If I’m going to be anti-woke – by which is meant, presumably, that I’m going to remain asleep – I suppose I should get clear about what Wokeism is. Pluckrose and Lindsay define it as reified post-modernism. That gets us some of the distance, but not much. Not much because post-modernism might be more obscure than Wokeism. Besides, such are the perils of essentialism in definitions that if some sub-ism, say anti-racism, does not strictly arise from post-modernism, then it can’t count as a wokeism. And yet it does.
So I prefer the more nominalist approach. By Wokeism I mean a specifiable set of doctrines, held together by nothing more than their membership in the set of wokeisms. I say this for the same reason pro-choice and abolishing the death penalty belong to the left, notwithstanding one would be hard-pressed to find the moral premise – surely not sanctity of life! – common to both. What’s to the right? Less government and criminalising abortion, notwithstanding the one belies the other. As Einstein probably did not put it, “Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.”
So let contempt for consistency be first on our list of Wokeism’s dogmas, the one Pluckrose and Lindsay are on about. Post-modernism is the rejection of modernism’s ‘grand narratives’, including, most notably, the narrative that narratives need conform to the rules of logic. By which they do not deny there can be narratives demanding conformity to the rules of logic. Such narratives just can’t on that account be privileged.
For example, suppose you say p and not-p, and I say that makes no sense. Post-modernism allows you to say, “Perhaps not according to your rules, but …” And what this means is that our views, if we disagree, are simply incommensurable. And because they’re incommensurable, we’re not so much disagreeing about the facts of any matter. We’re just not speaking the same language. And since truth, according to post-modernism, is a property of language rather than states of affairs, it makes perfect sense to say we can each have our own truth. This is because x-is-true is not a well-formed formula. It requires a for-whom.
Now let’s see why the interpretation of Wokeism as reified post-modernism can’t be right. It can’t be right because if it were then nothing could count as being unwoke. Even to insist there’s a fact of the matter, dammit, about this or about that, is just one narrative among many. So if no narrative is privileged, neither is Wokeism. And if Wokeism is to distinguish itself, that it’s just one narrative among many just won’t do. To have any content, Wokeism must be reducible to a set of substantive claims that are at odds, commensurably at odds, with claims that are unwoke. And contrary to post-modernism, those woke claims must be privileged. Quod erat demonstrandum.
Okay, so what are some of those claims? One of them can’t be that the distribution of the liberal and material dividends of civil society – jobs, wealth, respect – are a function of power. Because that’s just banal. So it must be that the distribution between dominant and subaltern is by group membership. Men over women. Whites over Blacks. Cis-gendered over Alphabet. And so on.
Now it’s certainly true that some people deny even these generalisations. But even to accept them, as most of us do, doesn’t make one woke. One could take the view – indeed millions have – that these -isms are fully justified. Wives should be obedient to their husbands. Whites are superior to Blacks. And so on. But even to oppose this nonsense, as most of us do, doesn’t make one woke. Anti-racists have been with us for centuries, feminists for almost as long. So Wokeism has to add something.
A greater commitment to right these wrongs? Brought on by the killing of George Floyd (BLM) in the U.S. and the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) in Canada? But though one can’t be woke without acknowledging that Black Lives Matter, or buying the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), neither is enough to make one woke. To be woke, BLM and the TRC have to enter one’s canon of convictions because of something deeper. So what might that something be?
My conjecture, which I’m appropriating from John McWhorter, is that Wokeism is a religion. But more than that, it’s an Abrahamic religion, in that its appeal hangs on the dual virtues of suffering and penance. To explain:
Not all sufferers are victims. But all victims require a victimiser. To be sure we’re all victims. But to paraphrase George Orwell, some victims are more victims than others. And to be sure, albeit less sure, we’re all victimisers. But some victimisers are more victimisers than others.
