A Field Guide to the Anti-Woke
my final word on the topic?
Ideally, this will be my last essay that includes the term “woke.” I am tired of the woke wars. I don’t think I have much to contribute.
The anti-Woke come across to me as like the blind men and the elephant. Each faction intuits a different aspect of Woke. Here is a list of the factions, some of the exemplars of the factions, and what they see.
Academic Lindsay and Pluckrose, Chris Rufo the book author (not the activist). Sees the Woke as a philosophical school that is Marxist and incoherent. Thinks that it is important to go after Foucault and the whole Critical Theory crowd.
Activist Richard Hanania, Chris Rufo the activist. Sees Woke as having achieved institutional power, based on distortions of the Civil Rights law and capture of the education system.* Thinks that it is important to use the government to break Woke institutions.
*On page 10 of The Origins of Woke, Hanania writes, “The government mandates came first, and the ideology later.” That strikes me as unpersuasive. I don’t see a legal mandate behind the trans movement, BLM, or students shouting down conservative speakers. Hanania’s book is reviewed by Brian Chau.
Black Glenn Loury, John McWhorter, Shelby Steele. Sees Woke as White Guilt. Thinks that it is important to understand that in America racism has declined to the point where it can no longer be the chief cause of black-white gaps in education and crime.
Left Wing Ruy Texeira, Freddie DeBoer. Sees Woke as taking the Democratic Party in the wrong direction. Thinks that it is important to focus on economic inequality, not the race-gender agenda.
Non-religious Eric Kaufmann, John McWhorter. Kaufmann writes, “Wokeness is about making historically marginalized groups sacred.” Sees Woke as invading the space being vacated by Christianity. Thinks it is important to regard Wokeness as a dogma.
Old Liberal Jonathan Haidt, Yascha Mounk, Jonathan Rauch. Sees Woke as too intolerant, especially on free speech. Thinks that it is important to stand up for old-fashioned liberal values while avowing that conservatives are eewww and Donald Trump is a much bigger threat to liberal values.
Psychological Jordan Peterson, Rob Henderson. Recently, Chris Rufo appears to have joined this group. Sees Woke as a pathology. Thinks that it is important to remember the validity of normal common sense.
Status game Brian Chau, Erik Torenberg, me. Sees Woke as a weapon used to change the rules of status competition so that different people win. Worries that intellectual life is being taken over and ruined by Midwits.
Trans-exclusionary Heather Heying, Andrew Sullivan. Sees Woke as a setback to feminism and to gay rights. Thinks it is important to recognize that gender is binary, that men are different from women, and that gay is different from gender-fluid.
I have a couple of thoughts. First, the variety of anti-Woke perspectives suggests to me that there is no one simple causal factor at work. Nor is there a simple solution. As a society, we do not have a consensus answer to some important questions.
How we should react to differences in average outcomes by race?
What should be the configuration of male and female roles?
With regard to sexual conduct, when and how should people make an issue of the conduct of others?
If you think you have irrefutable answers to these questions, then great for you. But that does not settle the issues for everyone.
My second thought is that all of the anti-Woke perspectives are all quite uncharitable. They do not treat Woke as a coherent set of ideas that one can comfortably hold intellectually. Instead, Woke is interpreted as a psychological, social, or legal pathology.
I hear the voice of the late Jeffrey Friedman telling me to instead take people with whom I disagree at their word, rather than apply reductionism. I hear Robert Wright make the case for cognitive empathy, so that I don’t succumb to the belief that I understand the other side’s true motives better than they understand themselves. But I have a hard time listening to those voices.
Substacks referenced above: