Being nerdtastic by nature, my nerd sense picks up disturbances in nerd culture. One of the loudest types of disturbances is when people express outrage at gender and race swapping involving established characters. For example, when word that there would be a non-white Spider-Man, social media erupted with rage about wokeness. But are such criticisms automatically bad?

On the face of it, there can be reasonable criticisms of such swaps. One common criticism is that the swap is motivated by a desire to pander to a specific audience and this pandering should be condemned. A problem with this criticism is that while pandering could result in a worse work of art, pandering does not entail that the work is therefore bad from an aesthetic standpoint. An obvious problem with this criticism when it focused only on swapping is that what is labeled derogatorily as pandering is likely to be an attempt to appeal to a target audience. Those who bash works for pandering via swapping generally do not bash works that have white male characters (and actors) selected to appeal to a target audience. As a specific example, it would seem odd for most critics to bash the Top Gun movies for pandering to an easily identified target audience. And I certainly would not attack Top Gun for doing this. After all, if you want people to watch your films or read your books, you do need to appeal to your audience. Naturally, if efforts to appeal are done badly and harm the work, then this would be a reasonable criticism but this has no necessary connection to wokeness.

Another common criticism is that such swapping is the result of laziness and that new characters should be created instead of swapping existing characters. There is usually also the criticism that the swap is made to cash in on an existing intellectual property and not due to a good aesthetic reason, such as meaningfully exploring the swap. This criticism does have some bite but is more a criticism of the way capitalist media companies operate rather than proof that wokeness is killing art. Companies certainly engage in this practice, since they can churn out more content dressed in an established IP without the effort and risk of creating new characters. But to be fair, this does make good business sense. At least until the audiences become exhausted with the companies milking their IP. Once again, there is no necessary connection to wokeness.

A third common criticism takes us into the matter of aesthetic identity of fictional characters. In metaphysics, the problem of personal identity is the challenge of determining what (if anything) makes an entity the same person across time, distinct from all other people and things. This is a difficult problem because you need to work out the metaphysics of personhood and identity. In the case of aesthetic identity, the problem is a bit less daunting. For in-world identity of characters, this is settled by author fiat. For example, if a person is a soul in a fictional world, whatever body has that soul is the same character. But this does not settle the matter of aesthetic identity in the real world, which is the problem of sorting out what makes a character the same character. I think the easy and obvious answer is that aesthetic identity is a social identity: being the same character is a matter of the audience accepting the character as the same. But, of course, people can make good faith rational arguments about why people should or should not accept a character as being the same. As an example, Batman has changed over the years and there have been heated fights over the various actors portraying the character in the movies. But Batman is generally accepted as still being Batman, despite these variations. In the case of Batman, a gender-swap could probably be criticized in a good faith manner. After all, Batgirl and Batwoman are already established characters. In the case of Black Panther, swapping in a white or Asian person could be criticized because of the centrality of Black Panther’s blackness in the character. That is, a white Black Panther would not be the same character. That said, someone could make a good story looking at a female Batperson to explore what would be different if Bruce Wayne had been Betty Wayne or what impact having a white person as the Black Panther might change. In any case, valid aesthetic criticisms of swapping would seem to have no meaningful connection to wokeness or lack of wokeness.

I was a bit reluctant to voice my agreement with these criticisms since they are often used as dog whistles for racism and sexism. But they are used in this manner because they do have merit in their proper context. This raises the question of how you can discern the difference between a good faith criticism of swapping on aesthetic grounds as well as criticisms of capitalism motivating companies to make lazy efforts to milk their intellectual property and bigoted attacks on works using the swapping criticism as a dog whistle. This can be challenging, but there are often cases where the critics lay out their explicit sexism and racism.


A good example of this is the Battlestar Galactica (BSG) reboot. These days, some have gone as far as to claim that BSG was the last non-woke sci-fi series and now the Kara Thrace (Starbuck) character is well-liked and rarely attacked by the anti-woke folks. But back in the day, BSG was attacked for being a “social justice” show and Dirk Benedict, who played Starbuck in the original series, attacked the decision to cast a woman in the role of Starbuck. While this reboot aired in 2003, Benedict’s criticism will sound quite familiar today:


The best minds in the world of un-imagination doubled their intake of Double Soy Latte’s as they gathered in their smoke-free offices to curse the day that this chauvinistic Viper Pilot was allowed to be. But never under-estimate the power of the un-imaginative mind when it encounters an obstacle (character) it subconsciously loathes. ”Re-inspiration” struck. Starbuck would go the way of most men in today’s society. Starbuck would become “Stardoe.” What the Suits of yesteryear had been incapable of doing to Starbuck 25 years ago was accomplished quicker than you can say orchiectomy. Much quicker, as in, “Frak! Gonads Gone!”


And the word went out to all the Suits in all the smoke-free offices throughout the land of Un-imagination, “Starbuck is dead. Long live Stardoe!”


I’m not sure if a cigar in the mouth of Stardoe resonates in the same way it did in the mouth of Starbuck. Perhaps. Perhaps it “resonates” more. Perhaps that’s the point. I’m not sure. What I am sure of is this…


Women are from Venus. Men are from Mars. Hamlet does not scan as Hamletta. Nor does Hans Solo as Hans Sally. Faceman is not the same as Facewoman. Nor does a Stardoe a Starbuck make. Men hand out cigars. Women “hand out” babies. And thus the world for thousands of years has gone’ round.



