Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical Left and Islamic terrorism.
What’s the appeal of ‘Wokeness’?
Let’s take two recent examples, Senator Kamala Harris and Terminator: Dark Fate. Both clunkers have two things in common. They’re overhyped vehicles that wasted millions of dollars of other people’s money, $25 million or so for Kamala, and an estimated $100 million for Terminator: Dark Fate, for negligible results, Kamala is polling at 2%, and Terminator: Dark Fate blew its opening weekend.
And they both took out identity politics insurance policies against their eventual failure.
Kamala didn’t run on identity politics just because it was a good winning strategy, but also because it was a good losing strategy. That’s why, as her campaign sinks, she keeps emphasizing two things, that she’s always won elections in the past, and that, if she loses, it’s because America may not be ”ready for a woman of color to be President of the United States”. Kamala isn’t losing. America is losing.
Like a lot of movie franchises with no reason to exist, Terminator: Dark Fate adopted ‘wokeness’ as its identity. It’s the latest in a series of ‘woke’ franchise cash cows to bomb, not because of their politics, but because their politics couldn’t disguise the hollowness of the cash grab at the heart of the movie.
Kamala’s candidacy also had no reason to exist. Neither Democrats nor Republicans, insiders nor outsiders, can define what the hell her message is, except the hollowness of her own ambitions. Like Obama, she tried to use identity politics and borrowed radicalism to disguise the hollowness, but just like movies, the difference between a bad cash-in and a good one is style, art, and entertainment value.
The only thing entertaining about Kamala’s candidacy or Terminator: Dark Fate are their failures.
‘Wokeness’ isn’t just a selling point for bad candidates and bad movies with no reason to exist except synergy and greed, which are two ways of saying the same thing, it also justifies their failures.
‘Wokeness’ may go broke, but nobody ever pays the price except the money people.
Kamala Harris took out an insurance policy by running on identity politics. Her defeat will not be due to her decisions or her flaws, but to America’s unreadiness for a half-black, half-Indian woman to be president. And since there probably won’t be another one of those running, her premise isn’t even disprovable. Terminator: Dark Fate defined itself around challenging sexism. And so that $100 million in estimated losses isn’t anyone’s fault except that of the sexists who weren’t ready to go watch it.
The ‘wokeness’ insurance policy has bigger and broader applications than a bad candidate and a bad movie. It’s all around us. Why is Dick’s Sporting Goods doubling down on its anti-gun politics after losing hundreds of millions of dollars? Because its ‘principled’ position was never about principles. It was a PR strategy to cover a risky shift away from its old customer base to a trendy urban outdoor sports market.
If Dick’s had played it safe, by selling firearms, while still making the transition, and failed, its leadership would have taken all the blame. Instead, Dick’s jettisoned its old customer base while appealing to its new customer base with a show of ‘wokeness’, while its leaders are hailed as heroes for their farce. Whatever happens to Dick’s, its leadership will never be seen as failures, but as courageous activists.
This cynical game pervades corporate life where ‘wokeness’ is an insurance policy for risky gambits, especially among start-ups and financial institutions. A controversial ad campaign, a minority CEO, and an environmental initiative are insurance policies against social and reputational failure by big business.
The ancient Greeks sacrificed to the gods before any risky venture. Their pagan descendants sacrifice to the gods of political correctness, they read the entrails of ‘wokeness’, and go forth fatalistically. If they succeed, it’s because they’re good people. If they fail, they’re still good people, but they failed because of the evil people, the racists, the sexists, the gun owners, and the enemies of all that is woke and true.
Success isn’t attributable to hard work, but to the right beliefs. Failure doesn’t bear any responsibility, but is due to a society that isn’t progressive enough to allow a project with the right values to succeed.
‘Wokeness’ shifts the axis of responsibility away from the individual and to all that it believes is evil.
This is as true of ordinary people as it is of giant corporations or presidential candidates. Identity politics indemnifies its heirs against failure, whether they’re Kamala Harris or the person in the next cubicle. Oppressed minorities never fail, like Kamala or a feminist killer robot, they are failed by society. To be underprivileged is be hailed for anything short of total disaster, with zero expectations or accountability.
What we think of as ‘wokeness’ elevated the social economics of embracing leftist politics from individuals to major corporations. By prioritizing social values over economic ones, the new credos of socially responsible investing and socially responsible corporate governance, and putting stakeholders over shareholders, upholding leftist politics became more important than making money.
