Some thoughts on being “woke”

Woke can be considered a form of liberalism. The freedom to think for ourselves and act accordingly which, if taken to the extreme, leads to conspiracy theories and misguided activism.

Liberal derives from the Latin word liberalis from liber meaning free or ‘free man’. The original sense was ‘suitable for a free man’, hence ‘suitable for a gentleman’ (one not tied to a trade), and survives today in the form of the liberal arts such as the study of history, literature, writing, philosophy, sociology, psychology and creative arts. The educational counterpoints to these liberal arts are the STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering, and maths.

Liberal also converts to liberalism which is a totally different creature. Both the lion and the lamb have four legs, a head and a body but they use them in very different ways. Political liberals believe in a willingness to respect or accept behaviour or opinions different from one’s own; open to new ideas. They support a political and social philosophy that promotes individual rights, civil liberties, democracy, and free enterprise.

This liberalism has a wide-ranging spectrum with classical liberals emphasizing the right of the individual to make decisions, even if the results dismayed their neighbours or injured themselves.

Free speech is a commendable concept until it begins to incite hatred and riot.

Liberalism is not only political but it is also psychological. Psychological researches carried out in many universities seem to confirm certain basic psychological differences between liberals and conservatives. It would appear that fear is linked more often to conservative thinking, whereas feeling safer can lead people to lean towards more liberal attitudes. Liberals and conservatives also tend to show compassion towards different groups of people.

Brain scans show that people who self-identify as conservative have larger and more active right amygdalas, an area of the brain that’s associated with expressing and processing fear. This aligns with the idea that feeling afraid makes people lean more to the right. One 2013 study showed conservative brains tend to have more activity in their right amygdalas when they’re taking risks than liberals do.

This leads to the age-old, and as yet undecided, argument of nature versus nurture to which nobody has a definitive answer. Are we born conservative or raised as liberal? There is plenty of evidence that we can change our viewpoint over a lifetime. Is this nature, nurture or maturity?

“Woke” is an American import to the English language and, like its fellow travellers such as hygge, zeitgeist and schadenfreude, means different things to different people. The first appearance of the modern usage of the word seems to come from a song by the soul singer, Erykah Badu, in which the phrase “I stay woke” is repeated several times. It suggests an individual’s awareness of social issues including racism, gender, environmentalism and most recently, the Black Lives Matter movement. Six year after the events in Ferguson, Missouri, when an 18yo black youth was shot in the back by a white police officer, we can see the woke movement for what it is. A liberal ideology whose moral innovators guide it toward fundamentalism. It has not only grown out of its well-intended origins but also, out of control.

A minority of activists have inflated the woke concept to the extent that the British Parliament has organised training sessions for its MPs to counteract what it describes as the woke subconscious bias in its members. The cost of the training course, which has been rejected by the vast majority of MPs, has so far cost the taxpayer over £370,000. At the same time the revered British institution, the Citizens Advice Bureau, is being challenged by an “anti-woke” movement which says it is offering an alternative to the subconscious bias of the established organisation. What does the term “subconscious bias” mean? It sounds as if those affected by this “bias” are not thinking in the same way as others — and therefore wrong.

Woke — A liberal ideology whose moral innovators impel it toward fundamentalism. It has not only grown out of its well-intended origins but also, out of control.

Past civil wars have usually been fought by two opposing parties with non-participants suffering that convenient political term, collateral damage. Future civil wars are more likely to involve many different factions, all with their different fundamentalist visions of the “Promised Land”. This is not just the ideology of Qanon, the Proud Boys, the conspiracy theorists or fundamentalists of every persuasion; it was the driving force behind Che Guevara, the Baader-Meinhoff gang and the various interpretations of religion. These factions are becoming more and more active while the ‘silent majority’ becomes increasingly passive.

Is there an answer to this potential anarchy? Yes — but he or she may be difficult to find, namely an altruistic benevolent dictator. Applications on a postcard, please.

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Adrian Arnold

Adrian Arnold

Retired veterinary surgeon now a collector of trivia. Married to a wonderful wife, four children and four grandchildren. Author of A Veterinary Life on Amazon.