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[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire March No. 2, fife'n'drum version]
01 — Intro. And Radio Derb is on the air! Greetings, listeners, from your verbosely genial host John Derbyshire, bringing you VDARE.com's weekly glance at the passing charivari.
I'm going to start off this week with some comments about wokeness. Before I embark formally on that, just a prefatory remark about "wokeness" the word, as opposed to wokeness the thing.
I'm starting to be irritated by the word "wokeness," I'm not sure why. When "woke" and "wokeness" first came up, I thought they were sort of cute.
Since the 1980s, if not earlier, we had been using the cumbersome phrase "politically correct" to describe the idiocies of linguistic puritanism about race and sex. "Woke" was a big improvement: it replaced a two-word seven-syllable adjectival phrase with a concise one-syllable adjective. What's not to like?
The derivative terms — "wokeness," "the wokerati," "the Great Awokening," et cetera were likewise cute and handy. My favorite derivative is "wokefishing." That's when cynical young males pretend to be woke in order to lure woke young women into sexual engagement. I suspect my 26-year-old son of having practiced wokefishing, but he denies it.
It's also been satisfying to know that we stole the word "woke" from antiwhite progressives. So says Wikipedia, anyway. Quote from them, referring to the phrase "stay woke":
Following the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, the phrase was popularised by Black Lives Matter (BLM) activists seeking to raise awareness about police shootings of African Americans.
You can't get much more woke than Wikipedia, so I'm going to trust them on the origins of the word. If Wikipedia is right, we stole the word "woke" from the wokesters and turned it right back on them.
Even with all that going for it, though, I can't escape the feeling that the words "woke" and "wokeness" have worn out their welcome. Wokeness — wokeness the thing — is a very serious matter. It's poisoning our culture and destroying our educational system. Yet it sounds kind of frivolous. I dunno, I just wish we had something with a bit more … weight.
I've tried coining replacement words, but haven't come up with anything that works. In Nineteen Eighty-Four Orwell called the state ideology "IngSoc," presumably short for "English Socialism." Along those lines I thought of "AuthProg" for our state ideology, short for "Authoritarian Progressivism." Not bad; but I can't get a one-syllable adjective out of it.
Research continues. Meanwhile I'll stick with "woke" and its derivatives.
After all that commentary on the word, here is some on the thing.
02 — Jordan Peterson quits the academy. I have to confess I am not closely engaged with Jordan Peterson. That's a bit embarrassing for me because I get regular emails from Radio Derb listeners who are thus engaged, and who urge me to watch this or that YouTube clip of Peterson talking about something or other.
Plainly those listeners think that Peterson and I are on the same page somehow. Well, to a degree we are. We both detest, loathe, and deplore wokeness. We both think it's all a lie, and a huge social and cultural negative.
So far so good; but while I nod along in agreement with much of what Peterson says, we differ on a key point of psychology. Peterson believes in what a 19th-century scholar called "the psychic unity of mankind." I don't; I think that observed differences in social outcomes between races and sexes arise from innate biological differences. Since Peterson is a trained academic psychologist and I'm not, I guess this is naively presumptuous of me; but there you are.
All that aside, I applaud and admire Peterson as a fearless warrior against wokeness. I have been applauding and admiring all the more this week because on Thursday, in Canada's National Post newspaper, he fired off a splendid broadside against the, quote, "appalling ideology currently demolishing the universities and, downstream, the general culture," end quote.
Peterson, he tells us, has recently, at the age of 59, retired from his position as full tenured professor at the University of Toronto. What has driven him out is the university's obsession with DIE. That's D-I-E, Peterson's preferred ordering of the woke Holy Trinity: Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity.
DIE, says Peterson in the National Post essay, means that (a) "qualified and supremely trained heterosexual white male graduate students" stand no chance of getting research positions in the university, while (b) there aren't enough qualified BIPOC people — that's black, indigenous and people of colour — to meet the diversity targets, so the research positions go to people not qualified for them. Quote:
That, combined with the death of objective testing, has compromised the universities so badly that it can hardly be overstated. And what happens in the universities eventually colours everything. As we have discovered.
