June 15, 2019

JOHN MCWHORTER ON ATONEMENT AS ACTIVISM:

[T]oday’s “woke,” educated white people would quite often lap up being apprised of the racism inside of them by a black speaker they paid, lodged, and fed. That speaker as often as not today is Ta-Nehisi Coates, who charismatically limns America as a cesspool of bigotry in his writing and in talks nationwide, and is joyously celebrated for it by the very people he is insulting.

Coates is a symptom of a larger mood. Over the past several years, for instance, whites across the country have been taught that it isn’t enough to understand that racism exists. Rather, the good white person views themselves as the bearer of an unearned “privilege” because of their color. Not long ago, I attended an event where a black man spoke of him and his black colleagues dressing in suits at work even on Casual Fridays, out of a sense that whites would look down on black men dressed down. The mostly white audience laughed and applauded warmly—at a story accusing people precisely like them of being racists.

This brand of self-flagellation has become the new form of enlightenment on race issues. It qualifies as a kind of worship; the parallels with Christianity are almost uncannily rich. White privilege is the secular white person’s Original Sin, present at birth and ultimately ineradicable. One does one’s penance by endlessly attesting to this privilege in hope of some kind of forgiveness. After the black man I mentioned above spoke, the next speaker was a middle-aged white man who spoke of having a coach come to his office each week to talk to him about his white privilege. The audience, of course, applauded warmly at this man’s description of having what an anthropologist observer would recognize not as a “coach” but as a pastor.

Similarly, in the first edition of Jonah Goldberg’s new email-only “Pirate G-File,” Jonah writes:

If you listen to The Remnant podcast – back next week by the way – you know I’m obsessed with a theory of contemporary politics. We live in one of the most partisan times in American history. No, it’s not as partisan as the 1850s or even the 1960s (thank God). But the difference between now and those periods is that partisanship is running white-hot even as the parties themselves have never been weaker.

Partisanship is now a lifestyle choice as much as it is a political or ideological orientation. That’s one reason politics are so ugly these days. When the political is personal and the personal is political, political disagreement feels like a personal attack. Politics today increasingly takes up the space in our brains normally reserved for religion, which is why there are houses in my neighborhood where people post signs listing social justice nostrums like they were Martin Luther’s 99 Theses.

While Nietzsche assured the Jurassic “woke” class of the late 19th century that “God is dead,” most of the branches of the “Progressivism” that followed are forms of a substitute religion to fill the void. (See also: radical environmentalism and even socialist health care.) As the late Tom Wolfe wrote in his epochal 1976 article, “The ‘Me’ Decade and the Third Great Awakening,” “It is entirely possible that in the long run historians will regard the entire New Left experience as not so much a political as a religious episode wrapped in semi military gear and guerrilla talk.”

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