The current travails of Harvard University around the institutionalization of “wokeness” through rigorous diversity, equity and inclusion management metrics and with the decision of its president, Claudine Gay, to resign, reminded me of a commentary I wrote nearly three years ago (April 9, 2021, to be exact) addressing the then new question of whether moral capitalism should embrace “wokeness.”
I said “no” on the grounds that wokeness is the psycho-social expression of a Nietzschean will to power on the part of its advocates. As such, it is destructive of the moral sense in each of us and so has no claim for inclusion in any moral capitalism.
You can read my argument against the morality of “woke” here.
(The recent trend to question the benefits and fairness of “wokeness”/DEI would seem to socially validate my argument. A friend, William Colby, once told me after serving as director of the CIA, that if your hypothesis turns out to have predictive accuracy, stick with it.)
Back in 2021, I was sharply criticized by one senior business executive for being “racist” in my views.
I wrote back that he most likely did not know that my wife is Vietnamese.
I presumed he would be alert enough to then realize that I had lived for decades on a border between races, fully part of neither. Too Vietnamese in thinking to be fully American white and too American white in thinking to be fully Vietnamese.
He did not respond.
I did not share with him a family story about my maternal grandmother. Through her husband, our family descends from a signer of the Declaration of Independence and from a framer of our Constitution. My direct ancestor, Winthrop Young, in 1776, took the association oath in New Hampshire to oppose with arms the operations of His Majesty’s armies in the North American colonies.
When learning of my engagement, grandmother said, “I can’t understand what has gotten into Stephen. Two thousand years of WASP blood down the drain!”
However, after my marriage, she was most delightfully gracious to her new granddaughter-in-law.
So, the realities of racism in America have been part of “my truth” for decades.
If the racism implicit in wokeness and explicit in DEI discriminations is wrong and harmful, what narrative or frame of mind, then, would be a right fit for moral capitalism?
If we live in a post-modern culture, then a post-racism is possible. Post-modernism applies critical thinking to delegitimate concepts, values, cognitive biases and ideologies. Thus, post-modernist thinking – in the right hands – can delegitimate racism, leading to a culture that would be “post” racist.
Secondly, I suggest that the moral basis for a post-racist world is friendship.
I recommend your quickly reading Aristotle and Cicero on friendship.
The recent encyclical of Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti, adds a Christian dimension to friendship – “do unto others ….” He takes as his ideal person the Good Samaritan, who comes to the aid of one not of his “race.”
Other readings that would open minds, expose biases and promote friendships are the Tao Te Jing and the Zhuang Zi from China.
I love the story from the Zhuang Zi that: “One night, Zhuang Zi went to sleep and dreamed that he was a butterfly. He dreamt that he was flying around from flower to flower and while he was dreaming, he felt free, blown about by the breeze hither and thither. He was quite sure that he was a butterfly. But when he awoke, he realized that he had just been dreaming and that he was really Chuang Tzu dreaming he was a butterfly.
But then, Chuang Tzu asked himself the following question: was I Chuang Tzu dreaming I was a butterfly or am I now really a butterfly dreaming that I am Chuang Tzu?”
Apply that to who you are – is it really you who are dreaming that you are of the race that you think you are when it might be someone of another race dreaming that they are you? Who are you really and who are they really?
The teachings of the Buddha on overcoming illusions would guide us to a post-racist way of living. And perhaps the advice of Marcus Aurelius and other Stoics would also tend to confirm that it is possible for you and for me to put our minds in the right way.