Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Why Wokeism Is A Religion

By Michael Shellenberger

Introducing the Taxonomy of Woke Religion

Over the last year, a growing number of progressives and liberals have pointed to police killings of unarmed black men, rising carbon emissions and extreme weather events, and the killing of trans people as proof that the United States has failed to take action on racism, climate change, and transphobia. Others have pointed to the war on drugs, the criminalization of homelessness, and mass incarceration as evidence that little has changed in the U.S. over the last 30 years.

And yet, on each of those issues, the U.S. has made significant progress. Police killings of African Americans in our 58 largest cities declined from 217 per year in the 1970s to 157 per year in the 2010s. Between 2011 and 2020, carbon emissions declined 14 percent in the U.S., more than in any other nation, while just 300 people died from natural disasters, a more than 90 percent decline over the past century. Public acceptance of trans people is higher than ever. The total US prison and jail population peaked in 2008 and has declined significantly ever since. Just 4 percent of state prisoners, who are 87 percent of the total prison population, are in for nonviolent drug possession; just 14 percent are in for any nonviolent drug offense. And many large cities including Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle have effectively decriminalized public camping by homeless people.

Progressives respond that these gains obscure broad inequalities, and are under threat. Black Americans are killed at between two to three times the rate of white Americans, according to a Washington Post analysis of police killings between 2015 and 2020. Carbon emissions are once again rising as the U.S. emerges from the covid pandemic, and scientists believe global warming is contributing to extreme weather events. In 2020, Human Rights Campaign found that at least 44 transgender and non-gender conforming people were killed, which is the most since it started tracking fatalities in 2013, and already that number has reached 45 this year. Drug prohibition remains in effect, homeless people are still being arrested, and the U.S. continues to have one of the highest rates of incarceration in the world.

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