Sunday, November 12, 2023

12: There are two other possible usages of the W-word

 There are two other possible usages of the W-word.

It might specifically refer to the belief-system I outlined above. If you think that we live in a white, male “Christian” world, and that literally everything either reinforces this state of affairs or contributes to its demolition, you are woke. If you disagree, then you are anti-woke.

Now, this definition has the great advantage of being true, or at any rate of being not entirely devoid of meaning. Little boys really are brought up to believe that pink is an effeminate colour and that effeminacy is bad. So the decision to sell nice chocolates with pink food colouring in them and to say that it’s fine—even cool—for little boys to eat them does in a tiny small way break down the idea that male is the natural, default state of humanity and that female is a weird deviation that any normal person would want to avoid. Pink Smarties really are, to that extent, and on that definition, woke. And Rowntrees very probably knew that when they added them to the Smartie tube. Casting Ncuti Gawa as Doctor Who is woke, in that it in a tiny almost insignificant incremental way pushes back at the idea that all the important and cool jobs would naturally and automatically be done by white people. Remembering to say eid mubarak to your Muslim colleagues is woke because it scratches away at the idea that “Christian” festivals (Christmas, Pancake Day, Easter, Saint Valentines Day, Whitsuntide, Guy Fawkes Night, All Hallows Eve) are neutral, universal, human festivals, where Eid and Yom Kippur and Diwali are alien and exotic and threatening—which in turn breaks down the idea that you would naturally expect white “Christians” to be in charge of everything. Pink Smarties and gay Doctors and inclusive festivals really do move us closer to the world that the so terrifies the Right—the world in which people are just people and the colour of your skin, the shape of your genitals and your word, if any, for God, don’t convey any particular advantage or disadvantage.

Many people seem to honestly believe that there is a man in a biscuit factory whose whole job is to make Wagon Wheels smaller.

It is perfectly natural to ascribe agency to things that you don’t like. If you get a wart on your nose and you don’t understand where warts come from then why not believe it was put there by that weird old lady who lives by herself with a broomstick and cat? (Before the invention of the Dyson bagless vacuum cleaner, every old lady owned a broomstick.) There are whole Facebook groups dedicated to talking about how much better television was in the Olden Days, which indeed it was, but it only takes a paragraph or two before “Wasn’t the Generation Game marvellous?” morphs into “Why did they cancel the Generation Game” and thence “Of course they banned the Generation Game because it wasn’t woke.”

We are familiar with the process:

-People are coining neologisms to make terminology more inclusive.

-Some of these neologisms are a bit silly.

-They won’t let me call cripples cripples any more.

-The Political Correctness Brigade won’t let me call cripples cripples any more.

-The Political Correctness Brigade is a front for the Cultural Marxists (which is to say, the Jews).

-The Cultural Marxists (which is to say, the Jews) are plotting to destroy civilisation.

-The idea that we should avoid demeaning language is part of a Jewish plot to destroy civilisation: it is more or less your patriotic duty to call disabled people cripples and dumb and spastics.

A man on the internet told me that Anti-Semitism means the belief that there is a secret cabal of Jews controlling the world, or at any rate trying to, and that terms like Globalist and the Rothschilds are coded Anti-Semitism.

Tropes about Jews having big noses, or being avaricious, or liking chicken soup—even blaming them for killing Jesus—are bigoted and racist and nasty, but they are not, strictly speaking Anti-Semitic.

This definition makes sense. Talk about the Israel Lobby controlling Hollywood or having too much influence over American foreign policy is Anti-Semitic. The Gringots Goblins, not so much. A statement is Anti-Semitic by virtue of the fact that it contains Anti-Semitic tropes: you don’t get to insinuate that Jews inveigle themselves into positions of power and then let yourself off the hook because some of your best friends are Jews. (Even if some of you best friends are, in fact, Jews.) Jeremy Corbyn may very well have been anti-racist (he was) and may very well have seen anti-Jewish bigotry as a particularly nasty form of racism (he did) but pictures of Jewish bankers playing Monopoly on the back of Africans are Anti-Semitic in themselves, and Anti-Semite is the name we give to people who disseminate those kinds of images.

But this isn’t the only way the word is ever used. If I say “Some people are reluctant to stage the musical Oliver! because Fagin is a bit of an Anti-Semitic caricature” then there would not be a great deal of point in saying “Har-har that’s not what the word even means.”

But it might be helpful to say “In what sense are you using that word?”

The narrower definition leads us into counter-intuitive positions. You could perfectly well attend synagogue every Sabbath, observe the high holy days, keep a kosher kitchen and also speak about the state of Israel in a way which implied the existence of a shadowy international plot: in which case you could perhaps be described as a Jewish Anti-Semite. Saying that many of the people who have been kicked out of the Labour party are themselves Jewish isn’t the “gotcha” I once thought it was.

Socialists think that rich people exploit the poor; and that banks and financial institutions are mostly run by rich people. They think that taking power away from the bankers and giving it to ordinary people would be a good thing. I think it overwhelmingly likely that when Corbyn disseminated images of the anti-Jewish mural he sincerely believed that he was disseminating an image of an anti-capitalist mural. That is certainly how I understood the image when it was first drawn to my attention. But once it was pointed out to me, I saw that the image was anti-Semitic whether I understood it or not.

Since Jews have been historically stereotyped as rich and greedy, there is a danger that any attack on rich, greedy people could be misinterpreted as an attack on Jews.

But equally, it is possible that genuine Anti-Semites might frame their propaganda as anti-banker or anti-landlord, in order to give themselves an air of plausible deniability.

And the bankers and landlords might accuse anyone being critical of them of being secret Jew-haters.

There is even a danger that we would start to say that socialism is in itself Anti-Semitic; and a person saying “there is no room for Anti-Semitism in this party” really meant “there is no room for socialism in this party.”

It would remain true that Anti-Semitism exists and that Anti-Semitism is horrible. On any definition.

This post forms part of an extended essay. 
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