If you doubt what “woke” governing has caused simply look at what has happened to Portland, San Francisco or even relatively conservative, midwest Chicago in the last ten years. The governance of the Democratic Party (my lifelong party) has failed to deal with rising crime as criminals took the obvious hint that liberal prosecutors were not going to prosecute shoplifters who stole less than a thousand dollars worth of goods. The gangs descended. The spillover to skyrocketing carjackings and even murder rates is obvious. Walmart has abandoned Portland and Chicago’s Michigan Avenue has become a boarded up shadow of its former self. The homeless are in charge of what the downtowns of these cities have become because the adults supposedly in control refuse to enforce any of the necessary standards of urban life. Their schools are afraid to discipline students who disrupt the education of tens of thousands resulting in plummeting achievement levels while worthless DEI bureaucrats flourish. The Biden administration appears totally blind to what is happening opening the door to the return of equally insane Trump or Trump lite leadership. Democrats like JFK, LBJ or Scoop Jackson would be appalled.

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I'm separately going to opine on Woke. Noah provided the absolute best analyis anywhere anytime. I said in my earlier post.

As a liberal 68 yr old businessman, a former retired conservative, my woke thoughts:

A. Lincoln was woke. Even had the "Wide-Awakes"

B. My counter to the anti-woke mob is that they tend to be pro-hate. A generalized that is on average accurate, but imprecise.

C. When people cry about DEI at their place of work, I say.... leave. Find another job

D. Further I infom people that they have absolutely zero right to co-manage their management

E. Business and institutions had examples of subtle, not subtle suppression of women and blacks who clearly had equal value to that institution. This was was when "Woke was Silent" I say.

F. Conservative anti wokers do not comprehend that businesses meet needs, of customers, and manage culture for that success. If they decide that DEI and being woke help their entity, thats business.

Anyway, Ive seen this battle like everyone. One thing I've seen Conservatives do more of, subjective analyis, is take extreme examples and make them the common average. That's disingenuous as I see the world.

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Mar 17Liked by Noah Smith

Good stuff. I tend to define “woke” as being aware of your own privileges based on race, gender, and orientation while being awake to those disadvantaged by the same. I first heard the term “woke”as a positive used by disadvantaged people, mostly black, to describe a privileged person who gets it.

The other thing I try and keep in mind is that respect is mostly a zero-sum game which doesn’t lend itself to a solution.

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Mar 17·edited Mar 17

A neutral but accurate definition of "wokeness" seems pretty easy. "Wokeness" is a term used to describe a social and political viewpoint that places a heavy emphasis on group identity, particularly identity related to race, gender, sexuality, and other marginalized groups. It is often associated with a sense of aggrievement and a desire to rectify perceived social/historical injustices through activism and advocacy. Wokeness is also associated with so-called "cancel culture," which involves publicly calling out, shaming and, in some cases, threatening or damaging the careers and livelihoods of individuals or organizations perceived to be making public statements or engaging in behavior or policies deemed transgressive, oppressive or discriminatory. Its ideological genealogy passes through the French Sociological School and the New Left, movements that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s and emphasized a collectivist, progressive, anti-establishment, anti-capitalist agenda.

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I'm with you on "respect redistribution." Your phrase captures the best part of this movement in its motives and historical context.

Among the worst parts is the singular focus on grievance, s with the use of the "equity lens" as a kind of microscope that not only magnifies the the evidence of past racism and sexism but excludes in its narrowness all evidence to the contrary and, to shift metaphors, creates a hammer-and-nail dynamic -- almost everything becomes a nail (including statues of Lincoln) and the hammering becomes a competitive exercise in self-reverential righteousness.

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I feel your description/definition kinda leaves out an important element. I mean, consider someone who accepts all the claims about the nature/importance of the racial/LGBTQ/trans/etc inequality but insists on looking for empirical evidence to see what's likely to fix the problem.

