By Keith Preston, Dean Phoenix, Eric Pierce, Joe Corbett, and Ryan England, with additional insights, ideas, debate, or counterarguments offered by Adil Sarker, Muhedin Hodzic, Nicky Reid, Aiden P. Gregg, Ze Zakre-Koeur, EG Smith, Kristoffer O’D Donnellan, Christopher Maxwell, Christopher Warren, and Summer Scott.
January 12, 2023
The core ideas associated with the “woke” viewpoint appear to be the following:
1) racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of traditional out-group enmity or invidiousness are the ultimate evils;
2) animals and plants possess something approximating the same intrinsic moral worth as humans in a way that essentially constitutes a modern animism or pantheism;
3) a range of economic viewpoints from neoliberalism to social democracy to neo-Marxism to quasi-socialist, utopian socialist, communal or cooperative economics;
4) “health” and “safety” are overriding principles to which other values must be subordinated;
5) reason and science must be subordinated to the principles of “social justice”;
6) traditional civil liberties derived from Enlightenment liberalism, such as due process and freedom of speech, religion, and the press, must be similarly subordinated;
7) technocracy, managerialism, the cult of the expert, and “educationism”;
8) the deification of “progress” in a universalist context;
9) democratism (the deification of the state as a manifestation of some mystical “general will’);
10) the myth of some metaphysical social contract rooted in the theories of Hobbes, Locke, and/or Rousseau;
11) the distribution of social status based on the consumerist ethos;
12) pop psychology (e.g., “the personal is political” or “getting in touch with your inner child”);
13) human perfectibility (e.g., the “human potential” movement and transhumanism);
14) the duty of all institutions to uphold all or most of the values mentioned above;
15) the subordination of civil society and non-state institutions to the state to enforce “social justice” principles;
16) the subordination of local political units to a central authority for the same purpose;
17) the pursuit of global governance to enforce ecological, “social justice,” and “human rights” values.
To be sure, not all individuals who could reasonably be identified as “woke” hold to every one of the principles mentioned above, but a good “rule of thumb” is that most “woke” people, regardless of their specific political affiliation, will typically hold to at least a majority and often a supermajority of these values. Elements of woke also transcend most conventional ideologies, whether neoconservative, neoliberal, reform liberal, social democratic, neo-Marxist, socialist, libertarian, Green, or anarchist. The far right end of “woke” might be represented by someone like the late Trotskyite-turned-neocon Christopher Hitchens, who wanted to bomb Afghanistan “out of the Stone Age,” while Antifa rioters or SJWs shouting down conservative speakers on college campuses may be the far left end.
The actual term “woke” has supposedly existed in black vernacular for something like 100 years. Recently it mutated into an insult about the excesses of radical/extremist multiculturalism, postmodern relativism, and identity politics. As others have pointed out previously, “wokeness” is yet another fake religion, rehashed Christianity, although one that would be considered heretical by many traditional Christians. “Wokeness” has also mutated into a mask that corrupt corporations and politicians hide behind. A Marxist interpretation of “wokism” would define and confine the term woke to its more specific cultural identity references and the valorization of those identities over all others, especially concerning class identity, since woke is, in fact, a kind of false consciousness ideology of the ruling classes to distract from class consciousness.
“Wokism” is a view of the world that holds a certain idealism about what humans are and sees humans as having identities that are “pliable” and not fixed to the actual physicalities of our actual biological state or the material realities of our existence. While gender dysphoria may be something a person experiences and is a part of their personality structure, transgender ideology itself is essentially a denial that our sex is encoded at a very high genetic level. Because gender ideologists assert that gender identity is malleable and changeable at a whim and try to draw a line between sex and gender. For instance, modern economic leftism sees all of us as oppressed potential rocket scientists and astronauts. Because the post-modern left (it is necessary to distinguish between the “woke” and old-school leftism here as the latter are more grounded) believe in ideas such as post-scarcity.
So, in summary, “wokism” is something the nouveau left propagate, and it’s fundamentally a form of idealism that views everything as being pliable and up for negotiation (and throws out the facts of the matter and the practical consequences to uphold this view). “Wokism” is basically what Thomas Sowell calls the “unconstrained vision,” as illustrated by Trotsky’s quote: “The forms of life will become dynamically dramatic. The average human type will rise to the heights of an Aristotle, a Goethe, or a Marx.” One of the fundamental points leftists (in the vein of the Trotsky quote) try to dispute is IQ distribution but also the distribution of physical prowess and similar attributes. So, all this modern nouveau identity leftism is, is the old-fashioned “tabula rasa” doctrine repackaged into a package emphasizing “physicality” and material nature. The latest rendition of the idea of human perfectibility which came from the Enlightenment through thinkers like Rousseau or Locke’s “tabula rasa” concept.
