6 November 2023
Dr Ian McFarlane
Introduction – Define Woke
As this study is essentially a journey from the real to the unreal in an attempt to make sense out of the nonsense this illustration taken from Hesse’s Steppenwolf is an appropriate motif for the paper. Although I refer to Wokery as an Ideology throughout this paper, this is just for convenience as given the deep inconsistencies within the propositions we are presented with one should properly describe Wokery simply as a Phenomenon of our era. At times their reasoning is so obscure and riddled with meaningless jargon I am mindful of Nietzsche’s dictum ‘They muddy the water to make it seem deep’.
One cannot help but be astonished at the speed in which the Good Ship Woke has sailed throughout our Institutions conquering all before it with little resistance, with the flag of Justice, flying from her Masthead and with her cannons aimed squarely at her opponents who are appropriately identified as either racists, homophobes, transphobes, xenophobes, misogynists or abelists. They have created a circumstance where identity and ideology have become one, where any debate or challenge to an idea can only be understood as an existential threat to their very being. As a consequence, we experience regular interventions into our social and political discourse that challenge our social structures, personal relationships and identity. The scale and cohesive nature of these interventions suggests the existence of an underlying philosophy or belief system of some sort. For example, one could but not notice the ABC’s relentless promotion of what is commonly known as Identity Politics, displaying a bias that is not political in the conventional sense, favouring one party over another, but rather presenting a ‘Woke’ perspective. It is a movement that now permeates almost every aspect of our lives, its presence evident when we hear people complain that the Labour Party is not what it once was, or the Liberal Party has lost its way or the Greens are no longer holding true to their original purpose. One could mount an argument that the real political divide today is to be found not within the traditional left/ right spectrum but in the degree of adoption of the woke world view.
I believe the original usage of the word Woke came from America, in 1962, when the African-American novelist William Melvin Kelley wrote an article entitled, ‘If you’re woke, you dig it’. Since then, it has been applied, perhaps with more than a hint of sarcasm to the movement currently with us today. They regard themselves as being both ‘left’ and ‘progressive’, they are also regarded as not only ‘left’ but as Marxists by most Conservative critics. A position justified by linking Woke ideology with the writings of the Italian Marxist Philosopher Antonio Gramsci and those of the Frankfurt School. The latter were a group of academics based at Frankfurt University that left Germany for the US in 1935, to establish themselves in New York at Columbia University. They included prominent intellectuals such as Eric Fromm, Herbert Marcuse, Max Horkheimmer, Theodor Adorno and later Jurgen Habermas. These intellectuals with the exception of Marcuse, who supported the student protests in the 1960s, were far removed from classical Marxism as they incorporated ideas from Hegel, Kant and Freud whilst at the same time being highly critical of the Enlightenment. Woke critics seek to cover this difficulty by addressing them as ‘Cultural Marxists’ in other words not ‘Real Marxists’. The call to arms of ‘The long march through the institutions’ which is often described as a Woke strategy derived from Gramsci, was in fact a slogan coined around 1967, by the German socialist student activist Rudi Dutschke. Woke beliefs in fact are quite opposed to those of the Left as they draw their inspiration from a very different source, Postmodernism. The prominent Marxist Historian Eric Hobsbawm found little he could relate to when summing up the basis of Postmodernist thought in 1994:
All ‘postmodernisms’ had in common was an essential scepticism about the existence of an objective reality, and/or the possibility of arriving at an agreed understanding of it by rational means. All tended to a radical relativism. All, therefore, challenged the essence of a world that rested on the opposite assumptions, namely the world transformed by science and the technology based upon it, and ideology of progress which reflected it.
Following the end of the Cold War most Communist Parties in the West went into decline or simply disbanded as was the case with the CPA in Australia in 1991. However, there still remained a small group of self-styled Marxists, an isolated middle-class phenomenon mostly located in Academia. They tend to dislike the Working Class and live as far away from them as possible while sending their children to Private Schools. Struggling for relevance having discovered the difficulty of making a revolution without the support of the masses, their political positions are now barely distinguishable from those of the Woke, particularly in their criticisms of Western Society. Also, by limiting their criticisms to the West they have abandoned the Internationalist tradition and focus of the Left. I have noted their lack of interest in the demise of Hong Kong’s democracy, the plight of the Uighurs in China, the Rohingya in Myanmar and lack of criticism of Assad in Syria and Maduro in Venezuela. However, these self-styled Marxists are very much a minority, of no real consequence and could be viewed as fellow travellers of the Woke who are now the dominant influence in the Labour movement and Party. Kim Beazley Sr, a former Whitlam Minister once described this process of decay on the left as the ‘cream of the working class being replaced by the dregs of the bourgeoisie’. The Woke activists main focus of interest consists in transforming earlier Post Modernist critiques of Modernity into a direct attack on Modernity itself, whilst undermining its very foundations along with its Institutions. With no alternative vision to replace the structures they are intent on tearing down, the goal, if there is one, is little more than a form of Nihilism. However, before dealing with the phenomena of Wokeism itself, it is worth examining the fertile ground that has allowed this movement to take root and grow so readily.
Coinciding with the increase of alienation long predicted as a feature of advanced Capitalism by a range of thinkers from Marx to Durkheim, we are also living in largely secular society. This is a relatively new phenomena, a Society lacking a common religious or belief system to underpin a shared culture, define ethical behaviour or guide political aspirations and process. Christianity once a dominant force is now in decline, a process accelerated in part because of societal pressures to incorporate contemporary secular values. The Church is thus compromised and is less able to provide an alternative voice and refuge from increasingly fraught and difficult social conditions. However, it is well known that nature abhors a vacuum so the current background on which our cultural life operates and draws inspiration deserves some scrutiny. It is on this subject that the writings of the French Sociologist and Philosopher Jean Baudrillard merits some attention as his understanding of the dynamics of societal development may explain the environment that has made the advent and dominance of Wokery possible.