While I disagree with what Benedict wrote, I do “respect” that fact that he did not hide behind dog whistles and openly presented his views of women. Someone could, of course, make a good faith criticism of the character change, since the original BSG had female Colonial Warriors, including Viper pilots such as Serina and hence there would seem to be nothing gained by the swap. But Benedict’s “criticism” is not made on aesthetic grounds, but on the grounds that the swap is part of a broader conspiracy to emasculate men and that, apparently, women should be limited to making babies and not piloting fighters. While anti-woke critics often appeal to “realism”, realism is against this sort of “biological realism.” In the BSG series, Battlestar Galactica is leading a refugee fleet of the last known human survivors of the Cylon attack. As such, humanity is in dire straits and needs everyone to participate in the fight. This situation is an even more extreme version of what happened in the real-world during WWII: women had to step into “traditional male” roles, such as factory work and even enter combat. This shows, beyond all reasonable doubt, that women can do such “men’s work” as well as men. Ironically, realism is on the side of “the woke” and this sort of attack is sexism and a denial of reality.

In closing, while there can be good faith criticisms about swapping, the claim that “wokeness” is killing art by forcing aesthetically bad swaps has no merit. There can be aesthetically bad swaps and swaps that can be justly criticized as lazy efforts to milk an IP but these do not arise from “wokeness.”  While some “anti-woke” critics might be operating in good faith, Benedict’s example illustrates what seems to drive much of the criticism: bigotry.

The original Mary Sue was created in 1973 by Paula Smith as a parody of Star Trek fan fiction. A Mary Sue character is usually presented as inexplicably competent, possessing special talents or powers, enjoying the admiration of others, lacking in weaknesses and flaws, attractive, and virtuous. A Mary Sue is usually a young woman, but there are male versions called “Gary Stu” or “Marty Stu.” While a Mary Sue is often a self-insertion by an author, in the “woke wars”, she is often claimed to be inserted into a work because of “wokeness.”

While a Mary Sue character will not always harm the aesthetic value of a work (after all, Superman seems to be a paradigm Gary Stu), they can cause problems. Such a character can seem implausible to the audience, they can overshadow other characters in a harmful way, and their capabilities can make their inevitable success seem unsatisfactory. As such, a Mary Sue (or Gary Stu) character could harm a work. But how does this connect to the claim that “wokeness” is killing art?

Given that the Mary Sue character is usually a woman, the usual anti-woke criticism is that the female Mary Sue was created as part of “the message” and “woke ideology.” That is, those who decide to include the Mary Sue character are making the work worse in service to their wokeness—thus, it is claimed, “wokeness” hurt the work. But, of course, a work could include a Mary Sue or Gary Stu for non-ideological reasons and be bad—so even if a character is a badly written Mary Sue, evidence would be needed that the inclusion is the result of ideology and that this ideology is “woke.” Even in such a case, the work would be bad because of the badly written character—unless it is simply assumed or shown that wokeness necessitates writing bad characters or, at least, meaningfully increases the likelihood.

Not surprisingly, the Mary Sue label is often applied by anti-woke critics to characters who do not seem to fit the definition. For example, Naru in the Predator movie Prey does not seem to be a Mary Sue. While she is competent, she earns this competence and while there are implausible elements, they are all well within those that should be expected in an action movie in the science fiction genre. Despite this, the movie was attacked based on the claim that Naru is a Mary Sue. While such critics might be using the term for its rhetorical value, it is worth considering why they would consider a competent female character to be a Mary Sue when such a character, as noted above, operates well within the usual parameters of a science fiction action films. The most relevant comparison is, of course, to the original Predator. Given her background as a hunter, Naru’s capabilities and actions are as plausible as those of Dutch (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) given his background as an elite soldier. While both characters effectively use their intelligence, Dutch relies more on his physical strength—although he is outclassed by the predator in this area. It can be argued that the films do have unrealistic elements (aside from the Predator), such as how Dutch is able to beat the Predator when that same Predator effortlessly slaughtered its way through the movie up until that point. But that is the “reality” of this sort of science-fiction action movie and hence attacking Naru for being an action hero in an action film would say more about the ideology of the critic than the “wokeness” of the film. But someone is likely to say, it is realistic for Dutch to be the action hero because he is a man and not for Naru, since she is a woman.

Films, games, and shows with strong female characters are often attacked for being “woke” even when those characters are clearly not Mary Sue characters. The usual criticism is that a strong female character is written as an action hero capable of doing things like defeat men in hand-to-hand combat. This is seen by the critic as making the work worse and as resulting from the “woke ideology” of those responsible for the character. The criticism is based on a view of “biological realism”, since the usual criticism is that women are, on average, physically weaker than men. Thus, the critic reasons, a female action hero of this type is unrealistic, is included as part of “the message”, and harms the work through being unrealistic.

The easy and obvious reply to this criticism is that it is just an expression of sexism. After all, action movies are usually power-fantasies and these same critics generally do not apply this “biological realism” critique to action films with a male action hero doing things that are “biologically” unrealistic even for the most capable men in the real world. For example, they do not attack the John Wick movies on the grounds that John Wick’s abilities are unrealistic and blame some sort of nefarious ideology for ruining the film. Their “criticism” seems to be that they are mad when women can have a power fantasy about a female character of the sort that men enjoy about male characters. This just shows that “wokeness” is “ruining” the work for them because of their ideology, not because of an aesthetic flaw in the work.

