Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Risible, Or Not

with 3 comments

I’ve always wanted to use that word…

Never mind.

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I read a lot of magazines, from all over the political spectrum.  Yesterday, I read the latest issue of the Weekly Standard, which is a conservative magazine started by, I think, William Kristol.

As conservative magazines go, it tends to shorter and livelier pieces than, say,  the National Review, which I still think is the best conservative periodical  out there.  It is, however, a conservative magazine and not a libertarian one (like Reason).

Anyway, it’s exam week, my students are largely in panic and throw-themselves-at-my-feet mode, and Monday is a very long day for me anyway.

I came home exhausted, heated up some leftover tuna noodle casserole, threw myself on the loveseat, opened my e-reader and found the Weekly Standard.   It looked to be perfect.  Like I said, it tends to printing short and lively.

The article that led to this post wasn’t very short, but it was indeed very lively, and I spent a lot of time wondering if I could justify writing a blog post about it if I couldn’t also provide a link to it.

As it turned out, that wasn’t actually a problem.  The link is here


and all I can say is that it has to be read to be believed.

I don’t usually think the political magazines are making things up, even when they are–think of The New Republic, on several occasions–but in this case I had to check.

As it turned out, she wasn’t making it up, not even a little.  And if, after reading the article, you don’t believe me, you can go here


That’s the official web site for the conference in question.

And the conference in question is called the 14th Annual White Privilege Conference, held just a while back in Washington State at the Sea-Pac airport.

Now, in case you’re wondering, the White Privilege Conference was exactly what you’d expect it to be–a gathering of almost exclusively white, largely female, academic and administrative types with  a vested interest in what has come to be called, with very good reason, the “diversity industry.”

In some ways, this conference had more to recommend it than these sorts of things often do.  It actually had a few “people of color,” although not really enough of them to get beyond standard tokenism.

It also had an awful lot of capitalism going on, with people hawking books and promoting their consulting businesses, as well as tables full of WPC gear and souvenirs.  The souvenirs included t shirts and tote backs emblazoned with conference slogans, mostly having to do with how you’re white and ashamed of it, or you’re working on giving up your white privilege, or whatever.

What this was, in other words, was a lemon session–a gathering whose primary purpose is to let some people tell other people how awful they are.

If you’ve never run into this kind of thing, let me just say that it’s a popular sport in some places–sororities and fraternities; religious orders; consciousness raising sessions; Communist re-education camps.

And it’s never cheap.  A quick look through the article will show you that registration fees alone came to over $400, and then there would be the hotel room and meals and probably a whole lot else.  From what I could figure out, one of the special sessions charged separately and cost over $1000.

It isn’t hard to figure out that this conference could not have come off if institutions of various sorts–schools and universities, nonprofit agencies, government agencies, even corporations–weren’t willing to pay for it.

It also isn’t hard to figure out that a certain percentage of the attendees were only there because the conference provided a sort of paid mini-vacation from otherwise rather borning jobs.

But what kept bothering me as I read through all this was something that bothers me a lot, lately–that an awful lot of Americans are being paid to do work that is completely, utterly, and irrevocably  useless.

 The market for it seems to be entirely artificial–a SCOTUS ruling striking down affirmative action or the disparate impact rule would cause the money to dry up overnight and all the “highly trained” personnel to be instantly unemployable.

And that’s without noting the obvious–which is that these things represent the most rarified examples of “first world problems.”

After I thought about it, though, I changed my mind.

The people who put together these conferences–and there are many like this one, with  many different names–are indeed selling a product that is valuable to their audience, and that their audience would be willing to pay for if the institutional funds dried up.

The audience is small, and it wouldn’t be able to pay much.  There wouldn’t be big time hotels or significant speaking fees for presenters. 

But some money would roll in, as individuals paid on their own to get what their institutions would no longer give them.

Because what these conferences are, for their True Believer attendees, is a form of…


That is, in fact, what all these people were doing at this thing–the same thing mystery fans do at mystery conventions and romance fans do at romance conventions and, I expect, sf fans do at sf conventions.

They come to meet their favorite authors and to hear what they expect those authors to hear.  They’re no more able to recognize that half of what they hear is silly and the other half is belaboring the obvious than romance readers recognize that every Barbara Cartland novel is the same.

Granted, the entertainment provided in this instance is more than a tad masochistic, but if you believe the web, lots of people out there like masochism. 

I will admit to being flummoxed by what is, to me, a completely inexplicable taste.

But I’ve decided that that’s all it is–a taste. 

It has existed before with many different rationales.  It exists in all cultures and societies that get beyond a certain level of affluence.  It’s something human beings do.

If I were writing a manual of “mental illness,” it would be first on the list.

Written by janeh

May 21st, 2013 at 10:19 am

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses to 'Risible, Or Not'

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  1. I’ll give you the entertainment character of the whole thing, but I think you slurred over the quasi-religious True Believer elements of the diversity industry. In some ways, they resemble extreme Lutherans (guilt) with touches of the Marquis de Sade (masochism) thrown in. The mass adherence to the dogma just reinforces the impression.

    Of course, give a bureaucrat the opportunity for an all-expenses-paid trip anywhere and they’re going to take it, even if it’s boring (the Seattle AIRPORT?) or if they have to sit and espouse their own loathesome being to gain entrance. Shades of revival meetings (“I’m guilty O Lord, I’m a sinner, I promise to go and sin no more!”)

    If their goal is to facilitate the distribution of wealth to others than the rich whites (since 1988, no less) I have to say they’re signally failing. None of the actions I’ve ever seen diversity advocates take have actually done anything to erase racial barriers.

    We’ll never be beyond that until we stop labeling each other by our relative reflectivity of light. Which is why, on any form we’re asked to fill out, our family tends to fill in “Human” or “Earthling” under race. Yes, even on the US Census, and no, they haven’t come back on us for it.


    21 May 13 at 12:32 pm

  2. I once had someone, a very earnest and well-meaning person, try to explain to me how I was racist because the colour of my skin meant that I had all kinds of unearned privilege from all of those white people who set up my society. I wasn’t much impressed, any more than I have been by the people who go on about structural racism, which as far as I can see just exists; you can have that without actually proving that any of the people who are part of the structure actually engage in racially-biased attacks on people. At least, that’s what it sounds like to me.

    I wonder if this movement would continue to exist without the support by universities and governments? It’s not impossible; there are lots of little groups out there who meet and share their interests on a shoestring budget. All you need is a passionate belief or interest in something, and a way to contact like-minded people, both of which are pretty commonplace.


    21 May 13 at 12:34 pm

  3. You still sound vaguely surprised. Why?

    Entertainment? Maybe. But I’ll bet you the taxpayers were on the hook for–well, almost all of it. Fees are paid by taxpayer-funded schools, tax-exempt “non-profit” schools or counted by corporations against settlements on racism suits. Let the ruling class save up for their vacations like the rest of us, and see what attendance looks like.

    And a “taste” for denigrating a racial group is no laughing matter. A “taste” for denigrating one’s own racial group is insanity. This sort of thing is not going to have a happy ending for the participants. The graffiti on the conference room walls begin “Mene, mene..”


    21 May 13 at 12:35 pm

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