Jon Kay’s Weekly Deeply Problematic Newsletter: Sept 24, 2022
Quillette articles on Iran and cultural appropriation; the G&M sanctifies DEI workers; my interview with Indian YouTuber Kushal Mehra; a definition of wokeness; my Purim costume from 1975—and more.
Canada Called Itself a Genocide State. Iran Was Listening
I wrote two articles for Quillette this week—including this one on the Iranian President’s use of Canada’s unmarked-graves controversy as a means to deflect criticism of Iran. Here’s an excerpt:
As a Canadian, I found this element of Raisi’s performance maddening. Thanks to Canada’s own misinformation mill, the Iranian President didn’t have to go to the bother of inventing his own lies. My own country’s journalists and leaders did that job for him.
The issue of supposed unmarked Indigenous child graves dominated the Canadian media in the latter half of 2021. But as I reported in Quillette several months ago, no “mass graves” were ever found…In the 16 months that have passed since the unmarked-graves story broke in late May 2021, not a single body has been found, nor any human remains. Yet that didn’t prevent Prime Minister Justin Trudeau from lowering flags on Canadian public buildings for more than five months, nor from speaking publicly as if bodies were already being dug up. And aside from the National Post, not a single major Canadian media outlet has admitted its role in feeding the unmarked-graves social panic that exploded last year, and which often included lurid speculation that the supposed grave sites not only contained the remains of Indigenous children, but that these children had been murdered through methods worthy of a horror-movie plot.
Given this, what can Canadian public figures say to Raisi now that he’s throwing spurious moral equivalences into our faces? Nothing. In making the false claim that “bodies of hundreds of children were discovered in mass graves in a [former residential] school,” the man is merely reading our own officially sourced misinformation back to us.
Read the rest here.
Canada’s cultural-appropriation tempest, five years later
A few weeks ago, I was approached by Indigenous journalist Robert Jago, who was looking to do a Canadaland podcast episode about cultural appropriation—with a focus on Sasquatch as his main case study. He asked me for an interview, and sent me a list of questions, some pertaining to my (glancing) involvement in the Canadian media tempest surrounding cultural appropriation in early 2017.
(By way of background: I came out as a cultural universalist in a May 12th, 2017 National Post column—a viewpoint that proved to be very much at variance with the prevailing posture among my progressive colleagues at the magazine I then edited. When I joined Quillette later in 2017, I remained interested in the topic.)
The issue remains a point of fixation within the field of Canadian arts and letters, and so I told Jago that I was reluctant to simply sit in front of a microphone and shoot from the hip. While I might thereby offer a few interesting quips, I told him, I was more likely to say something that (at least in decontextualized form) would simply rekindle all the old animosities that surrounded this subject five years back. So instead we agreed that I’d send Jago some thoughts in written form and, on that basis, he’d decide if I had anything specific to say that was worth including.
I’d intended to jot down a few brief speaking points. But, as anyone who knows me at all might have predicted, I ended up emailing Jago a somewhat lengthy manifesto, which has been published on the Quillette blog in (lightly) edited form. Jago’s podcast episode has also been published, with some of my thoughts included in it.
Great moments in Toronto media wokeness
This Globe & Mail homage to “People doing DEI work” is an unintentionally hilarious little masterpiece of earnest woke-think. The author informs us that diversity bureaucrats are experiencing ennui and burnout. This is not an unexpected result for human-resources office workers who are tasked with lecturing everyone about pronouns and creating spreadsheets to keep track of everyone’s skin colour. But of course, the author instead traces the problem to the “highly emotional” nature of the work—“carried out in many cases by people who are intimately familiar with the very barriers to equity and access they’re working to remove. ‘It’s the kind of stuff that hits home, and can be fairly personal,’ says Shab Baharyeh, operations lead for diversity, equity and inclusion at [an] Oakville, Ont.-based media company.”
As ridiculous as the article is, it does do a good job at demonstrating the gargantuan level of hubris that infuses this industry. These are basically white-collar paper-pusher positions that form just another cadre of the professional managerial class. But many see themselves as secular priests seeking to edify the ignorant masses. In one jaw-dropping flourish, author Sarah Laing writes that “DEI work is both tactical…and also enormous and existential, like trying to course correct after thousands of years of flawed human history.”
Imagine thinking that the moment human beings stopped being a flawed species was when you started using Excel to track how many non-binary litigators your law firm employs.
Indian YouTube is a crazy, fascinating, and (especially) hilarious place
Very excited to release Quillette podcast episode #198, in which Indian podcaster Kushal Mehra stopped by Quillette’s Toronto studio (AKA my house) to give me a hilarious schooling in the wild world of Indian YouTube. If you recognize Mehra’s name, it might be because I’ve been on his own Cārvāka podcast, and because of a great piece he recently wrote for Quillette on Indian materialist philosophy.
As Orange Shirt Day approaches, get set for more misinformation about those “215 bodies”
Ontario’s AMAPCEO union is claiming “the bodies of 215 children [have been] discovered at the grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential School.” Actually, precisely zero bodies have been found. But if AMAPCEO officials have found any bodies—let alone 215 of them—they should tell the police about it.