Peterson's Thursday column in the National Post is a brilliant piece of anti-woke polemic. I urge you to look it up on nationalpost.com. It includes a gem of a comment — quite a long one, over three hundred words — by Vladimir Putin, pouring scorn on Social Justice dogma and comparing it with Bolshevism. Edited quote from Putin:
It may come as a surprise to some people, but Russia has been there already … The destruction of age-old values, religion, and relations between people, up to and including the total rejection of family (we had that, too), encouragement to inform on loved ones — all this was proclaimed progress … By the way, the Bolsheviks were absolutely intolerant of opinions other than theirs.
Commentators in mainland China sometimes express similar thoughts, with Mao Tse-tung's Cultural Revolution in place of Lenin's Bolshevism. You may have heard about the Chinese expression báizuŏ, "the white left," used scornfully to refer to white wokesters in the West striving to destroy age-old values, religion, et cetera — the same things that Putin spoke of. Because Mao is officially still revered in China, you don't hear mockery of the báizuŏ from senior political figures, but there's plenty of it on the internet, uncensored.
If Jordan Peterson were to grasp the nettles of race and sex realism, I would become a devoted Peterson disciple. Until then, I'll admire him from a small distance, read more of what he has to say, and try to pay attention all the way through one of his videos or podcasts.
03 — Wokeness kills creativity. A second point about wokeness: It's killing creativity.
There's a steady trickle of stories about this, if you go looking for them. A big landmark one was the January 11th article at Bari Weiss's Substack, cross-posted the same day at the London Daily Mail website.
The article is by two Los Angeles journalists who specialize in covering showbiz, especially Hollywood of course. Hollywood's New Rules is the headline on Bari Weiss's Substack. The Daily Mail version is wordier, in the way those damn Brits have, headline: Hollywood will barely dare whisper it but the woke revolution that has driven out white men and ensures that every production is ideologically sound will kill the entertainment industry, end headline.
The message here is that the people who make movies and TV shows — "movies" of course including productions for streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, etc. — live and work in a state of fear that they aren't woke enough.
That's just speaking of people who actually have jobs in showbiz production. Straight white men increasingly don't. CBS has mandated that writers' rooms, where the scripts for shows are produced, be at least forty percent BIPOC for the current broadcast season, and fifty percent for the next season, 2022-2023. Once again: BIPOC means black, indigenous and people of colour.
A longtime showbiz veteran is quoted as saying that, quote, "every studio has something like that," end quote.
As always when rigid ideological conformity is enforced, creativity is stifled. Longish quote from another anonymous person, identified only as "writer and producer," quote:
Maybe it's 15 percent about the belief that it will bring more people into viewing content, and 85 percent about the fear of being attacked on social media or in places like the Hollywood press or The New York Times. You've got to be insane not to have at the forefront of your mind all of these racial and gender and trans issues when you're writing something. You have to worry about the impact that everything you do will have on your career. And that has an obvious chilling effect on creativity.
A side effect of all this politicization is that successful movies and shows of the past are now being memory-holed: Blazing Saddles, for example, notwithstanding it was co-written by Richard Pryor. Also the original Rocky, because the bad guy cannot be black, and the Dustin Hoffman movie Tootsie, where he fakes being a woman to get acting jobs. All in the Family? Fuhgeddaboutit. A producer explained to the journalists that Archie Bunker, quote, "is basically a Trump voter." Well, that won't do!
So if you're wondering why shows nowadays are preachy, dull, and unfunny … It's the wokeness.
04 — Woke is BORING. A third point on wokeness: IT'S BORING! Once wokeness has taken over some field of endeavor, it drains all the interest from that field.
If you read my monthly diaries here at VDARE.com, you know that I'm given to bellyaching about this in regard to math. It's getting to be more than I can bear.
