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[AstralCodexTen]Book Review: The Origins of Woke

I thought the Origins of Woke was a great book personally, although I shared a few of Scott's criticisms. Namely I thought it was a little weird how focused Hanania was on making sure workplaces be more conducive to finding sexual partners, and how much he cared about funding women's sports received. But overall I thought the book was great and captured a major causative factor of how Woke is so incredibly strong.

When people aren't allowed to acknowledge the flaws of Wokeness in the workplace or their employees will get sued, it creates an immense chilling effect. That's probably not the sole cause of wokeness, there are other factors like supporting impoverished minorities being a very convenient luxury belief to signal how much of a good person you are, but Hanania convinced me it was a major factor.

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This feigned incredulity from Scott comes off as quite dishonest:

He has some broader point that I have trouble interpreting - basically that corporations used to be cozy, chummy places full of banter and flirtation that everyone enjoyed...Still, Hanania really hammers in this point that we should apparently all be angry about the loss of corporate flirtation... books doubling as interesting settings for pornographic stories, but I’m otherwise unable to fathom the level of Hanania’s enthusiasm here.

Hi, I'm Scott Alexander, I bounce around different Rationalist Group houses, where me and everyone else in my circle forms poly-amorous relationships with with our intellectual collaborators, and spend all their time building up inside jokes, private parties, etc. You see that piece in the New Yorker about the girl who was scared about AI? I was dating her, haha. Stole her from this other guy I used to do collaborate with.

Also Scott Alexander: I guesssss I could see some weirdos who'd want their work to give them to have some banter and flirtation. I don't know if there's a lot of people, but Hannania is entitled to his opinion here, as far out as that seems to you and me.

None of those are his job though. And while his job as a blogger is connected to that, his job as a psychiatrist is not, and is much more likely to be used by him as his model for what a normal job looks like. You could argue that his membership and status in the rationalist community leaves him out of touch with how many people are largely socially isolated outside of work, but I don't see how this is such an obvious point as to imply dishonesty. Though I do think it would be good if he delved into it in more detail - does he think it's more realistic to reverse the trend of social isolation through non-work communities?

Richard Hanania defended the bill passed this week by the House adopting of the IHRA definition of anti-semitism, on the grounds that "making judgments about discrimination is what they're for." Ironic that he now supports massively increasing the scope of what is considered "discrimination" in the workplace and on campus.

Hanania is a very political guy, who's willing to make certain sacrifices to achieve ends he thinks is good. He'd want discrimination laws rolled back in general, but as long as they aren't, is happy to see them used against the Left.

Uh huh, "we should roll back Civil Rights law, but in the meantime let's massively expand the ability of Jews to use Civil Rights law to wage lawfare against their political opposition" is peak Hanania.

He's a "political guy" in the worst way. He threw his lot behind the Alt-Right when it was at its worst, obviously never going anywhere, and then turned coat to become cartoonishly pro-Israel and pro-Jewish at the precise moment their political and moral credibility has begun to collapse with every passing day.

He's a "political guy" in that he can apparently be trusted to grift onto whatever political movement is about to suffer a catastrophic loss of credibility. He's a loser, he's going nowhere. He wrote the book on how Civil Rights law has destroyed the West or whatever, and in his next breath he is supporting the massive expansion of those regulations on behalf of Jewish interests.

Nick Fuentes does this thing that many find irritating where he says something outlandish, follows it by "haha just kidding, but not really", in order to provide plausible deniability for sensational statements. He uses comedy to provide cover for his radical viewpoints. But at least when Nick does it you can read between the lines and see where he's coming from. Hanania says things like "nobody is more pro-Israel than me" and I genuinely do not know if he is being sincere or intentionally outlandish. The dude is a joke, his political instincts are terrible.

Hanania says things like "nobody is more pro-Israel than me" and I genuinely do not know if he is being sincere or intentionally outlandish.

I think he is somewhat sincere. I think he looks at all Jews have contributed to civilization, e.g vastly disproportionate numbers of Nobel winners and establishing a democracy in the middle east as two examples, and considers them a culture worth supporting. Meanwhile he looks at the Palestinian culture and Hamas, and sees them as a blight on civilization worth bombing into obliteration.

He apparently hates leftist protestors too and I think a substantial portion of his support is just to "trigger" them. I don't really get that part of his motivation, I don't have any particular fondness of leftist protestors but I don't have any visceral hatred of them, I just consider them a bit dumb.

So the "we should roll back Civil Rights law, but in the meantime let's massively expand the ability of Jews to use Civil Rights law to wage lawfare against their political opposition" is a little bit out of loving Jews, but I think it's mostly out of hatred of leftist protestors. I don't really agree with that myself, but I don't really particularly care either way.

