How do you imagine the woke beast? It is rough, surely, and slouches towards some unprofitable venue, so not Bethlehem.
I think of it as something ravenous but episodic in its appetites, a sort of Polyphemus for hire. It gorges in a destructive frenzy and then retreats to some dank corner to belch and sleep and slobber. The world, appalled by the spectacle of its rampage, instantly begins making excuses for its viciousness—were not its victims somehow to blame? Then forgetfulness spreads its enervating fog and the Zeitgeist enjoins us to put it all behind us because, after all, what difference at this point does it make™?
I thought about the habits of the woke beast this week when the popular cartoonist and social commentator Scott Adams found himself caught in its masticating maw. When it comes to practitioners of his craft and sullen art, few can be more innocuous than Scott Adams. He is best known as the creator of Dilbert, a comic casualty of modern office bureaucracy. Adams also runs a subscription video podcast in which he drinks coffee and comments on current events. It was a 30- or 40-second bit of the latter that awakened the woke beast and set him on his latest rampage.
Several days ago, the internet exploded with the news that Adams had gone on a “racist rant” during the show. That script must have been cleared with the woke committee central office because nearly every report I saw (and there were many) described Adams’ comments as a “rant” (CNN added the word “tirade”). But was it? The offending passage begins about 13 minutes into this episode.
But it wasn’t a rant. My dictionary defines “rant” as “violent, loud, or extravagant speech.” It’s a matter of tone, and volume. What Adams delivered was more or less the opposite of a rant. It was sad, to be sure, but also understated and mannerly, things that no rant worth of the title would be caught dead embodying.
Adams notes that he had been in the habit of identifying as black because he wanted to do what he could to help black people. A recent poll from Rasmussen changed his mind. To the question “Is it OK to be white” nearly half the black respondents answered “no, it is not OK to be white” or said they were uncertain.
Adams was taken aback by the results of this poll. Among other things, it suggested that racism was not a white monopoly, as we have been taught to believe. If a large percentage of black people assent to the proposition, Adams reasoned, then that means that a large percentage of black people are racist. And, as we have also been taught, if you are racist, that means you are part of a “hate group.”
Adams said he did not want to be part of a hate group. Ergo, he revised his earlier position. Now, instead of identifying as black and doing what he could to help black people, he advises whites to withdraw. Of course, you should be “friendly,” he stressed. But “based on the current way things are going, the best advice I would give to white people is to get the hell away from black people.”
Oh, the howls of outrage that comment elicited! The woke beast was awake and on the prowl. “Dilbert has been cancelled from all newspapers, websites, calendars, and books,” Adams said. Why? “Because I gave some advice everyone agreed with. (My syndication partner canceled me.)”
Once whetted, the appetite of the woke beast is insatiable. A day or two later, Adams reported, “My publisher for non-Dilbert books has canceled my upcoming book and the entire backlist. Still no disagreement about my point of view. My book agent canceled me too.”`
It is true, by the way, that “everyone agrees” with the point that Adams made. Everyone knows it is true. But no one is supposed to admit that it is true. Adams made it all worse by observing that “There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps . . . then turn around and see somebody white and feel relieved.” Oh, wait. I got my notes confused. That wasn’t Scott Adams. That was the professional black Jesse Jackson in 1993.
Thirty years ago, some embryo of woke commentators anguished over Jackson’s comment, decrying it as “racist.” And of course it was racist. It implicitly acknowledged the uncomfortable truth that the vast majority of violent crime is committed by blacks. Every study confirms this. Every liberal ignores it or seeks to explain it away.
Several observers noted the similarity between what happened to Adams and what happened to the commentator John Derbyshire in 2012. Derbyshire, then a columnist for National Review, wrote a piece for Taki’s Magazine called “The Talk: Nonblack Version.” Noting that many black families sit their children down to tell them how to make their way successfully in a world dominated by whites, Derbyshire described the advice he would give to his children, including the advice to “avoid concentrations of blacks not all known to you personally” and “stay out of heavily black neighborhoods.”
Was that bad advice? Everyone knows that it was not. But it is, indisputably, racist, i.e., recommending different courses of action based on race. Once again, however, “everyone” does this, even if, officially, everyone also deplores it. And deplored Derbyshire’s column was. Careful readers will note the preterite in my description of Derbyshire’s affiliation with National Review. He was publicly excoriated and fired with a letter from the editor that has earned a place in the annals of nauseating proto-woke virtue mongering.
I sense that the woke beast is nearly sated in its hate feast against Scott Adams. For one thing, he has been so successful for so long that there is not much it can do to him. It can yell and scream. It can preen and grandstand and cancel his contracts.
But I doubt Adams really cares. He will make his way. And now at least he knows who his friends are. He’ll get a new, non-woke agent, and new publishers. I was happy to see his tweet from March 2: “Only the dying leftist Fake News industry canceled me. . . . Social media and banking unaffected. Personal life improved. Never been more popular in my life. Zero pushback in person. Black and White conservatives solidly supporting me.”
I have to confess that Dilbert is not a regular part of my usual literary diet. But I just ordered one of the many collections that are, as of this writing, still available on Amazon. I did it out of solidarity. If the magazine I edit, The New Criterion, ran comic strips, I would offer to run Dilbert. The woke beast continues to rampage. Its aim is not only to destroy individuals but to besmirch out culture. That is the deeper reason we must oppose it and support its victims.