Many readers will wonder why I’ve chosen to write again about the mini-controversy swirling around the term Latinx. After all, a recent study by Pew found that only 23 percent of Latinos have even heard of the word (I’m quoted by TIME), and only 3 percent identify as such, an increase of a whole percent in the past five years. These figures would suggest that, as far as the general Latino public is concerned, my annoyance with the word Latinx puts me in a secure majority, so maybe I would be wise to just leave it at what I wrote so many years back and go my merry way, live life, and do me. But as a writer, I’m a member of another community besides the Latino one, the intellectual community, and in those circles I seem to be in an ever shrinking and cringing minority.
It’s become increasingly common among liber— Let’s not call them liberals, since the vast majority of this crowd isn’t liberal, per se, but merely calling itself such. A better term for them is the Woke mob, which, as mobs go, is in fact anti-liberal in the extreme, as well as anti-intellectual. This clique of social-justice Jacobins does not tolerate any disagreement with its orthodoxy or program, and in order to maintain its reign of terror, anyone who so much as hints at disagreeing or even quibbling with anything they say or do is sent to the guillotine, socially, politically, and professionally.
They boast a few Robespierres who write fiery, nonsensical diatribes meant to stir the rabble into a foaming lather. Such spokespersons and advocates have no choice: they either hype up the crowd with whatever it wants to hear, or they go the way of poor Maxi himself, and have their own heads lopped off by popular opinion.
Now, much of me is too humble to say that the most recent piece by César Vargas was about moi, but enough of me isn’t, so at most I’ll say that his rant titled “Who Gives a Shit If the Majority of Hispanics Don’t Know or Use Latinx” was at least aimed at someone like me: a “cishet” “reading, quoting, and imitating dead white men philosophers,” who sometimes writes in urbane prose which may be hard for the average reader to follow. I had no idea such things were proscribed for me as a Latino, and you can imagine my surprise at hearing another Latino say so.
Again, I don’t know for sure if César was writing about me, but his rant was directed at someone like me; and since he doesn’t name names, I will assume he’s lumping me in with the rest of his targets, so it’s my right to defend myself directly against his attack.
Each writer has his or her standards, of course, but if I were Cease, every minute that piece was up on the internet would make my cheeks blush. It’s terrible prose—which may not matter to some, but sloppy writing suggests sloppy thinking. The article is less an actual essay and more a long Facebook post, one hastily thumbed into a phone from a crowded subway car careening through a tunnel. But such is the level of discussion we’re forced to endure in these times.
Besides the atrocious phrasing and ad hominem attacks against unnamed targets, I couldn’t find one solid argument for the use of the term Latinx other than the fact that 3 percent of Latinos use it to self-identify. Again, I have no problem with what 3 percent of any population does or does not do, so long as it isn’t foisted on me—and it is foisted on me as a writer. It isn’t merely that I see the term popping up everywhere Latino or Latinos used to be (I read a lot of progressive stuff), but I’ve even had my own prose altered by an editor not wanting to run afoul of the 3 Percent and their so-called advocates.
Let me quickly say something about the words ally and advocate. Many people seem to believe that being an ally or advocate means agreeing with everything and anything a particular group of people says and does, and defending the group against any and all criticism whatsoever. Such a misunderstanding isn’t new. During the years of the Broad Front against fascism in Europe, any ally or advocate who criticized Stalin or Soviet Russia, or disagreed with the Front’s ideology or strategy, was labeled a shill for either Hitler, capitalism, or both. That a few principled men and women had the courage to stand up to the liberal orthodoxy of the day is the reason we remember the name Orwell, and why freethinking Trotsky got an icepick to the skull down in Coyoacán.
I consider myself a part of that same tradition, a member of the Left Opposition, meaning a leftist who opposes the Liberal Establishment, which today calls itself Woke. Had I lived during the thirties and forties, I would’ve sided with Orwell. Had I lived in the days of the French Revolution, I would’ve stood with Paine and others who supported the Girondins, the more freedom-loving Jacobins who opposed the ascendant authoritarians within the movement—and in so doing, I might’ve forfeited my own head. Still, I would’ve found it impossible not to sneer at the Jacobin calendar with its new labels and outlandish structure, and it would’ve been an icy day in Thermidor before I yielded to the Cult of Reason, later replaced by the Cult of the Supreme Being, or any cult for that matter. When faced with such senselessness, I simply cannot shut up and go along—ever.
