No, the Revolution Isn’t Over
None of the fundamental drivers of “Wokeness” have relented
At least in the Boswash (the corridor of East Coast establishment power running from Boston to Washington), using January to make public predictions about the year ahead is an ironclad tradition. Usually these predictions end up being completely wrong, because no one here has any idea what they’re talking about. I hope that holds true in my case, because I want to use my mandatory annual forecast to dump a few gallons of cold, contrarian water on what seems to have recently become a fashionable prediction: that the “woke” ideological revolution roiling the West has peaked and will soon be in full blown retreat.
Consider a handful of examples of this new genre:
Is Wokeness Almost Over? (Scott McConnell, The American Conservative)
The fightback against wokeness has begun (Frank Furedi, Spiked)
Why Wokeness Will Fail (Bret Stephens, New York Times)
The end of woke is nigh (Peter Franklin, UnHerd)
Emerging Cracks In The Woke Elite (Andrew Sullivan, Substack)
Dave Chappelle May Help Tame Wokeness [as part of a “Thermidorian reaction”] (Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal)
Inflation Might Spell Doom for Wokeness (Lewis M. Andrews, The American Conservative)
Is this the end of progressive America? (Joel Kotkin, UnHerd)
While a few of those examples are from earlier in 2021, this theme seems to have really emerged and begun to solidify into a consensus among more centrist types soon after the beginning of November 2021. That was when some conservative American politicians won or almost won a few special elections, in part by riding a popular backlash to Critical Race Theory in schools, and a number of local ballot measures to defund police departments failed around the country. Republicans, feeling especially good about their chances against a flailing Biden, started drooling over a “Red Wave” expected to sweep them back to power in the 2022 midterm elections. And now that private equity executive turned Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin has personally won the culture war’s Battle of Midway, the tide has turned and, aside from the occasional messy beachhead here or there, inevitable victory is now in sight, or something.
One would think that by now all these anti-woke conservatives and moderate liberals would have learned at least some of the bitter lessons from the last decade about how political power and cultural change actually work, but I guess not. They could have taken note of all the fundamental factors driving this ideological belief system, all of which had to be painstakingly uncovered, layer by layer, even as it swept through every institution. But they have not. (Like, do they even read the pages and pages of erudite Substack anthropology on the topic? No?) They could have recognized by now that this is not a simple political issue with a political solution, but they have not.
Look, honestly I really didn’t want to have to do this. Come the New Year I had resolved to focus on the positives and all that crap. But I haven’t seen anyone else do it, so guess I have no choice and the duty falls to me to deliver the pessimistic news: no, the Revolution is far from over.
So, in what might also serve as a handy tour guide to the vast depths of the ideological abyss, catalogued at length here – in convenient listicle format! – are twenty reasons to get woke and despair.
1. One does not simply walk away from religious beliefs. What is called “Wokeness” – or the “Successor Ideology,” or the “New Faith,” or what have you (note the foe hasn’t even been successfully named yet, let alone routed) – rests on a series of what are ultimately metaphysical beliefs. The fact that their holders would laugh at the suggestion they have anything called metaphysical beliefs is irrelevant – they hold them nonetheless. Such as:
The world is divided into a dualistic struggle between oppressed and oppressors (good and evil); language fundamentally defines reality; therefore language (and more broadly “the word” – thought, logic, logos) is raw power, and is used by oppressors to control the oppressed; this has created power hierarchies enforced by the creation of false boundaries and authorities; no oppression existed in the mythic past, the utopian pre-hierarchical State of Nature, in which all were free and equal; the stain of injustice only entered the world through the original sin of (Western) civilizational hierarchy; all disparities visible today are de facto proof of the influence of hierarchical oppression (discrimination); to redeem the world from sin, i.e. to end oppression and achieve Social Justice (to return to the kingdom of heaven on earth), all false authorities and boundaries must be torn down (deconstructed), and power redistributed from the oppressors to the oppressed; all injustice anywhere is interlinked (intersectional), so the battle against injustice is necessarily total; ultimate victory is cosmically ordained by history, though the arc of progress may be long; moral virtue and true right to rule is determined by collective status within the oppression-oppressed dialectic; morally neutral political liberalism is a lie constructed by the powerful to maintain status quo structures of oppression; the first step to liberation can be achieved through acquisition of the hidden knowledge of the truth of this dialectic; a select awoken vanguard must therefore guide a revolution in popular consciousness; all imposed limits on the individual can ultimately be transcended by virtue of a will to power…
I could go on, but the real point is that these are faith-beliefs, and ones capable of wielding an iron grip on the individual and collective mind. And they have a strong civilizational resonance, because they are in fact not arbitrary but deeply rooted in a metaphysical struggle that effectively stretches to the very beginning of Western theological and philosophical thought. In other words, “Wokeness” is much more than just a political program. And that’s unlikely to change anytime soon, because…
2. The void of meaning still hasn’t been filled. I mean, did the gaping hole of meaning in people’s lives created by the uprooting forces of secular liquid modernity get resolved in some alternative way while we weren’t looking? You know, the spiritual void that this creepy chimeric faith-ideology and its romantic political crusades rushed to fill in the first place? Has there been some kind of genuine, organized religious revival? Has decadent nihilism stopped being the defining sentiment of the age? Did the young even become hyper-nationalists or revolutionary Marxist class-warriors instead? Have they found an alternative passionate heroic narrative to act out in some new Davos slide deck? No. And in fact, meanwhile, it also seems that…
3. Social atomization hasn’t reversed. It sure seems like the kind of robust communities, civic associations, and “little platoons” which once served to fortify society against the revolutionary (per Burke) and totalitarian (per Arendt) forces that thrive on atomization haven’t suddenly been rebuilt from the ground up. In fact even the most basic such unit, family formation, appears to be continuing to decline precipitously. And that may be because…
4. Atomization is probably the inevitable byproduct of liberal modernity. That is: liberalism made the autonomy of the individual its highest good. To maximize individual autonomy, the state therefore found itself obliged (being unable to resist claims that it must enforce an expanding array of rights) to exercise its power to help progressively liberate the individual from all limits and constraints, including from tradition, religion, geography, community, family, and nature itself. (This is certainly deserving of more argument than I have space to recap here; see “Four Big Questions for the Counter-Revolution” for a bit more.) Liberalism has thus acted as a centrifugal force, severing all the centripetal counter-forces that once kept individuals connected to recognizably human communities and launching them outward towards solitary orbits where they can drift cold and alone in their pods.
