The Economist on Wokeness, part two

September 6, 2021 • 9:30 am

The Economist‘s article on the origins and effects of Wokeism, which we discussed yesterday, has been supplemented by a short new piece on the “movement” seen as a religion that has various ways to bend people to its will.  The piece lists six ways of keeping believers in the fold, all of which were used by Catholicism and other faiths; and gives an example of each as adopted by the Woke. This isn’t a new idea, as John McWhorter has especially emphasized Wokeism as a religion, calling adherents “The Elect”. (That was the title of his forthcoming book, but he wisely changed the name.) And, of course, many ideological movements, like Russian or Maoist Communism, share the same characteristics.

Part II of Everything You Need to Know about Wokeism can be read for free by clicking on the screenshot below.

The article begins by noting that one of the great accomplishments of The Enlightenment was to dismantle “the confessional state”—the power of the Church—that had ruled Europe for centuries. People like Milton, Spinoza, and Mill, followed by Jefferson in America, pried apart church and state, though more successfully in Europe than the U.S. Nevertheless, as religion wanes in the West, The Economist avers that it’s simply being replaced with Wokeism:

Yet something extraordinary is happening in the West: a new generation of progressives is reviving methods that uncannily resemble those of the confessional state, with modern versions of loyalty oaths and blasphemy laws. And this effort is being spearheaded in the heartland of Anglo-Saxon liberalism—often by people who call themselves liberals. Here is how the old tactics are being revived.

By the way, you needn’t comment that the Right is more of a danger to our Republican than is Wokeism. I already know that! But I don’t want to spend my time bashing Republicans, because that’s what everybody else does. I bash them enough for you to know where I stand.

Here are the methods that, says the article, are paralleled by Wokeism and religion. I’ll give a quote from each section (indented when it’s a quote).

1.) Imposing orthodoxy. 

The progressive left is even more dominant among students. There’s nothing new about left-wing student revolts, but the protests of the 1960s were against the remnants of the confessional state: radicals at Berkeley in California turned Sproul Plaza into a free-speech zone, where anything could be said, and People’s Park into a free-for-all zone, where anything could be done. Today’s radicals demand the enforcement of codes of behaviour and speech. A poll of more than 4,000 four-year college students for the Knight Foundation in 2019 found that 68% felt that students cannot say what they think because their classmates might find it offensive.

2.) Proselytizing. 

I’ve put two sentences in bold because I think they’re right on the nose:

Progressives replace the liberal emphasis on tolerance and choice with a focus on compulsion and power. As in many religions, righteous folk have a duty to challenge immorality wherever they find it. They find a lot of it, believing that white people can be guilty of racism even if they don’t consciously discriminate against others on the basis of race, because they are beneficiaries of a system of exploitation. Classical liberals conceded that your freedom to swing your fist stops where my nose begins. Today’s progressives argue that your freedom to express your opinions stops where my feelings begin.

3.) Expelling heretics.  There are too many stories to tell here, although The Economist gives only one. You can think of many more. This is what’s known as “cancellation”.

4.) Book banning. Attempts to do this with people like J. K. Rowling and Abigail Shrier haven’t worked, and it’s a stupid tactic because, according to the Streisand Effect, a book that’s banned simply attracts more interest. But here’s one example I may have written about before:

Alexandra Duncan, a white American, even cancelled her own book, “Ember Days”, after writing from the point of view of a black woman, something that is now dismissed as “cultural appropriation”.

You can read a bit more about this at Kirkus. I needn’t list all the books written by people who aren’t of the group they’re writing about. It’s ridiculous to call this “cultural appropriation.” It’s ART!

5.) Creeds.  To the author of this article, the creeds are “diversity statements”, though they could also be the recitations by white people that they are racists, even if they don’t know it.

My emphasis below.

Churches demanded that people sign a statement of religious beliefs, like the Anglican church’s 39 Articles, before they could hold civil office. The University of California (uc) is doing something similar. Applicants for faculty posts have to complete statements about how they will advance diversity and inclusion.