‘Simulacra and Simulation’ The Four Stages
In the 1970s, the French Philosopher Baudrillard described a cultural shift taking place in Western Capitalist Society, in which the imagined world progressively displaced and moved away from that of the real in politics, art, economics and social values. Previously a Marxist with an interest in economics, Baudrillard understood a commodity to have three values – the Value in itself (labour/raw materials), exchange value and use value. However, he noticed a new value emerging which came to dominate the previous three – that he called Sign Value. For example, the value of a leather handbag with the name Louis Vuitton attached absolutely outstrips its real value in the Marxist sense. Baudrillard saw an economy and culture emerging that was increasingly divorced from reality and based on symbols. A process where the object methodically gains power over the subject. Baudrillard saw this development taking place through four stages:
The first stage (pre-modern) where simulation is a faithful image/copy, a ‘reflection of a profound reality’. This is a period of High Art with portrait and landscape paintings faithfully copying the real, theatre, architecture, music etc. all underpinned in the West by Christianity and reflecting that belief system. Collectively producing a consistent and common world view – a meta-narrative.
The second stage (modernity) is a distortion of reality a Mask, in the sense that we are dealing with counterfeits and false images made possible by the Industrial Revolution where the mass production of reproducible copies are turned into commodities, reproduction being more important than production. Unlike earlier paintings, photos and film look real without pretending to be a copy introducing a new level of believability. For example, Cinema was a well-known ‘escape from reality’ during the war years and depression. The ability to imitate reality can threaten the original, especially when the only concern is consumption for some utilitarian purpose. The narrative is now not limited or bound by Christianity but with the development of a new mass culture, includes diverse messages ranging from Consumerism to Politics.
The third stage (postmodern) Illusion – the trends triggered by Modernity now evolve into pure simulation, a pretence at reality. Commonly found in the Substitution of Cartoons in place of Actors, AI Music generators and in Computer Games.
The fourth stage – in which the simulacrum (a simulation of a simulation), have no relationship to any reality whatsoever, now signs merely reflect other signs. This is associated with the post modernity of Late Capitalism, where the distinction between reality and representation vanishes, this Baudrillard calls hyper-reality. The life styles and behaviours portrayed in the myriad of ironically called ‘reality’ TV shows or Soaps where simulated culture replaces the real, and are presented as models worthy of emulation. The sheer weight of mass-produced cultural products experienced on a daily basis through all forms of Media becomes one’s lived reality, producing a situation where there is only the simulacrum, where originality becomes a totally meaningless concept as new cultural products are built on previous simulations which in turn become the reference, thereby compounding the problem. Baudrillard further theorized that the lack of distinctions between reality and simulacra originate from several phenomena.
Contemporary media this included television, film, print, and now the Internet, is responsible for blurring the line between products that are needed and products for which a need is created by commercial images such as found in Advertising, this includes commodities that also influence our lifestyle, status and social relationships.
Exchange value, in which the value of goods is increasingly based on money rather than usefulness. Baudrillard argued that once money became a ‘universal equivalent,’ against which everything in our lives is measured, things lost their material reality. We even begin to think of our own lives in terms of money: How much is my time worth? In what way does my consumption or material acquisitions define me as a person?
Multinational capitalism. Which separates goods from their sources of production including plants, minerals and other original materials along with the processes (including the people and their cultural context) used to create them.
Urbanization, which physically separates humans from the non-human world, and re-centres culture around productive throughput systems so large they affect alienation.
In 1998, the Historian Perry Anderson commented on this development
In psychological terms, we may say that as a service economy we are henceforth so far removed from the realities of production and work that we inhabit a dream world of artificial stimuli and televised experience, never in any previous civilisation have the great metaphysical preoccupation’s, the fundamentals questions of being and of the meaning of life, seemed so utterly remote and pointless.
Or as another Historian Christopher Dawson put it as early as the 1920s:
Thus it is that the great modern city, instead of fulfilling the true vocation of the city, which is to be the meeting and the marriage of region and civilization, is neither regional nor cultural, but is merely the misshapen product of world industry and economic imperialism
One cannot but help notice that the geographical centres that generate the most Woke activity are to be found in those very inner-city areas inhabited by the middling classes which are also the furthest removed from the realities of nature and material production. Also, the strongholds of the Greens Party are increasingly to be found in the innermost suburbs of our major cities far removed from Nature and the Wilderness.
…and finally, Language and Ideology.
Baudrillard saw language as the linking element between the individuals’ knowledge of the world and their social practices, since it mediates individuals’ thought and behaviour. Accordingly, the control and manipulation of language increasingly becomes a feature in the power relations between social groups. Baudrillard favoured understanding words not just diachronically (history of meaning) but by rather by the synchronic method (words must be understood by the context of their use). Discussions, films, paintings, music representing a subject are not just about the subject itself but their meanings become dependent on the bias of the medium used – subjective reality increasingly becoming the dominant conscious reality.
Similarly, objects are increasingly offered as interrelated consumer goods not as standalone objects thereby taking on a value transcending simple intrinsic and use value. It is what they signify, and like Foucault he argues that signifiers have slowly become detached from what they signify. Basically, the idea is that people increasingly base their lives around collective ‘ideas’ of things – and as a consequence those ideas can readily shift and become something detached from reality, rather than the things themselves. This creates a free-floating idea of society and the universe that supersedes concrete reality in its consequences. Baudrillard claims that our current society has replaced all reality and meaning with symbols and signs, and that human experience for some, has in many respects been reduced to a simulation of reality. Future struggles will not be black vs white, male against female, working class against ruling class but a struggle for the real vs the unreal a struggle for reality itself.
