The Elect: The series so far | John McWhorter

[Posted by Chuck Almdale]

Noted scholar, linguist, philosopher, historian and writer, John McWhorter, is working on a new book. Chapters of The Elect: The Threat to a Progressive America from Anti-Black Antiracists are being published serially on his blogsite, It Bears Mentioning. His essays are normally available only by subscription; these are free. There are seven so far and are all well worth reading, as will be the book when it appears. The titles below are links to the essays. Quoted paragraphs for each posting are not necessarily sequential in the original text.

Serial Excerpt No. 1 | John McWhorter | 27 January 2021

From the Preface
…I aim to illuminate where these people are coming from, how their ideology and behavior is quite coherent in itself, and what the rest of us can do to live with grace and honesty, as people concerned with the state of the world, who nevertheless must grapple with obstacles laid in our path by people who see their religion as an ultimate wisdom.

My main aims will be:
1. to argue that this new ideology is actually a religion in all but name
2. to argue that to understand it as a religion is to see coherence in what may seem like a welter of “crazy” or overblown behaviors
3. to explore why this religion is so attractive to so many people
4. to show that this religion is actively harmful to black people despite being intended as unprecedentedly “antiracist”
5. to show that a pragmatic, effective, liberal and even Democratic-friendly agenda for rescuing black America need not be founded on the tenets of this new religion
6. to suggest ways to lessen the grip of this new religion on our public culture.

CHAPTER ONE CONTINUED — Their Secret Weapon & What to Call Them
Serial Excerpt No. 2 | John McWhorter | 9 February 2021

The point of this book is to delineate a certain modern way of thinking as less progressive than peculiar, as something we must learn to step around and resist rather than let pass as a kind of higher wisdom. A cohesive and forward-looking society must treat this kind of thought like a virus, a regrettable though perhaps inevitable result of modern social history, which nevertheless must be ongoingly corralled. We should hope for its eventual disappearance, but if this is impossible – and it likely is – it must be kept on the margins of our existence just as smallpox is.

Serial Excerpt No. 3 | John McWhorter | 23 February 2021
We can only move on in full awareness that this is a religion. Not “like” one — but an actual one.

However, this resistance [by the Elect to being called a religion] will miss the larger picture, which is less about The Elect as individuals than about how we make sense of a way of thinking they share, that seems so obsessive and hurtful from the outside. To make sense of it, we must understand them, partly out of compassion and partly to keep our own lives moving past them. This can only happen if we process them not as crazed but as parishioners.

Serial Excerpt No. 4 | John McWhorter | 9 March 2021
They will object that they are “dismantling structures” – while enjoying making people cry and dismantling nothing.

If Elect philosophy were really about changing the world, its parishioners would be ever champing at the bit to get out and do the changing, as were Jane Addams and Dr. King….Firing some white guy for saying “reverse racism” would feel like exactly what it was: kabuki. They’d want to get to the sad people huddled a skip and a jump across town on the sidewalks, lobbying state legislators to help them make sure no more wind up saddled with the same plight. They would be modern Dorothy Days. That is, they would be politically active in the fashion considered normal, and urgent, and laudable, until recently.

Meanwhile, no one can deny that Elect ideology has a stranglehold on institutions that barely knew it just a few years ago. The Elect are changing America, or at least what much of America is comfortable presenting itself as when threatened with slander.

You see Third-Wave antiracism telling you are morally bound to conceive of ordinary statements like “I don’t see color” as racist that once were thought of as progressive. That if you are white you are to despise yourself as tainted permanently by “white privilege” in everything you do. That you must accept even claims of racism from black people that make no real sense, or if you are black, must pretend that such claims are sacrosanct because the essence of your life is oppression. Whatever color you are, in the name of acknowledging “power” you are to divide people into racial classes, in exactly the way that First- and Second-Wave antiracism taught you not to, including watching your kids and grandkids taught the same…

As Eric Hoffer put it, religions don’t need a God but they need a devil, and The Elect have that down quite comfortably. Superstition, clergy, sinfulness, a proselytizing impulse, a revulsion against the impure – it’s all there. They think of it all as logic incarnate.

Serial Excerpt No. 5 | John McWhorter | 23 March 2021
Why it won’t do to admit this is a religion and “own” it – The Elect harbor a religion that harms black people in countless ways.

[C]onsult an interesting paper by black physicist Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, in which she condemns “white empiricism” as keeping black women out of physics. You will work to glean what she considers a viable alternative, but it is clear that she thinks reasoning from A to B to C is just one way of being a scientist. So, we must cultivate a cadre of physicists without real chops so that STEM isn’t “so white.” Never mind that when other physicists cannot help but treat these “diverse” physicists as lesser achievers in subtle ways, there will be more reason to cry racism.

The Elect will also duck by claiming that these issues must be carefully discussed in “conversations” before we draw any conclusions, although by conversation they mean conversion. They intend nothing most of us mean by exchange, because they have no intention of learning anything from the rest of us – except possibly how to anticipate our objections to what they regard as truth we are too “fragile” to receive gracefully.

Sometimes they will simply assert that racism exists in our society, as if this invalidates all genuine objections. And for them, it does: the central driver of Electness is to show that you know racism exists regardless of intent or result.

We might classify this as diversity of opinion. But we might also classify it as distracting word magic. The Elect see the aforementioned as their politics, their beliefs, their commitments, their guiding stars. But those under the impression that joining the Elect is the way to a brave new world need a tour of what they will be expected to believe – including what they will be expected to teach black people to believe.

To be Elect is to insist that unequal outcomes mean unequal opportunity, which is false.

