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Woke ironies: achieving the opposite of its stated goals


By Dr Lloyd Hawkeye Robertson and Edan Tasca


Lloyd Hawkeye Robertson is a Registered Doctoral Psychologist and author of the book, The Evolved Self: Mapping an Understanding of Who We Are. He is president of the New Enlightenment Project: A Humanist Initiative. Edan Tasca is a registered psychotherapist and Mental Health Chair for the Center for Inquiry Canada.


In this original article for Humanistically Speaking, the authors offer a penetrating analysis of the phenomenon of Wokism, which they, along with many others, designate as a secular religion that, in many respects, is the antithesis of Enlightenment humanism. Lloyd has also theorised that Wokism is a mind virus that has infected humanist as well as many other organisations. The authors argue that, to achieve its stated goals, Wokism needs to change course. For Wokism to see itself as progressive, it must stop being regressive. To end racism, Wokism needs to drop its racist beliefs and activities. To protect vulnerable members of society, Wokism must strive to protect everyone who is vulnerable, regardless of their perceived oppression status. For a compassionate society, Wokism needs to forgive mistakes.


“Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster... for when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” Friedrich Nietzsche

In 1993, two decades before most people had heard of “Wokism”, one of the authors of this article (Edan) was taking a high school introduction to anthropology, sociology, and psychology. One unit was about race relations. The definition students were given for racism seemed odd, or incomplete, or confusing. We were told – nay, we were taught – that racism was a white-only phenomenon. Some students asked how racism could be committed only by whites. Surely we weren’t ignoring racism between minority groups, between countless non-white groups around the globe, and against whites wherever it might be found. For example, when the other author (Lloyd) was Director of Health and Social Development for the Saskatchewan Federation of Indian Nations in the 1980s, his boss ordered the dismissal of a researcher on learning that he was black. “What would the other chiefs think if we kept him on?” he asked rhetorically. Was not this racism within an aboriginal group?

 

Edan: Our high school class was told that we weren’t ignoring any such instances, but they were not racism but something different. We were taught that these phenomena were “understandable reactions to the white power structure”. Eventually the questions died out. We studied the unit under the supposition that only white people were racist. When non-whites were racist, they weren’t racist. This confusion seemed bizarre in the early ‘90s, but ideas like this are now commonplace and they are threatening to undo much progress.

“...the assertion that only whites can be racist is itself a racist assertion.”

Racism consists of assigning characteristics to make out-groups inferior, or to make one’s own group superior. What an irony, then, that the assertion that only whites can be racist is itself a racist assertion. Whites, in this paradigm, are believed to be morally inferior. Further, the notion that other races are incapable of racism gives those races a “free pass” to discriminate and hate not just whites, but other races as well, as seen in the example from the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations.

 

Racism has decreased in North America during the past century. For example, in 1958 only 4% of people in the United States approved of inter-racial marriages, but by 2013, that figure increased to 87%. After citing a series of studies showing world literacy and education has increased substantially, the Canadian-American cognitive psychologist Stephen Pinker suggested that well-educated people are more enlightened and less racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic, and authoritarian. Those who cling to the notion that racism is the operating principle of society deny this progress. They claim that “not seeing colour” and refusing to take race into account in our interactions are inherently racist positions.

 

The idea that a) there is an invisible form of racism that operates even among people who are “colour blind” providing they are of a particular race, b) a person with all the physical characteristics of a man may be a woman, c) science and reason are “white male ways of knowing” and must be dismantled, and d) Enlightenment humanism is racist: All are pillars of a secular religion which in this article we call “Wokism”.

 

Early in this century academic, mainly white, believers would ask “Are you Woke?” to identify other adherents. In doing this, they were appropriating a US black slang term from the mid-20th century. But there is no evidence that the blacks of that era were referencing this postmodernist, neo-Marxist secular religion. Other terms commonly used to describe the evolving faith include “cancel culture”, “transgenderism”, “political correctness”, “identity politics”, and “the Identitarian Left”, but each of these terms captures only part of the phenomenon. As with many religions, Woke adherents are promised a better life after some cataclysmic event, but in this article we bring attention to the ways in which Wokism creates the opposite of what it purports to fulfil. Often, the ways in which it communicates a desire to ameliorate instead causes harm.

