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“Nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so.” – Hamlet, Act 2, scene ii
I think my college experience has given me some insights into why more Americans, especially young Americans, are more likely to turn to suicide. I don’t want this piece to be a ranty “I hate the dirty hippies” diatribe. Yet I cannot help but be convinced that the dramatic increase in American suicide is related to the rise of what I call, Wokist philosophy.*
In college, you are “taught” that the rich are rich because the poor are poor. I use the scare quotes because this isn’t so much argued as just assumed and then all the arguments are based around the assumption without first examining the original assumption.
Along with the zero-sum fallacy young students are taught a series of beliefs that lead to depression. In no particular order, I will briefly go through these beliefs.
You are taught that capitalism is exploitative and we live in a time and place of severe material deprivation for poor people (the fact that poor people have flat-screens TVs and computers are ignored).
You are taught that we live in a society that is rife with racism and that whites are wealthier than people of color only because of their privilege (Asian-Americans, Alexander Hamilton, and George Jefferson moving on up from their past poverty are ignored).**
You are taught that past American traditions were based around oppression and exploitation and all that “all men are created equal” stuff was just a rhetorical flourish. (All the immigrants who wanted to come to America are ignored).
You are taught that the great works of Western literature are corrupt and patriarchal. Shakespeare and Dostoevsky and all the Greeks were just straight white men. (That straight whites have produced some of the best literature is ignored as is the homosexuality of many Greeks).
You are taught that religion is, at best, a silly superstition for weak and dumb people and, at worst, the source of all wars. (Islam isn’t depicted as a serious philosophy to debate but rather a brown-person thing and opposing a brown-person thing is racist).
You are taught that all masculinity is toxic and that it is more important for women to be strong and aggressive like men. You are also taught that a man can be a woman. Above all the contradictions, you are taught that society is terrible and oppressive based on something sexual.
What’s more, we live in a rape culture. If our culture was different, then nobody would rape anyone, but we are just so terrible we don’t want to change our culture. In a way that is equally both impressive and troubling, it makes sex less fun.
You aren’t taught anything about family. That would be judgmental. You aren’t taught that men have a duty to protect women. You aren’t taught that you are part of the greatest experiment in freedom that humanity has ever done so, at the very least, don’t screw it up. You aren’t taught that you are made in the image of G-d and therefore you have meaning no matter how bad things get or how lonely you are. Also, you will all die soon because of climate change and we will run out of all our resources. (They have never seen Soylent Green or read about how Paul Ehrlich was wrong about everything).
So what’s left to believe besides voting Democrat? Besides left-wing politics, what’s to connect you to something noble that is beyond yourself? Modern Wokism is empty of meaning and it is empty of the ability to connect individuals to a greater society.
Please recall how Obama often said, “that’s not who we are,” but whenever he tried to appeal to what we should be, he spoke in the most banal and vague terms. In a similar fashion, academic and West Coast tech types love saying that diversity is our strength. But what they mean by diversity is either nothing or some kind of amorphous solidarity. But solidarity towards what?
Many compare the woke campus progressives as being Communist in some fashion. If Wokism is a kind of Communism, it is fundamentally different from other Communist ideologies in one important way: It fails to inspire the way that other ideologies do. Say what you will about Marxism or Leninism or Maoism, but they could inspire people. It was a horrible inspiration but it was sincere and it was often born out of serious material deprivation. A good person could be so indignant at how Russian or Chinese peasants were treated that they would become Communist. Furthermore, many otherwise decent and intelligent people (who were often the first to be sent to the Gulag or the Laogai) really wanted to make a Communist utopia because they wanted their community, their country, and the world to be better than what it was. The true believers honestly believed that all men would be brothers and all would be equal to one another. I don’t think that Wokists have that kind of aspirational hope.