The MAA, for example. That's the Mathematical Association of America. I've been a member of the MAA for thirty years and I get their periodicals: the Monthly, the College Math Journal, and their newsmagazine, which is called Focus.
Focus used to be fun and informative. They once published an article by me! Nowadays it's deeply woke: not quite cover to cover, but heading that way. Of the five main articles in the current issue, here are three:
The first item there celebrates the life of a black female mathematician who passed away in August last year at age 82. I'm sure she was a nice lady and I hope she rests in peace; but as a mathematician, with all due respect, she seems not to have been distinguished. Her Ph.D., awarded in 1970, was in Mathematics Education.
She was, the obituary tells us, quote, "committed to working at historically black colleges and universities," end quote. We are further told that she, quote, "was dedicated to improving mathematics opportunities for the disenfranchised," end quote. Also that she was, quote, "an equity champion for all," end quote.
All worthy enough, I guess, though I don't know what the word "disenfranchised" is doing there. What, there were aspiring mathematicians who couldn't vote in the 1970s? Name one.
And math Ph.D.s must die at an actuarially steady clip, year after year. Would this one have been honored with a seven-page obituary in the newsletter of the MAA if she had been a white male of identical mathematical accomplishment? I'm just asking.
The second item, "Building Community in the Classroom," is about the subject which the late Dr. Knight got her Ph.D. in: math education. The author is a white lady named Erica Winterer, currently a doctoral student in STEM education. She gives an account of her experiences as a student and teacher. The piece isn't objectionable but it's awful dull; and Ms. Winterer is the last person on earth to still believe in the reality of "stereotype threat."
The third item, "Critical Reflections on Equitable Mathematics Education," is even duller, and all written in woke jargon: "problematic deficit perspectives that othered students of color," and so on … and so on, and so problematically on.
Reading this issue of Focus, in fact, I was starting to feel quite othered myself. These pages and pages of wokery must be for someone, I guess, but they're not for me. I'm not interested in problematic deficit perspectives; I'm interested in math.
The American Mathematical Monthly is still about actual math: "Inellipses of Convex Polygons" — yeah! "Another Alternating Analogue of Euler's Constant" — wow! "A New Approach to the Katětov-Tong Theorem" — er, okay, I never actually heard of that theorem, but I'll take a look. Where the names of theorems are concerned, my favorite is still the Bump-Ng Theorem, stated in 1986 by two mathematicians with surnames Bump and Ng.
So that's all good, but the poison is seeping in. At the end of the current MAA Monthly there is, as usual, a book review. Title of book under review: Inventing the Mathematician: Gender, Race, and Our Cultural Understanding of Mathematics. Author: Sara Hottinger, a white lady. Executive summary: Math is just a social construct. Hey, what isn't?
The author, our reviewer tells us, quote, "writes using language from critical theory and interdisciplinary feminist studies," end quote. He thinks she might have been more colloquial.
That mild quibble aside, our reviewer is on board with the author's approach. Sample quote from his review, quote:
Mathematicians must become generally more informed about the impact of race and gender in mathematics, and also must learn a better and more clear language for talking about complicated social issues.
I can hear math geeks from coast to coast groaning wearily: "Oh, must we? Can't we just do math?"
05 — The mystery of creativity. As I was talking my way through those last two segments I started asking myself: Sure, wokeness is a creativity-killer, but is there something else going on? Supposing our society was as ideologically relaxed as it was fifty years ago: would we be just as creative?
My guess is not. The rise and fall of cultural creativity is a mysterious thing. Certainly the enforcement of a narrow ideology is a creativity-killer, but creativity ebbs and flows even when such obvious factors are absent.
Take poetry, for example. A great Latinist once remarked that, quote:
The great age of Latin poetry extends from about the year 60 B.C. till the death of Ovid in A.D. 17
That's a single human lifetime. Roman civilization, republic and empire, lasted seven hundred years. Why weren't the Romans as poetically creative in all seven hundred of those years, or at least two or three hundred of them, as they were in that single lifetime?
