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All the world’s a stage

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has posted a reflection on her experience with ‘cancel culture’ and young people whom she helped who then turned on her immediately when the mob demanded it. This part is important:

There are many social-media-savvy people who are choking on sanctimony and lacking in compassion, who can fluidly pontificate on Twitter about kindness but are unable to actually show kindness. People whose social media lives are case studies in emotional aridity. People for whom friendship, and its expectations of loyalty and compassion and support, no longer matter. People who claim to love literature – the messy stories of our humanity – but are also monomaniacally obsessed with whatever is the prevailing ideological orthodoxy. People who demand that you denounce your friends for flimsy reasons in order to remain a member of the chosen puritan class.

I refuse to turn on people and denounce them on demand from the mob. You all know what I’m talking about. Some of my friends have been called on to denounce me, and some have. They are weak. Most people are weak. This period is useful because it will help us separate the true friends from those whose friendship is conditional on the winds of favor.

More generally, social media makes preening performance public and scalable in a way that it never was. The behavior described by Adichie is as old as humanity itself. The main difference is today it is produced and distributed on an industrial scale. As Ray Kurzweil likes to say, information technology is exponential…

26 thoughts on “All the world’s a stage

  1. Mr. Khan, I am going to be a bit terse with you. You should not have been friends with such people in the first place!

    People talk about “gaydar.” Well, I advise all of you to develop a radar for honorable human beings and cultivate friendships with such people, however few and however lowly they may be. It is my view that, in human relationships, quality matters more than quantity.

    To paraphrase Tamerlane in a slightly different context, it’s better to have five friends who show up to stand the ground with you on the day of battle than to have five thousand friends who go elsewhere that day.

  2. It is notable, if not surprising, that Wokeism/SJWism is spreading outside the West, and it can be expected to hit many of these regions harder, since they haven’t co-evolved with it and developed some degree of immunity to it (much like how European socialist movements ended up manifesting in their most virulent forms in Russia a century ago). In this respect, as I have argued, Wokeism can be considered to be yet another tool of Western Supremacism.

  3. @akarlin, “Wokism”, like the proverbial success that it certainly isn’t, may have many fathers! And probably has somewhat seperable elements.

    To the extent it is (as a clever Russian, devarbol, once suggested in passing) partly a (mis-)application of post-colonial politics to Western situations, then the non-Western world might be “pre-adapted”. (If it’s more like the bs their dumb dad used to say when shouting at the TV, maybe they are familar with why its nonsense and its harder to pose that it’s new and cool, rather than middlebrow). But I guess might be (slightly?) more vulnerable to the sexual politics element, given “fast” demographic and female education transitions and fast secularisation.

    (Also don’t know if analogy works – third world vulnerable to Communists because they promised development right? To the extent “Wokism” is different from post-colonial “Argh, Western Europeans are to blame for everything!” ideas, not sure it has much more to offer to poor people who are more suspicious of nonsense and less “decadent”?)

  4. If or when wokeism brings to light real oppression and injustice, and works to enable people to move forward or backward or sideways as they wish within a society and economy, I see no harm, and opportunity for good. When wokeism is considered threatening because it may disturb current power structures and classes, or brings more reality to the historical narratives of people and nations, I have no sympathy and some disdain for those who fear or mock it. We are in a time where extreme nationalism is rising; much of these movements are built on mythology.
    However, the idea that using certain words or phrases or ways of interacting that are not intended to be harmful, can suddenly assign a person to an irrelevant or even reviled status, seems to me to be a new form of oppression.

  5. “Wokeism brings to light real oppression and injustice, and works to enable people to move forward or backward or sideways as they wish within a society and economy… I see no harm, and opportunity for good… We are in a time where extreme nationalism is rising”

    What utter garbage.
    Wokeness is not about taking power from The Man. Wokeness is The Man’s way of securing his power over the rest of us. Gaslighting us with psychotic nonsense like Critical Theory and intersectionality. Sadists and malignant narcissists are attracted to wokeness because it offers them the opportunity to destroy people while receiving social reward.