 To consistently apply the “realism” criticism would not be a criticism of “wokeness” but a criticism of how realism is bent or broken in many genres—which would be, it seems, to say that action, fantasy, and science fiction would often be “bad” because of how their heroes deviate from the limits of mundane biology.

Interestingly, the anti-woke critics who make use of the Mary Sue criticism and the “biological realism” criticism do not apply this criticism to Ripley in Alien and Aliens or Sarah Conners in the Terminator movies (and other works). I certainly agree that Ripley and Sarah are not Mary Sue characters—their competence is both earned in the film worlds and plausible. But they are certainly both strong female leads acting in ways that anti-woke critics of today should be attacking, yet they generally do not. A plausible explanation is that these films are so well-established as being good, attacking them as “woke” would do nothing but undermine the claim that wokeness ruins works of art. This does seem to be a general theme: a bad work is attacked as woke and used to “prove” that wokeness made it bad, but good works that seem to have “woke” qualities (diverse casts, strong female leads, liberal values, etc.) have their “wokeness” explained away or simply ignored.  It might also be that these films are older, and past works might be protected by the haze of nostalgia.

A sketch of human faces, Not so long ago, diversity in works of art was criticized as the result of political correctness (PC). The current manifestation of this criticism targets Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Such criticisms can be about the content of the work, about the casting, or about the people involved in the creation of the work.

In terms of criticism of content, the obvious claim is that DEI content harms a work of art. This could be, as discussed in the previous essay, because the ideology comes at the expense of aesthetic quality, or it could be a claim that DEI content is inherently bad. But this is not an aesthetic judgment, but an ideological judgment and falls under the non-aesthetic areas of value theory such as ethics and political philosophy.

In terms of criticism focused on the cast of characters, this criticism can be of in-world characters or real-world casting choices. In-world criticism is aimed at the identity of the characters in the world of the work of art while real-world criticism is aimed at the identity of the actors portraying (or voicing) the in-world characters. In many cases, in-world and real-world identities are the same, such as when an African American woman plays the role of an African American woman character. In other cases, the identities can be different, such as a gay actor playing a straight character or a white actor portraying an Asian or Black character. And, of course, there is the famous fact that in early British theatre males played the female roles.

Both in-world and real-world criticisms focus on the qualities such as ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation of the characters or cast. One stock criticism includes claiming a work is somehow harmed by having a diverse cast of characters that the critic sees as somehow inappropriate. For example, a critic might emphasize that white people are either a minority or absent in the work. Interestingly, for those who see diversity as part of the aesthetic value of a work, a good faith argument can be made that unfairly excluding, for example, white, straight men from a work of art would harm the diversity and hence the aesthetic value of the work. But this, of course, rests on the assumption that diversity is a good—which would be a “woke” assumption. As such, the anti-woke critics would be hard pressed to make a good faith criticism of such exclusion. Their own opposition to diversity would seemingly justify such exclusion.

The most benign interpretation of the anti-diversity criticism is that anti-woke critics are accustomed to the less-diverse works of their youth and are responding negatively to this change. They are, in effect, upset that the people in movies, TV and video games don’t look like they did when they were kids. This is, of course, not an aesthetic criticism beyond “I don’t like this.”

Perhaps the least charitable interpretation is that this criticism taps into the ideology of the Great Replacement Theory. In general terms, this is the conspiracy theory that white people are being intentionally demographically and culturally replaced by non-white people. On this view, increasing diversity of casts (characters and actors) would be evidence of this replacement. This is, of course, not an aesthetic concern but one of ideology.

A similar, but less extreme, interpretation is that the anti-woke critics believe that the increasing diversity of characters and actors inflicts an economic harm on white actors and most especially white male actors. This argument does have some theoretical appeal. Historically, movies and television in the United States were dominated by white actors and white male actors. Whites even played many non-white roles (known in two manifestations as yellowface and blackface). This meant that white actors did not need to compete against non-white actors. As roles began to open for non-white actors, this could be seen as roles being closed to white actors. On the extreme side, white actors are unlikely to be cast in yellowface or blackface roles these days, which is a loss of roles. On the less extreme side, an anti-woke critic could argue that too many roles are being taken away from white/straight/male people and given to diversity hires. There are, of course, those who claim they cannot get hired because they are white/straight/male. While complaints about there being too much diversity are nothing new, these complaints are consistently made in the face of the facts: the diversity in the media does not match the diversity in the population. Also, as of 2023 white men are still getting most of the big Hollywood film roles. While some might doubt the statistics, this is easy enough to check if one has the time: grind through the casting of movies on IMDB.

This does lead to a question of concern to the “woke” and “anti-woke”: how diverse should hiring be in this (or any) context? But as an economic concern about employment opportunities, this takes us far from the claim that wokeness is making art worse as art.

In terms of making the connection between DEI “wokeness” and aesthetic harm, one stock argument is based on the claim that DEI hiring results in the employment of less capable people. This claim is connected to the reasonable premise that less capable people working as actors, writers, producers, directors, programmers, and such will tend to result in an inferior aesthetic product. Therefore, it is concluded, DEI hiring will result in an inferior aesthetic product. Or, in pop terms, “woke” DEI hiring will kill art.

