Bullies are everywhere to be found: on the right, on the left, and everywhere between; amongst the libertarian, the religious, the atheist, the gay, the straight, the rich, the poor, and everywhere else. That being said, some of the worst bullies are to be found on the progressive left. Perhaps this is because they think of themselves as being, almost by definition, anti-bully.
As C.S. Lewis rightly observes in God in the Dock (1971): “Of all the tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
For many people, myself included, the first step in dealing with a progressive bully is to recognize that they exist. Just because someone’s committed to social justice doesn’t mean they’re socially just. Notorious bullies have been known to lead anti-bullying campaigns. I recently had to part ways with an old friend over this very issue. He was always a bit of a bully, even when we were kids. But his engagement with online progressive politics has brought those tendencies out like never before. He’s become an abusive asshole who thinks the fact that he’s right gives him the right to be nasty and disrespectful.
He’s alienated at least a dozen old friends and family members, and he’s clearly unhappy, maybe even depressed. Yet he keeps on this miserable path, in part, because he has a cloud of online sycophants who Facebook-like every stupid thing he says: the meaner the better. What he doesn’t seem to realize is that none of these people are real friends. He’s never met these people and they have no intention of meeting him. When he was in the hospital last year, none of them came to visit him. It was his real friends, the ones he keeps alienating with his zealotry, who came to see him.
I’ve learned some valuable lessons from my fraught interactions with this angry little man, and others of his stamp, lessons which may prove useful to you: namely, beware of kafkatrapping, avoid orgies of self-flagellation, prepare for charges of gaslighting and mansplaining, prepare to be told that you need to check your privilege, and know what kind of person you’re dealing with.
(1) Beware of Kafkatrapping: The Urban Dictionary defines “kafkatrap” as follows: “To accuse someone of some form of ism (sexism, racism, etc.) and proclaim that their denial, or any attempt they make to defend themselves, is proof that they are guilty.” Progressive bullies seem to delight in kafkatrapping, as it’s their preferred strategy of attack in Social Media Land. So you should be prepared for it. Just as schoolyard bullies tell you to move your hands out of the way so they can punch you in the face, progressive bullies hurl abuse at you and then accuse you of “white fragility” if you refuse to passively accept it. The irony of an utterly offensive person telling the person they’re offending to stop being so defensive never seems to occur to them. Regardless, if you find yourself in this situation, bear in mind that you have a right to defend yourself. Remember, too, that the kafkatrapper’s circular argument is more or less absurd. Just as a net that catches the whole sea isn’t much of a net, an argument that explains everything isn’t much of an argument.
(2) Avoid Orgies of Self-Flagellation: Progressive bullies will want you to cower and debase yourself in their presence. Do not comply with this demand. If you’re invited to one of those orgies of self-flagellation which are so fashionable, at present, in certain circles, decline it. You can learn from others and listen respectfully without checking your self-respect at the door. If the working-class neighborhood I grew up in taught me anything, it’s that there’s no upside to walking around with a “KICK-ME” sign you put on your own back. As Omar puts in The Wire: “If you act like a little bitch, people gonna treat you like a little bitch.”
(3) Prepare to be Accused of Gaslighting: If you stand up to a progressive bully, you’ll eventually be accused of gaslighting. So you should probably know what it is. Gaslighting is an interpersonal conspiracy theory popular amongst consumers of self-help literature and pop-psychology. The word is derived from the classic thriller Gaslight (1944). In the movie, a creepy sociopath tries to make his new wife believe that she’s losing her mind. Just as there are real conspiracies in the world, there are real gaslighters in the world. But the circular reasoning employed by those who habitually accuse others of gaslighting makes it hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. Accusing someone of gaslighting is like accusing someone of witchcraft. There’s no way for the accuser to be wrong. If the accused denies it, or attempts to defend themselves in any way, this is proof that they are guilty.