Just a minor point, but it is unclear to me how Hanania distinguishes social progressivism from woke. In particular, I think deBoer's definition matches what is meant by "woke" much better:

  1. Academic rhetoric
  2. Focused on the immaterial.
  3. Structural criticisms followed by individual prescriptions.
  4. Treating emotions as political problems i.e. Failure to Cope under Capitalism
  5. Fatalistic (declaring that only systemic solutions can save us, but no such change is ever possible)
  6. Thinking that politics is solved
  7. Oppression is virtue

It seems to me like deBoer is at least picking up on a very important set of attributes shared by the online woke, and that serious socially progressive people are not a perfect match for this. One can, for instance, be like Ezra Klein, who may have his own issues, but doesn't come off in the same way.

Or perhaps I'm just mistaken, and wokeness is the black sheep of the socially progressive family in Hanania's argument - an embarrassment that is disliked by its own peers, but still to be defended from outsiders.

an embarrassment that is disliked by its own peers, but still to be defended from outsiders

DeBoer has outright stated that, in his ideal world, "the wokest person you know" get 90% of what they want. Combine that with his strident attitude towards gender topics (where his anti-idpol takes give way to annoyance that anyone has an idpol skeptical take)...

So yes.

There is no “true” set of races that “falls out naturally” from genetic or cultural data, but the US government’s system was especially fake and embarrassing. they declared Hispanics to be an “ethnicity” that you could have along with a different race.

I've heard stuff like this before, that Hispanic is a nonsense category. But I actually think it makes sense, at least as far as anything makes sense in the US legal/cultural system of race.

First, just to state the obvious: this wasn't ever intended to be a rigorous, comprehensive, scientific system. It's just a quick and dirty way to classify people, in a way that any average person on the street can see and more-or-less agree on. You don't want to make up dozens of separate specific categories because that quickly spirals into confusion.

Second, look at the history. Hispanics, in the US, come mostly from Latin America (not from Spain!). And Latin America was colonized long before the US, and much more brutally. One of the very first things Columbus did was to immediately start taking slaves! And on the other side, explorers such as Magellan's expedition were, um, not exactly celibate:

The crew also found they could purchase sexual favours from the local women. Historian Ian Cameron described the crew's time in Rio as "a saturnalia of feasting and lovemaking"

This quickly led to a situation where Latin America was a mix of white conquistadors, indigenous slaves, black slaves imported from Africa, and mixed-race offspring who had grown up there. Pretty soon the Spanish realized they needed some sort of classification system for who was going to be a slave, who was trustworthy enough to rule, and who was somewhere in-between. Eventually they came up with a rather byzantine system:

  • Español (fem. española), i.e. Spaniard – person of Spanish ancestry; a blanket term, subdivided into Peninsulares and Criollos
  • Peninsular – a person of Spanish descent born in Spain who later settled in the Americas;
  • Criollo (fem. criolla) – a person of Spanish descent born in the Americas;
  • Castizo (fem. castiza) – a person with primarily Spanish and some American Indian ancestry born into a mixed family.
  • Mestizo (fem. mestiza) – a person of extended mixed Spanish and American Indian ancestry;
  • Indio (fem. india) – a person of pure American Indian ancestry;
  • Pardo (fem. parda) – a person of mixed Spanish, Amerindian and African ancestry; sometimes a polite term for a black person;
  • Mulato (fem. mulata) – a person of mixed Spanish and African ancestry;
  • Zambo – a person of mixed African and American Indian ancestry;
  • Negro (fem. negra) – a person of African descent, primarily former enslaved Africans and their descendants.

Which made sense for their situation, but stops making sense once you abolish slavery and royal titles and all these people start to intermix with each other. So after a few hundred years of that, you end up with modern day Hispanic people. Some are mostly white, some are mostly black, some are mostly indigenous, but a lot of them are a roughly even mix of all three, to the point where it's an obvious group of its own. You still can't exactly call it a race- it's a mix of other races, and it's hard to tell where exactly is the border between Hispanics and one of the other races. But you can't just say "mixed-race" either, for something that's been so thoroughly mixed for hundreds of years. So they made up a new word, "ethnicity", and called it a day.

Of course all this is awkward to talk about in polite society, and most Americans don't really know the history of Latin America. In Mexico they call it La Raza which makes a lot more sense, but that sounds bad in English and the term hasn't made it here yet. So they decided to classify it on language, "are you from a Spanish-speaking area?" That's... weird, since it includes white people from Spain and excludes people from Brazil or Belize. But it works well enough for the US, where most Latin-American immigrants are from Spanish-speaking areas.

