These are not good arguments against “wokeism”

What do you get when a gang of far-right loons gather together to complain about modern medicine? An amazingly revealing expose of what actually bothers them. This essay, In Medical Schools, Woke Ideology Trumps True Healthcare, is a summary of a discussion sponsored by the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, a far right conservative/libertarian organization that tries to tell universities what they ought to do, and they hosted a little group of conservative nuisances to whine about medical schools.

The webinar, entitled “Hypocritical Oath: The Origins and Consequences of Woke Medical Education,” featured Dr. Sally Satel, a practicing psychiatrist, lecturer at the Yale University School of Medicine, and Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute [enough said]; Aaron Sibarium, associate editor at the Washington Free Beacon [a conservative website founded by a billionaire hedge fund investor]; and John Sailer, a research associate at the National Association of Scholars [I’ve written about these clowns before] and author of numerous articles on “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI) in medical education.

Oh, no! Not the “Wokes” again! Perhaps they’ll start out by defining what they mean by “woke”.

Satel began the talk by speaking about how woke ideology has taken over psychiatric care. She stated, “any kind of psychotherapy that takes place under such conditions, where patients are reflexively branded as oppressed and encouraged to see themselves as feeble victims, is doomed to fail.” She made the point that therapy is meant to help individuals identify the inadvertent ways in which they undermine their best interests and how they can adapt if they are unable to change. To be sure, one’s health can be affected by social factors—but not exclusively. There are other factors that impact health, despite the new social doctrine of the day.

No, that’s not what it means. I agree that any psychotherapy that reflexively branded as oppressed and encouraged to see themselves as feeble victims their patients is going to fail, but that’s not what goes on. Can you imagine trying to motivate a mass movement under the banner of “YOU’RE ALL FEEBLE VICTIMS!” Sorry, nope, being conscious of oppressive social systems is not the same as accepting victimhood.

She also parrots the conservative/libertarian line about personal responsibility.

The choices one makes on a daily basis, for example, have long-term effects on health. Satel highlighted an often ignored fact: individuals, no matter their circumstances, still have some agency when it comes to their own health. Unfortunately, the concept of individual agency has slowly withered away, replaced by the far more popular victimhood ideology. In today’s victimhood society, it is almost unthinkable to take responsibility for one’s actions and the possible negative effects they may have.

Sure, personal responsibility is important. So why can’t rich entitled folks acknowledge their personal responsibility for denying others civil rights, or a living wage, or some measure of security in housing and food? Everyone has some agency, but we also have an unequal distribution of privilege and ability. We have “some” agency, but we also have “some” unfair societal biases. Sally Satel does not work harder than someone in an Amazon warehouse, and “personal responsibility” isn’t going to pay your medical bills.

Sailer spoke next about how institutional policy has resulted in woke medical schools. He noted that UNC-Chapel Hill has twenty-four paid DEI officers, and half of these officers are in fields related to healthcare (12), and a majority of those are in the medical school (8). The university, as a result, has convened a task force to integrate social justice into the curriculum. Sailer says these kinds of policies and task forces are present on almost all medical campuses in the country.

DEI and social justice, for example, are now a part of the tenure and promotion process at many medical schools. This means that if one objects to the politically correct idea of the day, one’s job as a professor may be in jeopardy. Objective truths such as, “a man is a man, and a woman is a woman,” may now cause faculty to lose their jobs.

Whoa there, John. You forgot to tell us why diversity and equality and social justice are bad things for doctors to learn about. Why shouldn’t we expect a doctor to care about the health and welfare of their patients? Shouldn’t doctors oppose unhealthy working and living conditions?

Also, you’re being sneaky and dishonest, John. a man is a man, and a woman is a woman is only an objective truth if you’ve clearly defined what you mean by the complex terms “woman” and “man”, and I suspect you’re trying to smuggle in some bigotry.

Sailer also spoke about the White Coats for Black Lives group and its beliefs. Its members believe in a variety of radical notions including, but not limited to: dismantling fatphobia, abolishing prisons, dismantling capitalism, and queer/trans liberation. What is remarkable is the effectiveness with which this radical group has enacted concrete policy changes, including at the University of Michigan, the University of California-Davis, the University of Minnesota, and many others.

