Repentance

Repentance by James Howard Kunstler

You’d think that a wobbling civilization, plagued by failures of economy and politics, would have better things to do than submit to the crypto-religious ghost-dance of racial hysteria called “being Woke” that preoccupies its thinking class. Case in point: the vocational martyrdom at Smith College of a lowly staffer named Jodi Shaw, who objected publicly to the ritual indignities heaped on her by colleagues and students in the name of “social justice” — that is, the holy war against “whiteness.”

Her story: Ms. Shaw, a divorced mother with two children (and Smith alum, 1993) worked as a Student Support Coordinator in the Department of Residence Life (that is, a dorm counselor). She was asked to denounce herself in staff meetings about “systemic racism,” and complained about it through the proper channels, which only invited more hectoring abuse. In frustration, she finally posted a video on the web to expose the Stalinist bullying that was allowed to infect every corner of campus life at Smith. The admin offered her a cash settlement to shut up and get lost. Ms. Shaw turned it down but resigned anyway in a long letter to Smith President Kathleen McCartney that she made public about the college’s hostile workplace.

How does this happen? Because Wokery above all is about status, and the elite schools exist to confer status on the young people who can get into them, who then move on into an adult life of high-status (high-paying) employment facilitated by their old school connections. In prior times, the elite schools accomplished this by offering a superior education via superior faculty and superior curricula. Lately, the emphasis has shifted to promoting sham moral superiority, because it is a shortcut to gaining power over other people — and nowadays, elitism is no longer about excellence, but just raw power over others. As the Woke hysteria ramped up on campuses across the nation, and the various colleges and U’s started competing to out-do each other in moralistic fanaticism, Smith College vied with its sister schools and the other Ivies for Woke-est of all.

The moral black hole at the center of this vicious nonsense is the spectacular failure of authority of the people who run these institutions. Smith President Kathleen McCartney supported and encouraged the Woke inquisition on her campus. She gets paid the tidy sum of $515,461 a year. Maybe she didn’t want to give that up by taking a principled stand against bad behavior and bad ideas. Maybe she favors the rule of bad ideas and unprincipled behavior? Is she stupid or depraved? And, of course, what about her huge staff of vice-presidents and deans, not to mention the school’s board of trustees? To what degree are we seeing simple cowardice?

Ms. McCartney got stung in 2014 — the year of the Ferguson, Missouri, riots — when she sent out a campus-wide email, trying to mollify the inflamed student body, under the heading “All Lives Matter.” This was early in the Woke frenzy, and the phrase “all lives matter” was just then getting minted as a form of “hate speech,” so Ms. McCartney apparently made an innocent blunder — for which she was forced to pay with one of those abjectly disingenuous apologies that have become the standard dishonorable response to Woke coercion. Evidently, she learned a lesson with that: just go with the flow. The wonder is that not one other adult on that campus has the decency to speak out against the new Stalinesque fashion, or to support Jodi Shaw.

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James Howard Kunstler

James Howard Kunstler says he wrote The Geography of Nowhere, “Because I believe a lot of people share my feelings about the tragic landscape of highway strips, parking lots, housing tracts, mega-malls, junked cities, and ravaged countryside that makes up the everyday environment where most Americans live and work.” Home From Nowhere was a continuation of that discussion with an emphasis on the remedies. A portion of it appeared as the cover story in the September 1996 Atlantic Monthly. His next book in the series, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, published by Simon & Schuster / Free Press, is a look a wide-ranging look at cities here and abroad, an inquiry into what makes them great (or miserable), and in particular what America is going to do with it’s mutilated cities.