It's the same with other kinds of creativity: in art, architecture, science, music. Why is human society sometimes creative, sometimes not?
I've never seen a complete explanation, but there are some factors you can pin down. For example: If you ask people who've thought about this deeply it's not long before the word "confidence" comes up. Here for example is Kenneth Clark, quote:
Of course, civilisation requires a modicum of material prosperity — enough to provide a little leisure. But, far more, it requires confidence — confidence in the society in which one lives, belief in its philosophy, belief in its laws, and confidence in one's own mental powers.
In the matter of music, here's another Substack piece, this one from Ted Gioia's Substack, title: Is Old Music Killing New Music?
Ted's talking about popular music. His message, supported by statistics from the music business, is that consumers don't much want current music. They want oldies. Sample quotes:
Old songs now represent 70 percent of the US music market … The new music market is actually shrinking. All the growth in the market is coming from old songs … The current list of most downloaded tracks on iTunes is filled with the names of bands from the last century, such as Creedence Clearwater and The Police.
Of course that gets a smile from geezers like me. I think the pop music of the sixties and seventies was great. But of course I do: those were my salad days, and their music is all connected in my mind with memories of adventure and romance. My parents felt the same about the music of the twenties and thirties, and scoffed at Elvis and the Beatles. I can still hear my Mum remarking of Elvis that, quote: "Why, he can't even enunciate."
Ted Gioia's reporting something different, though. It's not that geezers don't like current pop: on the statistics he reviews, nobody much likes it.
I can't see that wokeness has a lot to do with that. It's just one of those mysterious cultural shifts. We're in a pop-music winter.
So okay, it's not all wokeness. There are other things going on — things to do with technology, and the way we spend our time. Still, that wokeness has put a great big damper on our cultural creativity can't be denied.
06 — Miscellany. And now, our closing miscellany of brief items.
Imprimis: Well-informed listeners all know that the Gates of Hell are located not in Washington, D.C. as I sometimes suspect, but in the noble republic of Turkmenistan.
Fifty years ago, when Turkmenistan was a Soviet republic, the Russians were drilling for natural gas in the desert out there. One day the entire drilling site collapsed into a huge crater sixty yards wide and twenty deep. The gas was ignited to stop it spreading, and ever since it has been seeping into the crater and burning, making a spectacle that does indeed look hellish.
Well, present-day Turkmenistan is blessed with a leader who fears nothing, not even the fires of Hell. That is of course Radio Derb's dear friend and patron President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov.
The great man has now given orders that the fires be put out, to preserve the environment and the health of local people. Also to improve the prosperity of his nation and thereby raise the living standards of her citizens.
Quote from President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, quote:
We are losing valuable natural resources for which we could get significant profits and use them for improving the well-being of our people.
How fortunate the Turkmen people are to have a President so concerned with their welfare! Long live President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov! Long live the beautiful republic of Turkmenistan! Out, out with the fires of Hell!
[Turkmenistan national anthem.]
Item: Further south, the nation of Indonesia is relocating its capital city from its present location on the coast of Java island to the jungles of Borneo. The main reason seems to be that Jakarta, the current capital, is quite rapidly sinking owing to the inhabitants of the city sucking up all the groundwater.
It's a cool idea, to just move your nation's capital like that. Brazil did it sixty years ago, building a new city, Brasilia, to replace Rio de Janeiro as the nation's capital.
Why don't we do this? Washington, D.C. is a fine city, full of elegant monuments and so on, but then so was Rio. The business of the federal government could just as well be conducted anywhere else. We could even have a peripatetic government, moving it from state to state every ten years. That would keep the swamp critters on their toes!
Of course, all that moving would keep the bureaucrats busy — perhaps too busy to attend to their actual jobs. Still, since most of what the feds do is pointless, if not actually harmful, that would be a net plus for the nation.
Item: We have a new advocate for reparations: thirty-year-old Jamaican immigrant Winston Glynn.