It's certainly not a perfect term, and I think we're moving towards changing it with weird postmodern terms like LatinX or Chicano, but it's good enough for 99% of situations to get the idea across. It's actually a lot less confusing than African (eliding the difference between North, West-sub-Saharan, and East-Sub-Saharan African) or Asian (it's a big continent lol) or white (are Arabs white?). It's also (like all racial data in the US) mostly self-reported. But I challenge you- find a person who self reports as "Hispanic," ask the average person to draw a sketch or select a picture, and see how well it matches. Most of the time, it's pretty close.

Chicano is hardly a postmodern term (it originated at least as early as the 1940s) and as far as I know it only covers Mexican Americans, so it wouldn't apply to a lot of Hispanics anyway.

That's true, it's technically an older term than Hispanic or Latino. Still, it feels more... uh, PC? As in, the only people I hear using it these days are extremely woke people. Plus like you said, it technically only covers Mexican-Americans. And it's just confusing- as a kid I thought it meant someone from Chicago.

On a sidenode which highlights the fuzziness of such groupings, I regularly joke, my wife's annoyance, that quebecers are latinos. If latinos "speak spanish in the americas", then you're omitting brazilians. If they "speak a latin language in central and south america" you're excluding mexicans. If it's "speaks a latin language in the americas" you include them both, but also quebecers.

Ultimately to get "latino" to mean exactly who everyone understands it to mean, you end up with a very artificial grouping.

What about just “speaks an Iberian language in the Americas?” Spanish and Portuguese are quite similar to each other (especially given the dialect continuum that exists in certain border regions) and share a clear common linguistic and cultural lineage that sets them apart from French.

And, interestingly, Brazilian Portuguese is much closer to the new world Spanish dialect continuum than European Portuguese and European Spanish, whereas new world French is kind of its own thing with little to do with either of them.

Sure, but they're called "latinos", not "iberinos" :p

Part of what makes it obviously artificial is that hispanic is an ethnicity, not a race, in the US census. So someone can be both hispanic and white, or hispanic and black, or even hispanic and Asian American Pacific Islander! And it was chosen like that because black activists didn't want to lose any influence from black spanish speakers choosing to identify as hispanic over black.

So someone can be both hispanic and white, or hispanic and black, or even hispanic and Asian American Pacific Islander!

So? You can also be white, black, and Asian all at once. They're not mutually exclusive categories.

You can't be all those things in the US census system. You can only choose one. It's only Hispanic that's a both ethnicity instead of a race.

That's why Hanania is calling it obviously artificial.

Edit: as /u/toakraka said, that's old news and they've updated the system to reflect less artificial categories. It's still somewhat arbitrary though.

Possibly worth noting is that Hispanic was upgraded to race status on the Census a month ago (along with Arab).

That makes way less sense than mestizo as a race.

Hispanic obviously means mestizo as a race. Which should be a racial category if we're going to have them. It's just the government is piss scared to engage in official racial phrenology in the modern day, so we get old calcified classifications from when everyone knew asians, whites, and blacks were a thing. I'm surprised they had the balls to change it.

I don't think as many people know this as should, but there used to be very few mestizos/hispanics in the USA. So few no one thought to count them in census regularly. By the time the "hispanic" category was cooked up there was already millions of racially ambiguous people living in the USA.

Some of that, plus "mestizo" just kinda sounds bad in modern-day English. It's like (that scene)[] from archer: "well what's the word for it? you freaked out when I said quadroon!"

I didn't realize there was an update, thanks for letting me know

Namely I thought it was a little weird how focused Hanania was on making sure workplaces be more conducive to finding sexual partners...

While I expect the answer for Hanania specifically is that he's reaching for whatever weapons are available, there are some very serious problems, here:

  • Full-time workers are spending about a third of their waking lives at their workplaces, a sizable portion of their Dunbar-sphere will be made of coworkers, and under current law employers can be liable even for after-hours and off-campus behavior by employees. In many career fields, it's common to spend months with little chance for a social life outside of the office at all. Maybe the 20% of couples just meet up right outside of work, but I'd expect that we're not so lucky, and at least some aren't getting BATNAs.