These are worthy goals. But Abigail Thompson, until recently chair of maths at uc Davis and a lifelong liberal, points out that uc’s scoring system rewards a woke view of how to realise them. In 2019 the life-sciences department at uc Berkeley rejected 76% of applicants on the basis of their diversity statements without looking at their research records.

Again, this is ridiculous. If they’re looking for contributions to society by prospective faculty beyond academic endeavors, there are many ways beyond “promoting diversity.” Any form of public outreach, for example, is a good thing by faculty. Why is only striving for racial equity valuable—in fact, so valuable that it can efface everything else you’ve done in science? What about simply working at a food bank or, as I used to do, in a soup kitchen?

And finally,

6.) Blasphemy. We all know of statements that simply cannot be said to the Woke, even if they’re true. One is that inequities in representation may represent something more than existing bigotry, like preferences. There are many others. But this one is recent, and I simply cannot believe it’s true (but it is!):

Scotland, a cradle of the Enlightenment, abolished the crime of blasphemy in March. At the same time, however, it reintroduced it by creating new offences such as “stirring up hatred” and “abusive speech”—punishable by up to seven years in prison.

Scotland’s just replaced one form of blasphemy with another. Has anybody been arrrested for breaking this law yet? (I think it applies only to “minoritized groups”, though not to women.)

26 thoughts on “The Economist on Wokeness, part two

  1. The author of the article may be serving a purpose by alerting some people to the characteristics of wokeism. But, I laughed at the author’s implicit contention that the “bad” things the woke does is something rarely seen since the Enlightenment. Is he or she ten years old? Anyone with even a fleeting knowledge of history knows that mass movements, almost as a matter of course, attempt to impose their orthodoxies on their adherents and those they are trying to convert to the cause. American history is replete with examples. I will mention just two. The first is the American Revolution when the revolutionaries tried to crush dissent of those that opposed the revolution. The second is the Cold War where Democrats (even liberals) as well as Republicans engaged in the same tactics described by the author out of fear of domestic Communists. Truman imposed loyalty oaths for federal workers.

    So, when the authors says, “yet something extraordinary is happening in the West: a new generation of progressives is reviving methods that uncannily resemble those of the confessional state, with modern versions of loyalty oaths and blasphemy laws,” he is she is absurd. What has taken place is something quite unextraordinary. The confessional state has never gone away and probably never will.

  2. People like Milton, Spinoza, and Mill, followed by Jefferson in America …

    As a temporal matter, JS Mill followed Jefferson, of course, having been born in 1806, midway into Jefferson’s second term as US president.

    1. “People assume that time is a strict progression from cause to effect, but actually from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff.” ^_^

  3. There’s nothing new about left-wing student revolts, but the protests of the 1960s were against the remnants of the confessional state: radicals at Berkeley in California turned Sproul Plaza into a free-speech zone, where anything could be said, and People’s Park into a free-for-all zone, where anything could be done. Today’s radicals demand the enforcement of codes of behaviour and speech.

    Those temblors they experience in California are Mario Savio spinning in his grave.

  4. The history of the University of California’s cold war loyalty oath program is relevant in this context. Here is a summary from Wiki (with my italics).

    “750 faculty members had approved a resolution to oppose the university’s regents and create a committee to coordinate legal action against the university should an oath be required. Several teachers resigned in protest or lost their positions when they refused to sign the loyalty oath. Among those who left were the psychologist Erik Erikson and the classical scholar Ludwig Edelstein, both of them Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany.[3] In August 1950, the regents fired 31 faculty members who refused to sign the oath. Those who were terminated sued, and by 1952 had been rehired when the university declined to pursue its case against them in court. One of the fired faculty members, the physics professor David Saxon went on with his career and was appointed president of the entire University of California system in 1975, a job he held until 1983.[4][5]”

    The Wiki account goes on to summarize legal challenges to the oaths in various state systems, which led to the Supreme Court mostly striking them down during the 1960s. It is informative to contrast this history with current events surrounding the loyalty oath’s contemporary successor, the U. Cal.’s “Diversity Statement” requirement.

