Home/Rod Dreher/America’s Woke Elite Monoculture

America’s Woke Elite Monoculture

Czeslaw Milosz (d. 2004) knew the mind of ideological conformists (Photo by Louis MONIER/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Michael Lind is emerging as one of the most important voices of our current political and social moment, and Tablet, which has been publishing him, as one of the most important magazines. Here’s a new piece he’s done on the new national American elite — something that has never before existed, in Lind’s telling. In past eras of US history, elites have been regional. No more. Lind’s take on how elitism has worked in US history is interesting, and worth a read in itself. Here is one conclusion he draws about our present elite:

Membership in the multiracial, post-ethnic national overclass depends chiefly on graduation with a diploma—preferably a graduate or professional degree—from an Ivy League school or a selective state university, which makes the Ivy League the new social register. But a diploma from the Ivy League or a top-ranked state university by itself is not sufficient for admission to the new national overclass. Like all ruling classes, the new American overclass uses cues like dialect, religion, and values to distinguish insiders from outsiders.

Dialect. You may have been at the top of your class in Harvard business school, but if you pronounce thirty-third “toidy-toid” or have a Southern drawl, you might consider speech therapy.

Religion. You may have edited the Yale Law Review, but if you tell interviewers that you recently accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior, or fondle a rosary during the interview, don’t expect a job at a prestige firm.

Values. This is the trickiest test, because the ruling class is constantly changing its shibboleths—in order to distinguish true members of the inner circle from vulgar impostors who are trying to break into the elite. A decade ago, as a member of the American overclass you could get away with saying, along with Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, “I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, but I strongly support civil unions for gay men and lesbians.” In 2020 you are expected to say, “I strongly support trans rights.” You will flunk the interview if you start going on about civil unions.

More and more Americans are figuring out that “wokeness” functions in the new, centralized American elite as a device to exclude working-class Americans of all races, along with backward remnants of the old regional elites. In effect, the new national oligarchy changes the codes and the passwords every six months or so, and notifies its members through the universities and the prestige media and Twitter. America’s working-class majority of all races pays far less attention than the elite to the media, and is highly unlikely to have a kid at Harvard or Yale to clue them in. And non-college-educated Americans spend very little time on Facebook and Twitter, the latter of which they are unlikely to be able to identify—which, among other things, proves the idiocy of the “Russiagate” theory that Vladimir Putin brainwashed white working-class Americans into voting for Trump by memes in social media which they are the least likely American voters to see.

Constantly replacing old terms with new terms known only to the oligarchs is a brilliant strategy of social exclusion. The rationale is supposed to be that this shows greater respect for particular groups. But there was no grassroots working-class movement among Black Americans demanding the use of “enslaved persons” instead of “slaves” and the overwhelming majority of Americans of Latin American descent—a wildly homogenizing category created by the U.S. Census Bureau—reject the weird term “Latinx.” Woke speech is simply a ruling-class dialect, which must be updated frequently to keep the lower orders from breaking the code and successfully imitating their betters.

Dialect is something you can change without violating your conscience. Religion and values are something else. What is a person who holds religious beliefs, or moral values, that contradict the woke code supposed to do? Until the day before yesterday, an unwoke person could get hired at a company without having to affirm a code of values that violated his conscience. Companies generally didn’t care what an employee thought, as long as he did his work diligently, and got along well with others in the workplace.
True story: I have a friend who is a very conservative Catholic, and who believes that what the Catholic Church teaches about homosexuality is true. He is a senior manager at a US-based multinational. He has — or had; it’s been a while since I’ve spoken with him — a number of gay and lesbian employees working in his department. He says they have no idea what he really thinks, because he does not bring his religious views into the workplace. Moreover, as a matter of professionalism, he treats those workers the same as he treats everybody else. He believed his own honor was at stake. Besides, he’s a charismatic guy who gets along with everybody.
As I said, we haven’t talked in a few years, but when we were in closer touch, he was afraid that the day was going to come when the HR department would force him to swear public allegiance to Pride. This he could not do. He earned a real estate license so he could have a back-up gig in case it came down to choosing between his conscience or his corporate career. I don’t know how things are going with him now, though I did just look him up online, and he’s still with the corporation.
But this man is so high up in the corporate hierarchy now that I imagine he has options that a lower-level employee does not. That is, he might be so valuable to the company that his bosses would not be willing to fir him over his refusal to fly a Pride flag on his desk. I don’t know — it’s just a guess. It’s not easy to get executives as talented as he is at that level.
But what about people who are still young in their careers, or who are just starting out? As I see it, you have three basic options.
The Small Business Solution. Work for a small company or firm, one that is run by someone you trust, and who won’t hassle you about wokeness. You cannot expect to have the same level of success, including monetary reward, but you will be able to do your work with a clear conscience. This will not work for people whose professional licensing requires some profession of allegiance to wokeness.
The Noble Suffering Solution. This is the hard one, the one that calls on you to sacrifice your career or professional ambitions for the sake of conscience. This was forced on people in the Soviet bloc who ran afoul of the commissars, and who would not sign or say something they didn’t believe, not even to save their jobs. This is how Tomas, the physician in Kundera’s novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being, became a window-washer. You can solve your problem by taking a job in a non-woke field — probably one with less prestige, though.

The Ketman Solution. Ketman is a Persian concept that the Polish dissident writer Czeslaw Milosz introduced in his 1953 book The Captive Mind. He said it’s a strategy that people who weren’t true believers in communism, but who wanted to keep their positions within the system, practiced. I explain it like this in Live Not By Lies:

You become an actor, says Miłosz. You learn the practice of ketman. This is the Persian word for the practice of maintaining an outward appearance of Islamic orthodoxy while inwardly dissenting. Ketman was the strategy everyone who wasn’t a true believer in communism had to adopt to stay out of trouble. It is a form of mental self-defense.

What is the difference between ketman and plain old hypocrisy? As Miłosz explains, having to be “on” all the time inevitably changes a person. An actor who inhabits his role around the clock eventually becomes the character he plays. Ketman is worse than hypocrisy, because living by it all the time corrupts your character and ultimately everything in society.

Miłosz identified eight different types of ketman under communism. For example, “professional ketman” is when you convince yourself that it’s okay to live a lie in the workplace, because that’s what you have to do to have the freedom to do good work. “Metaphysical ketman” is the deepest form of the strategy, a defense against “total degradation.” It consists of convincing yourself that it really is possible for you to be a loyal opponent of the new regime while working with it. Christians who collaborated with communist regimes were guilty of metaphysical ketman [because it required them to live as if their religious beliefs were not true]. In fact, says Miłosz, it represents the ultimate victory of the Big Lie over the individual’s soul.

Under the emerging tyranny of wokeness, conservatives, including conservative Christians, learn to practice one or more forms of ketman. The ones who are most deeply deceived are those who convince themselves that they can live honestly within woke systems by outwardly conforming and learning how to adapt their convictions to the new order. Miłosz had their number: “They swindle the devil who thinks he is swindling them. But the devil knows what they think and is satisfied.”

In other words, your boss may really know that you don’t believe in wokeness, and are just mouthing the words to keep your job, but he may not care. Outward compliance is all that he cares about. Whatever strategies you employ to numb your conscience are your business.

I expect that most Americans will opt for some form of ketman, because they cannot stand the idea of surrendering success for principle, nor can they abide the idea that they have sold out their principles (or their faith) for professional achievement, monetary reward, and social advantage. As such, they will become the most enthusiastic persecutors of those who refuse the Ketman Solution, because those people remind them of who and what they really are.

There may be hacks around this in some particular situations, but in the main, I believe that these are, or will soon be, the only choices facing most of us.

On the Masculinist blog, an anonymous writer offers a list of six strategies traditional Christians should employ to protect themselves in the office culture of a woke post-Christian world. For example:

Tip #6: Spend much less money thank you make. Read Masc #46 with good suggestions on how to do this. Be frugal and prepare to be canceled if the time comes when you have to make a stand. Learn every aspect of the job, become valuable, and aim to be ready with the knowledge to start your own business if you can last three years.

The thing to get straight in your head now is what your personal lines in the sand are — that is, issues on which you cannot compromise, and must be prepared to resign or be fired. If you are married, talk with your spouse about this. You can’t let yourself be caught cold, because the pressure to conform and practice ketman will be very strong if you haven’t thought about it, and especially if you haven’t built an escape option.

You also need to bear in mind that you and your family may be shunned by elites because of your religious or moral convictions. If being part of elite culture in your city, or in this country, matters to you, then you will be tempted to practice ketman, thinking that you can shore up the ruins of the Imperium (to use MacIntyre’s concept) and live as you’d like to live. But this is a losing strategy. You will have to face the fact that the faith you tender in your heart makes you unacceptable to the ruling class.

Can you live with that? Depends on who you really worship.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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