One can’t be a victim without a victimiser. Nor a victimiser without a victim. But as a victimiser, identifying my particular victim isn’t always that easy. Nor as a victim is identifying my particular victimiser. So instead as a victim I identify with a class of victims, and I identify a class of victimisers. And as a victimiser I identity with a class of victimisers, and I identify a class of our victims. As a victim I suffer, even if only as a member of my class of victims. And as a victimiser I need to do penance, even if only as a member of my class of victimisers. Suffering and penance. Vicarious suffering and penance. Not unlike the Shingrix commercial for shingles, religion doesn’t care.
Now let’s put names to faces. My grandparents left the Pale in 1905, but if they hadn’t they’d have been murdered by the Nazis in 1941. What Wokeism demands of me is that I suffered, albeit vicariously, as a Jew at the hands of the Nazis. And, as a Jew, that I participated, albeit vicariously, in the massacres at Sabra and Shatila. Victim and victimiser. Suffering and penance.
To be fair, many Wokesters don’t think of themselves primarily as victims or victimisers, but rather as allies of those who consider themselves victims. So though I neither suffered from the Indian Residential School program, nor participated in it in any way, were I woke I’d have to be an ally of those who consider themselves victims of that program. So to be woke one is either a victim, and/or an ally of a victim, and/or a victimiser doing penance. One could, in principle I suppose, be an ally of a victimiser doing penance, though I’m not sure I know anyone like that.
McWhorter calls Wokeism a religion – and so do I – because religion is, as Wittgenstein called it, a cluster concept. It has, as we’ve seen, a set of unassailable dogmas. It has its virtue signalling rituals. See my blog entry entitled “The Dean’s Letter”. It has its scripture, e.g. DiAngelo’s White Fragility. Its prohibited speech. Blacks can’t be racists. It’s compelled speech. The EDI commitment required of any job applicant. It’s compelled attendance. Mandatory EDI, anti-racist, and sexual misconduct training. And indeed much of this is new. But there’s also something else that’s new. And that is …
On the one hand, intersectionality is just the duh observation that each of us is an intersection of any number of properties, such that our interactions with others is a function of that interplay between our intersection of properties and the intersection of properties of the other. On the other hand, analysing that interplay with reference entirely to these identities, that’s something uniquely woke. To see how this works – and more particularly how it doesn’t – let’s take a closer look at intersectionality.
By Wokeism’s identity politics is meant that each of us claims to self-identify as male or female, black or white, cis-gendered or Alphabet, and so on. By this I don’t mean – and certainly neither do the woke – that these are bivalent categories. Even to suggest that we’re each on the spectrum is to reify the poles on these spectra. That anyone is either a this or a that is no part of woke ideology. But neither has it ever been part of unwoke ideology. We’ve always known that there are hermaphrodites and mulattos. Moreover we’ve always known that a Black woman is treated differently than a Black man, a gay black man differently than a straight black man by a white lesbian. And so on. We even studied these differential treatments.
But Wokeism, being sensitive to each person’s unique ‘lived experience’, has expanded the number of cuts so that categorisation can no longer serve any predictive or diagnostic purpose. To see this, let a be the number of cuts – male/female, black/white, cis/Alphabet. So 1 cut produces 2 identities, 2 produces 4, 3 gives us 8, and so on. Between 2 identities, a and b, there are 2 relations, ab and ba. But between 3 there are 6: ab, ba, ac, ca, bc and cb. Between 4 there are 12, and so on. So whereas cuts increase arithmetically, relata increase geometrically.
Imagine, then, the number of relata to be studied when the number of cuts run into the hundreds. Urban versus rural. Ambulatory versus not. Obese versus merely fat. Bald versus hirsuite. Left-handed versus right. Republican versus Democrat. Catholic versus Protestant. Can roll her tongue versus can’t. In short order, the number of dominant/subaltern relationships will far exceed the number of individuals whose relations are being analysed. And shortly after that, the set of legal moves in all possible chess games.
