Gratitude for the privileges that American citizenship bestows, and for those who made those privileges and their extension possible is in short supply.
As someone who has a certain respect for what remains of the norms and implied rules of that ever-evolving language, American English, I try to keep up to date despite my advancing age. Despite this, the phrase “woke” grates the grammar fascist in me beyond explanation, so I have tried to soothe the tension by relying, respectfully but firmly, on the word “awake” to explain my commitment to helping purge society of all that is evil, wrong, and presumably “asleep.” I am desperately trying to become more awake.
In my quest to achieve a hyper-caffeinated version of being “awake” I am gratified to see the great movement forward has managed to cleanse such critical media outlets as Teen Vogue, the New York Times and children’s literature of racists, homophobes, and fascists. However, it seems to me that we have much bigger fish to fry. My awakened soul has called me to alert my comrades with the pitchforks, torches, and cancellation privileges to a number of unacceptably asleep individuals and historical movements that should be purged, cancelled, removed, and obliterated from our accepted discourse and intellectual lives. Out with discussion, pluralism, and context; in with the perfect amount of tolerance for the demands of purity.
Now, I don’t mean to cast aspersions upon my sleepless comrades who have focused rather narrowly on members of the American Founding, Dr. Seuss, Aristotle, and other unmistakably obvious candidates for expulsion from history, but we must face reality. A number of intellectual giants of the left must go. Karl Marx must be cancelled. This, of course, isn’t a secret to anyone who has actually bothered to read his historical theory, which has large sections focused on racial determinism. But his personal correspondence is littered with derogatory references to blacks, Jews, Slavs, and other people of color. If we are going to get rid of statues of David Hume and Adam Smith, individuals whose public writings never directly addressed questions of race, how can we justify Marx? The answer is we cannot. All of his work must be removed from public discussion and statues and memorials must be taken down. I know this will pain some of my fellow awakened comrades, but at least we won’t have to read Das Capital again.
The same holds true for Rousseau. While Rousseau does argue that “savages” are in fact less tainted by the stain of property and thus closer to his idealized and cherished state of nature, his other writings make the situation much more bleak for the great thinker. In Emile for example, Mercer Cook noted that Rousseau chose a European child as his subject because the brains of those from colder or warmer zones “Negroes and Laplanders do not have the intellect of Europeans”. But, one of the asleep might respond “Rousseau wrote extensively about the horror of slavery! Surely he must be counted as a hero?” Unfortunately, no. He never specifically mentioned black slavery as a problem, didn’t sign any of the abolitionist letters publicly circulating in Paris during his life, and awkwardly his work was cited by Caribbean slave owners as justification for their practices.
Unfortunately both of these famous thinkers happen to be more widely cited, accepted and used by the most sleepless scholars, but no matter. We can purify our thoughts and philosophy by removing these noxious influences from our beliefs. We cannot let our guard down. Tragically the same holds true for many of the revolutionary icons that we, the insomniacs, hold dear. If we turn our gaze towards the long oppressed people of Latin America, we must uncomfortably acknowledge that several of the more well-known figures in the movement to free the Latinx people from their white oppressors include individuals we will have to purge from our history.
It begins with one of the most widely recognized individuals among fashionably sensible awake people, Che Guevara. While Che’s face adorns countless t-shirts at elite universities and awake political gatherings in the understandable spirit of kinship with peasants wearing colorful clothing throughout South and Central America, he, along with his comrade Fidel Castro, also targeted and imprisoned gay people as well as engaged in racist activities in his lifetime. The Argentine author Guillermina Sutter Schneidner rightly describes him as a “Racist, Homophobe and Mass Murderer”. The last time I checked the awake are still opposed to all three of those views even if they make for great fashion. Castro himself believed that homosexuality was incompatible with the “new Revolutionary man” he was trying to craft in Cuba. Regrettably jettisoning the Cuban Revolution to defend the LGBTQ community will be necessary. It’s surprising that this hasn’t happened thus far.
And speaking of anti-gay people ripe for removal from public discourse, another pillar of left-wing thought, Antonio Gramsci, made a fateful and regrettable decision to argue that heterosexual monogamy was essential to achieving Marxist hegemony. Clearly anyone who would argue that heterosexual relations are essential to anything but patriarchy and oppression needs to be removed from reasonable discourse. In the year the world moved past the Trump Presidency, it’s time to stop harming our awakened LGBTQ comrades and remove Gramsci from our civil “conversation.”
But we must not stop by simply canceling and removing individuals from the history books and fashionable stores throughout the developed world. We must also re-examine our theories and the way we think about history. We all know that anytime a white person of the conservative political persuasion discusses the word “federalism” or, even more toxically, the phrase “states rights” he (it’s always men isn’t it?) is referring to slavery and segregation. This is so because, well it is so. Federalism is only not racist when our fellow insomniacs are discussing it.
It is with much regret that I must say that those of us who are awake will now have to purge the idea that organized labor was a laudable force in moving the cause of justice forward. Why, you may ask? Well, it is widely known that the early labor movement was heroic for its attempts to make the relationship between workers and owners of capital more just. What is less well known is that the early labor movement also was actively racist. Paul Moreno is one of many scholars who has shown quite clearly that the earlier labor movement actively viewed former slaves as nothing but strikebreakers and lobbied for legislation to prevent such actions by freed slaves. The historical literature here is well established, so much so that we can turn easily to literature. Upton Sinclair’s famous book The Jungle describes a confrontation between a young labor union fighting for its workers and a group of African American strikebreakers—described in unfortunately derogatory terms. Much as it pains me, Sinclair must go, but so too must any sympathetic reference to organized labor. If slavery was part of the Founding of the United States and the 1619 Project has accomplished anything, we must likewise jettison any glorification of organized labor and its racist founding.
Which brings us to some of the most painful cuts of all for those of us who are the most caffeinated and awake. These are people who have helped provide the philosophical foundation for postmodern thought, and thus enabled us to crack the door open to reassess all of the hidden hate and racism surrounding us. We must begin with Jean Paul Sartre, who regrettably had quite a bit of sexist language and imagery in his writing. You can’t believe it? Don’t take my word for it—look at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry about him which admits as much. The author of the entry does try to make a rather ham-handed defense of him as a feminist, but this runs completely contrary to even what his supporters believe. And then there is Foucault. We all perhaps have been a bit too understanding to the man who during his life signed a petition to legalize sex between adults and minors, and has now been revealed by one of his friends to have paid young Algerian boys to have sex with him in graveyards. These facts make his current status as an insomniac icon awkward at best. Off with his intellectual head!
Finally, I can’t complete this piece without mentioning that great enemy of the awake, Ray Bradbury. Bradbury’s deeply offensive novel Fahrenheit 451 openly mocks the entire concept of awakening. If we cannot literally burn these texts which offend and appall, what is the point of pursuing these ends and exerting all of this effort. If one is to mock the burning of books then we must ultimately ask, is this not a veiled critique of the great goal of being awake? If we plan on canceling that which doesn’t suit our current tastes, don’t we essentially value the right to destroy the physical representations of those offensive ideas? What’s a little book burning amongst the awake? Let’s build some sleepless social capital, collect a bunch of copies of Bradbury’s work, and burn, baby, burn.