Is Wokeism on the way out?

February 13, 2023 • 1:30 pm

This is a perennial topic among those of us who consider wokeism a serious threat to the Left, to science, and to rationality. Is the present tsumani of wokeness inundating politics, businesses, universities, and general discourse a passing fad, or is it here to stay—at least during our lifetime?  I go back and forth on this, and my prognostications aren’t reliable. (Remember, I predicted that Biden would repudiate wokeness among Democrats, but he’s furthered it!)

At any rate, this article at Compact Magazine suggests that wokeism (or “Woke-ism”) is making a slow exeunt left. I’ve seen the piece described by a bunch of people as an excellent article. And yes, it’s pretty good, but hasn’t convinced me that al-Gharbi is right. Click on the screenshot to read, or see it archived here.

al-Gharbi, identified as “a Paul F. Lazarsfeld Fellow in Sociology at Columbia University and a Daniel Bell Research Fellow at Heterodox Academy,” thinks that the turnaround began in the last few years. He cites a number of anecdotes and surveys to show pushback against wokeism. Many of these are apparently in his upcoming book, We Have Never Been Woke, by Princeton University Press.

Here are seven, with quotes indented:

a.) White liberals are no longer so eager to take strong stands on racial issues and are less likely to identify themselves with labels like “feminist.”

b.) There has been a drop in the frequency of attempts to censor or shut down speech on campus considered “uncomfortable.”

c.) Re politics:

Within the Democratic Party, following anemic 2020 results and recalls of progressive politicians in blue states, there have been efforts to “course correct,” to avoid further alienating normie voters. The Democratic base has moved in a similar direction, broadly rejecting progressive candidates during the 2022 primaries. These countermeasures likely helped the party stave off the anticipated “red wave,” preventing extreme Republican candidates from facing Democratic challengers who were also perceived to be far out of step with mainstream America. Running moderate Democratic candidates against GOP extremists proved to be a winning move throughout the country in 2022.

d.) What al-Gharbi calls “the vibes”:

According to some accounts, there is a growing appetite among Generation Z for humor and subversion, for a slackening of constraints and an expansion of horizons. The heavy moralizing around identity issues, the constant and intense surveillance and management of self and others, the incessant calls for revolution and reform—these elements of woke culture are running up against a growing sense of nihilism and ironic detachment among young adults.

There is growing discussion of a “vibe shift” among Millennials as well. Many are coming to find the culture wars both unsatisfying and rote. They are exhausted by the relentless cynicism, fear, doomsaying, and impression management that have governed much of their lives—and for what? They recognize the revolution isn’t coming anytime soon. So they are looking instead to have fun, relax, and cut loose a bit. Or, at the very least, to stop having to be so neurotic, guarded, and paranoid.

Of course this is just discussion and not data like that you could check in b.) (go see FIRE’s “campus disinvitation database to check; I haven’t looked but see the tweet below).

e.) Companies are said to be less likely to terminate employees solely on the word of accusers, while others are cutting DEI-related positions. That’s not happening on college campuses, though.

f.) Some companies refuse to cave in to social-media pressure to cancel the Offensive, like Dave Chappelle’s shows on Netflix or Disney’s new CEO taking a milder tone in the culture wars after Florida threatened to revoke the company’s tax-exempt status in the state. That, however, is DeSantis acting, and Disney had little choice.

g.) Social media-companies have allowed Twitter to reinstate the accounts of Trump and other noxious right-wingers (I always thought no account should be canceled unless it violates the First Amendment). But that’s Elon Musk, not a sea change in society.

So, yes, there are hopeful signs, but, living on campus, the epicenter of wokeness, I see little signs of its waning—and I’m on a fairly unwoke campus. Even al-Gharbi hedges his bets in the last sentence:

Whether any of these developments are “good” or “bad” will ultimately be a matter of perspective. The matter of fact is that, for better or worse (or more likely, a bit of both), the post-2011 “Great Awokening” seems like it might be winding down. What its legacy will be is yet to be determined.

Might be” winding down! Well, it’s early days yet, and I could speculate about what legacy wokeness would leave if it disappeared (perhaps a greater division between races, for instance, as activist minorities became disaffected after the changes they wanted to make get stymied).

But Paul Graham, in this tweet I found, does support the reduction in canceled speech at colleges using four measures from FIRE of woke attack.

So perhaps something’s happening here, though what it is ain’t exactly clear.

21 thoughts on “Is Wokeism on the way out?

  1. Good luck, however, disarming and sending home the huge army of diversocrats that make a living from bossing people around and policing their thoughts.

