Will the Great Awokening become unfashionable and fade away? Scott Alexander thinks it’s a matter of cyclical fashion, but then again isn’t so sure since the last year:
The Rise And Fall Of Online Culture Wars
How do Internet atheism and Internet feminism help us understand the current cultural moment?
… We tend to conflate feminism and anti-racism under the general heading of “social justice”, but this blinds us to important details. From about 2011 to 2014, the Internet was obsessed with gender, with race on the back burner. 2014 to 2016 was a sort of transition period, and after that the Internet became obsessed with race, with gender almost forgotten. …
If this model is on the right track, what should we predict?
A naive prediction: our cultural obsession with race has a time limit. At some point, like our obsessions with religion and gender before it, it will become so overdone and pathetic that people will switch to a new hobbyhorse. Plausibly this would look like class-first socialists successfully making woke people look ridiculous for caring about a less important problem (symbolic victories and the number of black Fortune 500 CEOs) instead of a more important one (people of all races being poor). When I wrote the first draft of this post a year ago, I thought this was obviously happening.
Since then it’s become less obvious. After the George Floyd protests, all Google Trends about race shot up, and haven’t fully returned back to their pre-protest trend even now, a year later. The woke stranglehold on corporations, governments, and now the CIA is stronger than ever. …
But the good thing about history is that all of this has happened before, and in the past it’s always stopped happening, and for all you know maybe it will stop happening this time too.
David Brooks writes in his NYT oped column:
This Is How Wokeness Ends
May 13, 2021, 7:00 p.m. ET
By David Brooks
My friend Rod Dreher recently had a blog post for The American Conservative called “Why Are Conservatives in Despair?” He explained that conservatives are in despair because a hostile ideology — wokeness or social justice or critical race theory — is sweeping across America the way Bolshevism swept across the Russian Empire before the October Revolution in 1917.
… I’m less alarmed by all of this because I have more confidence than Dreher and many other conservatives in the American establishment’s ability to co-opt and water down every radical progressive ideology. In the 1960s, left-wing radicals wanted to overthrow capitalism. We ended up with Whole Foods. The co-optation of wokeness seems to be happening right now.
The thing we call wokeness contains many elements. At its core is an honest and good-faith effort to grapple with the legacies of racism. In 2021, this element of wokeness has produced more understanding, inclusion and racial progress than we’ve seen in over 50 years.
This part of wokeness is great.
Please don’t hurt me.
But wokeness gets weirder when it’s entangled in the perversities of our meritocracy, when it involves demonstrating one’s enlightenment by using language — “problematize,” “heteronormativity,” “cisgender,” “intersectionality” — inculcated in elite schools or with difficult texts.
In an essay titled “The Language of Privilege,” in Tablet, Nicholas Clairmont argues that the difficulty of the language is the point — to exclude those with less educational capital.
People who engage in this discourse have been enculturated by our best and most expensive schools. If you look at the places where the splashy woke controversies have taken place, they have often been posh prep schools, like Harvard-Westlake or Dalton, or pricey colleges, like Bryn Mawr or Princeton.
A basic pattern is that political correctness used to be confined to, say, the Duke U. English department 30 years ago, but has since filtered down to practically ever Directional State U. It’s hardly reassuring to be told that Harvard-Westlake and Dalton are currently in the throes of Wokeness, but, don’t worry, because what other high schools would ever want to ape the fashions of the most elite high schools in the country?
The meritocracy at this level is very competitive. Performing the discourse by canceling and shaming becomes a way of establishing your status and power as an enlightened person. It becomes a way of showing — despite your secret self-doubts — that you really belong. It also becomes a way of showing the world that you are anti-elite, even though you work, study and live in circles that are extremely elite.
The meritocracy has one job: to funnel young people into leadership positions in society. It’s very good at doing that. Corporations and other organizations are eager to hire top performers, and one sign of elite credentials is the ability to do the discourse. That’s why the C.I.A. made that widely mocked recruiting video that was like a woke word salad: cisgender, intersectional, patriarchal.
The people at the C.I.A., Disney, Major League Baseball and Coca-Cola aren’t faking it when they perform the acts we now call woke capitalism. They went to the same schools and share the same dominant culture and want the same reputational benefits.
But as the discourse gets more corporatized it’s going to get watered down. The primary ideology in America is success; that ideology has a tendency to absorb all rivals.
We saw this happen between the 1970s and the 1990s. American hippies built a genuinely bohemian counterculture. But as they got older they wanted to succeed. They brought their bohemian values into the market, but year by year those values got thinner and thinner and finally were nonexistent.
But the values of hippies like, say, Young Steve Jobs weren’t Straight White Man Bad.
… Pretty soon key concepts like “privilege” are reduced to empty catchphrases floating everywhere.
But in the meantimes, big institutions have hired a whole bunch of people with no skills other than demonizing straight white men to build empires for themselves.
The economist and cultural observer Tyler Cowen expects wokeness in this sense won’t disappear. Writing for Bloomberg last week, he predicted it would become something more like the Unitarian Church — “broadly admired but commanding only a modicum of passion and commitment.”
This would be fine with me. As I say, there are (at least) two elements to wokeness. One focuses on concrete benefits for the disadvantaged — reparations, more diverse hiring, more equitable housing and economic policies. The other instigates savage word wars among the highly advantaged. If we can have more of the former and less of the latter, we’ll all be better off.
But the latter are the people who will get to administer all the moolah of the former. The Great Awokening has been heavily about building cadres within institutions of people who have no productive use but anytime anybody mentions how useless the new diversity commissars are, the diversity commissars throw a fit to be mollified must be given even more junior diversity commissars to sniff out witches within the organization.
Millennials won’t save us — but the neuro-diverse might
BY ED WEST
… most normal, healthily-socialised people don’t like to be hated.
It is why, as I wrote in this week’s piece on demographic trends, I can’t see a huge rebellion against Woke politics among the young.
Resisting prevailing cultural norms and beliefs is hard, even in 21st century western societies, which are arguably the most non-conformist in history. Most people have their lives to get on with.
… I’m sure lots of [A.D. 4th Century] Roman [pagan] traditionalists expected the young to rebel against this strange cult of a Galilean Jew, yet within a couple of generations, their ancient religion had disappeared, and to even admit to being a worshipper of Jupiter was to become a social pariah. If your rivals control society’s taboos, as Christianity did by now, it makes it extremely hard to fight them.
Today progressivism also controls society’s taboos, which is why it’s extremely hard to argue against its beliefs and its policy ideas; people who do so fear losing their jobs and at best are just sidelined. (For any progressive reading this, many supposedly outrageously beyond-the-pale Right-wing beliefs are secretly shared by far more people than you imagine, it’s just that most normal human beings don’t want their lives made a misery.)
… Progressivism already suffers from what Swedish academic Carl Ritter called “hegemonic degeneration”, that when a belief becomes established, made flabby by institutional protection, then the genuinely interesting and intellectually curious will look for something else.
The most intelligent people coming out of university now often seem to be, if not conservative, then at least critical of the new faith (not necessarily from the Right). But it also seems to me, at least, that many of the most intelligent critics appear to be somewhere on the autistic spectrum, which makes them far more interested in truth than social acceptability. Perhaps it is with the neuro-diverse that our future hopes rests.