Needed: A New Word For "Wokeness"
"Woke" doesn't get close to telling the full story
On the language challenge of the culture war:
As use of “woke” exploded, its effectiveness as a descriptor diminished. Once the word served as a substitute for a particular form of political correctness, particularly with a focus on racial reckoning. Now, as author Chad Felix Greene has suggested, the word effectively means “Whatever the left currently thinks makes them sound like a good person to their friends.” It’s a word that is so broad as to encompass everything from complaints about our largest government institutions, our biggest corporations and our local neighborhood school boards and farmer’s market disputes on race, environment and gender issues.
We’re solidly in blind men and the elephant territory now. It was one thing when “woke” was essentially a stand-in for “social justice warrior” or someone enraptured by the work of Ibram X. Kendi — now, it’s become an insufficient and increasingly meaningless term that does not encompass the aggressive insanity of, for just one example, the trans agenda targeted at minors and schoolchildren.
Once terms like these take hold in the world of politics, they aren’t changed overnight. But we have to acknowledge what “woke” leaves out. It is an insufficient term to capture the identitarian, decadent, terminal stage leftism at play here — think of other terms, such as Nieman Marxism, Big Karen, or Jonah Goldberg’s “kale foam.” “Woke” does capture a certain silliness about the modern leftist project — think of the Simpsons episode where Lisa meets a “Level Five Vegan” voiced by Joshua Jackson, who doesn’t eat anything that casts a shadow (and judges her for not reaching his height of consciousness).
But it leaves out the part of this agenda that is a true break with the values that made the West the envy of the world — it’s too silly-sounding to be an existential philosophical threat, even though it is. There has to be a distinction between the people who just put the rainbow sign in their yard because everyone else does it, and those who truly want to cure the planet, starting with you.
Whatever term comes next, it has to capture the destructive decadence the left envisions here as its goal — a post-merit society, a great leveling achieved through inhumanity, erasure and actual maiming and butchery where the scars you bear are the price of the future. The cultural Marxism that drives the iconoclastic left came for the church, the neighborhood, the family — and now targets young children with a message that only by their wounds will they be healed. “Woke” is a fine word as shorthand, casual, absurd — and totally incapable of describing what the cultural left is engaged in today — a project of Ethic Cleansing that will not be ignored.
Unlike Trump, DeSantis Hates Palace Intrigue
On its face, there wasn’t anything unusual about the email that landed last week in the press office of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“Background interview request from the Washington Post,” read the subject line that summarized the industry-standard process whereby information is shared with reporters under pre-negotiated terms, usually anonymity. When sanctioned by a politician or their team, it is called “going on background” to shape and broaden a story with additional facts and contexts but without direct attribution. When not sanctioned, well, then that is just called leaking.
Either way, Jeremy Redfern wasn’t interested. The DeSantis spokesman wrote back one word: “No.”
A screenshot of the exchange went viral with the consensus in more conservative corners of Twitter being that a liberal rag, albeit the beltway paper of record, had just been owned. The score in their minds? DeSantis: 1, WaPo: 0.
The little episode does underscore a larger, still emerging theme of the expected DeSantis presidential campaign. It isn’t just that the team that didn’t leak in Florida wouldn’t leak in the White House. The implication is that DeSantis would not obsess over what is written about him in news outlets most of his constituents don’t read, because such an obsession is counterproductive to conservative goals. In this way, DeSantis may prove to be the anti-chaos candidate.
DeSantis has hinted at all of this during a recent book tour, a closely watched exercise that seems to be a dress rehearsal for a White House run. “There’s no drama in our administration,” he said on stage in Iowa next to Gov. Kim Reynolds. “There’s no palace intrigue.” The juxtaposition with the frontrunner in the GOP primary, former President Donald Trump, was implicit and obvious.
“We made very clear to the people working in the administration, you’re not going to be leaking,” DeSantis said, recalling how he told his staff early on that if they had “any other agenda” than “doing business of the people of Florida” then they might as well “pack your bags right now.”
With a unified team onboard with that mission, DeSantis continued, “We roll out, and we execute, and we do things, and we get things done. And in the process, we beat the left day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year.”
Republicans have made the media their foil for decades now. Newt Gingrich won over South Carolina voters during the 2012 Republican primary when the former House speaker slammed a CNN debate moderator over what he considered “despicable” questioning, arguing that the “destructive, vicious negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country.” Gingrich would lose the nomination but leave behind a blueprint that Trump would embody. Conservatives loved how he hated the “fake news.” But few were aware of the strange symbiosis that enveloped his administration.
Trump gave as good as he got during press conferences, but his team was set against itself at times, and often consumed by the media at the expense of the administration’s mission. His son-in-law, a senior advisor in the last White House, said as much. The war between Jared Kushner and Steven Bannon was infamous in the West Wing and well-documented in the papers. Albeit almost always “on background.”
When Bannon was eventually fired, Kushner later wrote in his autobiography, another senior aide came to him joking that he had “a plan to split up Steve Bannon’s extensive workload. Hope [Hicks], you leak to Jonathan Swan at Axios. Jared, you call Mike Bender from the Wall Street Journal. I’ll call Jeremy Peters from the New York Times, and ... we’re done.”