 

Wokism has become a major force in Western culture. Words are imbued with magical powers, and some words are so evil they cannot be repeated in any context. For example, former Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reporter Wendy Mesley was fired after naming the title of the book White Niggers of America (a 1968 work of non-fiction written by Pierre Vallières, a leader of the Front de libération du Québec) at a staff meeting where she suggested they do a story on the author. University professor Francis Widdowson experienced an online mobbing that eventually led to her dismissal after defending Mesley.


Pronouns have become powerful words too. British Columbia lawyer Shahdin Farsai wrote an article arguing that forced pronoun usage in court could prejudice some legal cases and “out” people who did not want their gender expression known. It was accepted for publication in two legal journals. Both articles were cancelled following a Woke backlash. Apparently lawyers are not allowed to challenge Woke-mandated word usage in courts.


Firings and cancellations over words is a manifestation of political correctness. The underlying worldview has led to Black Lives Matter, transgenderism, critical race theory, fabricated histories, school boards that devalue children’s education, nervous professors, and, as we shall see, the occasional bizarre exhibit in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. Contradictions within Wokism create the opposite results of those that are intended. We examine six such ironies.


Irony No.1 – Races Without Race

The words “black” and “white” are adjectives referring to skin colour when applied to people. But capitalised, the Woke are referring to a collectivity defined by something other than or in addition to skin colour – an “essence” involving membership. Both authors of this essay hold that there are no such racial essences. For example, music has no skin colors. Hip hop can be created and enjoyed by everyone – rock, country, classical too. The Woke seem to have lost the rhythm and the beat.


In Woke circles, racism no longer means an ideology used to justify group discrimination (except where convenient). Racism is now defined by outcome differences that the Woke have declared to be significant, regardless of the real or objective reasons for those differences. Yet as racism declines, the Woke reply that the most serious forms are ascendant, “systemic”, and not accounted for in the statistics.


The meaning of the word “systemic” has been manipulated. In 2020, the 24th Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Brenda Lucki announced that she had reviewed the policies and procedures of the RCMP and found no evidence of systemic racism. Her boss, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, forced her to recant and apologize. Lucki had been using the original definition of the term such that if there were systems in place to discriminate against a minority, those systems could be identified and corrected. The Woke, on the other hand, believe as an article of faith that society is organised on the basis of oppression and that by definition the institutions of society must be racist. Races, in this way of thinking, are defined by their oppression, with “whites” being the oppressor race. Since non-whites cannot be racist, they are not subject to the same rules.

 

Muslims – a group that isn’t a race – are treated as one such oppressed race. Professor and author Yasmine Mohammed was called a racist for her attempts to free Muslim women of the veil. She had been raised Muslim in Canada, and was beaten across the soles of her feet until they bled when she missed a word of her readings in the Quran. She was an abused child, but when her case came before a Canadian judge she was told that this was her culture, and culture superseded child protection. While the judge recognised her suffering, there was nothing he would do to protect her from further abuse. Later, she was forced to marry a senior member of al-Qaida.

 

Like 98 percent of Somali Muslim girls, Ayaan Hirsi Ali was subjected to female genital mutilation and forced marriage. She fled to the Netherlands where she was granted asylum and then citizenship, and she eventually became an elected member of the Dutch parliament. She raised awareness of violence against women, including honour killings and female genital mutilation, but received death threats from Islamic extremists. Ali now lives in the US, and is a target of ongoing death threats, living with around-the-clock security. But, to confuse matters even further, criticisms of the reasons she has security, criticisms of the kind of atrocities Muslim women like Mohammed and Ali endure – these are attacked as racist, despite the lack of a coherent racial profile from the apparent lovers of racial profiles. The most glorious example of this malignancy was the heated exchange for the world to see between Sam Harris and Ben Affleck on the Real Time With Bill Maher talk show. Affleck accused Sam Harris of racism for criticising the more extreme ideas of Islam. “It’s gross. It’s racist.” …with no indication of Islam being a race.

