There is a straight line that connects the dots leading from the great monotheisms to modern atheisms; from Judaism to Christianity to Islam, and further to atheistic faiths like Communism and, now, Wokeism. – R. Jagannathan
Wokeism—defined neutrally by Wikipedia as “perceived awareness of issues that concern social justice and racial justice”—should ideally be seen as a continuation of the early centuries of intolerant Christianity. Early Christianity created the myth of persecution in order to “weaponise” faith and grab political power. Today’s “Wokes” are doing nothing different.
In the American context, if you are white, you are presumed to be structurally racist, never mind that you never exhibit this racism in any way. Students in Woke universities and elite schools such as Harvard-Westlake in Los Angeles are being taught to despise capitalism and their skin colour if it’s “white”.
Bari Weiss, writing in City Journal, notes that most parents are afraid to speak out against this nonsense for fear of being singled out as racists. Reason: they fear they may be singled out for attack, or end up damaging their children’s future careers.
Wokeism is about a super-elite strengthening its stranglehold on power. Writes Weiss: “Power in America now comes from speaking Woke, a highly complex and ever-evolving language. The Grace Church School in Manhattan, for example, offers a 12-page guide to “inclusive language,” which discourages people from using the word “parents”—“folks” is preferred—or from asking questions like “what religion are you?” (When asked for comment, Rev. Robert M. Pennoyer II, the assistant head of school, replied: “Grace is an Episcopal school. As part of our Episcopal identity, we recognise the dignity and worth common to humanity.” He added that the guide comes “from our desire to promote a sense of belonging for all of our students.”) A Harvard-Westlake English teacher welcomes students back after summer with: “I am a queer white womxn of European descent.”
Put simply, students are sent not to study, but to be indoctrinated in Woke ideology, where you often use the letter “x” to indicate you are gender neutral. Thus, womxn, not women, Latinx, not Latina or Latino, and Mx, not Mr or Ms. Learning “critical race theory” and “intersectionality” is more important than learning the three R’s or the works of great scientists or litterateurs. And Newtonian physics is now just about the “fundamental laws of physics”, nothing related to Newton, writes Weiss.
For the uninformed, which included me till a while ago, Britannica says critical race theory (CRT) holds that “law and legal institutions are inherently racist and that race itself, instead of being biologically grounded and natural, is a socially constructed concept that is used by white people to further their economic and political interests at the expense of people of colour.”
“Intersectionality” is about emphasising that two people fighting for the same cause are not necessarily on the same footing since one of the oppressed may be “more oppressed” than the other.
For example, if you are a woman (sorry, womxn, if you are Woke) fighting for gender justice, it matters a lot if you are a white woman of relative privilege, or an Afro-American woman, for the latter suffers a double-disadvantage by being both a woman and dark-skinned to boot. One is apparently less oppressed by patriarchy than the other.
In practical terms, a white woman must not seek to lead a platform for women’s rights if there are Afro-American women present. They should play second fiddle and keep themselves in the background.
Your simple takeout: Wokeism is psychological oppression of the majority by an intolerant minority, but what you will hear from the average “Woke” is that the majority are intolerant, racist, bigoted. Wokeism should be seen as another form of Christian-influenced intolerance, intolerance of that kind we saw in the early centuries after Christ.
In the first 300 years after the dawn of the Common Era, Christianity was a minority cult, but most of the oppression allegedly directed against it was a myth. According to Candida Moss, author of The Myth of Persecution, the general belief that Christians were persecuted all through history is largely rubbish, and invented to weaponise Christianity.
The actual period of persecution may, at best, have lasted about 10 years, during the reign of Emperor Diocletian, “which lasted from CE 303 to 305, and was renewed by Maximinius Daia between 311 and 313”.
These were the only periods of persecution based on imperial decisions from 30 CE (when Jesus is said to have been crucified) till CE 313, when Constantine became Emperor and favoured the Christians for his own political reasons. But myths about Christian martyrs nobly sacrificing themselves in defence of their beliefs persist to this day. Martyrdom is being weaponised to facilitate violence.