January 8th in New York City Glynn went into a Burger King, pulled a gun, and demanded cash. The cashier, a 19-year-old white Puerto Rican girl named Kristal Bayron-Nieves, handed over the contents of her register, but Glynn shot her dead anyway.
The police soon tracked him down, arrested and booked him. As he was being led out of the station house after the booking, across the sidewalk to a police car, Glynn went into a rant. "Where's our reparations for four hundred years of f***ing slavery?" he shouted in mid-rant.
There you see one of the downsides of having a state ideology designed to make some large section of your population feel resentful. That large section will contain some lunatics — any large section of any population will contain some lunatics. The resentment we teach them to feel will inflame those lunatics to do very evil things.
Perhaps we should change to some new state ideology, one that does not make millions of people seethe with resentment. Just a thought.
On the rare occasions through the years when the reverend bishop's name registered on my consciousness, I had a fleeting mental image of a portly middle-aged gent dressed as one of the ballerinas in Swan Lake. There was no intentional disrespect on my part; it was just what his name summoned up.
Should another male come into prominence a few years hence with the same surname, members of the newsreading public will be spared that image. The tutu, as an item of ballerina's costume, is on its way out.
This is wokeness striking again. Today's dancers, according to the January 9th Daily Mail, prefer gender neutral outfits.
Damn those wokesters! Couldn't they have left the tutu alone? The Sugar Plum Fairy without a tutu will be like Santa Claus without a beard. The way things are going gender-wise, in fact, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Sugar Plum Fairy with a beard.
I'd better stop right here, though. I don't want to give them ideas …
07 — Signoff. And that's all I have, ladies and gents. Thank you for your time and attention, and particular thanks to listeners and readers who have sent in best wishes for the arrival of my first grandchild, which is imminent as I speak.
Almost exactly a week ago as I go to tape here, shortly before midnight New York time, an undersea volcano erupted very violently in the South Pacific. Precisely, it erupted in the archipelago nation of Tonga, forty miles north of the main island where most Tongans live. NASA logged the blast at around ten megatons. The bang woke people up in Alaska, six thousand miles away.
Tonga was completely cut off for a while there, but we now have a good idea of the scope of the damage. It's serious: from the initial blast, the tsunami that followed, and the rain of hot ash and stones that fell all over the islands. I haven't seen total fatality numbers, but they seem to be surprisingly light, in the low double digits. Condolences to the bereaved none the less, and all best wishes for recovery to the survivors.
You don't hear much about Tonga. It's small, population a hundred thousand or so, and remote, down there south of Samoa, about half an hour east of the International Date Line. For Brits of my generation, though — the last of the pre-Boomers — hearing Tonga in the news summons up warm sentimental feelings.
We remember the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953, the day before my eighth birthday. To be present at the coronation ceremony, dignitaries came from all over the world. They were all on display in an immense procession through the streets of London past cheering crowds to Westminster Abbey, where the actual ceremony took place.
Among those dignitaries was the Queen of Tonga, a large and jovial lady named Salote. Tonga was an independent sovereign nation, and still is, and always has been; I don't think it was never colonized. They had some kind of protection treaty with Britain, though, and English is the second national language, after Tongan.
Unfortunately it rained that day. Yes, it literally rained on the Queen's parade, on the way back from the Abbey. Elizabeth herself was in a closed coach, but most of the dignitaries were in open carriages. No prob: The carriages had hoods they could raise.
The Queen of Tonga, however, defied the rain. She kept her carriage uncovered so the crowds could see her, and waved and smiled at them all along the processional route. Her carriage was the only one not covered. She somehow, I don't know how, managed to stay dry; but her companion in the carriage, the Sultan of Kelantan, got soaked.
That won the hearts of the Brits; so much so that Edmundo Ros, a famous bandleader and singer of Caribbean origin, wrote and performed a song in the calypso style to commemorate the event. Here it is. If there are any Tongans out there in Radio Derb land, I hope it'll cheer them up after this awful calamity.
There will be more from Radio Derb next week.
[Music clip: Edmundo Ros and his orchestra, "The Queen of Tonga."]