To some degree, “wokism” represents a personality type or state of mind as much as an ideology or beliefs. For instance, there are conflicting “woke” perspectives like health nazis vs. fat positives, anti-Islamophobia vs. feminism and LGBTQism, trans vs. TERFs, sex positives vs. SWERFs, open borders vs. neo-Malthusianism, humanitarian hawks vs. Third Worldists, compulsory integration vs. black separatism, and the range of political and economic ideologies previously mentioned. There is also the matter of class bias. Some “woke” people consider themselves superior to others because they are more educated or originate from a higher socioeconomic level than the “deplorables” (e.g., “rednecks,” lower-middle-class whites with conservative political leanings, uneducated religious fundamentalists, etc.). Although this conflicts with other “woke” strands, such as those that glorify poverty (“degrowth”) or those who blame everything on rich people (who are usually characterized as “straight white males”). “Woke” is like the church in the sense of having multiple denominations and sometimes conflicting views.
The problematic aspects of “woke” are as much psychological and a matter of personality types as actual beliefs. Of the beliefs, values, and attitudes listed in the above description, some may be generally good, some may be generally bad, and some may be either one depending on the application. And some predate the rise of “wokism” and have been incorporated into the ideological superstructure of “woke.” It’s more the direction it gets taken in that is the problem. Jonathan Haidt’s explorations of the psychology of different ideologies also provide certain interesting insights into this phenomenon. Another recent psychological study points out the factors that are associated with “left-wing authoritarianism.” As the authors of the study describe their findings:
Authoritarianism has been the subject of scientific inquiry for nearly a century, yet the vast majority of authoritarianism research has focused on right-wing authoritarianism. In the present studies, we investigate the nature, structure, and nomological network of left-wing authoritarianism (LWA), a construct famously known as “the Loch Ness Monster” of political psychology. We iteratively construct a measure and data-driven conceptualization of LWA across six samples (N = 7,258) and conduct quantitative tests of LWA’s relations with more than 60 authoritarianism-related variables. We find that LWA, right-wing authoritarianism, and social dominance orientation reflect a shared constellation of personality traits, cognitive features, beliefs, and motivational values that might be considered the “heart” of authoritarianism. Relative to right-wing authoritarians, left-wing authoritarians were lower in dogmatism and cognitive rigidity, higher in negative emotionality, and expressed stronger support for a political system with substantial centralized state control. Our results also indicate that LWA powerfully predicts behavioral aggression and is strongly correlated with participation in political violence. We conclude that a movement away from exclusively right-wing conceptualizations of authoritarianism may be required to illuminate authoritarianism’s central features, conceptual breadth, and psychological appeal.
Other attributes of “wokism” might include:
Belief in one or more postmodern, postmaterialist, and broadly progressive strains of critical theory that include but are not necessarily limited to feminist theory, queer theory, critical race theory and intersectionality in a manner that, to varying degrees and consciously or unconsciously, is characterized by one or more of the following:
1 – Manichean. Meaning the world is viewed is being divided between pure good and pure evil, with no middle ground. In this case, the struggle is between those with marginalized and oppressed identities (good) and those with privileged identities (evil). There is no neutrality here.
2 – Pseudo-religious. Consciousness of the oppression faced by people with one or more “marginalized” identities is seen as conferring something akin to moral and spiritual grace, while those who question or deny claims to oppression by such people is a kind of moral taint or original sin. In more extreme forms of wokeness, all people who bear a privileged identity are automatically tainted, regardless of their beliefs.
3 – Faith based. Questioning the theory is indicative of holding on to latent racism, sexism, homophobia, or privilege. Wokeness either openly or implicitly rejects empiricism and reason alike as white male constructs, and demands that woke people “prove” their claims in an objective manner are indistinguishable from harboring bigoted values and “punching down.” Claims made by adherents to the anointed schools of liberationist thought are to be believed without question, and one’s willingness to do this is the measure of one’s belief in the inherent goodness and grace-conferring nature of marginalized identities, which is the first crucial step on the road to achieving social justice.
