Guilt or Guilty? A Challenge To The Cowards

The token punching bag at the New York Times, Bret Stephens, made an interesting observation in his post-mortem on  the Smith College fiasco:

Why does the embrace of social justice pedagogies seem to have gone hand in hand with deteriorating race relations on campus?

One answer is that if many students are enjoying a diet of courses on critical race theory, and employees are trained on the fine points of microaggressions, they might take to heart what they are taught and notice what they have been trained to see.

Another answer is that if those who report being offended gain sympathy, attention and even celebrity, more accusations may be reported.

The deeper answer, I suspect, is that the Woke left has the liberal left’s number. It’s called guilt.

By guilt, does he mean feeling guilty about what they’ve done, been, said or not said? Or does he mean guilt as in being manipulated by shrieks of racism or sexism, for they don’t want people to feel they’ve been racist or sexist, and react to demonstrate to the satisfaction of roving mobs of self-deputized inquisitors seeking transgressions that they are good people, decent people, so please don’t destroy me?

The telling line in Powell’s story comes from a letter the Black Student Association wrote to McCartney, Smith’s (white) president, saying its members “do not feel heard or understood. We feel betrayed and tokenized.” Tokenized, most certainly: Behind every affirmative action program at every liberal institution is a yearning for moral redemption — admission to its present ranks is granted in exchange for absolution for past sins and acceptance of its ideological assumptions.

The Woke left doesn’t want to be a party to this bargain. Absolution is off the table. And the liberal ideals themselves are up for renegotiation.

The power that scolds hold over these liberal institutions isn’t seized, but given. Stephens’ contention, that they open their doors to the downtrodden in exchange for absolution, seems far too cynical for my taste. If the liberal ideals are real, then diversity and inclusion are given because they are the right thing to do, the way in which we live up to the ideal of equal opportunity. There’s no bargain involved, and black students need not absolve the colleges of anything in exchange for being welcomed into its elite community.

But if Stephens is wrong, what explains their capitulation to every complaint, every demand, every truth and every lie? Why do college presidents not respond, “if you don’t like it here at Smith, go somewhere else”? Why do they let transients, which is all college students are, dictate who gets hired and fired, what becomes institutional requirements of students like coursework in anti-bias training and cultural sensitivity, what words professors can utter without losing tenure? What “symbolic” childish indulgences and affections they must suffer lest any student feel unloved or disrespected?

Guilt. Maybe there is a sense of guilt for historic wrongs, even if they weren’t the culprits who perpetrated them, and even if they are deeply committed to not allowing them to happen again. This is certainly part of the reparations narrative for those who accept the premise that they enjoy privilege because of race or gender, and rather than do what they can to help those who do not enjoy the same opportunity, drop to the knees to wash feet in an act of supplication.

But the most potent weapon is to moderate one’s every word, every thought, every action to avoid being the target of someone higher on the victim food chain from pointing their finger and shouting J’accuse! Colleges, businesses, media and law now cower in fear of the accusation, the story of racism and sexism that catches fire and spreads across media, damning them for something that exists only in the vicious yet fertile mind of the oppressed.

All of this has left many of the traditional gatekeepers of liberal institutions uncertain, timid and, in many cases, quietly outraged. This is not the deal they thought they struck. But it’s the deal they’re going to get until they recover the courage of their liberal convictions.

At any time, colleges could have said, “no, we’re going to teach math rather than grievance studies, and if you fail, you’re out.” Businesses too could have refused to fire personnel because some random nutjob screamed about him on twitter. The media could have stuck to reporting facts instead of “moral clarity” and the law could address its many failings without succumbing to crime fantasies where the guy who knifed you is the “real” victim. They could have, but they didn’t. They chose not to. They chose to let themselves be guilted into submission.

What stopped them? Guilt?

When this latest digression into left authoritarianism began, it became clear to me that there was no way in hell I could, or would, keep pace with the demands of the woke. I didn’t want to use words that offended people. I had no desire to offend anyone. But it was swiftly apparent that words were being lost, whether by being placed on the forbidden list or redefined to meaninglessness, at a pace that left people without the ability to express basic ideas without someone taking offense. I knew this was a game I wouldn’t win and couldn’t play, so I didn’t. Instead, I willingly suffer the slings and arrows of the unduly passionate and shrug.

Stephens may be right about the genesis of this phenomenon being liberal guilt, but he’s wrong about why they’ve become obsequious allies to the perpetually perturbed. It’s cowardice. They are afraid of being accused, being called mean names, being attacked by the very insipid children they were charged with raising.

