How to Play Games With Words.
How woke activists seek to avoid subjecting their worldview and ideology to criticism.
Recently there was another dust up about what we mean when we talk about “woke.” This was sparked by a Television interview where Bethany Mandel, who I consider a friend, was interviewed about her new book and was asked by the host Briana Joy Gray to define woke. Unfortunately, Bethany had difficulty giving an on the spot definition of the term, and simply responded by saying the Woke was difficult to define.
Predictably, this lead to something of a pile on as a tweet of the moment went viral on twitter. In short, a large number of left leaning accounts proceeded to say words to the effect that when conservatives call things woke, all they are doing is dog-whistling various bigoted sentiments. In other words, “woke” is just a term that conservatives use as a slur. Here are just a couple of examples:
This is all part of a strategy that is being employed by Critical Social Justice (AKA “woke”) activists in order to protect their ideology and worldview from criticism. As we will see, what they are doing is attempting to prevent us from giving their ideology a name or a label in order to protect it from criticism.
So I am going to explain how and why they do this, and what we can do about it. Let’s begin.
1. Sketching the problem
No doubt readers of this substack have heard people who claim to fight for Social Justice say things like: "White privilege is a product of systemically racist social structures which center whiteness and marginalize people of color while reproducing white supremacy. This reinforces dominant power structures and a cultural hegemony that benefits cisgendered heterosexual white males at the expense of BIPOC, Latinx, and LGBTQS2+ folx."
We've all seen that jargon coming from people with similar views, politics, and ideas, all demanding sweeping social change from the left. They might be doing advocacy in different areas of society, and with respect to different topics, but the similarity of the language, the overlap of the concepts, and the fact that the arguments are always concerned with oppression, privilege, systemic power, diversity, equity, inclusion, inequality, ability status, sex, race, and gender indicate that here is clearly a coherent worldview at work here. However, every time we try give that worldview a name they say the name we pick is problematic, wrong, incorrect, bigoted, misleading or otherwise problematic.
Many names have been tried, but every time we try to name this ideology: woke, Critical Race Theory, Socialism, neo-marxism, cultural Marxism, Critical Social Justice, The successor ideology, and we are told none of this is appropriate or correct.
This inability to give the ideology in question a name prevents people from being able to talk about the project of social, cultural, and political change coming from the left. They want to agitate, advocate, and demand social change without acknowledging, much less defending, the worldview at the center of their project.
The result is that there is a large number of ideologically connected but formally unconnected social movements which all proceed from the same worldview while all denying that there is a single distinct worldview, mindset, or ideology at work. We have:
-Defund the Police
-Critical Race Theory
-Queer theory (aka, gender ideology or radical gender theory)
-Drag Queen Story Hour
-Diversity Equity, and inclusion
And a host of other social and political movements, all of which use similar language, have similar policies, similar concerns, and which work together in “solidarity” with each other, all while claiming that there is no underlying common worldview which can be given a label.
They will tell you that they want to change society, change the world, and change the culture, but if you ask them to put a name to their ideology it always comes up empty. Sometimes they will say “oh, this is just kindness,” or “we call it fairness.” This is absurd. Most people do not think “society is constructed by systemic power which socializes people to accept the legitimacy of a system which reproduces white privilege at the expense of POC and which needs to be decolonized in order to make space for non-binary folx” when they are trying to talk about fairness.
So what exactly is going on here?
2. The strategy at work.
So I would like to now explain what I think is going on using Zebras as an analogy. This will make sense I promise you.
Many animals have fur, feathers, or skin that blends in to their environment. This acts as camouflage so they can blend in to their environment and hide. This owl is a fine example:
Zebras, however, are different. They use camouflage, but they way they use it is entirely different. Zebra’s are covered in black and white stripes even though the environment they live in is mostly brown and green. If you see a zebra by itself, it's very easy to see.
It's like they have a neon sign over them saying "lions, please eat me." Look at this picture below, this Zebra does not blend into it’s background at all:
So how does Zebra Camouflage work? Well, its simple: Zebra camouflage works by making zebras blend with the herd so that lions can't focus on any one zebra and target it. In order for Lions to kill a zebra they need to be able to pick one Zebra, focus on it, and then go after it. If the lions are unable to pick a target then the Zebras are safe.
What Zebras Camouflage does is to make the Zebras blend into the heard. It makes them all blend in together with each other so that it becomes near impossible for the lions to select any one zebra to attacks.
If lions can't pick a target to go after, then the Zebras are safe. And as you can see in the pictures below, when the Zebras are in a single herd it becomes nearly impossible to pick out any one of them:
Scientists discovered this as they studied Zebras and got confused about which individual zebra was which, and that happened because the zebras camouflage causes them to all blend into the herd.
So, they tried to fix this by tagging a zebra with red paint so they could recognize it from the others and keep track of it.
Guess what happened?