Enter the Woke
Of course, it is a much easier task to describe a movement than explain it. Elements of Woke ideology that we are familiar with today were certainly anticipated by well-known secular commentators such as Aldous Huxley with Brave New World in 1931, Orwell in 1949 with (1984) but also by religious thinkers like C.S.Lewis in 1945 with his Novel That Hideous Strength in which he observed the marginalisation of objective truth:
‘The physical sciences, good and innocent in themselves, had already, even in Ransom’s own time, begun to be warped, had been subtly manoeuvred in a certain direction. Despair of objective truth had been increasingly insinuated into the scientists; indifference to it, and a concentration upon mere power, had been the result. Babble about the élan vital and flirtations with pan-psychism were bidding fair to restore the Anima Mundi of the magicians. Dreams of the far future destiny of man were dragging up from its shallow and unquiet grave the old dream of Man as God.’
More recently from Cardinal Ratzinger anticipating the advent of ‘my truth’ in April 2005:
‘We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognise anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires’.
Much of what may pass for the ideology that motivates Woke activists may be found amongst the writings of Post Modernist and Post Structuralist thinkers. Mainly originating from France, they were noted for challenging the current validity of what they termed Meta-narratives. Simply put, this relates to any objective lens that provides a world view or over all explanation for how things are, such as Religion, Marxism, most classical philosophies etc. The Woke adaptations of their ideas has produced a movement that it is quite capable of challenging and displacing reality itself as a reference point for current social and political discourse.
The Engine Room of Wokery
The rapid and uncontested penetration of Wokery into influential positions within our Media, Political Parties, Law, Religious and Educational Institutions could have only taken place with the legitimacy and opportunity provided by university training and qualifications. So where within the Academy did this take place? The most likely culprit is to be found in the innocuous, low key background discipline of English. Apart from beavering away deconstructing the classics of the English language, the current offerings from English Studies at UTAS reveals the modules of:
Colonial and postcolonial studies
Queer and feminist cultural studies
Literary and cultural theory
While these are all fertile grounds for the promotion of Wokism, their main font of wisdom to be found in CULTURAL STUDIES.
The University of Sydney describes their particular offering thus: ‘A major in Cultural Studies introduces you to critical approaches used in the study of a wide variety of cultural forms and practices. It cultivates critical thinking and an ability to intervene in surrounding social, political and scholarly debates…. It will provide you with tools to analyse cultural practices, representations, identities and power.’
Recently the same University’s Faculty of Arts News Letter proudly introduced their new Dean describing her qualifications as follows:
‘Annamarie Jagose is internationally known as a scholar in feminist studies, lesbian/gay studies and queer theory. She is the author of four monographs, most recently Orgasmology, which takes orgasm as its scholarly object in order to think queerly about questions of politics and pleasure; practice and subjectivity; agency and ethics.’
These examples illustrate the almost total disconnect between Woke theorists and the long-established methodologies and principles to be found in traditional academic disciplines, or, as some would have it, the disconnect is with reality itself. It is worth noting that Baudrillard was highly critical of Higher Education for its role as he saw it, of perpetuating and legitimising the process of simulation rather than confronting it.
Self and Identity
There are many contradictory ideas being promoted simultaneously by the Woke, after all everything is possible in the world of the unreal, one such idea relates to the ‘self’ or ‘identity.’
Departing from the usual narrative of Identity Politics in which the individual is represented as part of an oppressed group possessing a shared identity, at other times, when convenient, the individual is presented as a discrete almost atomised personal identity. This identity arises from the rejection of Western Societal values by freeing ones self from social conditioning and standards in the name of freedom from oppression. One can find this in the works of Michel Foucault:
‘From the idea that the self is not given to us, I think there is only one practical consequence: we have to create ourselves as a work of art’ and ‘Maybe the target nowadays is not to discover what we are but to refuse what we are.’
to more recent writers of Self-Help books such as Rachel Hollis:
‘you feel trapped by your identity because you know it is hurting you, break free and do the work to claim the truth that fits you now. No one gets to define you but you.’
While the directions for this journey from the real to the unreal are captured by Glennon Doyle an American writer who describes herself as a ‘Queer Activist’ in her book Untamed:
‘When we use the language of indoctrination—with its should and shouldn’t, right and wrong, good and bad—we are activating our minds. That’s not what we’re going for here. Because our minds are polluted by our training. In order to get beyond our training, we need to activate our imaginations. Our minds are excuse makers; our imaginations are storytellers.’
The contradiction related to identity, referred to earlier arises when the notion of the individuated self which is the basis of ‘my truth’ is marginalised by a constructed group identity. These new Identities require adherents to surrender their personal identity to that of a defined group stereotype, or as Matthew Bach succinctly put it: ‘individuals are now defined by their characteristics not character’. Identity politics not only contracts the multiple components of our identities into one: they essentialize those components namely sex and race, over which we have the least control. It is these two very visible features of perceived identity which form the basis of Woke activity, accordingly these will become the focus of this paper. The process of creating every one of these stereotyped Identities necessarily involves the creation of the ‘other’ which in turn produces a Society of binary opposites. As Ursula K. Le Guin observed ‘When you light a candle, you also cast a shadow.’ Accordingly, the only remedy on offer to combat perceived racism and sexism is the introduction of even more discrimination (always described as positive) and the permanent fracturing of society into antagonistic groups. Now in direct opposition to, not a derivative of, the traditional Left position, Society is now presented as being made up of competing identities rather than class. Heidelberg University’s Bejamin Zachariah commenting on this development observed:
‘Once upon a time, essentializing people was considered offensive, somewhat stupid, anti-liberal, anti-progressive, but now this is only so when it is done by other people. Self-essentializing and self-stereotyping are not only allowed but considered empowering.
