The woke movement could be the next great U.S. cultural export and it is going to do many other countries some real good.
By Tyler Cowen
September 19, 2021, 8:00 AM EDT
One question raised by the woke movement, though hardly ever asked, is whether the U.S. will be able to deploy this new intellectual tool for exporting American cultural influence. Put another way: If there is going to be an international progressive class, why not Americanize it?
Wokeism is an idea that can be adapted to virtually every country: Identify a major form of oppression in a given region or nation, argue that people should be more sensitive to it, add some rhetorical flourishes, purge some wrongdoers (and a few innocents) and voila you have created another woke movement.
As the technology writer and lawyer Paul Skallas has written: "MeToo and BlackLivesMatter are essentially US culture issues which provide an effective identity for internationals of the progressive class." Almost every other country now has its own version of woke, though it may differ greatly from the American version.
The French clearly see wokeism as a carrier of American cultural influence. "French politicians, high-profile intellectuals and journalists are warning that progressive American ideas specifically on race, gender, post-colonialism are undermining their society," the New York Times reported in February. It quoted France's education minister on the need to fight "against an intellectual matrix from American universities.''
But even the un-woke among us might think Francophone society and culture could stand to be a little more woke. The boss needs to know he doesn't have the right to sleep with his secretary. And Belgians need to come to terms more honestly with their colonial heritage in Africa. Wokeism has turned out to be a way to get them to do that.
I also think French culture and society will emerge just fine from this engagement with wokeism. Most of all, wokeism is a way of spreading ideas from a relatively feminized American culture to a world less supportive of women's rights.
Returning to the glories of American cultural imperialism, consider the British philosophical pessimist John Gray. He recently wrote the following, weird but insightful:
Wokery is the successor ideology of neo-conservatism, a singularly American world-view. That may be why it has become a powerful force only in countries (such as Britain) heavily exposed to American culture wars. In much of the world Asian and Islamic societies and large parts of Europe, for example the woke movement is marginal, and its American prototype viewed with bemused indifference or contempt.
Does that make you feel better or worse about wokeism? I say better. Again, keep the bigger picture in mind. It doesn't much matter who controls the English department at Oberlin College. But it would be nice if the Saudis moved to allow more rights for women.
Cowen goes on to argue that wokeism is great because it gives the masses fake enemies to oppose rather than oppose our parasitic elite:
If not woke, then what?
Another question is what are the alternatives to woke. Some people are going to be extremists no matter what.
One possible alternative belief system, for example, is QAnon. According to a poll released in May by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Interfaith Youth Core, 15% of Americans "agree with the sweeping QAnon allegation that the government, media and financial worlds in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex trafficking operation.'" The same share said that "true American patriots may have to resort to violence" to restore order.
If QAnon were considered a religion, it would have more adherents than many other denominations. Even if not all of those believers are locked in, 15% is still a lot.
Of course there are many possible alternative belief systems more moderate than either wokeism or QAnon. But recall the question of the counterfactual: What exactly is wokeism a substitute for? If the woke didn't believe in wokeism, what would they believe in? Something like the ideology of the Weather Underground of the 1970s? Classical liberalism? Moderate 1990s-style Clintonism? Or would they simply become disillusioned?
Woke and wokeism are a way to keep people engaged. To be clear, I think there are better alternatives to woke on the relevant margins. But simply asking the question is to realize the costs of woke are not as high as they might seem. The relevant comparison is not "woke vs. what I believe to be best," but rather, "woke vs. a lot of the other crazy stuff people are going to believe if they weren't woke."
[...] In some ways wokeism is what a feminized, globalized version of 21st century U.S. triumphalism looks like.
You don't have to like that. But you may have to get used to it.
Chasten and I are beyond thankful for all the kind wishes since first sharing the news that were becoming parents. We are delighted to welcome Penelope Rose and Joseph August Buttigieg to our family. pic.twitter.com/kS89gb11Ax