About Wokeness

Are you fully woke? Do you even know what woke is? Here’s why you should care.

My understanding of woke is this: a state of being in which you are fully and constantly aware of any language or action that would qualify as a transgression against an identity group using that group’s criteria for what constitutes a transgression. Presumably, possessing this wisdom, you constantly monitor your own actions and language to avoid transgressions. It’s likely that you monitor others and call them out on their transgressions. 

Calling out others brings us to cancel culture. There is much discussion presently about whether cancel culture is a thing or not. Some say that it’s a thing on both the left and the right; that it’s always been a thing; that it’s intensity has been magnified by social media. Some say it’s a thing, but it’s nothing to worry about. Here’s my take on it.

I first became aware of serious leftist wokeness and cancel culture in 2019. A kerfuffle about our public library allowing a radical feminist group to use a meeting room (they reluctantly did) led me into the realm of trans activists. I’d been paying some attention to trans issues since an employee at my retirement community held a meeting to tell us about herself (non-binary), and all the letters that follow the B in LGBTQ+. I learned that in the UK, police can come to your door if someone reports you for hate speech which includes saying things like, “Trans women are not (exactly the same as natal) women.” Or, “Sex is binary.” 

In the US, we are allowed to say these things without getting a call from the police. But that’s where cancel culture comes in. If you offend any identity group, a member of that group, or even a woke white person not of that group, can call you out via social media or other means for saying an offensive thing. The first example of this that I paid attention to was when JK Rowling tweeted this:

This tweet was targeted as transphobic because Maya Forstater (in the UK) had lost her employment over tweets claiming that sex is binary and refusing to refer to a Scottish politician as “she,” (a man with a beard who presented as male and had taken no steps to transition). The story is long and complicated, but Rowling did not think that Maya should have lost her job. 

The goal of cancel culture is often explicit: the person should lose their job or position of authority. Depending on the status of the person who’s the target, this may succeed or not. James Bennet of The NY Times did not survive. JK Rowling might survive (because she can’t be fired), but Bari Weiss has just given up her position at The NY Times as a result of being iced out of the community of opinion writers.

Two of the more wretched examples of cancel culture succeeding are the stories of Emmanuel Cafferty and David Shor. Both ordinary citizens lost their jobs due to cancel culture. During the early days of this summer’s protests, when some were speculating that the looting and violence might work in Trump’s favor this fall, Shor tweeted a link to a peer reviewed research study by (Black researcher) Omar Wasow. In essence it concluded that peaceful protests in the 60s helped the Democrats, but violent protests worked in favor of Republicans. A woke person saw the tweet and called him out for racism (remember that at the time, news outlets were trying to downplay looting which cast protesters in a bad light). Furthermore, he sent a letter to Shor’s boss saying this person should lose his job. The boss complied and fired him. Cafferty and Shor simply didn’t have the status to survive. (Yes, these stories are true.)

A more recent example is an attempt to cancel Steven Pinker for signing the Harper’s Letter. (Please read the brief letter so you’ll know what this is about.) After signing the Harper’s letter, a statement in defense of free speech, Pinker was called out for being racist and sexist. Pinker will survive, but the situation on some college campuses is chilling. Princeton is a noteworthy contemporary example, but I’ll let you read about that on your own.

Locally, Katie Herzog, now co-host of the Blocked and Reported podcast, got the chill from the local gay community after she wrote an article for The Stranger about people who de-transition. Katie was not and is not transphobic. Didn’t matter. By publicizing the fact that a few people do desist (discontinue efforts to transition) and a few people do de-transition (after transitioning), she crossed a line with trans activists. She was, and continues to be, shunned by gay “friends.”

As we move through this summer of protests, I see situations where proposals that need to be fleshed out by getting actual information are being pushed by the woke. One example: Seattle Police (accused of all manner of bad behavior during some protests) have a documented track record of making good calls when they decide whether to stop a suspicious person.* Wouldn’t know it from the people on the streets, even though differentiating regular person from suspicious person is one of the protesters’ goals. After complying with so many of the requirements of the consent decree should we simply discard the police officers in whom we’ve invested so much training? 

I will not get cancelled because only ten people know I exist. But I believe wokeness is a problem. It is especially so for Democrats who seem obliged to speak “woke” to the point that they can’t defend free speech. I believe cancel culture exists and needs to be cancelled. Now that you know what’s going on, how do you feel about it?

* 99% of stops; 97% of frisks are justified. source: Seattle Police Monitor

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