Woke ideology creates stereotyped identities, assigns various innate qualities which then produces binary opposites, black vs. white, male vs. female. gay vs. straight etc. identities premised on the nature of victims and oppressors. The Marxist Philosopher, Frederic Jamieson warned of the dangers in marginalising the individual self:
The end of the bourgeois ego or monad no doubt bring with it the end of psychopathology’s of that ego as well… but it means the end of much more – the end, for example of style, in the sense of the unique and the personal, the end of the distinctive individual…As for expression and feelings or emotions, the liberation, in contemporary society, from the older anomie of the centred subject may also mean, not merely a liberation from anxiety, but a liberation from every other kind of feeling as well, since there is no longer a self present to do the feeling.
It is now accepted that one can become even more oppressed by adopting the notion of intersectionalism i.e., belonging to two or more oppressed groups. However, the male/female & gay/straight binary models ran into difficulty at this point with the discovery of another oppressed group, the transgender. This issue was resolved not by abandoning the simple binary model but by abandoning any distinctions at all. This bold move is generating some legitimate concerns from those individuals who are quite happy being female and/or simply gay. As any male can now transcend biology and become female and vice versa as a matter of choice by- utilising the ‘my truth’ vs ‘the truth’ model. Academics have already lost jobs and had careers blighted for questioning this attack on accepted Science whilst others have been publicly humiliated through the media and forced to apologise. Many Politicians now regularly struggle to publicly define a woman. In the absence of objective and free discussion and when ‘My Truth’ is opposed to ‘Your Truth’ in the absence of ‘The Truth’ social discourse is reduced to the exercise of power, and the Woke are well aware of this.
Language and Gender
One of the strengths of the Woke movement lies in its use of language, as it beguiles its audience with words such as truth, justice, tolerance and inclusion, after all who would disagree with those noble principles? However, all is not what it may seem and words can have different meanings – subjective rather than objective – ‘my truth’ rather than ‘the truth’. While Feminists may have utilised language to promote their ends with the introduction of gender free terminology, serious language manipulation has finally arrived through what we now know as Political Correctness. This movement using language as a form of social engineering, was depicted by Harold Bloom in his book The Western Canon as ‘political correctness replacing religious rightness’. Manipulation of language and meaning became the preferred modus operandi of achieving social and political goals rather than open debate or discussion.
In July this year it was reported that Monash University student, 23-year-old Bonnie Logan, wanted to change gendered language in law. Her desire is that all legislation would be changed to appease non-binary people. Her campaign wants to see the word ‘he’, which has always represented every person in law, to be changed to the non-binary pronoun ‘they’. Logan has requested a meeting with the Victorian Attorney-General and her campaign has received expressions of support from the Law Institute of Victoria, the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission and the Commission for Gender Equality in the Public Sector.
Her position is echoed in a style guide published by the University of Sydney’s Department of Gender and Cultural Studies that insists that gender neutral language be used, even if it is grammatically wrong. Their guide states that:
‘they’ should be used in place of a single gendered pronoun, giving the example sentence of: ‘If a student wants their results early, they should go to the student centre.’ with the added clarification ‘Although this last sentence is grammatically incorrect, in speech it has become common practice to use the pronoun ‘they’ when referring to a generic person,’
Not to be outdone the Australian National University’s Gender-Inclusive Handbook. encourages staff to use ‘parent-inclusive language,’ such as ‘chestfeeding’ instead of ‘breastfeeding’ and ‘human milk’ rather than ‘mother’s milk.’ Similarly, the terms ‘mother’ and ‘father’ should be replaced with ‘gestational’ and ‘nongestational’ parent.
On the subject of Gender, we are almost daily presented with the notion of Masculine Toxicity ‘an inherent trait in the Masculine condition which predisposes men to antipathy towards women’ and I presume the Alphabet people as well. Unlike the Woke theories on Racism which will be considered shortly, Toxic Masculinity is usually seen as a cultural rather than an inherited condition. This means that with a little social engineering judiciously applied to young males, the affliction may be resolved. Accordingly, we witness young boys having to stand up and apologise (yet another apology) for their maleness to their female counterparts at a School in Victoria recently. The Girls were not asked to forgive them. ‘Ms Boyle said in a statement that boys were asked to stand: ‘as a symbolic gesture of apology for the behaviours of their gender that have hurt or offended girls and women’.
More recently we have the Education Writer for the Westralian making front page with a story on how to prevent a young boy from turning into a Monster – obviously the natural developmental pattern for males deprived of the benefit of Social Engineering. American feminist Professor Camille Paglia, commenting on the situation in America noted that
We are living in a time ‘where intolerance masquerades as tolerance and where individual liberty is crushed by the tyranny of the group.’ A time where primitive emotion trumps reason, language is weaponised to enforce mindless group think, and where conservative men – condemned as white, male and stale – are especially targeted and forever guilty.
There were moves to have her fired from Yale University in 2017, for her statements on the Transgender Movement that were firmly based in objective reality.
‘The cold biological truth is that sex changes are impossible. Every single cell of the human body remains coded with one’s birth gender for life. Intersex ambiguities can occur, but they are developmental anomalies that represent a tiny proportion of all human births.’
The Woke Student Petition that ensued in order to have her removed also recommended that: ‘Camille Paglia should be removed from UArts faculty and replaced by a queer person of color’.
Dr James Lindsay summed up the underlying strategy and the ultimate goal of the Woke project as:
to create a single sex/gender/sexual identity that more or less describes everyone (or, everyone good, according to queer Theory) as queer…. Queer Theory isn’t necessarily explicitly trying to create one ‘right’ sex/gender/sexual identity for everyone so much as it is trying to remove any meaning or significance from any stable sex/gender/sexual identity category at all, leaving queer identity as the default.