The second premise is reasonable: the quality of a work of art, such as film, is causally linked to the capabilities of the people involved in its creation. While skilled people can fail and thus produce a bad work of art, they will generally produce better works than those with inferior skills. The movie Lady Ballers illustrates this nicely: a cast consisting mostly of conservative pundits and inexperienced actors directed by Daily Wire CEO Jeremy Boreing would have a hard time matching the performance of more skilled and experienced actors, directors, and writers. The film turns out to be what one would expect, given the talent and experience levels involved. It also serves as an ironic example of what happens when a work is focused on an ideological message first.  But what about the claim that DEI hiring results in the employment of less capable people?

This is, of course, the same criticism used against affirmative action and is based on the same assumptions about identity and competence. That is, it is assumed that certain people (usually straight, white males) are superior to other people and that if someone else is hired, it is likely to be an unmerited DEI hire. After all, it is assumed, a merit-based hiring would result in the right sort of person (usually a straight, white male) being hired because of their superiority. In blunt terms, this anti-woke criticism seems to be based on racism and sexism. One could reply by insisting that this view is not racism or sexism because the superiority is real, but that would seem to only serve to remove all doubt about the racism and sexism behind the criticism. And if it is not claimed that diversity hires are inferior because of the identity of those hired, the criticism of DEI “wokeness” falls apart: without an assumption of the inferiority of some and the superiority of others based on race, sex and so on, it cannot be claimed that a diversity of hiring would entail an inferior aesthetic work. As such, the anti-woke criticism of DEI rests, unsurprisingly, on what seem to be racist and sexist assumptions.



In America’s ongoing culture war, the right has largely embraced the idea that wokeness is a grave danger. While wokeness is seen as a general threat, there is a special focus on the damage that it is supposed to be doing to artistic media, such as movies and video games.

While The Barbie Movie did not fit the “go woke, go broke” narrative, Ben Shapiro claims to have “destroyed” the movie in a 43-minute review.  Given that the movie was a remarkable financial success that seems to have been sincerely enjoyed by millions of people, it is unclear what this destruction amounts to—but his review does serve as an example of the woke war and the movie is apparently a major battlefront in this war. Nerdrotic and the  Critical Drinker also provide examples of critics focused on wokeness on media. While some might be tempted to dismiss these criticisms as bait for a right-wing grift, I will consider the hypothesis that wokeness is causing the claimed harms.

An obvious problem is that the right uses “woke” as a catch-all term for everything they dislike. This seems to be intentional, as shown by the redefinition of “critical race theory” by Christopher Rufo: “The goal is to have the public read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think “critical race theory.” We have decodified the term and will recodify it to annex the entire range of cultural constructions that are unpopular with Americans.” While this tactic is useful in right-wing politics, such a vague definition impedes addressing whether wokeness is damaging to media. After all, without having an adequate definition one cannot in good faith say whether it is causing the alleged harm. That said, a look at the criticisms of “woke” works reveals some common threads and these will serve as a focus for the discussion. But first, the matter of aesthetic judgment needs to be all to briefly addressed.

In Hume’s works on aesthetics, he notes that while tastes cannot be disputed, some aesthetic judgments are absurd and ridiculous. Roughly put, a person likes what they like and dislikes what they dislike, and it makes no sense to claim they are wrong. But claims about the quality and merits of works or art can be disputed rationally. While this dichotomy can be disputed, it does provide a good frame for the discussion.

If the critics who claim wokeness makes works of art bad (or worse) are merely expressing their dislike of the woke works, then they cannot be disputed. After all, if they do not like a movie because they think it is woke, then they do not like the movie and it would be absurd to try to dispute them. While one could try to convince them to reconsider, this is analogous to trying to argue someone into liking a food they detest. But if this is all there is to the claim that wokeness is making art bad, they are just telling people they dislike wokeness and this is not a meaningful criticism of the work itself, just as a child making a face and spitting out food is no meaningful criticism of the food—it is a mere expression of dislike. Naturally, this could also be performative in the hopes of imitation—that others will dislike the works they dislike. But this is also not criticism and does not show that wokeness is making artistic works bad beyond in any sense beyond their dislike. They could also simply be taking an ideological stance—woke art is “bad” because it is accused of expressing an ideology, they claim is bad. But this is not an aesthetic criticism of the work but of its alleged ideology. As such, a meaningful claim that wokeness makes art worse (as art) requires showing that the wokeness a work has a negative impact on its aesthetic qualities. There are those who do attempt to make this case.

Put in oversimplified terms, one causal argument is that wokeness causes art to be bad as art, or at least worse than it would be without the woke influence. When looking at the alleged causal connections, one must consider whether the wokeness is what makes a work of art bad. After all, a bad film set in London would presumably not be bad because it was set in London; but for other reasons-so a causal connection would be needed. That is, it needs to be the wokeness that causes the harm, not just the fact that a bad work happens to be woke. We would not say that comedy makes a work bad just because there are bad movies that contain comedy.

