Althouse | category: Thomas Chatterton Williams



an endless succession of beans and nuts.

Critics of "woke" politics should not use the word "woke" because "one should never rely on language one cannot hope to control or even fully explain."

Writes Thomas Chatterton Williams, in "You Can’t Define Woke/The word is not a viable descriptor for anyone who is critical of the many serious excesses of the left yet remains invested in reaching beyond their own echo chamber" (The Atlantic).

I watched the viral clip of the conservative writer Bethany Mandel...
We watched and talked about that 2 days ago, here

Chatterton Williams recommends "limiting our reliance on in-group shorthand, and embracing clear, honest, precise, and original thought and communication."

I wonder if Chatterton Williams was named after the poet Thomas Chatterton. Ah! Yes, he was.

Do you know the amazing life story of Thomas Chatterton?

Critics of

"Late in Anna Karenina, in a period of self-imposed social exile in Italy, Anna and her lover, Vronsky, are treated to a tirade on..."

"... the destructive superficiality of the 'free-thinking' young men—proto-disrupters, if you will—who populate the era and have been steeped in 'ideas of negation.' 'In former days the free-thinker was a man who had been brought up in ideas of religion, law, and morality, and only through conflict and struggle came to free-thought,' Vronsky’s friend Golenishchev observes. 'But now there has sprung up a new type of born free-thinkers who grow up without even having heard of principles of morality or of religion, of the existence of authorities.' The problem then, as Tolstoy presents it, was that such an ambitious young man would try, 'as he’s no fool, to educate himself,' and so would turn to 'the magazines' instead of 'to the classics and theologians and tragedians and historians and philosophers, and, you know, all the intellectual work that came in his way.'"

Writes Thomas Chatterton Williams, in "The People Who Don’t Read Books/Identifying as someone who categorically rejects books suggests a much larger deficiency of character" (The Atlantic). Williams is aggrieved that Kanye West called himself "a proud non-reader of books."

If you wanted to search for Plato with a 7-year old, what would you do?

I'm reading "Searching for Plato With My 7-Year-Old" by Thomas Chatterton Williams — in the NYT — and I see from the photo and the subheadline that he's not doing what I would do. 

The subheadline is: "In Athens with his daughter, Thomas Chatterton Williams could finally pay homage in person to the classical education his own father gave him." 

I wouldn't take a 7-year-old halfway around the world,* spending time in airplanes, hotels, restaurants, and ruins and walking long distances through confusing, complicated environments. What does that have to do with philosophy? (I ask, Socratically). Even for an adult, but especially for a little child, the scale is all wrong.

I would take the little child on child-scale walks on the sidewalks of our town and in the nearby woods, and I would gently and subtly offer simple philosophical questions of the sort that would occur to a child. What is the best life for a child? And I would listen to the child's answers and form new questions, challenging myself to do what is best for the child.

I still haven't read the article. Perhaps it is mistitled. The author is an adult who wants to go on the long journey to the geographical location that related the education he received from his father when the author was a child. But what did the author's father do? Did he take his boy on a long journey or did he talk to him and read with him and present philosophy on a scale that made sense for the boy. Now that boy is an adult, and he wants to travel, and he's bringing his 7-year-old daughter along. How does that girl access the benefits that her grandfather bestowed on her dad?

From the article, which I'm reading now:
When I was growing up, [my father] ran a business out of our home [where] students — hundreds that I witnessed over the years — would pay a fee and come and sit with my father in the living room or kitchen, and he would, quite simply, improve their ability to reflect and reason. Most of the people who did this were teenagers trying to lift their G.P.A.s or SAT or Advanced Placement scores, but I have seen children as young as 5 and adults well into their 50s at his desk with pencil and paper....  [M]y father offered a modern poem or a passage of Confucius or Plutarch’s “Lives” to mull over. These were conversation starters. The students would soon be caught up in the thrust and parry of dialectic....

Raising his own daughter somehow led to "overly ambitious plans of turning the Greek capital into an open-air classroom." He doesn't explain at all how he got from parent-and-child sessions in the home to a big trip, and his "ambitious plans" didn't take into account the what you might think would be the first consideration when traveling, the weather. It was glaringly sunny and over 100°. 

His wife solved the problem by hiring a babysitter to stay with the daughter (and another child, a 3-year-old) in the air-conditioned hotel room and at the hotel pool.

I had wanted to impress upon my daughter the feminist aspect of Athens, a city brought to life by the mythological victory of Athena, goddess of wisdom and strategic warfare, over Poseidon, ruler of the sea....

The feminist aspect?! Because there were goddesses? You're selling mythology now, not Plato. And you just let us see that you let your wife solve the childcare problem and you used money to acquire an additional female to bear the burden presented by the reality of children. And you never even noticed how that presented a feminist issue to be analyzed. You just got on with a trip that had turned the children into encumbrances. 

Eventually, there's a scene where the author takes his daughter to the place that was the site of Plato’s Academy. There is not much to see there — "stones formed the outlines of rooms." It's meaningful only if you have ideas in your head about what happened there long ago. The author uses speech to put the ideas in her head. What was the value to the child? 

Now I simply wanted her to understand what stores of hope and motivation [her grandfather] had drawn from this place that, I reflected, he had never set foot in but had nonetheless taught himself to yearn for.... 
You might think that a long piece about Plato would contain Socratic questions, but there is only one question mark in the entire article. It's in something the little girl said: “What are we doing?” 

There's your question! Listen and start there. What are you doing? 

* [ADDED] The author and his family live in Paris, so the trip was not "halfway around the world." It's a 3-hour plane trip from Paris to Athens. About 1300 miles. I traveled that distance with my 2 young sons many times, visiting relatives in Florida.

