From my perspective and to paraphrase Billie Holiday, we’ve been woke so long, that woke don’t worry me. Yes, woke is intolerant, venomous, sanctimonious, coercive, pitiless to those who question its callow, baiting tenets, but I could say the same about puritanism, pietistic political parties, parts of the literary community, and my in-laws, none of whom has succeeded in changing my sense of life or my values for very long. Because I always believed that once others came to their senses such virulent societal afflictions would eventually reduce themselves to becoming no more troublesome than influenza, I try not to pay them much more than a passing interest. Yet given the soaring degrees of perplexity around woke’s present prevalence, others don’t see it that way. They should, and here is why.
As with the aforementioned afflictions, woke won’t change the long-term direction that society moves. It is far too limited, self-obsessed, and unattractive to sustain itself in the open much beyond this bloom it presently enjoys. I know, it has been around a while, this latest protuberance a mushrooming flower of a larger, sinister fungus existent beneath the visible landscape of mankind’s estate (revolutionary Marxism as promulgated by the Frankfurt School). But consider this moldy metaphor; it is well-chosen. Underground, amorphous and almost alien, this ideology feeds on dead matter and yet procreates, as most living things must, by exposing itself in the open. Needing to promote itself to disseminate, the prolonged exposure causes it to wilt quickly because it is vulnerable to light and scrutiny.
Like myself, those who attended university in the early 1980s were exposed to these views (the latest iteration of Plato’s denial that humans can know truth) via some exotic sounding French intellectuals who were popular at the time and whose criticism of western society and gauche self-promotion gave them a credibility beyond their worth: Foucault, (all aspects of society are driven by a power dynamic) who would be posthumously outed as a pedophile after dying of AIDS in the 1984; Derrida (deconstruct something to understand it) disappeared into obscurity shortly after; and, Barthes (logic ends in a dead end) who was mostly influential among an increasingly esoteric world of abstruse literary criticism. While their oblique (I am being kind, they were unreadable) thoughts seemed beguiling to gullible, conceited tutorial students who wished to sound more enlightened than their peers and teachers, in the end it all proved no more than a fashion—the essential nihilism taking us nowhere—and was soon forgotten by those looking to get on.
Yet here it all is again, repackaged for consumption by the masses as political correctness—an oxymoron if ever there was one—on steroids, manifesting itself within institutions that should have long ago gained immunity from such viruses. Much has been made of Rudi Deutchske’s prediction of “the long march through the institutions” to indicate the intentions of this neo new-left’s efforts to destroy bourgeois society and to understand it in the context of Marxist revolutionary movements. If there is any truth to this then it is a dangerous movement warranting attention.
But then if wokeism really is part of history’s pre-determined direction as posited by these charlatans, why worry about it?
Outside of two decrepit, despotic, ancient eastern empires, the failed states on their boundaries, or client banana republics in Latin America, Marxism has failed to take root in any nation state. It has certainly never usurped a bourgeois society (without the aid of Soviet tanks, anyway) nor made a mark in a national election. Other than in some inner-city councils, student unions, and the upper echelons of trade unions, Marxism has not gained power anywhere where it can be exercised with any influence. Of course, it is very prevalent in academia, where it now appears to be influencing students requiring less qualification for entry in what is being served up as education, but it was ever thus.
Those institutions where the march has made it through are weak and sickened by underlying morbidities. Academia, inner-city councils, trades unions, quango-led trusts, moribund political parties, established churches, state-financed media outlets, all suffer the same affliction—their leadership’s overriding philosophy does not reflect those they purportedly serve. This is a part-problem, the weak part. The sickening underlying morbidity part is that the institutions’ influence and relevance has so diminished that they no longer serve a useful function. Academic knowledge and understanding, particularly in the humanities and social sciences, can be gleaned elsewhere; city government, despite the election of mayors, functions within limited boundaries; the rest, though enjoying access to people through media, mostly espouse elitist liberal views to display virtues that lack substance or support. How many rank and file members of the two major political parties on either side of the Atlantic take comfort in seeing their leaders “take a knee” in support of eradicating racism? Surely, eliminating anti-Semitic sentiments or the increasing hatred of the white male patriarchy within their own parties would align more closely with their supporters’ beliefs? But an elite that by definition believes itself superior to its supporters is never likely to adopt such a bottom-up posture until its very existence is threatened. For now, don’t expect such weak institutions to reform.
And if they do not reform and they sicken further, or die, what then of woke? To propagate, woke will need to find new institutions to infect and, like a disease spreading through a population, settle on stronger victims than the first time round. Provided those victims are healthy and avoid the mistakes made by the first-fallen unfortunates, woke will lose its virulence. Institutions yet to be weakened can learn from what has come before; they can strengthen themselves from the infection; reconsider their value to their supporters. They can listen to their supporters, all of them, and not just the noisy ones, while remaining open to woke sentiments. Girding themselves from the apparent onslaught by pulling up the bridge is not necessarily the best approach.
Taking on poison regardless of the dose (goes the analogy) does not make you healthy; it poisons you. But if we view woke not as a corrosive poison but a virus, perhaps immunity can be gained by adopting some of what they say. The first wave of woke came in the form of an insistence to adopt politically-correct language. Much of this was absurd and fully-deserving of the ridicule it received; but it made us stop and think—was the language already adopted through surrounding channels harmful to others without my knowing? Whether or not the answer was yes, we thought about it, which is never a bad thing. Oddly, it also weakened woke by forcing it to become more aggressive, more outlandish. Maybe some of us did wonder whether we were holding racist views, but surely few of us lost sleep worrying whether we were white supremacist? And as for terms like man-hours, now that more women are in the workforce actually doing the hours these are no longer just inappropriate, they are inaccurate and so adjustment is correct. But does their continued usage indicate an adherence to a philosophy of misogynistic male-patriarchy, or just an indifference born of a new found immunity?