That’s the appeal of ‘wokeness’.
Hard work is hard. Saying the right things isn’t.
Freedom of Speech is a part of the American work ethic because we were a society where what you did mattered, not what you said, what you accomplished, not to which group you belonged. That’s why America, not Europe, Africa, China, Russia, or whichever part of the world lefties think we should be more like this week, actually developed civil rights and the most equal society in the world.
Meritocracy is inherently equalizing. Ideological systems, no matter how much they preach the cant of equality, are inherently unequal because ideology is never accountable to anything outside itself.
Leftist politics are clerical politics. Their theology of values has been embedded into every institution, making the very idea of separation of church and state into an obscene mockery. And the essence of theocracy is the conviction that what you believe matters far more than whether you get results.
‘Wokeness’ is just the buzzword of the moment whose real meaning is that society is being reinvented from a meritocracy based around hard work to a theocracy for the exponents of leftist beliefs. It’s an engine that defines success in terms of its values while removing the penalty for real-world failure.
Of course, ‘wokeness’ is a huge hit. Unlike its movies.
Who’s likeliest to go ‘woke’? The lazy, the incompetent, the corrupt, the greedy, the insecure, and the powerful who want to keep a hold on power without having to honestly compete for it. Is it any wonder that the ‘wokest’ corps are huge corporations that once had a good product, but are just living off their brand and anti-competitive business model, e.g. Nike, Apple, Google, Procter & Gamble (Gillette), Disney, and the usual suspects who spend more money on diversity than on customer satisfaction?
Corporate America’s biggest ‘woke’ fans have a ‘broke’ product and no desire to do any better.
Meritocracy means that the lazy and the incompetent can’t just rest on their laurels. If people and organizations are judged by the work they do, then the elite must work harder than everyone else.
As the twenties of the twenty-first century dawn, would anyone accuse America’s elites, its political, academic, corporate, and government leaders of working harder than everyone else? There was a time when our elites, love them or loathe them, were overachievers. These days, a Harvard degree or a spot as a Fortune 500 CEO are as likely to demonstrate clerical membership as dedication and hard work.
The appeal of ‘wokeness’ to a lazy and incompetent elite, to an Obama or a Warren are obvious. They are just as obvious to corporate morbidly obese monopolies and multinational brand warehouses.
Why bother figuring out a business model or a revenue model when you can just virtue signal?
And the appeal is just the same to the college student who doesn’t want to work hard, and instead takes a detour into identity politics studies, and discovers that it opens doors in every infiltrated field. You can study math and science, and if you fail, it doesn’t prove you’re lazy or stupid, but that math and science are racist constructs invented by dead white slave owners. Like Kamala, you can’t fail. It’s math’s failure.
On a social level, you don’t have to do the hard work of developing character and working on yourself. ‘Wokeness’ means that your social failures, your dating problems, aren’t really your fault. And anyone on the wrong side of your temper tantrum can be subjected to an extended bout of ‘cancel culture’.
That’s what we used to call bullying before we ‘cancelled’ it and replaced it with cancel culture. The only difference is that bullying rewarded strength, while cancel culture rewards shows of weakness.
That’s ‘woke’ politics in both the micro, in a school, to the macro, a multinational corporation.
“Go woke, go broke,” is a common conservative saying. It’s true in one sense and not true in another.
‘Wokeness’ brings with it economic, structural and personal failure. But it’s also a social economic strategy of avoiding responsibility for those failures. It’s an insurance policy for incompetence. It’s a good hedge against risk. And it means never having to learn how to be a better human being.
Successful societies bring out the best in people while failed societies reward the worst in them.
As America makes the slow downhill journey from a successful society to a failed society, ‘wokeness’, by its many names, is an engine of change, an incentivizing agent for bad behavior, and a disincentive for the traditional success strategies of meritocracy. It doesn’t just punish success: it rewards failure.
Failed societies have successful people. They just use different strategies to succeed. The elites don’t lose out. It’s the hard workers and the strivers, and society as a whole who suffer the consequences.
No society is so failed that it doesn’t have an elite. ‘Wokeness’ is a new success strategy for a failed society. The people and organizations making use of it may not go broke individually. Not as long as the system that they’re part of extends its safety net to cover their losses and reward their values.
Instead it’s our society that’s going broke as its elites go woke.