Salvo 12.20.2022 7 minutes

Equality Ad Absurdum

woke ideology 2

The pursuit of woke social justice is anathema to America’s flourishing.

The woke version of social justice is based on the fallacy that engineering an equality of power among identity groups somehow creates justice. But as Plato and Greeks before him knew, forcing any result, let alone one based on incidental markers like race and gender, often leads to bizarre outcomes and usually works against true justice for all involved.

In Book 8 of The Republic, Plato illustrates how all flawed governments (e.g., timarchy, oligarchy, democracy, tyranny) fail by misprioritizing some relative good over the absolute good. Specifically, democracies overvalue the relative goods of freedom and equality and do not know where to draw the proper limits in pursuing them. This leads to the acceptance and proliferation of all sorts of dysfunctional and unjust forms of freedom, which conflict with the true freedoms and equalities that provide the foundation for a just society. As the spirit of equality-at-all-costs takes over, democracies treat children as the equals of their parents, foreigners as equals of citizens, and students as equals of teachers; even the animals think they are equal to people and free to do whatever they want.

Wokeism is a manifestation of precisely what Plato describes: democracies’ inability to comprehend the proper limits of equality and freedom, or the fact that there need to be limits at all. Wokeism is built on the democratic error of treating equality as The Good and pursuing it ad absurdum. But like honor, wealth, and power, equality is only a relative good, which means it can be used for good, evil, and everything in between. Relative goods only become truly good when they are used for good purposes, when they are employed in the service of The Good. Unlike Plato’s world, there is no true absolute Good in wokeism, no higher principle than equality of result for its own sake.

Thus wokeism has no compass pointing to true north, no way of recognizing when equality is on course to achieve good and when it is not. It simply dons a blindfold and embarks on an endless wild goose chase in pursuit of identitarian equity. People are put in identity boxes marked “oppressor” and “oppressed” based on whatever power advantages and disadvantages their incidentals afford them, as if to be powerful were necessarily to be oppressive and to lack power were necessarily to be victimized. Every inequality of power is conflated with a form of discrimination and “oppression.” The woke quest is to manufacture an equality of power among identity boxes, calling this goal “progress.”

Take for example the case of transgender athletes competing in college women’s swimming. While the purpose of Title IX is to achieve equality by eliminating unfair discrimination based on sex, woke gender equity works against this. It advocates that someone with an unfair advantage, a male body, should have an equal chance to compete against those with female bodies. In the name of an equality of power among genders, woke identitarianism creates an inequality of power wherein female swimmers are forced into a competition that is self-evidently unfair.

Forcing Equity Brings Destruction

Long before Plato, Greeks illustrated the folly of equating equity with justice through the myth of Procrustes, a robber who invited passing travelers to spend the night. Procrustes said his iron bed would fit everyone equally perfectly. And it did, but only after Procrustes had stretched the legs of the shorter until they ripped or hammered off the legs of the taller, killing every traveler in the process. Eventually the hero Theseus came along and killed Procrustes by fitting him to his own bed. The lesson of the myth is that forcing equity as if it were an end in itself damages everyone involved, including those who force it.

Yet, like Procrustes, woke leaders proceed unwilling or unable to recognize that an equality of power is not the same as justice. Hence we see Procrustean damage everywhere the woke are in charge, especially the field of education. In the name of racial equity, California plans to “de-mathematize math” and discourage students from taking calculus. Many schools have eliminated AP classes, deadlines, and homework in order to “close equity gaps.” Princeton removed the requirement that Classics majors know Latin and Greek to promote “equity.”

In The Atlantic, John McWhorter responded:

By lifting the language requirement, the Princeton decision is setting up a situation in which a subset of Classics majors will be able to work with classical texts only in translation. In class participation, they will have to humbly note that they don’t know Latin or Greek, with the implication being that their ‘vibrant’ ideas about white supremacy are the equal of having mastered the languages. All will pretend to concur, though more than a few will quietly see these ‘vibrant’ students as having lesser chops. And when this sentiment inevitably peeps out of someone’s mouth in an exchange or turns up on social media, the outcry will be swift that Classics at Princeton is…racist.

In Plato’s terms, McWhorter here asserts that misguided Procrustean attempts at equity, like Princeton’s, do not serve The Good, because they come at the expense of competence. “W. E. B. Du Bois, who taught both Latin and Greek, would have been shocked to discover that a more enlightened America should have excused him from learning the classical languages because his blackness made him ‘vibrant’ enough without going to the trouble of mastering something new,” says McWhorter. The pursuit of educational equity at the expense of competence becomes a race to the bottom, ensuring that everyone ends up equally academically incompetent.

Weaving Together

Many students indoctrinated in wokeism have no idea that it represents just one recent version of social justice out of countless versions that have been articulated over millennia. They are not told that the concept of social justice was a topic of great debate among Greeks and Romans and is a pillar of Catholic social teaching, among other schools of thought.

As Joshua Mitchell points out in American Awakening, woke social justice is not about true justice but rather scapegoating and purging oppressors, thereby excluding their influence. It is based on the absurd premise that somehow all of society’s problems would go away if it could just remove “whiteness,” “toxic masculinity,” and “heteronormativity.” With these “oppressors” banished, suddenly every failing student would now read on grade level and turn in their homework. Every unemployed, uneducated citizen without job skills would be able to make top dollar coding in Python or designing semiconductors.

In Plato’s Republic, social justice is about finding harmony among all the diverse elements of society to achieve The Good. By contrast, woke social justice brands certain segments of society “oppressors” and seeks to purge them, even as it mouths platitudes about seeking diversity.

Woke social justice is also antithetical to justice in the classical sense of giving “to each his due,” as Cicero put it. It recognizes only group moralities and ignores individual morality, ensuring that no individual receives their due. Wokeism blames people today for the oppressive actions of others of the same identity group at selected times and places in the past, while silently censoring all the positive actions by members of that same identity group. The 1619 Project is a case study in woke censorship, as I explored in an article in Front Porch Republic earlier this year:

The 1619 Project purports to correct ‘a history that never happened.’ But by omission, it offers a new history that never happened by systematically censoring any traces of black-white unity, cooperation, and common goals from America’s history, including in the abolition movement, the Civil War, the Civil Rights Movement, or even today. For example, in a book 539 pages long about slavery and racism, not a single white abolitionist is mentioned as having done anything that led to abolition.

In Plato’s Statesman, Socrates says a true leader is like a weaver who combines the contrasting groups within a society into a coherent whole. The true statesman aims to include, not exclude. From “the strands of the gentle and the brave,” the statesman weaves the “web of the state,” a “true fellowship by mutual concord and by ties of friendship, and having perfected the most glorious and finest of all fabrics…and folding into it all who dwell in the city…he holds them together by it…and rules and watches over them.”

The statesman seeks to include all in the fabric of society, not by forcing total equality, but by finding a common humanity among contrasting groups and using it as the thread with which to weave them together into a single fabric. Just as Procrustes did not need to know much about the science of sleep to destroy travelers who used his bed, the woke goal of tearing up the fabric of society does not require much understanding of that fabric. It is much harder to find ways to weave those who differ together. But the result is a society worth living in.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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