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 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)
sounds to me like you might be agreeing with me about something i have lost all my friends over.
but i don’t take “statistically significant” seriously either. there are lots of ways to get bad results without them being due to “chance.”
it is, or ought to be, hard for me to tell the differene between what “woke” people say (if i am using the right word) , and what the insane Right says that woke people say. But I get the “if you are a white american you are a racist” message right here on Angry Bear, so I am pretty sure I know what they are saying.
What they are saying is both wrong and counterproductive.
I know lots of decent people who are not racist but find themselves feeling irritated enough with “anti racist” rhetoric to just shut their ears to the real problem. just as the anti-racist professionals shut their ears to the real problem…which is injustice and cruelty to all, white or black.
One can concede some weaknesses in Okun’s approach, including the lack of evidence, but Matt’s essay is at least as bad. It’s a propaganda piece.
Okun addresses many of the points he raises; he ignores them or didn’t read them at all. Lack of evidence is a good example of a topic she answers. Matt also relies on the labels for each of the “characteristics,” but by and large omits any consideration of the specific examples in the bullet points describing how she thinks each of those characteristics is realized in practice. Those bullet points by and large can be mapped to published research. The few bullet points Matt does mention, he fails to understand or acknowledge have some legitimacy.
Fundamentally, he fails to understand Okun’s theory and approach. We agree he’s incorrect when he asserts these characteristics “have nothing to do with race.” She explains why they do – it’s the ways in which the norms are applied to race. It’s very clearly articulated. One may disagree, but if he wants an open discussion as he’s said many times, he should be willing to have an open discussion outside his paywall where empirical research and theory can be discussed.
Finally, Matt’s suggested action contradicts his previous statements about free speech, open debate, and willingness to examine issues deeply. He dismisses out of hand ideas about neutrality, even though there is ample research and theory that shows how ostensibly neutral policies, processes, practices, and norms lead to ongoing racial disparities. His essay is decidedly illiberal and in direct contradiction to the controversial letter he signed and his defense of his decision to sign it.
What he ought to do is stop his incompetent attacks on cherry picked examples and get into specifics. He is only ever willing to do that when he attacks what he sees as wokeism. He has some reasonable arguments about arguments that damage credibility and hurt a pro-equity agenda. His body of work and this specific example are subject to the same critique. He wrote an essay that simply does not cover the main ideas Okun presents, and that propagandizes at a high level ideas that are covered in detail.
In this case as others, his propagandizing does damage to advocacy for racial equity. Almost all of the respondents including ostensibly reputable journalists simply didn’t read the content, but foolishly took Matt’s word or it. He’s no longer a credible source on this. He also makes a pile of money doing this, so his claims about economic motives should be applied equally to his commentary. It’s worth having a discussion about the detailed points with people of good will and who are able to read and understand. None of the journalists and public intellectuals who I’ve seen respond to Matt’s essay have showed they have read or understand what she’s saying. Arguably, there’s good and bad. Matt says we should all agree it’s bad and dismiss it out of hand. That’s a rhetorical sleight of hand to discredit a much wider set of work. So no, there is some good in there, and Matt has muted any and all commentary that notes that.
I don’t actually think this is a good choice for training material – that doesn’t mean Matt has made a case against any of the ideas, much less all of them. There is a bigger industry of anti-wokists. That’s how folks like Yglesias and Surowiecki make money. They do other stuff, too, but this brings in dollars and views. And look at the toxic views it brings in. None of the sober discussion Matt professes to support. None. The man is a propagandist and this is propaganda.
So you know, I did the editing. Did not change anything other than a few misspellings and give the comment paragraphs. Great response.
Maybe I’m just too low brow to follow this. But both essays [Matt and Boz] stay at such a high level of abstraction that is is nearly impossible for me to know what they are talking about. And Boz’s “he does it for the money” offends my sensibilities. It is not a “valid argument” and wouldn’t be even if it were true.
How about an essay [from Matt] that begins by stating clearly exactly what it is he is talking about. And then an essay [from Boz?] that states clearly, with examples, what his objections are.
I am guessing a bit, by associating to a few words that emerge in the post and Boz’ comment, that this conversation has something to do with rhetorical overreaching by Anti-racist activists. I can attest that my own reaction, and that of some people I know who don’t read as much as I do, that some anti-racist rhetoric is off-putting and counter productive. When I try to point that out, I get called a racist. I am afraid I don’t find “academic research” very convincing. Nor because I am an anti-science ignoramus, but rather, I like to think, because I am hard-core pro-science and can see through the egregious lack of logic and lack of knowledge of the “researchers.” I can’t always do that, and can be swayed by argument and “evidence,” at least until someone with better arguments and more facts gives me something to think about.
That’s not happening here.