 

Despite examples of Muslim women such as Mohammed and Ali, a co-founder of the Women’s March and leading feminist Muslim, Linda Sarsour, maintains that the hijab is a symbol of freedom, and that Sharia law – under which people are mutilated and killed, often by stoning – is reasonable. Sarsour said that women such as Ali who speak out about their oppression deserve “an ass whipping”. People who criticise Islam are accused of “Islamophobia”.


Although the Woke purport to want a better life for oppressed people, by defining Muslims as a race, they allow – indeed, aid and abet – oppression within Islam, by shielding it from criticism. In one particularly egregious example of this effect, immediately following the 2020 Islamist beheading of a French school teacher who had shown cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters, “Well, you know, freedom of expression is not without limits.”


Historically, no people have suffered from oppression, discrimination, and genocide to a greater extent than have the Jews, who remain largely homeless politically. On the extreme right of the political spectrum, they are not white enough. Yet on the Woke left, since Jews have done well academically and financially, they are said to be “white” and part of the oppressor class. This declaration is setting Jews up for more of the racism that they have historically endured.

 

Nicole Levitt was a Philadelphia lawyer employed by a firm that accepted the Woke’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) program. Employees were segregated by race and Levitt was told she would have to attend meetings designated for whites even though she is Jewish. She reported as that, as a Jew, “[T]he last thing I wanted to do was to be separated by race”. In keeping with the firm’s anti-racism policy, she requested that an article on anti-Semitism be included with documents defending blacks and Islam but was told the firm had made a decision “a while back” not to include such material. As an assigned white, she was required to agree to a “Full Value Contract” that included a clause that she had to “own that all white people are racist and that I am not the exception”.


The erasure and demonization of Jews adds further contradiction for Wokism, because it recognizes Hispanics as an oppressed race. The historic roots of Hispanics are European (i.e., white), whereas the historic roots of Jews are Middle-Eastern. In yet another contradiction, Asian-Americans, who also have greater achievement both academically and financially as compared to whites, are often reflexively referred to as “white adjacent“, and they have experienced increased discrimination, particularly in academia.


Further confusion stems from the Woke’s frequent use of the term “people of color.” The Woke define races not primarily on the basis of physical characteristics, but on the basis of oppression. People with relatively poor socio-economic outcomes as compared to whites are presumed to have suffered from racism. Any other factors that might be relevant are to be ignored.

 

The solution to these inconsistencies is discrimination against races defined as being in the oppressor class. This is seen as “good” racism to replace the bad version that is presumed to still operate. How can people calling themselves anti-racist believe in the absurd concept of “good” racism? One notion is thinking of this version of racism as necessary to “even the score” with the other version of racism. No one knows what this means. We end up being “gaslit” (i.e., led to believe something untrue) into believing that discriminating against whites today – as in segregated courses and campuses, as well as diversity hiring – is acceptable, to make up for what happened to traditionally victimized minorities. It seems that two wrongs don’t make a right if you’re a child, but they do if you’re a social justice warrior.

 

Irony No.2 – The Return of Segregation

Using the original definition of social justice, civil liberties organizations of the mid-twentieth century ended racial segregation in the United States after many hard-fought battles. In the 1954 US Supreme Court decision (Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education), the “separate but equal” doctrine allowing for separate schools for white and black students was unanimously struck down – even in cases where the quality of education was demonstrably equal. Now, nearly seven decades later, racial segregation in schools has been reintroduced by the Woke who claim to believe in social justice.

 

The Mary Lin Elementary School in Atlanta, Georgia, was investigated by the US Department of Education’s Civil Rights Office in 2021 for segregating grade one to five students into separate classrooms designated as either “white” or “black.” The principal was black. A mother who was also black claimed her daughter was denied access to a teacher in a designated “white” classroom. Special programming for black students could lead to the appearance of such segregation.