4 – Reductionist and Deterministic. No other factors besides whether or not one has “privileged” or “marginalized” identities matter in the evaluation of human affairs on any level. A white male accused of being racist or sexist is automatically guilty, since they can be nothing else in a society that is completely and utterly defined by nothing other than racism and sexism.
5 – Paranoid and Apocalyptic. People who don’t believe are not to be seen as simply having a different worldview. They are evil, and their only possible motivations are hatred of oppressed and marginalized people. This leads to an uncompromising, crusader-type mentality. You cannot countenance negotiation with the forces of oppression. Only total victory over them is good enough.
6 – Millenarian. This is an old religious term meaning belief in a coming transformation of society that is drastic and utterly total. Perfection is achievable, and nothing less will do. Incremental reform isn’t good enough. Only a total remaking of society from the ground up is acceptable. The inevitable failure of the movement to achieve its impossible goals is attributed to oppressive “istophobias” being even more pervasive than was previously thought. The doctrine can thus never be questioned for its lack of efficacy. The only thing that can be done is to double down.
It is clearly an outgrowth of Abrahamic religion, particularly Protestant pietism rooted in various Lutheran and Calvinist traditions, though secularized. The Radical Reformation was a huge influence also. It’s funny how few people grasp that both right and left in America are like angry, bitter, warring cousins who share a common ancestry. Note that the country’s strongest bastions of wokeness and political correctness exist in either puritan New England or other areas where some kind of strict Protestantism once held sway. Though they secularized, the puritan impulse never really died. It is possible to see much of today’s political and cultural landscape through a religious lens. Our culture has secularized only on a surface, superficial level. Scratch deeper, and we are deeply committed to rediscovering God, however unwilling we may be to admit this. A truly existentialist state, wherein higher meaning and purpose are seen as genuinely superfluous, is a hard place to get to for most people. Almost every strident atheist I know has simply latched themselves onto some other cause or narrative to devote themselves to. For a lot of these folks, it seems fairly similar to a religious conversion. An example would be white cops and civilians alike washing black protestors’ feet during the 2020 turbulence.
Another factor is that “wokism” is ultimately massively amplified and overrepresented by mass media, i.e., it’s a media phenomenon more than a physical phenomenon. If you look at Google search volume for “Am I transgender?” there is no evidence that people are more interested in this question now than they were ten years ago or even 20 years ago. Yes, there are a few significant spikes, but these spikes only comprise a few dozen searches out of millions and millions of daily search volumes.
Something which can suggest from the graph is that these things propagate in times of severe economic strife. Note, for instance, that the really sustained search volume in the chart only appears after 2008. Extremist ideologies start coming out of the woodwork whenever there is a period of economic crisis or decline. So we must question the sincerity of these movements and look at them as coping methods or ways for people to “legitimately” opt out of mainstream work and commerce perhaps. For instance, in the UK after 2008, there was an explosion of “disabilities.” No… people weren’t really ill. What was happening is that people were “self-diagnosing” with various issues so that they could claim disability benefits and opt out of the official labor pool. The government at the time didn’t necessarily object to this because it helped to suppress actual unemployment statistics.
Academia and mass media’s nearly monolithic embrace of “wokism” is one of the truly fascinating phenomena of our time. It comes down to the fact that totalizing and absolutist ideological systems are actually useful to those seeking to preserve the status quo. Because they must push back not merely against their natural enemies among the reactionaries but also against those who put forward alternative visions of what an egalitarian or libertarian society might look like. Rather like the medieval church or the Soviet Politbureau, The woke crowd knows that once the spigot is opened even just a bit, they are finished.
And that’s what the woke crowd is scared of. Their foundation is built upon perceived intellectual authority vs. their bigoted prejudiced view of the common man as uneducated and ignorant. So, what the woke crowd hates most is public intellectuals and professionals challenging them on their own turf. They saw what happened to the Catholic Church and the Soviet Politbureau, and they learned. You don’t relax, or you lose your hegemony. Mass media, for its part, had much to gain from embracing wokeness. As corporate institutions in a capitalist society, they have an obvious vested interest in suppressing popular frustration with alienation and inequality. But the classic conservative canards were not working with a newly emergent middle class of women and minorities. Wokeness served their needs perfectly.
Categories: Political Correctness/Totalitarian Humanism