(4) Prepare to be Accused of Mansplaining: If you’re a dude, and you dare to stand up to a progressive bully, you’ll eventually be accused of mansplaining. So you should probably know what that is too. Rebecca Solnit’s description of “mansplaining” is clear, precise, and painfully accurate. I’ve witnessed it first-hand on numerous occasions. For instance, I once watched two clueless dudes take it upon themselves to school my wife in the intricacies of climate change politics at a dinner party. These guys—whose entire knowledge of the subject was, we later on discovered, based upon one TED Talk and last Sunday’s New York Times—continued to tell her “what’s what” even after I told them that she was an expert on the subject! Even after she’d made it abundantly clear to everyone within earshot that she was indeed an expert on the subject! Even after she’d also made it abundantly clear that these guys had no idea what the fuck they were talking about! So yeah, I get it: mansplaining is a real thing. And it is indeed obnoxious.
But you’ve gotta demonstrate that you’re being mansplained, you’ve gotta demonstrate that you know what you’re talking about; you can’t just assert it. As my friend Jed Trott puts it: “There is no problem with the idea of mansplaining but it requires an argument. You can’t just drop it and walk away from it like a fart in an elevator.” Dropping the mansplaining bomb in Social Media Land has become sort of like saying: “Hmm, that sounds just like something Hitler would say.” Those who wield this weapon no longer feel the need to justify their claims. What they want, what they’ve come to expect, is automatic deference. Calling people out for mansplaining has become little more than a progressive bullying technique, yet another convenient way to silence critics and shut down debate.
(5) Prepare to be Told that You Need to Check Your Privilege: This expression was once uttered in the spirit of John 8:7, wherein Jesus famously tells a group of men who are about to stone a woman to death: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” But it’s now uttered in precisely the kind of sanctimonious spirit Jesus despised: the self-righteous spirit of the Pharisees, who love to perform their good works “on the street corners to be seen by others.” These days, the person who says “check your privilege” is in all likelihood little more than a progressive bully who’s trying to silence you.
(6) Beware of Rhetorical Gerrymandering: Imagine if you and I lived in the same neighborhood and commuted across town to the same workplace every day. You have a car. I do not. You drive to and from work everyday. I take the bus. Now imagine that you and I sign a contract wherein you agree to “give me a lift” in 2019 for $500. Being American, you think you just agreed to a carpooling arrangement. But, unbeknownst to you, I was surreptitiously referring to the British definition of “lift” (that is, elevator). When this eventually became clear, would you honor your commitment? Would you build me an elevator in 2019 for the bargain-basement price of $500? Of course not. You’d quite rightly maintain that you never would have agreed to those terms if you’d known what I meant by “lift”. When activists engage in this sort of sleazy wordplay, I refer to it as rhetorical gerrymandering.
Rhetorical gerrymandering is a practice intended to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group by unilaterally redefining the borders of a word’s meaning. Here’s how it’s done: (i) Begin with a word, phrase, or concept like “racism” or “hate speech” that (a) has a commonly understood meaning, and (b) is commonly understood to be good or evil. (ii) Sneak in a weird, atypical definition (e.g., racism is only racism when certain people do it, hate speech is only hate speech when it’s about certain people, etc.). (iii) Now claim that anyone who is against this thing that is commonly understood to be evil, or for this thing that is commonly understood to be good, must agree with your policy proposal, analysis, etc. It’s a clever hustle. Beware of it.
Today’s Freedom Fighter, Tomorrow’s Tyrant
We entertain all sorts of illusions about ourselves when we’re watching a movie like The Hunger Games (2015): that’s part of the fun. Among other things, we tell ourselves that we’d be brave and courageous in similar circumstances, that we’d be the Teflon Hero with a heart of gold who manages, against all odds, to stay human through it all. But anyone with any knowledge of military history, or some first-hand experience with war, laughs at these presumptions. They know that it’s very hard to resist the urge to become a demon when you live in Hell, just as it’s very hard to resist the urge to dehumanize those who systematically dehumanize you.
This is precisely why Gayle Hawthorne’s character is so disturbing. He’s what I have often feared I would become in such a situation. He’s probably what you’d become too. President Alma Coin is, for me, even more disturbing. Because if Gayle represents a likely psychological future, Coin represents a likely political future. She’s a depressingly familiar character in the story of our species: namely, the freedom fighter of today who becomes the tyrant of tomorrow.
Look at those in Social Media Land who most loudly proclaim the Gospel of Liberation, and look carefully, because tomorrow’s tyrants will be chosen from among their ranks. There are wolves hiding in that flock, and we need to identify them, so we can see to it that they’re never given any kind of serious power. But how? How do we spot them? Well, as Gayle Hawthorne’s story arc makes clear, it’s not always easy, because brutalized sheep can, at times, become wolves. What’s more, there are now, as there have always been, wolves in sheep’s clothing. But my guess is that the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing is actually quite rare. Most wolves are rather easy to spot.
