Thoughts on an ascendent ideology
I have read a fair amount on this topic, and this is the most cogent synopsis of the philosophical, political and cultural forces behind this current "moment" as I have come across.
I would like to emphasize what I consider to be the "New Left"'s most fundamental flaw, which results from its critical theory origins. It is very good at deconstructing and dismantling - but not replacing and building. Instead, it proposes perpetual struggle and conflict between the oppressed and the oppressors and a ceaseless imperative to raise our "consciousness." What a bleak, awful perspective - no wonder its adherents rely so heavily on social coercion to enforce it.
A great critique--as someone who works in higher ed in the U.S. I have seen these transformations up close. I will suggest, however, that equality is only the goal insofar as it aligns with freedom. Dr. King did not say "equality at last," but free at last. The impulse to dominate is strong in humans and we should guard against that impulse in trying to address economic and social injustice. The line from Flaubert comes to mind: "inside every revolutionary is a cop."
Such a great article. Bang on. Imagine if every policy had to pass an MLK test.
Freedom,& equality, judged on character not race or skin colour, Tolerance of each other’s opinion rather than dividing us into tribes only to be cast out (canceled) if we don’t conform.
Thanks for writing!!!
I'm impressed; I wasn't sure it was possible to cover every variable driving modern wokeness this concisely. Great work Tara!
As far as "The modern left, then, is on shaky footing. And it risks losing working-class voters of all races to conservative parties, which champion cultural conservatism and increasingly position themselves as advocates for working-class interests by dabbling in a handful of leftist economic policies. We saw this with Donald Trump and his rhetoric around trade."
I would add that the reason that people like Trump and Boris Johnson can run as "men of the people" despite coming from highly wealthy and privileged backgrounds, is because they so loudly reject the underlying classism/elitism of identity politics.
The wealthy and privileged throughout history have often used manners & etiquette to justify why they are "better" than the masses, and thus rationalize their own largesse in societies dominated by scarcity.
Just as "I know which fork to use for each course in a fancy meal" was commonly used to indicate "I'm more enlightened than you", nowadays "I've memorized more non-binary pronouns than you have" has become a shorthand for "I'm a better person than you".
Working class voters will never be able to keep up with the euphemism treadmill of political correctness (they're more preoccupied with keeping a roof over their head), and they don't like being viewed as morally deficient for having better things to do than craft the perfect land acknowledgement. Left-wing elitist virtue signaling therefore alienates working class citizens so much that rich right-wing populists can market themselves as "down-to-earth" just by being openly and proudly politically incorrect.
Amazing! This is the most coherent, concise, thoughtful thing I've read in a long time.
One thing to consider is that for most of my lifetime, perhaps since the 1960s, there was not the alliance of the "left" with the most powerful institutions in this country. The left had been the subversive side. We were the side that challenged everything. We respected and rewarded investigative journalism, holding truth to power. Our art was daring. Our speech was deliberately offensive. We pushed back hard and supported others who did. We fought against McCarthyism and Blacklisting. NOW the left is the side that defends and supports the oligarchs and the elites because they pander to the left and they ARE on the left. The tech bros have so much control of our gateways to sell our books, host our videos, post subversive journalism and art. That is what has changed. The power elite and the cultural left are one in the same so the people we usually count on for some relief - comedians, writers, journalists have to exist in this exiled world where people ARE allowed to speak and think freely.
I do think the Democrats are losing supporters by the minute. This is especially true of parents who care about their kids more than they do approval from their peers. They will flip and vote red without breaking a sweat.
Once institutions stop bowing to the people who demand they fire writers, actors, editors and executives for thought crimes there will be a better distribution of power. And sanity. Here's hoping.
Tara how did you stay at cbc so long while reading the likes of Douglas Murray? You give me hope!
This is probably the most thorough and cogent explanation of 'Woke' that I've read -- especially with regard to the fragility of the generation that is now coming of age.
This is a very helpful summary, especially the insights into the journalistic world. Keep up the good work!
