Once again: is there a better term for “woke”?

March 17, 2023 • 12:45 pm

After I read Freddie deBoer’s new Substack piece on the meaning of “wokeness”, I suddenly realized why I sometimes get emails or comments from people who object strenuously to my using the term  “woke” or “wokeness” as pejorative adjectives or nouns.  The letters all go like this: “Don’t you know that ‘woke’ originally meant awareness of and compassion for oppressed people? Now you use it as if it was something bad.  Therefore I couldn’t read your email after I saw the word ‘woke’ appear.”

Well, we all know that the word has changed meaning from a term of approbation to a term of denigration, but these people cling to the earlier usage, and do so in order to discount what I say. They are petulant individuals who are themselves “woke” (in the pejorative way), and are simply looking for an excuse to reject my criticisms say because I use the word in the modern sense.  In that way they place themselves as morally superior beings without having to absorb and address my arguments.

But deBoer’s piece (click below to read for free, but subscribe if you read often) makes it clear why they use this tactic. It’s because “new” wokeness is centered on words rather than action, and on words as a substitute for action. Just as the woke prefer to police language rather than change society, so they prefer to criticize the language of an argument rather than come to grips with its substance.

Like deBoer, I’ve grappled on and off with finding a substitute for “woke” or “wokeness”. But there isn’t one.  deBoer suggests “social justice politics”, but that’s a mouthful, isn’t an adjective (“social-justice political” is worse), and can’t be easily used as a noun (“social-justice politician”?) I’ve also toyed with “authoritarian liberalism”, but while that captures the intolerance of the movement, it leaves out its Pecksniffery as well as its obsession with language: you can be an authoritarian liberal and still try to do something. “Progressive” politics also rankles me, for I see extreme left “progressives” as somewhat regressive in their attempts to quash free speech, their dogmatism, and their attempts to declare truth by fiat and shun discussion. Now I recognize that the motives of many of the woke are laudable: they want social improvement and a more level playing field. It’s just that they talk a good game, make nuisances of themselves over trivial issues, and in the end don’t accomplish anything for society.

I think it’s best to just admit that the meaning of “woke” has changed, as we all know, accept that, and move on. I agree with deBoer when when he says this:

No to woke, no to identity politics, no to political correctness, fine: PICK SOMETHING. The fact that they steadfastly refuse to do so is a function of their feeling that they shouldn’t have to do politics like everyone else. But they do. And their resistance to doing politics is why, three years after a supposed “reckoning,” nothing has really changed. (If there’s no such thing as the social justice politics movement, who made the protests and unrest of 2020 happen? The fucking Democrats?)

They haven’t picked anything but “progressive”, and that word sticks in my craw. Plus “progessive” hasn’t changed meaning: it still seems to mean those who favor policies that, when implemented, will actually change the world. Many liberal consider themselves progressive in that sense, but not “woke.” So woke it will be on this site—at least until the word changes meaning again.


What is best about deBoer’s piece is his list of eight salient characteristics of “woke” itself (or “wokeness”).  I’ll put them in bold and indent them (any flush left words are mine). This is greatly condensed, as you should read deBoer’s piece for yourself. He’s right on the money:

Woke is defined by several consistent attributes. Woke is:

  1. Academic – the terminology of woke politics is an academic terminology, which is unsurprising given its origins in humanities departments of elite universities. Central to woke discourse is the substitution of older and less complicated versions of socially liberal perspectives with more willfully complex academic versions. . . .
  2. Immaterial – woke politics are overwhelmingly concerned with the linguistic, the symbolic, and the emotional to the detriment of the material, the economic, and the real. Woke politics are famously obsessive about language, developing literal language policies that are endlessly long and exacting. Utterances are mined for potential offense with pitiless focus, such that statements that were entirely anodyne a few years ago become unspeakable today. Being politically pure is seen as a matter of speaking correctly rather than of acting morally. The woke fixation on language and symbol makes sense when you realize that the developers of the ideology are almost entirely people whose profession involves the immaterial and the symbolic – professors, writers, reporters, artists, pundits. . .
  3. Structural in analysis, individual in action – the woke perspective is one that tends to see the world’s problems as structural in nature rather than the product of individual actors or actions. Sometimes the problems are misdiagnosed or exaggerated, but the structural focus is beneficial. Curiously, though, the woke approach to solutions to politics is relentlessly individualistic. . .