From this perspective it is more obvious why the amorphous ideology referred to as “Wokeness” so often seems mixed up and chaotically self-contradictory: it is the confused response to two opposite instincts. On the one hand it is actually a kind of anti-liberal reactionary movement, a blind, emotional scramble to grasp desperately for collectivism in the most basic, tribal sort of community seemingly still available: in identity groups, and in fixed racial identity in particular. But, on the other hand, it simultaneously attempts to continue embracing the boundless autonomy of individual choice as its most sacred principle, celebrating an individual’s right to self-define everything about themselves without limit, up to and including their own concept of material reality. (This cognitive dissonance has never been much more than an ideological speedbump, however – don’t get your hopes up.) And this hyper-individualism has now collided head first with the technological revolution, which increasingly positions itself as offering hope for the boundless potential necessary to escape from any natural limits whatsoever, including by fracturing any solid definition of what we once thought it meant to be human. And, speaking of technology and fracturing, meanwhile…
5. The information revolution is still reverberating. Ultimately, what’s more important in driving societal change: ideas, individuals, material conditions, or technological forces? That’s a fascinating question to debate, but for now all that matters is that it’s become manifestly clear that the ongoing revolution in information technology, most notably the internet and social media, has been a tremendous driver of cultural and political change. In fact a growing number of thinkers tend to attribute nearly the entire phenomenon of Wokeness to technological factors. Social scientist Jonathan Haidt, for example, traces it directly to the 2009-2012 period, when Twitter added the retweet button and Facebook added the share button. The resulting acceleration of memetic virality revolutionized the whole dynamic of how people interact with each other on the internet and suddenly made concentrated ideological coercion via distributed online mob a common occurrence. And whatever the precise influence of technological change in driving the Revolution, it certainly hasn’t ended. When the invention of the Gutenberg printing press launched an information revolution in the 15th century, the full consequences took well over a century to play out – a century of theological chaos, bitter division, and bloodshed. The mass media revolution of radio then helped do the same in the 20th century. We should hardly expect the consequences of the internet to be any less dramatic or long lasting. In part, we’ve already seen how its disintegrative effect has helped ensure that…
6. There is no authority. Who or what institution today is now able to establish any kind of common metaphysical framework, common moral narrative, common vision of a properly ordered life, common norms, or even a common reality that most of society will respect, trust, follow, and collectively defend? CNN? Ted Cruz? Yeah no, we can move on. But how then can this ideological upheaval quickly be put to rest, exactly? Considering this, and all of the above, it really shouldn’t be a surprise to discover that actually…
7. Political parties can’t choose their policies. Political strategists have been pointing out for some time now that woke ideas like Critical Race Theory and defunding the police are not politically popular and are hamstringing the Democratic Party’s electoral chances. So theoretically they would just drop these things, stop talking about them, change course, and talk about popular things. But of course it’s not that simple. All they can actually do is ride the chaos of the Zeitgeist, because some small portion of their base (maybe some 8% of Americans) are true believers gripped by a religious fervor that transcends political calculation. And this minority is steering the ship, because…
8. Majorities don’t matter. Unfortunately for those dreaming of harnessing a majority anti-woke popular will, the truth is that, as statistician and philosopher Nassim Taleb has explained in detail, it’s typically not the majority that sets new societal rules, but the most intolerant minority. If the vast majority generally prefers to eat Food A instead of Food B, but a small minority is absolutely insistent on eating Food B and is willing to start chopping the heads off of anyone who disagrees and serves Food A – and the majority doesn’t care enough to get all bloody dying on this particular culinary hill – all restaurants will soon be serving only Food B, the new national cuisine. This is especially true if the intolerant minority already holds a disproportionate position of influence within the system, given that…
9. Personnel is policy. Let’s imagine, for example, that some lawmakers officially ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory in their state’s schools or universities. Will this be the end of the matter? Will all the woke teachers and administrators who consider “consciousness raising” through “critical pedagogy” – or in general what Marxists call “praxis,” the constant need for the transformation of theory into practice – to be practically a religious commandment just stop doing so? No of course not. As one consultant/cleric recently advised teachers, “Don’t say critical race theory, just teach its precepts… You’re going to see how classroom teachers apply some of these pedagogical models in ways where they don’t even mention the words critical race theory but are doing anti-racist work.” Yes, the work of spreading the new good news shall not be stopped! After all, who is going to stop them? Will they be fired by the woke human resources department, or the woke principal? Abandoned by the woke teachers’ union? Reported to the state by their un-woke peers, all of whom have already been systematically purged from the collective for their heresy? If concerned parents do manage to get them fired, who will hire their replacements? Why… the woke HR department! The people who actually set the effective policy of any institution are inevitably the personnel located in the power centers closest to implementation. Or as a Chinese saying goes: “for every measure that comes down from on high, a countermeasure arises from below” (上有政策, 下有對策). That principle works equally well for a revolutionary professional managerial class as it does for beleaguered counter-revolutionary peasants. And in this case the reality is that…
