Unlearning “wokeness”

Sam Adler- Bell:

Explaining precisely why left activists have adopted these self-destructive habits is beyond the remit of this short column. But the two main culprits are the obvious ones. The first is social media, where it is infinitely easier — more satisfying and algorithmically rewarding — to imaginatively signal affiliation with those who already share your values than try to convince anyone who doesn’t.

The second is the university. Conservatives resent elite universities for churning out well-credentialed radicals. And they do, to an extent. Elite college graduates with left-wing values go on to run liberal nonprofits, staff Democratic campaigns, work in media, and become middle managers in the corporate world. Right-wingers envy this privilege, imagining that an indoctrinated managerial elite has taken control of the country’s commanding heights. But they overstate the case. The class interests of the Ivy-educated tend to reassert themselves when they accumulate power. And when college-educated radicals speak for the left, they tend to speak in the language of “wokeness” — precisely as I have defined it — with distorting and destructive effects.

This is due, in part, to the peculiar history of 20th-century campus radicalism. The victories of student activists in the 1970s onward — in creating departments and new curricula through which radical thought could be studied and taught — were pyrrhic. Conceived as beachheads in a broader war against capitalist society, radical departments became sepulchers for radical thought: places where wild ideas could be quarantined from the challenge of convincing anyone outside to believe them.