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Wokeness Is Destroying America — One Student at a Time
Vitaliy Katsenelson

[The topic I am about to discuss may have political overtones. You may decide to pigeonhole me as a member of a political tribe. Please don’t. I do not belong to a political party. I am registered as an independent and have voted for candidates belonging to three different parties in the last six presidential elections.] 

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” –George Orwell

I love the United States and want it to be strong and prosperous. I am embarrassed by the fact that it took a catastrophe in Israel to wake me up to the realization that American universities have become epicenters of “wokeness” and green shoots of socialism that are gradually destroying our awesome country.

I know what you may be thinking: Wokeness is the enemy? Really? Next, he’ll be picking on Winnie-the-Pooh. 

I don’t blame you. 

I looked up the definition of wokeness: “The quality of being alert to and concerned about social injustice and discrimination.” Sounds fair and innocent enough, right? Marvel should create a superhero: Wokeman — “fixing injustice 24/7, always stays woke.”

I am not a political science scholar, but I have an inkling how wokeness started. It was an aftershock of the equal rights movements that tried to fix the side effects of our society’s ugly past and bring equality to everyone. It came from a good, kind place in people’s hearts. However, I am a student of economics and have learned that ideas should not be judged solely on their intent but also on their outcomes. We are often preoccupied with the intent and ignore second order effects, the unintended consequences that often make things a lot worse. 

This is exactly what has happened to wokeness. 

Sometime, while we got up to the get the popcorn, the wokeness movie went from being a Marvel superhero flick to an Orwellian dystopian Animal Farm nightmare: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” 

Although the idea of elevating minorities may sound great on the surface, the US took a wrong turn and started turning into a country where the majority is often penalized for not being a minority. 

Which brings me to the college HQ of wokeness — DEI. I am embarrassed to admit I did not know DEI existed before October 7. If you think these three letters stand for some cool government agency, no, they are way cooler than that. They stand for “diversity, equity and inclusion.” 

How can anyone be against these three awesome words? 

To my great surprise, DEI has turned into antisemitism on college campuses. Billionaire investor Bill Ackman explains DEI’s role very well in this essay:

“Under DEI, one’s degree of oppression is determined based upon where one resides on a so-called intersectional pyramid of oppression where whites, Jews, and Asians are deemed oppressors, and a subset of people of color, LGBTQ people, and/or women are deemed to be oppressed. Under this ideology … one is either an anti-racist or a racist.”

Ackman, a Harvard University grad and major donor, goes on to say: “There is no such thing as being ‘not racist.’ Under DEI’s ideology, any policy, program, educational system, economic system, grading system, admission policy … that leads to unequal outcomes among people of different skin colors is deemed racist. As a result, according to DEI, capitalism is racist, Advanced Placement exams are racist, IQ tests are racist, corporations are racist, or in other words, any merit-based program, system, or organization which has or generates outcomes for different races that are at variance with the proportion these different races represent in the population at large is by definition racist under DEI’s ideology.”

As a result, on some campuses the DEI objective became what Tabia Lee, a former equity director at De Anza College in California, to “de-center whiteness,” and thus it allowed antisemitism to spread. If you fall under DEI “protection,” you become part of a superclass that plays by its own rules. Since Jews are not classified as a minority, they have now been put into the category of oppressors.

Yet, Jews are indeed a minority — there are only 15.7 million of us in the world! That’s right, in the whole world. More than half of our population perished in the Holocaust – an event whose occurrence is now up for dispute not just in Iran but among the TikTok-educated younger generation here at home. (According to an Economist survey, 20% of 18-to-29-year-olds think the Holocaust is a myth.)

Growing up as a Jew — an underclass in the Soviet Union — I never wanted special treatment for being a minority. I just wanted society to be blind to the line in my passport that said “Jewish.” I don’t want my kids to be added to the DEI “superclass.” 

So, if you are attending an American college and are not classified as an oppressed minority under the protection of the woke, you will be treated by a different set of rules. As we have learned from the presidents of Ivy League schools, cries for your genocidal extermination will require “context” and the actual death of Jewish students before college administrators will act — all while you can be expelled from a university for using the wrong pronoun.