As Orange Shirt Day (Canada’s National Day for Truth and Reconciliation with Indigenous peoples) approaches, we’re going to be seeing more stuff like this. I have no problem with memorializing the brutal and disgraceful record of Canada's residential schools. Kids should learn about it. But the idea that 215 “bodies” have been found is a straight up lie.
It’s now been 16 months since that famous ground-penetrating radar data was announced—data consistent with possible child graves at the Kamloops residential school in British Columbia. But no bodies have been found at that site, or any other. yet the “215 bodies” nonsense persists because aside from the National Post, large media won't admit they succumbed to social panic last year. They’re embarrassed by the fact that they succumbed to an industry-wide herd mentality in late May and June 2021. And rightly so.
Every time some Canadian media grandee announces yet another eye-glazing report about the problem of misinformation in Canadian media, remind them that the Canadian Press 2021 “story of the year” was these as-yet-undiscovered unmarked graves.
Iran versus Canada: My summary of the past week in feminism
A definition of wokeness
A guy I’d never heard of DM’d me on Twitter, and told me he needed a definition of wokeness for his web site (which, full disclosure I don’t know much about…and, 10/24 update, now appears to be down). He asked if I could provide one. So of course, I did—even though I think the whole idea of “wokeness” might be getting a little played out. (Unfortunately, we don’t yet have any other term to take its place.) Here’s what I came up with:
The term “woke” was originally popularized by progressive activists who saw themselves as having (metaphorically) awakened to bold new insights about the racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia that supposedly contaminate every corner of western societies. In recent years, however, “woke” has been more commonly used as a pejorative term to describe extremists who extrapolate these well-intentioned principles in a radically ill-advised manner. In many cases, this includes performative gestures—on social media or otherwise—that are clearly intended to burnish the ideological bona fides of woke individuals and groups, as opposed to providing real assistance to the allegedly oppressed masses whose well-being ostensibly lies at the core of the woke mission.
Some woke ideological positions are so extreme that they directly contradict core tenets of liberalism, including free speech and due process. At its outer edges, moreover, wokeism closely tracks policy prescriptions associated with reactionary 20th-century social conservatives. In schools, government agencies, and woke corporations, it has become increasingly common to celebrate racial segregation as a means to create “affinity groups.” Some woke ideologues and diversity consultants also claim that qualities associated with professional life, such as punctuality, attention to detail, and a commitment to merit, betray the influence of a nefarious force called “whiteness”—thereby channeling the racist idea that non-white individuals cannot meet baseline standards of intellect and behavior.
Woke manifestos and policy documents typically embed slogans that cast entire swathes of the western world as “oppressive” (or even intrinsically genocidal), and which call upon followers to engage in gestures of righteous “anti-capitalist” rebellion. Canada, in particular, is routinely denounced as a “white supremacist” state whose very existence must be “disrupted.”
Unlike traditional forms of leftish thought, which have been aimed in large part at assisting working-class individuals, wokeism exhibits an unconcealed hostility toward underprivileged members of society who have not internalized faddish ideas about race and gender. Woke ideas are communicated using academic jargon densely cluttered with newly conceived acronyms such as 2SLGBTQQIA+, AMAB, and BIPOC. As with many cultish movements, the unintelligible nature of this idiom is treated as a feature not a bug, since mastery of such terms permits an acolyte to signal his or her elect status within a woke organization or clique.
In other words, wokeism not only consists of a set of anti-liberal ideological concepts masquerading as progressivism, but also as a status-seeking strategy within upper-middle-class white-collar social and professional subcultures.
Many highly woke proponents plainly imagine themselves as secular priests, communicating revealed truths to their (more ignorant) workplace or classroom parishioners. While their language often is full of nominally self-incriminating flourishes about “whiteness,” “internalized white supremacy,” and their status as “settlers living on unceded land,” such admissions are actually intended as badges of enlightenment—much as a religious fundamentalist might demonstrate his or her devotion by pontificating about the shameful depths of his or her original sin.
Overall, woke ideology rejects the idea that human beings are fundamentally alike insofar as we all might enjoy the benefits—and observe the responsibilities—of a single, commonly observed social contract. Instead, society is conceived in dystopian terms, with “intersectionally” delineated groups experiencing daily life as an endless series of joyless, spiritually exhausting struggles for their very existence. Like all totalizing belief systems, it leaves little room for dissent, casting even minor doctrinal disagreements as manifestations of injurious bigotry that must be investigated and punished.
My Purim costume from 1975 (which my dad just sent me)
Okay, there’s a lot going on here. A few points:
My family had just come back from a trip to Israel, which is where I think we got the kafiyeh. This was well before the intifada (both of them) and it was fairly common for tourists (and Israelis) to go back and forth into Palestinian areas to go shopping (though, for all I know, we got this thing at Ben Gurion Airport).
The shibriya is plastic—part of some kind of King Arthur/knights-in-shining armour kit we had lying around.
Yes that’s a bathrobe.
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