Some Notes on Critical Race Theory
Critical Race Theory is yet another import from the US clumsily adapted to the very different historical and contemporary circumstances to be found in Australia. It has its origins in the criticism of the values of the American civil rights movement particularly in the fields of race and racism. The first criticism is based on what they call colour blindness, that is the attempt to take race out of social strategies. That is the introduction of laws that assume all citizens are equal and by not taking race into account opposing any preferential treatment or discrimination based on race. They argue that society is too biased for this to work, that it won’t work and prevents meaningful progress in the resolution of racism. In Australia this would mean that historical Aboriginal demands to become part of the general community and be treated equally without discrimination were pointless, and the focus now should now be on what separates rather than unites. This leads into their second point of difference with the Civil Rights Movement, opposition to the idea of racial integration where white and black Americans would draw closer exchanging cultural and decision-making power over and within institutions. This is seen as downplaying racial differences in a futile attempt to see the common humanity in each other. They argue that this is not an equal process as whites being the dominant power group would end up destroying the minority group through a process they call ‘cultural genocide’. Instead, they wish to preserve the traditions and culture of minorities by resisting integration. In support of this goal, they advocate the development of what they call ‘race consciousness – a social movement that allows the freedom of the individual to choose group identification. An article on the website of the Harvard Law Faculty states: ‘Critical race scholars identify and embrace a radical tradition of race-conscious mobilization as an empowerment strategy for African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, and other persons of color.’ Race-conscious mobilisation? It has been pointed out that this is the sort of talk you might expect in the pages of the 1930s Nazi periodical Der Stürmer. Acceptance of this form of consciousness emerged in Tasmania recently in the ‘Voice’ debate when a leading member of a local Aboriginal Group who opposed the ‘Voice’ was abused for ‘being a traitor to her race’ and this was from a non-Aboriginal. They argue that an Analysis of society be performed under a method called ‘deconstruction’ which along with ‘race consciousness’ is used to question the foundations of American society, equality theory, Enlightenment rationalism and neutral principles of Constitutional Law. They want to reconstruct a new reality based on ‘race consciousness’ which is seen to be the most significant aspect of one’s personality. Rather than strive for a society where one’s race should be of no consequence, they promote one where race is to be established as the dominant defining feature. For example, they looked at the generally accepted behaviour for Academics which included the values of being objective, neutral and balanced. They argue that these are not shared values either internationally or racial, but are specifically from the white world. Therefore, if you are a coloured Academic pursuing these same values it means you have been integrated into a white way of thinking, losing your racial identity in the process. Their solution is to put forward alternative values which are distinctly not white. In effect they are legitimising and preserving the ‘other’ based on their notion of race. The resistance to White values is understood as ‘authenticity’ and this means embracing the idea of a subjective perspective which is political not neutral – authentically not white. A prominent Critical Race theorist Robin DiAngelo author of White Fragility a book much favoured by UTAS’s Indigenous Studies begins with the premise that ‘There is no human objectivity’. As a social concept, ‘white’ is profound in its meaning. It means people who either come from or appear to come from Europe, but it’s necessarily a construct of oppression.
Their methodology relies on two sources of evidence either they draw on subjective experience with isolated instances which are often cited for support, usually referred to as story telling, experiential knowledge or lived experience. The other source of evidence is statistical data showing existing disparities within Society i.e., mortality rates, incarceration rates, income levels, educational attainments etc. Being subjective in approach they do not look for alternative reasons for differences in group outcomes, the underlying explanation in every case must be racism. Sometimes history (real or otherwise) is invoked drawing on a history of oppression to support their case. They also do not use the term Racism in the normal sense of the word which usually denotes an ideology promoting superiority or inferiority towards someone based on race. They see racism as a force linked to and embedded in power structures within society. The institutions of Education, Law, and Government etc. are simply referred to as the status quo, all geared to support one race and subordinate another.
Harvard’s Noel Ignatiev and author of Race Traitor explains that:
The white race is a historically constructed social formation. It consists of all those who partake of the privileges of the white skin in this society. Its most wretched members share a status higher, in certain respects, than that of the most exalted persons excluded from it.’
From this assumption they conclude that America is a ‘regime of white supremacy’ and the ‘white norms’ are submerged into and are part of popular consciousness irrespective of class. It is an analysis that produces few solutions. However, two of their strategies have some support in Australia:
- Move away from the principle of ‘one person one vote’ to ‘race conscious districting’ or representation according to race.
- Critical race theory should be taught and so embedded in the educational system that it becomes the norm and not questioned anymore.
One would also expect that those opposed to Integration would naturally be opposed to mixed marriages, which would in turn necessitate some form of segregation, but this position is never raised nor discussed. It also appears clear to me that their notion of `Race’ arises from an acceptance of the very principles that are commonly understood to underpin racism. The linking of cultural and behavioural characteristics to biological markers and the degree of importance attached to that connection is a basic feature to be found in any Racist Ideology. Race is not a naturally occurring category and has nothing to do with the presence or absence of biological (phenotype) or generalised cultural traits, but is rather a social construct. Anthropologists and more recently geneticists have shown clearly that there are no fixed or discrete racial groups. Human groups change and interact with all human beings having on average 99.8° of their genetic make-up in common. It is societies or groups that invent racial categories and then impose those constructs onto other people. A process in which the differences between people are actively sought and promoted, to the point of denying, or at least marginalising our common humanity.