  • Worse, the modern rule isn't just 'don't fuck your employees/coworkers', but against wide breadths of discussion and behavior adjacent to sex or gender stuff. Enforcement is hilariously inconsistent even in places where employers care (and the number of bullshit lawsuits are Known enough that normal people are often hesitant to bring genuine ones), so people can act as though a lot of this stuff is still allowed, but once you get above a certain size of company you start getting insurers/lawyers/politicians peering in and insisting that your workplace complies so that enforcement Won't Be Necessary. As a result, a lot of spaces for vertical transmission of knowledge about matters of sex and romance no longer exist, or have been thoroughly commandeered into a state-favored presentation.

  • Avoiding the appearance -- or possibility -- of impropriety has serious and significant costs. I'm not sure how much I trust the specific numbers for 'MeToo made men afraid to mentor women', but the end result of that policy ends up meaning I've got a Fun Ethics Question when my workplace has me share a hotel room with a (afaik straight, not my type) guy. This isn't taking all the fun out of workplace socialization, but it's a big and vast set of constraints, often ones heavily dependent on local social norms.

The end result of a sexless public space for men... well, we have examples from other spheres that had to move sex to fully private spaces, and the alternatives that they've developed kinda work, but they come at tremendous cost. Online dating started out rough, and it's since vanished up its own backside in a mix of borderline fraud and unrealistic standards. Bars and mixers have come coincidentally along with a hefty incidence of alcoholism and other abuses.

For Scott:

When I think of wokeness, I think of the great cultural turn around 2010 - 2015... Hanania has no explanation for this. He talks about civil rights laws that have been in place since 1964 (he does say that maybe the new civil rights bill signed in 1991 inspired that decade’s interest in “political correctness”, but The Closing Of The American Mind, generally considered the opening shot in that debate, was published in 1987). Why would 1964 and 1991 laws turn wokeness into a huge deal in 2015? Hanania has no answer.

Again, Hanania might not have an answer because he doesn't care enough to think one necessary, but there's a pretty easy and obvious one.

The Civil Rights Act was intended as written under a hilariously narrow scope for all of its wide claims. That lead to hard cases, and even as late at the 1980s the courts were struggling with matters like whether it was discriminatory if an employer (allegedly) raped an employee, and into the late-90s if it would be discriminatory even if the victim was male. There weren't just hard cases in that they involved sympathetic victims and extremely bad behavior, or even whether they could be arguably within the intent or text of the Civil Rights Act, but because they were also near-universally around things that were separately violations of common state laws that had existed for quite some time, at a time where and when the public was unwilling to allow businesses to wash hands of bad acts by their employees. Government advocates and private lawyers had a pick of both clear violations of the text of this law, or arguable cases for this law that shocked the conscience.

((Scalia delivered Oncale, for example.))

But to do so, the CRA1964 had to establish an industry around fighting racism. The EEOC isn't not five commissioners at a table; it had around 350 employees in the 1960s, which grew into the thousands by the late 1990s. Nor was it alone; other offices downstream of or expanded by the CRA include the Commission on Civil Rights, the (various) Office for Civil Rights, the Office for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, DOE Civil Rights Division, so on. And then around that, built up an industry around selecting and prosecuting private lawsuits, and training people to do this, and training people to train. Now, when the law and interpretation was constrained, and overt discrimination (or bad-for-other-reasons-argued-as-discrimination) cases had the pick of both plaintiff and employer, most cases kept close to the core.

That changed. Some legislation made it easier (eg, the 1991 revision allowed some vaguely-defined set of suits with a theory of discrimination that could not identify specifically discriminatory policies or actions, or to get attorney's fees and thus cases on contingency without proving damages), but the grander problem is that you now had thousands of people who's job was to find discriminatory actors, who were trained to notice the most subtle hints of it, and in no small part who believed in the mission. An increasing number, by the close of the 1990s, had literally never known a world without an EEOC and the norms it wanted to apply across the country; many had been trained by those who worked up through the EEOC's wishcasting of policies it wanted.

That's how you get a lawsuit with an appeal's court opinion released in 2010, about a complaint first pushed in 2006, revolving around the sort of "general civility code" that Oncale specifically disavowed. It's how you get related cases that similarly emphasis a general theory of Bad Person. And it matches the timeline far closer than the standard motions around college campuses or SomethingAwful refuges.

That doesn't make Hanania right -- there's a lot of other stuff in the history, if you poke at it, and that's not to mention that just for this there's a pile of executive orders and regulatory notices and all the social junk around the 2008/2006 elections -- but there's a lot more to this stuff than just looking at the dates laws were implemented.

When I think of wokeness, I think of the great cultural turn around 2010 - 2015... Hanania has no explanation for this.

Liberal disappointment in Obama seems to explain most if it, I think. OWS and the Tea Party can be interpreted as repercussions from this.