If you want to know who’s going to be a tyrant in power, pay attention to who walks and talks like a tyrant out of power. If you want to know how a freedom fighter’s going to rule tomorrow, pay attention to how they deal with people who disagree with them today. As Maya Angelou wisely cautions: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” Progressive bullies keep showing us who they really are. We need to listen to them. We need to believe them the first time. And we need to beware of them.
The New York Times endorsement of both Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar for president has been lauded and critiqued, but no take is quite as inane and Lauren Duca’s. Writing for The Independent, Duca takes an essential tack linking womanhood with virtuosity, love, nurturing, and maternal values. These are what Duca believes we need in the highest office, and apparently qualities which are the purview of women at large.
Duca believes that women will bring “unconditional love” to the conference table. She thinks women have less greed and avarice, and that while “the divine feminine is beyond that binary, best understood as the force of nurturing,” gender is a social construct.
It’s surprising that both of these views can exist concurrently within one cohesive ethos. Gender isn’t real, apparently, because it’s made up by society to sell us prescribed notions for what men and women are, but femininity brings with it a form of divinity that is localized within women and those who believe they are women, even though womanhood isn’t really anything specific. Are we all clear? No?
Duca opines: “America, as it stands, is not even pretending to be a free country. We are living in an oligarchy structured by the hierarchy of the white, supremacist patriarchy, and this is where toxic masculinity has led us.”
How can a person of such privilege, who gets to write for fancy platforms, teach adjunct classes, and traipse around the world on tour for a book that doesn’t even sell any copies, claim that America is not a free country? How can a person who has benefited so greatly precisely because of her status as an identitarian grievance monger make the assertion that we live in a white supramacist oligarchy? Isn’t this all getting a little old?
Under the guise of elevating women, Duca puts them right back in their place. Probably she thinks she’s lifting women up by saying that they can achieve world peace and stop World War 3 before it’s begun in a way that men, with their penchant toward toxicity, haven’t been able to do. If men aren’t better suited to office on the basis of their sex, then neither are women. Sex isn’t a characteristic upon which votes should be based.
If a woman were elected on the basis of her sex, and she didn’t magically fix all the social ills with one SCOTUS nom and a few passes of her magical bill signing pen under the light of the full moon in the Rose Garden, how could the US ever justify electing another? Women are fallible, not magical. Y’know, just like other people.
Women are people, with aspirations, faults, wishes, wills, and a drive to succeed. To count them as anything other does their humanity a disservice. Duca writes: “I think it makes a difference if the person at the helm of this transformation is a woman, because of the lessons learned by anyone who has a female perspective on our crisis of toxic masculinity.”
But that doesn’t actually mean anything.
Duca, of course, has been a longtime culture warrior on the woke side—a true believer who has offered up hot take after hot take espousing the most incoherent of woke talking points like “Sean Spicer’s Emmys Cameo Wasn’t a Joke—It’s Dangerous,” or “Donald Trump Is Gaslighting America.”
Duca then had her own turn in the barrel, when her entire NYU class revolted because she was not woke enough. Apparently she hasn’t learned the lessons that you can never be woke enough, and that the woke will devour themselves in the end.
The word “woke” has been bandied around in progressive circles since the early 2010s. Ironically, “woke” has become a pejorative term used to denigrate those who signal their virtue without doing much to advance any progressive cause. Woke individuals are, as the rule (that I just invented) goes, more concerned with making themselves look good and using their platform (or building a platform) to abuse others under the guise of combating social injustice.
None of this has, of course, gone unnoticed by the woke progressives who use the term without any sense of irony whatsoever. In an op-ed for the Guardian, writer Steve Rose opines that the word “woke” has been “weaponized by the right.” But whose fault is that, exactly? It’s certainly not the fault of those tired of being moralized and lectured to that they might repurpose the term to mock those who engage in cancel campaigns against any celebrity or public figure guilty of perceived unwokeness.
Citing the Merriam-Webster, Rose says that the term “woke” refers to anyone “aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).” And much like the term “political correctness,” the term has come to mean the opposite of what it means—or so he claims.