They should have said no at the outset and not empowered the woke into believing that they ran the show, but they believed it would pass, the woke would grow up and recognize their childish ideas. That, of course, hasn’t happened, and it wasn’t just some dumb college kids doing typically dumb kid stuff. And a lot of people have been hurt by it.

It’s going to be a lot harder now, after so much of the intellectual infrastructure of society has been bastardized in an effort to placate the woke, to call bullshit and end it. But if we don’t put away the guilt and grow some guts, the damage may be unfixable. People may not be guilty for society’s historic transgressions, but we will be guilty for the cowardly failure to put an end to it.

39 thoughts on “Guilt or Guilty? A Challenge To The Cowards

  1. Vincent Morrone

    I wonder if guilt is the correct word here. Guilt implies that someone did something wrong. In psychological terms, the better term might be shame. With shame, the belief is that you yourself are wrong. It’s as if they are taking on the shame of being racists. Or perhaps it’s fear. If they have any sort of pushback, any attempt to inject even a bit of common sense into these situations, they fear being called a racist.

    1. SHG Post author

      You were doing great until you went to “common sense.” Stephens point was guilt, that even though they didn’t do anything wrong, they feel as if they did, or at least as if they’re responsible for wrongs done by others. So this is their way of making reparations. Shame is a consequence of guilt, so it’s certainly part of the package.

      1. Vincent Morrone

        I’m starting to study psychology with an eye on becoming a mental health counselor so I’m thinking in certain terms, ala Brene Brown in this case. It’s natural to feel ashamed of something you did wrong. I stole your cookie so I’m guilty and ashamed. But if you feel shame for something you didn’t do, it’s a perception that you are wrong. That’s something you see beyond just critical race. People with depression, who are emotionally abused growing up, often internalize their feelings, even when the issue isn’t them. It sounds as if that’s what’s happening here. The question is whether they really feel shame, or they are pretending to be ‘woke’ enough. Are they victims of their own internal racism?

        1. SHG Post author

          Be circumspect about what you learn in psychology. It’s something of a hotbed for bullshit rationalizations about why people do what they do. Great for coming up with excuses. Not so good for actually helping anyone. There’s a reason we’re suffering an epidemic of anxiety, depression and narcissism in this country, and you might want to consider whether psychology is the cure or the disease.

          1. Pedantic Grammar Police

            Conspiracy theorist! How dare you suggest that our sacred institutions of higher learning are misleading people! Next you’ll be quoting Carlin.

  2. John S.

    I would suggest that the true driver of most of this nonsense is primarily moral superiority (or rather, the sense and affirmation of having it) much moreso than guilt, and in fact they would prefer you see it as them doing it because they feel guilt.

    The guy in church proclaiming how much of a sinner he is over the most minor of transgressions isn’t doing so because of his deep guilt; he’s doing it because he’s showing off how devout he is, and the triviality of confessions show off how he’s not doing, of course would never do, the ‘big stuff’ that we know those _other_ people would. They get attention and love from their fellow travelers who engage in the same rituals; they get to feel moral superiority over others who don’t perform as them; and significantly there is no actual personal cost.

    1. SHG Post author

      A false sense of moral superiority might apply to some, maybe most, of the inquisitors, but to college admins and the like? Some, perhaps, but I doubt its their prime motivation.

      1. Scott Spencer

        There is a big level of moral superiority coupled with white guilt in higher ed.

        I sat through 2 hours wailing and gnashing of teeth yesterday because we let 17 untenured faculty go from programs that were not making the university money. The faculty in this meeting only saw the labels (black, white, LGBTQ, whatever) and decided that the only reason these people were let go was because they were in minority groups. The bigger picture surrounding finances, union rules, and common fucking sense was just not there.

        The most vocal of these faculty claimed the fired faculty should remain, costs be damned, because of their chosen label, not what they could contribute to the university. The most vocal of these faculty teaches in a program called Social Justice Studies, with 2, yes 2 students, and has been very vocal about both gentrification and police brutality (off topic and irrelevant. mentioned to show his wokeness)…..but he is a white dude who lives in minority neighbourhood, therefore is the definition of gentrification and therefore missing his entire point of the “evils” of gentrification.

        So, I do think its a motivation, and is probably just as equal as the guilt and maybe more so.

          1. Scott Spencer

            Late reply….

            but the higher level admins don’t care about labels except in how it can get bodies through the door ($$). The lower level admin (staff officially, directors by title) do seem to care a lot since they are driving all kinds of stuff like pronouns, preferred names and demanding our new president (to be hired) is “diverse” what the hell that means.

            Faculty, minus the Sciences and Business couldn’t care less about labels. They just want to teach.