 

For example, in Canada, the Ontario Ministry of Education offered 17 summer enrichment classes in 2021, including debating, mathematics, theatre, photography, cinematography, and computer coding. The father of one student who attempted to register for this program but was turned down because he is not black raised a petition calling on the province to allow all races access to its programs. The Ontario Ministry of Education replied that it is offering blacks an affirmative action program. The ministry failed to share any studies showing why racially specific affirmative action was needed in such subject areas as cinematography. If racial integration was previously desirable, it is curious to see modern university campuses self-segregating along racial lines. At New York University (NYU) and other campuses, for example, you can be told you’re in the wrong room based on your skin color. A report on neo-segregationist policies at Yale University included a National Association of Scholars database showing that across all 50 states, 43 percent of the schools had residential segregation, 46 percent had segregated orientation programs, and 72 percent had segregated graduation ceremonies.

 

At NYU, a group of black students petitioned the school to create what it called an Exploration Floor, reserved for black students and based on black culture. The group’s petition explained their reasoning.

 

Black students should not be forced to do the labor of explaining cultural touchstones (like hair rituals) and advocating for their humanity within their own homes. There is not one space on campus entirely dedicated to Black student life. Black Lives Matter cannot be reduced to a slogan sent in university-wide emails. Now is the time for NYU to create tangible change to support its Black students. We are hoping that Black Living communities can spark a new effort towards comprehensive Black inclusion across NYU (Sadler, 2021).

 

Contrary to historical segregation policies, here it is whites who are told to avoid or vacate certain areas in favor of non-whites. The impetus and design of this neo-segregationist movement – including the definition of what makes one “white” – comes from a group who purport to be anti-racists. If they’re fighting for a better world, how do the Woke rationalize campus segregation?

 

They don’t like to think of such ideas as racist or as segregation. They prefer to describe the phenomenon as the maintenance of safe spaces where students of color can feel welcome and away from the potential of white racism. If one were to assume that racism is always happening, then there would be some logic to this. But couldn’t white-only areas in, say, the 1940s be seen as nothing more than safe spaces for whites? Would we accept white-only spaces today? Do we not all agree that, as naive as it might sound, the system for everyone will work better when we’re all in it together?Some might argue that this comparison to traditional segregation is flawed. Despite the newly race-based divisions on some areas of campuses – and despite the popularity of racially separate graduation ceremonies – designated minorities are granted the same access to resources as white students; however, as we saw in Brown vs. the Topeka Board of Education, the “separate but equal” doctrine was ruled unconstitutional in the United States. Equality of resources on campuses is better than inequality, but we’re still witnessing the reversal of the goals of the civil liberties movements, i.e., complete racial integration, no racial discrimination, and no racial anything. Our highest aspiration was to end racism, not to rehabilitate it. As Martin Luther King hoped, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” When people in our society aren’t allowed to go somewhere because of their skin color, we have failed Dr. King’s dream.


Irony No.3 – Assumptions about “Leftism” and “Rightism”

The Woke frequently describe themselves as “progressive” or “left-wing”, but their identity politics often resembles that of people they describe as “alt-right” who are, presumably, at the opposite end of the political spectrum. For example, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington came under fire for a supposedly progressive exhibit entitled “Aspects and Assumptions of Whiteness and White Culture.” The exhibit presented behaviors like hard work, self-reliance, delayed gratification, following rigid time schedules, and valuing the nuclear two-parent family as “whiteness.”

 

While such traits were valued in Western Europe following the Enlightenment, they augur well for individual success regardless of skin colour. In fact, attributing values and behavior to skin colors is blatant racism, and a stereotypical traditional right winger’s dream. Some Woke-inspired diversity trainers have argued that employers who expect their employees to show up for work on time and work hard are being racist; but when the Smithsonian Museum or the Woke define white people by these traits, they sound like the right wing’s white supremacists they are supposedly opposing.

How dare the Woke encourage us to assume that being late is something that “people of color” are more likely to do because of their racial category! For shame. The same treatment is warranted with respect to “broken families” – this, we’re told, is a non-white phenomenon. Nuclear minority families and broken white ones seem to not be taken into account. Again, in so far as these outcomes are assumed to be linked to a skin color – this is outright racism. Because it’s supposedly left instead of blatantly right, we’re simply meant not to notice.