    Let me be clear here: The woke don’t cancel others because they’re good people who just feel too strongly about injustice. It’s because they’re terrible, awful, evil people who are using injustice as an excuse to indulge their garbage natures.

  6. Thanks for ‘refusing to turn on people and denouncing them on demand from the mob.’

  7. I have no sympathy for her. She helped foster the movement. She made her bones ‘critiquing’ Nigerian society for clout online and is now whining that her students have surpassed her in sanctimony.


    Spiritual Yanquis acting out their conversion experience and outdoing the cradle-born in zeal. Many such cases.

    The Nigerian Twitter ban was a start, helping these people migrate to their spiritual homes and kicking out the ‘NGOs’ that subsidise their existence should be the next step.

    Alas, the fogies in charge might have good instincts, but they are utterly incapable of planning.

  8. Wokism is strong in English speaking countries, less in the German/Scandinavian world, weak in the Latin speaking world, almost non existant in Eastern Europe. I can’t see it taking roots seriously outside the USA and similar countries. The obsession with race is purely American for example and has almost no resonance in continental Europe. And in the rest of the world? Why would it even have any impact? They may use it as a weapon against the western world but not among themselves.

  9. The woke don’t cancel others because they’re good people who just feel too strongly about injustice. It’s because they’re terrible, awful, evil people who are using injustice as an excuse to indulge their garbage natures.

    I think that’s like saying that all creationists are lying phonies. The leaders of creationist organizations are. They take advantage of the fact that evolution is very hard to believe. The idea that random variations and mass death can lead to all sorts of complicated NEW organs and behavior is very very hard to get one’s mind around, not to mention seeming incredibly mean. (Most people have some sort of mystical idea of evolution just somehow doing what has to be done–and without the vast majority of creatures dying before they can reproduce).

    Similarly, most “woke” people honestly care and just can’t see how blacks are doing so badly if there isn’t terrible white privilege. And they believe this because the two alternatives are either too mean (blacks behave badly) or totally socially unacceptable (on average, blacks are significantly less intelligent). As far as I can tell, this is why Charles Murray wrote Facing Reality.

  10. As much hate as the baby boomers get over accusations of selfishness, at least in their heyday they really did seem to value personal relationships and being authentic and candid with other people at the individual level, as opposed to seeking overwhelming social and/or political approval, cultivating a libertarian-ish, live-and-let-live culture. Most Gen Xers are like this too, although the younger ones born closer to 1980 have a lot of the same bad traits as millennials in ruthless status-jockeying, selling out friends or family for money or career moves, and a tendency to form shallow bonds that can be cut easily.

    Someone in a commenting thread on one of Razib’s posts about a month or two ago brought up the internet celeb Lindsay Ellis getting “canceled” for racism over comments she’d made about a Disney movie, and this incident really highlights the mindset that Ngozi Adichie is talking about. I first heard about her in 2010 when she joined Doug Walker’s Nostalgia Critic site as The Nostalgia Chick, and found her funny and entertaining. I lost interest in that sphere over college and grad school, but found out nearly a decade later that she’d become a social media star, now down-the-line woke, and that she’d thrown all sorts of people who’d helped her under the bus, joined social media pile-ons and made them worse, intimated that she was exploited for having used sex appeal to help get her star going, and just generally treated people as props to the extent that they were positive for her brand. And then she finally got bit this year playing the status-jockeying game she’d been playing for over five years. I don’t know if she’s recovered or not, but judging by the portion that I saw of the video she posted after being “cancelled”, she appeared mentally and emotionally broken.