10. All the institutional high ground is still occupied. Have the top universities already been retaken from the woke, or replaced? (No, one still imaginary university in Austin doesn’t count.) What about the elite finishing schools? The accreditation companies? Most mainstream news media? The social media companies? The publishing houses? Hollywood? The major foundations? The non-profits and the think tanks? The consulting and accounting companies? The investment banks? The NASDAQ? The digital service providers? The HR departments of the Fortune 500, and most of their boards? The law schools? The Bar Association? The permanent federal bureaucratic state? Heck, even Halliburton? No, at such a ludicrous suggestion the Cathedral merely echoes with the mocking laughter of the new woke high clerisy. They know from experience that…
11. Long marches are long. When Herbert Marcuse and the rest of the Neo-Marxists and critical theorists of the Frankfurt School finally took to heart Antonio Gramsci’s directive to seize “cultural hegemony” and first conceived of launching Rudi Dutschke’s “long march through the institutions,” it was only the start of the 1970s. It was not until almost fifty years later that their dream was realized. However much the last several years may have seemed like an avalanche of shockingly rapid ideological coup d'états to those who saw power abruptly change hands in their institutions, one after another, this suddenness was an illusion. Coups only succeed if the backers necessary to support them are already in place. And it took literally a generation of young intellectuals and activists simultaneously inspired and disillusioned by the left-radicalism of the 60s entering into and seeding the institutions, rising into positions of power, and cultivating another generation of trained foot soldiers for their influence to fully flower.
Now, much as Marcuse was lamenting in 1971 that “the fact that the radical Left has no equal access to the great chains of information and indoctrination is largely responsible for its isolation,” the Right and its moderate liberal fellow travelers today find themselves isolated and impotent in turn. And yet, in response, they appear to have no patience whatsoever for executing their own counter-march through the institutions, instead mostly trying to either force the institutions to behave differently through political power (mostly pointless), or fleeing from the institutions entirely in a bid to create new ones from the ground up (a longshot, if more promising). Either way, they seem to hope everything achieved by the left can be reversed in the matter of only a few years, which is naïve on multiple levels because…
12. Culture wars are generational wars, and the young are woke as hell. In his book Bowling Alone, the legendary political scientist Robert Putnam explained that sweeping social changes typically only occur “generation to generation,” or through what he called “cohort change.” For most people, the formative experiences of coming to age are truly formative – afterwards their fundamental values will typically barely change for the rest of their lives. For this reason, as Tanner Greer adeptly elaborates, it is necessarily the case that “culture wars are long wars,” because “cultural insurgents win few converts in their own cohort.” Instead the “real target of [their] ideas are not their contemporaries, but their contemporaries’ children and grandchildren.” The process of “instilling new ideas and overthrowing existing orthodoxies takes time—usually two to three generations of time,” so for the generational cohort at the height of its power any change will seem to only be happening very gradually. But eventually a transition point is reached, and “the end falls swift: the older cohorts suddenly find themselves outnumbered and outgunned, swept up in a flood they had assumed was a mere trickle.” They are shocked and confused, but only because “the revolution occurring below did not echo in their souls” like it did for the youth, whose views they neglected or ignored. Only once it is far too late do they realize their mistake.
Hence even if the anti-woke were prepared to launch their own long march through the institutions, the cohort from which they would currently need to recruit their talent is the same one that’s been busy tearing things down and chanting “the Revolution will not uphold the Constitution!” Of Generation Z Americans (those born after 1996) 51% report that America is “inextricably linked to white supremacy,” 52% support racial reparations, 60% believe systemic racism is “widespread” in general society, and 64% say “rioting and looting is justified to some degree” by the need to address systemic racism “by whatever means necessary.” 51% believe the “gender binary” is “outdated,” and up to 40% self-identify as LGBTQ+ (although Gallup separately finds only about 16% do, compared to 2% of Baby Boomers). 59% support expanding non-binary gender options. 41% support censorship of “hate speech,” 66% support shouting down speakers they consider offensive, and 23% support using violence to silence such speakers. 61% have positive views of socialism, and 70% think “government should do more to solve problems.”
