Why It’s Time We Moved to a Post-Woke Culture and Politics

On the limitations of Woke vs Anti-Woke, and why we need to change course now.

Image from Pexels

Welcome to TaraElla Report Post Woke, a new series where we consciously aim to move beyond the woke vs anti-woke culture wars, and towards a post-woke model of culture and politics.

In recent years, much has been said about there being a ‘woke vs anti-woke’ divide in Western culture and politics. It all started about a decade ago, when, due to a combination of factors, ideas from postmodernism and critical theory began to increasingly influence parts of the progressive side of politics. Over the course of just a few years, practices that challenged traditional liberal values, like deplatforming speakers, cancel culture, oppressor vs oppressed models of identity politics, thinking of people as pieces in a system rather than equal individuals, and skepticism towards science and objectivity, began to influence progressive movements like feminism, environmentalism, and LGBT equality. These ideas also found their way into progressive-adjacent cultures like atheism and veganism. They have been received controversially in all of these areas, dividing people in these communities into being for them or against them, which later came to be known as woke and anti-woke respectively.

I guess there was a time when having an ‘anti-woke coalition’, as it was originally understood, actually made sense. Back when postmodernism and critical theory were poorly understood by most, it was probably the most effective way to push back against this rise of illiberalism on the Left that seemed to have come out of nowhere. If anything, having a strong coalition aligned against these ideas was an effective method of raising awareness, and we needed to do so quickly, because of the rapid rise of this new illiberal faction in the Left. Besides, in those days, it was mainly progressive, liberal and moderate people involved in the coalition, which meant the reactionary faction wasn’t dominant.

However, we are now in a different place. There is now plenty of awareness and resistance towards postmodernism, critical theory, and their associated ideas and methods. I mean, critical race theory has gone from obscurity to a widely discussed topic in just two years, and I think it is great that we are discussing these ideas and their faults so openly and so frequently. However, we also need to realize that the so-called ‘woke’ ideas aren’t entirely going away anytime soon. For those hoping for a complete victory, I need to burst your bubble. These ideas have been established in parts of academia and activism for so long that they would be here in some form for the foreseeable future, and we will just have to live with it while not letting it take over, until perhaps one or two more generations down the line, when the intellectual landscape of the West would have had enough time to organically evolve away from these ideas. Therefore, I believe we need to think in terms of the long term, as to what we should do next.

The problem I see with the ‘woke vs anti-woke’ model right now is that it is evolving rapidly into an ‘us vs them’ game, and likely a successor to the old-school left vs right culture wars. As many of us already know, the left vs right culture wars were pretty unhealthy, because it divided people into opposing camps in an unsound way, thus encouraging tribalism. If we are to seriously sort people out by their political views, we would need at least three axes, namely economic, capitalist vs socialist; social, progressive vs conservative; and governmental, libertarian vs authoritarian. Given the issues of particular importance in contemporary Western politics, we might also need pro-globalization vs nationalist, pro-peace vs hawkish, and pro-establishment vs anti-establishment, since the three basic axes don’t capture these views very well. In other words, any simplistic dichotomous model would just be encouraging tribalism while not being actually useful. This applies equally to the old-school left vs right and the new woke vs anti-woke.

And we are already seeing the unhealthy and counterproductive results of the ‘woke vs anti-woke’ model’s evolution into a tribalist politics. People are already using the word ‘woke’ to describe things they don’t like which have nothing to do with postmodernism or critical theory. As I previously said, ‘woke’ now effectively means whatever you don’t like. Hence the old-school liberals can call the criticalists ‘woke’, but the hardline conservatives can also call the old-school liberals ‘woke’. The problem with this is that ‘woke’ effectively becomes a lazy insult, and this is not good for independent thinking and pursuit of the objective truth. Moreover, if ‘woke’ means nothing solid, its meaning becomes vulnerable to constant change, essentially defined by the prevailing political fashions and alliances of the moment. This, in turn, can cause anti-woke culture to become a backdoor for authoritarian elements to take over pro-liberty movements, as some members and supporters of the US Libertarian party have recently begun to worry about.

To sum up, the ‘anti-woke coalition’ of the 2010s have already achieved their purpose, and that was to shine a spotlight on the faulty ideas of postmodernism and critical theory, and put this issue into the mainstream of Western political discourse. However, the ‘woke vs anti-woke’ model of politics has also inevitably become tribal and is rapidly losing its original meaning, and could even be vulnerable to takeover by authoritarian forces, which means that we must question its utility going forward. This is an important question because postmodernism and critical theory are not going to disappear any time soon, and we will need to live with these ideas while continuing to argue against them for the foreseeable future. The question then becomes, firstly, is the ‘woke vs anti-woke’ model a good model for the long term, and if not, what model should we choose instead. Given that effective arguments against postmodernism and critical theory must be philosophically sound and rooted in a commitment to the objective reality to be successful, a tribalist model like ‘woke vs anti-woke’ is probably not the best choice for making those arguments, especially in the longer term.

Therefore, I think it’s time we start actively moving to a ‘post woke’ mode, where we remain very conscious of the faulty ideas of postmodernism and critical theory, and their adverse influence on contemporary Western culture and politics, but instead of just being negative about these ideas, we should start being more constructive, and more thoughtful about building alternatives that actually fulfill the yearning for progress and inclusion, and still reinforce the heritage of the liberalism rooted in the Western Enlightenment. The awareness that the anti-woke moment brought has been essential to getting us to where we are, and will be essential to ensure that whatever we come up with in the future isn’t contaminated by postmodernism and critical theory. However, I believe we need to change course now, and go more positive rather than negative, to actually stand for something rather than just against something.

The other thing that differentiates post-woke from anti-woke is that, having learned from how postmodernism and critical theory misdirect the desire for social justice, the post-woke mind is much more alert to other movements that could try to misdirect our inherent impulse towards good things like individualism, fairness, compassion and so on. The post-woke continues to oppose wokeism, as originally defined, but they also turn the same critical analysis on other political factions and movements, including those which claim to be anti-woke, because they are aware that bad ideas, the lure of authoritarianism, and politics with an intent to manipulate people emotionally, don’t just come in one flavor.

TaraElla is a singer-songwriter and author, who recently published her autobiography The TaraElla Story, in which she described the events that inspired her writing.

She is also the author of the Moral Libertarian Horizon books, which argue that liberalism is still the most moral and effective value system for Western democracies in the 21st century.

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