Trivia Trumps Substance

One of the hallmarks of the woke left is to obsess over insignificant or manufactured issues, often while ignoring real injustices.

The classic example of this is the Chamberlin Rock. It is (or was) a very big rock that sat on a pretty hillside overlooking Lake Mendota and Picnic Point on the UW campus. For a century or so it just sat there, not bothering anybody. It was the highest profile boulder on campus, but that’s kind of like saying it was the campus’ most famous librarian.

Then last year somebody stumbled on the fact that in a single local newspaper article, almost a hundred years ago, the rock had been referred to by something less wholesome than a UW professor’s name. This phrase was commonly used at the time, but it would be considered a racial slur today, if anybody still used the term, which they don’t. Anyway, outrage ensued. The chancellor decided she had better things to do, and ordered the rock’s banishment at a cost of $70,000 or so. A small price to be paid for a little peace and quiet. Anybody who suggested that the 70 grand would have been better spent on scholarships for disadvantaged students of color was just not getting what was required to be a good antiracist.

Meanwhile, about a half mile away “student-athletes”, who are disproportionately Black, toiled away at Camp Randall producing billions in revenues for their “programs”, their coaches, athletic department administrators, television networks, shoe companies and on and on, without getting a dime for their labors beyond a scholarship and some crumbs. These athletes routinely suffered painful injuries, including head trauma that could lead to psychological problems and an early death down the road. And, to top it all off, they played in front of overwhelmingly white, affluent audiences.

And, yet, not a word of protest from the activists who were focussed on the rock. Fortunately, last week the Supreme Court, in an 8-1 vote, struck down some of the NCAA’s limits on how athletes can be compensated. They didn’t go far enough by requiring that schools actually pay their athletes what they’re worth, but Justice Brett Kavanaugh invited more cases that might allow him to vote to do just that.

So, there you go. On a matter of substantive racial justice the hero is a privileged white guy, whose nomination the left (honestly, including me) saw as the end of the world.

There are plenty of other examples. In Woke, Inc., a book to be published later this summer, Vivek Ramaswamy exams how some of America’s biggest companies have coopted wokeness by adopting its language, creating sham executive positions in charge of diversity and inclusion, and jumping in on causes, like opposition to Georgia’s voting laws, that cost them little or nothing. Meanwhile, Coke makes billions off of a product that contributes to obesity, diabetes and other maladies disproportionately borne by people of color. Nike makes billions off of shoes made overseas in sweat shop or near sweat shop conditions. And Ramaswamy cites big pharma for writing big checks to fight climate change while it continues to raise drug prices that keep them out of reach for, again, disproportionately people of color.

Editor of The Dispatch, Jonah Goldberg, wrote about this kind of thing recently. It turns out that “trigger warning” is now triggering its own trauma. Yes, indeed. The word “trigger” can trigger fear of gun violence. Some day soon those old Roy Rogers reruns will have to be dubbed every time his horse is mentioned by name.

Roy Rogers’ horse, who may not be named.

Goldberg, a writer I enjoy anyway, was on a roll. So, let me quote him at length.

I’ve never met anyone who felt aggressed against when I said something like, “Let’s pull the trigger on this. Are we going out for Mexican or Chinese?”

I’ll happily concede that such people must exist, but who died and made them the bosses of everybody? Moreover, assuming these people exist, how many of them are looking to find a reason to be offended? If there are 10,000 people in America who feel oppressed by the term “trigger,” I’d guess 9,950 of them are the kind of people who walk the earth looking for reasons to be a pain in the ass. Indeed, that’s one of the problems with trigger warning culture: It trains people to be pains in the ass because it incentivizes the practice of taking offense by rewarding people with power and attention. Victimhood is powerful these days. 

This is why newsrooms and universities are infested—sorry if that word offends you—with little linguistic Maoists searching out reasons to take offense. And it’s why every day we get manufactured outrages. The Pharisees at the Brandeis Prevention, Advocacy and Resource Center have a business model designed around the idea of constantly scouring the language for reasons to take offense. And that Orwellian model requires constantly changing acceptable language to catch people for being offensive. 

Goldberg just nuked ’em! (Oh, sorry for the militaristic language. It won’t happen again.) Meanwhile, there are something like 350 million actual triggers out there and the guns attached to them are killing people of color and terrorizing their neighborhoods. Yet, the woke don’t want to talk about gun crime. They want to talk about defunding the police.

I actually agree with the woke on the ultimate goal of a more fair society. It just seems to me that nobody is hurting their cause more than they are when they pursue trivia and ignore substance. Normal people look at this stuff and think to themselves, ‘well, if that’s all there is to complain about, things must be pretty darn good.’ Meanwhile, it turns out that the most effective social justice advocate in the country might just be the likes of Brett Kavanaugh. Go figure.

Welcome to the 133rd day of consecutive posts here at YSDA. Thanks for reading!


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

5 thoughts on “Trivia Trumps Substance

  1. Do you ever fact-check yourself? Do you ever take a second to research a claim you’re making and if it is true or not? With one google search, I found many examples of marches against gun violence, from people you would accuse of being part of the “work left.” Have you also forgotten the March for our Lives organization? Which is not the only organization dedicated to gun violence and violent crimes, many of these organizations are filled with people you would accuse of being on the “woke left”. Take two seconds and google “marches against gun violence.” Two seconds.

    You dismissed these organizations in the past off of a claim and observation, without researching the effectiveness of violence interruption models, which multiple studies have shown to be more effective and cost-effective at stoping and preventing violence than police, with a minuscule budget compared to the police.

    The idea “they don’t work” based upon this rise in gun violence is a claim without evidence. The facts are the rise started before calls to defund approached mainstream, it started before any minimal defunding has happened in any city, and has happened in cities with increased police budgets too. On top of that, you will not consider the idea police do not work in preventing gun violence, or at least as well. To not even consider that thought when this rise has happened, nationwide, under large police budgets, is intellectually bankrupt. Yes, the very small initiatives that receive far less money than massive police forces who receive massive financial investments, with a massive set of tools, is what we should cricitize.

    Your media consumption ecosphere seems to be quite limited, and you do not take the effort to see if there is anything going on beyond your eyesight. IF you take a quick look and do not see it from your limited media, you then claim it does not exist. You do not investigate, you do not research, you are intellectually lazy.


    1. Max, I rely heavily on the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Wisconsin State Journal, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the AP and Reuters. I also sample sites like Persuasion and The Dispatch and many others. Some of those tend to be more left while others go right and some are pretty much down the middle. You and I disagree, but I’m far from intellectually lazy. Dave


      1. You read and uncritically parrot what you agree with. Additionally, you have a habit of making claims without research or you provide questionable citations (e.g. citing the intellectual powerhouse- sarcasm- of the Heritage foundation about CRT ). You poke at the surface, find your confirmation bias, and do not go deeper- Intellectually lazy. I have high school students with stronger critical thinking skills and more intellectual curiosity than you.


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