Irony No.4 – Protecting the Vulnerable, or Not

In June of 2020, author J.K. Rowling published her concerns about transwomen as they intersect with feminism. For suggesting that women should continue to have safe spaces in change rooms that are forbidden to biological males, Rowling was called a TERF (“trans exclusionary radical feminist”) and she received death threats. One of the reactions to her essay was a rash of videos of people burning copies of her fictional works. Have the people who burn books ever been on the right side of history?

 

The rationale for this outpouring of anger was that the Woke were supposedly protecting the most vulnerable, but Rowling’s concern that people with male bodies in places reserved for women can lead to harm is apt. In a video that went viral in October of 2021, a Virginia father is seen tackled by police and hauled off from a school board meeting in Virginia. His crime was to demand accountability for the sexual assault of his 15-year-old daughter on school grounds, in the female bathroom, by a transgender youth who was described by the victim’s father as a “boy wearing a skirt”.

 

Repeating a Woke mantra, school district superintendent, Scott Zeigler, explained to parents at the meeting, “We’ve heard it several times tonight from our public speakers but the predator transgender student or person simply does not exist.” It turns out that such assaults aren’t always reported, and that the Virginia County is guilty of “errors in our state reporting regarding disciplinary incidents in schools”, adding that it “inadvertently omitted some information in the past.” Like the Catholic Church moving pedophilic priests to new parishes, the school board moved the alleged attacker to another school, where ze assaulted another female student. (The pronoun “ze” is a gender-neutral pronoun used by some individuals who identify outside the traditional gender binary.

 

The experience of Louden County illustrates Rowling’s concern that some people identifying as transwomen could be a threat to women and girls. Rowling also earned the ire of people speaking for the transgender communities by stating that women should not lose their jobs for stating that sex is real. In addition to having her works of fiction burned, and threats on her life, Rowling experienced the humiliation of being disinvited from attending the 20th anniversary special of the Harry Potter film series.

 

Even trans people are not immune from the censorship of the Woke, who are presumably acting on their behalf. In 2020, the attached article by a transwoman was posted on an open humanist discussion forum in Canada. A moderator from Humanist Canada deleted it as “hate speech.” The offending article was highly critical of J.K. Rowling but conceded she had “a point” about the risk to biological women, and recommended a dialogue between trans and feminist communities to find ways of mitigating the risk. We are left to conclude that calls for dialogue – even when made by members of the communities the Woke claim to protect – are “hate speech.”


Irony No.5 – Tolerance vs Hate

The Woke claim to act from a spirit of compassion but have produced a toxic environment of retributive “justice” and “cancel culture”. Ann Applebaum (2021) interviewed 12 academics who reported they have lost everything – jobs, money, friends, colleagues – after violating no laws or commonly understood workplace rules. Instead, they are accused of having broken social codes having to do with race, sex, personal behavior, or even acceptable humor. She found a pattern:

 

The first thing that happens once you have been accused of breaking a social code, when you find yourself at the center of a social-media storm because of something you said or purportedly said. The phone stops ringing. People stop talking to you. You become toxic. “I have in my department dozens of colleagues – I think I have spoken to zero of them in the past year”, one academic told me. “One of my colleagues I had lunch with at least once a week for more than a decade – he just refused to speak to me anymore, without asking questions”. Another reckoned that, of the 20-odd members in his department, “there are two, one of whom has no power and another of whom is about to retire, who will now speak to me.”

 

All of the professors Applebaum interviewed were liberal or left of center. All of them had reasonably successful careers but their experiences resulted in social isolation, career opportunities drying up, campus lectures cancelled, and firings. At least one considered suicide and another killed himself.


Those targeted for Woke cancelling are not just denied academic jobs; they are denied any job. Biologist Colin Wright gave up an academic career because, in his words, “I was tired of researching science in a subculture where gatekeepers demanded that I repudiate basic scientific facts about human beings”. He was expected to repudiate that there are two sexes – male and female – so he left academia and became a science writer, supplementing his income through donations on Paypal, and marketing his writing at “Reality’s Last Stand” by selling products through Etsy, an online marketplace. Both companies cancelled him without explanation.