    1. The so-called “woke industrial complex” is very powerful and heavily invested in perpetuating this thought-policing agenda, with large numbers of HR personnel, corporate “diversity consultants”, members of the collegiate DEI bureaucracy, pundits on cable, political strategists and consultants, as well as lobbyists of various kinds all dependent for their absurdly-remunerated positions on amplifying and enforcing this nonsense, not to attention the small army of unpaid Twitter-mobs in full and loud approbation.

  2. “So perhaps something’s happening here, though what it is ain’t exactly clear.”

    Channeling “Ballad of a Thin Man”

    Thanks for the post; I for one feel a bit of relief upon reading this.

  3. It is early days, but prognostication is fun. So I would say based on data and anecdotes that there is a decline in un-checked wokery, along with a sheer weariness of it. But possibly futures are not either an all-powerful wokery or elimination of wokery. There can be a range of equilibrium states where the damn thing still exists for years to come as it remains enshrined in university administrations whose self-interest demands that it find cause to meddle and ruin some lives here and there. But it can meanwhile be body-checked off the ice from time to time.
    A real vaccination against this thing is to use effective comedy and ridicule through social media that is watched by young people. It grew not because it was seen as right. It grew because it was seen as cool.

  4. Well this so-called “wokeism” has only ever been a fad among pink-haired trust-fund kids in universities. The only real effect of this supposed threat to civilisation has been some hypocritical woke-washing from billion dollar corporations and Rupert Murdoch and hangers-on making serious bank from whipping up a moral panic.

    Far from an era of rising wokeness, the 2010s has seen increasing corporate control, the flowering of once unthinkable neo-fascists, both sides of US politics heading towards war with China, a right wing takeover of the Supreme Court aided and abetted by so-called liberals, the rolling back of rights on abortion with the rolling back of LGBT rights to come, the election of Trump, and the ruling class managing to hold the line against workers rights, health care, unionism, decarbonisation and gun laws to such an extent that it will probably be a generation before the left can have another crack at improving them.

    I would think that if wokeism was an actual thing then we could point to something that might have changed to being more “woke”

    1. We can hope and pray that you are right, that the progressive Left has been emasculated for a generation. Fingers crossed that the contagion spreads to other countries.

    2. I’m curious to know why you think the 3 hacks on SCOTUS that Trump seated were somehow “aided and abetted by so-called liberals”. Especially in light that McConnell (R) stole one seat and went against his own rule to fill the other seat.

      Maybe you’re referring to Reid (D) changing the Senate rules so that federal judges (not SCOTUS judges, McConnell changed that) could be approved with a simple majority; something he was forced to do if Obama was going to fill any vacancies.

      1. Yes partly that. There’s no way that Republicans would have let any rules stop them from appointing judges. Also RBG should have retired while there was a Democrat in power. It seems that only the Republicans are actually in politics to win power for what they believe in. Neo-liberals seem more interested in there relative position within their own institution rather than actually doing anything

      2. Yeah, I expected Barack to do more wailing and renting of garments and gnashing of teeth in anger over the Republicans’ refusal to give his SCOTUS nominee not just the fair confirmation hearing that was his due after Antonin Scalia keeled over in bed in February 2016, but even to extend to that nominee the courtesy of the in-office meet & greet with opposing-party members of the senate judiciary committee that traditionally kicks-off he confirmation process. (Mitch McConnell is a lot of things — most of which involve epithets inappropriate for a family oriented bl*g such as this — but he is not a stupid tactician. McConnell knew that, were he to let the confirmation process so much as leave the station with a nominee as uncontestably well-qualified, moderate, and even-tempered as Merrick Garland, there would be no way Republicans could later derail it.)

        Of course, much of this is past-posting of Barry’s decision-making by me (and other Democrats). Like Obama, I believed Hillary bade fair to be the next US president and that Democrats would, thus, get to name Scalia’s successor anyway. Plus, I saw the logic of Obama’s not wanting to engage Republicans in a nasty, interminable day-to-day fight that would inevitably siphon attention away from Hillary’s messaging and away from the GOP’s grotesque presumptive nominee.

        Oh, what a naïve and overconfident lot we Democrats were in those halcyon spring days of 2016.

