Monday, November 13, 2023

13: I take it that this was the fork on which Diane Abbot wilfully impaled herself.

I take it that this was the fork on which Diane Abbot wilfully impaled herself.

In a lot of liberal discourse, racism doesn’t mean bigotry or prejudice in general; it specifically means white supremacy. Race specifically refers to the distinction between former colonial powers and former colonised people; between former slaves and former slave owners. It is, as a children’s book I have read helpfully puts it, a story made up by white people to make them feel less bad about the bad things which other white people have done in the past.

A Jew can’t, on this definition, be the victim of racism any more than a Chinese person can be the victim of Anti-Semitism. Which is not at all the same thing as saying that chucking bricks through the windows of your local takeaway is perfectly okay.

Once the distinction was explained to me, I fully grasped it and saw it as valid. This is why I no longer wish to celebrate being white--because white means “a descendent of the people who treated Black people as livestock and industrial machinery” and Black (on this definition) means “a descendent of one of the people who was so treated”.

But I can perfectly well celebrate being a Bristolian of Kernow/Cockney heritage.

Interpreting “you can’t be racist towards Jews” as meaning “anti-Jewish bigotry is perfectly fine” is at best a wilful misunderstanding and at worst a pun.

But sending a letter to a national newspaper and not realising that the statement is inflammatory is not very bright; particularly when you are a prominent political figure.

Discussing whether or not the letter was inflammatory is also quite inflammatory, which is one of the reasons I no longer write articles of this kind.

“Asking what woke means is a woke deflection strategy used by woke people who won’t admit that woke things are woke. Woke is much too complicated an idea to explain in a single sentence, but by Trump, I know it when I see it.”

It is, in fact, perfectly possible to define complicated ideas in short sentences.

--“The branch of Christianity which holds that people are predestined to go to heaven or hell, and which emphasises the moral virtue of hard work.”

--“A political movement that believes that the state should control all the resources and share them fairly among the people.”

--“A theory of literature which holds that books contain meanings other than the ones the writer consciously intended.”

--“The Son is God, the Father is God, the Holy Ghost is God: the Son is not the Father or the Holy Spirit; the Father is not the Holy Spirit or the Son; the Holy Spirit is not the Son or the Father.”

Well: okay, maybe not the last one.

But we shouldn’t try to hold the far-right to a single definition of woke, any more than we can hold Diane Abbot to a single definition of racism.

There is no shame in sometimes using the w-word as synonym for “liberal” and at other times using it to mean “a person who believes the theory race is a story made up by white people to justify them being in charge of everything.” And it would perhaps be fairer if people like me asked “In what sense are you using the word?” rather than “What does the word mean?”

Meaning is not singular and texts require exegesis. The meaning of Lord of the Rings is not limited to what Tolkien meant by it, “but what did Tolkien mean by Lord of the Rings?” is a perfectly good question.

I don’t think Brian Michael Bendis created Miles Morales because he wanted to dismantle white supremacy.

I think he thought that “the death of Spider-Man” was a cool idea for a story that could be tried out in Ultimate Spider-Man without harming a half-century of mainstream Marvel continuity. I think he thought that Spider-Man is quintessentially a New Yorker and there are a lot of Hispanic people in New York so it would be a fun twist if Peter Parker’s replacement was a young Puerto-Rican. Peter Parker was, like his creators, very probably a non-religious Jew.

Brian Michael Bendis wasn’t part of a shadowy conspiracy, nor was he operated by a mysterious cabal of Cultural Marxists. Ultimate Spider-Man and Into The Spiderverse are not, in that sense, woke.

But, if you already believe that white supremacy is a good thing and ethnic representation is a bad thing then the Miles Morales character flies in the face of your ideology. He says, by his very existence, that not all heroes and protagonists are necessarily white. There is no reason for him to be Hispanic—the stories aren’t particularly about his ethnicity—but he surely sends a message to minority kids that they can be superheroes too.

When you say that Ultimate Spider-Man is woke, I am entitled to ask “In what sense are you using the word?”

Do you mean that the writer is part of a shadow conspiracy to dismantle white supremacy?

Or is woke merely the word you use to describe stories which feature non-white characters?

Is there a literal cabal of cultural Marxists who surreptitiously hide liberal ideas in superhero comics?

Or is woke simply the word you use to describe liberal ideas?

Does the Woke Mob exist?

Or are they simply a figure of speech?

If people believe the devil exists, then some of them will become satanists and black magicians.

But hardly any of them will become atheists, and lots of them will be forewarned against possible diabolical temptations.

If people don’t believe in the devil, then it is easier for the devil to tempt them into mortal sin and easier to make them deny God as well. But on the down side, hardly any of them will become witches or devil worshippers.

So argues Screwtape in a letter to his nephew.

But Hell, he says, is developing it’s ultimate weapon; the Materialist Magician, the human who worships Satan but doesn’t believe that Satan exists. When this is achieved, he says, victory in the war against Heaven will be in nearly won.

It isn’t clear if C.S Lewis had seen the Usual Suspects when he wrote this line. He’d probably read Baudelaire: he’d read everything. He’s mainly scoring a cheap point against people like Bernard Shaw and HG Wells who didn’t believe in God but were prepared to talk about a pantheistic life-force; and perhaps also against soft-scientists like Freud and Jung who sometimes drifted into mystical and religious language.

The Woke Mob doesn’t exist: any more than the Political Correctness Brigade or the Social Justice Warriors exist. I suppose that if members of the Democratic Party were really baby-eating-alien-space-lizards there would be a way of finding out; say by running a midichlorian count or pointing Rom’s energy analyser at them. 

There really was an American Communist party in the 1950s and some of its members really did carry cards.

If there is no actually existing organisation you can prove controls the colour of chocolate beans and the configurations of public toilets, then the word woke is no use to you. It’s just one more synonym for liberal. “Liberal things are liberal because they are liberal” is not a great rallying call. We fear the Woke Mob and the Political Correctness Brigade and the Social Justice Warriors because they have power and agency and malicious intent.

But they don’t exist. There is no shadowy confederacy of Jews plotting the downfall of civilisation from a secret Volcano base in Frankfurt. There is no man in an office painting the Smarties pink.

But suppose you could both believe in the Woke Mob and not believe in it?

Suppose it was a real malign entity, distinct from people whose opinions just happen to be to the left of yours?

Suppose it was like the voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Doctor Strange’s Ectoplasmic Self?

Suppose that it was like the tongues of fire at Pentecost.

Free floating. Invisible. Malignant. Real.

This post forms part of an extended essay. 
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