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Wokeness Won’t Stop Unless We Stop It
We must take decisive action to prevent the dissolution of every aspect of our society and civilization.
This essay is a slightly modified version of an essay originally published on the author’s Substack, Keep Your Wokal Distance.
One aspect of woke ideology that flies under the radar is that wokeness has no stopping point. That is, there is no norm, value, idea, concept, expectation, standard, moral, or theory that wokeness will not dissolve, dismantle, deconstruct, and get rid of. What this means is that there is no point at which wokeness stops; it is like an acid that is so powerful that it dissolves any container that tries to hold it. As such, nothing—not math, not biology, not engineering, not religion—will avoid being obliterated once wokeness gets a hold of it.
There are two reasons for this.
The first is that there is an ethical imperative in wokeness that requires the subversion, deconstruction, dismantling, and “calling into question” of any and every narrative, paradigm, ideology, worldview, value set, ethical system, or cultural belief that gains cultural prominence. Anything that becomes the “status quo,” is widely accepted in society, or becomes the dominant narrative in society, must immediately be subverted, dismantled, deconstructed, challenged and questioned.
The second is that the ideas, concepts, philosophies and theories that make up wokeness will dissolve anything that sets itself up as a boundary, limit, or stopping point.
I will explain both of these points in turn.
The moral imperative of Critical Theory
The moral imperative for wokeness to never stop comes to us from the Brazilian Marxist educator and Critical Theorist Paulo Freire. Freire thought that educators (that is, teachers, including teachers in k-12 public schools) should “ideally become partners in this self-emancipation process, contributing to what he sees as a struggle toward perpetual revolution and universal liberation.”1
Freire wanted a “perpetual revolution,” a revolution that never ends. Freire thought that as soon as a revolutionary movement came to power it would immediately become the status quo and the dominant power. To avoid this, Freire advocates for the constant adoption of Critical Consciousness to ensure that we remain vigilant against oppressive dominant hegemonies.
For Freire and other critical theorists, Critical Consciousness is:
[T]o have taken on a worldview that sees society in terms of systems of power, privilege, dominance, oppression, and marginalization, and that has taken up an intention to become an activist against these problematics. To have developed a critical consciousness is to have become aware, in light of this worldview, that you are either oppressed or an oppressor—or, at least, complicit in oppression as a result of your socialization into an oppressive system.2
At the heart of the woke theorist’s moral code lies an unwavering commitment to identifying and confronting oppressive power structures, with the ultimate goal of dismantling, deconstructing, subverting and otherwise challenging anything that becomes the status quo. This means that as soon as some idea, paradigm, convention, ideology, truth claim, or narrative becomes dominant, they must immediately begin interrogating it for anything that might resemble an oppressive power dynamic.
According to this worldview, any form of social, economic, or political inequality is inherently oppressive. The mere presence of unequal outcomes is seen as necessarily “problematic” and a cause for concern. This is because woke theorists think in terms of “systems,” and view inequality as de facto proof that systems of power, privilege, and domination are at play. For this reason they are quick to subvert, dismantle, deconstruct, and challenge any system that perpetuates or allows for any amount of inequality.
This unyielding pursuit of equality of outcome is complicated by the reality that some individuals will inevitably achieve greater success than others, due to a multitude of factors including talent, drive, work ethic, and luck. Because of this, the woke theorist’s work is never done. It goes on indefinitely.
The acid of postmodernism
I often see people trying to push back on the claims made by wokeness by attempting to appeal to something that they believe is beyond debate or provides an objective view of the facts. They want to establish some objective facts to show that the woke view is wrong and put the brakes on its influence.
For instance, in universities, when woke people claim that men can give birth, some will appeal to biology for a clear definition of what a biological female is, believing that science can settle the issue objectively. Similarly, when woke Christians claim that men can become women, non-woke Christians may defer to the Bible for an objective standard on how to view the world. They may reference Genesis 5:2 (“He created them male and female and blessed them. And he named them “Mankind” when they were created”) to establish that Christian doctrine should acknowledge the difference between men and women. Thus, the academician endeavors to arrest the advance of wokeness by invoking established scientific facts, while the Christian appeals to biblical knowledge to forestall wokeness.