The Lions killed the tagged Zebra. A tagged zebra stands out from the herd so lions can tell it apart and focus the hunt on it. The Lions don't catch weak zebras, they catch the *IDENTIFIABLE* Zebras they can focus on. If a Zebra stand out from the herd, or gets separated from the herd it no longer blends in with the rest of the herd and it loses the benefit of it's camouflage, at which point the lions can focus on it, target it, and kill it.
This is a great analogy for the game the woke are playing.
Once a worldview is named and defined, it can then be pointed out, highlighted, and subjected to criticism. Once you can *IDENTIFY* a worldview or set of ideas you can focus on it. Naming an idea lets us separate it from the herd of other ideas and examine it up close. The woke don't want anyone to be able to give a name or label to their ideology because if that happens we can "tag" examples their ideology with a label when we see it. This allows us to highlight it, point it out, and examine it when we see it.
We label and name things to help us "tag" them, so we can point them out and focus on them, the woke are trying desperately to destroy all of our linguistic "tags." Woke activists do not want us to be able to single out their ideas and subject them to criticism. Woke ideas really can't withstand proper rational and logical analysis. The lions of truth: evidence, logic, rationality, etc, will eat the Zebras of Wokeness, Gender Ideology, Critical Race Theory, and Critical Social Justice for lunch. But only if the lions of reason can focus on and identify the Zebras of woke ideology.
This is what the woke want to avoid. The woke think our criticisms are not legitimate and merely an attempt by us to attack them so we can hold on to "power and privilege." For that reason the woke seek to insulate themselves from our "illegitimate" criticism.
So, to avoid getting eaten by the lions of reason the woke want to camouflage their ideology in a way that makes it impossible to it to be seen, pointed out, highlighted, or (in woke parlance) "made visible." They want hide their worldview by making it impossible to focus on and impossible to tag, label, or name. so they can say they are "just doing history" or "just discussing gender," and "blend in" as though wokeness fits right alongside reason, evidence, logic, and rationality.
We need to use labels to be able to point at, highlight, and otherwise tag woke concepts so that they can be seen and then held up and examined for criticism. Using labels like "woke," "CRT," AND "Critical Social Justice," lets us tag woke ideas so we can hold them up to the light and examine them. Labels help us point out wokeness to other people so they can see it too.
This is what the woke want to avoid.
What the woke want is to act like all the bits of woke activism we see are unconnected phenomena spontaneously springing fourth in the name of justice in an organic and decentralized way. They want to act as though things like BLM, Defund the Police, “Diversity, equity, and Inclusion,” and Drag Queen Story Hour are diffuse and unconnected movements when in fact they are all connected by their adherence to an underlying worldview and ideology.
The formal name of this ideology is Critical Social Justice,1 or in common parlance, wokeness.
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3. What is the solution
Do not let them do this. Do not let them play games and use linguistic and rhetorical sleight of hand to hide their worldview. You do not need to give an exhaustive definition every time they invent a new term, or every time they present you with some new bit of jargon. All you need is a definition of wokeness that communicates its ideas in a clear way so people can examine it.
I would like to provide what I think is an accurate definition of wokeness that even a person who is “woke” would be willing to accept.
Woke: (sometimes called Critical Social Justice) is a type of social justice politics that claims systemic identity based discrimination such as racism, sexism, homophobia, white privilege, and other sorts of injustice are baked into the fabric of society. In short, society is oppressive. They believe this occurs through “systems of power” which were created for the benefit people who are white, straight, and male, at the expense of everyone else. This power operates through cultural hegemony (cultural dominance) and by socializing people into accepting the legitimacy of this oppressive system, and accepting their place in it. Wokeness claims these systems of power warp every element of western culture in a way that harms people, and for that reason all of society must be radically restructured. Everything, including science, knowledge, truth, beauty, economics, education, sports, music, film, agriculture, justice and everything else on society are full of bigotries, biases and self-interest which are a product of the systems of power which were created by and for straight white males. On this view even such things as math, biology, physics, and chemistry must be radically rebuilt with a focus toward diversity, equity, inclusion, social justice, anti-racism, and so fourth.
To give you something that is a little easier to memorize and pull out in conversation, Neil Shenvi has offered a definition of wokeness which fits into a single tweet:
Wilfred Reilly offers and even shorter definition that is excellent for use in everyday conversation:
With a proper definition of wokeness now in view we should now proceed to make sure that we carefully, accurately, and carefully label things as Critical Social Justice or “Woke” when they fit that definition. We should have absolutely no hesitation in doing so.
These woke activists have labelled everyone they disagree with as:
They absolutely do not get to complain when we label them as “woke.”
Label fairly, use labels from their literature, and label accurately, do not hesitate to label those woke ideas and then subject those woke ideas to the bright light of rigorous criticism and analysis.
Thanks for reading.
Özlem Sensoy and Robin DiAngelo, Is Everyone Really Equal? An Introduction to Key Concepts in Social Justice Education, second edition. Teachers College press. 2017. P.19