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Wokeness: The Ugly Changeling Baby and the End of Shared Reality

I have once again found it difficult to write because I'm just saying the same thing in different ways about the moral idealism in the social justice discourse. For months, I've been reflecting on this moment and the future implications. It's seems increasingly likely that we are reaching towards a point in which there's no shared objective knowledge Instead, we'll just have popular consensus and disinformation, depending on your ideological commitments. 

I want to lay this out so that it doesn't just seem like a bunch of completely disconnected impressions, but the logical conclusion of tying those impressions together. I think some of it may already be clear to anyone who sees the obvious parallels between the riot in the Capitol and Russiagate, understanding that only the latter had actual power behind it. But I want to make it clear for those who don't.

In August 2020, American Greatness published a piece from journalist Oliver Bateman called "The Strength of Weakness." The piece has stuck with me because I think the title is a great nutshell explanation of the moment and he explains well how weakness works. He writes, 

much of this boasted-about weakness was feigned. The Truly disadvantaged -- the invisible or less visible poor, disabled, "BIPOC," what have you-- had no stall or kiosk in which to sell their wares in the marketplace of ideas. 

Their actual weakness, in many cases, had been assumed by well-educated spokespeople, who claimed to "do the work" on their behalf. Much of this "work," insofar as I could understand it at all, consisted of accusing other people of not doing the work, not "organizing" (organizing what?), not "doing the reading" (reading what?), not educating themselves (you weren't "paying them to educate you")... Such peremptory statements were meant to function as the end, not the beginning, of a conversation.

In a sense, it's used by people with a relative degree of social standing leveraging the weakness they project on disadvantaged people to acquire more power. It's a means of social control used to eliminate competition and perceived barriers to advancement. 'If we can get rid of all the old white guys I can finally get tenure.' The arguments over the existence of cancel culture are meant to distract from this while also justifying the pursuit of social, professional, and economic exclusion for crossing arbitrary cultural lines.

Recently there was a conversation hosted by journalist Michael Tracey on the social media app Clubhouse called, "Is Clubhouse Obsessed with "Wokeism"?" It was a trainwreck in the best possible sense. I've been dismissive of the idea of anti-wokeness, labeling it as the same as being anti-unicorn. Wokeness describes nothing real or concrete but in my complete dismissal I missed how it works, it's actual function. The Clubhouse conversation unintentionally shined a bright light on that function. Like social justice and weakness, wokeness is a substitution of the desires of college educated people for the needs of disadvantaged people, it's like a changeling.

One participant talked about the long history of wokeness making it synonymous with the history of black struggle, considered as a singular uninterrupted continuum. A number of participants were upset that white people were discussing wokeness critically and offering their understanding of it. These same participants were unwilling to answer questions on their own understandings before later demanding payment from non-black participants for the privilege.

From the discussion it appears that the proponents of wokeness essentially understand it as "awareness of racism." It's worth asking why not just say "awareness of racism" for the sake of clarity? It's because clarity is necessary for addressing problems, wokeness is useful for obscuring them. It's an abstraction of racism, which is already an abstraction of the way race functions currently. 

The conversation offered the clearest example of the function of wokeness. When Tracey conceded to a desire for more representation and offered privileges to one of the woke voices, it ended with him being ejected by that participant along with other white participants. Wokeness is just meant to end conversation for the sake of avoiding harm. If you have time for up to 5 hours of WTF fascination, I recommend the experience.

I had not anticipated the development of a world in which status in some agreed-upon, academy-determined category of victimhood would prove sufficient to foreclose discussion of a particular subject. I failed to realize that mere reference to weakness, in particular to having and showcasing the most unimpeachable and immutable weakness, would confer such profound discursive advantages.

This centering of weakness, this victimhood without victimization confers disciplinary power as well as discursive advantage on individuals. Anything the victim names as harm based on her lived experience is harm. Being asked why you're in a closed area? Being told that phonetic combinations that are negative in English have different connotations in other languages? Being mistaken for a student by a colleague you don't know? All extremely harmful. 

The irony is that the only negative consequences that accompany these situations is for the individuals accused of causing harm. Not only is the lack of any actual harm irrelevant, the absence of an intent to harm has no bearing on the outcome. A word commonly used in hip hop is now considered inherently harmful if it provides a reason for firing someone. People are losing their livelihoods for causing and intending no harm just by speaking words. The context doesn't matter. The arbitrary nature of this is only growing.