But don’t get it twisted: I am a Jacobin. I’m for freedom; justice, social and economic; and solidarity. I am an ally and advocate for the LGBT—just not the type of ally or advocate who follows along tight-lipped with whatever any member of the community says or does. Because that’s not being an ally, advocate, or even a friend. “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk,” the slogan goes, and allies don’t let allies do and say wild or stupid shit. An ally, if he’s worth anything to the cause, must remain critical in his allyship, for the same reason that a good friend is critical in his friendships: for the others’ benefit.
Another growing practice is that of ignoring or cutting off anyone, friend or family member, who does not completely agree with how one thinks or behaves. We are segregating ourselves into thought ghettos ruled by “smelly little orthodoxies,” both old and new; we do this for the comfort and peace of mind. But the smooth road to Stupid Town is paved with comfort and peace of mind, while the path to enlightenment is dark and bumpy; it can only be that way: diamonds and steel aren’t forged in safe spaces. If we are going to pry justice and equality away from our oppressors, then we must be properly steeled for the fight. But if we’re bent out of shape by mere vowels…
It is my right to be critical, especially with friends, family members and allies, but it’s also extremely important that I am. The general unwillingness to speak against popular orthodoxies is what quickly led to reigns of terror in the French, Russian, Chinese and Cuban revolutions, all of which began with the noblest of intentions and goals. No liberal wants to be seen as standing in the way of social progress and human liberation, and so those seeking power within the movement use “progress” and “liberation” as cudgels to bash anyone who threatens the liberal regime.
Anyone who disagrees with an iota of the Woke program, or who has the nerve to roll his eyes at the term Latinx, is deemed a homophobe, a misogynist, transphobe, etc., as a quick and easy way of dismissing him and his criticisms. To label someone a homophobe, transphobe or misogynist is a signal to the Woke mob to disregard anything that person has to say. There can be no debate among the Woke, no dissension, no independent thought. All thinking must be applied toward increasing the power of the mob. The Woke mob wants to be all-powerful—not because the Woke are evil, but because they’re human—and they look to gain said power any how, any way. Politics is supreme, principles be damned. For the Woke, unfunny enough, the end always justifies the means—only they describe it as effect always superseding intention. Yet our intentions are the only thing we humans can control, while the consequences of our actions are beyond our ability to properly manage. How many prophets have preached peace and love and understanding, only to have their words warped toward evil ends? Is that their fault? Was Jesus the asshole, or his blind followers who hardly bother exploring the nuances of his philosophy?
The labels homophobe, transphobe and misogynist are increasingly used as slurs much like Islamophobe and anti-Semite have been for years. If I write about how Islam is a stupid, ugly religion with a stupid, ugly holy book that fosters a stupid, ugly culture of ignorance, division, hatred and oppression, I will be condemned as an Islamophobe and promptly banished to Room 101 within the Ministry of Inclusion for a proper wokening. I’ve written the same things about Catholicism, the Bible, and their effect on Latino culture, but officers from the PC Police have yet to show up at my door—I stress the word yet, because there may come a day when I find myself completely at the mercy of some future Woke government. You laugh, but isn’t a Woke government exactly what the mob is fighting for? And if disagreeing with the Woke today gets you “canceled” and “deplatformed”—Orwellian terms for being fired from your job and silenced—imagine what dissent will get you when the Woke are truly in power.
Who in their right minds, during the slavery in Egypt, during the Babylonian captivity, after the destruction of the first and second Temples, during the annual pogroms around Easter across medieval Europe, after the expulsion from the Iberian Peninsula and Torquemada’s Inquisition, during more pogroms in Eastern Europe, under the Third Reich and through the Holocaust—who could’ve ever predicted that there would be a Jewish apartheid state, where second-class citizens are penned in ghettos to be starved and bombed to death? And yet, the state of Israel has slipped so far from its initial promise exactly because, for years and to this day, anyone with the chutzpah to criticize the Israeli government was deemed an anti-Semite and beyond the pale. See how quickly the oppressed can become the oppressors! We are all human, in the end, neither good nor evil, and deeply flawed. The Woke mob has its own Netanyahus, and I reserve the right to speak out against them—for the good of the mob, whether it appreciates it or not.