Sorry conservatives, but that’s the 67 million-strong cohort who will fill the pipeline of employees, leaders, educators, and voters for the next two decades or so, even if Gen Alpha (those born after 2010) were all to become rampant little reactionaries tomorrow. But why are the youth so woke, anyway? Well maybe, for one thing at least…
13. The youth are still coddled and mentally broken. Back in 2015, when most people still thought of what is now referred to as Wokeness only as a bizarre and vaguely amusing phenomenon that was isolated to college campuses, Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff published an essay titled “The Coddling of the American Mind” in The Atlantic (later to become a book of the same name) as an early hypothesis of what was happening. They advanced an essentially psychological explanation for why so many college students were suddenly acting simultaneously like fragile snowflakes and rabid authoritarians: thanks to the embrace of the “self-esteem” movement and “helicopter-parenting” by their Boomer parents, along with liability risk-aversion by institutions, young people had grown up physically and psychologically “coddled” and therefore emotionally fragile. By this the authors specifically meant that they had adopted a number of beliefs totally inverse to the Stoic-derived principles considered best practice by modern Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. These unhealthy beliefs included: always trusting your feelings, assuming disagreement is always a personal attack, and believing hurtful words lead to real harm, including permanent trauma. Normalization of these beliefs led to a “cult of safety” on campuses, with hyper-attention devoted to the prevention of offense (because it was now actual “violence”). Hence the emergence of such innovations as “microaggressions,” “trigger warnings,” and “safe spaces.”
I must admit that I’ve grown a bit skeptical of this explanation by now. As things have progressed, it’s become increasingly clear to me that these claims to offense are often used as cunningly deliberate weapons against empathetic liberals, and are probably frequently evidence less of psychological fragility than of psychopathy. But, it does seem true that Gen Z sadly does indeed suffer from much higher rates of mental illness than older generations (though the millennials are very close). Even before the pandemic, the rate of anxiety and depression recorded in their age group nearly doubled between 2007 and 2018, as they came of age. The suicide rate rose 57%. From 2009 to 2019, the proportion of high school students reporting persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness increased by 40%. Only 45% reported their mental health was good overall in 2018. One-third reported having a mental health or substance abuse problem. They are also far and away the loneliest generation. Meanwhile, our whole culture seems to have grown significantly more possessed by emotivism in general, to the point that the decline of rational language and the rise of emotional reasoning can even be tracked quantitatively…
But I digress. If we assume any of this may be causally related to the Revolution, the real question for us here is: has any of this gotten better? Of course not! The pandemic has had a devastating impact on Gen Z’s already fragile mental health. Up to seven in ten now report feeling depressed. Rates of severe depression rose to around 25%. Hospitalization for suicide attempts by girls in particular rose 51% from 2019 to 2021. Meanwhile, far from pulling back at all on the “cult of safety,” colleges have now expanded it to absolutely insane levels. So no, the situation has not improved. And from what we know about how totalitarian cults target and more easily exploit the lonely and vulnerable, we can probably safely assume the Revolutionaries will only have more material to work with moving forward, not less, as college graduates remain fragile and/or “entitled” for the foreseeable future. And speaking of anxious, entitled young people…
14. Elite overproduction is still in overdrive. In what is rapidly becoming one of my preferred explanations for the Revolution, the evolutionary anthropologist/mathematician/prophet of doom Peter Turchin has identified “elite overproduction” as having been one of the top drivers of revolution and civil conflict throughout history. He points to the tendency for decadent societies to produce far more overeducated elites than there are elite-level jobs, leading to large numbers of underemployed, resentful elite-class intellectuals of the type who tend pine after the position and status they “deserve” and eventually start spending their free time starting revolutionary cells. Or as James Lindsay has put it, all the children of the upper-middle class bourgeoisie “fake elites,” who find they will likely never be part of the truly wealthy elite (e.g. Bezos) that they aspire to be, have quickly become “a breeding ground for ressentiment in society” instead.
But, scrabbling desperately with one another for status, and horrified at the idea of ever falling into the ranks of the mere working class, the overproduced elites have found another solution: they’ve set themselves up, not as the nobility, but as the First Estate, the new clergy, where they can labor diligently to produce basically nothing but the “right” opinions to police our collective moral rules. And now they’ve succeeded in creating their own job market (e.g. critical theorists, diversity consultants) out of thin air. Or as Mary Harrington recently put it succinctly: “Once you start seeing the calls for moral re-evaluation of everything as a mass job application on behalf of an ever-expanding surplus of arts graduates it’s difficult to unsee.” And in this crowded, hyper-competitive world of the bourgeoisie, the surest way to move up is to take someone else down – hence “cancel culture” and the vast, elaborate, ever-changing, mandatory “correct” vocabulary that functions as a way to help weed out any of the competition (or dirty proles) who can’t keep up. Thus Wokeness.