Before I tie all of this together there is one other recent instance I want to highlight for a few reasons. It explicitly makes clear how weakness/wokeness works as a tool of HR control and punishment. It also illustrates how quickly the lines are moving and how little the absence of harm matters. 

In early February veteran New York Times health writer Donald McNeil was pushed out over a 2019 trip to Peru with predominantly wealthy white students. On a trip that featured no black students he caused harm by saying "nigger" while seeking clarification in a conversation with a student. The student asked if McNeil believed another student should have been suspended for using the n-word two years prior.

In response several on social media asked if it was reasonable to expect his black colleagues-- who grew up listening to hip hop, or knowing people who did-- to feel safe in the newsroom with him. I would say yes, unless they have some guarantee that they trust that the arbitrary tool will never be used against them. I'd also ask what, aside from an article misrepresenting facts, had changed in the last year to make working with McNeil unsafe? What new details emerged that rendered the Times prior investigation and punitive actions inadequate? From McNeil's detailed 4 part self-published account, it would seem nothing. 

The larger problem is that the strength of weakness, regardless of its merits as a tool for advancing up the intellectual or bureaucratic ladder, is profoundly destructive. It turns its adherents into parasites, after a fashion: their weakness draws power from and is only relative to the strength of others, which must in turn, be leveled. Everything high must be laid low.

The strength of weakness can topple any social structures in its path. which is perfect for austerity-obsessed bureaucrats and politicians looking to outsource the running of the country to Amazon

The McNeil story should be incredibly embarrassing for the NY Times. While they were pushing him out for something unrelated to his job that occurred two years ago they were promoting his current work for a Pulitzer. This is ironic, for reasons perhaps now just obvious to me. McNeil has received high praise for his coverage of COVID 19. COVID 19 is also central to why I believe that a shared objective reality may soon be a thing of the past.

If you're looking for a model for how to run a global disinformation campaign look at the public health discourse around COVID 19. While there is certainly a highly infectious respiratory virus affecting the globe, it's nowhere near as deadly as the initial reports used to justify universal lockdowns projected. After a year of lockdown we know that the cure has been worse than the disease. The excess deaths from OD, suicide, and homicide far outstrip the number of deaths from the virus. COVID is just not what we were told that it is. Will we ever know where the decision for universal lockdowns originated? Who ignored all of the research on the impacts of solitary confinement to suggest it for everyone?

Lockdown has been incredibly useful for moving us closer to Amazon running everything and for transferring trillions up the economic ladder. It has also been ideal for promoting the idea that your fellow citizens want you dead, since otherwise they'd wear a mask, possibly two. There's little data that directly shows mask wearing slowing the spread of the virus. Yet, it remains one of the largest points of contention between individuals across the country.

The starkest example of the response to COVID being more about social control than treating a pandemic occurred in the wake of George Floyd's death. Despite the inconsistency of the messaging around masks and lockdown one's personal response to the pandemic was a sign of your moral character. People pictured outside on beaches or around lakes were decried as evil people who want their fellow citizens dead. Staying inside was the only moral decision until it was suddenly immoral to not be outside. If you were not participating in the "greatest uprising" in modern US history it was because you didn't care about black lives. They simply didn't matter to you. you were not woke enough.

I haven't said it explicitly, but it should be apparent that wokeness works against the interests of the disadvantaged people it purports to support. Its only use is to project weakness on the disadvantaged. In this case, also parasitically drawing power from the disadvantaged as powerful symbols. A George Floyd mural was advertised by the soon to open recreational pot dispensary in Boston.

BLM and the summer protests are the epitome of wokeness. The protests also provided the opportunity to watch events be memory holed in real time. The first thing was the wave of violence and destruction in primarily poor and working class neighborhoods that we're told came from a mere 10% of protestors. That 10% was responsible for up to $2 billion dollars in damage.

Prior to Floyd's death and the protests the racially disproportionate impact of the virus was a major theme in social discourse. There was considerable talk of the need to pay essential workers better and provide hazard pay. Following Floyd's death the social discourse ignored those topics to focus on the need to abolish racist police, which is all police because All Cops Are Bad.

