Is ‘wokeism’ just a fad that will pass? Probably not

Freddie deBoer argues that because history is cyclical, that thus woke liberalism will pass eventually.

Plenty of ancient Romans would have rejected the idea of an economy without mass slavery out of hand. People living under feudalism tended to believe that the system was literally ordained by God – and then the plague, the rise of merchants and guilds, and urban growth fundamentally changed the power balance between the nobility and ordinary people. The French aristocracy was notoriously unable to believe that a sudden and dramatic change to their system was coming. And even in smaller cases that we might not call a change in economic system endless little revolutions in human affairs have massive human consequences we don’t foresee. If you were a unionized autoworker in Detroit in 1970 you enjoyed a kind of life you would very likely have assumed you could pass on to your son as your father had passed it on to you. But things change.

But there is no guarantee that things change or that they will change for the better. It’s not like the French Revolution ended with the execution of Louis XVI in 1793, but was followed the ‘reign of terror’, which until 1799 300,000 individuals were imprisoned and thousands were executed or perished in jail. The Napoleonic wars that followed saw anywhere from 3-6 million civilian and military deaths.

There is no ‘iron law’ that regimes and empires must fall. I argue the opposite, which is that the ‘American empire’, the American cultural and economic and militaristic hegemony, the dominance of large tech firms, and other trends–will persist uninterrupted for a long time. America still has the power to shape regimes, overthrow governments, and oust leaders, but also twist the arm of almost any government to comply with its wishes. The CIA, the NSA, and the FBI form a network that spans the globe, and is stronger than ever, that makes the Stasi quaint by comparison. The FBI and US Marshals regularly force foreign governments to arrest foreign nationals, and have them sent to America to be tried and imprisoned; AFIK, no other government in the world does this with as much regularity snd success. Just because, on average, empires or civilizations only last a few hundred years does not mean America must follow this rule; obviously there is considerable variance. The Pandyan, Byzantine, and Chinese empires lasted a very long time.

On a smaller scale, I predict the top tech companies, which are presently worth anywhere from $1-2 trillion, will not meet a fate similar to the Mississippi and South Sea companies, and within a few decades will be worth $10+ trillion each and later begin to assume government roles, such as having the ability to levy taxes. The assumption of cyclicality, that the powerful must fall, cannot be taken for granted.

This could lead to a Great Wokelash, and that could lead to genuinely conservative cultural politics (80%) or a redefined and newly-serious left-wing society (20%). This may very well come to pass. But I think it may be more likely that our elite institutions will just quietly get tired of it and gradually move on, in much the same way as those who spend their adolescence doing yelling social justice activism and then go on to get their MBAs and get less and less strident and eventually just become absentminded flavorless Democrats. There will still be an identitarian left, but it will develop new fixations and likely lose influence. When I was in high school and college Free Tibet and sweatshops were huge concerns with the exact same kind of people as the woke armies now, but you never hear a single word about those causes from the new generation. Politics is faddish. In five years 27 year old passionate midlevel nonprofit workers who yell about CRT for six hours a day will have become overtired soccer moms whose ascendancy to executive positions and executive paychecks inevitably dulls that old fire inside. The new kids will be too busy livestreaming their prescribed ketamine treatments to do all that social justice stuff.

Just because some leftists may be focused on environmentalism or Tibet, does not mean that there aren’t also leftists, such as the POC-left, who are focused on racism. Freddie’s mistake is assuming the left is some monolithic, singular entity that gets its directives from some higher authority about what issues to care about, when the left is multifaceted and decentralized.

Although Twitter makes it easier than ever to summon a lynch mob against someone or to stir up outrage and drama, people being fired, shamed, or cancelled for supposed racism long predates social media…probably ever since anti-racism became a ‘thing’:

In 1976 Eric Clapton was confronted for drunken xenophobic remarks and support for Enoch Powell. Even over 40 years ago, it was a big deal at the time.

In 1979 Elvis Costello apologized for drunken derogatory remarks about Ray Charles and James Brown. This also was a major story at the time and would dog his career long after despite apologizing profusely every time it came up.

In 1987 Al Campanis, who was then vice president of the Los Angles Dodgers, was fired after he told Ted Koppel that he thought blacks “may not have some of the necessities to be a field manager or general manager,” after significant criticism by the black community. This predates twitter by 2 decades.

In 1988 Jimmy ‘The Greek’ was fired from CBS for comments positing a link between slavery and superior black athletic ability.

In 1997 Fuzzy Zoeller had several sponsorships cancelled for comments deemed racist against a then up-and-coming Tiger Woods.

Former Harvard President Larry Summers in 2005 resigned following outrage regarding comments he made about women and STEM.

In the 2006 Senate election in Virginia, a video of Republican candidate George Allen making what was interpreted as a racist remark against an Indian American went viral, and he would end up losing to his Democratic rival Jim Webb.

Don Imus was fired from CBS in 2007 for a joke about the University of Rutgers women’s basketball team, after pressure by Al Sharpton and other black leaders.

There is no reason to expect the left to have a sudden change of heart when they have had so much success at having people cancelled. Grievance politics and race baiting is an industry now. Entire careers are built on it. The buzzwords change, such as CRT, but the playbook doesn’t. The optimism that woke-leftistm is just a fad that will pass is not only wishful thinking, but unsupported by evidence and history.

1 comment

  1. I am interested in you’re comment about the possibility of big tech companies “assuming government roles… such as taxation”. The only time I am aware of any of them attempting to gain real power was when facebook tried issuing the Libra digital currency. The overwhelming response to that from Washington seemed to make it pretty clear that (FB at least) did not have anywhere near enough influence to try that.

    I don’t think that the situation has really changed, Bidens most significant support arguably came from big tech, yet he is (admittedly exceeding my expectations) apparently willing to pursue them via antitrust, which if successful will further erode their concentration of political power.

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