Have young people stopped trying desperately to make it into Harvard or Yale and join the smaller and smaller share of the population that represents the elite? No way. It’s just that, thanks to the latest expansion of a huge, growing industry of administrators and consultants, the professional managerial class has an array of profitable new fallback options after investment banker. Now instead of having to labor through something difficult, like medical school, in order to achieve a respectable, well-paid career, one can always become a Chief Diversity Officer (average annual salary in Northern California in 2021: $231,500 to $329,500). Fortunately the government is there to help make sure this will remain an option in perpetuity, because…
15. “Wokeness” is still required by law. Why are America’s university presidents and CEOs so terrified of their Gen Z students and employees, capitulating immediately to their every demand? Is it because Twitter has become basically their entire world? Do they, as Theodore Roosevelt once said of William McKinley, just have “the backbone of a chocolate eclair”? Probably a bit of both. But likely much more important is that they are terrified of the law.
The scope of U.S. federal antidiscrimination statutes that grew out of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 have already made the core facts of what people think of as “Wokeness” the law of the land. This includes the concept that all disparities are due to discrimination (“disparate impact”), the requirement that employers relentlessly police private speech that could be in any way offensive to any “protected class” (to prevent a “hostile work environment”), and “affirmative action” in hiring. Moreover, the law as written is so deliberately vague in its language that any new claims to rights raised by any protected identity group can be seamlessly slipped into the body of harms that any company or organization must legally prevent. So, for example, if any employee refuses for whatever reason to refer to another employee by their chosen gender pronouns, the entire company is in real danger of being held liable for violation of Title IX and Title VII by permitting discrimination on the basis of sex (as affirmed by the Supreme Court in its Bostock decision). Or at least so the company must assume, because the potential financial penalties are far too high to risk it. The nonconforming employee is getting the boot – unless they themselves are of a protected class that could conceivably sue for being fired due to their identity…
The safest path through this regulatory mess is simply to hire a very large HR department staffed with “experts” in all these rules and let them handle it, including by subjecting employees to a vast numbers of “training sessions” run by DEI consultants, all of which can if necessary then be pointed to in court as evidence that the company was definitely doing everything it could to prevent any discrimination from occurring. Hence why while fewer than 30% of organizations had an HR office in 1955, that number had grown to 70% by 1985, and today it is close to 100% of all firms of any significant size. So, as Christopher Caldwell has painstakingly explained, the unintended legacy of the original “emergency measures” of 1964 was to create an entire permanent apparatus of “surveillance by volunteers, litigation by lawyers, and enforcement by bureaucrats.” Then “the fear of litigation privatized the suppression of disagreement, or even of speculation,” and so the phenomenon of “political correctness” emerged as simply “the cultural effect of the basic enforcement powers of civil rights law.” But because enforcement gradually expanded through new case law and executive orders, and therefore “there was no statutory ‘smoking gun’ behind it, this new system of censorship was easily mistaken for a change in the public mood.” Or, as Richard Hanania has put it simply, the fact that we now have uniformly “Woke Institutions is Just Civil Rights Law.”
Practically speaking, this means any claim by conservative politicians that they will put an end to Wokeness if elected to office is pure theater. Without addressing the structure of the law, none of the forces at play in the workplace will reverse on their own (in fact they will get much worse. Have I mentioned how very woke law students are?) But unless these politicians are willing to take on the politically suicidal task of reforming the Civil Rights Act (practically holy writ in American society due to having tackled a genuinely great moral wrong), nothing they do will have any significant impact on the concrete incentives at play. So it’s a safe bet that they will just posture rhetorically and pass another tax cut instead. And speaking of incentives…
16. Money is still power. Those who live outside places like Washington D.C. or San Francisco might hear the word “philanthropy” and think it means feeding the hungry, or something naïve and low-brow like that. But “philanthropy” is really a word for how the concentrated power latent in oligarchic money is transformed into applied political and cultural power. In this process, money from concentrations of wealth (today mostly from the tech industry) flows (tax free!) into very special institutions called foundations, where it is laundered of any appearance of corrupt influence or nefarious motive, and then handed out to the vast constellation of non-profit NGOs, activist organizations, think tanks, and academic programs that subsist almost entirely on such money, where it can find a way to “inspire change.” A large proportion of the elite in places like Washington are engaged in helping facilitate this process as their full-time labor. (How to spot a budding young elite aspiring to join this trade: simply scan their job applications for polite requests to be given some power, pretty please, such as a stated desire to “make an impact” or “change the world.”)
This means the foundations have truly tremendous influence over public policy, because every nominally independent think tank, for example, automatically tailors its projects to attract the blessing of their funding. Government officials, being lazy, and chummy with the non-profit “experts” and executives (who are often former or future colleagues), simply copy their ideas almost directly into the rules they implement. Alternatively, those in the government with an agenda can hand over trial policy ideas in the other direction to be validated “independently” by the other side of the blob. This Wealth-Foundation-NGO-Government Complex thus works in unison to pour huge amounts of money-power into causes that are essentially by definition progressive ones (being to affect rapid change). Today this means there are massive tides of woke capital hard at work changing the world. How much money? Well as Thomas Edsall writes in the New York Times about just one cause du jour:
Before [George] Floyd’s death, Candid found that philanthropies provided “$3.3 billion in racial equity funding” for the nine years from 2011 to 2019. Since then, Candid calculations revealed much higher totals for both 2020 and 2021: “50,887 grants valued at $12.7 billion” and “177 pledges valued at $11.6 billion.”
