11 March 2023

Woke, wokeness and wokeism

Over the last few years the words "woke", "wokeness" and "wokeism" have become thoroughly skunked. When people use them, one is never sure what they mean by them without further definition.

One can get a vague approximation of meaning if you know that those using the words think they signify something that they approve of, or something that they disapprove of, but even then it is often pretty vague.

I'm going to stick my neck out, and say how I understand them, and try to find out how many people have a similar understanding, in the hope of clarifying the meaning, at least among people that I talk to.

Woke, as I understand it, means being aware of social injustice.

In my youth, an equivalent term was "with it", though it applied to a much wider range of things than social injustice. To be "with it" meant that you were aware of what was happening in a particular field of human activity. It could, for example, be jazz music and musicians. You were with it if you knew and appreciated the music and knew who the musicians were that people were talking about.

Woke means much the same thing, but in the narrower field of social justice. To be woke means to be aware of the kinds of injustice that are endemic and sysyemic in a particular society. There's also an interesting shibboleth here -- people who are not woke, and disapprove of wokeness, usually do not know the difference between the meanings of "systemic" and "systematic" and often confuse them, and think that people who are talking about one are talking about the other.

Wokeness is the state of being woke, it is the awareness of social injustice.

Wokeism, in my understanding, is something different. People who are wokeist are those who strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. They tend to major on minors, as some people say. They largely ignore the big issues, and focus attention on mpre trivial ones, and often use big words like "intersectionality" as an excuse for claiming that the smaller issues are just as important as the big ones.

A recent example of this kind of wokeism is the bowdlerisation of Roald Dahl's children's books by the publishers Puffin books. Perhaps the publishers were trying to be woke, but if so, they failed miserably, and were thoroughly dishonest as well, in that they misrepresented Roald Dahl.

In one book Dahl makes the point that reading books can make people aware of different countries and cultures. Kipling, for example, can take a child to India. The Puffin editors substituted Jane Austen. This censorship seems to have been automated on ebook readers like Kindle. This kind of censorship is not "woke", it's the opposite of woke; but it might be wokeism.

And then there is the matter of being anti-woke.

On 20 February 2022 Roman Pope Francis tweeted on Twitter:

#SocialJustice demands that we fight against the causes of poverty: inequality and the lack of labour, land, and lodging; against those who deny social and labour rights; and against the culture that leads to taking away the dignity of others.
Pope Francis (@Pontifex) February 20, 2023

Now that's pretty woke. It is, in fact, the essence of wokeness. But anti-woke crusader and pop psychologist Jordan Peterson responded with:

There is nothing Christian about #SocialJustice . Redemptive salvation is a matter of the individual soul. https://t.co/cKFt3umiAl
Dr Jordan B Peterson (@jordanbpeterson) March 2, 2023

As one Orthodox deacon (not me!) commented, it's a good thing this pope bloke has Jordan Peterson to tell him what Christianity is. The first sentence in Peterson's tweet is simply a lie. On the contrary, there is nothing Christian about deprtiving people of social and labour rights. The second sentence is a partial truth, taken out of context. Though being woke does not make one a Christian, to be anti-woke is to be anti-Christian.

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