Tuesday, 15 February 2022

The Tories Vs Wokeness

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden's speech to the Heritage Foundation was complete rubbish. A dull affair of building straw men and blowing them down again, his attack on the "Woke ideology" recalls similar crusades against Political Correctness in the 1990s, and sees a return of the old "the real racists are the anti-racists" style of argument. Yet this precious worrying about woke persists among Conservative circles on both sides of the Atlantic. There is something they see in the discourse that gives them night terrors, so what is it> Should we take Dowden's claim that liberty is threatened - his reworking of the commonplace "you can't say anything these days" - seriously? Is democracy in danger and social cohesion imperilled by movements against institutionalised oppressions? Obviously not, but what can be taken from his oration, apart from virtue signalling his right wing identity politics?

Leading off with a tedious preamble about acting tough and standing up to bullies on the world stage, Dowden turns to his target: the enemy within. There is a "pernicious new ideology" sweeping Western societies that threaten the cornerstone of conservative values. The "woke" or the "social justice warriors" are pursuing aims "inimicable to freedom". Sounds serious. Dowden said the ideology does not believe in free speech, which is something we should cherish because it allows us to get to the truth. Instead they want to shut it down because it can be harmful. "Free speech is hate speech" is the slogan of the woke, we're told. There's also the discourse of "privilege", which in its terms an Oxbridge-educated man who's a member of the Cabinet is an exemplar. "Am I an example of privilege?" asks the culture secretary, presumably to the shaking heads of his well-heeled audience.

Then there is history. He says "these activists" are "determined to expunge large parts of our past". Wokeness would be entirely ridiculous, he goes on, if it hadn't seized control of our universities. But it has expanded from there into the schools, government, corporations, and social sciences and hard sciences alike. The danger for Dowden, is its introspection. When the enemies are out there growing in strength, the woke ideology works "to sap our societies of their own self-confidence." He says migrants to Britain who feel a sense of place and pride are told they have "false consciousness", and while the liberal democratic state is held to impossibly high standards wokeness maintains no one has any right to condemn "rogue states". It's a world view in which the West are always at fault, and yet in a stunning act of self-hate it's among the elites that wokeness is strengthening its pernicious grip. The only result can be "demoralisation and despair", with the end game being no one willing to stand up to defend our liberal, pluralist societies.

The left, for Dowden, have abandoned the field and have been captured by the woke. Therefore it's down to Conservatives to defend free speech. He proudly declares how his government is introducing legislation to regulate speech in school settings. Conservatives everywhere have to do more, they must stand up to the "self-righteous dogmas" and refuse to accept the decline of the West as an accomplished fact.

What a load of bollocks. One could easily spend time providing a line-by-line rebuttal of this self-serving, lying trash. But it's more interesting to explore the roots of this anxiety. Because, while their critique of woke purposely and intentionally distorts its object to provide Tory power politics a thin gloss, it is responding to something real: the seemingly inexorable advance of social liberalism, and the resultant withering of social conservatism. As discussed here on plenty of occasions, values survey after poll after election study finds the younger one is, the more likely they are to be opposed to sexism, racism, homo and transphobia, be more at ease with other cultures, overly rejectionist of nativist and right wing populist politics, and overall be more tolerant and accepting of social difference. For the Tories, this is because of the transformation of education establishments into liberal madrassas, but it goes much deeper than that.

Social liberalism is the spontaneous common sense of younger cohorts because it is their practical consciousness of navigating the world. On education, conservatives are superficially correct to a degree. Institutions of primary socialisation and the media outside of official opinion formation reflect the victories movements of women, people of colour, sexual and gender, and impaired/disabled minorities have won in law, in culture, and in popular consciousness. These struggles are far from over, but over the last 50 years young people have been coming of age in societies where growing acceptance sets new benchmarks to be built on by subsequent generations. What is normal for schoolchildren now was at the edge of acceptability 20 years ago, and so on. There's a reason why revanchist nationalist movements are almost entirely grey in composition.

None of this would matter if it wasn't reinforced by everyday experience. Chief among which is the transformation of work, or the emergence of immaterial labour as the workplace norm. Post-industrial societies have seen occupations concerned with the production of information, care, and relationships grow exponentially, displacing manufacturing jobs and other forms of work considered obsolete. The majority of the workforce in Britain are in the so-called service sector, in retail, hospitality, the care industries, marketing (be it telesales or internet marketing of some description), and mobilise exactly the same competencies professional jobs have traditionally relied on: relationship building and social interaction. Many of these jobs are not directly productive of value in the senses recognised by mainstream economists and some forms of Marxism, but in the round they produce relations that circuits of capital can overlay and race around. A nurse might not directly produce surplus value, but they do patch up those who do. A checkout operator doesn't either, but they play an indispensable mediating role between a commodity and its buyer, facilitating valorisation and a return on investment. And they do so by enabling their social know how through the attentions of the bedside manner and flattery of customer service.

