February 24, 2023 Reading Time: 5 minutes

Wokeness features too many flaws even to list – never mind to discourse upon – in an essay of reasonable length. But one among these many flaws stands out for me as being the most irritating: incessant childishness.

I still recall from my days in Catholic elementary school the many times that one classmate would publicly accuse another of using a naughty word. Such accusations were always announced triumphantly, revealing the accuser’s sense of heroically serving the public good by exposing a menace in our midst. Sometimes the allegation was rooted in pure ignorance of language, as when one of my fellow fourth graders used the word “asinine” and was immediately tattled on to our teacher, Sister Agnelia, as having cursed.

I don’t recall whether “asinine” was used correctly, but thankfully Sister Agnelia knew that, either way, it’s not a curse word. She declared the accused innocent of any wrongdoing.

Of course, genuinely verboten words such as “hell” or “damn” were sometimes uttered. Yet even as a child I always sympathized with the malefactor whenever his offense was publicly decried by another classmate, whom I invariably viewed as having committed an offense much more serious than using potty language.

Ever-vigilant against the use of naughty words, the woke are just as immature as were my prissy grade-school classmates. And the woke are also just as ignorant of the meaning of words – as was revealed several years ago when an aide to then-DC-Mayor Anthony Williams was forced to resign after being accused of uttering a racial smear when he used the word “niggardly” in a conversation about funding.

Actually, the woke are worse than even my most hyper-sensitive schoolmates. Unlike my schoolmates, who I don’t recall ever consciously manufacturing pretenses to be offended by language, the woke are master craftsmen – sorry, master craftspeople – of such pretenses. For evidence look no further than the recent tweet from the AP’s Stylebook that “We recommend avoiding general and often dehumanizing ‘the’ labels such as the poor, the mentally ill, the French, the disabled, the college-educated.’”

To be clear, because I recognize the enormous power of language, I applaud language becoming more inclusive, less racist, and less sexist. But language is organic. Its vocabulary and grammar are not conscious human constructs that can be changed at will or overnight. To take offense, for example, at the casual use of the term “craftsman” to describe a woman who earns her living as a carpenter or as a plumber is to take offense at an innocent habit of speech. It is to manufacture a justification to display one’s allegedly superior sensibilities. And only immature people behave in such an obnoxious fashion.

But to take offense at the use of the article “the” requires an altogether higher degree of noxious immaturity. Immaturity of this sort is the immaturity of the playground bully who is as self-obsessed as he is destructive.

The woke are childish also in seeing the world only in black and white. Being woke to today’s injustices apparently entails ignoring reality’s complexities and uncertainties. It also seems to entail disregarding the fact that much that appears evil or undesirable is the result, not of bad or benighted actors, but instead of people making difficult and unavoidable tradeoffs.

Nuance, apparently, is a mirage seen only by the selfish, while humility is a trait possessed only by the benighted.

Consider the example of trans rights for minor children. As reported by Washington Post columnist Megan McArdle, many among the woke want to dilute the say of parents in their children’s decisions to transition from one gender to another. Yet regardless of your stance on the larger issue of trans rights, parental responsibility and parents’ love for their children remain very real considerations. McArdle correctly suggests that to label as “transphobic” someone who merely argues that the state should not override parents’ say in the medical treatments received by their minor children – especially when the exercise of that say doesn’t put children’s lives in jeopardy – is to childishly ignore the danger of stripping parents of this vital responsibility.

Whatever good might be imagined as coming from stripping away parental responsibility in this particular case is a ‘good’ purchased at the price of diluting the ability of those persons who love and who know their children the most – parents – from raising their children as they judge best. Only an immature mind would assert that this price is unquestionably one worth paying. Surely someone who resists diluting parental responsibility in such instances is not a knuckle-dragging ignoramus or an evil religious fanatic but, instead, someone who understands the reality of parental love and the value – both to children and to society – of parental responsibilities exercised because of that love.

Yet another manifestation of the woke’s childishness is their interpretation of everything through the lens of imagined intentions. Is the average pay of women lower than that of men? Yes. The reason must be that society is engineered by men to ‘privilege’ men at the expense of women! Is the number of Blacks enrolled in high-school honors courses disproportionately small? Yes. The reason must be that school curricula and testing methods are designed to ‘privilege’ whites and Asians at the expense of Blacks!

Sometimes, of course, bad intentions are at work. But for many of the social and economic issues that dominate public-policy discussions, differences in the ‘outcomes’ of different groups are the results, not of intention or design, but of innumerable decisions each made by individuals who strive to strike in the best way they can the inescapable trade-offs they confront. The woman who chooses to temporarily leave the workforce in order to be a full-time mom often thereby loses some workplace skills, and upon returning to the workplace is paid less than she would have been paid had she never had kids. Women’s average pay, in turn, is pulled down relative to men’s average pay. But in operation here is no pernicious design. Yet the childish mind, unable to appreciate the reality of unintended consequences and the inescapability of trade-offs, jumps to the conclusion that women’s lower average pay is the result of male chauvinism and discrimination.

One final childish trait of the woke is worth mentioning – namely, their infantile inability, or refusal, to put matters into proper perspective. It’s undeniably true that some individuals are racist while others are xenophobic, that some men are sexist, and that some people are homophobic. Such will always be the case, sadly so. But there’s no question that racism, xenophobia, sexism, and homophobia are far less commonplace in America today than they were even just a few decades ago. Yet the woke seize upon every reported instance of such intolerance – reports which themselves are amplified by social media – as evidence that American society is suffused with incurable racism, xenophobia, sexism, and homophobia. Because the woke are far more interested in displaying their own imaginary moral superiority than they are in understanding reality, they refuse to recognize the overwhelming civility and tolerance of modern American society. Like children, the woke’s understanding of the society they inhabit is defective. Unfortunately, unlike children, they occupy prominent places in the media, in the academy, and in officialdom.

Donald J. Boudreaux

Donald J. Boudreaux

Donald J. Boudreaux is a Associate Senior Research Fellow with the American Institute for Economic Research and affiliated with the F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University; a Mercatus Center Board Member; and a professor of economics and former economics-department chair at George Mason University. He is the author of the books The Essential Hayek, Globalization, Hypocrites and Half-Wits, and his articles appear in such publications as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, US News & World Report as well as numerous scholarly journals. He writes a blog called Cafe Hayek and a regular column on economics for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Boudreaux earned a PhD in economics from Auburn University and a law degree from the University of Virginia.

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