    Ngozi Adichie is right, too many millennials are like this, willing to use people for whatever they can get out of them, then completely throw them to the wolves whenever the moment calls for it. Then when they in turn get thrown to the wolves, there is no one around for support and they have a breakdown. Zoomers, to the extent they are at all different from millennials, have these traits as well, but even worse, because many of them don’t know any kind of social life outside of social media. It’s easy to blame the problem on social media, but these character traits existed in previous generations in high school, and it was expected people eventually grew out of them. Now, socially, people aren’t growing out of this phase anymore, and are often being rewarded for such lack of maturity, or punished for displaying the maturity of valuing friends and family over mob appeasement.

  11. The woke/cancel culture seems to be a peculiar mix of mass savagery and insanity.

    It no longer surprises me to see people one liked and trusted go with the mob and try to humiliate or destroy friends.

    Oddly, it is the sometimes crusty, even rude, people who turn out to have moral courage and refuse to join the rabid sheep.

    One might learn not to trust people who seem too nice.

  12. @Roger, I think ‘Institutional and systemic racism as the explanation, in the absence of real explanations due to cultural taboos’ is part of it. Probably an unavoidable part.

    And there’s a similar thing for the popularity of colonialism as an explanation. When you have a critical mass of 2nd Generation kids, who are not closely affiliated with the realities parents’ nation of origin, and are not too familar with their history (economic and otherwise), and there’s no grounding that pre-colonial divergences existed, then colonialism looks like *the explanation* for any differences between countries today. Anyone who tells such people different is easy for them to dismiss as ‘Just a colonialist sympathising white supremacist’, which chokes off counterargument and reinforces the sense that they’re correct. Plus, it appeals to individual’s inner desires to feel like someone who has discovered a secret, esoteric knowledge. It’s not quite the same because many of the pre-colonial divergences are probably happenstance of history and will be more eroded by convergence over time, but it is still a situation where, once you eliminate real knowledge by making it taboo, certain explanations can flourish.

    But I don’t know that any of these sort of ‘If we eliminate the ability to discuss real explanations, Woke is the result’ ideas can explain everything. How does it really explain ‘Started a failed social media campaign to get a white lady fired for cooking Butter Chicken’ type stuff? (As seen in this meme – – admittedly as a caricature and a joke but a plausible bit of satire to its audience.)

    Another facet is that we’ve increasingly framed the social ideal of a meaningful life as ‘Activism to liberate the oppressed in an emancipation struggle’ and the social status ideal as ‘She was once a victim, but now she stands up and speaks Her Truth, unfiltered without challenge’ (Haidt’s “Victim Morality”). Which has had consequences. People reconstrue events to suddenly ‘find’ themselves as victims (‘admit to myself’) or as ‘speaking for the victims. (‘Microaggressions’, etc are found.). Much as anyone who has ever experienced, second-hand, even a mild workplace dispute would find utterly unsurprising! Ideas that ‘I was systematically bullied and controlled for years, and that’s why I’m not everything I want to be, not any fault in myself’ start creeping into the thoughts of even people with high levels of independence and agency.

    And society finds itself legitimating any kind of behaviour by ‘victims’ or their erstwhile representatives as “punching up” (no matter the level of cruelty) and any kind of attempt to check or demand dignity from victims as “punching down” or “silencing” or “reactionary repression of necessary social change”. This cloaks a lot of bullying and jealousy in a way that probably makes those trends harder to challenge than the status quo. How can we explain otherwise that a society which supposedly is more “victim believing” and victim sensitive seems to have rapidly increasing rates of actual bullying under these new forms of social media technology? Women possibly particularly sensitive to this stuff; seem disproportionately increase in bad stuff from that quarter relative to before, and generally expect women to be more socially sensitive and less arrogantly driven by internal moral beliefs than males (whether to be unbending paladins or completely depraved or some weird mix of both). Particularly sensitive to “Your tears say more than real evidence ever could”.

