“Woke” is perfect. It’s murky and ambiguous, just like the movement to which it refers. And it’s come to connote the disdain and ugliness that the movement deserves. If the woke are offended, good.

Expand full comment

Absolutely. The word did not originally have an offensive connotation, it happened gradually as the ugliness of the movement came to light. Definitely deserved.

Expand full comment

This is futile in my opinion. As deBoer points out, they reject every name that develops - and I think it's by design. It's harder to criticize something that doesn't have an exact definition. The movement itself and its goals aren't clearly defined so people within it don't necessarily think they are defending the same thing. Wokeness originally meant being awake to injustices - which sounds good - and many of its defenders still believe that this is the case. They support CRT and gender curriculum in schools, claiming they teach children to accept those who are different then them. When you tell them about Ibrahim X. Kendi's position - that past discrimination can only be cured through present discrimination - they claim that this is not what CRT is about. Same with gender ideology - when you tell them kindergartners are being told that there is no such thing as a boy or a girl and are asked to pick a gender from a spectrum (see gender unicorn), they say this isn't actually being taught. Many don't believe in academic or hiring quotas but they also don't believe it's happening. So I think the movement is made up of a very small but powerful group of activists who are pushing these extremes - but also regular liberals who happen to be casual consumers of (mainstream) news and don't know what goes on under the surface.

I should also point out that, while this isn't a liberal or leftist movement, in the traditional sense of these words, it is the left that has embraced it and put their political power behind it. Without it, it would have never gotten this far. And notice that this is the case in Canada, USA, UK, and across the globe. Those of us who've always been on the left and do not agree with it, need to admit to ourselves that our side has gone too far and stop supporting them politically.

Expand full comment

perfectly stated. thank you. "but also regular liberals who happen to be casual consumers of (mainstream) news and don't know what goes on under the surface." BINGO.

Expand full comment

Difficult to find a non-pejorative, dignified title for a group who seems to exist on casting derogatory and pejorative comments on all non-members of the group.

Expand full comment

"Culture Marxism" I think covers it. Also, "fake scholarship toxic mind virus." Lastly, "leftist postmodernist neoracism". John McWhorter calls it "Woke Racism". Everything we can label it will be a pejorative because it is a nasty and immoral project that should not be sugar-coated.

Reading the buried writing of its leading practitioners, it is clear that the basis is the pursuit of political power by societal deconstruction. The postmodernists, lead by the 3rd wave feminist movement, has done quite an impressive amount of deep thinking and leveraging of these "Critical Theory" ideas from 1970s European malcontents over the fall of communism and injected them in the education system to create armies that would spread the virus.

It is only hugely influential because of the armies launched over decades of campus programming the clones that believe the junk. And also old liberals adopting it because they see it benefiting their political opportunities.

It is going to take a lot of heaving lifting in a conservative led western government to right these wrongs. Civil rights reformation that either eliminates hate crime laws, or enhances them to include everything racial. Greater protections for First, Second and Fourth Amendment rights. Education reforms including cutting off federal funding for states and schools with injected woke text and instruction. Section 230 changes or exception elimination for big tech.

We are going to have a bubble of mostly educated females and weak men that are going to be a problem until they age and either reform, or just fade away. But we better start now to focus on the new generations to get this stuff out of their education.

Expand full comment

I'm genuinely interested to read more here - do you have some readings for "Reading the buried writing of its leading practitioners, it is clear that the basis is the pursuit of political power by societal deconstruction"?

Expand full comment

The very fact that these people don't appreciate being called what they are is precisely the root of the problem. Part of their raison d'être seems to be to purposely attempt to change the very language we use to communicate ideas. Change the language, shift the ideas. It's why in the woke mind, most "racism" is not actual racism, and "violence" is not always real violence.

It makes perfect sense that if they've given their own movement such a bad name, they would now demand that you stop using it.

These are my thoughts on that:


Expand full comment

"At its heart, wokeness is divisive and hateful. It gives mean people a shield to be mean and cruel, armored in false virtue."

Elon Musk

Expand full comment

One thing this movement strives for is the control of language. They instinctively know that in any discourse it is hard if not impossible to attack something you cannot even name. I would therefore stick with Woke and if the language puritans don’t like that, so much the better. The only other alternative, since they cannot be named, would be Voldemortism.

Expand full comment

It's partly a generational thing; I remember the days when 4Chan's "rules of the internet" were widely acknowledged as true (e.g. "Rule 14: Do not argue with trolls — it means they win.")

Rule #18 of the internet - Everything that can be labelled can be hated.

Wokescolds don't want their movement to have a label; they want what Freddie De Boer describes as "politics on easy mode". Well too bad.

Expand full comment
Oct 28, 2022·edited Oct 28, 2022

Any term "they" will choose will become pejorative soon enough because the beliefs espoused are anathema to so many. I will stick with "woke" for now in most cases, though I might use the phrase social justice" when being more formal.

I think we all know woke when he hear it. In a nutshell, the woke have righteous, illiberal views about race and gender that inflexibly labels all people by group identity. The woke deny the importance of individual or universal rights so long as even one person does not have exactly the same quality of life as everyone else.

Expand full comment

The issue I have with giving them the term "social justice" is that term implies that if you don't agree then you must support "social INjustice". Ironic - accuse others of what you do yourself

Expand full comment

Yes, the woke have been very successful in manipulating language in their favour. Many have pointed out that control of language is their main way of both obfuscating and defining meaning. Another reason why woke is ideal for labeling this ideology. It's too late for them to reclaim it.

