N. S. Lyons: Wokeness is here to stay, and for a LONG time

February 14, 2022 • 1:00 pm

I’m not sure exactly who N. S. Lyons is, but I presume some of our readers know and can enlighten me.  I don’t even know whether Lyons is a he, a she, or something else, as all the Substack Column (“The Upheaval”) says about Lyons is this:

An analyst and writer working in Washington, D.C.

Lyons is also a pessimist, because he/she/whatever has penned one of the most depressing articles I’ve seen in months.  It’s about how Wokeness (or what some people call “the successor ideology”) will be with us for a very long time, for the forces that created it and are sustaining it are hard to dislodge.

I’ve gone back and forth on this issue, but as time passes, and I’ve lost a few battles against Wokeness (mostly about re-naming or erasing historical figures), I’ve come to realize that those who maintain it are not only acolytes of a religion, as John McWhorter asserts, but are also loud, entrenched, close-minded, and, as time passes, slowly seeping into the organs of power in America—and the UK and Canada as well.  If you read Lyons’s long essay, below (click on screenshot, but subscribe if you like the site), you will be depressed.

Very depressed. I read this January essay two nights ago, and again last night. I thought I could extricate some hope from the second reading, but it wasn’t possible. It just got me more depressed.

Originally I thought that science, at least, would be immune to the phenomenon, as science is evidence-based and Wokeness mostly a faith, but that isn’t happening. Science departments came late to the party, but now they’re busy purging the Impure at dizzying speeds. Even at Chicago, science departments are posting—in violation of University policy—political and ideological manifestos. And even in my own department the hundred-odd photos of tenured faculty over the last hundreds years, including conservatives like Dick Levins, Dick Lewontin, and Monty Lloyd, (LOL)., have been removed from our seminar room because, being mostly white males (but with an increasing number of women as time goes on), the pictures made some people uncomfortable and were said to be discouraging people from coming here. We (including me) have been purged from departmental history solely on the grounds of sex and pigmentation. More on that another time.

Lyons first gives a list of all the articles predicting the end of Wokeness (that’s what we’ll call it), and then takes them apart. The idea that Wokeness will soon vanish is a phantasms, and of wish-thinking contradicted by empirical observation, and Lyons gives twenty reasons why it’s here to stay.

Click below to read and (truly) weep:

There’s simply too much here to quote and discuss, but let me give just three of the 20 reasons that Lyons thinks the “revolution” will continue. Get ready to be sent to the country! Lyons’s words are indented.

These are what I see as the most important reason why Wokeness is lodged in America (and especially American academics) as firmly as a raspberry seed is between your teeth. (I just ate raspberries). The argument “that one does not simply walk away from religious beliefs” is important, but McWhorter has dealt with that, and I have other fish to fry. The numbering is are Lyons’s own from his list of 20 reasons, and excerpts are indented:

8. Majorities don’t matter. Unfortunately for those dreaming of harnessing a majority anti-woke popular will, the truth is that, as statistician and philosopher Nassim Taleb has explained in detail, it’s typically not the majority that sets new societal rules, but the most intolerant minority. If the vast majority generally prefers to eat Food A instead of Food B, but a small minority is absolutely insistent on eating Food B and is willing to start chopping the heads off of anyone who disagrees and serves Food A – and the majority doesn’t care enough to get all bloody dying on this particular culinary hill – all restaurants will soon be serving only Food B, the new national cuisine. This is especially true if the intolerant minority already holds a disproportionate position of influence within the system, given that…

I haven’t read Taleb, but this rings true. Those who are taking over science departments are a minority, and most people aren’t on board with them, but it’s simply too much trouble to oppose them, on top of the possibility you’ll be called a racist (another reason).