But is that truly the case? Those who elevate themselves through wokeness have little interest in combating social injustices and simply use it as a shield for their own bigotry, and to shut down dissenting opinions. Their wokeness, if it exists at all, is performative.
This isn’t to say that one can simply go about spouting racist, anti-Semitic, or otherwise bigoted remarks without pushback from any decent and reasonable person. Decent and reasonable people don’t care about being “woke.” “Woke” individuals, as it were, cultivate their entire personalities around the fight for social justice without much to show for it besides preening at everyone else on Twitter.
Wokeness has become a social status symbol more than anything else, and the “Right,” or the “unwoke,” or whatever you want to call us continue to be reasonable people while rubbing our lack of wokeness in the face of those who rally around the hollow symbol.
Case in point: Guardian writer, Steve Rose, attacks actor Laurence Fox for—you guessed it, unwokeness. He writes:
“Laurence Fox nailed his colours to the latter mast this weekend, doubling down on his defence of the privileged white male on last week’s Question Time to a Sunday Times article under the banner ‘Why I won’t date ‘woke’ women’. Toby Young piled in, applauding how Fox was ‘terrorising the Wokerati’, while the Sun last weekend branded Harry and Meghan ‘the oppressive King and Queen of Woke’.”
Rose argues that rather than simply rejecting the concept of wokeness, detractors of the term, like Fox, only criticize wokeness as “way of claiming victim status for yourself rather than acknowledging that more deserving others hold that status. It has gone from a virtue signal to dog whistle.”
On the contrary, any individual who makes claims to wokeness isn’t so much of a victim as they are a participant in the race for social status. Being unwoke doesn’t give you an entry pass into a separate league of oppression.
Laurence Fox has been outspoken in his lack of wokeness, simply speaking his mind and saying it like it is with no regard for how supposedly offensive it is to not be mindful to those who hold wokeness up as a virtue in and of itself. He isn’t claiming to be a victim—like any decent and reasonable person, he’s rejecting victimhood entirely. And it’s working.
We live in a politically correct, “woke” time and it doesn’t seem like anyone will let us forget it—not even for a split second, not even for just enough time for us to enjoy our morning cup of coffee.
Douwe Egberts Belgium is a coffee company who just joined the Team Woke.
More and more, companies don’t try to sell us their brand, quality or even their product, but instead they sell us on their “wokeness.”
A recent ad for the coffee shows two young teenagers, one clearly a girl and the other in a hoodie so you can’t discern their gender, kissing on the couch who then get interrupted by the girl’s dad. They run upstairs but the daughter stops to give her father a dirty look.
An obvious, “I hate you. You’ve ruined my life,” teenage-girl look.
Then the dad makes coffee and the two teenagers come down to share a cup. The hooded teen is revealed to be a girl. They all sit around smiling and laughing—with tones of acceptance and growth, which is exactly what you want from your coffee.
The ad ends with the father putting his daughter’s glasses back on her face and smiling. The glasses that the girlfriend took off her earlier while making out on the couch.
Yes, a very wholesome moment, and don’t get me wrong, I’m glad this hypothetical dad accepts his hypothetical daughter. That’s the way it should be.
Belgium was even ranked the second-best country in Europe to live for LGBT people, according to Rainbow Europe poll. Belgians already seem to be plenty accepting.
This ad has already been seen over 12 million times on Twitter and has some users in tears.
The 2019 Brussels Pride Parade had around 100,000 marchers. It’s clear Belgians—and most sane people—aren’t homophobic today, so why are these types of commercials pretending we are?
The ad also reminds me of a recent Sprite ad that you needed to watch twice before noticing the Spite logo. The ad showed LGBT members getting ready for the Pride Parade and their family members smiling and accepting them.
Because again, that’s what you need from your drink choice.
Movies, television and branding have become a competition of who is more woke rather than convincing us to consume their products. Everything out there has to have a political message or statement.
The quality of the product doesn’t matter anymore as long as you’re scoring points with the woke crowd.
Pandering to a rather small portion of the population may not seem like the most business-savvy but they may also overlap with another crowd. The cancel culture crowd.
So even though, Dali Research finds that only about 6 percent of people identify as LGBT in all of Europe, companies choose to target a rather small demographic.