    So I think it’s a shift in learned ignorance or learned overconfidence, yes, but also the shift to social ideals of life as built around activism in the service of an emancipation or liberation struggle, and around our structure of respect and status as placing victims on the highest rungs (aka the “Oppression Olympics”). Once you legitimate a lot of bad behaviour as part of an idealized struggle, and criticism of certain people as taboo, make being a strong, victim who fought back the ideal, then people move their conceptions of themselves around to use this to serve the competitive, status motivated, somewhat selfish drives of the average human nature. And one of the particularly bad things about this as well is, if anyone should say ‘I’ve experienced the bad results of victimhood culture!’ then you have the usual mid-level arguers who aren’t engaging honestly come back with ‘So aren’t you just saying you’re a victim yourself? Yawn’.

    (Of course I don’t expect my “Woke” explanation / excessively verbose extended Saturday Morning Coffee Rant to totally work, but let’s have a go).

  13. As another alternative or complementary explanation, the 2010s and now 2020s might be a particular era for the flourishing of “Left Wing Authoritarianism”, that is best characterised by Thomas Costello in this paper – (and extended more recently –

    The ’90s a period of 1) Gen X burned by peripheral awareness of the crazy bits of the ’60s and ’70s and shy about new forms of total social change, and happy with commodified personal-individual forms of left wing expression, 2) Communism recently “lost” against Capitalism (“End of History”), 3) living standards probably still rising in terms of access to cheap urban housing, medical care and health impacts of massive consumption of heavily engineered foodstuffs and products only beginning to be felt. Post-2008 challenges all that changes a bit and sets the stage for new enthusiasms for social revolutions and sudden social change as a response to “crisis”. So rise of Millennial authoritarianism in the name of pushing through the generally left aligned revolutionary social change. (The Millennials are actually misnamed Millenarians ;0 ) whether by outside revolutionary actors or individuals, who have succeeded through the existing system but who are still coded as agents of social change (like the left leaning professariat).

    (It might have been easy to believe that Left Wing Authoritarianism was a myth in the ’90s, and that left wing politics were generally associated with a need for intellectual autonomy. But that is obviously not the case if we take a longer and wider view, and any claimed resilience of the liberal left in the ‘Anglosphere’ to authoritarianism was obviously pretty brittle.)

  14. There are some parallels, no question. Actually a lot, really, when you come to look at the details – even perhaps trivially (or not), the destruction of statues.

    I have stories I could tell about the Cultural Revolution which would not sound irrelevant, things that have been recounted to me by people I am related to by marriage who suffered through it, and who I helped to rebuild university libraries, etc. if I felt more kindly disposed to the audience than I do. As it is, bridges have been burned, so whenever you do that, you lose potentially useful or interesting information input.

  15. @Young – It happens that often disagreeable people turn out to be good people. To be a good person, you need to be honest, and in being honest, a person will often come across as disagreeable.

    I don’t know why more people don’t get this. Con men are always ‘nice’.

  16. @Massey – Exactly. A person with the strength of character to be honest with himself and others will inevitably be at odds
    at times with those who bend to the crowd so he may be seen as disagreeable or contrary. But he will be truer and more steadfast.

  17. Princeton Classics Dept. Removes Greek, Latin as Course Requirement. The department will also take into account how Greek and Roman cultures “have been instrumentalized, and have been complicit, in various forms of exclusion, including slavery, segregation, white supremacy, Manifest Destiny, and cultural genocide.”

    It is maybe a paradox that such move can open research and discussions about falsified sc. European ancient history, about origins of ‘ancient’ Greek and Latin languages and from which language they evolved, about ‘barbarians’ and the original meaning of this term (refers to society without slavery) what will lead to study of the societal organisation in the oldest European Vinca civilisation which is still a taboo topic, etc, etc.

  18. (1/2) RE: White Slavery

    They came in like slaves: a human cargo carried by British ships on the road to America. They were sent from Ireland, hundreds of thousands of men, women, and even the youngest children. Whenever they rebelled, they were punished in the harshest manner. Slaveholders would hang them or lay their hands and feet on fire, as one of the forms of punishment. Some are burnt alive and their heads are left on spears on the slave market, as a warning to other prisoners. We know very well the crimes of African slave trade. But the African slave has written and spoken a lot about the Irish slave?