The causal claim cannot be that wokeness is a necessary condition for badness, since this would claim that if art is bad, then it is woke. There is an abundance of bad art that is not woke.  There does often seem to be the claim that wokeness is sufficient to make art bad, that if art is woke, then it must be bad. But someone with a more nuanced view could claim that the relation is a matter of causal influence—that a woke work is more likely to be bard art, although there could be good woke art. As nuance is usually lost in the culture wars, it does seem that most critics of wokeness see it as a sufficient condition for badness. But how does wokeness allegedly make art bad?

One general explanation is that the emphasis on ideology comes at the expense of the quality and aesthetic components of the work. What occurs, presumably, is that when those in charge must choose between making an ideological point and something that improves the aesthetic quality of a work, they will choose the ideological point. For example, the plot might contain forced and implausible events included to make a statement, even when doing so damages the story. As another example, a character arc might be abruptly terminated or abandoned because it would lead to a message contrary to the ideology that the work is intended to present.

On the face of it, this seems to be a good explanation of how “wokeness” could harm a movie. However, it is actually just a statement of the obvious: if aesthetic decisions are made on the basis of considerations outside of aesthetics, this will tend to lower the aesthetic quality of a work of art. While this would apply to a “woke” ideology, it would also apply to non-ideological concerns like costs or the desire to include product placements. For example, while an expensive special effect might make for a better movie, that effect might be cancelled due to the expense, thus making the work worse than it would have been.

It must also be pointed out that this applies to ideologies on the right. A good recent example is Lady Ballers. While “the left” has been critical of its anti-trans ideology and sexism, an analysis of the work as a work of art lays bare the problems that arise when ideology is chosen over aesthetic considerations.  Critics of God is Not Dead have also made similar points, noting that the antagonists are carboard caricatures created in service of the film’s message.

As such, the “anti-woke” critics are right that putting ideology over aesthetics can harm the aesthetics of a work; but this applies to all ideologies—even their own.  As such, while “woke” ideology could harm a work of art, this is not unique to “wokeness” but is simply a statement of the obvious fact that making aesthetic decisions based on non-aesthetic considerations can lower the aesthetic quality of a work. At best, the anti-woke critics could claim that some works might have been harmed by choosing ideology over aesthetic considerations—but this hardly shows that wokeness is ruining art. Rather, it just states the obvious: bad aesthetic decisions lead to bad works of art, regardless of whether the cause is ideological, budgetary, or a lack of talent.



Back when the Prius and other hybrids went on the market, some anti-environmentalists expressed their opinion by rolling coal (humorously dubbed “Prius repellent”).  The animosity against hybrids seemed to fade somewhat but the arrival of commercially viable electronic vehicles has sparked a new current of anger.  

I first noticed this on Facebook in the form of cartoons and memes posted about EVs. The cartoon usually showed an EV with an extension cord connected to a smoke-belching powerplant and the memes made a similar point. This struck me as odd since I knew the people doing the posting were generally pro-fossil fuel, anti-renewable energy, and skeptical about climate change. Given their professed views, if electric vehicles ran on electricity generated by dirty fossil fuels, that should either be a matter of no concern or even a plus.

While I have seen people posting in a similar manner against renewable energy, after Trump (a noted hater of wind turbines), I noticed posts attacking wind power on the grounds that it kills birds. When posted by people who never showed any other concern for the environment, this also seemed odd.

Most recently, I have seen posts critical of electric cars and electric stoves that reference the sorry state of the American electrical system. This also seemed odd, since improving the electrical grid never seemed to concern these folks in the past.

Given that these posts on social media were consistent in their posting points and they occurred at roughly the same time, I decided to determine what was behind this. I also wanted to investigate the facts of the matter. This led me away from cartoons and memes to in depth and often thoughtful writing.  I’ll start by looking at EVs.

The cartoons showing EVs linked to smoking powerplants do draw attention to a real concern and there are at least two other major concerns about these vehicles. Tilak Doshi, who “worked in the oil and gas sector as an economist in both private industry and in think tanks” wrote an informative essay for Forbes about the dirty secrets of EVs. While you should read the article for the details, he raises three main concerns about EVs.

The first is that the manufacture of an EV will typically result in significantly more environmental harm than the manufacture of a comparable fossil fuel burning vehicle. This disparity arises largely from the batteries used in the EV. As the media outlets who got the memo have hammered home, the batteries in EV are their dirty secret. Getting back to the cartoons I mentioned, Doshi also points out that if an EV gets its electricity from a dirty power source, like a coal-fired power plant, then it can be meaningfully more polluting than a conventional vehicle. Third, Doshi points out a problem that has been well known in the broader technology context for a long time: the mining of lithium is linked to significant harms to people beyond the environmental damage.

While I am not an expert on any of this, these claims are supported by reputable sources across the political spectrum. As such, I agree that the manufacture of these EVs is currently more polluting than manufacturing conventional vehicles, although this is clearly something that can be addressed. I also agree that powering EVs (or anything else) from dirty fossil fuel sources is a harmful way to generate electricity. And, of course, the human cost behind the manufacturing of these batteries is high and needs to be addressed. Now, let us move on to wind turbines and solar.

Trump, who hates wind turbines, consistently makes the true claim that windmills kill birds. Studies from 2013 and 2014 estimated that they killed 140,000 to 679,000 birds. The number killed is presumably higher now, due to an increase in wind turbines. As noted above, many people who oppose renewable power use the death of birds as a premise in their argument against it. They also refer to, correctly, that solar and wind power come with manufacturing and disposal issues that cause environmental harm.  