Yes? Again, what is your objection to dismantling fatphobia? Do you think we should build more prisons? Do you fail to see the glaring flaws in capitalism? What do you want, queer/trans imprisonment? Sailer is simply taking for granted that his audience opposes these things that humane people with the goal of making the world better are trying to implement. Just like his “a man is a man” statement is just a call for bigots to fill in the blanks.

I look at the list of things these anti-“wokists” oppose, and they all look like fine ideas to me, and they always fail to explain why they’re agin’ ’em. What’s wrong with queer/trans liberation? What are they afraid will happen if queer people have equal rights and autonomy and are protected from discrimination and hate? It’s the unspoken stuff behind their words that is most revealing.

Please, medical schools, continue to make it a priority to train doctors to be ethical human beings who respect the existence of others. That’s what “woke” really means, you know.


  1. birgerjohansson says

    Meh, society has gone overhead condemning things like “child labor” and “slavery”, yadda, yadda.
    Which explains why the world has not had any rapid economic growth since Queen Victoria died.

  2. JoeBuddha says

    While I was always an atheist, I did have to take Sunday School at one point. Seems to me that the Jesus I was taught about there would have been “Woke”. Which is probably why wingers hate it as much as they hate the idea of pre-Paul teachings of Jesus.

  3. says

    “Woke” is a word us white folks have appropriated from people of color.

    In its original context it means being aware that they live in a society where their safety and well being is always in jeopardy, simply because of how they’re categorized and perceived as people of color.

    In the mouths of white people it has come to mean different things, but not what it originally meant.

    I think it’s important to keep that in mind.

  4. JoeBuddha says

    @3 I understand. I guess I’ve expanded the meaning in my head to include the awareness of the class problems of all folx, especially minorities.

  5. Akira MacKenzie says

    The right has an obsession with “strength” and “austerity.” No matter how hard your life get’s you are not supposed to complain and you are certainly never supposed to ask for help. Everything bad that happens to you is your fault, and if someone IS actually mistreating you, it’s still your fault for not being strong or clever enough to not be mistreated. To do otherwise is a sign of weakness and of lack of moral character. To be “a victim” is far, far worse than being a victimizer.

    Sure, personal responsibility is important.

    With all due respect, I’ve come to reject the very concept of “personal responsibility.” Besides, the fact is that we are nothing more than deterministic, functionalist meat robots. Even if we had “free will” we can not possibly contend with the effects of the actions of 7 billion other meat robots on our lives.

    We are NOT in control of our lives. Never have been, never will.

  6. says

    The details tend to be in their omissions. A “task force” of 24 people might seem like a lot until you learn that they have a staff of 12’000 (and 30’000 students).

  7. Akira MacKenzie says

    Again, what is your objection to dismantling fatphobia? Do you think we should build more prisons? Do you fail to see the glaring flaws in capitalism? What do you want, queer/trans imprisonment?

    Sailer and other right wingers would answer those questions thusly, in order:

    Obese people are ugly, lazy, useless gluttons, unlike hard, strong, athletic people who don’t gorge themselves.
    The more the better! Privatize them too!
    What flaws? Capitalism is perfect!
    Yes, especially on Death Row.

  8. Akira MacKenzie says

    Oh! There was one more question:

    What are they afraid will happen if queer people have equal rights and autonomy and are protected from discrimination and hate?

    Why, men and women won’t know what they are anymore! Children will be raped by drag queens in libraries and little boys will have their penises cut off by the state [Alex Jones LOVES to rant on that last point]. All manner of debased, immoral, unchristian sex will be allowed. It will be chaos!

  9. billseymour says

    Can you imagine trying to motivate a mass movement under the banner of “YOU’RE ALL FEEBLE VICTIMS!”

    I thought of far-right Christians almost immediately; and that was quickly followed by the image of white folks who feel oppressed because black folks don’t have to cross the street to stay out of their way.

    So, yes, I can imagine it; and I’m struck yet again by what little members of the far right have on their minds other than projection.

  10. says

    I’ve come to the same conclusion. If you want to know what they’re doing, listen to what they accuse the opposition of doing. And I guess they’re partly right too, this IS a war between ideologies.