 

Etsy had previously banned another marketer for a) calling “I love J.K. Rowling” mugs hate speech, while b) allowing items to be sold that said “Fuck J.K. Rowling”. Like computer technologist James Damore who was fired by Google in 2017 after suggesting psychological characteristics helped explain the low rate of female participation in computer technology, Wright was punished for his political beliefs. The Woke claim to be anti-fascist, but when corporations start enforcing political ideology, is that not similar to what happened in fascist Germany, Italy, and Spain?

 

Compassion includes the ability to forgive. We can forgive Germany, Italy, Spain, and Japan for their horrors of WWII; they can forgive us ours. What manner of tolerance and compassion are the Woke offering when they refuse to forgive comparatively non-existent trespasses? They offer no compassion. They offer instead intolerance and vitriol. They offer, in other words, hate.


The Ultimate Irony: The Dance of Frenemies

To observers north of the 49th parallel (part of the border between Canada and the United States), the Woke and the supporters of Donald Trump seem locked in a symbiotic relationship. They often seem to feed off each other. The Woke don’t seem to realize – or refuse to accept – that what they do inspires reciprocal behaviors from rightwing populists. Perhaps the most basic and most tragic Woke irony is that sensible and kind people have been forged into “Trumpers” amidst the heat and hammering of Woke absurdities.


Both Trumpists and the Woke rely on the postmodern notion that there is no such thing as objective reality and that what we take as reality is socially constructed. The Woke are engaging in “must be so” thinking when they declare that society functions on the basis of racism; therefore, any discrepancies between groups must be because of this racism. The Trumpists are also engaged in “must be so” thinking when they say their candidate won the 2020 US presidential election; therefore, the results must be due to voter fraud. Donald Trump’s supporters excuse the moral failings of their leader because he is fighting an enemy that, in their understanding, is far worse. They forgive him because his goal is to “make America great again”. Each Trumpian stupidity and horror is tolerated as necessary for the greater purpose and can drive people away, just as each Woke stupidity and horror is tolerated for the greater purpose and can drive people away.


Woke thinking parallels that of the Trumpists. When challenged on a) the ethics of ruining peoples’ reputations and cancelling their careers without due process, b) the logic of denying the individual rights and racializing people on the basis of identity politics, or c) the ethics of denying women’s safety or falsifying history to promote a particular narrative, supporters forgive the Woke because their goal is to fight an enemy that, in their understanding, is far worse. The way in which they choose to do so, of course, drives moderates into the camp of the right-wing.


When Donald Trump promised to “make America great again” he was appealing to a supposed former utopia. Fundamentalist Christians, who made up a significant part of his political base, overlooked his sexual and other moral transgressions in the belief that he would establish a Christian nation. Trump’s vilification of opponents and never-ending lies justifying his behaviors can be seen as performances to his base. His assertion that he lost the 2020 US federal election due to voter fraud is a further example of “must be so” thinking. The task of Trumpers here is to buy Trump’s commentary about voter fraud without the requisite proof. Public adherence to this narrative identifies the true believers in Trump vs the frauds.


Similarly, Wokism promises a utopia, but one based on “diversity, equity, and inclusion”. Attacks on individuals, cancellations, bullying, and forced conformity to Woke orthodoxy are justified on the grounds that supporting Woke carnage will lead to a better society. The Woke’s revised definition of racism – like Trump’s claims of a stolen election – supports “must be so” thinking that oppression based on race and gender is endemic in society. Believers are charged with finding “proof” of this thesis in the alleged motivations and actions of the non-Woke. Public declarations using the language of the Woke are required to demonstrate “true” belief and shield oneself from such witch hunts.


Witch hunts are a source of commiseration for these two groups. Trumpists save their most vicious attacks for fellow Republicans (like Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger) who do not support the Trump narrative. Similarly, the Woke save their most vicious attacks for progressives and humanists like Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, Sam Harris, Kurt Vonnegut, Christopher Hitchens, and Dan Dennett. We examine Woke attacks on the first two humanists as exemplars.

 

In 1976, Richard Dawkins coined the word “meme” to represent an elemental self-replicating unit of culture. He used this concept to explore ways that non-rational ideas spread. His books include The Selfish Gene (1976), The Blind Watchmaker (1986) and The God Delusion (2006). He is the founder of the Dawkins Foundation for Science and Reason. In 1996, he was named Humanist of the Year by the American Humanist Association.