Among the top funders, according to Candid’s calculations, are the Ford Foundation, at $3 billion; Mackenzie Scott, at $2.9 billion; JPMorgan Chase & Co. Contributions Program, at $2.1 billion; W.K. Kellogg Foundation, $1.2 billion; Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, $1.1 billion; Silicon Valley Community Foundation, $1 billion; Walton Family Foundation, $689 million; The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, $438 million; and the Foundation to Promote Open Society, $350.5 million.
With this much money spent, the priorities of the non-profit sector have already been firmly set for at least the next few years, as budgeted projects are implemented. Hundreds of new institutions will have been set up to get in on the feeding frenzy. And all of these now have an incentive to justify their existence in perpetuity by hyping whatever problem they purportedly exist to solve. The inertia is now immense. In time, their specific priorities may change as the foundations’ priorities change, but one thing you can be sure of is that those priorities will stay woke – because if you begin to dig into what, say, the Ford Foundation has gotten up to in its lifetime, the deeper you go the more and more horrifying it gets – until you learn they were the ones who essentially invented modern left-wing identity politics in the United States in the first place. (The Ford Foundation is also a great example of how the foundations often run riot well beyond even the intentions of their donors. Henry Ford II went to his grave lamenting the family had ever set theirs up in the first place, describing it as “a fiasco from my point of view from day one,” having “got out of control” because, “I didn’t have enough confidence in myself at that stage to push and scream and yell and tell them to go fuck themselves, you know, which I should have done… we can get thrown out or we can go broke; but those people, they’ve got nobody to answer to.”)
But even the foundations, despite their zeal and close relationship with government, may ultimately wield only a shadow of the influence exerted more quietly by titans of finance like the “Big Three” asset managers, BlackRock, Vanguard, and State Street. With a collective $22 trillion in assets under management, and owning an average of 22% of the typical S&P 500 company, these three firms have the power to dictate corporate policy across the world, both by acting as voting proxies for their index fund investors, and through the environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) standards they choose to set as requirements for investment. And because these firms’ leaders are now woke (or at least see advantage in acting woke), there is now, as Vivek Ramaswamy has explained in detail in Woke, Inc., constant pressure on companies to get woke too, or face losing critical access to capital.
In any case, whether it’s the influence of foundations or asset managers, what should be obvious is how unprepared the average politician is to stop any of this. Not only is the American political class’ power over moneyed interests held back by legal limits, but they also have significant political and personal incentives not to upset the same elite coastal donor and investor class that funds their campaigns and employs them after they retire. Despite their collective anger about Wokeness, America’s conservatives, in particular, still seem to have no real consensus or even understanding of how to begin to tackle such a problem, given their traditional worship of capital. Which is a big problem, given that…
17. The opposition is still only political. Given all of the above, it should be clear by now that political opposition to the Revolution is rather unlikely to be sufficient – not without resistance on the cultural, educational, economic, technological, and media fronts as well, at a minimum. Yet what else has emerged so far? As outlined in detail above, the woke left is unloading huge amounts of cash to advance the social causes that matter to them. On what social causes has the right matched this level of funding, or even enthusiasm? Does the right even have social causes? If people standing up to the woke are being fired for their ideals and losing their employer-provided health insurance, for example, does the right have a concrete plan to make sure they have an alternative? How many people other than Oren Cass have started seriously considering a new, conservative wave of unionization by now? And if this is a “culture war,” is there a conservative foundation for the arts? No, it doesn’t seem like it. At least the dissident right has some great memes and a lot of people who can tell you more than you ever wanted to know about cryptocurrencies, I guess. So even if Red Tribe does sweep the elections in November, or 2024, what is likely to be the result? Probably the same as their last period in the majority: at lot of populist huffing, puffing, and flailing about trying not to drown as the Revolution continues to advance. And speaking of politics in such a scenario…
18. Partisanship is still getting worse, and Wokelash 2.0 is entirely possible. Donald Trump may not have been the cause of the Revolution, but his presidency certainly helped send it into overdrive. Worked into frothing-at-the-mouth levels of outrage, the ranks of the #Resistance were easily converted to Wokeness on the purely tribal need to be for whatever Trump was against, traditional liberal principles be damned. America’s partisan political rancor has hardly improved in the year since Trump left the White House – if anything it is somehow even worse. So let me make a prediction: if Trump wins again in 2024, be prepared for the inevitable outbreak of the Second Woke Crusade to extirpate all the Racist Forces of Evil from the nation once and for all (some might argue this has already begun). Meanwhile, even if anti-woke Republicans were to seize back the White House (with or without Trump), they would soon learn that, in the end…
19. None of the levers of power have changed or will change hands. At the risk of sounding like one of them conspiracy theorists: who really controls the power centers in the United States? The intelligence agencies; the domestic security services; the military officer corps; the diplomatic service; the regulatory administrative state; the Ministry of Information [sic]; and so on. Are all these run by elected representatives accountable to the people, including an elected president and his appointees, who then set a policy direction which is faithfully executed? It may be worth considering that this is simply not the case. That, instead, these power centers are run by a certain interchangeable class of people who already staff them permanently and run them as they think best and only cooperate if they so please. And who all happen to have went to the same schools (let’s go Hoyas!), and received the same prestigious fellowships from the same foundations, and share overlapping networks, and marry each other, and hang out at the same parties, even though secretly they actually all mostly loathe one another. And who hire each other as they cycle seamlessly between the public and private sectors. And who all consume the same media, and like to send each other the same latest “must-read piece” in The Atlantic, or whatever. And who somehow all use exactly the same identical phraseology when they humble-brag on LinkedIn as when they issue a State Department press release. What if this is the real body-politic?
