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E-Pluribus | February 1, 2023
'Woke' is past its expiration date; free speech as culture, not just a right; and returning educational choices to parents.
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Angel Eduardo: Don’t Use the W-Word
Angel Eduardo would just as soon the term “woke” were put to sleep. Writing at Quillette, Eduardo makes the case that any usefulness the word might have once had has been lost in its over-application and weaponization.
The use of the word “woke” as a political descriptor originated in the African American community; and signified, loosely, that the described person was conscious of the social and systemic issues plaguing marginalized groups. Over time, it morphed into a description of a wider movement that ostensibly advocates for the broad unobjectionable values that Walsh listed, while also pushing for more sharply defined political positions relating to racial equity, systemic racism, and gender rights. This, in turn, spawned a conservative counter-movement that co-opted “woke” as a pejorative term for describing people who exhibit excessive (and potentially harmful) beliefs and behaviors under the guise of nominally inclusive, sunny-sounding ideas.
Whatever it’s supposed to mean, use of the word “woke” forces individuals into one tribe or another, even when almost all of us have complex beliefs about the underlying societal issues in question. For instance, I believe that systemic racism is a real phenomenon that’s worth discussing and being concerned about. I’m for doing what we can to restructure society to mitigate inequities. I’m not against the implementation of (sensible) Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion policies. Does that make me “woke”?
[ . . . ]
If you are on the “anti-woke” side of the culture war, you may argue that we need a term such as “woke” in our verbal arsenal for similarly constructive reasons. Surely it’s important, writers and commentators such as Substacker Freddie deBoer will argue, that we have some shorthand way of identifying one’s ideological adversaries, so that their bad ideas can be easily called out and debunked.
I don’t agree. The critical difference lies in the fact that words such as “racism,” “violence,” and “trauma” are used to describe specific ideas, whereas terms such as “woke” or “wokeness” are used mainly to describe groups of people or collections of ideas—and this much more easily lends itself to imprecision. Even with linguistic parasitism at play, a label such as “racist” still describes (or purports to describe) a specific idea. “Woke” never worked that way, and it never will.
Read the whole thing.
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Jay Cost: Killing A Culture of Free Speech
Jay Cost has written extensively about both the founding and the founders of the country. Cost writes for the Washington Examiner that the founders recognized that the constitutional protections they passed on to the country could never truly protect free speech on their own, but rather the culture, principles and attitudes of individuals toward their fellow citizens would be necessary if the bastion of liberty they had established in the New World were to survive and prosper.
And note that the First Amendment was not primarily intended to protect the 21st century guild that is modern journalism. . . [the public is] [j]ust as protected, in fact.
Yet the Twitter Files demonstrate there exists a large swath of policymakers, in the Justice Department, the national security apparatus, and even the White House itself, who do not believe in this principle. And given the collective disinterest by many in traditional media, so too do a good number of journalists who otherwise celebrate the First Amendment. The people, it seems, have to be monitored. There cannot be a freewheeling public debate. There must be boundaries, set by the government, corporate America, and the media, of course, lest the people come to the wrong decision.
This reveals another fundamental divergence between contemporary thinking and the American founding. This country came into being in part because of radical pamphleteers who denounced their king in the most strident of terms. And they kept on doing it, even after the American Revolution, without repercussion. Those who opposed the Constitution, for instance, were not silenced. Their voices were heard, and after the ratification debates, many of them entered the government. James Monroe, in fact, was an Anti-Federalist who eventually became president.
The purpose of the First Amendment was to ensure the perpetuation of this robust political debate. Not simply because the framers thought it was necessary for republican government but because the more the people interacted with each other, the better public decision-making would become. Again, to quote Madison, “Whatever facilitates a general intercourse of sentiments … particularly a circulation of newspapers through the entire body of the people … is favorable to liberty.”
Read it all here.
Nicole Stelle Garnett & Richard W. Garnett: From School Choice to Parent Choice
For much of the population, public education has been a take-it-or-leave-it proposition, and many can’t actually leave it. Several states are trying to change that as Nicole and Richard Garnett report at City Journal.
On January 24, Iowa governor Kim Reynolds signed legislation creating what will be, when fully implemented, an education savings account (ESA) program promising every child in the state approximately $7,600 for qualified education expenses, including private school tuition. A few days later, Utah governor Spencer Cox followed suit, signing legislation giving all students in his state access to an $8,000 ESA that, as in Iowa, can be used for a range of educational expenses. With the addition of Iowa and Utah, the number of states with universal ESA programs increased to four, along with Arizona and West Virginia. Even more states are poised to join them.
The implications of the accelerating turn to universal parental choice cannot be overstated. Until last year, 31 states had private-school-choice programs, all of which restricted eligibility in some way. Some, for example, limited participation to low-income students, others to students with disabilities. Moreover, nearly half of the existing programs use tax-credit mechanisms to encourage donations for private school scholarships but do not directly fund them.
The embrace of ESAs—as opposed to vouchers and tax-credit scholarships—as the mechanism for achieving universal choice is also striking. ESAs represent a definitive and principled move beyond school choice to parental choice. While these terms have been used interchangeably for decades, education reformers historically have focused on giving parents choices among different types of schools (district, charter, and private) rather than between schools and other educational options. . .
Some aspects of this “rescue mission” rhetoric continue to animate the fight for universal ESAs—especially dispiriting evidence about the negative effects on student learning of remote instruction during the pandemic. However, the compelling case for universal parental choice is not about improving academic achievement or spurring competition. It is about empowering parents—all parents—to take control of their children’s education. The battle over universal ESAs, in other words, is “a fight for broad societal change,” centered on the argument that parents should be entrusted with decisions about the education of their children.
Read it all.
Thomas Chatterton Williams introduces his Atlantic article on the death of Tyre Nichols at the hands of the Memphis police:
A short thread from Megan McArdle with words of caution for both the Right and Left on attempts to make political opinions part of federal employment statutes:
And finally, out with DEI and in with EMC? Yes, if Christopher Rufo has anything to say about it, which, per Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, he actually does: