Slowly Boring into the Heart of Wokeness

Matt Yglesias is stimulating heated discussion — that’s his job. Before getting to the point, I think that his $250,000 guaranteed advance from SubStack has stimulated a lot of extremely intense envy (I know I envy him) which tends to add a bit of spice to his provocative posts one of which is

Tema Okun’s “White Supremacy Culture” work is bad a diatribe contra someone of whom I have never heard. I think the tone is harsher than it has to be (see provocative) but mostly like the essay very much. I will discuss it after the jump.

But before the jump I would really really like to note a certain cognitive dissonance in the essay. Here are a few block quotes of Yglesias:

The craziest thing about “The Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture” is that it has literally nothing to do with race.


She doesn’t put forward any evidence or arguments in favor of her claims (and indeed, “objectivity” is seen as a manifestation of white supremacy culture),

and finally

And we know from a range of evidence that if you look at the white U.S. population, being a Democrat correlates with the personality trait of openness to experience and being a Republican with the personality trait of conscientiousness. And indeed Christopher Frederico and Rafael Aguilera document that among the white population, having a high score on racial resentment batteries is associated with high conscientiousness and low openness.

In other words: if you filter the white people to find only the white people who are most fired-up about anti-racism, you will end up with a high-openness, low-conscientiousness group of people who are probably inclined to agree with Okun’s general sentiments.

But these are facts about white people.

Indeed and in particular about correlates of high scores on “racial resentment batteries” or less euphemistically with racism, or not euphemistically at all with White supremacy culture.

Yglesias correctly notes that Okun presents no evidence that the personality traits which she associates with “white supremacy culture” are, in fact associated with white racism. He also notes the evidence of exactly that.

Okun’s “White Supremacy Culture” is the set of attitudes correlated with political conservatism — dislike of ambiguity, “either/or thinking”, attaction to hierarchy, resentment of the questioning of authority, authoritariansims and favoring decision over further discussion (I am trying to translate the Italian word “decisionismo”.

And why lo and behold it is correlated with “racial resentment” which is the </non irony font> politically correct word for racism used by political scientists who do not want to be cancel cultured by conservative snowflakes who demand safe spaces.</> Note the font. I mean this literally, there no identity politics as strong as Cis White Conservative Christian identity politics, and now softer bigotry of low expectations than grading conservatives on a curve.

Just from the critique Yglesias wrote, I’d say that the valid critique is: Guilt by association is a fallacy and correlation is not causation. The positive correlation with “racial resentment” does not make concientiousness bad and the negative correlation does not make openness to new experience good.

But the evidence is there and is statistically significant parameter estimates in the peer reviewed literature. I think one trick (aside from neglecting to mention the relevance of the evidence to which he linked) is to substitute “characteristics typical of white people” for “White supremacy culture”. In the actual title, the word “supremacy” serves not only to mark the characteristics as absolutely unacceptable, but also to associate them with White racism and not Whiteness alone.

That said, I think very highly of Yglesias’s essay. I think he makes a very important point — there is a small industry of sensitivity training which includes people who do not feel any need to present any evidence that their services have any desirable effects. This is what happens when top management wants to be seen doing something about a problem but doesn’t really care about the problem. That is the underlying logic of Sir Humphrey’s syllogism

We must do something

This is something

Therefore we must do this.

(more will be added later — maybe — I have negative concientiousness)