  11. microraptor says

    JoeBuddha @2: The Prosperity Gospel is basically everything Jesus condemned.

  12. Rich Woods says

    @Akira #7:

    We are NOT in control of our lives. Never have been, never will.

    Yet you can be so much more in control of your life, not to mention the lives of others if you so choose, if you are ridiculously wealthy. No wonder the right doesn’t like ‘wokeism’.

  13. says

    There are still doctors today who think Black people don’t feel pain as acutely as white people and dismiss women’s complains as in hour heads. I believe there is a move to improve on this, but a lot of medicine was tested on cis men but not women of any kind with very different body chemistries so it never had the same effect.

    Medicine can use a lot more wokeness.

  14. JoeBuddha says

    @15 Yeah, because men don’t have pesky menstrual cycles and such, so the data are easier to analyze. So they say. We STILL have problems in the IT industry caused by lazy designers and such. The reason voice recognition took so long to “perfect” was because they were training using the same accents and the same tapes. And it was only computer geeks (like me) doing the training. The reason wearables have problems is the same: Sensors were developed assuming white skin. Sometimes I wonder how we got out of the caves.

  15. jrkrideau says

    individuals, no matter their circumstances, still have some agency when it comes to their own health.

    True but a prisoner in Dachau and a wealthy New York Socialite in 1940 New York might have had different “agency”.

    What are they afraid will happen if queer people have equal rights and autonomy and are protected from discrimination and hate?

    The end of the civilization as we know it? Canada has tried, at least legislatively, to do this and we are now a hellhole.

    Still I think Pierre Poilievre is due to other causes.

  16. nomdeplume says

    This “woke” meme is just part of the concerted move to cancel all speech and thought that doesn’t emanate from the far Right,

  17. birgerjohansson says

    Germany has been run by the conservative Angela Merkel since forever, and they are increasibgly LBTQ friendly. And they have banned the symbol used by one side of… the good people on both sides.
    And they have fecking health care for all. And I don’t know the percentage of people in prison but I am pretty certain it is lower than in the state where John Saller lives.

  18. dianne says

    birgerjohansson @!9: I don’t know about the specific state that Saller lives in, but I believe as a whole the US has a higher per capita rate of people in prison than any other country in the world. Astonishingly, also a higher total number, though the numbers for China are dubious.

  19. nomdeplume says

    @20 I think that is right, and by a long way, and the US is also one of the few countries with capital punishment, and in significant numbers. So the obvious conclusion is that Americans are much more prone to crime and murder than the rest of the world. Also more prone to religion than the rest of the world…

  20. says

    “A man is a man, and a woman is a woman.” is certainly objectively true.
    It’s also tautological, and therefore meaningless.
    It remains true no matter how you define the terms ‘man’ and ‘woman’.
    You could replace them with a recipe for cherry pie, and it would still be just as useful a statement.

  21. garnetstar says

    My friend is a professor at a medical school, and teaches medical students how to present and address end-of-life care with patients.

    She found it so impossible to even communicate the choices to patients and families without attention to their different cultures that she got a research grant and did a project on it. Essentially ended up discussing best ways to discuss the issues with people who had different cultural beliefs: not proscribing them just by the patient’s ethnicity, but assessing the particular cultural values of the individuala nd family and respecting them in discussion.

    They can’t even convey the end-of-life care choices without that. They can’t practice medicine well without it. Same with trans people or fat people: they can’t deliver good medical care if they harbor phobia or bigotry to those populations.

  22. birgerjohansson says

    Sally Satel is not toxic, not the way people like Steve Bannon, but she has a moralistic attitude to shortcomings.
    As jrkrideau states, people do not have the same agency and prominent debaters that are otherwise clever surprisingly often seem blind to this.
    -I am unable to get why, as we are not short of obvious examples.

    John Saller seems downright obtuse, at least to someone who has been educated (thanks, PZ and the rest) about the messy reality of embryonic development.
    Some have the heart and other organs on the opposite side.
    Some get a different sexual preference from the majority. And some have a different gender identity. This is no more strange than people having a non-standard number of ribs (one of the most common mutations).
    Add the anti-woke fashion among those who watch Fox News and John Saller is just one tiny dot in a herd of conservative wildebeests.