  5. What about simply working at a food bank or, as I used to do, in a soup kitchen?

    I worked a breakfast food line for the homeless for a while — at, of all goddam places, an Episcopal church. I was dating a deacon’s daughter at the time and offered to give him a hand working the food line, help spread some of the Episcopalian dosh that had built the big cathedral back to the community. It was during a Republican administration and, between the fat-cat tax cuts and the reductions in aid to the disadvantaged, way I saw it, the rich were doing to the poor the same thing I was trying to do to the deacon’s daughter (and not in the same mutually pleasurable sense either). 🙂

      1. Yeah, she wasn’t any more religious than you or I, Jez. Way I heard it, her dad wasn’t very observant for most of his years, either, but embraced his inner-Anglican later in life.

  6. Scotland’s just replaced one form of blasphemy with another. Has anybody been arrrested for breaking this law yet? (I think it applies only to “minoritized groups”, though not to women.)

    Although the Bill passed in March, I don’t think it’s gone into effect yet. “Hate Crimes” here involve actions, threats, or stirring up hatred motivated by prejudice against the protected classes of race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, and transgender identity (no mention of ‘sex.’)

    It’s that last one which has caused the most controversy. The definition of “transphobia” includes “the denial or refusal to accept transgender identities,” which means that people are counted as phobic and hateful simply by disagreeing with Gender Identity Doctrine (that everyone is born with an innate gender identity; sex is a spectrum; gender identity replaces sex in determining whether someone is male, female, both, or neither.) I can’t think of any other group that demands agreement with a hypothetical explanation or it’s “hate.”

    It’s a virtual certainty that this law will be deliberately wielded against feminists defending their sex-based rights.

    1. Sadly, I agree Sastra despite the claims in the BBC article that our host linked to:

      During the final debate on Thursday, [Scotland’s Justice Secretary] Humza Yousaf argued that those provisions were strong enough to prevent criminalisation.

      He said: “To those who think they may accidentally somehow fall foul of the law… because they believe sex is immutable, or they believe an adult man cannot become a female or they campaign for the rights of Palestinians… or those that proselytise that same-sex relationships are sinful, none of these people would fall foul of the stirring up of hatred offence for solely stating their belief – even if they did so in a robust manner.

      “Why? Because solely stating any belief, which I accept may be offensive to some, is not breaching the criminal threshold.

      I suppose we’ll have to wait and see…

      1. Oops, I meant to clarify that my reply was in response to Sastra’s final sentence: “It’s a virtual certainty that this law will be deliberately wielded against feminists defending their sex-based rights”.

  7. I comment quite a bit on Facebook about current events, usually with a liberal take on things. Even a moderate take on things seems liberal when you have a substantial portion of the country descending into dark-age madness, putting bounties on women, going blind from ingesting horse medicine because the right-wing cult has this bizarre aversion to taking a vaccine that’s caused precisely zero deaths and helped millions of Americans to avoid serious health problems from the worst pandemic in a hundred years.

    Some of the people who like my posts are very woke indeed, and I have found myself restricting what I say there about trans stuff just to not upset them. The fact that I have guns and support the Second Amendment is something they can look past. Support for border enforcement? Sure, whatever. But they would be mightily upset if I were to express my sincere belief there that much (not all) of what is being touted nowadays in the “T” part of LGBT is silly, faddish, and sometimes downright damaging to women who have suffered trauma at the hands of, er, “people with penises.” It’s a form of soft censorship, and I’m knowingly doing it to myself. But it’s just not worth the aggravation to me right now, in a time of cascading crises with climate change, a pandemic out of control, and a political party with fanatical theocrats, white supremacists, and science-denying morons as its base that is determined to seize power without having the support of a majority of those it governs.