While not an expert on wind turbines and solar power, these claims are well supported and I have no reason to doubt that wind turbines kill birds or that renewable energy creates an environmental impact—after all, these turbines and panels need to be manufactured and eventually disposed of.

While some people might be tempted to reject claims from Trump and others who oppose renewable energy because they do not like these people, that would be a mere ad hominem. Also, to reject what people connected to the fossil fuel industry say about EVs and renewables because they have a stake in the matter would be another mere ad hominem. One should, of course, be wary of bias but this is not proof that someone is wrong. Likewise, if someone profits from EVs or renewable energy or is associated with them, it does not follow that they are wrong in their claims. That said, this approach taken to criticize EVs and renewables has made me both suspicious and curious. After all, these seem to be what are usually liberal arguments grounded on what appears to be professed concern about the environment, climate change, human rights, and worker exploitation. Why would, for example, a person known to be pro-fossil fuel, anti-renewable energy, and skeptical about climate change post a cartoon that seems to be criticizing EVs on the grounds that they contribute to fossil fuel pollution? Why would people with links to the fossil fuel industry make such arguments against EVs and renewable energy? Why would people who normally seem to lack concern about energy generation killing birds be so concerned about bird deaths?  While one can never know for sure what is in another’s mind, there are certainly reasonable claims that can be made.

One hypothesis is that these people do have concerns about the environment (and human rights) but the scope of their concern is extremely narrow. That is, they are only concerned about the environmental (and human) harm caused by EVs and renewable energy.

The fact that wind generated energy kills 0.269 birds per gigawatt-hour of electricity produced, compared to 5.18 birds killed per gigawatt-hour of electricity from fossil fuel projects does not concern them. We do not, for example, see Trump lamenting the birds killed by fossil fuel projects.

The fact that expanding public transportation and redesigning cities would reduce the need for both EVs and conventional cars does not seem to concern them, for they seem laser focused on the pollution created by EVs. Also, those posting the power plant cartoons do not post cartoons showing these EVs connected to renewable energy—something that would seem to address their criticism of EVs running on dirty power. Those rightly pointing out that the awful US power grid and the wiring of many houses will not be able to handle an increase in EVs and electric stoves do not mention that this challenge can be addressed with renewable energy and a meaningful investment in public infrastructure.

It is certainly possible that these people are making a good faith criticism of EVs and renewable energy based on their very focused and limited concern about the harm done by EVs and renewable energy. But this seems like a rather odd view; like only being concerned about deaths caused by colon cancer and having no concerns about all other cancers (and worse, being a proponent of some other types of cancer). After all, if the harm caused by EVs and renewable energy are bad, these same harms produced by conventional vehicles and fossil fuels would also be bad. But perhaps these folks do not have a narrow scope of concern; perhaps this is a rhetorical tactic being used against people who are more broadly concerned about the environment and harm to humans. This tactic can be called a “false concern argument.”

A false concern argument involves using as a premise or premises (which might be unstated) a concern that the person making the argument does not have and doing this in bad faith. While it is reasonable to craft an argument that will appeal to the concerns (and values) of your target audience, the problem with the false concern argument is the bad faith aspect: the person making the argument does not share the concern that they are intentionally exploiting in the argument.

Going back to the EV cartoons and other criticisms of EVs, the implicit argument seems to be as follows:  Because EVs are recharged from electricity generated by dirty fossil fuel plants, they are not good for the environment. Since you (the target of the cartoon) care about the environment, you should not buy an EV (or you should oppose them). Likewise for arguments involving the harms stemming from their manufacture.

In the case of wind and solar, the argument is built around the idea that because of the harm to birds (wind) and the environment (both), people concerned about birds and the environment should oppose solar and wind.

If we consider only the arguments in isolation, the reasoning can be good, and the premises can be plausible. As noted above, there are real concerns about EVs and renewable energy that give a person who cares about the environment (and people) reasons to be concerned about both. That said, someone who is concerned about the environment (and people) would also consider ways in which these real harms could be mitigated (such as recycling batteries) and would also compare these harms to those generated by the alternatives (such as fossil fuel energy). We can and should have good faith discussions about the harms of EVs and renewable energy. But bad faith cartoons, essays and arguments do not help.

As also noted above, rejecting these criticisms because of who makes them or because they are believed to be acting in bad faith would be to fall into fallacious reasoning. But what, then, is my criticism of these bad faith arguments and what is the problem with false concern arguments?

In terms of why these posts and arguments are in bad faith, there is the fact that they are generally made by people who are generally pro-fossil fuel, anti-renewable energy, and skeptical about climate change. They also usually do not seem overly concerned about birds in other contexts. Also, many criticisms of EVs and renewables comes from people in the fossil fuel industry and those who are paid to protect it. Again, this does not mean that their arguments are wrong, it is just that they are unlikely to be making these arguments from an anti-fossil fuel, pro-renewable energy, climate-change accepting world view. That is, they are most likely not concerned about fossil fuel pollution, climate change, etc. If they were, they would post and make criticisms about fossil fuel-based pollution and not limit their concern to EVs and renewable energy. This is to say, they do not have the concerns that their cartoons and arguments rest upon—they do not believe their own key premise(s). The person who posts the cartoon of the EV is most likely not opposed to the fossil fuel plant in their cartoon—they do not, for example, post critical cartoons of conventional cars driving past oil refineries and oil leaks from ships, wells, trains, and pipelines. What, then, are they doing?