This of course is why you rarely see problem of institutions attributed to bigoted, racist, or sexist individuals. No, they are structural problems. But they are, as deBoer says, supposedly to be rectified with “individual moral correctness.”

4. Emotionalist – “emotionalist” rather than emotional, meaning not necessarily inappropriately emotional but concerned fundamentally with emotions as the currency of politics. In woke circles, political problems are regularly diagnosed as a matter of the wrong emotions being inspired in someone. Someone feeling “invalid” is no longer an irrelevant matter of personal psychology best left to a therapist but instead a political problem to be solved, and anyone who provoked that feeling is someone who has committed a political crime no matter what the context or pretext.

These go along with the three “great truths” that Haidt and Lukianoff set out in their fine book The Coddling of the American Mind:

  • “What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker”
  • “Always trust your feelings”; and
  • “Life is a battle between good people and evil people.”

These are all emotionalist (and Manichean) points, but spurn the analytical for the emotional.

5. Fatalistic – woke politics tend towards extreme fatalism regarding solutions and the possibility of gradual positive political change. Institutions are all corrupt and bigoted, so institutions cannot prompt change. Most people are irredeemably racist, and so the masses cannot create a just society. Constructive police reform is inherently and irrevocably impossible, so the only response to police violence is police abolition, no matter that we can’t actually achieve police abolition. Everything and everyone is presumed to be unapologetically bigoted until proven otherwise.

I’ve often wondered why the woke fail to recognize the tremendous moral progress that’s been made in the West in the last few centuries, and in America in the last few decades. We’re not only materially much better off, but morally much better off. When I was a kid, segregation was the law in the South. While there’s still bigotry, the structural racism is gone (though the GOP is trying to bring it back through voting measures).. And yet people act as if racism was worse than ever.

I wonder why it’s in the interests of a movement supposedly aiming at social progress to claim that such progress is impossible, but perhaps it’s to gloss over the failures of the Woke Program to improve society, and to keep people from doing the hard work necessary for that.  But this is why the true sign of a woke person (and of course of some conservatives) is that they despise Steve Pinker and his well-documented evidence that yes, society has gotten tremendously better in the last couple of centuries (“in every way”, as Stuart Smalley might say). You have to be an idiot or willfully blind not to see that.

6. Insistent that all political questions are easy – woke people speak and act as though there are no hard political questions and no such thing as a moral dilemma. Everything is obvious if you’ve only done the reading and done the work, which woke people assure you they did long ago.

And this is why the woke are constantly getting themselves into moral dilemmas that they refuse to recognize. It’s why Western feminists valorize the Middle East—one of the most oppressive places in the world for women, and why the woke love Palestine, the true apartheid state, but analogize Israel, which gives much more freedom to Muslims, gays, and women as ridden with “apartheid.”. It’s why advocates for women’s rights nevertheless see no problem with biological males competing in sports against biological females. And it’s why they can’t recognize that “diversity” and “merit”, at this stage of the game, pull in opposite directions, and why “free speech” must tolerate people being grossly offended.

7. Possessed of belief in the superior virtue of the oppressed – what was assumed by Bertrand Russel to be obviously misguided is now assumed to be true without evaluation: virtue is not just common among the oppressed, virtue is a function of oppression. The correlation between virtue and oppression is one.

8. Enabling people who aren’t Black or Southern to say “y’all” – this one is unforgivable.

Well, #8 is a throwaway but yes, the “valorization of the oppressed” is a definite characteristic of the woke. It’s why they claim that “indigenous knowledge” is either coequal to or better than modern scientific knowledge.  It’s this attitude that will bring down New Zealand.

But in the end, the oppressed are the oppressed, not superior beings. The oppression must be fixed, but it would be hard to claim that—except for those who actually oppress others—they are in general better human beings than other people. I’ve just finished Rohan Mistry’s book A Fine Balance, which is a superb novel, and it shows very clearly how the Indians, oppressed themselves by the British, were and remain an oppressive society insofar as they retain the caste system (they’re doing a lot to get rid of it, but it’s persistent). Talk about structural oppression! India is one of the worst places to instantiate it, and yet the Indians are people of color. Such are the complexities of the world that the woke fail to grasp.