Expand full comment

How about "anti-intellectualism"? Feverish promotion of static narratives, adherence to ideology and one's unwillingness to engage in unemotional, evidence-based, nuanced, contextual, open-minded, logical dialogue without resorting to ad hominem attacks appears in all respects to be the complete opposite of intellectualism. In a political environment in which proponents of "wokeism" (or whatever you want to call it) are also usually also described favourably as "elites" or "Progressives" and all others are disparagingly characterized as things like "anti-vaxxers", "climate change deniers", "ignorant", "bigoted" and so on, I'm not sure why anyone should be so concerned by this movement being described in unflattering terms. Others can play the dismissive sound-bite game too. How about: Identity McCarthyism? Moral supremacists? Truth and fact deniers? Perhaps we need some more hard-hitting terminology to shake this movement from its current position of complacency.

Expand full comment

Ever since Freddie de Boer's piece I've realised the power inherent in being a diffuse nameless cultural force. You can't push back on a wraith. There are several usefully non-snide labels for it - 'Successor Ideology', your 'Identitarian Moralism' (amusingly close to my privately coined Identity Moralism), Cultural Progressivism, but none of them trip off the tongue and land meaningfully with anyone who isn't immersed in understanding this culture.

Practitioners are not going to name it because that diffuse 'all things to all people' quality gives it similar power to 'fairness' as an ill-defined term that enjoys very positive emotional valence. The moment it has a name - like socialism or fascism or protestantism or libertarianism - it's vulnerable to critique that doesn't instantly render you a bigoted transphobic racist. You don't have to be a fascist to critique socialism, or a libertarian to object to dictatorship. What's brilliant about it is this quality of auto-problematising any pushback. No, they don't need to name it because that would expose them to the inconvenience of defending against the kind of problematic inevitabilities highlighted by Adolph Reed.

That leaves detractors to keep naming it and (as looking at many of the comments here seems to demonstrate) that will lead to just more unhelpful snide. Even if I am privately fond of thinking of it as 'Western Jihadism'.

In my own writing I call it Leftishism (and activists the Leftish) tipping a nod to some of its roots while showing disdain (as a lifelong left-leaner) for its uninterest in class and material improvements - but that's never going to catch on.

To add to our challenges there's the problem of the identitarians proudly appropriating the W word for themselves as black people brilliantly did with the N word. So that it can be positioned as a choice between being nice or being a f**king tw*t, as a popular British comedienne recently expressed it.

Wishing I had more positive thoughts but I've found this question to be crazymaking and seemingly insoluble for at least two years and if I were a participant in The Great Awokening I would be very happy with the situation exactly as it stands, so there will be no help from them.

Expand full comment

“How can we debate that which we cannot name?”

This seems to me the point. It’s deliberately a moving target, with anyone who tries to hit it attacked for allegedly unfairly characterizing it.

I agree with Freddie de Boer, “Name yourself or you will be named.”

In addition, while I think it’s certainly useful to all involved to explain what we mean by the terms we use, I also think that, we should stop wringing our hands trying to please — or avoid alleged slurring of — people that refuse to engage in an intellectually honest way when someone tries to characterize and interrogate their world view. No one is omniscient, so no one’s ideas and beliefs should be beyond question.

I’m willing to assume noble intent and sincerity on the part of anyone sharing their perspective, and to discuss the merits or lack thereof of the beliefs and ideas under discussion in any given case. I think it’s fair to expect the same consideration and, absent that, to ignore anyone who engages in an ad hominem manner.

Thanks for this thoughtful post! I really appreciate your work, your heterodox approach to grappling with important questions of the day, and your respectful and measured tone.

Expand full comment

The woke don't want to have a name for their movement. Because then there could be discussion and rational criticism of it. They are above this because they know they are right and everyone else are bigoted idiots.

To misquote George Orwell in Animal Farm "All animals are woke, some animals are more woke than others."

Expand full comment

‘Woke’ is just bigotry worse than what these ‘woke’ adherents foam at the mouth over. The ‘mean girls’ in high school, with worse weapons. And that’s being complimentary about their maturity level.

Expand full comment

Thanks so much for this, Tara. You highlight something really important about how power works in a society, particularly in an implicit sense. Namely, that when a group, or cohort can announce/implement ideas into a culture without having to name who they are, you know that they have a tremendous amount of power. To not have to "out" or "define" oneself can give the impression that their ideas are merely "common sense" and a seamless part of a certain social imaginary. And then when people disagree with them, they can simply label them with epithets of various kinds, automatically delegitimizing them. And this when "wokeism's" opponents - who must seemingly be racist or phobic of some kind - even argue for issues from the left.

This is all to say that the very fact that there is no (accepted) name for this ideology (or whatever you want to call it) gives "wokeism" a kind of cultural power to both assume the "goodness" of its tenets and implement them with little opposition.

As regards to what to call "it" - i have sometimes used "hyper-progressivism." Political philosopher Nancy Fraser's "neoliberal progressivism" is something i have also found helpful. But as you and the other people you highlight here mention, they don't seem really adequate.

Thanks again for voicing this.

Expand full comment

They are first and foremost grifters (hence, the label “race hustlers.”) Think of the Elmer Gantry character in the Sinclair Lewis novel as the archetype. Like all grifters, they use the vices or personality weaknesses of their targeted victims as the means to carry out their con. For the woke hucksters, they prey on the general philosophical ignorance and spiritual immaturity of modern western citizens and their susceptibility to accepting false notions of morality and justice—“equity”, for example.

Expand full comment