Arise ye unwoke from your slumbers
Our tolerance of intolerance must end. It’s time to reclaim the sanity of both public and private spaces with a counter-revolution by David Cox
What’s to be done about the Woke revolution? Even its most vociferous critics rarely ask the question, let alone answer it. Meanwhile, champions in women’s sports boast stubble and penises; the police target hate speech instead of burglary; children are encouraged to question their gender; and universities ban research on sensitive topics, shield students from unwelcome ideas and defenestrate incautious professors.
These and myriad similar affronts are regularly bemoaned on niche websites and YouTube channels and in like-minded forums, journals and newspaper columns. Now, these comfort blankets have been joined by a definitive catalogue of Woke abuses in the shape of Douglas Murray’s The Madness of Crowds. The laments streaming from such sources doubtless console their authors and devotees; but they have little discernible impact outside their filter bubble.
The lack of active push-back might be understandable if the Woke ascendency had become unassailably entrenched. But it hasn’t, yet. Though it’s gained far more of a hold in Britain than elsewhere in Europe, it’s still a minority fixation. Last year, a YouGov survey found that 67 per cent of Britons think “too many people are too easily offended these days over the language that others use.” This summer, London School of Economics researchers reported that 76 per cent think political correctness “sometimes goes too far and exceeds common sense”. Is this silent majority not only unWoke, but actually asleep?
To be fair, the insidiousness of Woke infiltration caught many people off-guard. Its early manifestations were often greeted as no more than the nonsense of the day—a transatlantic fad that would prove short-lived. Once the gathering thought-quake could no longer be dismissed as trivial, some tried to look on the positive side. We were well rid of the casual bullying, racism, sexism and homophobia that had once been pervasive. An increase in awareness of the needs of the disadvantaged could only be welcomed. Yet we could have achieved these advances without allowing the entire Woke creed in all its hideousness to engulf our institutions.
There are those who therefore conclude that the game is over and the bad guys have won: we might as well just get used to it. The best we can hope is that a swing of history’s pendulum will one day put things right. The novelist Lionel Shriver envisions some catastrophe like “a plague of antibiotic-resistant flesheating bacteria” that would repair the world’s current bizarre malfunction by restoring a sense of proportion. Still, for the time being at least, the Great Awokening looks impregnable.
But is it? Its foundations are rickety—neither philosophically coherent nor politically robust. Such a flimsilybased movement ought to be vulnerable to determined assault. Yet battle isn’t joined. Understandably enough, many people who are appalled by the acrimony that Woke activism has generated, hesitate to meet fire with fire. Yearning for the restoration of harmony, moderation and decorum, they shrink from adding to the current discord. Douglas Murray asks if “the spirit of generosity” can be extended, while love, culture, place and wonder replace politics as “a source of meaning”. Sadly, the answer seems to be No. Unfortunately, when the other side wants strife, peace has to be fought for.
First of all, a counter-position must be staked out, so that Woke ceases to win nem con. That means its opponents must stand up and be counted. Nowadays, when virtue-signallers prate at metropolitan dinner parties, dissidents usually bite their tongues, for fear of being called bigots. Reticence and selfcensorship get them by at work, in the pub, on social media, at family get-togethers and in the public square. Yet if any progress is to be made, the unsayable has to be said.
Nonsense shouldn’t go unchallenged. The biological differences between the sexes cannot be wished away. Accusers shouldn’t be styled “victims” when their case has yet to be proved. Masculinity isn’t always toxic. Europe cannot absorb every migrant who might want to come. Not all white people are privileged, and prejudice isn’t the sole cause of disparate ethnic outcomes.
Today, some still hope that appeasement might beget compromise. In September, the Archbishop of Canterbury prostrated himself in Amritsar (see opposite) and declared that he felt “ashamed and sorry” about a century-old massacre. Maybe, some suggest, we should all engage in Maoist self-denunciation, and apologise for our misdeeds in the hope of forgiveness. Unfortunately, however, we should be unlikely to secure reciprocal concessions. The Woke regard confession as proof that a demand deserves to be met in full. No sins are venial, and contrition doesn’t bring redemption.
WokeWorld terminology needn’t be adopted without question. All criticism of Islamic behaviour doesn’t have to be classed as “phobic”. Wolf-whistlers may be disrespectful, but if misogyny is the hatred of women, they’re not all necessarily misogynists. Abuse is not violence, and taking offence is not the same as suffering injury.
‘The Woke regard confession as proof that a demand deserves to be met in full. No sins are venial, and contrition doesn’t bring redemption’
Traditional values that have ceased to resonate need to be expounded afresh, but it has to be appreciated that these aren’t God-given certainties. If free speech causes harm, however mild, then its utility will have to
24 November 2019