Do these characteristics make wokeness a religion, as John McWhorter and others claim? It certainly has many characteristics of religion: dogmatism, belief in statements that can’t be proved, taboos, god, and sins.  But I won’t play that semantic game right now. I’ll just continue to use the words “woke” and “wokeness.”

63 thoughts on “Once again: is there a better term for “woke”?

  1. The old Soviet critique of pluralism denied that the West was democratic, but only pluralistic, and that the leading factions in Western society would turn authoritarian when their interests were threatened, giving up as much power as needed in order to hold on to as much power as they could. Compare this insight to the capitulation of the Academy, the Progressive wing of the Democratic party, and much of the media to “wokeness.” I don’t have a better name for wokeness, though I don’t like the name, but this is the process I think we are witnessing. Where is the threat coming from, though, one might ask. People are afraid of – not revolution from below – but out and out race war, so they capitulate. It’s a mental anxiety as much as a physical threat – psychiatrically, there is no difference between a real threat and an imagined threat, as long as one really feels threatened.

  2. If there were a better word than “woke” then the woke would immediately object to that also. It’s all part of the central tactic of woke activism: refusal to debate. They refuse to allow “wokeness” to be named in order to make it harder to criticize.

    It was the same with “critical race theory” and similar terms.

    [By the way, did everyone notice how quickly we went from “Of course CRT is not being taught in schools, it’s only an advanced, college-level law seminar”, to “How dare DeSantis/Rufo not allow us to teach CRT to 12-yr-olds!”?]

  3. “I think it’s best to just admit that the meaning of “woke” has changed”

    I don’t think the word has so much changed as it has fragmented. It is used by different people to mean different things and, depending on who you are talking to, is a slur or a term of pride. Words whose meanings just change over time don’t cause much confusion, unless you’re reading an old novel or such. We all know what it is to “have a clue” despite the word having once been used to identify a ball of yarn.

    So I’m among those who are frustrated by the word, especially since it has now come to mean (to some) “anything a Republican doesn’t like”.

    Not that I have a good alternative to offer. “Performative postmodernism” works for me but it is a bit more clumsy. (Which used to mean “paralyzed by cold”.)

  4. The Woke/Social Justice activists certainly behave with the fervour of the the religious zealot as alluded to in the titles of both John McWhorter’s ‘Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America’ as well as Andrew Doyle’s ‘The New Puritans: How the Religion of Social Justice Captured the Western World’. But it is a strange fervour that comes combined with a cry-bully sense of imagined grievance and a toddler-tantrum refusal to make an argument. It’s like being subjected to the inquisition of Tomás de Torquemada by readers of Thomas de Tank Engine.

    1. It’s like being subjected to the inquisition of Tomás de Torquemada by readers of Thomas de Tank Engine.


  5. Maybe we need new formulas entirely to replace “woke”. How about “prxgressyve” or “sxcial justicex”? Alternatively, we could employ terms with accurate meanings, such as
    “regressive Left” or, as Pluckrose and Lindsay point out, “applied postmodernism”. I
    incline toward “pop-Left”, but perhaps that is too broad. Or is it?

  6. Ages ago, I saw an ad on New Zealand TV. Can’t even remember the sponsor, but the point of the ad was that political correctness (proto-woke) was intellectual laziness, and that unless you could define an issue in its’ own terms, you should not be discussing it. This applies to both pro and anti-woke sides. Keep things simple. Don’t be lazy.

  7. The statement “Well, we all know that the word has changed meaning from a term of approbation to a term of denigration” is simply not true.

    Republicans are certainly working diligently to make it so, just as they have with the word “liberal”. However polls show a majority of Americans are inclined to see the word as a positive attribute, not a negative one. Here’s one such link: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2023/03/08/gop-war-woke-most-americans-see-term-positive-ipsos-poll/11417394002/

    1. But that same poll says this:

      Additionally, nearly half (48%) of survey respondents ages 50-64 defined “woke” as “being overly politically correct,” while only 33% of respondents ages 18-34 said the same.

