The Shadow
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The Shadow

The End of Woke

An exploration of the tools needed to silence the oppressive “woke” keyboard warriors polluting the social internet with shouted truths

In 1962 William Melvin Kelley coined the term “woke” in an essay published in the New York Times. For years, grandstanding orators have been divided about its meaning — some seeing it as an affirmation of their received knowledge, some as a derogatory insult, and the vast majority not being able to decide either way.

Just as a variety of other four-letter words have become infinitely flexible in their application and meaning, “woke” became an all-purpose weapon for social media keyboard warriors — wielding it to “cancel” anybody holding a different interpretation or opinion than their one true world view.

“Woke” became attached to conversations involving culture, sexuality, spirituality, health, or anything else that could plausibly be re-framed in terms of discovered knowledge, enlightenment, division, or destruction.

The Obama Foundation Summit

At the Obama Foundation summit in 2019, Barrack Obama challenged “woke culture” while addressing the audience:

“I get a sense among certain young people on social media that the way of making change is to be as judgemental as possible about other people.”

“If I tweet or hashtag about how you didn’t do something right or used the wrong verb, then I can sit back and feel pretty good about myself because ‘Man did you see how woke I was? I called you out!’”

“This idea of purity and you’re never compromised and you politically wake, and all that stuff — you should get over that quickly. The world is messy. There are ambiguities. People who do really good stuff have flaws.”

The Hate Crime bill

In response to a hate crime bill in 2020, Rowan Atkinson provoked the wrath of the “woke internet” when speaking out against efforts to restrict free speech:

“The reasonable and well-intended ambition to contain obnoxious elements in society, has created a society of an extraordinarily authoritarian and controlling nature. It is what you might call The New Intolerance, a new but intense desire to gag uncomfortable voices of dissent.”

The Harpers Letter

In July 2020, following the attempted cancellation of J K Rowling by militant transexual campaigners on social media, Harpers Magazine waded into the debate with an open letter countersigned by many prominent writers and thinkers of recent decades;

“The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted. While we have come to expect this on the radical right, censoriousness is also spreading more widely in our culture: an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty.”

“…the result has been to steadily narrow the boundaries of what can be said without the threat of reprisal”

“The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away.”

The way forwards

It would seem the most straightforward way to prevent the application of the “woke” label is to disarm the baying mob who use it to validate the cancellation of that which they disagree with. The easiest way to disarm them is not to silence them — it is to ignore them.

When faced with the cacophony of a militant crusade sweeping arguments away around you, it can be difficult to ignore. It, therefore, becomes important to remember the key principles that govern an open, free society — that have protected us from oppression for generations:

  1. You are free. Nobody can dictate what you think, who you love, the beliefs you hold, or the faith you follow.
  2. Remain true. Be honest, and stick to your principles. Remember that just because some shout more loudly than others doesn’t mean they are right.
  3. Set an example. Be brave and stand your ground. Model your response to those around you. Goethe is often incorrectly attributed to the quote “be brave, and mighty forces will come to your aid”.
  4. Trust your intuition. One of the most powerful mental capabilities we have is interpretation. Read between the lines, do independent research, and don’t trust unverified sources.

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