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“Woke” Ideology Is Damaging the Fabric of Society
Too many Americans believe that their right to live, believe, speak, worship, and seek happiness according to the dictates of conscience is threatened by their fellow Americans.
Being “woke” is often a litmus test for certain circles of the progressive world. There is a strong expectation, and even a demand, to be “ethnically conscious,” especially among white college and college-educated activists.
This consciousness generally manifests itself as an awareness of generational wrongs perpetrated by one race against another. This consciousness is followed by a need to signal it, both through public displays of contrition and through combative rhetoric directed at the “non-woke.”
It is admirable to be aware of historical injustices and of how they affect present inequitable conditions. However, the ideology of being “woke” often moves the dial to another extreme. The proclaimed consciousness of these activists often manifests itself as reversed prejudice.
Being “woke” often demands feelings and exhibitions of shame from races deemed to be historical oppressors. Especially in the absence of overtly racist rhetoric, many “woke” activists will delve into the subconsciousness of fellow white Americans. They do this in an attempt to discern alleged racism in their thoughts and ideas. This allows “woke” activists to demand recognition of the “privileged” position of white Americans, who are considered “continued oppressors.”
Origin of “Woke”
Interestingly enough, the idea of being “woke” is an appropriation by white progressive activists from its historical roots in the black community. The word had initially been symbolic of an awakening of pride and self-respect in African Americans living in a culture of oppression amid the laws of the Jim Crow South.
By this original definition, Rosa Parks was “woke” because she awoke from her society-induced second-class existence to realize and assert that her skin color should not dictate where she sat on a bus. By this original definition, Dr. King and his followers were “woke” because they awoke from a culture that told them they didn’t have the same rights as other Americans. In this original context, “woke” is a fitting self-description of a generation of African Americans who engaged in a real awakening of self-respect, liberty, and human rights, a generation of patriots who engaged in a movement that secured those rights for themselves and their posterity.
The original idea of being “woke” was best exemplified by the words of Dr. King:
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream that one day, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”
In the civil rights era, being “woke” was indeed about an oppressed people awaking to their birthright of freedom and liberty as Americans. It was about engaging in a joint venture of reconciliation with all Americans to secure liberty and justice for all.
A Different Meaning Today
Today, “woke” has come to mean something very different. Those who speak of themselves as “woke” are not engaging in a cultural renaissance or a movement of reconciliation, liberty, and justice for all. Their language is that of both Critical and Conflict Theory.
When they speak of ethnic or class consciousness, they are not speaking of groups desiring to obtain a birthright of freedom and liberty alongside their brothers and sisters. They’re speaking of both their belief in a generational struggle between the oppressor and the oppressed and their belief that the traditions of Western Society are shackles to be dismantled and broken. This struggle is viewed through the lens of inherent ethnic and cultural conflict. This conflict, in their view, can only be concluded when they achieve social justice and cultural victory.
While the ends of these goals are often unclear and left unsaid or unclarified, we can infer that social justice is not justice for all and that cultural victory means the shaming and silencing of all those holding to the “dogmas” of the past. They seek justice for the oppressed at the expense of the oppressor. They seek “freedom” from the shackles of tradition at the expense of the freedoms of those who value tradition.
This is a departure from much of the rhetoric of Dr. King. He struggled for a common birthright of liberty and freedom achieved through the equal application of law and the security of fundamental human rights for everyone, regardless of race or creed.
Instead of such reconciliation, social justice demands recompense on the backs of the “privileged” classes. Instead of liberty to think and believe as conscience dictates, “woke” culture offers the choices of celebrating the new dogma, remaining silent as it reigns, or banishment.
This new idea of being “woke” ultimately derives from the canonization of Critical and Conflict Theory, both inspired by and aspects of Marxist Sociology, in education, progressive culture, and coastal society. This is in stark contrast to its roots in the civil rights era.
Being acculturated to new, progressive doctrines has conditioned many Americans to see evidence of inequality and diagnose their causes based on their tenets.
A classical liberal might mourn unequal outcomes. Yet, a classical liberal would affirm the system’s equity so long as equal opportunity was present. If it is not, a classical liberal works to shore up the breaches of liberty and rekindle its flame in the existing institutions of political and civil society.
But a modern “woke” liberal can only see unequal outcomes as proof of endemic and systematic class oppression and racism. The “woke” mantra demands that individuals, corporations, and institutions be “canceled” if they fail to reflect both the rhetoric and desired ends of social justice and cultural liberalism. Far from embarking on a noble quest to change hearts and minds or “shore up the breaches,” the modern “woke” liberal is instead on a cynical crusade of individual marginalization and institutional arson.
Antithetical to Domestic Tranquility
I don’t doubt that those who profess to be “woke” are operating with a sincere desire to make society a better and more equitable place. However, the reality is that Marxist Sociology, and any theory which spawns from it, is incompatible with a free and pluralist country.
Sociological theories that believe in inevitable conflict between classes and ethnicities become self-fulfilling ideologies as they are embraced by influential groups in society and inherently tear at the fabric that holds together a free people.
Such doctrines lead to a level of class and ethnic consciousness that embraces an “us vs. them” mentality. This mentality views victory and justice as coming at the expense of others. This kind of doctrine is antithetical to domestic tranquility in any society, let alone a society that attempts to be a free and open one.
The new “woke” ideology has reanimated genuine racism and reintroduced serious levels of intolerance into American society. Its demands segment society by ignoring the basic human instincts to desire dignity and equal consideration.
It calls white Americans “entitled” as it tells them, as it demands, that they must assume the mantle of generational guilt. It declares as an enemy unworthy of basic dignity, good faith engagement, or even basic rights anyone who holds contrary views to the whims of the progressive mob.
This creates ethnic conflict instead of alleviating it. This segments our society instead of unifying it. It pushes people towards two illiberal ultimatums: 1) be ashamed of who you are and who you come from or be labeled a racist, and 2) hold your tongue if your opinions, beliefs, or thoughts are verboten or face serious personal and professional consequences.
When such an ideology attacks basic dignity and when negative and differential treatment based on ethnic origin or traditional beliefs becomes a norm, there will be an equally ugly push-back.
There are certain unavoidable realities of human psychology. If you call someone a racist long enough, if you marginalize their beliefs sufficiently enough, and if you relegate them to the fringes far enough, then you run the serious risk of molding them into exactly what you thought they were.
Not only has “woke” ideology breathed life into a toxic and hostile popular culture, it has also engendered the rise of an equally pernicious and concerning counter-culture.
We have arrived upon a moment in American history where very solid lines have been drawn in a rapidly escalating culture war where both sides believe they’re playing for all the marbles. This war of mutually assured destruction will continue until intolerance is set aside and tolerance is once more championed as the hallmark of our political culture.
Both sides will continue to fight so long as they believe that their right to live, believe, speak, worship, and seek happiness according to the dictates of conscience are threatened by their fellow Americans.
If we wish to continue building on the foundations laid by the framers of the US Constitution, to seek a more perfect union and ensure domestic tranquility, without which we cannot hope to secure the blessings of liberty, then we must recognize and oppose those theories, ideologies, and political movements whose inevitable consequences are levels of intolerance and toxic factionalism that threaten the very future of the union itself.