The Wokester can try to escape this embarrassment by confining herself to properties she believes are dominant/subaltern relevant. But she can’t do that. She can’t do that because her measure of relevance – a.k.a. her theory of social causation – is given by asymmetry of outcome. So if the average income of people who can roll their tongue is $1000 more than those who can’t, then clearly the latter are being systemically discriminated against. But that being the case, there’s no property that’s not being systemically discriminated against.
This is not to say that unwoke social scientists don’t have a way of honing those properties that are relevant to social outcomes. They do. But the Wokester doesn’t. She doesn’t because if she dismisses the grievance from the non-tongue roller she will be accused, and rightly so, of tonguerollerism, a grievance which is as likely to become actionable as the latest two entries into ‘analogous grounds’: lookism and sanism.
Am I suggesting that lookism, sanism, and tonguerollerism are not to be considered analogous grounds? Were I to do so, on what grounds? Equality of outcome would be a faint hope. So no, we admit and dismiss on political grounds. Wokeism just happens to be the latest political movement that’s shifted the equilibrium of complaint from these people over to those.
From whom to whom? Well, from feminists to trans women. From even self-deprecatory humour, like Ari Shaffir’s Jew, to “That’s not funny!” and neither is anything else. From education to coddling. From heterodoxy to orthodoxy. From yeah-consent-is-messy to to-be-safe-better-have-no-sex-at-all. From truth to reconciliation. From what would reconcile to what now can only breed backlash. And so on.
So what is Wokeism? It’s a religion, with all the solace and hope that religion can bring. But unlike, say, Christianity light, it’s Inquisitional. The Nazis rid the professions of Jews. Pol Pot shot all the intellectuals. The woke are ridding the universities of their critics. All three in the name of making a better world. And in their eyes, that’s what they were doing. ‘Tis always thus. One’s road to paradise is another’s to perdition. Both are paved with the very best of intentions.
Categories: Everything You Wanted to Know About What's Going On in the World But Were Afraid to Ask, Why My Colleagues Are Idiots
I have a concern about all “isms”, eg., such as capitalism or socialism or feminism or wokeism. They all mean different things to different people, and so, are very difficult to define with any clarity. Using these broad brush labels is a substitute for saying what we are praising or blaming by first thinking carefully. Instead it is adopting a convenient way of communicating with an -ism that is just a Rorschach test with a label.
A recent survey showed that about half of American college students are in favour of “socialism”. If you asked them what they mean by socialism and why they are in favour of it you would probably get many widely different incoherent answers. I suspect wokeism would be the same.
Viminitz, you know I’ve been working on the religious aspects of Woke. But my hypotheses are too cumbersome for a comment. Hence, I offer the following:
1) DeBoer, Freddie. “Of course you know what woke means: I’d rather use any other term at this point, but can we get real please?” Substack, Mar 15, https://freddiedeboer.substack.com/p/of-course-you-know-what-woke-means, accessed March 26, 2023.
2)Reilly, Wilfred. “How to Define Woke,” National Review, Politics and Policy, March 19, 2023,https://www.nationalreview.com/2023/03/how-to-define-woke/?utm_source=substack&utm_medium=email, accessed March 26, 2023.
3) I was referred to the Reilly article above from a ‘Weekly Roundup’ of articles (newsletter) via a Substack I subscribe to: FAIR: Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism. (John McWhorter is on the Board of Advisors): https://fairforall.substack.com/p/weekly-roundup-cfa?utm_source=substack&utm_medium=email
4) John McWhorter. “Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America,” https://www.amazon.ca/Woke-Racism-Religion-Betrayed-America/dp/0593423062
5) John McWhorter. “Understanding the new politics of race,” The Equiano Project, January 27, 2023, accessed March 26, 2023.
“It [woke] must be stopped.”
Maher, Bill. “New Rule: A Woke Revolution,” Real Time with Bill Maher (HBO), You Tube, Feb 3, 2023, accessed March 27, 2023.