  3. Tom Kirkendall

    Shelby Steele has been writing and talking frequently about these issues recently. He contends that current racial tensions are caused primarily by an outgrowth of a change in racial understanding from the 1960s.

    In Steele’s view, the ’60s produced a “redemptive liberalism” on the left in an effort to rid America of past experiences of racism. Steele notes that the recent trend of corporations publicly declaring their support of Black Lives Matter reveals an incessant desire to be innocent of the past.

    Given the post-modern philosophic origins of much of today’s race theory, it’s ironic that important race reformers such as Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King relied on the principles of the United States as the solid foundation for progress toward a more just world. They were able to distinguish those core principles from political compromises. In so doing, their underlying message was “now live up to these principles.”

  4. Stephan R. Illa

    “It’s cowardess” or cowardice if you don’t feel guilty showing off your privilege.

    1. SHG Post author

      Normally, I would just trash this comment and correct my typo, but when I wrote that, I knew the word was wrong but I just completely blanked on the right word. I figured Beth would correct me, but she didn’t. Senior moments suck.

  5. Hunting Guy


    Another conservative post by Greenfield. At this rate PJ Media will make a job offer as a columnist.

    1. SHG Post author

      Only to someone on the extreme left would this post be conservative. I see it as extremely liberal. Just not progressive. And I doubt PJ Media will come calling any more than the NYT.

      1. Hunting Guy

        As has been pointed out by intelligent people, liberals and conservatives share similar values, they just differ in how to achieve them.

  6. Skink

    I’ve been away, trying to slay invisible dragons. Those bastards are tricky. Although this post doesn’t have a TT ending, perhaps an indulgence. A story.

    I buy lunch everyday for those who run my life. I’m the boss of nothing by design, so it’s fitting that I buy. It used to be we went places, but now is different: I go get it. I’m a happy and gregarious sort of fella–when moving about my town, I say howdy to every person with whom eye contact is made. It’s just the way I do it. It sometimes leads to unusual encounters, but that can be fun stuff.

    We’ve eat everywhere, so we eat from the same places often. It can be hard to decide, so we have the Wheel-O-Lunch, which is a miniature roulette wheel, but with restaurants instead of numbers. We spin it and I go where it lands, sometimes. This day, it lands on a joint a couple blocks away. It’s more bar than restaurant, but the Wheel decides all. Off I go.

    I no more than exit the building before I encounter Marching Mike. Mike’s way gone in the head and is always talking to Rebecca, who isn’t present to anyone but Marching Mike. He’s Marching for a reason: he walks with knees high, like as a player in a scene from an old movie about a German band from the 1800s. Engaging with Marching Mike when Rebecca is around isn’t too fruitful because Rebecca is always adding her two-cents. I move along.

    Next, I find one of my judges. He’s a nice guy and asks why he hasn’t seen me. I tell him it’s likely because the courthouse is locked up tighter than my first girlfriend’s knees. We exchange a few words, but I gotta go–those running my life are hungry. I have my mission.

    I make it to the more-bar-than-restaurant. It’s the usual assortment of Swamp vacationers at tables. They’re easy to spot in their t-shirts with “Key West” on the front and “Southernmost Point” on the back. All-around and in-between, they have stains from leaking rumrunners and slipped key lime pie. They sport fresh sunburns. At the bar is the regular assortment. Middle-aged Gino has his laptop and earbuds, deep into whatever. His shot of bourbon is lonely. All the stars are out! The Jack Nicholson-looking guy ponders the room with a titled head. Hopefully, he won’t rearrange the menu like in “Five Easy Pieces.” The bartender hates that. The first zombie from “Night of the Living Dead” posted in his always black suit, dirty white shirt and scraggly look. Licking Lisa sits with her martini and fries. With every bite, she loudly slurps on each of her fourteen fingers. I happily notice she’s wearing shoes with laces. I order the lunches.

    I smoke, so I step outside. On the corner is Singing Sheila. She wanders the streets, mostly show tunes in tow, loudly and badly. Every third or forth lyric is wrong. Today is “New York, New York”:

    “New York, New Jersey, it’s a fucked-up place, the birds are up but the battery is dead.
    New Delhi, new shoe, what do I do?” Off she goes.

    Along comes a vision. Decked in silk and an expensive linen jacket on this 88-degree day, she saunters the intersection, a giant fedora atop. She looks like high tea in Savannah created by Fitzgerald. She stops to pick something from her nose. It’s deep, so she spends a minute digging, oblivious to the driving Swamp vacationers and their horns. She pads on when done. Lunch should be ready.