In Australia we are presented with some clumsy adaptations of Critical Race Theory where white people are portrayed as inherently racist whilst Aborigines are viewed as permanently damaged by either inter-generational or post-colonial trauma. Recently when Jacinta Price concluded her Press Club address in Canberra opposing the Voice, a Guardian Journalist prioritised this very issue by asking her if she believed in Post-Colonial Trauma, she replied quiet emphatically that she did not. The importance that was given to this question is interesting because one of the underlying premises for placing the Voice in the Constitution is the notion that Aborigines would be in permanent need of one, their problems a fixed feature of their existence never to be resolved. Only two years ago Greg Lehman Professor of Aboriginal Leadership at UTAS was reported in an interview with the Hobart Mercury as saying:
‘Trauma lives on in our memories, in our family and cultural histories. It is even transmitted to future generations in our genes. So, it seems, is racism.’
Woke attempts to present Australian Institutions as systematically racist continues even though in order to maintain this position they have had to ignore the existence of those 4.5 million Asian Australians who are neither black nor white. One of the difficulties with making the case that Australia is a racist society is the very visible success of Asian immigrants in almost every field of endeavour, so it is probably best not to mention them.
This whole Woke intervention into the issue of, and their theories on Race is best summed up by an American Black Professor – Thomas Sowell:
‘Racism does not have a good track record. It’s been tried out for a long time and you’d think by now we’d want to put an end to it instead of putting it under new management.’
Woke Weasel Words
Tolerance used to mean that there was something you objected to or was unhappy with but to keep the peace you chose to put up with it, to tolerate it. Now the word is used to support the notion of a Tolerant Society which is promoted as an ideal. However, a society whose central ethos was simply tolerance, would necessarily be devoid of any recognised and agreed values or standards. This would produce a form of amorality through the uncritical support and acceptance of virtually everything and everyone. Here we have another inconsistency within the Woke message as they themselves are not particularly well known for their tolerance of alternative viewpoints. This can be demonstrated in a number of areas but a brief look at Woke influence in our universities should be sufficient. ‘Your Truth’ be it objective or otherwise, as opposed to ‘Their Truth’ carries very little weight with them and your right to express it is actively curtailed. One of the features of the Woke intervention into universities has been control of the curriculum and the suppression and cancellation of those who hold views with which they disagree. This ranges from attacks on Lecturers seen as straying from their narrative, the removal of books deemed offensive from libraries, to cancelling and intimidating guest speakers visiting the Campus. It is a phenomenon that seems mainly limited to the English-speaking world and has recently distinguished itself in Canadian Education by the removal of 4,700 books from Library Shelves at 30 Schools, most have been subsequently destroyed or recycled. These include books such as a biography of the French Explorer Cartier because of offending representations of Indians, Asterix and Rin Tin Tin books went for the same reason, while in Ontario, Books were burned at one School and then turned into fertilizer. In the US the banning and censoring of books and literature in Schools include casualties such as Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, Orwell’s 1984 (to close to home) and Animal Farm, Huxley’s Brave New World and Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. Princeton University recently decided to remove Greek and Latin for Classics majors to combat – what it called- institutional racism. A diversity and equity statement states that the ‘history of our own department bears witness to the place of Classics in the long arc of systemic racism.’ Another innovation to make its presence felt on Campuses, and now elsewhere, is the ‘counter demonstration’ which essentially challenges the basic right of free speech and assembly. I first became aware of this type of behaviour at an Australian University in 2018, when Betty Arendt was invited to give a paper at Sydney University. A demonstration was organised to disrupt her talk which got out of hand and Riot Police had to be called onto the Campus. The University then sent her a Bill for $500 for the security that they had to provide to protect her from their own students. The demonising of non-compliant Lecturers, restricting access to certain books from the library, ideological control of curriculum and limiting fields of study have all taken place at UTAS and do so today. Any notion of Freedom of Speech held by the Woke is highly selective and strategic even when dealing with Meta Narratives, for example, it is fine thing and one is almost encouraged to criticise Christianity but certainly not Islam as one would be guilty of Islamaphobia, Judaism – anti-Semitism nor Aboriginal beliefs – racism. Although I do suspect other factors may be at play in dissuading any critique of Islam. Then we have the raft of new mental conditions to which non-woke people appear particularly susceptible: Homophobia, Transphobia, Xenophobia and Islamophobia and for those resistant to such ailments there are always the ever-reliable descriptors held in reserve such as Racist, Sexist, Misogynist etc. The primary function of these epithets is to cancel, intimidate, avoid debate and discussion or any consideration of opposing viewpoints, the strategy is simple, pathologize and marginalise your opponents. After all what is the point of entering into discussion with people who are clearly irrational and mad?
I am pleased to see that the Victorian Government have demonstrated their familiarity with these new psychiatric conditions by informing the public that:
‘Each year on 17 May, many departments observe IDAHOBIT: the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Discrimination against people with an Intersex variation and Transphobia’.
All of this runs counter to the tradition of a free exchange of ideas at universities which stretches back into the 12th Century. Arising out of Mediaeval Monasteries they became open places of learning. Instruction was based on lectio, readings or lectures from text that was usually Scripture and later developed into what we would now call primary sources, this was followed by the process of disputatio – questioning. The latter was an opportunity for vigorous debate and the testing of opinions. As Scripture was generally the substance of the lecture, it was always the opinions or secondary sources that were questioned as they were recognised as subjective constructs. They at least understood the difference between ‘the truth’ and ‘my truth,’ we have come a long way in the past one thousand years.