It may then be the case that this class prefers to believe that they have a certain right to rule as they do – a certain nobility of superior virtue, merit, and knowledge that justifies their permanent hold on power and the material gains that happen to come from it. It may then be that if any entity intrudes into this body-politic from outside, it naturally gets all inflamed and ideologically feverish in an attempt to purge the infection by whatever means necessary – both to reassert control and so its members can assure themselves that they are in fact still the good guys, the ones who retain the Mandate of History, as it were. And it might be that this class, which is of course the most diverse, inclusive, and enlightened ever assembled by said history, has recently come to realize they aren’t much liked by the masses, out there – those people whose wild and unpredictable behavior, driven by dark irrational impulses, is impossible to understand, even after a safari! In that case they may have determined that it is necessary to form a united front – transcending any specific past political demarcations – to make sure none of those dangerous barbarians ever gets anywhere close to the levers of power in our democracy, where they risk derailing the train of progress and disrupting the natural order of wise technocratic rule.
If all this were the case, there might be a need to build a big, beautiful metaphorical wall, to separate the inner from the outer, allies from enemies, the good people from the bad people. In this effort, a strict moral ideology – like a state religion, but with none of that unscientific stuff – would be an essential tool to distinguish between us and them, and to help keep dangerous dissenters from polluting the united front with class treason. And then, once this firewall was in place, if any wrong-thinking elements with the incorrect ideological encryption key were to be mistakenly elected by misinforming the people, they could be instantly identified, isolated, contained, and suppressed before they could do any harm to the system. It might be worth considering this theory, just in case what’s happened is that…
20. Leviathan has a’woken. In the end, it may be that “revolution” isn’t quite the right word for Wokeness after all. Real revolutions characteristically replace one elite with another, redistributing their wealth and power. True, this is happening at the individual level, with many a white male manager finding himself suddenly replaced by someone younger and “more diverse.” But at the broader level this is a “revolution” that has been embraced wholeheartedly by the leadership of the elite, who show little fear that they will ever be replaced as a class. Indeed they seem to have adopted woke ideology as a wonderfully useful tool for reinforcing their position while punishing their inter- and intra-class rivals.
In this way the woke revolution strikes me as similar to the Chinese Cultural Revolution – and not just because of a similar ideological emphasis on the destruction of the Four Olds (Old Ideas, Old Culture, Old Habits, and Old Customs), as many have now pointed out already. Rather because, at root, the Cultural Revolution was started by Mao as a way to leverage the blind ideological zealotry of the young to wage an intra-elite war on his political rivals within the Chinese Communist Party. Seeing many of his peers as encroaching on his authority and threatening the continued centralization of power, he stirred up an internal revolution to destroy them while reenergizing the Party base. Just like then, things may not turn out quite how today’s woke-riding elite hope, of course; the Cultural Revolution became an uncontrollable inferno that consumed many who thought themselves safe, or even to be its leaders.
But it seems to me that the woke revolution, as co-opted by the elite, is being tailored to point not towards dissolution and lawless chaos forever, but towards a re-ordering that brings with it a great centralization and unification of power. In this revolution the liberation and safety of the individual by the state becomes the greatest good. Each individual comes under the tender, empathetic care of the state alone, which ensures their “liberty” through safety. The state contains only autonomous individuals, whose general will is represented by the state. Hobbes’ Leviathan wakes.
In 2019, America’s most celebrated high priest of Wokeness, Ibram X. Kendi, was invited by Politico magazine to offer his take on “how to fix American politics.” He proposed an “an anti-racist constitutional amendment” that would make unconstitutional “racial inequity” and “racist ideas by public officials,” and “establish and permanently fund [a] Department of Anti-racism (DOA) comprised of formally trained experts on racism and no political appointees.” The DOA would be “responsible for preclearing all local, state and federal public policies to ensure they won’t yield racial inequity, monitor those policies, investigate private racist policies when racial inequity surfaces, and monitor public officials for expressions of racist ideas. The DOA would be empowered with disciplinary tools to wield over and against policymakers and public officials who do not voluntarily change their racist policy and ideas.”
Most would of course argue that the chance of such an amendment ever being passed in today’s United States is basically zero. But Kendi’s idea of establishing a permanent totalitarian super-structure overarching the state, through which unelected and unaccountable “trained experts” would tirelessly ensure democracy can no longer be misled by unacceptable people or ideas… is this not a sight of awful beauty? For here is Leviathan emerging from the deep, momentarily visible as it crests above the waves. Here is Kendi revealing the whole telos, the whole intended final destiny of the woke Revolution, as it and the shared destiny of the technocratic state rush to merge into one point of singularity, where all shall be consumed: “Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.”