Carl Trueman's book 'The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self' adds another piece to the puzzle, namely how the transformation of the idea of the self over the last two hundred years or so has led us to a state of affairs where therapeutic categories -- self-expression, lived experience, harm (of feelings), sexuality-as-identity, and the need for public affirmation of whatever I feel inside -- are all intuitively authoritative in public discourse. But this is really a very modern development built on very specific assumptions that also grow out of the New Left, Frankfurt school, etc.
Tara, I found this useful...but limiting. "Useful" from a comprehension perspective. "Limiting" because it lacks any sort of "push back" discussion.
Philanthropy could be one such "field of battle" with the woke. Yes, by nature, philanthropy is elitist. But it can be a serious messenger. I recently cancelled donation discussions with a public library due to the "book burning" ideologies now rampant in multiple Ontario school boards. Fearing spillover into Ontario libraries, I have re-directed my interests elsewhere--while ensuring that the rationale for change was clearly understood..."Expose me to censorship and I will go elsewhere."
Ah, the young social justice warrior idealists. They do not have enough real life experience to know any better. The real world is a tough, violent and unforgiving place and snowflakes don't do well. As someone pushing 80, I've learned that victory belongs to the strong. I confess I do not understand why math is racist, nor why there are 20 different sexes with matching pronouns, and how CRT with its equality of outcome outlook does nothing but encourage mediocrity. Guess what? I am not politically correct and don't care if my views offend you. The sophists such as Marcus Aurelias, emperor of Rome, held that if you are offended by something, it's because you chose to be offended. I unfortunately see a bright future for China and a rather dim one for the US.
Wow, you nailed it, Tara.
Here is what is see as a very serious obstacle in fighting the destructive ideology of the New Left. I’ve spoken to many of my liberal (and Liberal) friends about this (and lost some of them as a result). In general, they are woefully uninformed about the emergence (and ascension) of the New Left and its woke ideology. They often perceive any criticism of the New Left as a criticism of liberalism without realizing that the New Left is highly repressive and illiberal. That’s why I think it’s SO important for strong liberals like you to stand up and fight this fight.
Tara, you wrote the following:
Critical theory sees all knowledge as social construction. It believes in “discourses” rather than truth. It sees language as capable of inflicting violence if the words support discourses that have been deemed harmful. It rejects the tenets of liberalism as growing out of, and supporting, bias and bigotry. Debating harmful ideas, according to critical theory, would only increase the damage. The goal is therefore to shut down all harmful discourse.
Yes and no. Sadly, what poorly educated people call "Critical Theory" nowadays does conform to this description, by and large. But no, these ideas are not - and never were - what the Frankfurt School stood for. These are the fruits of postmodernism. The last surviving member of the Frankfurt School's first generation, Leo Lowenthal, devoted a chapter in his memoir - An Unmastered Life - to an interview titled "Against Postmodernism". Jürgen Habermas, who inherited the position of Director of the Frankfurt School after Max Horkheimer died, was even more emphatic in his critique of postmodern relativism and incipient formlessness (anomie).
If you really want to get at the truth, sometimes you have to dig deep. I have the greatest r respect for you, but I believe you should look into this matter more deeply.
Congrats on the courage to step out and state what the majority is thinking. My instinct was to send to Bill Maher and suggest you be a guest on his show! I have forwarded to my daughter, who is in first year university. The challenge I find is how to articulate this position, as the quiet voice in my head tells me to shut up and just play it safe. I look forward to reading more content like this.
Extremely well written and broad in scope. Cogently summarizes many of the deep concerns I have with the current state of affairs in this country.
Thank you for wading into the morass and gathering together so many details, while effectively painting the broad themes. I suspect we are somewhat of an age, and I have to say, I don't recognize a lot of the positive social movements that excited and inspired some of us at the end of the last century--and yes, were considered politically 'left'--in what is running in 2022. The message I was given in the 90s is that my words, voice and actions could influence my fellow citizens to change the systems and situations that seemed unjust or unequal. Now, my impression is that we are being told that we are entitled to control any individuals who represent something we find unjust or even simply uncomfortable. . . even if there's a chance we are misinformed, or missing context, or ignoring a more effective strategy. The push to control people, rather than invite & influence them (and be influenced, in return), feels like an implicit dismissal of agency, and yes, hope.