Quite plausibly someone like this looks very similar and talks very similarly to your old fashioned 90s/00s liberal (eg Biden), is critical of DEI programs and probably spends a fair bit of time being concerned about relatively dry seeming housing, crime and education policy. Seems to me they wouldn't qualify as woke especially if they'd decided that it was counterproductive to police opinions via social shaming (eg only tried to gently persuade ppl they were wrong).

This suggests to me a substantial aspect of what we regard as woke is the attitude that the most important thing is conveying your anger and outrage and your solidarity with the movement. You can't really be woke and think that we should just shut up about all this DEI stuff and stop letting it distract us from incremental education reform.

I think that's an interesting sociological dynamic. I think part of the cause is a combination of a certain degree of progress plus a frustration with a lack of any clear way to make further progress.

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I think the idea of wokeness is too broad and certainly not helpful in addressing the issues caused by the ideas commonly associated with "wokeness." The following is my own perception and probably wrong on many levels but here are my thoughts.

First, as a kind of micro analogy I want to focus on the critical studies (critical race theory, critical criminology, which I am most familiar with, and the related fields). The first thing to remember is that individuals who see themselves first as scientists (i.e., dedicated to the production of knowledge using the scientific method, falsifiability, and iteration) very rarely ended up in critical studies. This is because these positions are normally dominated by activists who have a nearly religious adherence (or in some cases a greater than religious adherence) to a set of ideas positing that all or most of society's problems can be solved by addressing underlying (i.e., structural) and over (i.e., explicit) problems (e.g., racism, sexism, classism, etc.).

Because they are driven by ideology as opposed to a dedication to producing knowledge, they tend to find ideas that support their priors. Imagine if all physicists were devote members of Christian Churches that focused on a biblical interpretation of all things. I suspect physics would look differently.

Despite this (or perhaps because of it) I used to see the critical studies as a very valuable addition to the social sciences. This is because they kept the rest of us honest. I was a police officer who later in life went into academia. I would always try to keep abreast of the Critical Criminological literature because I thought it did a good job of pointing out where traditional criminal justice systems were failing.

However, while valuable as a kind of canary in the coal mine, I did not look to the critical studies for accurate depictions of who the world operated. Just like I take things that police unions (or teachers unions, or the teamsters or the faculty senate, or members of either political party) say with a grain of salt. All of these groups have important knowledge about the respective systems they operate in but each group has prior beliefs and commitments that will color their ideas. I would use all the input to help form a more accurate picture of the world but find it doubtful that any one group has a monopoly on wisdom.

In criminology I have noticed that the system has been captured by a lot of these ideas. The ideas set boundaries on what can be studied (see how almost all disciplines are now self-limiting what they can study and adopting broad policies statements that align with critical studies concerns, even the physical sciences, i.e., physics, medicine, education or whatever else). I know a lot of criminologist who are more interested in producing knowledge than in adopting critical ideology, and they all (including myself) limit what they study, how they frame what they find and the methodologies they adopt to conform. This hurts the production of empirical research and also causes an issue similar to sampling bias. This is because it perverts the scientific methods ability to self-correct.

This gets us to what I believe is our current problem. This is the capture of a significant portion of each political party by groups who are either all in, or completely reject the broader ideas of what we would call woke. Democrats, who at least according to their statements, ought to be more scientifically inclined, self-censor or just avoid studying/addressing unpleasant issues. Republicans, as Noah points out, basically define anything they disagree with as "woke."

This hurts all of us. Add in factors like gerrymandering making congressional districts uncompetitive, polarization more generally, and a lack of engagement by the political center and the problem gets even worse...

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Any discussion of woke would benefit from its origin most likely in a Mississippi Delta blues song in the third decade of the 20th century characteristically using language carefully to warn African American workers in the mills to stay “woke” to prevailing oppression. This would inform a better understanding of Black Lives Matters today.

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“Woke” is a four-letter word in the Banana Republican argot. I’d rather be woke than asleep at the wheel. You push people far enough, they will push back and it won’t be pretty. Eventually, demographics in the U.S. will eclipse the white Christian nationalist movement.

