jabob silverman recently threw down this gauntlet:
i’d like to take him up on the challenge. despite “woke” being a sort of catch all phrase like “hipster” or “beatnik” that while being quite a valid signifier can be a bit elusive to pin down, i think that it’s far easier than most and can easily be boiled down to a couple of coherent sentences. let’s try:
“woke” is the philosophy that results from the addition of non-interrogatable dogmatic payloads about intersectional relationships into post-modern paradigms. this has the net effect of weaponizing that payload into a form of secular religious dogma and distorting deconstructionist modalities into something akin to the children’s game of “punch, no-punchbacks” whereby the semiotics and structure of all relations save those pre-defined as sacrosanct can be interrogated but one’s own starting-state biases cannot thereby rendering the system inherently arbitrary and dishonest while simultaneously preventing the assessment or correction of those failings.
OK. well, that’s a bit of a mouthful and some might argue that i have committed a foot fault here by “not being coherent” but i believe that i have. it’s simply that to capture a zeitgeist as myriad as woke, we need to use some broader and precisely defined definitions if we’re going to generate sufficient informational density to capture it within jacob’s (somewhat arbitrary though also perhaps useful) 2 sentence limit. as proof of my bone fides on coherency, let’s pull apart and amplify that statement a bit:
first, post modernism:
this was a movement that began in the 1950’s and 60’s and ran through folks like derrida, lyotard, and foucalt. in a nutshell, it sought to pick apart (interrogate) the structural salients of dominant paradigms and social systems by breaking them down into language and then sub-linguistics and into symbols and their meaning (semiotics). this was used to “deconstruct dominant paradigms” and render them devoid of inherent meaning as essentially collections of agreed upon language, meaning, and symbology that all, at a certain level of abstraction, becomes arbitrary. this process, of course, works like a wheel and once you have deconstructed the dominant paradigm, you become the dominant paradigm, which, of course, then makes you subject to deconstruction and replacement etc on and on world without end. one can argue about whether post modernism is even inherently meaningful, but this debate was not, for the most part, needed as this inherently self-dissolving aspect of post modernist thought caused it to settle into either cynicism “there’s just no knowing anything” or dada and farce “look what a silly game this is, let’s at least make it fun!” it was a parlor game for intellectuals and a lodestone for mopey malcontents. neither threatened to spread into broad currency.
now let’s talk about “non-interrogatable payloads”
one can “break” post-modernism by adding to it key salients that one is not allowed to deconstruct or question. i have termed this “non-interrogatable payload.” in simple terms, one can turn the silly, self refuting game of post-modernism into something desperately serious and self-reinforcing by declaring some ideas off limits to interrogation. critical race theory is just post modernism where you are, by doctrine, not allowed to question the idea that all human relations are about power and all power relations are governed by race. you now have firm ground upon which to stand and fight that will not be deconstructed out from under you because the rules have been changed to say that it cannot be. all else can be deconstructed and deconstructed again and so, once one accepts the basic premise of this dogmatic payload, it rapidly comes to look like (and be experienced by adherents as) the only real and enduring truth despite being entirely arbitrary.
“punch no punchbacks”
this ability to criticize, interrogate, and invalidate as a coherent premise through deconstruction all doctrine save yours while denying others the right to do the same to whatever ideological axis mundi you have chosen to render sacrosanct is just an example of “one law for thee, another for me.” honestly, it’s perhaps more akin to the statement of “thou shall worship no god but God and raise no idols above Him.” now, obviously, we live in a world where several religions with differing gods or images of god or however we’d like to put that are making this same claim. there is one true god, we are lucky/smart/holy enough to happen to know which god that is, and we (and perhaps you) must worship that god and no other god. we see this as a matter of faith and rightly so as, to my knowledge, no human alive has any direct, tangible proof from a divine being of its own existence, much less its primacy. this is why we call religion religion and not science. its precepts on divinity and holy word cannot be empirically interrogated, proven, or disproven.
secular religious dogma
this same issue applies to the central dogma of critical race theory, gender theory, colonial theory, and all the other belief sets i have collected into the category of “woke.” they take as fundamental precepts ideas that cannot be empirically interrogated, proven, or disproven. it’s driven by faith and uncritical acceptance. it is not rational or driven by analysis, it’s post-rational and driven by doctrine. this would seem to render them a religion by any well generalizable definition. cognizant of this fact and determined to claim to be both secular and rooted in reason not faith, most of these doctrines have therefore also adopted the non-interrogable premise that “this is a movement rooted in reason and science, not a religion” and thereby sidestepped this criticism by defining it as “not permitted”. if you want 100% proof that something is really a religion, you cannot do much better than “does not allow the idea that it is really a religion to be discussed.” see also: fascism, communism, a great many cults.
the fundamental internal dishonesty of this post-modern-payload-primacy leads to strong internal contradictions within this movement that drive both an evangelical/jihadist aspect to “spread the word” and lead to intense touchiness and reactionary anger and attacks on “heretics and apostates.” the inherent sanctimony of “punch no punchbacks” both attracts and intensifies the sanctimonious. it sets up echo chambers to intensify belief and provides a codified structure to disassemble and criticize all other beliefs while preventing any such process from being worked upon one’s own. but the price of this is high as such internal contradictions are difficult to sustain, especially if one is also trying to claim that one is on the side of rationality and science. it ties all logic and reason into ever more baroque knots to avoid interrogating the obvious issues.
you wind up claiming that one race and sex are responsible for all the ills of the world and need to be “de-privileged” and others given preference based on their biological characteristics while at the same time claiming that race and sex are just social constructs that have no inherent meaning. watching the woke try to defend the impossible co-join of these beliefs is like watching popes demand more and ever more implausible celestial spheres because the sun and stars steadfastly refuse to act like the earth is the center of the universe and everything revolves around it. IQ is argued to be meaningless, yet ideas about gene editing to enhance it are shouted down as amplifiers of class inequality because only the rich can afford to have “superkids.”
(thanks to @elonbachman for the great cartoon)
fighting to LARP at being rationalists while actually being religious zealots is not only what makes the “woke” into a defined group and signifies them as a philosophy but it’s also what makes them so incredibly touchy. these are precincts of discussion that others must be prevented from entering because, if they do, it will become clear what a ratbag of un-validated presumption and superstition the cult’s “mysteries” really are.
many of the woke do not even realize this about themselves. it’s why they so often exhibit such disproportionate, collectivist, and angry responses to simple questions. you think you are having a discussion about rationality and so do they, but they are really having a discussion about religion. they just don’t know it. they think they are darwin being asked about natural selection, but their emotions know that they are, in fact, a pope who cannot afford to let the proles question the idea of intelligent design. this puts demands for alleviation of cognitive dissonance upon them that their reason has been told it cannot interrogate. these demands manifest themselves in group attacks, cancel culture, and censorship because the only alternative is either admitting you are in a religion or allowing your precepts to be interrogated and challenged.
people will fight like cornered animals to protect their cherished and communally held faiths, far more so than they will intellectual ideas or scientific theories.
so, there it is. my 2 sentence definition of woke and my endlessly verbose proof that it was, in fact, a coherent statement and definition.
it feels pretty sound to me. open to thoughts, amplifications, criticisms, etc.
just seeking to add my own personal gato spice to the discussion.