      While there was some agreement on the definition of “woke,” Americans are more sharply divided over whether the word is a compliment or an insult, pollsters said. Forty percent said it is an insult and 32% said it was a compliment.

      There’s much more agreement on the definition than other whether it’s an insult. One commenter above may have gotten this distinction: it depends on whether you SEE “woke” behaviors as positive or negative. I happen to see language policing, picketing “Kimono Wednesdays”, and “decolonizing science” as negative, while those who do these things may see them as positive attributes. I’ll continue to use it a pejorative, and according to DeBoer’s definition, and if you don’t want to read what I write because I use it that way, there are plenty of other websites you can read.

  8. In terms of its pejorative use, yes, there is a better word—or in this case, a term: political correctness.

    As for its use in terms of how language is used, you may want to read “The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn” by Diane Ravitch. The word “woke” never appears because the book is from 2004 (referring to the revised paperback edition).

    In the meantime, this: https://twitter.com/DavidAFrench/status/1636139037235740673

    1. A very important book, describing the situation twenty and more years ago. Its implication for the natural history of wokeliness is that the college students that Lukianoff and Haidt encountered in the 2010s had their minds pre-coddled in K-12 school.

    2. I too was thinking of political correctness… but then to show that it is another turn around the circle perhaps it should be ‘New Political Correctness’?

      Then I thought how a non-player character in video games is a ‘NPC’ – which as internet slang is taken to mean “A person with no ability to think for themselves”.

      I smiled to myself.

    3. Barry – “political correctness” is a great term. I don’t think it’s better, because that term encapsulates a number of examples of codifying “correct” speech which include wokeness, where as “wokeness” just refers to that slice of it. So the term is perhaps more widely understood but less precise.

  9. I know James Lindsay rubs a lot of people the wrong way with his style on Twitter, but I think he’s done the best job of getting to the root of Woke. Take a look at Visit W3Schools.com!the entry on Woke on New Discourses, a site I’d strongly recommend to anyone struggling to make sense of the Woke. At the end of the day the most frustrating thing about the Woke is that they are not honest disputants in a dialogue over where the country is headed. They lie, they obfuscate. They are looking to bring down Capitalism, still, and reform is just Bourgeois politics. The problems they cause are the point. Antifa is their weapon, just as it was when it arose in Weimar Germany. And just like the old days, it doesn’t matter if Woke’s followers understand what’s happening, they are useful idiots, as Lenin called them a century ago. If kids are mutilated, if planes crash, if people are denied medical care, if an entire generation can’t read or do math, who cares, you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs! Don’t want to call them Woke? Call the Communists or Neo-Communists.

    1. In terms of revolutionary methodology they may use some similar tactics, but I’ve never understood the tendency to equate wokeness with communism. Communism is fundamentally based on the one thing the Woke never admit, aren’t interested in, and show no awareness of: an economic and social analysis based on *class*. Their inability to frame a question in terms of class, and concomitant obsession with race and gender identities, is precisely what prevents their analysis having any purchase on real problems. As our host has pointed out more than once, those still adhering to communism are among the most implacable opponents of the woke, e.g. see the World Socialist Web Site’s critique of the NYT’s 1619 Project at https://www.wsws.org/en/topics/event/1619.

      1. Yes. We’ve commented here at WEIT a number of times on how the opposition to wokeness spans the political spectrum, and is, indeed, arguably most fierce among true leftists. The right wing despises wokeness because they think publicly doing so will win them elections; leftists despise it because they think it will prevent any possibility of working class solidarity.


      2. To paraphrase Lindsay: the progression from communism/ old-school Marxism happened when the Frankfurt school thinkers realized that Marxism didn’t pan out as planned: capitalism was way too successful at keeping even working people happy in terms of wealth and living standard.
        So in order to motivate people to smash the system and usher in “all are equal” communism, the philosophers had to come up with other dimensions to “problematize” society. Race, gender, sexual orientation, fatness, disability, you name it. The basic narrative – it’s all about one group oppressing the other, and the oppressed are morally virtuous and need to start a revolution to abolish the hierarchies – is still the same.

  10. “Woke” is a fine word. There actually hasn’t been any change in its meaning at all; whether you think it’s pejorative or positive depends entirely on your attitude towards the behavior it describes.

