Andrew Sullivan published a piece Friday which I didn’t see until today. The gist of it is a reflection on the ways in which we’re living through George Orwell’s nightmare at this point. Not the full dystopia of his novel 1984 but at least the kind of abuse of language that was key to the control of that dystopia. He focuses specifically on a paragraph from this Change.org petition demanding that the staff at a top medical journal be reeducated with regard to anti-racism. Here’s the graph in question:
The podcast and associated promotional message are extremely problematic for minoritized members of our medical community. Racism was created with intention and must therefore be undone with intention. Structural racism has deeply permeated the field of medicine and must be actively dissolved through proper antiracist education and purposeful equitable policy creation. The delivery of messages suggesting that racism is non-existent and therefore non-problematic within the medical field is harmful to both our underrepresented minoritized physicians and the marginalized communities served in this country.
If you skipped over that, go back and at least try to read it. If you’ve spent any time online you’re probably already familiar with the genre of woke sermonizing this represents. But Sullivan takes a close look at the language which is pretty interesting:
This paragraph is effectively dead, drained of almost any meaning, nailed to the perch of pious pabulum. It is prose, in Orwell’s words, that “consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house.”
It is chock-full of long, compounded nouns and adjectives, riddled with the passive voice, lurching and leaning, like a passenger walking the aisle on a moving train, on pre-packaged phrases to keep itself going…
Part of the goal of this is political, of course. The more you repeat words like “proper antiracist education” or “systemic racism” or “racial inequity” or “lived experience” or “heteronormativity,” the more they become part of the landscape of words, designed to dull one’s curiosity about what on earth any of them can possible mean. A mass of ideological abstractions, in Orwell’s words, “falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outlines and covering up all the details.”
Then this: “Racism was created with intention.” Abstract noun, passive voice, vague meaning. Who “created” it? What was the intention exactly? Hasn’t racist tribalism been a feature of human society for tens of thousands of years? They never say.
The paragraph from the petition is badly written but it’s not unique. There’s a lot of this sort of thing out there these days. It’s not designed to communicate anything specific other than resistance to any message that would dare to undercut the centrality of racism and the oppressor-oppressed dynamic which is at the core of wokeness. You could really take this paragraph and replace “medical” with any other field. “The podcast and associated promotional message are extremely problematic for minoritized members of our fan fiction community” would work just as well. Sullivan concludes the solution to this sort of vaguery is to force the people using this language to be more specific:
When someone calls American society “white supremacy”, ask them how you could show that America is not a form of “white supremacy”. When someone uses the word “Latinx”, ask them which country does that refer to. When someone says something is “problematic”, ask them to whom? When you’re told you’re meeting with members of the BIPOC or AANHPI communities, ask them first to translate and then why this is in any way relevant, and why every single member of those communities are expected to have the same opinion.
The nature of wokeness is that it frames all of these debates in such a way that there’s no escape from the pre-ordained conclusion. By forcing the jargon of the woke university professor on all of us, they attempt to force us to accept the same narrow view of the world. At some point, you just have to refuse to be bullied into silence by their threats. But it’s not easy when you know any resistance will be taken as proof of guilt.