A somewhat lazy explanation is that the cartoon posters and others are trying to “own the libs” by shoving in their faces the fact that EVs are a source of pollution. Liberals are supposed to love EVs and renewables, so this is a way to mock them. This does have some appeal as an explanation in some cases, but does not explain well written attacks on EVs that lay out evidence and maintain a reasonable tone.

While this is speculation, they seem to be well-crafted bad faith arguments intended to persuade pro-EV and pro-renewable energy people to change their minds in favor of conventional vehicles and fossil-fuel. Or at least raise doubts. I say they are (probably) bad faith because they make their case by writing as if environmental harm is bad (when caused by an EV or renewables), but do not extend this principle to fossil fuels and conventional vehicles.  For example, Tilak Doshi offers an in depth criticism of EVs, but if you look at his other essays he does not offer such harsh criticism on the same principles of conventional vehicles (or fossil fuels). In this case, the problem with their bad faith argument is, once again, that they do not seem to believe what they are arguing.

Fairness does require that I consider an alternative: they are not basing their arguments on a professed or implied false concern but are trying to prove to supporters of EVs and renewable energy that these are bad like conventional cars and fossil fuels. That is, they all do harm to the environment and people.

But this also leads to an obvious question: if they believe that EVs and renewable energy are bad like conventional vehicles and fossil fuels, why would they oppose them, given that they are not seem concerned with these harms? After all, if a coal-fired plant does not bother a person, then an EV powered by that plant should not bother them either. If fossil fuel plants killing more birds than wind power does not bother them, why should wind turbines killing fewer birds bother them? If the harm to people from the fossil fuel industry does not concern them, why should this harm concern them when it comes to EVs and renewable energy? As such, the harm arguments they make would seem to be in bad faith—they do not seem to care about the harms. Given this, a reasonable explanation is that one motivating factor behind these criticisms (and the cartoons arising from them) is that it is an attempt by the fossil fuel industry to harm a competing industry through a propaganda campaign. This campaign does seem to be having some effect, if only in the proliferation of attacks on EVs and renewable energy on social media.



In a recent episode of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart called “BS on Trump and the GOP’s Performative Patriotism.”  In the usual Daily Show style, he made his case using an argument by example. His first set of video examples provided evidence that members of the GOP purport to love the Constitution. The second set of video examples show Trump explicitly rejecting Constitutional rights (such as the First Amendment) and accepted American principles. As Stewart provides the videos in context and there is an abundance of additional evidence available (one can simply go to Fox New’s website), his claims are well supported. In doing this, Stewart stands firmly with the ranks of liberals who claim Republicans don’t believe in the Constitution. It is also common for liberal critics to claim that the GOP does not have any principles beyond doing whatever it takes to claim and hold power. But are these fair claims?

One obvious epistemic problem with answering these questions is that I do not know what really goes on in the minds of Republicans (or anyone). Laying aside the philosophical problem of other minds, there is the practical problem of sorting out what a person believes based on what they say and do. Such an interpretation can always be wrong, especially when one is excessively biased. While I do have a negative view of Trump and his supporters, I will endeavor to follow the principle of charity and try to present them in the best possible light. But I am also constrained by the principle of plausibility: I will limit myself to what can be reasonably claimed.

As Stewart and others (such as Trump himself) have made an indisputable case, I must accept that 1) Trump and the GOP purport to love and follow the Constitution while 2) seeming to endorse principles and actions that violate the Constitution. The challenge is reconciling this apparent inconsistency in the most charitable and reasonable way possible.

There are certainly actual Republicans who match the caricature of the unprincipled opportunist who only cares about power and sees professing love of the Constitution as a useful rhetorical device. After all, Americans are conditioned to see the Constitution as good, and professing a love for it is easy rhetorical gain, which is analogous to how professing to believe in God is a useful persuasive technique. But it would be unfair to simply assume that all Republicans match this caricature. How, then, could someone both love the Constitution and support actions and principles that seem to violate it?

An easy and obvious answer is that all people can accept logically inconsistent claims as being true at the same time. For example, someone could sincerely believe in freedom of speech while also believing that speech they dislike should be silenced.  People can also believe claims while failing to act in ways consistent with those claims. For example, everyone seems to believe that exercise and a good diet are beneficial, but many people do not act on this professed belief. There is no reason to think that these general traits would not apply to beliefs about the Constitution—people sincerely praise what they think is good while also failing to act in ways that are consistent with this professed belief. While this is an appealing explanation and surely applies in many cases, it might seem a bit oversimplified. A more specific account, it might be said, is desirable.

One plausible explanation is that Republicans do love parts of the Constitution while rejecting others. Trump has made it clear what parts he dislikes—those that would interfere with what he wants to do. But he and other Republicans can honestly profess love for the parts that are advantageous. The Republicans profess to love their interpretation of the Second Amendment; this is so well known that it requires no explanation.

