The Spectator ‘s cover story this week is an excellent piece by Adrian Wooldridge on ‘The new elite: the rise of the progressive aristocracy‘. Taking as his theme the demolition of the meritocratic idea by woke activists, he sets out the worldview behind it and the huge amount of trouble it is causing. Here’s an excerpt.
Meritocracy is “racist” and “the antithesis of fair”, pronounced Alison Collins, a former Commissioner of Education in San Francisco. And the old idea of judging people as individuals? That’s the white man’s game of divide and rule. “Colour blindness” – what we used to regard as the absence of discrimination – is dismissed as a con, designed to draw a veil over millennia of exploitation. The entire machinery of meritocracy is rejected as a legacy of the eugenic movement or imperialism. Or, perhaps, the ‘white’ way of looking at the world. “The use of standardised tests to measure aptitude and intelligence is one of the most effective racist policies ever devised to degrade black minds and legally exclude black bodies,” writes Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to Be an Antiracist and Antiracist Baby.
The woke revolution does not simply aim to remedy past injustice. “The only remedy to racist discrimination,” writes Kendi, “is antiracist discrimination”. The idea is some groups by virtue of their history of marginalisation and exploitation are wiser and more moral than others. The belief that racism is not confined to intentional acts of discrimination but woven into the DNA of society implies white people are automatically guilty of harbouring racist thoughts and seeing the world through racist eyes. Racial minorities inevitably enjoy a higher moral status than whites but they also enjoy something equally important – greater access to understanding and moral wisdom. This is why the woke habitually invoke ‘lived experience’ and ‘my truth’. Conversely, white people are guilty of original sin until they do what the kulaks were supposed to do and abolish themselves as a class. “Abolish whiteness!” says Cambridge academic Priyamvada Gopal. “White lives don’t matter. As white lives.”
These race-based arguments bring with them the exhumation of the pre-modern habit of judging people based on group characteristics rather than individual achievement. History is repeating itself as both tragedy and farce at the same time.
Rather than progressing towards a post-discriminatory future, we have a pyramid structure once again, but this time it’s inverted. Rather than the upper classes sitting at the top and the lower classes as the bottom, the former outcasts occupy the commanding heights. Under the new hierarchy, the more oppressed groups that you belong to, the more moral virtue you possess. Similarly, the more privileged characteristics you hold, the lower you are on the moral scale and the more you have to do to make amends for the past.
Being born into an oppressed group is not enough in itself. Indeed, minorities who don’t share woke beliefs are treated with particular disdain (as black conservatives have long known and gender-critical feminists are painfully discovering). You must have faith. That means more than just subscribing to a set of beliefs. It means having a heart that has been awakened through a process of conversion and ceaseless struggle. An aristocracy of faith is superimposed upon an aristocracy of caste: struggle can change your place in the caste system, though people who are born into a privileged caste will obviously have to struggle much harder than those who have the privilege of being born unprivileged. Whatever you think of Prince Harry, he is clearly ‘doing the work’.
This aristocracy of faith is hypervigilant and hyperactive – forever discovering signs of racism in even the smallest things and forever organising demonstrations and cancellations. At the same time, it’s also extremely patient. The woke aristocracy’s march through the institutions is an exercise in long-term social change that should put short-term conservatives to shame.
The old notion of IQ is being replaced with WQ – a woke quotient. This phenomenon is at its most advanced in the U.S., particularly at its universities. University students are selected for their WQ as revealed by their personal statements and extracurricular activities (“I spent my vacations fighting racism in Guatemala”), as well as by their academic grades. Indeed, a growing number of universities are reducing the weight placed on standardised test scores while increasing their emphasis on more subjective criteria. Aspiring professors are required to submit diversity statements when they apply for jobs as well as conventional academic resumes.
Yale now has as many academic administrators as it does tenured staff. Many of them have titles which include the word ‘diversity’, as in ‘Chief Diversity Officer’ and ‘Deputy Chief Diversity Officer’. Chief diversity officers have become such a familiar part of the university scene that one executive recruitment firm, Hunt Scanlon, gushes they occupy “one of the most important positions for shaping the vision, culture and very face of institutions of higher learning from coast to coast”.
It’s a golden rule of academia that what U.S. universities do today British universities will do tomorrow, but in a secretive and cut-price manner. A commitment to diversity is increasingly used as a tiebreaker in making academic appointments. When making applications for grants – the bane of the British academic’s life – candidates know that they have a much better chance of success if they explore woke themes. Some subjects – all those ‘studies’ – are predicated on the assumptions of the inverted pyramid of virtue. Others, such as history, have replaced the old history of progress and promise with a new one of oppression and guilt.
British universities may not have access to the same gargantuan bureaucracies as their U.S. cousins, though the bureaucrats they have are cut from the same ideological cloth. But they have got into the habit of relying on pressure groups to do some of the work for them. Stonewall stands ready (for a fee) to certify whether our seats of learning are LGBT+ friendly by measuring them against a diversity index and then enrolling them in its Diversity Champions scheme. Universities cannot receive research grants, the lifeblood of academia, unless they employ Athena Swan accredited ‘leads’ who use Athena Swan accredited measures to show they are inclusive employers. The organisation’s definition of diversity and inclusion involves hitting goals to increase the hiring of minorities, even if minorities constitute a majority of employees, and submitting employees to unconscious bias training.
Worth reading in full.