"The uproar over Michael Tomasky’s hiring at TNR underscores the extent to which any institution that isn’t explicitly right wing now faces enormous pressure to go 'woke.'"

"Tomasky is a through and through liberal but is being cast as a villain simply for not being further left." 

That's a tweet by Thomas Chatterton Williams, quoted in a Substack piece John Ganz titled "The Dumbest Tweet I Have Ever Seen/Not Really, but C'mon."

Ganz writes: 

Is there a political aspect to the disappointment with the situation at The New Republic? Certainly. Have some of the things written online about Michael Tomasky been uncharitable to him, not even giving him a chance before he gets started? Also, certainly. But the reality of the situation is not some grand ideological clash, the constant invocation of which is growing monotonous, to say the least. The fact is, first of all, people are worried about their jobs. It’s that simple. Some are having an emotional reaction, which might appear excessive, but it’s ultimately about their livelihoods, after all....

What was happening at TNR is exactly what anti-woke culture warriors say they miss in media and magazines: ideological and perspectival diversity.... [F]rom my perspective, the attitude in that Tweet is just an example of anti-intellectualism, a total lack of interest in the world, an unwillingness to care about or engage with anything but one’s pet issues, myopia, laziness, hopeless decadence and corruption of the mind etc. Whatever you want to call it, it’s just bullshit. I’m getting pretty tired of it.

"Okay, I did not sign THE LETTER when I was asked 9 days ago, because I could see in 90 seconds that it was fatuous, self-important drivel that would only troll the people it allegedly was trying to reach — and I said as much."

Tweeted Richard Kim, the enterprise director of HuffPo, quoted in "Artists and Writers Warn of an ‘Intolerant Climate.’ Reaction Is Swift. An open letter published by Harper’s, signed by luminaries including Margaret Atwood and Wynton Marsalis, argued for openness to 'opposing views.' The debate began immediately" (NYT). (Here's where we discussed the letter yesterday.)

From the NYT article:
[T]he letter... spearheaded by the writer Thomas Chatterton Williams, began taking shape about a month ago.... “We didn’t want to be seen as reacting to the protests we believe are in response to egregious abuses by the police... But for some time, there’s been a mood all of us have been quite concerned with.”

He said there wasn’t one particular incident that provoked the letter. But he did cite several recent ones, including the resignation of more than half the board of the National Book Critics Circle over its statement supporting Black Lives Matter, a similar blowup at the Poetry Foundation, and the case of David Shor, a data analyst at a consulting firm who was fired after he tweeted about academic research linking looting and vandalism by protesters to Richard Nixon’s 1968 electoral victory.

Such incidents, Mr. Williams said, both fueled and echoed what he called the far greater and more dangerous “illiberalism” of President Trump. Mr. Williams said the letter was very much a crowdsourced effort, with about 20 people contributing language. Then it was circulated more broadly for signatures, in what he describes as a process that was both “organic” and aimed at getting a group that was maximally diverse politically, racially and otherwise.

“We’re not just a bunch of old white guys sitting around writing this letter,” Mr. Williams, who is African-American, said. “It includes plenty of Black thinkers, Muslim thinkers, Jewish thinkers, people who are trans and gay, old and young, right wing and left wing. We believe these are values that are widespread and shared, and we wanted the list to reflect that,” he said....

There was particularly strong blowback over the inclusion of J.K. Rowling, who has come under fierce criticism over a series of comments widely seen as anti-transgender.

Emily VanDerWerff, a critic at large at Vox who is transgender, posted on Twitter a letter she said she had sent to her editors, criticizing the fact that the Vox writer Matthew Yglesias had signed the letter, which she said was also signed by “several prominent anti-trans voices” — but noted that she was not calling for Mr. Yglesias to be fired or reprimanded. Doing so “would only solidify, in his own mind, the belief that he is being martyred,” she wrote....
Ha. She would call for his firing, but it might give him too much — the sense of his own martyrdom.

Some other signatories are now backing away from the letter based on the other people who signed. They're afraid to stand with the "Harry Potter" author. They're afraid to sign a letter against cancel culture because it might lead to their being cancelled. They've seemingly never heard of the concept that we must all hang together or we will all hang separately. They want nothing to do with the famous author who's in the process of getting crushed to death. Wouldn't want to get splattered.

"Thomas Chatterton Williams is the son of a black father and a white mother, but grew up identifying as black on the basis that even one drop of black blood..."

"... defines a person as belonging to that often besieged minority. His father claimed that his mother was a black woman at heart, and brought up his son to oppose the implicit racism of passing, though Williams has a complexion more tanned than sub-Saharan, and is often mistaken for an Arab in France, where he lives. Williams married a white woman and both their children were born with blond hair and blue eyes. Are they, too, black by the one-drop rule? In questioning their determinative race, he has plumbed not only his own but also the complexity of racial identity for people outside the prevalent white/nonwhite binary.... Williams’s solution to the 'invented category of blackness' is to cast it off. He speaks of a 'racial injury,' then explains, 'I can think of no better start than rejecting the very logic that created and perpetuates the injury in the first place.' He is ready to retire from race, 'stepping out of that flawed and cruel game.'... Some readers will find his rhetoric perfidious and reactionary, with its dismissal of identity politics and the concomitant particulars of the African-American experience. But he is so honest and fresh in his observations, so skillful at blending his own story with larger principles, that it is hard not to admire him...."

From "How Moving to France and Having Children Led a Black American to Rethink Race" a review, in the NYT, of the book "SELF-PORTRAIT IN BLACK AND WHITE/Unlearning Race."
Critics of "woke" politics should not use the word "woke" because "one should never rely on language one cannot hope to control or even fully explain.""I deleted a tweet that in retrospect was mean spirited. I’m mad at myself for commenting on someone’s looks..."

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