As I said in the beginning, I hope I am wrong. But I think it is perhaps too soon to scoff at Kendi’s plan, to trust that this is not where we are headed in the end, eventually, if a firm stand is not taken. Not if the terrible truth is that Wokeness is Leviathan, and Leviathan is woke.
Some of these many explanations above for what continues to drive Wokeness may seem contradictory. And perhaps some are. But they also aren’t necessarily exclusive. And in fact there are certainly likely to be many more factors than this list contains. Like a hydra, today’s Revolution is a complex beast with many heads; its causes and its consequences may be multitudinous.
Also like a hydra, it is likely to prove very difficult to kill. If there is a wave of conservative political victories in U.S. elections this November, expect the “Wokeness is dead” takes to come fast and heavy. But hopefully now you won’t be fooled, and will know: the Revolution isn’t over.
So if you’re looking for a vision of hope and change and ultimate victory, well, you’ll just have to tune in another time. In the meantime, why not subscribe?
I'm basically in agreement with most of this. But I'm still hopeful that the seeds of Wokeness have in fact been sown, seeds that you yourself have described here.
Specifically, your point 13--"The youth are still coddled and mentally broken."--is entirely true. And yes, this does suggest that many of the trends that have brought us to our present situation are likely to intensify for the foreseeable near future. But here's the thing: coddled, mentally broken people tend not to be very good at their jobs.
I think we're starting to see fault lines emerge, not along ideological/political/partisan lines, or even along cultural lines, but along lines of sheer competence. Take the Biden Regime, for crying out loud. These people do not come across as having the slightest clue how to accomplish anything more complicated than ordering DoorDash. They certainly don't have the faintest insight into just how complex the system is that makes something like DoorDash possible. Container ships starting to pile up outside Los Angeles? Have them park far enough offshore that no one can see them from land. Problem solved! Having trouble finding enough truck drivers? Time to fire tens of thousands of them for not getting their shots!
We're hearing about senior software engineers who haven't written a line of code in over a year because they're spending so much time managing the emotional and psychological breakdowns of new hires who aren't doing any real work either. I mean, yes, there is a lot of built up capital in Big Tech, but somebody has to do the actual work at some point.
Medical schools have started punishing physicians who insist that biological sex is relevant to medical outcomes. (Hint: it is.) So we're having trans patients report to emergency rooms having disastrous outcomes because nobody thought that it was important to ask whether the patient's biological sex might be relevant to whether said patient could be pregnant.
The Revolution isn't over. . . but weak, unstable, incompetent people can't even be trusted to enforce a modicum of mob rule. All of the Leftist movements that have started down the road of struggle sessions have eaten themselves alive. Activists become so focused on inter-elite competition that they forget to do their damn jobs.
The silver lining here isn't that this creates opportunities for opposition to make real advances. It does, but I'm no more optimistic about the state of viable opposition than you. Rather, anything that can't go on forever usually doesn't. Wokeness isn't going to end because of some eternal, opposing social or cultural forces. It's going to collapse under its own weight. That or just slam into the brick wall of reality. The food supply chain can do entirely without woke political commissars. Woke political commissars cannot do without the food supply chain for more than a day or two.
Although, being a pessimist, I agree with much of this essay, I refer to your previous essay on laughter being the kryptonite weapon against totalitarianism. I’m a gay artist, classically liberal, anti-woke. I live in Portland, Oregon. The hermetically-sealed woke monoculture here is stifling. BUT. In November my partner and I attended one of two sold-out performances by the notoriously deplorable non-person comedian Louis CK (I think he’s the greatest comedic genius of our time.) A sign of the sick cultural/political scene in Portland: there was no sign advertising the show on the marquee outside of perhaps the largest theater-venue here (for fear of woke white Twitter mobs?), and we had to be screened for weapons and reveal what was in our pockets before entering. (Vaccination cards/neg Covid test and masks also required).
I expected the audience to consist almost entirely of misogynistic males. Not so! My partner remarked that it seemed like heteronormative date-night of mostly Gen X, Millenials, and Gen Z, and quite a few Boomers like us. Probably it’d be accurate to describe the crowd as hipster, but I’m really too old (70) to know what that means any more. (Of course, the music playing during seating was classic Boomer: Stones and Led Zeppelin.) Many, many women, maybe 40-45%? 🤯 Even lesbian couples— including an overweight couple who resembled Holly Near groupies. It didn’t appear that they were all self-loathing dupes of the Patriarchy, but what do I know? A couple of younger gay guys, one with neck tattoos and pink glitter nail polish, sat directly in front of us. Evidently, there are a sizable number of people in Portland who enjoy laughing, aren’t too self-important, and have a sense of forgiveness—who knew?! Perhaps there are a lot of Gen Z who have escaped coddling? The vibe of the crowd was like what drew us to Portland 20 years ago, but which I rarely feel here any more. An outrageous, obscene and brilliant performance, I was laughing so hard for more than an hour that I was sweating. I came out feeling not so alone, culturally and politically, and with some hope.