  5. A horde of active academics and other highly-educated people have zealously embraced DEI and gender ideology. A horde of others have, perhaps grudgingly, gone quietly along. This contagion seems far less widespread in the working class and even among academics of older generations. Does the lockstep nature in which ideological practices are now being implemented by the highly-educated in many institutions suggest any link between the nature of formal intellectual training over the last two or three decades and this tendency to ideology and conformity? Has formal education taken an active part in crafting the conformist mindset? Or does it simply not act as an antidote to human propensities to join the like-minded herd?

    Many of us hope the courts soon overrule the blatantly illegal DEI-hiring schemes. I am not so sure that would happen if we have another ten or fifteen years of turnover in the judiciary, particularly as younger professionals from elite institutions move increasingly into key leadership roles. Count me skeptical on “Woke-ism is winding down”.

  6. It’s a hopeful article, but not convincing (to me). He makes lots of assertions, but offers little if any data. Maybe his book will contain the meat (the empirical evidence for wokeism’s decline).

    I find the Gen Z “vibe” point interesting, the argument being that as that generation reaches majority, wokeness will wane because Gen Z is just not into it. Change of generations is a powerful force. If Gen Z’ers manage not to be brainwashed by the current regime, they may be our best hope out of this mess.

    It will be a generational challenge to unwind the DEI apparatus that we carelessly let get out of control. The apparatchiks will not go away without a fight. But if we stop feeding the beast, in a generation or so it will go away, just like a food bolus passes through a snake. The ball’s in your court, Gen Z’ers.

  7. I might be willing to believe it when I don’t have to sit through another professional development meeting where I hear how my simply having the job is proof of racism. The precursor to wokees, the PC culture of the 90’s didn’t go away, it maybe had a lull for a few years, hibernating in the NPR radio stations and campuses like at the People’s Republic of Berkeley but look what happened when it burrowed out and pupated…

  8. Articles like this bug me. The formula is simple: ‘quick, write a completely speculative article with barely a sprinkle of evidence for an unjustified contrarian view about a topic that many are emotionally invested in before anyone else does.’ I’m genuinely curious: do readers here find that articles like this actually assuage their (and believe me, my) anxiety over the prospects of a pathologically woke future or no? I used to derive some optimism from articles like this but am now much more circumspect and can spot them for what they are – clickbait trash that peddle hope, written by speculators who seek popularity in this attention economy. Has this piece added anything of value to the topic of wokeness other than feigned optimism? I don’t think so.

    It’s human nature to want some assurance that the future won’t be bleak but why should al-Gharbi’s take be credible?

  9. It’s important to put this article in perspective. In 2016, Mark Lilla published an article in the New York Times predicting “The End of Identity Liberalism” (that is, race and gender identity politics).

    Then in 2019, Megan McArdle published an article in the Washington Post predicting that “the dictatorship of the proscriptariat will fall as quickly as it arose” (this was referring specifically to cancel culture).

    Both of these articles were written in response to individual cases where it seemed like things were starting to improve. But looking at the long-term trend, they didn’t start to improve in 2016, or in 2019.

    I think the mistake made by the authors of all these articles is that they assume wokeism is an entirely a grass-roots phenomenon, and that it therefore will go away when public opinion turns against it. But it’s also being promoted by influential people in academia, in tech companies, and in the government, and those people aren’t necessarily going to change their behavior just because public opinion is currently against them. As an analogy, public opinion also was strongly against the domestic surveillance programs that were revealed by Edward Snowden in 2013, but most of those programs never were changed, and after a while the public mostly forgot about that issue.

  10. Regarding Disney’s attitude, here is the latest from them:

    Some of Disney’s early material included racial stereotypes (such as the crows in the movie Dumbo) that haven’t aged well, but these comics aren’t an example of that. These comics were first published in the 1990s. I own both of them, and there’s nothing in them that a sensible person would consider a good reason for them to be banned.

    I suspect that part of the reason Disney is censoring these comics is because the one titled “The Empire-builder from Calisota” includes a scene, set circa 1910, in which Scrooge McDuck violently seizes the land belonging to the chief of an African village. This comic is part of Don Rosa’s complete biography of Scrooge McDuck, from the 1870s up to the 1940s. The problem with condemning the comic over this scene is that in the context of the story, it’s made abundantly clear that was a dishonorable deed on Scrooge’s part, it causes his two sisters to become estranged from him, and he ends up regretting it for the next twenty years.

    Scrooge’s singularly dishonest act in “The Empire-builder from Calisota” is an important episode in his overall character development, whereby he eventually learns that riches don’t bring happiness if one doesn’t also lead a respectable life. Don Rosa (who drew these comics) has predicted Disney will have to stop selling the entire collection if this story can’t be included, and that seems likely to me also.

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