Truth – Moral Relativism
It was the philosopher Leibniz who advanced what is called the ‘principle of sufficient reason’ – that everything must have a reason, cause or ground and that reason is based in objective reality. The abandonment of this notion of reason leads to the individual determining what is true simply from experience, this is ‘my truth’, from this position they do not and cannot discover what is true. Accordingly, ‘My Truth’ or its other variant ‘Truth Telling’ is not ‘The Truth,’ it is not a synonym for belief nor is it a substitute for a fact it is self-indulgent Narcissism. Unfortunately, simply believing something does not make it true as truth relates to an objective fact capable of a shared understanding or experience. The absence of reflection on experience, leads one to accept experience uncritically as the way things are, not whether things could have been different or even why was it like that.? Michel Foucault often cited as an inspiration for Woke Ideology gave little support for the concept of ‘My Truth’ when he observed that
‘Self-attachment is the first sign of madness, but it is because man is attached to himself that he accepts error as truth, lies as reality, violence and ugliness as beauty and justice’.
Part of Woke resistance to objective truth arises from a reductionist view of Modernity that focuses on rationality or rational enquiry, a process they claim that has led to racism, war and oppression. They argue that this approach has encouraged some people to think they were right while others were wrong, this denial of the inner truths of others leads to an abuse of power. Therefore, we need to stop making and imposing these objective truths which only serve to oppress others. This feeds into the notion of Moral Relativism and a critique of the Enlightenment with the claim that its support for Universalism was at its heart Eurocentric, that European cultural values were more advanced and superior to other cultures such as the Chinese, Indians etc. Bauman described this as the:
… hierarchy of values imposed on the world administered by the north-western tip of the European peninsula. Values that remained virtually unchallenged for nearly two centuries taking as self-evident the superiority of the West to the East, white to coloured, civilised to primitive, man to woman, sane to insane.
According to Bauman all these ‘evidences’ are now gone, not a single one remains unchallenged. Lyotard also agreed that it was difficult to support the ‘great…and therapeutically optimistic -meta narratives which once organised our lives. He also noted:
…that in the process of accommodating widely diverging local histories and traditions, the meanings of these traditions were translated into an abstract master code that effectively distorted and disguised genuine and specific traditions … by controlling and misshaping the local under the sign of the universal they (metanarratives) also become coercive and normative.
Terry Eagleton went further to argue that ‘Post modernism signals the death of such metanarratives whose secretly terroristic function was to ground and legitimate the illusion of a ‘universal’ human history’. The object of their collective angst, the Enlightenment, is taken to represent the evils of rationalism, technocentrism, the standardisation of knowledge, a belief in linear progress and universal absolute truths. Postmodernism is presented as a response to those values…it sees the world as essentially fragmented and indeterminate. In addition to its rejection of the metanarrative, it also rejects any ‘universalistic political projects, even universalistic emancipatory projects’ – in other words, they would oppose projects for general human emancipation in favour of very particular struggles against very specific oppressions. These would of course include the very familiar Positive Discrimination strategies now a common feature of our daily life which are designed specifically to favour the particular over the universal.
However, in some respects many of these criticisms are quite unfair as many Enlightenment thinkers such as Kant, Rousseau and Voltaire were quite critical of the lack of engagement with other cultures. Adam Smith and Diderot opposed the barbarity of colonialism and challenged the idea that Europeans had the right or obligation to ‘civilize’ the rest of the world. In fact, most of the advances in human rights that stand in direct opposition to repression have been based on the Enlightenment principles of Universality, that is, all citizens should have equal opportunity, a principle which provided the foundation for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Relativist position that all cultures are equally valid and that the imposition of Universal values is a form of cultural repression may on the face of it sound quite reasonable ‘Live and Let Live’. However, without universal values, we would have no basis to sustain arguments against a raft of social ills from slavery and child labour to female genital mutilation. An early critic of Universalism in the modern era, was the Nazi theorist Carl Schmitt who understood that this concept was not the sole prerogative of Enlightenment thinkers arguing that:
‘universalist concepts like humanity are Jewish inventions meant to disguise particular Jewish interests seeking power in a non-Jewish society’.
He may have been referring to the eminent Sephardic Jewish Scholar Maimonides who wrote on Jewish Universalism:
‘One ought to treat the resident stranger (non-Jew) with derekh eretz (civility and humanity) and hesed (mercy and kindness) just as one does a Jew, for we are commanded to support them.’ All persons are created in the divine image, and Jews must care for and respect all people… Jews are required to ‘bury [Gentile] dead along with the dead of Israel, and support [Gentile] poor among the poor of Israel.’ Our commitments as Jews extend to all humanity.
A similar notion of Universalism also exists in the Christian tradition, demonstrating that these values preceded the Enlightenment and have been a significant and positive force in Western Cultural development for millennia. An understanding of the central importance of this tradition exposes the radical nature of Woke philosophy and the threat it poses to one of the most progressive currents in Western social and political development. Schmitt’s argument is perilously close to the Woke proposition that Enlightenment universalism disguises particular European interests seeking power in an increasingly non-white world. In Australia opposition to Universal Values has led some to support the acceptance of traditional Aboriginal Law which includes methods of establishing guilt and physical punishments of a sort which if permitted would effectively deny Aborigines their rights as Australian Citizens. Hannah Arendt was so opposed to this tribal and particularistic view of justice that she quite courageously argued whilst at the Adolf Eichmann trial in Jerusalem that he should have been tried for crimes against humanity, not for crimes against the Jewish people.
