If you’ve spent any time on social media in the last ten years, you’ve experienced the ascendance of “wokeness.” You can’t spend a minute on Twitter without seeing someone identify as a new gender or come up with a new definition for “racism.” With all this momentum you may feel tempted to join their club, but remember that fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Yes, fad-chasing is fun, and this fad is better for you than swallowing Tide pods, but why be a follower when you can be a leader? With a little effort you can be a step ahead of the Woke crowd.
I speak from experience. I grew up Woke before it was even called that. I was reading Noam Chomsky and taking Women’s Studies classes back before social media existed. If I’d been born twenty years later, I’d be one of those “Social Justice Warriors” who write angry screeds about Super Mario’s lack of trans representation.
I never grew complacent, though, so I was able to evolve beyond that perspective. If you’re still stuck in the Woke mindset and want to grow out of it, or you’ve never been Woke and want to leapfrog past it, then here are 6 rules.
Rule 1: Focus on Self-Improvement
This will be tough to hear, but no one is perfect when they’re 20 years old. It takes time to be a great moral leader. Martin Luther King was 34 when he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. Mohandas Gandhi was 45 when he returned to India and led his campaign for Indian independence.
Speaking of Gandhi: he may have never precisely said “be the change you want to see in the world,” but that’s not a bad summary of his thoughts. You can’t create a more loving world by sitting on the couch getting angry over social media posts. You’ll just make the world more bitter and alienated.
Instead, focus on helping other people. Grow the size of your heart by volunteering to help needy students or work at a food bank. I’ve done both and they’ve made me immeasurably better. If you’re bold, you can go further and really open your heart and mind by joining the Peace Corps. Be bold about improving the world by improving yourself, and vice versa, instead of taking snarky potshots over the Internet.
Rule 2: Strive for Truth
Justice can’t exist without truth. Justice requires we reward good and punish evil, but we can’t do either if we don’t know what good or evil has been done. Only through clear-eyed, impartial, disinterested analysis of the facts can we create the groundwork necessary for justice.
There are elements in the Woke movement that see truth as a fairy tale and objective analysis as a joke. In their minds, everyone is hopelessly biased, so Truth is a fake ideal used by their enemies to control the masses. This view isn’t limited to marginal cranks; Pulitzer-winning journalists are spouting it. The NY Times is riddled with these types.
If this cynicism were true, though, then justice would be meaningless. Our “justice” would no longer be about sorting the guilty from the innocent, but about Us versus Them.
Perhaps that doesn’t sound so bad, if you think that your side is inherently better than the other side and you don’t need impartial evidence to justify yourself. Remember, though, that all the worst oppressors throughout history thought the same way.
Rule 3: Favor the Concrete Over the Abstract
The bullying of the Covington Catholic High School students is the perfect example of the Woke tendency to favor helping abstract labels at the expense of hurting actual people. That’s the opposite of justice.
If you’re not familiar with the Covington story: a group of high school students were protesting abortion. A mentally ill Native American man confronted them, and they met his hostility with awkward smiling. Woke Twitter users responded to this outrage by sending death threats to the children.
Does that sound crazy? It should. The Woke responders were living in a world of abstract labels completely removed from the facts on the ground. To them, the high school students represented the worst parts of society: the lead student was male, white, Catholic, ugly, and conservative. The elderly man harassing him was Native American, which gives him a near-mystical level of moral authority. [As an aside: it’s frustrating that the racist stereotype of the “noble savage” refuses to die. This guy wasn’t a spiritually awakened monk carrying the wounds of the natural world, he was a cranky, delusional old asshole.]
Some people took the Covington incident as evidence that the mainstream media is hopelessly dishonest and biased. They have a point; as more details leaked out, it became increasingly clear that the initial reporting was done by people with an ax to grind, who were trying to make the Covington children the villains of the story.
That’s not the whole problem, though. Unprincipled journalists were only able to spin the story so well because there was a gullible audience ready to believe it. We, the readers, should have known from the beginning that there was something wrong about an adult behaving aggressively towards a child. If we hadn’t been distracted by irrelevant abstract labels, and focused only on the specifics of the situation, then we would’ve never gotten so carried away.
Rule 4: Anticipate Consequences
I’ve written before that intentions just don’t matter in politics. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but intentions are at most one factor of many.
That’s a problem for a movement that often obsesses over its own good intentions and the implied evil intentions of its adversaries. Half of Twitter is posturing about how much we hate racism and fascism and how the other side must love them.
Solving problems means understanding the problem, and especially understanding your proposed solution. Otherwise, the cure can be worse than the disease.
In the 1980s, crack cocaine was ravaging African-American communities. Community leaders called upon politicians to do something, and the Congressional Black Caucasus came up with a solution. They proposed legislation creating far worse punishments for selling crack compared to selling regular cocaine.
That legislation was meant to protect black communities (and was opposed by virulently anti-black racists like Strom Thurmond) but today it’s exhibit #1 in complaints about the racism of the War on Drugs. It’s sent an obscene number of African-American men through a cruel justice system. The good intentions of the CBC had evil results.
Rule 5: Prioritize
Not all problems are created equal. Don’t make the mistake of spending as much time and energy on a trivial or unsolvable problem as you do on one that’s huge-but-fixable. I’m going to go after the environmental movement here, not because I hate it, but because it’s so important to me. It’s frustrating when we environmentalists go off tilting at windmills instead of dealing with existential threats.
Climate change will permanently hurt the whole world. The Great Pacific garbage patch, a stretch of water containing an unusually high amount of invisible plastic residue, has almost no environmental impact. Yet some environmentalists spend as much time worrying about the latter as the former. They even use misleading photos to whip up support for dealing with the garbage patch (the actual patch is invisible) heedless of the damage they’re doing to the movement’s credibility.
A minor cause is hurting efforts towards the most meaningful cause in human history. That’s why we need to prioritize. Yes, in a perfect world, there wouldn’t be invisible specks of plastic floating around the ocean. It’s gross, it hurts some animals, and we should fix it. There are about a thousand more important things, though, even if you only care about the environment.
Besides prioritizing different issues within a single cause, we have to prioritize causes differently. Transsexual rights are an important cause, but in practice they have a limited impact on an extremely small number of people. It’s a symbolic cause. That doesn’t mean you should abandon the fight, but don’t think of it the same way you think of something like climate change, which permanently impacts all life on the planet. Right now environmental issues are simply far more important than trans rights, even if they have equal or less emotional impact on you personally.
Rule 6: Wear Sunscreen
This one is just common sense. Take care of yourself!