Immaterial labour is oriented toward people. The skills it requires aren't owned by the employer, like the specialist tools and factory equipment of old, but are the common property of all of us: our abilities to collaborate, forge new connections, communicate, and empathise. We might be called upon to mobilise them for noble objectives, like helping a child with tough sums, or for more cynical reasons, such as charming an old person over the phone to buy the latest wireless router. The point is in a world where social production, immaterial labour, and capitalist reproduction blur into one another, a decisive shift from capital toward labour is underway.

This has two practical consequences. If work is more people-focused than previously, a social premium is placed on a commonsense cosmopolitanism. Social work, in this sense, requires a certain gregariousness, an ability to make connections, even if fleeting, with a procession of others. Teachers need to manage classrooms full of children from a variety of backgrounds, as well as a relationship with parents. The taxi driver often combines the role of chatty chauffeur, polite service provider, agony aunt/uncle, and de-escalator of tensions. Social liberalism is the sensibility that fits with and is reinforced by the collective daily efforts of millions of socialised workers. This also means attempts at fostering divisions, that cut against the spontaneously tolerant ethos, is increasingly given short thrift. This presents an obvious problem for the Tories, whose bountiful appetite for scapegoating and playing groups off one another can only grow less effective with time.

Therefore, what Dowden is arguing against is not an "ideology", but his distorted view of a social process. His crying over social media cancellation is his disapproval of millions of people having limited platforms from which they can answer back. His concerned face over rewriting history his distaste about the fact scholars and social movements are bringing to light what the Tories would prefer hidden. The worry about privilege a deep anxiety that he and his class are not, or are about to not be the centre of the world any longer. And, naturally, the attack on woke a realisation that the old divide-and-rule tricks have a limited shelf life. The rising generation have little truck with conservative values, something reinforced by regular attacks on the young, both at the rhetorical level as well as a continual driving down of their living standards. Ultimately, what motivates Tory fear about wokeness is not the disappearance of values they hold dear, but rather the possible disappearance of them. It puts their politics on notice and raises the prospect of the unthinkable: a world in which Tory politics, always a minority pursuit, can only ever attract a minority of votes.

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8 comments:

BCFG said...

There is much wrong with woke, their conflation of things that don’t really belong together, such as racism and sexism, their dishonest/credulous use of statistics, such as gender pay inequality, their black and white view of the world, their anti critical thinking ‘activism’ (anyone who disagrees with their demented ideology is labelled an apologist for countless things) etc etc

The idea that the Tory party will do anything about woke is risible, their whole online protection bill was a love letter to wokism, which always provides a wonderful pretext for the authoritarian state to implement attacks on civil rights and free speech. Woke is the most successful activist group in the history of bourgeois society, so much for woke being attacked!

Woke absolutely threatens liberty. Professors have lost their careers over it; Footballers have lost careers over it. Potential prime ministers have been hung, drawn and quartered with it. People are in prison because of it. People have been ruined because of it, people have been driven to suicide because of it.

Woke is a populist right wing, conservative ideology dressed up in liberal verbiage. Woke is mob rule.

Let us take the Raith Rovers situation as an example of woke hysteria. The woke hystericals, after a demented campaign, demanded, and got, the sacking of the footballer.

And this was a case where there wasn’t enough evidence to take it to a criminal court. So a very complicated case, both procedural and ideologically.

Yet for woke hysterical all that doubt is shoved to one side, and they demand the end of this man’s career. And moreover, I presume they demand the end of this man’s life. How can it be otherwise? Surely the woke hysterical don’t think he should live at the leisure of the tax payer for the rest of his life, and surely if they think he is unfit to be a footballer, then he must be unfit for any job.

In which case, how can this man do anything but starve to death or maybe take his own life? I personally think woke hysterics take pleasure in driving people to suicide.

So, for woke hystericals, someone not even convicted of a crime should be put to death!!

For woke hsytericals all norms of justice are thrown out of the window and people are simply guilty of all alleged crimes, no questions asked.

I also would note that woke hysteria goes hand in hand with ambulance chasing lawyers. These woke campaigns are usually accompanied by a huge compensation claim, often praying on sexual embarrassment, sexual mores. Where money is concerned, I for one do not believe anything without very good evidence. Evidence is something woke hystericals do not worry about.

I read that during the pandemic the only growth area in the stock market was among legal firms. That is a great indication of the hysterical times we have entered. And hysteria always, but always aids the right.

Michael said...

“Therefore, what Dowden is arguing against is not an "ideology", but his distorted view of a social process. His crying over social media cancellation is his disapproval of millions of people having limited platforms from which they can answer back.”

No doubt that is exactly what upsets Dowden and I’m sure he gives not one whit for free speech unless it’s politically convenient. However, the fact that he can even reasonably posture this way is a major indictment of the behaviour of the woke left over the past few years, with the rise of cancel culture and trampling over the principles of free speech to such an extent that it is mainly right wingers who actually publicly defend them. Meanwhile, the woke left are busy intimidating lesbian philosophy professors (Kathleen stock) out of their jobs, trying to suppress reasonable sensitive comedy (Dave Chapelle) or actually calling the police to try and get feminist activists imprisoned (Marion Millar)

This makes the left look cynical, hypocritical, nasty and frankly insane to the general population and I’m surprised its taken the right wing so long to realise this. Pretend it’s all “nonsense” all you want, but they’ve started tapping into a real weakness of the left and I predict they’ll do this a lot more as these issues find greater resonance.