This is one of the most depressing claims, but it’s true:

10. All the institutional high ground is still occupied. Have the top universities already been retaken from the woke, or replaced? (No, one still imaginary university in Austin doesn’t count.) What about the elite finishing schools? The accreditation companies? Most mainstream news media? The social media companies? The publishing housesHollywood? The major foundations? The non-profits and the think tanks? The consulting and accounting companies? The investment banks? The NASDAQ? The digital service providers? The HR departments of the Fortune 500, and most of their boards? The law schools? The Bar Association? The permanent federal bureaucratic state? Heck, even Halliburton? No, at such a ludicrous suggestion the Cathedral merely echoes with the mocking laughter of the new woke high clerisy. They know from experience that…

But wait! There are twenty of these. One more:

15. “Wokeness” is still required by law. Why are America’s university presidents and CEOs so terrified of their Gen Z students and employees, capitulating immediately to their every demand? Is it because Twitter has become basically their entire world? Do they, as Theodore Roosevelt once said of William McKinley, just have “the backbone of a chocolate eclair”? Probably a bit of both. But likely much more important is that they are terrified of the law.

The scope of U.S. federal antidiscrimination statutes that grew out of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 have already made the core facts of what people think of as “Wokeness” the law of the land. This includes the concept that all disparities are due to discrimination (“disparate impact”), the requirement that employers relentlessly police private speech that could be in any way offensive to any “protected class” (to prevent a “hostile work environment”), and “affirmative action” in hiring. Moreover, the law as written is so deliberately vague in its language that any new claims to rights raised by any protected identity group can be seamlessly slipped into the body of harms that any company or organization must legally prevent. So, for example, if any employee refuses for whatever reason to refer to another employee by their chosen gender pronouns, the entire company is in real danger of being held liable for violation of Title IX and Title VII by permitting discrimination on the basis of sex (as affirmed by the Supreme Court in its Bostock decision). Or at least so the company must assume, because the potential financial penalties are far too high to risk it. The nonconforming employee is getting the boot – unless they themselves are of a protected class that could conceivably sue for being fired due to their identity…

The safest path through this regulatory mess is simply to hire a very large HR department staffed with “experts” in all these rules and let them handle it, including by subjecting employees to a vast numbers of “training sessions” run by DEI consultants, all of which can if necessary then be pointed to in court as evidence that the company was definitely doing everything it could to prevent any discrimination from occurring.

Each of these is depressing in itself, and when you get twenty, it’s like a psychological death from a thousand cuts. If you want to be conversant about “The Successor Ideology”, this is a must read. Yes, it’s long, but I trust that readers her can deal with about nine single-spaced pages of reading in 9-point type.

Go to it!

45 thoughts on “N. S. Lyons: Wokeness is here to stay, and for a LONG time

  1. Razib Khan has compared to the situation to that of pagans in the late Roman Empire finding themselves increasingly outnumbered and outgunned by Christians. If the cultural and political elite of the US do go fully woke, America will certainly go the way of the Roman Empire.

    1. Nice wraparound. N. S. Lyons profile picture is of Flavius Belisarius, 6th century Byzantine military leader who retook some of Roman Empire, described in book by Robert Graves as lone man of honor in a corrupt world.

  2. This is one of the best essays on the wokeness phenomenon I’ve read lately. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most convincing that there truly is no hope.

    However, those of us who have been around the block a few times remember when the precursor to wokeness — “political correctness” — came and went in the 80s/90s. My memory is rapidly fading, so I don’t recall exactly what brought an end to it. Anybody? Perhaps the trauma and aftermath of 9/11?

    I would hate to think that only a national tragedy or a war would be our only salvation from this pernicious trend.

    1. Another recent essay of interest, more on the causes than on divining the future:

      https://richardhanania.substack.com/p/womens-tears-win-in-the-marketplace

      Did PC really end? Or just some particular excesses became things to laugh at (at which time everyone moved on from using the *term* PC). Maybe most of the rest just became standard, as a stepping stone to where we are now.

      I don’t see a way this ends, not even in war really. Because 20th C infantry war that demanded the labor and courage of almost every man isn’t possible now. It would be faster and longer-range, and the same dysfunction visible in how we handle Covid would be the dominant theme at home. I think.