Careers were catapulted and journalism prizes won on the ability to get the president’s inner circle to text back by deadline. Even when the headlines would be negative, Trump often called reporters directly. He still does. “I love being with her,” Trump said of Maggie Haberman during one of his multiple interviews with the star New York Times reporter. As president, he blasted her publicly as “a third-rate reporter.” After leaving the White House, he called her “my psychiatrist.”
Millennials Dodge Mid-Life Crises
Things have been difficult for her family, she said, but one thing she isn’t worried about: a midlife crisis just over the horizon. “My whole adult life has been one long crisis,” she said. “Career crises, education debt, watching my I.R.A. lose a quarter to half of its value a couple of times, child care expenses, fraying social fabric, wage pressures and, above all, insecurity. I am a professional married to a professional, but our jobs can go up in smoke at the drop of a hat. We can’t rely on anything but ourselves and can only hold out hope that we won’t eat cat food once our bodies break down and we are forced into impoverished retirement.” She said she knows that sounds dramatic, but it’s how she really feels. Amid all this, who’s got time to worry about whether they’re feeling fulfilled?
This isn’t what middle-class millennials thought midlife would be like. Our childhoods were marked by an unusually high level of prosperity in the United States and the expectation that such stability would continue.
When William Strauss and Neil Howe published a best seller in 2000 called “Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation,” they remarked that millennials were “kids who’ve never known a year in which America doesn’t get richer.” They described an “upbeat,” “optimistic” and diverse set of Americans coming of age.
While they acknowledged that a crisis might hit this generation and cause its “familiar millennial sunniness” to “turn sour,” they predicted that as they reached midlife, millennials would be more traditional — reversing “the trend towards later marriage and childbirth.” They also predicted that millennials would be more socially and politically cohesive, rejecting the “cultural wedge issues of the late 20th century,” unlike their Gen X and boomer predecessors. They said that income and class disparities would narrow.
What the authors could not foresee was that there wouldn’t be just one crisis. There would be a series of cascading crises, starting the year after their book was published. There was the fallout from the dot-com bubble burst; then there was Sept. 11, followed by the Great Recession in 2008; then came the political chaos of increasing polarization, the specter of climate change and finally, the Covid pandemic.
Though it may come as a surprise to people who continue to use the term “millennial” as a shorthand for “annoying youths,” they — we — are no longer young. The oldest of us, in our early 40s, are standing on the cusp of the life stage known as middle age, traditionally associated with ever-less-reliable knees and angst about whether this is all there is. But if we’ve managed to dodge the angst — so far, at least — it’s not because we’re in the happy, well-adjusted place that Mr. Strauss and Mr. Howe predicted.
In August, The Times asked our 40-ish readers how they felt about their lives, now that they are — chronologically, at least — in midlife. Over 1,300 people responded in less than a week. One of our questions was about whether they had experienced a midlife crisis and how they would define the term.
Many people said they felt they couldn’t be having a midlife crisis because there was no bourgeois numbness to rebel against. Rather than longing for adventure and release, they craved a sense of safety and calmness, which they felt they had never known.
The Defiant Individualism of The Last of Us
In the world of politics, few arguments are more consistent than the debate about what an individual owes to society: Their time? Their money? Their talents? Their entire lives? You can see this back and forth in debates about everything from tax policy to family formation to war and the draft; the individual versus the state or the collective is a—and perhaps the—defining conflict in democratic politics.
When transmuted into narrative form, this argument is barely an argument. Instead, it almost always lands on the side of valorizing great sacrifice, in which an individual gives up everything in order to save the collective. Pop culture tends to deliver stories in which noble self-sacrifice is not only good, but the highest good and even, at times, the only good. The underlying assumption is when the individual and the collective are in conflict, the individual has an affirmative duty to sacrifice, no matter what it takes.
This moral assumption can produce great pop culture. To take an obvious example, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is a better movie for the totalizing sacrifice Spock makes at the end, and even for his reasoning: "The needs of the many," he and Kirk say as he dies to save his shipmates, "outweigh the needs of the few." Spock's commitment to his moral code, his sense of what is right and just in a world of difficult choices, is what allows the story's heroes to survive.
But this assumption is rarely interrogated at all, much less with any seriousness: In popular stories, those who oppose individual self-sacrifice are always portrayed as selfish or cowardly or just fundamentally villainous. They are, quite literally, enemies of society.
What makes The Last of Us—a video game adaptation that recently finished its first season as an HBO series—so piercing is that it essentially reverses the moral assumption. Or, at the very least, it suggests that a reversal is not only possible but morally defensible. In The Last of Us, society is the enemy of the individual.
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House panel set to review Biden family suspicious bank activity.
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Democrats in key House districts are jumping statewide.
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How Murkowski pushed Biden on Alaska energy deal.
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Joe Biden’s fake gay marriage epiphany.
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The day I sold my destroyed piano to the Tate.
Reaction to premiere of John Wick 4 at SXSW.
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“Before, I wandered as a diversion. Now I wander seriously and sit and read as a diversion.”
— Walker Percy