Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Beware the Flexing of Performative Wokeness

Or performative anything, really. Especially virtue signalling.

Shakespeare said it best, if not first: “the lady doth protest too much, methinks.” Like so much of the Bard’s best work, Queen Gertrude’s line from Hamlet embodies and distills a fundamental precept of human nature: the louder someone is, the more likely it is that they’re trying to muffle something they don’t want anyone else to hear.

This axiom was once again realized this week in a thoroughly-reported New Yorker article revealing that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman—a public cheerleader of #MeToo—had sexually assaulted four women and was resigning his position.

I wasn’t surprised at all by the perceived incongruity between Schneiderman’s performative feminism and his private assaultive conduct. 

This happens in many contexts: a “family values” mayor who campaigns on a platform of homophobia and clamors about the perils of gay marriage is outed as carrying on a same-sex affair. A charlatan brags vociferously about his vast wealth, but won’t show the public his tax returns to prove it, not even when he stumbles ass backwards into the United States presidency. A lawyer boasts about his extensive big city trial experience, but when you scratch the surface, it turns out he only ever Bates stamped documents in the basement of a warehouse in Scranton.

Point is, it’s often the loudest champion of something who is secretly doing the exact opposite thing—it’s like a mild dissociative identity disorder of some kind. 

I encountered this in college a bit: men (boys, really) had and projected an image of themselves that was frequently at odds with their lesser natures and animal impulses. The same dudes who would virtue signal by walking around with a battered copy of Das Kapital, quote Pablo Neruda from memory, and go to Ani DiFranco concerts would transform into something quite different and at once predictable in the privacy of a dorm room at night.

If you were lucky (and I always was), it was nothing criminal or reportable. It was more subtle than that; a slipping of the mask that revealed in one touch or one glance that these trappings of wokeness were nothing but a means to an end. A part of the game. A Trojan horse. A way for boys who knew what Ivy League girls wanted to hear to worm their way into their confidence, and then still behave in those intimate moments—and the moments and days or months to follow—like the standard-issue drunken frat boys that they so contemptuously condemned in the light of day.

So I guess what I’m saying is that I’m not the least bit surprised by the Schneiderman story. A person with real character or commitment to a cause never tries to prove it. They don’t need to. Because the true test of character or commitment is how you behave when no one else is watching.

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