  11. I think “woke” is perfectly fine. I’m watching, reading, and hearing more discussion of the topic than ever before—which I think is a good thing—and I think that the attention is in part attributable to the exotic nature of the word itself. An “ordinary” word would not generate so much attention. There is some confusion around “woke”—as I observed in several recent discussions on Alisyn Camerata’s CNN evening show, for example—but the conversation usually gets around to at least some of the core problem areas: the performative aspect, the virtue signaling, the hypersensitivity over word usage, the feigned “harms,” the categorization of people as either oppressors or oppressed, white self-loathing, etc.

    Just today, Thomas Chatterton Williams has a piece in the Atlantic decrying the use of the term “woke,” but I find his argument somewhat wandering and unconvincing (https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2023/03/wokeness-definition-social-justice-racism/673416/). Despite lack of a clear definition, people are tacking their way to an understanding of the topic. Specifying the *characteristics* of wokeness may be sufficient, as deBoer does so well, even if a precise definition remains elusive. I also suspect that many of those who demand a definition of the term do so simply to catch the opponents of wokeness off guard. Gotcha!

    When asked for a succinct explanation, I sometimes call it “political correctness on steroids,” but I prefer woke.

  12. That’s a pretty much on-the-money piece by deBoer. Freddie deBoer is generally well worth reading, though he sometimes exhibits a seemingly compulsive (and occasionally off-putting) proclivity for verbosity.

    Part of the problem with “woke” is that it has been reduced to an all-purpose pejorative by some who lack a clear concept of what they’re trying to convey through the term. (This tendency may have reached its apotheosis recently with those who blame the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank on “wokeness.”) Here, for example, is Bethany Mandel, author of the anti-wokeness book Stolen Youth completely whiffing when called upon to define “woke”:


    1. Wokeness is a bit like US Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart’s characterization of pornography: I know it when I see it.

    2. I agree. The right wing is beating the term “woke” to death, as in blaming the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank on “wokeness,” so the word will eventually lose its meaning and become synonymous with “anything right wingers don’t like.” When that happens, folks on the center and left will stop using the word and will be forced to find another, for fear of being mistaken as right-wingers.
      Case in point, the once useful term “virtue-signaling” has been so overused and abused by the right that it has lost its sting. “Woke” will follow soon.

  13. An excellent analysis and excellent comments.
    One thing that illustrates the self-admiring self-righteousness of the woke (and yea, verily, it does look like a religion) are those memes that list all the reasons why they are so wonderful and perfect, such as this one: https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=5802085473174103&set=a.365335956849109
    It is easy to find counter-examples for all of these points. Ignoring the unpleasant parts of the reality is a standard feature of all ideologies. It is like their right-wing counterparts, those True American Good Patriotic Christians. Maybe Trump was onto something when he said that there are fine people on both sides…

  14. Wokism and Progressivism have been conflated by the opponents and supporters of both concepts, and for the same reasons, as suggested by the USA Today poll above.

    Progressivism, I think, is a general view that supports redistributing income and wealth, and the power that goes with it, from those who created it to those who didn’t, but claim entitlement to it nonetheless. The particular policy tools are a matter of debate even among those who view progressivism as a force for good. What’s agreed I think are the desired outcomes: an egalitarian society that is also wealthy enough to fund generous social programs and still attract entrepreneurial wealth creators. In America, race is a distraction from the economic struggle and perhaps explains the failure of progressivism to gain traction. Losing a race war is more dire than free Medicare for all is beneficial. Much of the social spending has to be diverted, resentfully, to buying racial peace.

    One view of wokism is that by enforcing performative language through cancelling the heterodox thinkers—when someone is fired, that’s not just words—you remove obstacles to achieving progressive goals. Freedom of speech is cheerfully cast aside by Stanford students and their DEI Dean because if Progressives always hold hegemony in a one-party state there will be no fear that their speech, the only good speech, will ever be censored. Totalitarianism is not at all inconsistent with progressivism and indeed accelerates it. Nor does democracy undermine progressivism because there will always be more wealth consumers eager to vote to redistribute it to themselves than wealth creators.

