“Woke” and the Moral Abyss

On June 22, 1941, Nazi Wehrmacht units penetrated Soviet territory. Einsatzgruppen, or killing squads, followed in their wake to massacre “subhumans”: Jews and others deemed racially inferior by the German “Übermenschen”. One Einsatzgruppe commander, Friedrich Jeckeln, to save labor and ammunition, devised an efficient method for mass killing. It entailed forcing victims to strip naked and lie facedown next to each other in a pit, so that the backs of their heads could each absorb a single bullet, creating a fresh bed of corpses upon which the next layer of victims could lie. Jeckeln’s men repeated this process, layer by layer, until each pit was filled with bodies. Jeckeln’s innovation (“sardine packing”) evinces the fanatical Nazi belief in “Untermenschen”. Similarly, when in 1928 Stalin forcibly collectivized Soviet agriculture to accelerate the arrival of the Communist utopia, he and his collaborators self-assuredly starved and murdered millions of people—categorized as “kulaks” or prosperous peasants—who were portrayed by Communist theory as scoundrels: enemies of the morally superior working class. Nazism and Communism were in many ways diametrically opposed worldviews. But they shared a key ideological attribute: they divided human beings into categories, and they assigned to those categories different intrinsic moral worths. It was this specific ideological attribute that ultimately caused the mass killings perpetrated by both the Nazi and Communist movements, and by other historical movements besides. “Woke” ideology shares this attribute also, which is why, on moral grounds alone, it should be vigorously resisted.

2 thoughts on ““Woke” and the Moral Abyss

  1. Agreed that grouping people into categories, and assigning those categories an intrinsic moral value, seems to be an essential step in dehumanizing large swathes of people and justifying abhorrent behavior against them. I also agree that many of the ideas that fall under the “woke” umbrella suffer from this problem.

    In general, I would say that categorizing people at all is dehumanizing in the most literal sense, in that it necessarily abstracts away from the individual. However it would seem to be necessary, in a rationally-ordered society, to generalize in this way to some extent. Likewise, we can think of cases where it might make sense to assign different moral values to different groups: “criminals,” for example, vs “non-criminals.” So the question becomes, when is it justifiable to do this? One possible answer is: when our grouping of an individual into a given category is related in some relevant way to choices that person has made. Interestingly, this points to a distinction between dividing people up by race versus dividing people up by class, which seems to provide more justification for the latter: racial categories tend to be tied to (more or less) immutable characteristics such as skin pigmentation, while class is tied to things like how much wealth a person has or whether they own a business – things that are much more within the scope of individual choice. If we believe (as I do) that many problems in our society arise from material inequality, then grouping people by class would seem to be a necessary step in analyzing and acting on such problems. Doing this need not lead to atrocities, if we put our commitment to individuals as individuals first and foremost – but it certainly isn’t without risk.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed, we categorize people all the time for many vital practical purposes. But the moral worth of a person follows directly from his or her personhood. So no system of categorizing humans should attempt to assign disparate moral worths to different categories. For example, we should distinguish criminals from noncriminals, but we should not say that criminals are worth less in moral terms than noncriminals.

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