In a similar fashion to the older schools of hard leftism, modern Wokism appeals to elites who have the privilege to study the wrong ideas. But the woke crowd today doesn’t really believe that they can remake the world to be good. Now they say that they can make the world free from racism and neo-liberalism and colonialism or what have you but I don’t think they mean it and yet they aren’t lying when they tell you that. Rather, they are like a Christian who hates homosexuals and anyone not as holy as himself but doesn’t celebrate Christ’s forgiveness and love. There is an ideal of the good in both philosophies but some folks can only focus on moral condemnation without hope. In Christianity, I think such pettiness emerges from the person rather than the philosophy. With Wokism, I think it encourages such pettiness because it doesn’t really believe in its own story of redemption. (It is with dark irony that Wokism thinks of straight, white, middle-class Christians the way the most vulgar minority of Christians think of homosexuals).
This enervating and rather tiring prospect for the future is why Bernie Sanders is so inspiring among young millennials. Bernie Sanders represents the old-school version of Communism that fervently believes in the capacity for a better world.
This lack of hope is why the Woke have turned against free speech. They know that they can’t inspire people of goodwill to change their mind and become woke out of compassion. Thusly, the woke try to tell people to believe in Wokeness through intimidation.
There are some passages in Marx’s later works that suggest he believed in freedom of speech because he thought that society would naturally evolve out of capitalism. Marx was a bad historian but at least he still made arguments to people he disagreed with. Compare this with modern Wokism which doesn’t try to explain why classically liberal or conservative ideas are morally inferior or why the evidence isn’t there to support such ideas. Dennis Prager has rightly observed, (I can’t find the clip but I know he said it) Imagine someone who won’t talk to their relatives because of politics. You are imagining a woke leftist. Politics is a capital G god to a Wokist but he doesn’t believe in spreading the good news because the news isn’t good.
Compare our Wokism with John F. Kennedy’s rhetoric.
There is only one rule by which to judge if God is near us or is far away – the rule that God’s word is giving us today: everyone concerned for the hungry, the naked, the poor, for those who have vanished in police custody, for the tortured, for prisoners, for all flesh that suffers, has God close at hand. We have the ability, we have the means, and we have the capacity to eliminate hunger from the face of the earth. We need only the will.
I’m not a big fan of JFK but his pitch was that America could beat the Russkies and end poverty at the same time. For that presentation of hope to the American people, he is still revered.
John F. Kennedy’s mention of G-d reminds me of how un-Christmassy this essay is. At this time, women are watching incredibly sappy Hallmark movies, the men are watching Die Hard, and the children are unusually well-behaved. We go out wearing gaudy clothes and singing strange songs about figgy pudding even though no sensible person has eaten figgy pudding for decades. A visitor from Mars would find American Christmas strange and ridiculous. Of course, he would be right.
But through all the silliness and tinsel and wrapping paper, the traditions are based on something that connects human beings to each other. Families come together and repeat silly traditions that tie them to the mystic chord of memory. Communities bother getting together. Americans are, in a small way, united because they listen to same songs by Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole. Die-hard atheists sing songs about G-d saving man and feminists look at representations of he baby Jesus and Mother Mary everywhere.
There is an emphasis on charity about the poor and the disadvantaged but the focus is on private charity and compassion at the individual and community level. Santa Claus judges children by the conduct of their character and not by their color.
Perhaps the least woke of all the Christmas traditions is based on the idea that men are made by G-d and are redeemed through Him, not government.
Everything that gives life meaning and purpose is celebrated on Christmas. Wokism is capable of criticizing Christmas for being too capitalist and bigoted and nationalistic and all the usual stuff. It’s capable of being against things. It’s not capable of creating anything.
This brings us back to suicide, humans need to be for something in order to live. They need some kind of Christmas.
* I didn’t have time to discuss the right-wing version of existential despair. But this podcast very clearly explains it. Start at 19:00, listen for a few minutes and then remind yourself that things aren’t that bad.
** Boss Mongo mistook my rise up reference from Hamilton as “The Jeffersons” song. I decided to include both references.Published in