Philosophy’s Woke Follies
by Daniel A. Kaufman
These days of pandemic, police brutality, mass protests, looting and rioting are disconcerting. They confront our beliefs; our values; our sense of who we are as a society and as a people. Many of us are looking for guidance; a sense of moral clarity in these morally uncertain times.
We should thank our lucky stars, then, that we have Weinberg to help us rediscover our moral centers. Like Superman emerging from a humble phone booth, Weinberg always comes to the rescue in our darkest hours. Where else could we find the kind of moral wisdom that seems to flow so effortlessly from his digital pen? That it is brave to put everyone’s lives in jeopardy during a pandemic, so long as one is motivated by anti-racism; that looting shops is an effective way to persuade elected officials to enact police reform; and that a business owner might – might – be right to be upset about having his life and livelihood burned to the ground by an angry mob. With regard to these and other weighty matters, Weinberg’s moral acuity and generosity know no bounds.
Meanwhile, his New Consensus shines like a beacon for those who find themselves lost in dark times. You will recall that in a piece celebrating the Daily Nous’s fifth anniversary, Weinberg described this New Consensus as “a set of attitudes that rejects acquiescence to abuses of power in philosophy, one that seeks to overturn rather than turn away from the profession’s problems, one that seeks to support rather than silence the vulnerable.” This must be why he allowed Alex Guerrero, a senior faculty member in the philosophy department at Rutgers, to verbally abuse Justin Kalef, an untenured, junior member of Guerrero’s own department, in the discussion that followed the aforementioned fount of Weinbergian wisdom. Kalef had wondered out loud whether, perhaps, institutional racism might not be the best framework from which to understand police brutality, and we can’t have any of that sort of thing in philosophy. Of course, this point had already been made by scholars like Adolf Reed and Randall Collins, but what do those two old hacks know? Just let them try and come to the Daily Nous and peddle that social science crap. The New Consensus will fuck their shit up, and (if we’re lucky) Alex Guerrero will be the one naming names and kicking ass.
It must also have been in order not to “acquiesce to abuses of power in philosophy” that Weinberg refused to publish Kalef’s posts defending himself and then emailed Kalef to tell him that he should think of Guerrero’s abuse as “harsh words from a loving parent” and “make the most of this learning experience.” Everyone knows that good parenting sometimes means tough love, after all. But the shining example of the New Consensus at work has to be when Weinberg, in a remarkable gesture of good faith, published Kalef’s defense! Of course, it was after Kalef already had been chased off (he said that he would not return to the Daily Nous again, in light of how he’d been treated), and of course, the thread was closed down to further comment immediately after, but we must remember that balancing support for the vulnerable and the righteous pursuit of anti-racism is a tricky business, and Weinberg bears the unimaginable burden of doing both, at once.
Like its Broadway counterpart, shuttered by Covid-19, the Woke Philosophy Follies are suffering hard times. Take poor Robin Dembroff, who was enjoying a well-deserved rest after putting the shiv in Alex Byrne for publishing an article arguing that women are female. (You might remember Dembroff as being one of three trans-activists who resisted being “non-consensually co-platformed” with three notorious witches, Julie Bindel, Holly Lawford-Smith, and Kathleen Stock.) She had successfully executed the hit job over in Philosophical Studies, accusing Byrne of dark, hateful motives, of “undermining [trans] persons’ self-understanding” and “pitting them against other trans persons” and “undermining [their] civil rights,” and of just being an “unscholarly,” “ill-informed,” “rhetorically bullying” boob in general. There was even the added bonus of snagging the resignation of Philosophical Studies’ editor, Stuart Cohen, who had tried to publish a paper by Byrne, defending himself against what Cohen characterized as “defamatory” attacks, but who was prevented from doing so by several unnamed editors in a Stunning and Brave blow against cisnormativetransmisogynistphobia.
How cruel it must have been, then, to discover that Byrne’s reply had gotten out anyway and that people were actually reading it! All that virtuous effort gone to waste! All that cisnormativetransmisogynistphobia released into the atmosphere to wreak its cisnormativetransmisogynistphobic havoc on the vulnerable! The celebratory drink and shrimp cocktail spoiled in an instant, with the realization that Byrne was still alive and walking around and breathing and writing stuff.
One might worry that Wokeness’s best days have passed. The public seems to be getting wise to the trans-activist grift and are deciding that they don’t really think males belong in women’s sports or prisons or rape shelters after all, regardless of how they identify. The reaction to efforts to justify and ennoble looting and rioting has been generally poor. A spectacular effort at virtue signaling on the part of Democratic politicians – complete with African regalia and everything – have turned the Cultural Appropriation crowd into a circular firing squad. And more generally, there’s just less and less taste for the sort of “performance activism” that is Woke Philosophy’s bread and butter. It’s all fine and well when the nation is enjoying fifty to sixty years of dramatically declining crime rates and remarkably improving conditions for minorities and women (not to mention the end of the Cold War), since no one enjoys too much good news. But when the really bad stuff starts to happen; when the country suffers a hundred plus thousand deaths in a few months and experiences a wave of rioting and looting on a scale unseen since the late 1960’s, all while being governed by a vulgar, degenerate sociopath, who gleefully unleashes the army to tear gas and shoot and brutalize the citizenry, a deadly seriousness descends on the public consciousness, and the desire for the sort of performance art proffered by Woke Philosophy dries up. Add a Covid-19 induced economic collapse on top of it all, and we very likely may be kissing the lot goodbye for the foreseeable future.
All I can say in these grim days is thank God for Weinberg. We need him now more than ever.
**Addendum: Apparently, Philosophical Studies has allowed Byrne to submit a reply, which may or may not be accepted, depending on the referee’s report. Cohen’s resignation was due to the fact that he felt the journal owed Byrne the right to reply, given that they had published what Cohen believed to be unprofessional and defamatory attacks. I concur, so this doesn’t affect my bottom line very much.
***Second Addendum: Weinberg apparently has permanently removed all “likes” from the Daily Nous website.