      1. Exactly. Same salesman, different ugly suit.

        I think this may be a three-generation turnaround. Once a political philosophy is sufficiently entrenched, it seems to take three generations to have a chance to be overturned (USL 1789-1861; USSR: 1922-1991). The first generation sets the rules; the second adopts their parents’ mindset, and the third questions it. New media seem to accelerate every social process, and now we have ‘microgenerations’, so … I dunno. We’ll see.

  3. I haven’t read the original piece, but my own two cents on wokeness is that it is a sign of cultural change through generational replacement. The gen Z is much more likely to embrace wokeness because they grew up with it, and my impression is that subsequent generations will be progressively more woke. Just like the vocabulary of a language changes with time as people die and get replaced, so do cultural values, and the values of truth and objectivity are associated with older generations who are about to be replaced.

  4. And to add to the general feeling of malaise, here is a recent article from the Chronicle of Higher Education:

    https://www.chronicle.com/article/the-red-state-disadvantage?utm_source=Iterable&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=campaign_3698511_nl_Academe-Today_date_20220214&cid=at&source=&sourceid=

    According to the Chronicle, legislative and public pushback against the successor ideology is going to result in universities in red states losing their academic prestige!

  5. The Elect and their New Puritanism (how did a reader put it one day?) are unique, I think, that the genesis of their religion took place in the fresh fields of antisocial media.

    Compare Unitarian Universalist for instance – That’s for “old folk”. Not much appeal there.

    Antisocial media is (I’d attempt to put forth,… maybe a stretch…) a 21st century equivalent of stained-glass windows, dazzling the congregation as it sings the gospel, reeling the cadence of the ministers.

  6. Wokeness will end when Trump retakes power. It will be the woke who are sent to the countryside, or locked up, or hung. [Along with us rational liberals.]

    1. According to the article, Trump’s first term gave Wokeism rocket boosters and a second one in ’24 will do likewise.

    2. It will be the woke who are sent to the countryside, or locked up, or hung.

      Inclusive OR or exclusive OR?
      and in what order? There is not much reason to send the hung to the countryside to atone for their thought-crimes. Except as fertilizer. But if you can get the out-casting, the imprisonment and the partial strangulation by short-drop hanging in the right proportion and frequency you can provide the voting population with “circusem” to temper their call for “bread”.
      No doubt, the coming “bread” will be leavened with the ground bones of the enemies of Wokeness. After all, what would be more appropriate than feeding the next generation of the Woke on the bones of the previous generation of unwoke. It will be the unwoke who then end up in the Novy Gulag, or just plain locked up, or hung. But if I pointed out the need to not actually burn the bones (thereby reducing the mineral and organic-matter content, essential to forming it into meal.) … well, I am sure I’d eventually get crucified too, for asking the wrong questions. Shrug.

    3. If Trump retakes power, wokeness will grow, just as it did under his first term. And the more Trump lashes out at it, the more it will come to be seen as the most powerful counterweight to his presidency, so even liberals and centrists will join forces with the woke. If Trump and the Republicans jail and/or martyr out of some of the woke, that will only help the latter’s cause. Look at how the persecution of Christians turned out.

      Trump will undoubtedly do a lot of damage with his second term, but he’s also an incompetent buffoon who’s uncoordinated and tends to alienate and feud with even his ostensible allies. A Republican who can’t get on with Rupert Murdoch and Mitch McConnell will sabotage himself. He won’t be able to destroy the woke or liberals—he will only accelerate the polarization of the country into two armed camps represented by their loudest and most fanatical members.

  7. If an alien from another planet visited the United States and had no knowledge of the politics and social system of the country, but wanted to learn, and was handed the article by N.S. Lyons as a “good” explanation, what would the alien conclude? The alien would think that the Woke are everywhere (sort of like the Communists in the 1950s as explained by Senator McCarthy), irresistible, and harbingers of the destruction of everything of value in the country. The alien would have no idea that a major political party can best be described as dominated by libertarian extremists and neo-fascists. The alien would have no idea that that political party controls the Supreme Court and in a few years may take over the other branches of government with the possible destruction of democracy. The alien would not realize that the purpose of such articles is to scare the hell out of the public by presenting a completely out-of-balance analysis of American society with the ultimate goal of distracting the public from the fascist threat. As I’ve said before, wokeness is an annoying boil on the ass; fascism is a cancer metastasizing throughout the body politic.