 This also ties into the matter of why Republicans tend to insist that America is a Constitutional Republic. They are obviously not wrong, but there is also more to it than just the obvious fact that the United States has a constitution and, at some levels, follows the republican model. While this view can be disputed, the Constitution contains key elements that intentionally allow for minority rule. While it can be debated, Trump has made it clear that he believes that “Republicans would ‘never’ be elected again if it was easier to vote.” The Republicans have also noticed that George Bush was the last Republican president to win the popular vote (in 2004). Since then, the Republicans have lost the popular vote in every presidential election. Trump’s victory, which was a legitimate election, rested on the electoral college—something in the Constitution that the Republicans currently have cause to love. If the country abandoned the Electoral College in favor of the popular vote, then the Republicans would almost certainly lose presidential elections in the foreseeable future. This is not because most Americans really like the Democrats. It is that they dislike the Republicans and their policies. The electoral college, perhaps more as a matter of luck than brilliant strategy, favors the Republicans’ minority rule—hence, they have a good reason to love that part of the Constitution. If it favored the Democrats, one assumes they would be railing against it.

While the House of Representatives is linked to the size of the population it represents, the US Senate has two senators from each state. While there are various arguments in its favor, it provides disproportional political power. My home state of Maine has as many senators as the vastly more populous states of California, Texas, and Florida. In the past, this generally provided no special advantage for either party, but it has come to provide an advantage to the Republican party in that they can (at times) hold a majority in the Senate while representing a numerical minority of the population. This is one practical reason that the GOP has fought hard against D.C. and Puerto Rico becoming states: if these American citizens were granted representation to match their taxation, then they would probably elect Democrats to the House and Senate, and the Republicans would have a more challenging time maintaining minority rule. While it could be more of a matter of accident than brilliant political strategy, the current system provides an advantage to the Republicans. Hence, they have a good reason to love that part of the Constitution.

The part of the Constitution that created the Supreme Court is currently something Republicans have cause to love. Republicans now control the court, and its decisions have consistently moved outside of public opinion. Not surprisingly, these decisions and various revelations about corruption have caused public opinion of the court to reach an all time low. While some would argue that the court should operate beyond publican opinion, it does provide a powerful tool for minority rule, as shown by the recent ruling impacting abortion. At lower levels, there is an ongoing political struggle over appointing judges as they hold incredible power. For example, a ruling on gerrymandering and election maps can effectively determine the outcome of an election. As it stands, the Republicans hold the Supreme Court and this provides them with a huge advantage in maintaining their minority rule and ensuring that their minority views are used to interpret laws.

While the above makes sense and shows that the Republicans are clever strategists, it might be objected that this simply assumes that their love is conditional: they love parts of the Constitution that happen to benefit them now. But surely, they love the Constitution in general, and the apparent inconsistencies can be dissolved.

Consider the First Amendment. Republicans profess to love it and refer to it when they attack cancel culture and argue in favor of free expression on campuses for right-wing speakers. However, these same people, such as Trump and DeSantis, speak out and act against the rights protected by this amendment. Trump is famously hostile to the press, and DeSantis has led the Florida Legislature in an impressive crusade against free expression. It is thus tempting to accuse them of being hypocrites by professing values they fail to follow. But I think this isn’t very accurate—they need not be hypocrites.

In accusing Trump and his fellows of being hypocrites, people usually assume that they are professing to endorse a principle of (in this example) free speech for everyone on all subjects. That is, the critics think that Trump and others are professing to accept the same principle of free speech that most critics (think they) accept. But this is a mistake—while they do accept a principle of free speech, it is a different principle than that one.

On their principles, free speech is a right only certain people expressing themselves on certain subjects should have. To illustrate, a right-wing speaker who wants to go to a college campus to speak about the threat they think transpeople pose is seen as having the right to express themselves. In contrast, a law regulating what content is allowed in the General Education courses in Florida and seeming to mandate compelled ideological expression by faculty is acceptable and not seen as restricting speech. But you might be thinking, isn’t this just hypocritical?

While it might seem that way, it need not be the case. This is because we all accept that there are (sticking to this example) limits on who has freedom of expression and what is allowed by this freedom. The youth are routinely denied such freedom with the approval of the left and right, and people always claim that we should not be free to do things like yell “fire” in a crowded theater when there is no fire. While we disagree on who should have the freedom and what should be allowed, accepting restrictions need not make one a hypocrite. It is, however, fair to criticize people who are deceptive in professing a broad support of free expression while holding a very narrow principle. They can also be criticized for denying people the freedoms they should have.

A look at democracy might also help explain how a person can profess to love something while also loving a very limited version of that thing. While the United States is a democracy, the types of people allowed to vote have changed significantly. A white, male, slaveholder in the 1800s could tearfully and honestly profess a sincere love of democracy and argue at length about the right to vote and the consent of the governed. The idea that blacks, women, or people without property should be allowed to vote would be absurd to them. While they might be accused of being hypocrites, there is the obvious fact that we all think certain people should be excluded from voting. For example, we don’t think that citizens of Maine should vote in Florida’s elections. Most people also think that people under 18 should not be allowed to vote. While it can be reasonable to argue that democracy should be expanded, it does not follow that a person with a more limited conception of democracy does not love democracy or is a hypocrite. For example, if you think that 16-year-old people should not be allowed to vote, does this make you a hypocrite?

As such, some Republicans could love the Constitution while also thinking that the rights and protections should not be applied to everyone—this would put them well within American tradition. I would argue that they are wrong to do this; but this is different from arguing that they do not love the Constitution. They can love it while thinking it isn’t for everyone.