    King James VI and Charles I continued to enslave Irish. Cromwell has deepened this practice of dehumanizing his neighbours. In Ireland, slave trade began when James VI sold 30,000 Irish prisoners as slaves to the New World. His Proclamation from 1625 has enabled the sale of Irish political prisoners abroad, as well as sales them to English immigrants in Western India. By the mid-1600s, the Irish were the main slaves sold in Antigua and Montserrat. At that time, 70% of the total population of Montserrat were Irish slaves. Ireland soon became the largest source of human cattle for English merchants. Most of the early slaves in the New World were actually WHITES.

    From 1641 to 1652, more than 500,000 Irish were murdered by the English and another 300,000 sold into slaves. The Irish population fell from around 1,500,000 to 600,000 in a decade. Families collapsed because the British did not allow Irish fathers to take their wives and children with them across the Atlantic. This led to the helpless population, homeless women and children. The British solution was to sell them at auctions.

    During the 1650s, over 100,000 Irish children aged 10 to 14 years were taken away from their parents and sold as slaves to West Indies, Virginia, and New England. In the same decade, 52,000 Irish (mainly women and children) were sold to Barbados and Virginia. Another 30,000 Irish men and women were transported and sold to the best bidder. In 1656. Cromwell ordered that 2,000 Irish children to be driven to Jamaica and sold as slaves to English immigrants.

    Many people still avoid calling the Irish slaves what they really were: slaves. They will conditionally call them “indentured servants” to describe what happened to the Irish. However, in most cases from the 17th and 18th centuries, Irish slaves were nothing more than human cattle.

  19. (2/2) RE: White Slavery

    As an example, African slave trade has just begun in that same period. It is well noted that African slaves were much more expensive than Irish, even up to ten times, and they were often treated far better than their Irish counterparts. African slaves on the market were valued during the late 1600-es, £50 sterling and the Irish slaves were no more than £5 sterling. If Irish slaves have been beaten to death on plantations, it has never been a crime. The death of Irish goods was only a financial loss, but far cheaper than killing more expensive African slaves.

    The English masters soon began breeding Irish women for their own personal enjoyment and for greater profits. Even if an Irish woman somehow gets her freedom, her children will remain slaves to their master. Thus, the Irish mothers, even with this newly acquired emancipation, will rarely abandon their children and remain in slavery.

    Over time, the English have come up with a better way to use Irish women to increase their market profits: The settlers have begun to cross Irish women and girls (even younger than 12) with African people and thus produce slaves with a lighter shade. These new “mulat” slaves had a higher price than the Irish “livestock”, and also made it possible for English settlers to save money rather than buy new African slaves.

    This practice of crossing Irish women with African peoples lasted for several decades, and was so widespread that in 1681, a regulation banned the practice of mating Irish slaves and African slaves for the purpose of making slaves for sale. In short, it was stopped only because it impeded the earnings of large slave carrier companies that brought slaves from Africa.

    England continued to ship ships of tens of thousands of Irish slaves for more than a century. The records state that after the Irish uprising in 1798, thousands of Irish slaves were sold to both America and Australia. There were terrible abuses of both African and Irish prisoners. A British ship threw 1302 slaves into the Atlantic Ocean, so the crew had enough food to eat.

    In 1839. Britain finally decided to end its own participation in the slave transportation. Although their decision did not prevent pirates from doing what they wanted, the new law slowly concluded this chapter of Irish misery.

    But if someone believes that slavery was just an African experience, then he is completely wrong. Irish slavery really existed, but it was wiped out of our memory. But why is this so rarely discussed? Does the memory of hundreds of thousands of Irish victims deserve more than just to be mentioned in a comment like this? Or their story was the one the English teachers wanted: to completely disappear, as if it had never happened.