I've been in a bit of back-and-forth on reddit about this article, and also commented on the Substack, which I don't usually do. I disagree with Hanania that the civil rights movement is the origin of wokism. Certainly the civil rights movement has been a vehicle for wokism, at times, but there are many ways to do civil rights, and just as there are radical feminists and liberal feminists, there are radical race theorists and liberal race theorists. But (as Scott seems to imply) Hanania doesn't seem to actually care about which way the causal arrows point in reality, he just wants to dismantle the stuff to which he objects, and sees this as a possible way to do it.

I think wokism as culture and wokism as law and wokism as anything else are all a positive feedback loop. There isn't a single definitive cause that, if you cut that out, all wokism is gone forever. But the book convinced me pretty well that certain executive orders and judicial decisions and bureaucratic policies played a major role in expanding wokeness.

I haven't read this book. And I don't have certainty on the origins of woke or even what its definition is. I would classify myself as coming from a old "left wing" background, but I detest "I know it when I see it" woke and have somehow missed the call that affects so many other "left wingers."

With that said, what I vaguely think I've seen and know.

  • 1 The great aWokeing was in 2016 or so, way later. Civil Rights is clearly not woke (I am not woke and I in theory like the idea of Civil Rights). Civil Rights is however the origin of "Identity Politics." Identity Politics here is distinguished from a universalist project of rights and or socialism. I.e. anti-racism is synonymous with ending discrimination for all universally, not advocating for black rights individually. Clearly woke feeds off identity politics, but again it existed for a long time before it, and I think it popped into existence for clear reasons that are not woke mind virus.

In orthodox Marxism everything is the economy stupid and changing the economic superstructure of capitalism is the only sure way to change negative social mores. Even Engels himself was writing how discrimination of women has its origins in capitalism and industrialism. The project of personal liberation, for a woman, and being a socialist is one and the same. In a post Identity Politics split, such a person would just be a feminist and maybe also a socialist.

The importance of socialism here is that the previous project of universal rights, enshrined in the founding ethos of the USA itself, was old school Liberalism. But the liberals won completely and already wrote all the laws. The old left-right divide in the French revolutions was between republican liberals and monarchists. But you don't see any monarchists around and the Church as a power estate is near nonexistent. There's a point after the fall of monarchies and therefore true ancien regime Rightwing-ism (I'm going to say around 1848) where those that still had the mentality of "let's keep challenging the system but now with say... women" started calling themselves Socialist instead of Republican or pro-democracy. Like you can clearly see the Jacobins are partly proto-socialist, but they're just too early. This is why you don't see, unlike a Paradox game, revolutionaries in South East Asia quoting Thomas Paine and waving yellow don't tread on me flags. Either they're with the status quo or they are Red. Anyone that didn't like this was an anti socialist (liberal) "Conservative."

And so it mostly was until 1960s when Identity Politics happened. And it's easy to see why. Gulag Archipelago happened. The Revolution was not happening. In general "left wing people," synonymous with the global project of socialism, were starting to suffer under constant judgment on the value of the USSR. And here comes MLK to offer actual immediate "we're doing something" change with positive results not bolted to the fucking USSR and making you a domestic terrorist in the Cold War. The "progressives" that went with Identity Politics curb stomped old left universal project socialist in popularity and mainstream political power. None of this is woke.

  • 2 Identity Politics has mutated as time goes on, it's become the only way to be a progressive, and it's further fused with the establishment as not being threatening to the true economic elite. Hot take: I suspect one origin of Woke is that at some point the mental egregor that makes up the "progressive" mind started grappling with the initial huge wins of non-socialist Identity Politics starting to bring back embarrassing failure. This is very familiar in the "disparate results MUST be the result discrimination" equity vs equality dialog everyone loves to hate. At first you succeed in black school integration, or women entering the work place, but then the black students still aren't the same as white students and the prophesied cure to the Feminine Mystique "Is this all there is?" challenge is less than impressive.

Africa I think is especially illustrative of this. If you were a radical in the 60s you were no doubt psyched that colonialism was finally ending in Africa. And then, constant disappointment and at times utter hell. When you look at the capstone failure of South Africa post apartheid some people no doubt have the thought worm into their head "do black people just suck? Were they really the white man's burden?" And I suspect thoughts such of these has engendered a more anti-rational, authoritarian, purity obsessed, and debilitated but highly performative defensive ethos. To shake off such intrusive thoughts.

It's not all that. I'm sure. But this turned out way too long.

P.S. I guess I kind of wanted to comment in general but used one post. Apologies if this wall of text in an inbox shocks you and seems inappropriate.