Michael

Mcintosh said...

Not sure BCFG has understood the article or just found a place to let off steam using the charicature of woke that the text warned of.

It seems we should oppose kindness, empathy, civility, equality and our duties to the vulnerable and disadvantaged.

Just as well the Good Samaratin didn't meet BCFG, and as for the chap who said,

' I was in prisona and ye came unto me . . .in as much as ye have done it unto one of the least of my brethern, ye have done it to me.'
Obviously a freedom hating Woker.

It seems we need more creulty, vindictiveness, capriciousness, rudeness and injustice. that will make for a better society.

Anonymous said...

BCFG: "conflation of things that don’t really belong together"

Well, you're right about that much. 'Woke' has become a reactionary shibboleth that refers to whatever the person using the word happens to dislike.

Dialectician1 said...

Cultural politics is a bear trap for the left. It is the space that the Tories best perform in, and are therefore always keen to whip-up hysteria whenever the opportunities arise. I can still vividly remember all the 'loony left' hysteria around the role of local authorities in the 1980s. This inevitably led to the tedious and pejorative label 'political correctness (gone mad)' being applied to anyone who was deemed anti-racist, feminism or even offered a view about health and safety in the workplace. Steve Bannon, the darling of the alt. right in the US, best captures this in this quote:

"The Democrats, the longer they talk about identity politics, I got ‘em.........I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.' https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/the-ominous-political-genius-of-steve-bannon.

The problem is that the left has been hijacked by postmodernism. The left's analysis is no longer centred on class and the historical reality of capitalism - just spend a week reading the Guardian and you'll get the picture. Postmodernism is a rejection of Marxism and the ontological reality of living in a capitalist society. Although PoMo failed to offer any analysis for the crash of 2008 and the subsequent rise of right wing popularism (and fascism), its legacy exists everywhere, and it has created the perfect storm: feminists fighting transsexuals over the definition of gender; anti-Zionism is now anti-Semitic; Boomers against Zoomers etc.

In taking the 'language turn', the left threw the baby (class) out with the bath water, and we are now condemned to squabble over identity for eternity. All that is squalid......

Anonymous said...

"I’m surprised its taken the right wing so long to realise this"

Is that true, or did Christopher Lasch not already notice this trend years ago ?

I agree with the the author about the right-wing attacks on 'wokeness' but at the same time, criticizing right-wing takes on it is a kind of easy target - it would be good if the author could offer some analysis of the left-wing takes on this trend. Theres some great stuff over at Black Agenda Report on CRT, which I would say falls under what might be considered 'woke ideology', and people like Adolph Reed have long been pointing out its pitfalls from the left. More recent left-wingers that have gone in on wokeism are Elena Lange and Catherine Lui, and they also take a very critical stance towards the petite bourgeois left, especially in academia, which being of it themselves, means they have plenty of insight.
Interestingly enough, apparently he debated Ellen Meiksins Wood about race and class years ago, and seemed to be arguing for the primacy of the former at the time, but nowadays he gets referred to as being 'class reductionist'.

Blissex said...

Engaging in debates about "woke" (or the EU, Johnson, Putin, Xi, Trump), for or against, is a favourite idea of the right-wing, whether "tory" or "whig", and a really good distraction from issues like low wages, job insecurity, COVID sickness and death, housing cost inflation, shrinking public services, miserly social insurance, and other similarly peripheral issues that are of interest only to a tiny 60-70% minority of "white supremacist bigots" and other "deplorables". :-)

Anonymous said...

"Dialectician1 said...
The problem is that the left has been hijacked by postmodernism. The left's analysis is no longer centred on class and the historical reality of capitalism - just spend a week reading the Guardian and you'll get the picture. Postmodernism is a rejection of Marxism and the ontological reality of living in a capitalist society. Although PoMo failed to offer any analysis for the crash of 2008 and the subsequent rise of right wing popularism (and fascism), its legacy exists everywhere, and it has created the perfect storm: feminists fighting transsexuals over the definition of gender; anti-Zionism is now anti-Semitic; Boomers against Zoomers etc.
In taking the 'language turn', the left threw the baby (class) out with the bath water, and we are now condemned to squabble over identity for eternity. All that is squalid...…"

Thats about right, and do you think its fair to say some of that ideology is also being promoted in universities, which are also largely places for the middle class ?

"Blissex said...
Engaging in debates about "woke" (or the EU, Johnson, Putin, Xi, Trump), for or against, is a favourite idea of the right-wing, whether "tory" or "whig", and a really good distraction from issues like low wages, job insecurity, COVID sickness and death, housing cost inflation, shrinking public services, miserly social insurance, and other similarly peripheral issues that are of interest only to a tiny 60-70% minority of "white supremacist bigots" and other "deplorables". :-)"

You are of course correct re 'wokeness' being a distraction, but how do you think we should respond when some employers are using things like diversity and inclusion, which aren't bad in and of themselves, as ways to divert attention away from talking about better pay and conditions ?