Why go after such a small group? Possibly the fear of the backlash of the outrage culture.
It’s possible companies and business think their public relations will go more smoothly if they go with the trends—even if that means ignoring the larger population.
They’re taking the easy way through—pandering and bending the knee for a small but very loud and demanding group. Woke people are hard to please. You can never be woke enough.
For regular people who don’t discriminate based on sexual orientation, it gets tiring for them to be constantly lectured about something they already agree with.
You see, us unwoke people, who want our ads to be about the products and our commercials to be selling us something without a moral lesson or a guilt trip attached—we see right through the cynical pandering.
A New York Times book reviewer called herself out as unqualified to review the book she was reviewing, and then said the author shouldn’t have written it. The charge against the author is cultural appropriation, the charge the reviewer levels at herself is the maintenance of the white gaze. The weirdest part? She seems to have liked the book. Lauren Groff wrote about Jeanine Cummins’ American Dirt, a novel about mother and son refugees from a violent Mexican drug cartel.
It is frankly mind-boggling to see this in print. It should fill us with hope, not anxiety, that the wealth and breadth of human experience allow us to understand the experience of others. People are not as different as we have conditioned ourselves to believe they are. The most imperialist thing of all is to assume that we can’t understand one another because our backgrounds and skin colours are different. The Civil Rights movement fought against objectification based on skin colour, and now The New York Times and their cadre of anxious writers are bringing it back.
Groff found the narrative to be powerful, notes that she felt afraid for the danger the main characters faced but then states this absurd concern:
“But another, different, fear had also crept in as I was reading: I was sure I was the wrong person to review this book. I could never speak to the accuracy of the book’s representation of Mexican culture or the plights of migrants; I have never been Mexican or a migrant. In contemporary literary circles, there is a serious and legitimate sensitivity to people writing about heritages that are not their own because, at its worst, this practice perpetuates the evils of colonization, stealing the stories of oppressed people for the profit of the dominant. I was further sunk into anxiety when I discovered that, although Cummins does have a personal stake in stories of migration, she herself is neither Mexican nor a migrant.”
American Dirt made The New York Times list for highly anticipated books, but even the author questions her own authority to write the book. In the afterword, per a contrasting review from Parul Seghal, Cummins wrote “I wished someone slightly browner than me would write it.” Seghal didn’t like the book, because she didn’t think it achieved its aims. That’s fair. What isn’t fair is judging a work of fiction by the colour of the author’s skin.
It is a nauseating inclination to question her own inspiration. The colour of her skin has nothing to do with the story she felt compelled to write. Once she had the idea, should she have shopped it around to writers who were “slightly browner” to see if they wanted to tell it instead? Writers have their own stories that they want to tell. Cummins had this one. She told it. Groff had a review to write. She wrote it, but she questioned the validity of her voice, and the author’s, the entire time.
Groff ties herself up in knots, chastising herself for liking a book she thinks she shouldn’t have written about because her skin colour doesn’t give her the authority to do so. To put that in perspective, a New York Times writer, an author, an intelligent, educated, intellectual person, believes that there is more authority in the perceived experience of her skin colour than in her own voice.
Cummins did exactly what social justice rhetoric would say she ought to do—use her place of privilege to speak of the social ills affecting underrepresented voices in our culture. In using her voice to elevate the plight of Mexican refugees, she brings Groff, for one, a greater understanding of that horror.
If authors can’t call attention to anything other than their own experience, if authors have to colour within the lines of their own skin tone, then their only other option is to stop writing, to give it up, to do something else. But ideology cannot dictate our life choices, and the odds are that if Cummins didn’t write this book, no one else would have. Is there no value in telling the story of a mother and child forced to flee their home under threat of death? The story itself is more essential than who wrote it. And for sure it gave Groff some new perspective, even if she thinks it’s poisoned by her white gaze.
Cultural appropriation is a term best levelled at basic girls and boys in madras bikinis wearing native headdresses and platform Tevas at Coachella, not well-researched novels that give insight to the plight of refugees traversing America’s southern border.
This hand-wringing over whether or not we can think for ourselves or have to think in accordance with a mob mentality that diminishes our intellect in favour of social justice norms has got to stop. An author’s lived experience is not their only palette. Skin colour is not authoritative.