Sometimes in politics, which currently saturates everything, worse is better. When a political craze based on a bad idea achieves a critical mass, one wants it to be undone by ridiculous excess. Consider the movement to scrub from the English language and the rest of life everything that anyone might consider harmful or otherwise retrograde.
Worse really is better in today’s America (if you will pardon that noun; some at Stanford University will not; read on) as the fever of foolishness denoted by the word “woke” now defies satire. At Stanford, a full-service, broad-spectrum educational institution, an “Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative” several months ago listed words to avoid lest they make someone feel sad, unsafe, disrespected or something. Problematic words include “American,” which suggests that America (this column enjoys being transgressive) is the most important country in North and South America. The list was quickly drenched by an acid rain of derision, and Stanford distanced itself from itself: The university’s chief information officer said the list was not a mandate. The list warns against using the “culturally appropriative” word “chief” about any “non-indigenous person.”
The University of Southern California’s school of social work banned the word “field” because it connotes slavery. So, Joe DiMaggio did not roam Yankee Stadium’s center field. Heaven forfend. Perhaps centerpasture. DiMaggio was a centerpasturer? An awkward locution, but it appeases the sensitivity police. The Chicago Cubs should henceforth play in Wrigley Meadow.
Such is the New York Times’s astonishment, last week the newspaper treated as front-page news the fact that few people like the term “Latinx.” The Times describes this as “an inclusive, gender-neutral term to describe people of Latino descent.” With “Latinx,” advanced thinkers, probably including hyper-progressive non-Latino readers of the Times, have exhausted the public’s tolerance of linguistic progressivism. Progressives’ bewildering new pronoun protocols ignited the laughter that “Latinx” intensified.
Back at Stanford, more than 75 professors are opposing the university’s snitching apparatus. The “Protected Identity Harm” system enables — actually, by its existence, it encourages — students to anonymously report allegations against other students, from whom they have experienced what the system calls “harm because of who they are and how they show up in the world.”
The PIH website breathlessly greets visitors: “If you are on this website, we recognize that you might have experienced something traumatic. Take a sip of water. Take a deep breath.” PIH recently made national news when someone reported the trauma of seeing a student reading Hitler’s “Mein Kampf.”
The professors urge Stanford to avoid “a formal process that students could construe as some sort of investigation into protected speech, or that effectively requires them to admit their protected expression was problematic. Instead, Stanford can support students who are sensitive to speech without involving the speaker.” Perhaps by gently shipping those who are “sensitive to speech” to a Trappist monastery.
Early in the Cold War, some colleges and universities were pressured to require faculty to sign loyalty oaths pledging they were not members of the Communist Party. Liberals honorably led the fight against such government-enforced orthodoxy. Today, liberals are orthodoxy enforcers at the many schools that require applicants for faculty positions to write their own oaths of loyalty to today’s DEI obsession.
They must express enthusiasm for whatever policies are deemed necessary to promote “diversity, equity and inclusion.” Fortunately, the Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina recently joined a growing movement to ban requiring DEI statements in hiring and promotion processes, a recoil against aggressive wokeness.
Being dead, Roald Dahl is spared watching woke editors inflict on his children’s books what Meghan Cox Gurdon, writing in the Wall Street Journal, calls “social-justice blandification.” To make them “inclusive,” Dahl’s edited characters are no longer “fat” or “ugly” or anything else that might harm readers. The derisive laughter you hear is from parents who know how unwoke their children are in their enjoyment of vividly, sometimes insultingly, presented fictional characters.
A story is told of a revolutionary socialist who was strolling with a friend when they encountered a beggar. The friend began to hand a few coins to the mendicant, but the revolutionary stopped him, exclaiming: “Don’t delay the revolution!” The socialist thought worse would be better. More social misery would mean more social upheaval. “Arise ye prisoners of starvation” and all that.
In America (take that, Stanford), the worse wokeness becomes, the better. Wokeness is being shrunk by the solvent of the laughter it provokes.