 

In 1998, Dawkins earned the ire of people who would come to be known as the Woke when he said postmodernists obscure language to hide their lack of meaningful content. He adopted a Socratic style of asking questions that require thinking. In 2021, for example, he tweeted the following:


In 2015, Rachel Dolezal, a white chapter president of NAACP [The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People], was vilified for identifying as Black. Some men choose to identify as women, and some women choose to identify as men. You will be vilified if you deny that they literally are what they identify as. Discuss.


Apparently, some discussions and some questions are not allowed. The American Humanist Society revoked the Humanist of the Year Award which Dawkins had been given 25 years previously. This action is more than symbolic: Dawkins’s writing also has been refused in their publications. To the extent that they are able, they are attempting to “cancel” Dawkins in the humanist community.


Steven Pinker is famous for his studies of consciousness and language. But in The Blank Slate, he debunked the myths that a) the mind is completely shaped by culture, b) that humans were corrupted from an original pure state by civilization, and c) that there is an immaterial essence within us that determines who we are. A year later he said these “blank slate”, “noble savage”, and “ghost in the machine” myths were the basis of an as-yet-unnamed quasi-religion. Wokism is that quasi-religion.


Like Trumpism, Wokism is predicated on a pessimistic worldview that only a dismantling of society can bring about justice. Pinker has meticulously documented evidence that the lives of most people have improved dramatically since the Enlightenment with respect to life expectancy, poverty rates, literacy, crime, upward mobility, homicide rates, racism, and gender equality. He has argued that based on our experience, the most likely way of resolving looming problems such as climate change and epidemics is through the use of science and reason. Hence he has been vilified.

 

For example, in 2019 some participants in a Humanist Canada discussion forum repeated a vicious lie that Pinker condoned pedophilia. The basis of this campaign was that he had agreed to provide expert testimony as a linguist for a trial of an alleged pedophile. In 2018, a petition was raised demanding his cancellation as a distinguished fellow of the Linguistic Society of America. The petition also accused him of “cultural appropriation” for citing a black author. Had he not cited any black authors that could have garnered the charge of racism as well.

 

The anti-Pinker campaign and its relatives reached Canada well before this petition. In 2016, philosopher and previous Humanist of the Year (Canada) award winner, Chris DiCarlo, nominated Steven Pinker for the award. (These events occurred while co-author Lloyd was on the board of Humanist Canada.) Nominees were approved by the Humanist Canada board, and it was clear that Pinker had the support of the majority over other named candidates. A board member who later became the organization’s president made an impassioned argument that the award process should be made “transparent” with membership participation. He volunteered to head a committee to develop such a process. After three months he told the board his committee had still not drafted its final report. After two years, the committee had still not reported to the board. In effect, Humanist Canada stopped giving the Humanist of the Year Award to keep the world’s leading advocate of science, reason, and progress from receiving it.

 

Moderate or liberal Leftists, like Pinker and Dawkins, believe in change to make people’s lives better and to reduce inequality. They also believe that science and reason are the tools to build this progressively better society. They can proudly wear the label “progressive.” Moderate conservatives also recognize the power of science and reason, including the value of free speech to exercise that reason, but they believe that it is better to conserve our accomplishments rather than take risks that could cause increased suffering. Perhaps the Woke – i.e., the Identitarian Left – should not be viewed as “Left.” Like the Identitarian Right, the Woke believe people are defined by their group membership and both are authoritarian. Perhaps the more meaningful political spectrum has those who embrace Enlightenment values on one side, and the authoritarians on the other.


How did the Woke manufacture such authoritarian combativeness and cruelty? One of the authors, Lloyd, has argued that while Wokism draws on aspects of postmodernism, Marxism, and civil rights, the movement is not true to any of these ideologies, and that it acts more like an evolved mind virus. As such, it is not on the political spectrum. It is governed by its own rules, not necessarily tied to logic. Basing its fundamentals on hatred of the enemy, Wokism can thus easily support reactionary, rightwing medieval religious theocracies and ideas, even to the point of celebrating the massacre of civilians.