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Mar 17·edited Mar 17

I've struggled with the term a little when I try to separate it from "liberal".

I personally describe myself as "liberal" because I believe in the individual first and letting each person flourish according to their own preferences. Let your freak flag fly! And this works fine with "Woke 1" - don't forget that the country has done some really racist stuff and we exist in a world shaped by hostile marginalization that is/was BAD. It was BAD because it impeded some people from living the way they wanted to (and therefore I'm a bit hostile to all traditions, religions, etc.)

But it is in conflict with "Woke 4", where GROUP identity gets elevated as a primary consideration, and sometimes a disturbing bit of racial essentialism creeps in. Or when, say, evidence of persistently higher test scores is taken as proof a test is bad - or even spun out to "is learning even a real thing?"

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My general belief is that some people have very unpleasant personalities due to temperament, trauma, or what have you. So I think your "screamer class" thesis also dovetails into this. You don't mention it specifically in your prairie fire article but I believe it expands upon it. Hopefully we will similarly see more respectful expressions of right populism (Trump is disrespect personified) as that movement likewise burns out. As loathsome as I find right-wing populism, those traditions have also been with us for a very long time.

All this is to say that I think you've outlined a compelling narrative with predictions we'll be able to test retrospectively.

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Have you read Tim Urban's new book What's Our Problem?: A Self-Help Book For Societies? He spend s a good portion of the book discussing what he calls Social Justice Fundamentalism, which serves as a replacement term for woke. He goes into depth about this topic, amongst many others.

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I wouldn't take any polls like that too seriously. Polling firms know that their panels are unrepresentative and give huge overshoots on any question that may appear to have a "pro-social" answer.

Regardless, the people who answered that woke is just awareness of social injustices are clearly brainwashed. A key part of why so many normies hate woke people so much is that if you try and get them to justify their views with evidence or facts they utterly fail, may reject the whole idea that facts matter as "whiteness" or "toxic masculinity" and will then immediately go on an enraged attack.

A good example of this was that when BLM kicked off, there was a lone article in the Wall Street Journal looking at the statistics around police shootings in the USA. It showed no evidence of any racism against black people, let alone systemically. Woke people didn't care and in fact made it clear that ANY reference to the actual facts that they were trying to lay claim too would immediately make you the enemy, subject to property, career and reputation destruction on a horrific and unjustified scale.

Likewise, ask a woke person about outcome differences between men and women. They'll tell you society is structurally sexist. Point out the facts about male/female earnings differences and, once again, they'll freak out and go on the attack.

And of course the worst possible thing you can do to such a person is talk to them about the actual systematic discriminations suffered by white males, like being systematically excluded from jobs or promotions because they aren't a "minority" (although men are in fact a minority), or being discriminated against in child custody law, and so on.

It's all like this. The "social injustices" these people think they are fighting don't really exist, which is why they point-blank cannot tolerate any kind of rational debate around their supposed issues.

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This is absolutely the most succinct and cogent analyis anywhere on Wokeness. I think we'll be all right! Things work out, Darwin is undefeated.

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Leaving aside the impact our uncontrolled social media platforms have had in this area, I do agree completely with the issues of a lack of respect we show eachother. Until we as an heterogeneous democracy implement some form of social service when coming of age at 18 and maintain a level of service throughout our lives ("reserve service" several times/year), the lack of respect we show to each other and to our nation (and political institutions at all levels) will only increase. Everyone is about "what their country/government can do for them and not what they can do for their country." For sustainable and generative societies (aka networks) what is more important, the society/network or the individual/node? Neither. Both. So we collectively have to work at achieving a balance. Finally, there is no better indicator of this destructive individualism driving disrespect than the pervasive sense of entitlement throughout our society; from overpaid corporate chieftains, to government leaders, to those stuck in an endless cycle of repressive welfare.

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