    Any remaining historians looking back on the early twenties of the second millennium, when the collapse began in earnest, are not going to view phrases like “pregnant people” with anything but a bitter little laugh.

    1. >But it’s just not worth the aggravation to me right now, in a time of cascading crises with climate change, a pandemic out of control, and a political party with fanatical theocrats, white supremacists, and science-denying morons as its base that is determined to seize power without having the support of a majority of those it governs.

      Same here.

  8. One of the mysteries of contemporary wokeness is the power it lavishes on the trans lobby. Does anyone have an explanation for this? If the Scottish “hate crimes” legislation is enforced as written, Scotland will enjoy the distinction, at least on paper, of outdoing the USSR during the worst period of its state-imposed Biology. I don’t think the USSR had a statute specifically criminalizing “the denial or refusal to accept” Michurinist (i.e., Lysenkoist) doctrines. Scientists jailed or executed during the Lysenkovshchina were charged with other, typically trumped-up offenses, such as “wrecking” or conspiracy with counter-revolutionary forces.

    1. A big reason gay rights were successful is because heterosexuals used gay rights as an overton window to open up space for their sexual/affective self: divorce, contraception, serial monogamy, etc. So gay rights were like a machete cutting down the thicket of tradition.

      I sense that trans issues are being used the same way, and it’s especially important that there are very few actual trans people, as the fewer, the easier to romanticize and use symbolically. I think they are being used to open widely the idea of self re-invention. If there can be pregnant men, What is not then possible?

      1. What indeed is not possible? What if sensitive souls who feel inwardly that they were born in the wrong species were to seize as much authority as the trans-gender lobby? Then Scotland would make it a crime to deny or refuse to accept my self-identification as a Golden Bamboo Lemur.

    2. There’s one explanation that I’ve seen that appears reasonably credible. Some uncommitted “small ‘c'” conservative politicians resisted the introduction of “marriage equality/same-sex marriage” to preserve the status quo, but when social attitudes shifted they realised that the corrective legislation didn’t harm the rights of anyone else and the sky didn’t fall in after all.

      Seeing this, the same politicians then mistakenly thought that taking a similar approach to gender recognition would chalk up an equally easy victory, thereby making them appear to be in line with modern values at no real cost.

      Unfortunately, there was a flaw in this plan. Unlike permitting same sex marriage, which took nothing away from anyone, giving rights to transwomen can – in some limited, but very important, circumstances – come at the expense of biological women. (Not least the loss of safe women-only spaces and women’s sports.) Hence the (since abandoned) attempt to amend the Gender Recognition Act in England and Wales.

      By the time that these politicians realised their error it was too late, and to row back on their trans-friendly approach would see them branded with the very “homo/transphobic” labels that they had been trying to avoid when they approved the policies in the first place. In the meantime, trans-activist organisations have managed to lobby very effectively and have seen their approach embedded into the workplace policies of influential bodies, although that particular source of support seems to be on the way out as those bodies realise the implications. [E.g. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-58336116 but there are many other recent examples.]

      Of course, some others have drunk the Kool-Aid and genuinely don’t see the problem that natal women face.

  9. Question: Does anyone forsee a point in which constitutional law, First Amendment, could be used against “wokeism” religion? As violation of separation of church and state concept?

    1. No, I don’t, because what you’re referring to doesn’t really qualify as a religion. With a few exceptions, nobody is explicitly invoking the supernatural, claiming instead that science and common principles of social justice support their beliefs and policies.

      I agree that we can pick out spiritual elements and many of the trappings of faith in “wokeism,” but they’re busy trying to do the same for “anti-wokeism.” The only way I see this being used is by the same devout Christians who consider atheism, secular humanism, and liberalism to be religions.

  10. It has all boiled down to this, do you embrace the female penis.? It is the one question that answers all. Our thousands of years of culture and history has come down to that one question. No more week long inquisitions, that one question and your answer, answers all.

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