    Anti-progressives see the struggle in the same way. They fight wokism to reduce casualties on their side, hoping to crush the Progressives and their dangerous ideas if they can gain power themselves.

    The difficulty for many commenters here is that you broadly support the goals of Progressivism, even if not every specific policy like student loan forgiveness, say. Yet you are troubled by Wokism. You seem to think that Wokism is somehow a perversion of Progressivism going in a direction that Progressives like yourselves don’t want. Is that a realistic position? Who’s in control?

    Wokism as a word is fine. Usage rules. The question is, Is Wokism the shock troops of Progressivism with the infantry pouring through the gaps created in the demoralized enemy, or is Wokism a rogue special-ops unit that will be brought to heel and disbanded once the movement comes to its senses about what it is up to?

    1. To answer a few of your questions, Leslie, I’m an old-school liberal who is sympathetic to some of the Progressive aims in the USA, such as Medicare for all. Per contra to your implication that the Woke are a kind of Progressive advance guard, I do see Wokeism, as defined by DeBoer and our host, as an aberration of the Progressive movement, to be abhorred and repudiated because of its authoritarianism.

      1. Thanks, Stephen. I’m going to pay more attention to that distinction, which was also raised by other commenters while I was struggling to inject some sense into mine.

  15. I’m in the middle of reading The Rise of Victimhood Culture: Microaggressions, Safe Spaces, and the New Culture Wars by sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning. Their basic argument is that what we’re calling “woke” ideology isn’t based on left/right politics or a liberal/conservative standpoint, but is an emerging moral culture similar to Honor Culture or Dignity Culture, with its own narrative framework and ethical hierarchy.

    In Honor Culture, people are sensitive to slights and tend to handle conflicts themselves, often through violence, while cultivating an image of courage and toughness. In Dignity Cultures, people ignore slights and insults, deal with disputes through the courts, and seek to cultivate an image of restraint, resilience, and inherent worth. In Victimhood Culture, people have a high sensitivity to slight, tend to handle conflict through complaints to authorities and other third parties, and cultivate an image of weakness — of being victims who deserve assistance.

    The authors spend some time defending their term “Victimhood Culture,” admitting that the people in this culture reject the name but pointing out that by dividing the world into Oppressed and Oppressor and giving the most moral worth (and power) to the most oppressed, victimhood becomes a defining value similar to honor in the one case and dignity in the other. My own guess is that, if given a choice between being called a “Victimhood Culture” or “Woke,” most of the progressive social justice warriors would noisily refuse both.

    I think “Critical Social Justice Activism” might be a fair enough term which is less likely to put them off, but doubt it could gain much traction.

    It’s why Western feminists valorize the Middle East… advocates for women’s rights nevertheless see no problem with biological males competing in sports against biological females.

    Feminists, like liberals, have divided on this issue. Many feminists think the hijab and Muslim ideology are deeply misogynistic and consider women’s oppression to be based on their sex, with gender referring to sexist stereotypes. I suppose that, just as we can refer to Classic Liberals (the Enlightenment) and “Woke” Liberals (Critical Social Justice), we can have Classic Feminists and “Woke” Feminists.

    I don’t want to cede either liberalism or feminism to the modern extreme.

    1. Let me hasten to add that by “feminists”, I meant “some feminists”, not “all feminists.” One who opposes oppression, for example is Masih Ahminejad. I have to be more careful when mentioning groups when I really mean subgroups of those groups.

    2. I’ve argued elsewhere that Woke is a reaction to Classic Liberalism (the Enlightenment) and is perhaps a New Romanticism (or a Dark Romanticism). This aligns with your comments that ‘Woke’ is not so much political as cultural.

  16. “It certainly has many characteristics of religion: dogmatism, belief in statements that can’t be proved, taboos, god, and sins.”

    And a priesthood- those whose “lived experience” authorizes them to enunciate moral truth. Up to and including the “lived experiences” of others, e.g. Robin DiAngelo telling whites about the racism in their heart of hearts.

    1. In addition to a priesthood, they have prophets, who have come down from on high with the indisputable Truth. I’m thinking of Ta-Nehisi Coates and especially Ibram X. Kendi, He Who Is Not To Be Questioned.