Serial Excerpt No. 6 | John McWhorter | 30 March 2021
Finishing up on how the new concept of “social justice” is unjust to black people.

In sum, on the question of “identity,” Elect ideology requires non-white people to found their sense of self on not being white, and on not liking how white people may or may not feel about them. No one would wish this self-conception on their child when laid out explicitly in this way. The idea of it as progressive is false. It sits as a gloomy, illogical and pointless burden upon the souls of people whose spiritual energy ought be directed elsewhere.

Let’s return to the idea that one might allow that this is a religion but join it with pride. It appeals because it’s about “dismantling structures.” But here is what you are expected to think while engaged in that.

1. You are to turn a blind eye to black kids getting jumped by other ones in school.
2. You are to turn a blind eye to lapses in black intellectuals’ work, because black people lack white privilege.
3 You are to turn a blind eye to the fact that social history is complex, and instead pretend that those who tell you that all racial discrepancies are due to racism are evidencing brilliance.
4. You are to turn a blind eye to the willful dimness of condemning dead people for moral lapses normal in their time, as if they were still alive.
5. You are to turn a blind eye to black undergraduates cast into schools where they are in over their heads, and into law schools incapable of adjusting to their level of preparation in a way that will allow them to pass the bar exam.
6. You are to turn a blind eye to the folly in the idea of black “identity” as all about what whites think rather than about what a person themselves thinks.
7. You are to turn a blind eye to innocent children taught to think in these ways practically before they can hold a pencil.

The Elect are not about diverseness of thought. Eliminating it, on race issues, is their reason for being.

The Elect’s harm to black people is so multifarious and rampant that anyone committed to this religion and calling it antiracist walks in a certain shame.

Serial Excerpt No. 7 | John McWhorter | 12 April 2021
Why do so many kind, intelligent people join something so illogical and punitive?

For our purposes, “CRT” is the root of the idea today, seemingly so senselessly manipulative from the outside, that any claim of racism a black person makes must qualify automatically as valid because … they are black and speaking from “their experience.”

For anyone who perceives that this makes no sense at all because any human’s take on something might be erroneous, they are unlikely to get a genuine explanation from people espousing it. The black person has usually internalized the assumption subconsciously and embraced it as almost any human would, as a tool that keeps people from disagreeing with you – who wouldn’t find something like that at least preliminarily attractive? The white person embraces it as a way of showing how thoroughly they understand that racism exists (and, I suspect, often out of a quiet sense that if black people insist on this they must, deep down, be somewhat cognitively deficient and that therefore the most humane strategy is to just placate).

The highlight of this session is a white Elect who waxes indignant when a white man has a black child on his knee at the meeting, claiming that such sights hurt “them” (i.e. us poor black people for whom seeing that is like watching our children dandled by David Duke). Never mind that it turned out that this man was good friends with the child’s mother and that their children were growing up together.

No human being can sit and review basic principles and their validity on a daily basis, and thus after a while, this Cultural Leftist has come to suppose that their sentiments are a kind of political manifesto in themselves.

The result is what Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams have called “folk politics,” under which a prime attraction, embodied partly in the idea that to vent is to reason, is that we can “reduce complexity down to a human scale.” Electism is presented as complex – i.e. in requiring the “work” we are told is necessary – but it is also, in being motivated by a simple quest to show that one is not a racist, rather easy. Easy is always attractive to all of us: Electism is a kind of politics hack.

Electism is one more in an endless succession of political philosophies offering this sense of coherence. It can exert even more of a siren call than many, such as Marxism, in its more immediate object of attention. The Marxist works for an abstract proletariat often difficult to motivate or even quite identify in real life. The Elect works for, as it were, George Floyd – he was no abstraction.

Hence what Émile Durkheim called a “collective effervescence,” amidst which we find the explanation for the awkwardness of Elect whites being woker than most black people. Polls have shown this, and it is reflected in episodes such as a call in the Scrabble championship world in 2020 to disallow the N-word and other slurs. This was a delicate issue lending itself to many views, but it was indicative that black Scrabble players were less interested in expunging these slurs than white ones.

If you wish to expel religion from our European civilization you can only do it through another system of doctrines, and from the outset this would take over all the psychological characteristics of religion, the same sanctity, rigidity and intolerance, the same prohibition of thought in self-defence.

— Sigmund Freud, 1927 —

Episode 8 — Due approximately 26 April 2021

Serial Excerpt – Out of sequence | | John McWhorter | 25 February 2021

This is an excerpt from the final — and not yet released — chapter of John McWhorter’s book The Elect in which he considers how to graciously co-exist with the increasingly influential cadre in our society of people operating according to the tenets of Critical Race Theory and attempting to impose them upon our intellectual, artistic and moral fabric. The Elect are, under his analysis, operating according to a religious frame of mind that leads them to suppose that the fundamentals of their value system are morality incarnate. McWhorter calls for fully understanding their perspective, acknowledging its incommensurability with true progressivism, and returning to constructive engagement with the complexities of our time.

For all of the attention that modern English speakers’ usage of the word like as a hedging term attracts, all languages have a way of hedging in that way. The only question is what word or expression they use. In Mandarin, one hedges by saying “that, that, that …” as if grasping for what the thing or concept is called. It happens that the words for that in Mandarin are pronounced “na-ge, na-ge,” or pronounced alternately and just as much, “nay-ge,” “nay-ge.”

Here and there black Americans have purported a certain worry as to just what Chinese people are saying with “na-ge,” but this has always been a kind of joke. Yet one just knew that one of these days somebody was going to decide it wasn’t a joke anymore, and it is no accident that it finally happened in 2020.