It’s a helpful shorthand, ready at the tip of the tongue for when discussing the rot that is overwhelming our culture. “Woke” – that one syllable – seems to describe the whole problem: the fixation with identity, the bad faith assumptions, the aggressive historical vandalism, combined with moral superiority and absolutism.
The word has been immensely helpful in allowing us to highlight the pattern of ideological creep that is threatening our institutions. Sometimes a phenomenon is just too big to explain in detail every time we call attention to its consequences. Research from King’s College London, released this week, showed how widely the usage of “woke” has spread, with a rising awareness of the term.
But there is also a danger inherent in the popularisation of “woke”. Increasingly, the word is becoming a casual short-hand for things that we don’t like – an insult to be thrown at whatever fresh politically correct lunacy has emerged from universities, politics or business.
Yet we are not dealing with another catchy political pejorative, such as “wet” or “Leftie”, but a revolutionary ideology that seeks a fundamental shift in the nature of Western civilisation, manipulating notions of freedom, democracy and citizenship. In sacralising identity categories such as race, gender and sexuality, wokeness brings about the segregation of society. It imposes itself on every community, telling each one that their bodily features must determine their status and disposition.
If you are white, it dictates that you have inherited racial privilege and must atone for your original sin by “educating yourself”. In practice, this means demonstrations of cultural self-loathing and self-flagellation, from admitting your “privilege” to not speaking about certain subjects because you, “as a white person”, apparently won’t understand.
If you are black, you must accept that society is systematically structured against you, that “white supremacy is woven into the fabric of how it is built”, and that even the services that are there to protect you are, in fact, against your very being. The only adequate response is to wrap yourself into a racial silo, developing a sense of victimhood and viewing the world as a kind of race-based competition.
And if you are an institution, you must wholly buy into these perverse notions or risk being labelled institutionally racist, sexist or homophobic by your own staff as well as by campaigning organisations.
Our best universities, museums and even government departments come have under the command of a small group of activists. They are forced to support the silly causes that preoccupy the minds of overzealous students, such as trigger warnings. But, more gravely, they also accept that heinous notion that we are not all, in fact, equal.
We cannot afford, therefore, to let “woke” become a flippant term that our institutions can dismiss as typical name-calling. Nor can it become an all-pervasive insult from which every group can disassociate. Because eventually, even the most radical activists will denounce “woke” in an attempt to deprive it of all meaning.
Instead, the word should constantly remind us of a destructive onslaught against liberal society and the need for urgent action to counter it. Wokeness may be everywhere, but that doesn’t make it any less serious.