  17. Why not keep it simple and just call them what they are: LINGUISTIC AUTHORITARIANS, and more generally, REGRESSIVE LEFTISTS

  18. Jon Haidt has similar goal posts in his book: The Coddling of the American mind. He refers to them as the great untruths in campus culture:

    1: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker
    2: Always trust your feelings
    3: Life is a battle between good and evil people

    One of his “woke” remedies is to end what he refers to as reverse CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) – internalizing harm every which linguistic way possible (trigger warnings, words as violence, etc etc)

    The convergence of agreement on what ails is an interesting and welcome turn.

  19. What I would find laughable if it weren’t so sad is that the same people who complain that the word “woke” has changed meaning think that they can change the meaning of the word “woman” just because they want to.

    My definition: “woke” refers to the set of beliefs of those who self-identify as “woke” and which do not significantly overlap with the beliefs of any other group.

  20. “5. Fatalistic – woke politics tend towards extreme fatalism regarding solutions and the possibility of gradual positive political change. Institutions are all corrupt and bigoted, so institutions cannot prompt change.”

    The distrust in institutions, particularly those of government, seems to be widespread among both left and right. In 2022. Now, because a Democrat is in the White House, only 9% of Republicans trust government. Distrust of institutions does not differentiate the Woke from others. Pew Research stated this: “Public trust in government remains low, as it has for much of the 21st century. Only two-in-ten Americans say they trust the government in Washington to do what is right “just about always” (2%) or “most of the time” (19%). Trust in the government has declined somewhat since last year, when 24% said they could trust the government at least most of the time.” I think nothing is more indicative of why the country seems to be falling apart is this widespread distrust. If the vast majority of people, for whatever reason, distrust the institutions of government then social and political collapse could be imminent (relatively speaking), meaning within a decade.


  21. We left out “SJW” in the opening survey of terms – an earlier version of the pattern of a “pejorative” following a sincere usage.

    I don’t think the derogatory usage of “woke” (now available to read in the Oxford dictionary) has a different *meaning* than the preceding revived usage. It was simply a case of “this is the word you want to use for this particular set of perhaps well-meaning but confused ideas? As you wish.” That’s still the main reason I think it’s correct to use – it was explicitly espoused and encouraged before it was shunned by the same faction.

    DeBoer’s attributes seem like descriptive traits of wokeness, but not defining ones, and I think the precise definition, elusive as it may be, needn’t necessarily include any of them. We’ve had hundreds of years to analyze religion and precisely articulate what it is and where it goes wrong, whereas modern wokeness is still in its first decade of being so analyzed and reverse-engineered, even by adults.

    If I were to take a first quick shot at a precise term, I might go with “anti-the-character-of-an-individual-is-the-unit-of-moral-responsibility” or something, then look for a term for a succinct version of the sentiment without the prefix and call it “anti”-that.

  22. I don’t think they want there to be a term for people who hold their collective beliefs. The harder something is to identify or define, the harder it is to form an organized resistance to it.

    Any term used for them will be seen as a pejorative, because they are repugnant and childish people.

    When I hear the term, It reminds me of a conversation I had with one of them, an educated young woman who seemed otherwise intelligent and reasonable.
    The subject was unaccompanied minors detained by the Border Patrol.
    Her view was that any detention of those kids for any length of time was essentially putting them in concentration camps.
    My response was that it is a more complicated issue than that. A ten year old girl crossing a national border alone is not going to be allowed to just disappear into the desert. They cannot give them $50 and a bus ticket to Los Angeles. They cannot just release her to the first guy that shows up claiming to be her uncle.
    At a minimum, they need to take the time to verify the child’s identity, make sure that they have not been abducted from their legal guardians, ensure that they are healthy, and find them a safe place to stay while the legal process proceeds.
    Anyway, at the time of our discussion, it was taking about four days to process the kids and house them with a sponsor.

    With those facts in mind, I asked her what alternatives she would suggest. She just repeated that it is wrong to take those kids into custody. Her only suggestion was “Just don’t hold them”.

    That is woke to me. She identified something that most would agree is an unpleasant situation, and she was willing to call the authorities a bunch of Nazis for their involvement. But she was not willing to come up with alternatives, or even waste any of her time thinking about the complexities of it.