Justice for the Woke is highly selective in practice and reserved only for those Identity groups deemed worthy of consideration whilst ignoring the rest. For example, on the 21st September 2021, during a Covid Lockdown Demonstration in Melbourne, Victoria’s police chief commissioner, Shane Patton, said officers used pepper balls, foam baton rounds, smoke bombs and stinger grenades which deploy rubber pellets to control the demonstrators. There was no condemnation nor one word of reproach from the Woke, who are plentiful in Melbourne, neither in defence of the Right of Assembly nor for breaches of Human Rights. This was mainly due to the demonstrators being viewed as ‘right wing’ a group they held no sympathy for, there was no consideration of any need to defend a broader principle. One can only imagine the reaction if similar tactics had been deployed against a Black Lives Matter Demonstration held in Melbourne just a few months earlier in the midst of the same pandemic. Notions of class and compassion for the poor and needy have been replaced by compensation demands for an ever-expanding catalogue of oppressed identities. For example, a study conducted by Professor John Glover from the Public Health Information Development Unit at Torrens University, found Tasmania’s poorest people are dying prematurely at a much higher rate than its wealthy people. In the early 90s, the most disadvantaged people in the State had a 24 per cent higher premature mortality rate than the most advantaged. The median age at death is 66 in Bridgewater, to the north of Hobart, compared to 85 in the Hobart suburb of New Town a difference of 19 years in life expectancy, or 7.6 yrs. less than the National Aboriginal average of 73.6 yrs. (2020 closing the gap report). People living in the most disadvantaged areas in Tasmania are estimated to have the highest rates of diabetes mellitus, at 6.6%, double that of 3.3% in the least disadvantaged areas. In the North of the State the study found psychological stress measured at 19.7% in Acton, Wivenhoe and East Devonport to be nearly double that of 10.9% in Newstead or Youngtown. While Tasmanian year 12 attainment rates at 59% are 20% below the National Average of 79%, bad as they are, these figures hide the role poverty plays in our children’s life chances with only 53% of families from poor backgrounds attaining year 12 vs71% of those from wealthy backgrounds. The lack of action or even interest in these social statistics reveals a serious flaw in our body politic where the demands for justice and equity are now limited to a particular identity. At its core, Identity politics is simply interest-group politics with no concern for the poor or disadvantaged, its only aim is to change the distribution of benefits, not the rules under which distribution takes place.
We witness almost on a daily basis the normalisation of Trial by Media, Guilt by Association and the long-established principle of Innocent until proven Guilty either undermined or simply ignored. We see our fellow citizens accused of nebulous offences committed against ‘community standards’ or of actions deemed ‘inappropriate’ whilst it is never made clear who sets those community standards or what is appropriate. However, the answer to these questions may be addressed in some degree, if one attends or be required to attend one of the many ‘Appropriate Behaviour Courses’ now available. One from Diversity Australia assists in providing
an essential skill in the provision of training and awareness around culturally appropriate services, gender and cultural awareness entails an understanding of how a person’s culture may inform their values, behaviour, beliefs and basic assumptions against the laws that prohibit these actions.
We now have parallel legal systems operating everywhere from Universities to Football Associations who conduct their own trials by their own rules that appear to be inspired by Kafka, which often deny natural justice, the right to confront one’s accuser whilst allowing the acceptance of ‘my truth’ in lieu of evidence. The self-appointed ideologues who conduct these trials have little compunction in imposing sentences often much more severe that would have been contemplated by the conventional legal system, these often include the loss of livelihood along with public humiliation. Although this comparison is of limited relevance as many of these misdemeanours are the result of personal political and religious beliefs deemed not acceptable by the Woke, not for any breach of criminal law.
Some have argued that the demise of Christianity has allowed for the emergence of a new Religion albeit Secular in nature. They may well have a point for at least some of the features of a Religion are readily observable. The cancelling and silencing of one’s opponents could be viewed as a form of excommunication. We see the appearance of genuflection when sports people and others are expected to ‘take the knee’ in homage to Identity Politics. There is no shortage of evangelisation or pious virtue signalling, accompanied by a degree of zealotry that reminds me of one of Bob Dylan’s lyrics from 1965, when he talks about the need to ‘get you down in the hole that he’s in’. We also have a form confession in the demand for endless apologies, though they are never forgiven. Witness our annual ‘Sorry Day’ and ‘Reconciliation Weeks’ introduced as permanent fixtures in our Calendar with no thought or expectation of resolution. This emulates a permanent state of sin that parodies that of the Zoroastrian eternal conflict between good and evil, though in this case there is no happy ending. While at the centre of Woke Theology, God is replaced by the self where one constructs one’s own truth. However, it is the notion of inherited and collective guilt linked with race that is particularly troubling as it has a precedent in the persecution of Jews prior to and during the Nazi era. Where Jews were held hereditarily and collectively responsible for the death of Christ.
‘It is usually futile to try to talk facts and analysis to people who are enjoying a sense of moral superiority in their ignorance.’ – Thomas Sowell.
The glue that holds our Society together is being dissolved at a rapid rate as our Institutions and media persistently depict Australian Citizens as illegitimate intruders within their own land. The Education system teaches our youth to be ashamed of their past, their heritage and values inducing a state of cultural and historical amnesia. Education has progressively become more engaged in the teaching of ‘what to think’ rather than ‘how to think’. Figures released by the ABS in October indicate that mental disorders in our young people have increased by 47% in the past 15 years. In 1996, the US Psychologist Martin Seligman commenting on this alienating process warned that one necessary condition for meaning is the attachment to something larger than the self:
to the extent that it is now difficult for young people to take seriously their relationship to God. to care about their relationship to the Country, or to be part of a large and abiding family, meaning in life will be very difficult to find. The self, to put it another way, is a very poor site for meaning.
Society is divided not just horizontally by class, a division which is ever expanding, but now also vertically by race and gender, between victims and oppressors. Woke initiatives have met little resistance from an increasingly alienated and vulnerable population deprived of confidence, community and resilience. Finally, to return to Baudrillard and the societal choices he predicted for the future between the real and the unreal, that choice is with us today and that is whether one accepts Woke ideology or whether one simply chooses common sense and rejects it.