1) The Guide to Allyship: https://guidetoallyship.com
The Guide states that “to be an ally is to 1) Take on the struggle as your own; 2) Transfer the benefits of your privilege to those who lack it; 3) Amplify voices of the oppressed before your own; 4) Acknowledge that even though you feel the pain, the conversation is not about you; 5) Stand up, even when you feel scared; 6) Own your mistakes, and de-center yourself; 7) Understand that your education is up to you and no one else.”
Notwithstanding a few popular Bible passages can provide quick examples, I want to do a careful job researching parallels in Christian scripture for each of these seven criteria.
However, I have a question regarding (7) How does “your education is up to you and no one else” jibe with mandatory diversity/anti-oppression/ anti-racism training? Can one be an ally if she is coerced?
2) By claiming Woke is an Abrahamic religion, it is not to say something like Woke = Anglican any more than it is to say Anglican = Jehovah’s Witnesses. Rather it’s to observe what is shared by each that make them all a part of the Abrahamic tradition.
Hence, the usefulness of an Abrahamic template to see if-and-if-so-which relevant similarities stand out. And to that end, I have a ready-made example. Here is an EDI/Christian template from Trinity Western University (TWU) in BC. :
“Practicing Christian Hospitality,” https://www.twu.ca/about/core-values/practising-christian-hospitality
Christian hospitality welcomes, genuinely includes and consistently cares for all individuals. Christ taught and modeled hospitality to all, including those on the margins, as an essential element of Christian faith and practice. Hospitality is vital to our life in the Trinity Western University community and to our life in, and witness to, other communities.
Our identity is in Christ, and our primary purpose is to serve and love Christ. He is faithfully present to us, and we are to be faithfully present to others, whom we regard as more important than ourselves. Individually and collectively we are called to bear witness to Christ’s love to advocate for the dignity of all human beings, and to avoid any form of derogation or condescension. We must do so in our conduct, in the institutions we establish, and in the processes we follow. These are faith imperatives; they are not options (Proverbs 31:8-9; Isa 1:17; Gal 3:26-29; Eph 4:25-32; Col 3:5-15; Jas 2:1-9, 3:1-13).
EQUITY, DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION1
Practising Christian hospitality undergirds and promotes equity, diversity and inclusion.
Equity is founded in our being created in the image of God; every human being has inherent dignity and worth (Gen 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Col 1:15).
Diversity is inherent in God’s creation; it is good (Gen 1:11-12, 21-25).
Inclusion is essential to the body of Christ; we are diverse and interdependent (1 Cor 12:12-31; Isa 56:3-8).
Conclusion. Canadian society promotes the ideas of equity, diversity and inclusion. This is good. As an institution rooted in the Scriptures, Trinity Western University is able to identify a distinct foundation for these ideas. As a community of Christ-followers, we desire to be faithful in the practice of Christian hospitality.
 We believe that our use of the phrase “equity, diversity and inclusion” is consistent with the principles set out by Universities Canada in the “Inclusive Excellence Principles” to which all members of UC are committed. (See: https://www.univcan.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/equity-diversity-inclusion-principles-universities-canada-oct-2017.pdf)
New article by James Lindsay: “Wokeness and the Structure of Cults,” New Discourses, March 22, 2023, https://newdiscourses.com/2023/03/wokeness-and-the-structure-of-cults/
Another recent article (yesterday, March 29/2023) by James Lindsay, “The Workings of the Woke Cult,” https://newdiscourses.com/2023/03/workings-of-the-woke-cult/
I’ve only just skimmed this article so far. And I’ve only recently begun following New Discourses: https://newdiscourses.com
I see another article on New Discourses, June 6/2020, entitled, “The Cult Dynamics of Wokeness,” https://newdiscourses.com/2020/06/cult-dynamics-wokeness/
I haven’t even skimmed this article, but I include it here as part of the series for interested people. And as record of my own researches.
Coleman Hughes, “The Religion of AntiRacism with John McWhorter,” You Tube, Nov 26, 2021,