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We Can Come Back From The Brink
Letter 4: Ayaan's Final Letter to Me
This is a re-publishing of a 2020 letter exchange between me and Ayaan Hirsi Ali on the outcome of the culture war. As the original hosting site has been taken down, I am reposting here with titles. This is the forth letter, from Ayaan to me, and you can find the full list here.
11 Nov '20
I admire you for what you see and for your will to fight back (or as you said in your first letter, to rebel) against the “woke” trends that seem to dominate. I agree: the dangers are real and growing, but I still have hope for our future.
I maintain optimism that our institutions, born more than 230 years ago, continue to function, regardless of how mean, abusive, alarming, and pervasive the woke are—not to mention the alt-right with their conspiracy theories. Our institutions are being assaulted from every side but they continue to work. The levees have not yet broken.
As you pointed out, a number of educational, media, grant-making and non-profit institutions, in addition to many large corporations, have succumbed to wokeism, but they have not all been captured. In Europe, the situation differs from country to country, with many actively opposing these trends. In the U.S., those skeptical of radical “wokeism” still have the Supreme Court, a majority of state legislatures, one Chamber of Congress, and, under the current administration, a White House that has taken an active stand against racially divisive wokeism. If, as now appears likely, there will be a transition to a Biden Administration, he and his allies in the Democratic party will have to find a way to resist the woke wing of the party or they will be unable to achieve anything.
As we’ve seen this past week, there are always seats up for election and the American people continue to decide our fate, with the ability to move legislators in and out of power every six years in the U.S. Senate, every two years in the U.S. House, every four years in the White House. In addition to these high-profile positions, American citizens also vote at the state and local level on everything from circuit clerks, to judges, to sheriffs, auditors, and more. There is a genius in this design, in which so many thousands of people are elected. It creates not just one level of checks and balances, but multiple levels and layers. We always can come back from the brink.
There was a brilliance, as well, in allowing the people to determine their own future in a decentralized manner. Citizens’ decisions do not come from any centralized bureaucracy that dictates to them how to proceed; citizens decide for themselves and choose who they want.
This also requires the electorate to pay attention to civic affairs and get involved in monitoring carefully what exactly is being done in their name by office holders and legislators. The U.S. election results last week tell me that Americans are paying attention. They retaliated against the woke. Contrary to polling predictions, there was no “blue wave.” The self-styled progressives and democratic socialists—whose candidates fared dismally in House races—will not be able to ram through their radical policies. As seen in countless American elections, extremism, whether coming from the left or the right, is rejected.
This all makes me optimistic about our country and future. In your letter, you correctly stated that “liberalism might ultimately be good, but it doesn’t feel good.” I believe the American people, so far, have proved that they have a genuine preference for the center ground.
Feelings and sensations are illusory. They pass, but they can indeed leave a serious mark. We’ve seen countries in the past suffer from spasms of violence and revolutionary fervor. Such outbreaks come and go. The Soviet Union ultimately fell; the Axis powers were defeated by the Allies; Pol Pot was overthrown within just four years; ISIS was defeated in under six years. These systems do not last.
The sentiments of primitive romanticism (a term coined by my late friend Roger Sandall) may be tempting to some, but modernity precludes certain core principles from being tossed out in favor of emotional impulses. No matter how woke or romantic you are, civil engineering is required to uphold the modern world, meaning that 2+2 can never equal 5. You have to keep planes in the air. You have to hold bridges up. You have to keep sewage systems, nuclear power plants, dams, trains, and all of the luxuries of our modern age running. These achievements rely on scientific facts that are what they are, no matter what the woke may think of their epistemic foundations. We cannot unknow what we know.
What is baked into modernity is self-perpetuating, not self-destructive. Many young people may have their hearts and minds captured for now, but the facts of physics and mathematics will remain what they are even if their detractors insist these fields must go “woke” (the controversy surrounding mathematician Abigail Thompson shows these fields are not immune from ideological pressures). Sooner or later, these young revolutionaries do have to realize that, for real progress to be made, they will need to base policies on objective realities. If they want to go to Mars one day, it is not the theories of Robin DiAngelo and Ibram X. Kendi that are going to get them there.
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