    I get it, but I don’t go 50 yards before Old Bald Hooker is blocking my way. She’s telling everyone within earshot, which today is blocks because she’s loud, that she’s running a $10 special on blowjobs. I know Old Bald because she’s always around and high season on this street is good business for her. She eyes me, squinting wrinkles, and informs the price is $20 for lawyers. I scurry.

    As I approach my door and relative safety, I remember encounters with all these creatures. I’m gregarious, so it’s what I sometimes do. Marching Mike and I talk with Rebecca, trying to get her with the plan. I could tell Nicholson and Gino to keep an eye on the Living Dead because he eats people. I try to get Sheila to add some Commodores or Buffett to the catalogue. If Savannah stays, maybe we talk, but we ain’t shaking hands. I could ask Old Bald why more for lawyers. But not today.

    There are a lot of normies around, including the judge. What kind of reputation bruising do I take if the judge sees me fake negotiating with Old Bald? Can I survive a set of “Brickhouse” with Sheila? What kind of rumorosity does Rebecca bring? I shudder, really big. What happens if they all form some kind of league, committee, gaggle? What if they pass a bylaw or memorandum of understanding that Skink is out? I barely make it back.

    My keepers see me stumbling in the door, ashen and fumbling. They ask. I tell them we forever order in. I toss the Wheel in the garbage.

    I can be gregarious with the delivery person.

  7. Elpey P.

    Guilt as enforcer is one of the manifestations of hegemony. This woke business is the latest iteration of ascendant hegemony, which is basically a narrative feedback loop. The same dynamic was present when mainstream society was steered by other sociopolitical tendencies and social panics, which are viewed as “common sense” by those in alignment.

    Woke is the next installment, but the forces are timeless. It’s really about conformity to hegemony itself, not the guilt that enforces it. The logic of some of the shaming is so transparently stupid and frivolous that it hardly needs more than an in-group narrative to operate. As it relates to race, the forces empowering white supremacy needed narrative upgrades to adapt to the 21st century.

    Just look at the Sneetches. Oh wait now they’ve been cancelled too.

  8. Rengit

    Your mention of “J’Accuse” gets to more of the issue for why the left-liberals on college campuses (or corporate newsrooms, in light of the Don McNeil kerfuffle at the NYT) collapse in the face of woke tactics, beyond Stephens’ thoughts about guilt: incidents like this function as Dreyfus affairs in miniature. Extremely divisive and polarizing with nebulous inflammatory allegations that you are supposed to hold to and defend even in the face of countervailing evidence, forcing you to pick a side and wholeheartedly endorse it, good guys vs. bad guys, so that “we can see whose side you’re really on.” Sort of like a loyalty test.

    People like McCartney at Smith want to show that they are on the side of black students, so if forced by circumstances of an accusation they’ll throw a white menial campus worker under the bus to demonstrate this fidelity. Activists have become very sophisticated at using social media to force these sorts of stark, immediate binary choices, instead of careful consideration of facts and withholding of judgment in the face of a grayzone of truth.

    1. SHG Post author

      Are they sophisticated or have they figured out that they have a big, blunt weapon and have learned how to use it? From the woke perspective, there is no grayzone; there is good and evil, and if you’re not on the side of good, then you must be evil. Clear, simple and decidedly unsophisticated.

      1. Pedantic Grammar Police

        Those who create and promote the woke agenda are not the same as those who believe it. One group is unsophisticated, the other is not. These ideas have been developed and discussed for at least a century and are now being put into practice in new and innovative ways.

        The corruption of our education system is nothing new, and it is not happening by accident. This is the next step in the process.

          1. Pedantic Grammar Police

            I read old books. If people write books saying that they are going to do something, and then they do it, is that a conspiracy theory?

            1. Pedantic Grammar Police

              I know that lawyers know what books are. They have huge shelves of them in their offices. Or is that just fancy wallpaper that looks like bookshelves?

  9. Drew Conlin

    I’m glad you called bullshit. It’s a word I have come to describe the absurdity of this and similar situations.
    Perhaps either the administrators of these countries institutions are going to call bullshit directly or the customers ( students, parents et,al) will indirectly by avoiding these institutions _ there are examples…

    1. SHG Post author

      Am I allowed to call bullshit? I am, after all, an old school lefty lib, so that might give me some latitude. I’m a criminal defense lawyer, so there’s that. But then, I’m an old white cis man with only the most limited of victim points. Yet, I don’t give a fuck, not because I’m antagonistic to many of the good goals, but because I refuse to allow myself to be manipulated into not calling bullshit on bullshit.

      On the bright side, they can cancel me all they want. It won’t change my life.

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