How I Changed My Mind on Woke
From Woke to
I have to confess that I’ve often rolled my eyes when someone has decried“Woke” culture.
I’ve shaken my head when conservatives have complained about the “Great Awokening,” warned about a progressive terrorist organization called “Wokoharam,” and repeated the aphorism “Go Woke Go Broke.”
In the past, I’ve been concerned that disparaging wokeness has meant disparaging legitimate concerns about injustice. Whether it is police brutality, racial inequalities, sexual violence, the legacies of slavery and colonialism, these are things that I have reflexive and righteous feelings about. Things that should not be dismissed as “wokeness”!
I believe “woke” does have a legitimate historical meaning of being “awake” to injustice against minorities, especially racial minorities and women. Used in that sense, “woke” is a good thing. Plus, as I’ve said before, I do believe in the Social Gospel of Jesus! As a result, I’ve even been derided for my so-called wokism once or twice.
But based on what I’ve read and studied more recently, I think wokeness and social justice are truly different things and wokeness is divisive and destructive.
What has led me to this epiphany is not watching Fox News, or listening to right-wing pundits on you.tube. Rather, it’s been reading largely left-wing secular critiques of wokeness. Books like these:
Paul Embery, Despised: Why the Modern Left Loathes the Working Class.
Richard Hanania, The Origins of Woke: Civil Rights Law, Corporate America, and the Triumph of Identity Politics.
Yascha Mounk, The Identity Trap: A Story of Ideas and Power in Our Time.
Freddie deBoer, How Elites Ate the Social Justice Movement.
What is Woke?
I think wokeness is the idea that all disparities are based on inequalities, and these inequalities must be rectified by coercive measures.
So, a Lesbian who refuses to have sex with trans-women, that’s the “cotton ceiling” that must be shattered. Or consider Vicky Osterweil’s book In Defense of Looting, which finds a way to combine anti-Semitism and anti-Asian prejudice by defending the looting of Korean business on the grounds that Koreans are the new Jews, the new face of capital. If you are confused by this, remember, being anti-Lesbian and anti-Asian makes sense if you neatly divide everyone into the categories of “oppressor” and “oppressed”. It makes sense if your goal is precisely to inflame identitarian rivalries that accent division and discord in order to create a new hierarchy of identities.
The woke solution to perceived inequalities is (1) a public and performative outrage that trades in emotionalism rather than argumentation; (2) to obliterate the distinction between public and private life (so yes, your boss can sack you for that Facebook post, for the religion you belong to, what political party you support, and who your parents are); (3) a repressive HR bureaucracy acting with the ethos of the East German Stasi to indoctrinate and implement its grievance-based rules of play; and (4) The creation of new inequalities to atone for the old ones.
In addition, wokeness applies academic categories of deconstruction, post-colonialism, and intersectionality to every aspect of life, from personal pronouns, to the food you eat, to what you wear, to your friendship circle, to the movies you watch. Every aspect of your life is political so there is no separation of your private and public life. Every aspect of your life is up for investigation and judgment. That is why wokeness is not good for a pluralistic and civil society.
So “woke” is not just a misguided or juvenile version of social justice, it is a different species of thought, it is a hierarchy of identities with an illiberal ethos. It pursues a kind of perpetual war of identities with no prospect of a redemptive moment for healing or progress.
If wokeness was merely activism about injustice, it would be fine. If wokeness was just about ending racism, misogyny, and homophobia, that’d be great too. But wokeness, for all its purported concern for inequalities, results in illiberal perspectives on freedom of association and speech, it does nothing to bring people together despite their differences, and it gives political capital to white upper-middle class progressives who are the chief beneficiaries of the revolution they want to set loose.
Let me add too that wokeness is NOT cultural Marxism, I can prove it.
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