Says Moss in her book: “Martyrdom is easily adapted by the powerful as a way of casting themselves as victims and justifying their polemical and vitriolic attacks on others. When disagreement is viewed as persecution, then these innocent sufferers must fight—rhetorically and literally—to defend themselves. In this polarised view of the world, disagreement and conflict—even entirely non-violent conflict—is not just a difference of opinion: it is religious persecution.”
She adds: “The rhetoric of persecution legitimates and condones retributive violence. Violence committed by the persecuted is an act of divinely-approved self-defense.”
Myths about persecution serve two political objectives: they can be used to guilt-trip the old elite by permanently painting the dominant elites as defenders of victims; additionally, they can be used to justify violence against those who refuse to mouth the new dogmas or glorify the new orthodoxies.
Thus, early Christianity tom-tommed the crucifixion of Christ as a victim of Jewish intolerance, which then justified all their anti-Semitism and destruction of Pagan ideologies and their holy places. The same iconoclasm and destructive tendencies were then amplified by Islam, which devastated both Christianity and Judaism all over the Middle East and northern Africa.
What Wokeism has in common with pre-Enlightenment Christianity is this intolerant strain where the academic and political elite use real victims of racism or bigotry to give themselves the power to silence others and deny other versions of the truth.
Hence, the rise of “cancel culture” and the reduction of other people’s truths as “post-truths”. Post-truth and cancel culture are intrinsically Christian in origin and ideology, for Christianity is rooted in the revealed truths of the Bible, and any truth that questions this truth is post-truth.
Cancel culture is “about my way or the highway”. If you don’t believe my god, you are a devil-worshipper, worthy of demonisation or reputational destruction. What Christians demolished physically in the old Pagan era, the Wokes now do through character assassination and silencing of those they disagree with.
Many voices are now rising against Wokeism in the US (read here, here, here), but for now it is dominant in academic institutions and major media and institutions. The New York Times is the patron saint of these Woke dogmas, where it has sacrificed plain-vanilla journalism in favour of advocacy and strident propaganda. Wokeism demands that you cannot stay neutral and as objective as possible in any conflict. You have to take sides, and which side will be decided by the Wokes.
Wokeism is currently winning for it benefits from what Nassim Nicholas Taleb called “The dictatorship of the small minority” in his book, Skin in the Game. Taleb says that a small, but extremely intolerant minority, can often effectively impose its will on the majority as long as the costs for the majority are not too high.
Thus, halal meat may be preferred by only a small number of non-Muslims outside majority-Muslim states, and kosher diets by an even smaller number of Jews, but food processors produce a much larger proportion of halal and kosher foods everywhere since it saves them the cost of dual production lines and double-labelling.
Wokes win because the cost for the rest of the population is merely acquiescence and silence, which, in the larger scheme of things, may be a small sacrifice to make when the costs of non-compliance include a possible loss of reputation or a seat for your child in an elite school or Ivy League institution.
Most Muslims or devout Christians are not bigots or narrow-minded, but when the vocal and intolerant 1 per cent dominate the narrative, they prefer to keep quiet and enable a minority to rule at their expense. Hitler was not universally approved by the Germans even in the Nazi era, but most Germans chose silence over opposition because of the short-term costs it would impose on their personal well-being. Understandable, but that is how intolerance wins.
There is a straight line that connects the dots leading from the great monotheisms to modern atheisms; from Judaism to Christianity to Islam, and further to atheistic faiths like Communism and, now, Wokeism.
It will take a while for the world to release itself from the clutches of Wokeism, which some have, not incorrectly, called the West’s new religion.
Asatoma sadgamaya. Tamasoma Jyotirgamaya. – Swarajya, 11 March 2021
› R. Jagannathan is an editorial director at Swarajya magazine.