    1. Yeah, I just can’t really get worked up about the Woke, or depressed for that matter, when I see what the GOP, Trump, et al. have done, are doing, and want to do to this American democracy. And I’ll take the Woke over QAnon any day (and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more QAnon adherents than Wokesters).

      1. I don’t like the GOP (I didn’t like them pre-Voldemort; and he’s in his special orbit). I have never voted GOP.

        But I also don’t like the choice between the GOP and a Woke Democrat Party. And the Wokesters, despite Biden’s win in 2020, seem to be taking over, much as the Voldemort cult have taken over the GOP.

        Many interlocutors on Anti-social Media have expressed exactly this preference: We [dems] have to move further to the left in order to win. They appear to have learned nothing from 2016 and 2020.

      2. Also: I would be very surprised if there were more Qanon adherents (is that even a proper category? believers perhaps) than there are Woke. As the article notes, the Woke pretty well fill up all of academia, the MSM, Hollywood, “Big Tech”, and most of the eltie social groups on the coasts. They are filling school boards, teaching positions (it’s not really possible to image being a teacher who doesn’t at least toe the Woke line on the job these days), every HR department, etc.

        These all have official standing and can’t be laughed at like the Qanon loons can be. These have the power to shape thought: In the young, in the college students, and in the consumers of the MSM.

        I am hearing such biased information coming from NPR and the MSM that I am more and more tuning it out. (I also have had first-hand knowledge of a few significant news stories and the coverage of each one was abysmal: They got the basic facts completely wrong.)

    2. Indeed, the particular danger of wokeness is its ushering in of the Republicans desired “illiberal democracy”… Most intolerant minority? I’d say it’s a tossup and only one has vast political power.

    3. I’d say that the alien would get a fairly correct impression:

      “When conservatives want to talk about liberal excesses, they talk about Yale, big tech, the NYT, the federal bureaucracy, the Ford Foundation, medical associations, etc. When liberals want to talk [about] conservative excesses, they talk about the ‘McMinn County School Board.’” Richard Hanania of the Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology.

      Political regimes are ephemeral. The rejection of reason and enlightenment values is kinda forever.

      1. A violent mob invading Congress with the hopes of overturning a Presidential election, coddled by the losing candidate who didn’t want to respect those election results, for example seems to me more significant than a School Board kerfuffle (note I have not used the word “insurrection” in description here). The large amount of anti-vaccination Republican sentiment in the middle of a global pandemic seems to me to be a huge rejection of reason and Enlightenment values (note I have not said anti-vax is exclusively Republican – but it sure is very loudly and overwhelmingly Republican).

        Per the Roolz, this is not to deny any concerns about the Left in the abstract, but to say that the imbalance goes the other way if anything.

        1. “A violent mob invading Congress with the hopes of overturning a Presidential election…”

          Really can’t imagine how that could have gotten anywhere without military backing. There’s also the issue of willful (if not gleeful) demographic replacement. *That* is much more anti-democratic (but I probably can’t dwell on that too much here).

          “…more significant than a School Board kerfuffle…”

          Kind of the point of the quote.

          “…anti-vaccination Republican sentiment…”

          Is *not* something entire generations are being indoctrinated in.

          “…the imbalance goes the other way if anything.”

          Disagree. The lunacy of the right is grass-roots, while the lunacy of the left is increasingly baked into the system.

          And even if the threats were equal, I’d still fear *theocracy* more than fascism.

    4. I’m sorry, but if you don’t want to read criticisms of Wokeness, but want me to bash Trump more often, I HIGHLY recommend you bang that drum elsewhere. It’s getting tiresome, to me at least. You may find more compatible discussion at Pharyngula.

