender, that you're feeling? Give me a definition of gender that works for every example of gender.
What is "whiteness"? What are its properties? How much of it do I have? How much of it do I still have left to get rid of? Is it a property of society or an individual - because it seems it has been applied to both? An individual is said to be able to "enact" whiteness.
I struggle to make real sense of any of it.
During my time as a uni lecturer I used to have to explain some relatively complicated theorems to my students. So, we'd have a theorem like the parallel axis theorem which allows us to work out moments of inertia (this is a quantity that determines how much "resistance" there is to being rotated). It's quite hard to understand it when just presented with the formal theorem. So what do we do? We look at examples. We *apply* the theorem - and the students begin to see what the theorem means. If I adopt this kind of approach with a lot of "woke" terminology, I just get nowhere.
Take something like "whiteness". This is assumed to be a *thing* with a set of defined properties (which could be fuzzy). If it's a meaningful thing, then "not thing" is also a meaningful concept. Presumably, for someone like Andrews, *everything* in society, including some individuals, are entangled with this thing. The aim is to re-work society so that it is based on "not thing" rather than "thing". What are the characteristics of "not thing"? Just the logical complement of "thing"? Strictly speaking, yes, but how does one go about ensuring that everything is based on "not thing" and how do we know how much progress we have made in reducing the influence of "thing"?
There's nothing to get hold of, so to speak. There's no substance - the cloth is so fine that it looks like you're naked when you try to wear clothes made of it.
It's as frustrating as all hell, because these ideas have taken root and you can barely read any "humanities" papers without being confronted by a torrent of these vague and insubstantial terms which operate as a kind of buzzword list to demonstrate one is a member of the group of "right thinkers".
People are being classed as *legitimate* members of some group based not only on their boring and immutable characteristics (things like skin tone, eyebrow length, who they sleep with etc - the eyebrow thing was sarcasm) but also on whether they subscribe to some set of ideas based around a terminology/ideology that makes little sense when closely examined.
It's the Trinity all over again, for me.
There's nothing new in this observation at all - but it is a religion in all but name.
Helen, your voice and perspective are calm, even, and clear. Thank the Higher Power(s) that we have you in this conversation!
Wow, exceptionally powerful writing Helen. I find Andrew's views truly chilling and ironically reflect the sort of rhetoric seen in true white supremacists.
Fundamentally we are all humans prone to eons old psychological traps. To put it in a Jungian frame, any ideology risks projecting one's own, and humanity's, shadow onto an exterior evil (Satan, Whiteness, The Patriarcy, The Bourgeious etc. ) such that any action, opinion or behaviour one does not like is pinned to this external evil (often invisible) entity.
I loved your comparison of Woke and Red Pilled. I often think the parable of the blind men and the elephant is so useful for understanding our differences. To take the elephant allegory further when someone "sees the light" etc. they believe what they believed before was wrong and what they believe now is the truth whereas all they have usually done is metaphorically moved from the leg of the elephant ("this is a tree") to the tail ("this is a snake") with out seeing that they are looking at the same beast from 2 different angles with many truths and many false assumptions in both.
I will quickly counter point my only tiny criticism which is I would not imply conservatism is a bad way of thinking, it depends on what values one is aiming to conserve. Some could call you Conservative by wanting to conserve enlightenment liberalism (which is admirable BTW!)
Anyway, that's my ramble you inspired. You continue to be one of the best voices of liberalism and reason out there.