Returning to Caesar, by the time he reaches the end of his tantrum, he’s worked himself up into such a righteous rage that you can almost see him barking up their beside the guillotine, his fingers twitching against the rope:
“Roll with the times or stay behind because behind you are—light years away. We never needed you. You were obviously looking for a platform on top and at the expense of our most marginalized. You are the straight white men of our enclaves.
“You are our weakest link toward true progress, reciprocity, and inclusivity. And for that, you are dismissed.
“Vamoose. Begone. Get to steppin’. Corran camino.
“And take your shitty misogynistic, homophobic, and transphobic family members with you.”
All of this vitriol from a minor disagreement over terminology. Imagine if someone like César had political and legal power over someone like me and my family. Then imagine if I voiced any serious criticism.
I don’t know how my views, whatever they may be, can condemn not only me but my entire family to banishment and exile, but you can see how easily a revolution sinks into tyranny. A similar form of kin punishment is practiced in North Korea, where anyone accused of a serious crime sees his entire family carted away to a prison camp and they aren’t allowed to leave till the third generation is born. Anti-Semitism raged through Europe due to a narrow reading of Matthew, wherein the Jews demand the blood of Jesus be not on the governor’s hands, but on theirs, and their children’s, and their children’s children. In a sad twist of fate, the Israeli government now bombs entire homes, sometimes entire neighborhoods, if it believes the place may harbor one or two suspected terrorists.
César ends his sermon, as he does with all of them, with a note asking that you give him money—just like a priest during Sunday Mass, after he’s enraptured his congregation by damning demons to the lake of fire. And just like most clergymen, he isn’t after truth or your salvation. You can’t be a truth-teller and a mercenary at the same time; something’s gotta give, or at least, you hope, someone. “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other”: you cannot serve both Truth and Money. Someone asking for money at the bottom of everything he writes will be inclined to write what gets him the most potential patrons. He isn’t an intellectual, just a freelancing sophist; no advocate, but a token progressive; another populist watching the weather instead of checking his compass.
I don’t ask for money, because I’m privileged: my Mexican-born wife—who was a DREAMer when I met her—makes more than enough money for the both of us, more than we ever dreamed we’d make combined, and she believes in me enough for now to let me do what is in me to do. In that, I am extremely and embarrassingly privileged. But with privilege comes the immense responsibility to do something for those without it. So I write, as well and as truthfully as I can. Any writer from a marginalized community (I was raised by a working-class immigrant mother from Honduras) must achieve some level of privilege so that he has the security to do the very best work he can do and say what he believes to be the truth, no matter who it might offend, because it is often the case that his truth-telling offends those closest to him. A writer without such security, who is seeking something from the world, a bit of money and the comfort that comes with it, will always be writing for the mob, partly at least. The Woke mob has plenty of cheerleaders: they’re called Influencers and Thought Leaders (Orwell must be doing backflips in his grave, the poor bastard). What the Woke mob needs, though, is a good friend.
As fate would have it, you can blame my becoming the writer I am today on a trans woman: Prof. Deirdre McCloskey at the University of Illinois-Chicago, a well-respected economic historian whose history writing course I took in 2009. Till the age of 53, Prof. McCloskey went by the name “Donald.” After being married for 30 years and raising two children, Donald transitioned to Deirdre in 1995, and later wrote a book about it, Crossing: A Memoir, which was the New York Times Notable Book of the Year in 1999.
Prof. McCloskey was the first transperson I ever knew somewhat closely, and I immediately respected the shit out of her, as I’ve always had great admiration for anyone who is intelligent, writes well, and stands firm against popular disapproval. Her mentorship has left its mark on me, and I wear it as a badge of honor. She saw the potential in my critical thinking skills and prose, and worked with me to develop them further, till one day she marked my essay with the usual A+ but with an attached note: “You have the horsepower to earn a living with your pen!” She was wrong about the earning-a-living part, but such words from the likes of her were all the encouragement I needed. I joined the school newspaper as an opinion columnist, got promoted to opinion editor, and the rest will one day be history.
Featured image: Triumph of the Guillotine in Hell by Nicolas Antoine Taunay, c. 1795