The Improprieties and Unjustness of the Discourse Advocating Woke Agendas

Daniel B. Klein

My university—George Mason University—has announced a Task Force on Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence. Several faculty members have spoken out about it.

I gave a lecture about the discourse of those advocating such agendas. The lecture draws on Adam Smith and suggests that improprieties riddle such discourse. I treat improprieties of the discourse, not improprieties of the agenda itself—that would be something else again. The National Association of Scholars has kindly posted the script for my lecture, here. A video of the lecture is available here.

Drawing on Adam Smith, I offer a distinction between calling loudly and proffering coolly. I realize that these two expressions use different metaphors—“loudly” is about sound and “coolly” is about temperature—but such terminology follows Smith’s talk of calling loudly and reflecting coolly.

The impropriety of calling loudly lies in the great distance and tenuous, complex, and highly contested interpretive connections between lower things and higher things in the moral worlds of human beings and in the meanings they make in life.

Related to calling loudly are the improprieties of controversial and even outlandish presuppositions and, most of all, abuse of language. The discourse treated often violates semantic conventions and leaves its key words ill-defined or undefined. I remark on the words diversity, inclusiveness, bias (as used for example in “unconscious bias”and “implicit bias”), anti-racism, and social justice.

I present Adam Smith’s tri-layered justice and discuss the unjustness of the discourse treated.

Furthermore, I suggest that behind the agenda is an impetus to reduce dissent from leftism. That impetus could well be subconscious.

The text of the lecture is here.


Daniel B. Klein is professor of economics and JIN Chair at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, where he leads a program in Adam Smith.

Image: Stefan Schäfer, Public Domain

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