To oversimplify post-modernist moral philosophy (or more accurately, amoral philosophy) there is no objective truth. One’s stance in relation to the world is determined by one’s class, sexual, gender, ethnic and other “identities” and – in the most up-to-date version – by the intersections between them. I may deceive myself that my view of the world has been developed by the application of my education and my reason to my experience, but in the “there is no truth” truth of the “woke”, I think what I think because I am what I am.
This idea is a smidgen of truth taken to an absurd extreme. Of course one’s life is shaped by one’s experiences. Any political canvasser will tell you that he can have a good guess at the likely response of potential voters by where they live, the car they drive and how they present on the door step. Had I been born into another family in a different set of circumstances, then yes – I would have trodden a different intellectual and moral path. Those of us who cling to the ideas of my namesake’s era – the Age of Reason – do understand that our background, educational opportunities and experiences have a role. We simply consider there is a moral duty to strive – by reading, study, travel, discourse and whatever other opportunities present themselves, to transcend our experiences and strive for objective truth. We are not saying it’s easy to find, but we believe that it’s “out there”.
It’s a more optimistic philosophy, I submit. Whatever your origins, privileges or dis-privileges, you can strive for truth in our world-view. Unless you are of the elect however, post-modernism leads only to despair. You are as lost to hope and opportunity as the merest medieval serf. Your opinion counts for as much as that of a slave in the ante-bellum American South.
Born into the intersecting “privileges” of being white, male and – while not rich – not poor, what I think therefore counts for less than naught. There is no way for me to live blamelessly, let alone virtuously. The closest I can come is to “be an ally”, ”stay in my lane”, “shut the **** up” and listen humbly to my superiors. The post-modern West is in this respect at least headed for a new Dark Age.
Let me be clear that I do not seek to cast myself in the role of a victim here. I am lucky enough to be able to laugh at this analysis. I am financially independent and fear neither employers’ nor customers’ opinions. I thoroughly enjoy the discomfiture of the “woke” in my circle when I opine freely. I have fun asking them to justify their preposterous faith (it’s not really a philosophy, as not only has it no rational basis, but it denies the possibility of such a thing).
One of the ways in which I keep my mind alive in retirement is by studying things for fun. A local novelist has been conducting writing classes for beginners and (though I have no intent of going into print) I have been attending for the stimulation of it. This morning a fellow-student was telling us about her novel. She has written a thriller informed by post-modern “wokeness”. Her main protagonist is a privileged white male who thinks he is “woke” but isn’t and the story is about his dangerous journey to true understanding.
She described him as “working in the public sector” (which she clearly thought made him a moral superior of those who pay to fund it) and “aware of social justice issues.” However he has no genuine understanding of how privileged he is and how his life-choices impact others who are less so. As an example, he casually looks down upon young black men in his city caught up in drug-dealing criminality but has no idea that his cocaine habit is a cause thereof.
Before you pile in, gentle readers, with critiques of this unpublished work, let me explain why it has (despite its right on-ness) yet to find a publisher. Everyone to whom she has sent the manuscript has responded in similar ways. They like the story, but they don’t know why she – as a young black woman – has written it. “You don’t have to write like this any more”, one publisher said. “We want novels from the point of view of people just like you” said another. I smilingly observed that they had told her to “stay in her lane”, but sadly she didn’t get the joke. I didn’t add that they wanted her to stay on the metaphorical plantation and think as her skin colour predicts. I think that jibe would have ended our budding friendship.
She is right on. She is woke. Her stance towards society is politically correct but – as a creative – she has made the fatal error of attempting empathy. It is almost as shocking for her to animate a literary puppet of a white man as it would be for me to animate one like her. Which in the anti-wonderland of wokenes is not crude, pathetic racism but in the real world is.
Isn’t empathy the whole point of creative writing? How limited we would all be if we couldn’t inhabit the minds of others through their stories, poems and plays. How limiting it would be to see the world only through our own eyes and interpret it with only our own judgement. But the highest literature involves a truly creative mind attempting to inhabit the personalities of a variety of other humans. Every character in Austen, Dickens or Tolstoy is informed by the author’s experiences and often based on the people she or he has met, but they are not all Jane, Charles or Leo in disguise. How wooden would they all be? Actually you can answer that question (painfully) by reading the “novels” of Ayn Rand. Her characters are a series of stick figures declaiming her ideas from a pulpit. Her books work well enough as the political tracts she should have written but fail epically as literature because she had no empathy.
I liked my new author acquaintance. Her different viewpoint won’t disqualify her, if she’s interested, from becoming my friend. I have offered to shoot the author picture for the dust-jacket of her novel when she gets it published. I hope she will because I would like to read it. It’s my duty (and often pleasure) as a rational man to refine my own understanding by learning how others see the world. It’s a good job I am not going to write my novel though, because by her rules it would certainly disqualify me from friendship!
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