Public health officials turned on a dime from recommending social distancing to declaring racism a more present threat than COVID worth entering the street en masse to protest. Somehow the circumstances that existed prior to COVID 19 were suddenly more dangerous than the virus used to justify universal lockdowns. The most insidious aspect of all of this is that BLM and the protests were pushing something for black people that they don't want. Abolishing police doesn't address the role of policing and racially homogenous crime is more deadly than the police. This has been especially true with the uptick in violence over the last year. Even such conclusive data don't change the assertions of woke proponents. Instead, people like Ilhan Omar's deputy comms director, Isi Breen, are able to interpret the true desires of black people as what the woke proponent supports.

A quick thought experiment to further tie this all to the larger point: Can you name the number of people shot, killed, and arrested in relation to any of the shootings in CHOP/CHAZ without searching? I thought I could but there were a couple shootings that I had missed. I wonder if those shootings are counted as part of the 10% of destruction and violence or dismissed as unrelated to the movement as it has been by the anarchists who initially praised it.

Just to reiterate, wokeness is not for the disadvantaged. Portraying cynical offense as deeply harmful while ignoring or minimizing actual harm will never be to the benefit of vulnerable people. It's just discourse about discourse. Thus, enforcement around wokeness will never be about minimizing harm to the weak, but maintaining control over the discourse for the sake of the powerful. 

Trump's Twitter account wasn't shuttered in January because questioning the unprecedented near universal mail in balloting was disinformation. It was to signal to the incoming administration that there was no need for anti-trust legislation. Silicon Valley was on their side. After all, Kamala Harris called on Twitter to censor Trump during the primary. Such requests of tech companies are growing increasingly common from elected officials. While a company essentially censoring the President was shocking, what happened around social media app Parler, which served a predominantly conservative audience, was chilling.

The "Stop the Steal" protests in DC on January 6 have been portrayed as an insurrection by some and a coup attempt by others, many of whom still believe Russiagate legitimate. It seems to have been a spontaneous riot met by a police presence too small to contain it. There's no evidence that shows that the people trespassing in the Capitol thought their actions would restore Trump to power. No firearms accompanied the group into the building. Yet it's been treated as another 9/11, and white nationalism a threat as great as that of the Muslim extremism we were told we went to Iraq to fight.

In the immediate aftermath of the "Stop the Steal" protests Amazon decided to suspend hosting services for Parler and Google and Apple removed Parler from their app stores. The reason given was that Parler had been used to organize the protests in DC. Putting aside that protest is just an expression of the right to free speech, and this, like many other protest over the last year, degenerated into a riot, it was predominantly organized over Facebook. No one has suggested sanctioning Facebook for its role in spreading the protests.

I have been among those suggesting that the DC protests would be used to justify a new Patriot Act. I'm starting to think that would actually be less harmful than what seems more likely. The protest turned riot has been used to predict a series of violent political events as justification for the expensive militarization of the capitol using the National Guard. Not one threat of violence has turned out to be true. 

This hasn't stopped lawmakers from portraying political difference as the equivalence of domestic terrorism. In the name of stopping this domestic terrorism lawmakers are asking for more censorship by our tech giants. They don't need to write unpopular legislation which impinges on our rights, they can simply outsource it to tech companies to limit political speech for their profit. We're being told to assume our fellow citizens want to kill us, whether it's ANTIFA, the Proud Boys, or Q Anon. These threats are largely media inventions. These groups are all small and powerless. The Alt-right were dapper little nazis until they were just unrepentant nazis. Still, Richard Spencer voted for Biden. 

The false specter of violence these groups allow helps to give cover to Twitter and Facebook for censoring viewpoints that are currently out of favor. At this moment that seems to mean any that question the current administration. There was a recent purge of hundreds of Twitter accounts critical of Biden's history. It's always supposedly for violating the Terms of Service, but those violations grow increasingly vague:

The true violation is "saying unconventional things which resonate with too many people." A short time ago single payer and a $15/hr minimum wage were seen as politically impossible. They have become mainstream through a continued national dialogue. Honest dialogue is the opposite of wokeness, which seeks to end conversation. Thus, if wokeness works against the interests of the disadvantaged, honest dialogue serves that interest. It's not that speech alone is inherently good. It's just how we create our shared reality from diverse personal experience. It's how we recognize our vast commonalities over the many differences we are told by media matter more.

The people who refuse to feel threatened less by people they'll never encounter than the inescapable system of economic control that shapes their lives will be labeled domestic terrorists next. This is my assumption since those are the voices that seem to most often to violate the TOS.


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