Those who do not espouse Wokism’s tenets are viewed as being either ignorant and in need of conversion, or as evil. Believers are identified by language use with a) old words like “racism” and “violence” taking on new meanings, and b) new words that not everyone understands, like “cisgender” and “microaggression.” And because the Woke consider “problematic” words to be a form of violence, disagreement is felt to be an existential attack.


Yet again, despite what it purports, Wokism doesn’t consider “safe spaces” to be safe – that is, places where people can have meaningful disagreements and discussions without the threat of retaliation. Rather, these spaces are meant to be “safe” from diversity of thought. Disagreements are not acceptable. True believers raised in such environments are not required to weigh evidence for diverse viewpoints, and they are encouraged to distrust open conversation.


Those who support freedom of speech, democracy, and classical liberalism have a different prescription. The 2022 General Assembly of Humanists International, Declaration of Modern Humanism states in part:

 

“We are convinced that the solutions to the world’s problems lie in human reason, and action. We advocate the application of science and free inquiry to these problems, remembering that while science provides the means, human values must define the ends. We seek to use science and technology to enhance human well-being, and never callously or destructively.”

 

The Humanist Canada representative voted against this resolution. The battle is enjoined.

 

If it truly wants to achieve its stated goals, Wokism needs to pull an about face. If it truly sees itself as progressive, Wokism needs to stop being regressive. If it truly wants to end racism, Wokism needs to drop its racist activities, like segregation and racial essentialism. If it truly wants to protect vulnerable members of society, Wokism must strive to protect everyone who is vulnerable, regardless of perceived oppression status. If it truly wants a compassionate society, Wokism needs to forgive mistakes.


As an ideology, religion, or mind virus, Wokism is incapable of wanting anything except in a metaphorical sense. Human beings, however, are capable of forgiveness, compassion, and critical thinking. And we can change opinions. Those who have been tempted to embrace Wokism must reflect on how it has evolved.


In the wake of such catastrophes – when forward looks like backward – all is not necessarily lost. We should be grateful, because our society has grown to collectively despise racism. To continue this progress, however, we need to fearlessly embark upon risky discussions. These will be made dangerous by the Woke who will tell you – whether you’re black or white – what you should and shouldn’t say, based on the colour of your skin. What anti-racist could possibly want that?

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4 Comments


T. Damian Boyle
T. Damian Boyle
Jun 18

Thanks, Lloyd and Edan. Took me a few days to read this in pieces. Much of the the deeper background thoughts and history I am only slightly informed about. However, from my observations I concur with what you have presented and concluded: self-proclaimed "anti-fascists" being fascists. As an anti-fascist I cannot fathom their thinking.


I'm not sure what terms describe me, best. "Free Thinker" is one that I picked up from an old neighbour, long ago. Humanist seems to fit, too, especially given the 2022 Definition provided above.


The race thing has bothered me for a very long time. As long as we (society at large) continue to identify people by race we are perpetuating it. Who are "people …


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G L
G L
Jun 12

Brilliant! Thank you Lloyd and Edan!

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lhrobertson
Jun 11

Thank you for your comments Anthony. I am president of the New Enlightenment Project: A Canadian Humanist Initiative. We are concerned with the issue of free speech and the attack on Enlightenment values, skills really. We formed as a result of the creeping Woke rot infecting our humanist communities, and I continue to get invited to speak on the subject. One of our main ways of inviting discussion is through the publication of articles and I want to thank Humanistically Speaking for publishing this one. We will be circulating it to various humanists in Canada.

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Hi guys enjoyed your article andf agree with your analysis and sentiments - postmodern woke ideologies are brain rot in my opinion and based on undelying assertions that do not stand up to a modicum of critical thinking and testing against evidence. What scares me the most is how such a pernicious set of nosnensical world views have taken a grip on whole swathes of the academy and intelligencia. As a humanist I started speaking out against all of this nonsense 5 years ago. Have you heard of the Free Speech Union - it sounds like Canadians need a FSU in Canada.- https://freespeechunion.org/event/is-it-time-to-get-over-the-rainbow/


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