      If you read the Roolz, you’ll see that I’m not keen on those people who say “stop writing about or emphasizing Y and write about or emphasize X, which is far more important”, where X = the bugbear of the commenter. Read the Roolz.

      How many times do I have to tell you that there are plenty of other people who devote their websites to bashing the Right and scaring us about Republicans (note that you’ve been doing on one side what you accuse Lyons of doing: telling us that our democracy is about to go down the drain-but for a different reason.

    5. Fascism is not a religion.

      Wokeness is a religion — a novel religion, and we know how religion develops in the United States, and the damage that can follow from it.

      1. QAnon is also a new religion. Who do you want to win? I guess we’re doomed if either wins. I’m glad Jerry focuses on a group that has wide and reasoned criticism and antagonists against their amorphous cause- and there are at least books countering it. The QAnon phenomena, which I still think is more damaging than the woke, don’t seem to have anyone railing against them. It’s almost like they’re so “out there” no one wants to besmirch themselves by going down to their level and debate. I guess it would be like debating a flat-earther, or a Creationist. The Woke are still brimming the toilet’s edge, but the QAnon’s are fomenting in the sewers. And these people are creeping around Congress and looking to win more seats. Again, I fear MTG, much more than I do AOC.

        1. “QAnon is also a new religion.”

          I get that, but has someone examined this notion as McWhorter has in Woke Racism?

          A general thought added here but not directed at Mark R. :

          Individuals elected to power can certainly inflict serious damage until they are deposed, it is true.

          But religion poisons everything.

          1. I mean, the piece in question just argued at length why Wokeness is here to stay. Nearly none of that applies to Wokeness.

      2. Indeed Wokeness is a religion, they ‘worship the Black Man and abjure the White Devils’. RAND corporation cooked up something like this for one of their Political/Military wargame scenarios in the 1960s. This was their ‘Wild Card’ senario.

        As to the likely end result, check out John Brunner’s ‘The Jagged Orbit’ a straight line extrapolation from the late 1960s, it’s got everything from racial segregation (because the BIPOC demanded it.) to the imposition of Black Minority rule on the UK.

  8. But honestly, don’t many of us wonder what things felt like in Akkad around 2100 BC, in 5th century Rome, or in 10th century Uxmal and Palenque,?

    1. That’s a bit too far back in general. Most of us wouldn’t be the elites worrying about society in general, but workers worried about starving.
      I do sometimes wonder about what it would feel like in pre-WWII Germany, with the Russian Revolution in full power relatively near, and real Fascists marching in the street, and WW I in current memory. Despite political hyperbole, that’s very far from the current US situation.

    1. The story makes clear that invocation of te tiriti o Waitangi trumps everything in NZ. We have a similar fetish in the USA: discourses about legal enactments ignore whether a law makes a lick of sense or not, but instead focus exclusively on its consistency with a document written in 1787 by a bunch of
      gentlemen who would be astonished by the sight of today’s can-openers and bicycles, let alone smartphones. Maybe places are safer from this sort of thing if they are without a codified constitution, i.e. such fortunate countries as the UK, Canada, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and San Marino.

  9. Counterpoints-
    Wokeness is fundamentally unstable. Many of it’s core beliefs are obviously not true. Continued belief requires constant reinforcement, because even casual observation of reality is going to conflict with the tenets of wokeness.

    Those tenets don’t just conflict with observable reality, they conflict with other tenets of wokeness.

    The three main reasons that normal people comply are out of politeness, conflict avoidance, or out of fear. Those are conditional, and have limits.
    Many people are like the ferryman in Josie Wales. “in my line of work you got to be able either to sing The Battle Hymn of the Republic or Dixie with equal enthusiasm depending upon present company.” Such people do not make for reliable allies, and will certainly not lead any charges.
    If people are obeying you out of fear, you do not want to be around when they start to perceive that the power dynamic has shifted.

    Look at the woke. They are not people that people would generally want to emulate. Quite a few of them are not just mentally ill, but are actual degenerates. Of course, there are lots of historical instances of such people in positions of authority, even absolute authority. Not a whole lot of stability there, though.

