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Wokeism's Assault on the Enlightenment


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Glenn Loury Substack

with John McWhorter and Mark Goldblatt
Glenn Loury
Apr 30, 2023

Debates about wokeness often frame the issue as one of identity, identitarian groups, and representation. How central to our personal identity are racial, gender, and ethnic categories? What role ought those categories play in determining how we apportion public resources and benefits? To what degree should the historical experience of groups determine identity in the present?

These are all relevant questions, but they don’t address a more essential problem underlying these identity-based questions: Should we credit the subjective experience of reality as much as we do objective, empirical fact? In some sense, it depends what we make of these terms. Of course, subjective experience is “real.” Our emotions are real, and most of the time the accounts we give to others of these emotions are sincere. A problem arises only when we try to treat those emotions, impressions, and feelings as equivalents to or substitutes for objective facts. I may feel in my gut that, say, a given policy is racially biased. I may be sincere in that stated belief. But unless I can demonstrate through reasoned argument and the presentation of evidence that the bias is objectively real and demonstrable, I will have given an account of my own emotional state, and nothing more.

My guest, Fashion Institute of Technology Professor Mark Goldblatt argues that wokeness prioritizes those accounts of subjective states over and above objectivity and reason. In doing so, he says, wokeism is chipping away at the basic principles of the Enlightenment on which so much of modern society—from science to democratic governance to the justice system—is premised. In that sense, the woke obsession with identity is the product of a troubling epistemological position that, if it goes unchecked, threatens some of the basic tenets of how we—all of us modern Western humans—live our lives.

Normally, I would tell you that, if you want more, you can watch our entire conversation here.But you can’t. YouTube, which hosts all of our video content, has declared that the full episode violates their community standards, and they’ve pulled it down. We appealed the decision, but we’ve just been told that the appeal was rejected. We’ve reuploaded the video directly to Substack. I have more to say about this outrageous act of censorship in that post.



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