Is The ‘Great Awokening’ Winding Down?, Part 2

The ‘Great Awokening’ Is Winding Down

Musa al-Gharbi, a sociologist at Columbia University, has been getting a lot of attention for having written multiple articles arguing that the ‘great awokening’ is winding down. Has wokeism peaked? A major part of his argument is that there are fewer notable incidents:

We can see this, for instance, in data on “cancel-culture” incidents. The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) incident trackers show marked declines across all measures of attempts to punish scholars for their speech or views (h/t Paul Graham for the visual):

A common argument is that there are no more targets for the woke to punish, hence fewer incidents of cancellation. I disagree. It’s sorta an optimization problem: Going after too many targets, especially large ones, incurs the risk of losing the support of allies and legitimacy of the eyes of the intelligentsia, like the backlash to re-writing/censoring Dr. Seuss and Roald Dahl books, which no one on the left supported. There are probably some woke who want Harry Potter books to be banned, but that would be too much (spoke too soon).

It’s more like an upside down U shape or a parabola: there is an optimal amount of wokeness, and although the vertex of the parabola tends to shift leftwards (gay marriage used to be considered extreme) over time, going too far at once can backfire. Or in other words, cancellation is like a nuclear weapon: the fallout of a single nuke is contained to the enemy, but fire too many and you destroy yourself in the process.

The apparent decline of notable incidents can be explained by self-censorship. The fear of being banned, fired, suspended, shamed, etc. is a powerful deterrent. I can relate to this, and I am sure many people have held back from making certain tweets, telling certain jokes, or sharing studies that lend themselves to certain politically incorrect conclusions…The asymmetry still works to the woke’s favor: all it takes is a few mistakes or some reports to undo any earlier good will.

Additionally, as explained in part 1, declining wokeism in academia is negated by increased wokeness and censorship in the private sector, such as DEI, users being banned or suspended from social media, or people being fired. Smaller targets, such as low-level employees, are less likely to make a fuss or get media attention compared to bigger targets. Banning “@Vaxdeath5” or some other random user for misinformation or hate speech, gets no media coverage and costs Twitter or Reddit nothing, compared to banning prominent accounts.

Many companies are walking back their aggressive symbolic commitments to social justice and quietly defunding the financial pledges they made to various activist groups and causes. Many are also making aggressive cuts to the DEI-related positions that have ballooned in recent years.

This could have more to do with cost-cutting as a consequence of the 2022 economic downturn. Even if large companies are pulling back from certain DEI or diversity initiatives, this does not mean employees are any less vulnerable to being fired or reprimanded for un-woke transgressions. People are still getting fired for seemingly dumb or arbitrary reasons, such as in September 2022 Apple’s vice president of procurement, Tony Blevins, who was fired after a TikTok video of him making what was deemed a crude joke, went viral.

When workers at Netflix attempted to cancel Dave Chappelle in late 2021, the company didn’t respond by issuing apologies and promising more programming on LGBTQ topics, as it did in the past. Instead, executives issued a memo informing protesting employees that if they weren’t open to publishing content they disagree with, they should quit. When an insufficient number of activist employees took them up on this invitation, the company proceeded with aggressive cuts apparently targeting these employees and the programming they worked on.

This agrees with my earlier point about big, highly-visible targets either getting much more leeway, more second chances, or being immune. In invoking the parabola again, the left has to exercise more caution about cancelling them, assuming they even want to, for fear of backlash or defection. It’s not like Spotify can find another Rogan or Netflix can find another Chappelle. Rogan and Chappelle defecting to competing platforms would mean loss of revenue for Spotify and Netflix, that would go to a competitor. Not to mention, tons of press and having the topic trend on Twitter and elsewhere, which the left does not really want.

This is where the media comes into play. Anonymous sources come forward with dirt on a subject leaked to supposedly ‘reputable’ publications like the NYTs or Vice, which then write a ‘bombshell’ on the target, and is the necessary justification for having someone cancelled. The accused is unable to ever confront or cross-examine the accusers. It’s even worse than a kangaroo court.

Meanwhile, social-media companies like Twitter and Meta have moved to reinstate the accounts of Trump and other controversial right-aligned personalities, generally against the preferences of their overwhelmingly left-aligned employees.

Trump is a huge draw, which means more page views and ad impressions. But still, Kanye West got banned, even under Musk’s leadership, for tweeting an image deemed antisemitic. The justification was for inciting violence. (By Twitter’s logic, the public is smart enough know or discern that content produced by HBO, which tends to be violent and whose account is not banned from Twitter, are artistic works of fiction, but a picture is a literal call for violence?) Same for Nick Fuentes, who was unbanned but soon after re-suspended.