In this case, both the professor and the Christian seek to thwart wokeness by employing established factual frameworks (the professor referencing biological knowledge, and the Christian referencing the Bible) to limit its proliferation. In doing so, they attempt to establish a boundary that wokeness cannot cross.
This approach is futile, and I’ll explain why.
The core of woke ideology is thoroughly postmodern, which means it comes with a set of theories, concepts, and tools which when taken together are capable of dissolving anything.
First off, the postmodern theorist denies the possibility of objectivity. On a postmodern view, no one can have an objective perspective on anything. All viewpoints are just that—a view from a point. Postmodern thinkers don’t believe it’s possible for anyone to get outside of their cultural upbringing and the way they were socialized. As such, the biases, interests, and prejudices of each person inevitably influence any judgment, decision, appraisal, analysis, observation, or evaluation that occurs. This means that no one can arrive at a truly objective account of anything.
On a postmodern view of the world there are no objective interpretations of either language or the world. Everything can be interpreted and understood in a nearly infinite number of ways, and there is no objective way to decide which interpretation is correct. Any statement put forward as a “fact” can be interpreted in any number of different ways. For example most people would view the statement “men are stronger than women” as an objective statement about the average height of men and women. However, the postmodernist could reinterpret it as an attempt to establish male dominance by portraying women as weak. According to the postmodern view, there is no objective way to decide which interpretation is correct.
Therefore, even if we could obtain a truly objective view of the world (which they believe is impossible), whatever description of the world we provide can be reinterpreted in any number of different ways. It would not be possible to provide an absolute, objective, universal description of anything. Whatever description of the world we provide can be interpreted in multiple ways, and there is no objective way to determine which of those interpretations ought to be considered “correct.”
The postmodern thinker does not view truth as a description of the world that corresponds to reality. Instead, they believe that determining what is true is a matter of who has the power to decide what is true and how they decide what is true. In other words, certain individuals in society are given the privilege of determining what is true because they possess the validity, credibility, legitimacy, social status, and trust necessary to be believed, and thus the things they say are true accepted as true by society at large.
On the postmodern view, a statement becomes “true” because the individuals in society with the power to decide what is true have stated that it is true. The statement’s accuracy with respect to the world does not matter. The only way for a claim to be considered “true” is when the individuals in society with the power to decide what is true have decided to say that a claim is “true.”
The catch here is that the postmodernist will assert that the people who decide what is true have their own hidden agendas, ulterior motives, cultural biases, and self-interests. As a result, these biases and self-interests distort their judgment and cause them to make truth claims in a manner that serves their own interests, agendas, and motives.
The same applies to knowledge. Knowledge is not a matter of having an awareness of understanding of the way the world really is. For the postmodern thinker, knowledge, like truth, is matter of who has the power to decide what counts as knowledge, who is believed, who has credibility, and who has legitimacy. What matters is not what actually corresponds to reality, what matters is who in society gets to decide what counts as knowledge. And, like truth, the people who decide what counts as knowledge do so in a way that benefits themselves and which serves their interests.
To oversimplify the matter for the sake of brevity, the postmodern person thinks that knowledge and power are two features of the same object, and these two features mutually reinforce each other. The people who have power get to decide what counts as knowledge and truth, and the people seen as having knowledge and truth are given additional power. The people who have the power to decide what is true use that position to increase their power, to benefit themselves, to serve their own interests, to maintain their social position, and to increase their social status, prestige, and clout.
Postmodernism and critical theory are one hell of a drug
The alloy of Critical Theory and postmodernism that we typically call wokeness posits that power dynamics are at play in every social interaction, and that no social structure, convention, institution, or arrangement is exempt from these dynamics. Once Critical Theory and postmodernism become fused, it creates a worldview that deconstructs, dismantles, and subverts everything it touches.
Rather than going through all the ways that it does this, I’ll just provide some examples of what it looks like. If you have ever witnessed woke activists in action, you will no doubt recognize the phrasing and rhetorical moves.
