A sweeping critique of the “wokescenti.”
Award-winning essayist, memoirist, and novelist Daum (The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion, 2014, etc.), recipient of Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, takes on fourth-wave feminism, victimhood, identity politics, #MeToo, social media, ideological warfare on college campuses, and assorted other irritants in a culture that is “effectively mentally ill.” Social media, asserts the author, creates an echo chamber where people lie to one another and eagerly wait for friends to lie back. “I am convinced,” she writes, “the culture is effectively being held hostage by its own hyperbole. So enthralled with our outrage at the extremes, we’ve forgotten that most of the world exists in the mostly unobjectionable middle.” Examining displays of outrage as public performance, she writes that “the search for grievance has become a kind of political obligation, an activist gesture.” Accusations of sexism, sexual harassment, or assault, she believes, foster women’s image of themselves as victims rather than individuals “capable of making mistakes”; in making such accusations, women “literally hand men their own power.” Rather than see the gender wage gap as evidence of sexism, Daum suggests “that there are biological differences between male and female brains that can influence women’s professional decisions.” She also criticizes “the left-leaning chatterati” who praised Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me as engaging in “self-congratulatory reverence,” wondering “if my white friends and colleagues who venerated Coates actually liked his work or just liked the idea of liking it.” This suspicion of other people’s authenticity underlies much of the book: Daum admits that when she was an undergraduate in the midst of student uprisings, she “often felt like I was impersonating a college student…I had a hard time believing other people were actually for real.” Now middle-aged, divorced, childless by choice, and feeling increasingly marginal, the author is dismayed by those whose energetic engagement with social and cultural problems fuels “the exquisite lie of our own relevance.”
Sharp, brazen, and undeniably controversial.