Eyes Open, Mind Engaged

To me, that is the definition of Woke. I’ve been bemused by the backlash of people who, without too much interpretation, are obviously complaining about something else loudly hurling “Woke!” as if it is a pejorative. It’s not that they have a legitimate argument, it is that they are discomfited by the implications and wish to go back to pretending there is nothing to be woke to. It’s not even subtle.

Consider one of the consequences of the backlash—the attempt to ban books. Now, this is nothing new. Banning books that unsettle the comfortable is a long American tradition, quite often less political than the kindred forms of censorship practiced elsewhere. We don’t usually protest books here because of political ideology so much as out of a reflexive defensiveness of cherished myths. Some of these are family stories left unquestioned for generations, some of them are the kind of origin stories surrounding the establishment of this or that institution. In most cases, people have embraced these stories and incorporated them into their sense of self, their identity, and when the story is challenged, their apprehension of Who They Are is called into question.

Somewhere along the way the practice of review has either been abandoned or was never inculcated. It comes as a shock that perhaps they should never have accepted uncritically all the things they were fed as children.

But I suspect the most violent reactions are coming from those who perhaps sense the truth beneath the myth and simply do not want to accept it. They do not want to feel responsible. Maybe their concept of a Good Life depends on those myths. Whatever.

Once, in conversation with acquaintances who were very proudly Catholic, the question was raised (by them) “just what was the Reformation all about?” I took it at face value and said, “Many things, but the trigger was over Indulgences.” “What are those?” When I explained what a Plenary Indulgence was, they regarded me with the blank expressions of the never-before-informed. They didn’t believe me. I had to be misinformed. Why would the Church do that? Why would people believe these things would work?

The facts opened a shelf-full of cans of worms that required a profound revision in their understanding of the institution in which they had invested a great deal. Delving into all that threatened their sense of well-being in their self-identification as Catholics. The fact that, as members of that institution, they not only did not know about significant parts of Church history but strenuously did not want to know, dismayed and saddened me, but it served as a good example as the kind of mindset we encounter in those most stridently condemning Woke-ism.

But I have rarely seen a clearer example of “getting it wrong” than this. It is sharper, more clearly delineated, than its predecessor, the rejection of so-called Political Correctness, which was also misunderstood, mostly by those who simply did not want their assumptions about history and culture and politics and personal identity called into question. They did not want to be reminded, held to account, called on the carpet, or simply be required to do the work of realignment necessitated by an acceptance of realities not in evidence in their own lives.  Political Correctness devolved at times into a game of constantly revising what things were called. That, of course, should have been merely a consequence of revising our understanding of relationships, taking into account the realities of others, but that’s complicated and tedious and hard and for people who never internalized actual learning but skidded by on doing well on tests and knowing how to interview successfully and going along with those in power just to get along, it was a slog and often resulted in long periods of just feeling like eggshells were everywhere in their path.

Woke—and, more to the point, being Anti-Woke—is less ambiguous. Woke is a requirement to not privilege ignorance over reality and Anti-Woke is a demand to enshrine specific kinds of ignorance in order to maintain privileged conditions. Every time someone stands up and opposes being Woke, I hear someone insisting on being callous and stupid.

Except for those in leadership positions. They are not stupid. Callous, certainly, but not stupid. (Clever, but not very intelligent.) They know their audience. They’re just venal. In order to attain power, they’re playing their supporters for saps.

The more you know, the more you can know. The more you can know, the less power demagogues can wield over you. The less power they have, the freer you are. The freer you are, the less you have to fear.

So wake up.

Published by Mark Tiedemann

2 comments on “Eyes Open, Mind Engaged”

  1. I’ll start by stating that I’m entirely opposed to banning books. I support FIRE’s position on attacking Florida’s anti-woke act at the college level. I fervently oppose censorship–it has never been a good thing. It hurts minorities and the dispossessed, for the many reasons pointed out by Robert Corn-Revere in his book, :The Mind of the Censor and the Eye of the Beholder,: https://reason.com/podcast/2022/01/19/bob-corn-revere-how-todays-censors-hide-behind-science-and-psychology/

    I have found Aaron Sibarium’s definition of “woke” to be useful for describing a certain type of real-life person.. In my experience, many of these people exist and they are tearing apart our institutions, including colleges, govt and media. They are highly judgmental and impossible to work with. They are not interested in conversations in which we give each other charitable readings. They would prefer the types of “conversations” we recently saw at Stanford Law School, where heckler’s vetos shut down meaningful exchanges of ideas. https://www.thefire.org/news/stanford-law-hecklers-demanding-free-speech-dont-know-what-theyre-asking

    I would never hire people like this to be my employees, not out of hate, but because they tend to be intolerant, judgmental and authoritarian. They don’t know how to work with others. They don’t know how to give-and-take. They don’t know how to compromise or explore differences of opinion. Here’s Sibarium’s definition of “woke”:

    “-A strong and in practice unrebuttable presumption that certain salient group disparities are due entirely to oppression.
    -A willingness to jettison longstanding legal, political, and social norms in order to eliminate those disparities.
    -A belief that oppression operates through both impersonal power structures and unconscious attitudes.
    -A hyper-sensitivity to the feelings, both real and imagined, of members of marginalized groups.
    -An expansive, almost mystical conception of the self, which is inherited from the liberal tradition that wokeness seeks to overthrow.
    -Distrust—and in many cases demonization—of straight, white, cisgendered males.
    -A belief that oppression, while pervasive, is also concealed.
    – A sense that unmasking oppression requires the special insight of those with “lived experience,” which can be partially imparted through trainings and experts.”

    I also find Freddie DeBoer’s definition useful:

    ““Wokeness” centers “the personal is political” at the heart of all politics and treats political action as inherently a matter of personal moral hygiene – woke isn’t something you do, it’s something you are. Correspondingly all of politics can be decomposed down to the right thoughts and right utterances of enlightened people. Persuasion and compromise are contrary to this vision of moral hygiene and thus are deprecated. Correct thoughts are enforced through a system of mutual surveillance, one which takes advantage of the affordances of internet technology to surveil and then punish. Since politics is not a matter of arriving at the least-bad alternative through an adversarial process but rather a matter of understanding and inhabiting an elevated moral station, there are no crises of conscience or necessary evils.”

    More definitions here:

    I know people like this. I have read the writings of many people like this. To be “woke” in these ways is not a good thing. People like this don’t make things, but only tear then down. They can’t even get along with each other, as Ryan Grimm documented. https://theintercept.com/2022/06/13/progressive-organizing-infighting-callout-culture/

    See also, the Mission statement of FAIR, which I consider to be the opposite of “woke.” https://www.fair-for-all.org/about/#our-mission.

    1. Not disagreeing, but what I described in my piece goes to both sides. Those who abuse “wokeness” are just as egocentrically oblivious and opposed to meaningful review as those uncritically condemning wokeness. We saw this same thing with political correctness—those so dedicated to a single interpretation of “reality” that burning the world down to validate said viewpoint seemed reasonable and non-negotiable.

      I do see this as a consequence of the duel. Go back far enough, someone, somewhere, made a perfectly reasonable observation and recommendation, which triggered a duel of spiraling rhetoric that over time eliminate all possibility of reason and compromise because that is how we seem to conduct debate anymore. The one with the loudest voice wins. This drives people to extremes and soon enough the original issue loses the stage and the extremism takes it place. If I were keeping score, though, it would appear the anti-woke crowd are more inclined to a nuclear option. I mourn for the rational field of genuine intercourse.

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