Take for example a couple deciding who should drive to the theater. The average person would see this as a simple matter of trying to figure out which person should drive, and that this can be resolved without one person oppressing the other. The postmodern theorist, on the other hand, would argue that whoever drives assumes power over the vehicle, which is a power dynamic. Additionally, there is a societal trope that women are bad drivers, which is reinforced when a man drives. If a man assumes that it is his responsibility to pick up the woman, he is also assuming that he should lead the date, which is a power move that oppresses the woman by placing her in a subservient position. Furthermore, postmodernists may argue that the patriarchy has created an expectation of men driving to reinforce the idea that men should be “in the driver’s seat” when dating a woman. All of this is, of course, problematic, and must be taken into account when deciding who will be driving.
Here is another example: when someone declares that a certain person is "beautiful," the woke theorist does not regard this as a simple statement of preference. Rather, they would seek to ask: by what standard is the person deemed beautiful? Who created the standard, and why was it created? Who benefits from this standard, and who is left out? Which groups stand to benefit from being considered beautiful? Why are we fixated on beauty? Why does beauty matter, and what assumptions go into our ideas of what beauty is? The woke activist would focus on the fact that being beautiful provides numerous benefits, such as increased social status, dating options, prestige, social media influence, modeling jobs, and many other advantages.
We could even use a silly example of a truck. You might say you want a new truck. The woke activist will respond with questions and arguments like: Why a truck and not a car? What is the purpose of the truck? Why do we have individually owned vehicles instead of public transportation? Is private transportation a product of capitalism, and does it reinforce capitalist ideology? Trucks are often associated with masculinity, and truck ads typically feature traditional masculine themes while excluding images of gender non-conforming people; thus truck discourse is transphobic. Is your desire for a truck the product of ad agencies, which has created a discourse where trucks are seen as a symbol of strength and power? Does the desire for a truck that is advertised in this way reflect your desire for power? Is the truck built in a way that is inaccessible to disabled people? Does the truck, with its design features for manual labor, implicitly privilege manual labor (done by able bodied people) over and above the contributions of the disabled? Do pickup trucks, which often appear in country music, cater to white people while ignoring the needs of Indigenous people and people of color? Trucks are associated with cowboys, and it was cowboys and frontiersman who colonized America at the expense of Indigenous people. Therefore the truck needs to be decolonized by being redesigned in a way that disassociates it from masculinity, ableism, sexism, transphobia and colonialism.
See how this works?
Critical Theory and postmodernism collaborate to form a worldview that is inherently limitless. This is because Critical Theory necessitates an unending process of critique, while postmodernism serves as a universal agent that dissolves any constraints or barriers that attempt to restrict or contain wokeness. Therefore, there can be no definitive endpoint in this worldview, as it continually strives to expand beyond any imposed limitations.
How do you stop a universal solvent?
How can we prevent the universal solvent from dissolving our society and civilization? While a comprehensive answer would require an article of its own, I can provide two brief suggestions here.
Firstly, familiarize yourself with the linguistic, social, and rhetorical tactics of wokeness so that you can spot and disarm them when you see them. Wokeness does not seek to win through logical argumentation or by providing evidence for its assertions. Rather, wokeness aims to win socially by attacking the legitimacy, moral authority, credibility, social status, and public standing of their opponents. They gain control of the public conversation by placing themselves in the position of being perceived as the person who is to be taken seriously, believed, differed to, listened to, and seen as a good person. If you can learn how to combat these tactics, you can neutralize them and redirect the conversation towards facts, reason, evidence, logic, and argumentation.
Secondly, reject the underlying assumptions and premises of postmodernism that they use to dissolve everything. By exposing flaws, errors, and mistakes in these underlying assumptions, you can demonstrate that its conclusions is not based on solid ground. Rather than attacking the credibility of woke individuals, focus on their assumptions, presuppositions, and underlying premises, and show that they are deeply flawed and should be rejected for intellectual reasons. Refocusing the conversation back to truth is essential.
Wokeness has no stopping point and it cannot be appeased, satiated, or bargained with. Its unrelenting nature means that we must take action to prevent the dissolution of every aspect of our society and civilization. By arming ourselves with knowledge of its tactics and challenging its premises, we can neutralize its power and redirect the conversation towards facts, reason, evidence, logic, and argumentation. Failure to do so would be catastrophic.
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