    None of the Irish victims ever returned to their homeland to describe their tribulations. These are the lost slaves, who have been completely forgotten over time due to the biased books of history.

  20. There were never slaves in the Australian colonies. Irish political prisoners were transported to the penal colonies in Australia, and convicts were made to do forced labour, but that was not confined to the Irish convicts, and they were not slaves. They were freed after serving their sentences, although not able to make their way back to Britain or Ireland, even if they wanted to.

    Aboriginal people employed to work on cattle stations (ranches) were often paid only in food, or wages were often not paid, so some people have chosen to call this slavery, but it wasn’t.

    I believe it is normal practice to acknowledge your sources, especially where you are quoting verbatim. How do I know you have done this? Simple – the English is a lot better than yours, so you cut and pasted this material from some published source.

    The Vinca culture does not qualify as a civilisation. Some rectification of names is needed.

  21. I did not mention neither Australia nor Aborigines. The most of this comment was taken from other source which was cited when was published before but it is missing in this comment. The factual things and figures are not mine, either. I do write in three languages and sometimes, to be quicker, I use some text, translate with Google translator, and quickly edit after that. This is not an academic paper and do not follow strict citing standards when citing nor I have time to do a detailed editing and text style improvement. But, if someone find something problematic we can go to see the primary source. I believe that it is good enough and that my message is understood.

    The key point is to present unknown or less known things in the context of the thread topic. Last time, one Irishman replied that the previous comment is not truthful. The other said that this is a Gerry Adams propaganda (apparently, he mentioned somewhere some of these facts and figures). So, the main point here is if white slavery existed or not and if the previous figures are correct or not. This would be useful in a current situation in US and UK which some commented above. You also could contribute your knowledge to this, it seems, controversial topic.

    And, yes, Vinca was the oldest and the highest European civilization. We will revisit this within this undergoing Indo-European discussion, and you may say why do you think that it is not a civilization. That would be a great contribution of global significance to this discussion even if your assertion is not correct.

  22. @ Milan – “The records state that after the Irish uprising in 1798, thousands of Irish slaves were sold to both America and Australia.”

    It seems I have read what you have plagiarised, copied and pasted more carefully than you have.

  23. JM – Yep, you are right I did mention Australia and it was my mistake. I know very well what happened in Australia, better than in US and Caribbean. I’ve never pretended that I discovered never seen before figures about white slavery. By reading other sources and by knowing the history and the mentality of people on British Isles, I believe that the facts and figures are correct, and I accepted them as my own knowledge about this part of history. It is especially important now when the key US policies are made by referring on black slavery. It seems that many do not want to hear about white slavery and about anti-white policies. White lives matter, too. It is interesting that you do not say anything about this. Maybe you do not know all details but I think you have opinion or sense if this is true or not. My impression is that you also think that this is not true. Maybe you feel uncomfortable because you are perhaps from this background, too, and only focus on my English proficiency and citing standards.

    In this context, Vinca was mentioned as one example of society which did not know for slavery and made very prosperous civilization which, for 2000+ years did not know for war, until ancestors of modern west Europeans came from Russian steppes and almost exterminated indigenous men and took their women. Now, the mainstream asserts that these primitive nomads whose economy was based on few domesticated animals enforced their language to much more advanced society which had metallurgy, multistorey housing and temples, jewellery, astronomy, fashion, trades, gold processing, the oldest calendar and literacy, enforced their poor, nomadic language on all European and some Asian languages under the meaningless banner of sc. ‘Indo-European’ language. I will try to persuade readers that the non-existence of slavery in such advanced civilisation, about which you obviously know little, is one of the main reasons why it is still a taboo topic, why it is hidden, why scientists do not want to research this and give the main emphasis on Corded Ware, although it is a late derivative of Vinca, consisted only of pottery carried by abducted Vinca women and presented only by some burial practices.

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