A lot of this starts in colleges, but it does not and will not stop at colleges. Colleges are the factories of our future. They are the production lines of future workers and thinkers.

People cannot control their gender, the color of their skin, their ethnicity, or their sexual preference — this sort of discrimination was our sin of the past. People should not be punished for these traits; others should not be favored for them (this is the reverse punishment of others) — the current sin of woke. 

I am going to say what everyone knows but doesn’t want to admit — there are differences between groups of people. Blacks dominate the NBA — they account for 73% of all players. Whites are only 17%. (Something similar but less extreme is happening in the NFL.) Meanwhile, Asians account for only 0.4% of NBA players — they are clearly underrepresented. Yet we find the idea of creating an “equality” NBA by hiring 5’8” Asians so they can get crushed by 6’10” Black athletes laughable. 

However, in the effort to create “equality” in colleges — until the Supreme Court struck down affirmative action in 2023 — we were fine with reverse discrimination against Asian students to limit their admission to elite colleges, which, just like the NBA and NFL, were supposed to be merit-based. But Asians are neither a superclass nor a protected group; therefore, we didn’t care.

When we hire people based solely on their identity (not on their merit), we do not elevate them but rather bring them down. On some level they know that they got the job based not on personal strengths but on their superficial identity. 

This creates a victim and victimizer mentality. It is anti-evolutionary: People possessed by the victim mentality don’t progress or evolve; they see obstacles in their lives as someone else’s fault and thus not their responsibility to overcome. As the eminent English rabbi Jonathan Sacks said, if you are possessed by a victim mentality “you hand over your life to somebody else.”

Life is full of obstacles. History is often unfair, and not just to the DEI superclass. It has not been kind to Jews for centuries. Jews choose to not be victims but to be agents of change. This attitude is deeply ingrained into Jewish culture. Obstacles only make us stronger. If you have the attitude that obstacles are someone’s else fault, you’ll never try to grow beyond them. As Marcus Aurelius, the Stoic philosopher and Roman emperor, said: “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

America — the country of meritocracy — is turning into a country where your identity determines how you will be treated along the road of life. A person, be it a Supreme Court justice, a college administrator or an employee at the local DMV, should get a job not because of their identity but because of their accomplishments and their character. 

As a society, we must accept a hard truth: By acting solely based on our hearts and artificially trying to make things better for this or that group of people, we end up not improving things for them but instead creating different injustices. Everyone should be treated equally. Some people should not be more important (protected) than others. And yes, all lives matter, and that statement should not require context. Finally, we should stop living in fear of being canceled for saying the above. 

I was shocked to learn that DEI is already nesting in large corporations and our government. Imagine if air traffic controllers, people who have the lives of hundreds of others in their hands, were selected based not on their skills but on their DEI status. Well, you don’t have to imagine this very hard — it’s already happening. Think about that the next time you board a plane. 

It is not hard to visualize the consequences of someone hired solely based on their identity (not on their skill) colliding planes in the air and killing hundreds. If this woke cancer continues to spread through our economy, it will suck meritocracy out of it and weaken, or even worse, crash the economy. Unlike a plane crash, you won’t see it unfold on the news; it will happen slowly, one DEI hire at a time. 

I wonder how Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech would be received today on American campuses, especially when he said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but the content of their character.” 

Orchestras have a perfect model for how to hire performers. During auditions, the jury sits in the audience. Each performer has a number assigned to them. They play behind a curtain; the jury cannot see them. 

We should copy that model. When I came to the United States in 1991, I was told that in this country we treat all people according to their merits and values, by what they bring to society. I miss that US. 







Vitaliy Katsenelson, CFA is CEO of IMA – a value investing firm in Denver. How can you safely invest in a market this speculative? Check out his free series on The 6 Commandments of Value Investing. Or for something more down-to-earth, check out Soul in the Game: a book of inspiring stories and hardwon lessons on how to live a meaningful life, drawn from classical composers, ancient stoics, and contemporary thinkers.


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