    All that being said, I suspect it will get worse before it gets better.

    1. Possible cause for hope then. To your first point I’ll add that the “tenets of Wokeness” are a varied bunch, ranging from the reasonable (such as gay marriage) to the unreasonable (such as gender identity doctrine) with the latter category riding on top of the credibility of the former. Adherents consider it all a unified whole. That’s a mistake, since reality forceably unweaving the weakest link will then reveal the unified whole as a chain which, once broken, can be broken again.

      A counterpoint I thought of when reading the essay involves Lyons’s point regarding the chain of generations and the increasing “wokeness” of the youth. This could end up colliding with another trend: the increasing tendency of the youngy to rebel against their parents and the established Establishment they represent. Social media accelerated an increasingly distorted focus on Social Justice by making it seem like a grass roots movement of the young. The younger will no doubt notice that it’s hard to rebel by doing what the Establishment tells you to do. Mom routinely telling the teens to “check their privilege” could end up being a fatal blow to Woke. Once it’s uncool, it’s lost appeal.

      1. Rebellion by youth is a very good point, and I was probably neglectful to have not included it. Some of that must just be the desire to be different and contrary. I have always thought that it might be an evolutionary trait, but that is another discussion, I suppose.
        Another facet of that is the youthful desire to be seen as edgy and transgressive, to each other and especially to their elders.
        When I was young, you could achieve that by letting your hair grow below your collar or riding a motorcycle.
        When your elders are a bearded, facially tattooed guy in a dress, walking a leashed, leather-clad person on all fours who identifies as a slave dog, you are going to have your work cut out for you if you want to shock them.

  10. I guess Barry Goldwater was right about the 1964 Civil Rights Act. From his 1964 speech: (CRs added)

    “To give genuine effect to the prohibitions of this bill will require the creation of a Federal police force of mammoth proportions.

    It also bids fair to result in the development of an “informer” psychology in great areas of our national life —neighbors spying on neighbors, worker spying on workers, businessmen spying on businessmen, where those who would harass their fellow citizens for selfish and narrow purposes will have ample inducement to do so.

    These the Federal police force and an “informer” psychology, are the hallmarks of the police state and landmarks in the destruction of a free society.”

  11. Well, what can we anti-woke liberals do about it? We can try to practice the suggestions in this new book:

    * Pincourt, Charles, and James Lindsay. Counter Wokecraft: A Field Manual for Combatting the Woke in the University and Beyond. Orlando, FL: New Discourses, 2021.

  12. I’ve seen this piece linked to in several places in the last few days. Why is it getting so much attention now? Isn’t it a few months old?

    As for the thesis, he makes some points in that wokeness is not about to just disappear in a puff of smoke, but I’m less convinced overall. I think this is mainly because I hang out in a number of venues where both liberals and conservatives coexist (yes, such places actually exist!), and in my interactions and observations of conservatives, I’ve noticed a form of conservative catastrophizing that is every bit as tiresome as the liberal kind.

    Many conservatives, I’ve realized, are deeply attached to their sense of futility. Which I think explains the popularity of this particular piece.

  13. Very, very good essay, and I especially liked points 16 and 19. But as a socialist I resent the idea present throughout the essay and apparently now conventional wisdom that the opposition to wokeness necessarily comes from the right or the center. The Elect are left only in name, as the article makes abundantly clear, and among their enemies are old style social democrats and socialists (like, for example, the World Socialist Website whose news Google pushed to the backsides of search results together with the far right sites, the same Google that is happy to promote woke woo). The oligarchy is happy with the Elect, as their focus on ethnic and sexual identity distracts from class and economic issues and from oligarch power over politics. The Elect don’t mind an extremely unequal, unfair and undemocratic society as long as they are at the fleshpots and poverty is equally distributed among the “races”. The post-1968 western left has progressively lost it, starting with the ultra-indiviudualism and self-actualization of the 70s hippie generation, who, when they finally came to power in the 1990s, became the puppets of capital and proponents of neoliberalism (Blair, Schröder, Fischer, probably also Clinton).

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