    Woke people generally hold a bunch of views that seem contradictory to anyone willing to explore them with any depth. But they don’t think any of it through, deliberately it seems. And there are surely some cold and cynical people guiding the general direction of the discourse on individual subjects, by encouraging the woke to indulge in some of the baser aspects of human nature. Envy seems to be a big driver of it, although wrath, lust and gluttony feature prominently.

  23. Why use these buzz words at all? If you’re going to call out someone for bad behavior why not just do that? If you think someone is lying, say that. if you think someone is a hypocrite, say that. That way everyone knows exactly who and what it is you object to. How about we all take Orwell’s wise counsel and say it plainly.

    1. Your comment completely misses the point that “woke” describes a whole group of go-together behaviors and attitudes that characterize a certain kind of mentality. The word keeps you from going on and on describing somebody’s entire panoply of attitudes which is similar to other peoples’ attitudes.

      And when I go after woke behavior on this site, I always characterize what behavior I’m attacking, and why I don’t favor it. I don’t just call people out for bad behavior.

      I am restraining myself here, but would appreciate it if you try to understand why we use adjectives like that (“liberal” and “conservative” and “socialist” are others) instead of touting how you are morally superior to everyone else who’s commented.

      I would say that I DO state things plainly, and I think others have done so as well.

  24. Another term that captures most of the same nuances as “woke” is “successor ideology”, but that term is far less widely used, so there’s more of a risk that people won’t know what you’re talking about if you use it.

  25. Ilana Redstone of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has been writing and speaking about what she calls “the Certainty Trap,” which she argues is getting in the way of clear thinking and exacerbating polarization, among other ills.

    She cites three “barriers” to effective communication that infect people who feel “certain,” which are, I think, relevant to the above (excellent) overall description of “wokeness”:

    * The first is the Settled Question Fallacy—we fall into this when we behave as though certain questions have definitive and clear answers when they, in fact, do not.

    * The second barrier is the Fallacy of Known Intent—committed when we behave as though we know someone’s motives.

    * The third barrier is the Fallacy of Equal Knowledge—this is our mistake when we believe that, if the other person knew what I know (or had my experiences), they would think what I think.

    I really like her thinking, and I think it’s at least a potential partial curative to some of our woke sickness.

  26. About the 4th characteristic of Wokeness (“emotionalism”): it should be noted that only the emotions of certain people matter to the Woke.

  27. I agree with this post, but take exception to this: “It’s just that they talk a good game, make nuisances of themselves over trivial issues, and in the end don’t accomplish anything for society.” It isn’t just that they don’t accomplish anything positive for society, it is that they actively impede progress toward more social justice by handing the MAGA-morons, more and more incidents to point to which seem to support the false narrative that the Woke are a far greater danger to Western civilization than the proto-fascists in the MAGA-moron party (formerly known as the GOP)

  28. Discussing homonyms is an exercise in futility, it’s difficult to hit at a moving target faster than the speed of light.

    Opponents will use it currently in the meaning of “over-righteous liberalism”, proponents often see it as way to make people alert to racial prejudice and discrimination.

    I see current woke-culture as typical western progressive culture; destroying old values and structures and wanting to replace it with new values and structures. Difficult to say what’s good about it, easy to see its shortcomings. Pointing out its shortcomings is probably the only thing we can do. I believe as long as liberal democratic values (freedom of speech, fair elections, equal legal rights, etc …) are respected woke culture cannot do much real harm.

    1. Unfortunately woke can’t abide those liberal democratic values. They thwart them in order that their side wins, just as all totalitarian movements do.

  29. It’s because “new” wokeness is centered on words rather than action, and on words as a substitute for action.

    I think you just invented the term you are looking for. (Emphasis added to highlight it.) And it’s an excellent choice, because it highlights the diversion that the academic poseurs perpetrated upon the original meaning of “woke”. It thereby cuts off a rightist maneuver, which is to tar all attempts to remedy racial injustice with a brush laden with the bad smell of New Woke politics.

  30. Wokeness has two aspects: On the one hand it can be characterized as a political psychology embodying a particular political style; and on the other hand it can be characterized as a political ideology (“wokeism”) comprising certain tenets and goals.

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