First, some personal background. I am an old Australian lefty, old in both senses — chronologically and in terms of a faded, class-based political tradition — who has become increasingly dismayed by the new ‘woke’ direction of the contemporary Left, which has abandoned the working class. Over four decades, I have been a trade union delegate, an activist in the teaching business and public service, a member of the old post-Stalinist Communist Party of Australia and of more Trotskyist grouplets than you could shake a Program of the Fourth International at.
However, first with Brexit (which the woke Left simplistically wrote off as a racist phenomenon), then with Trump (ditto) and now with COVID (putting ‘money before lives’ and to hell with working-class jobs), the new Left has increasingly borne little resemblance to my old Left, which would have enthusiastically embraced the democratic national sovereignty of Brexit and the social forces that put Trump in the White House, plus related issues such as democracy and free speech. The older left would have strenuously opposed lockdowns as a virulent species of anti-working class, unscientific insanity.
The new Left has offered no insights into these matters, and is so off the boil with all manner of woke nonsense that I began to search more widely for those who showed greater analytic acuity and intellectual openness. Moving from a very restricted political diet, I rediscovered Quadrant (which I had always delighted in denigrating) has called it right on Brexit, Trump, the COVID lockdowns and the entire wacky world of woke. It is refreshing, even for a veteran on the port side of politics, to find good sense, most particularly because having a political discussion with a woke liberal these days is about as pleasant as root canal without an anaesthetic.
If you should publicly diverge from contemporary identity politics orthodoxy, if you happen to stray from the woke ‘social justice’ catechism, then, to the woke liberal, you are automatically regarded as a bigot, probably the probably owner of a MAGA cap to boot, and thus deserving of the venom sent your way by the morally self-righteous and angry. You name it – national borders and immigration, Islamic terrorism and Jihadi brides, gender-fluidity and trans crusaders, hate speech and cancel culture, institutional racism and white privilege, toxic masculinity and the gender wage gap, Western civilisation and statue-smashing, “the science”, the politics of lockdowns, Brexit and Trump — if you vary from the the Left’s expected response to any of those topics, then incomprehension, incredulity and outrage will rain down. ‘How could you!’, the woke will shout. ‘How dare you!’, they will shriek, followed by ‘What’s wrong with you?!’, because questioning the approved narrative simply has to be a symptom of mental frailty, moral bankruptcy and unmitigated evil.
The Angry Woke Liberal (AWL) – some definitions
Here, ‘liberal’ is used in its US political sense as referring to a contemporary leftist (whether soft or hard-centered) and, as such, the political descriptor has nothing to do with traditional liberalism’s anti-statist values of individual freedom and responsibility. It also has nought to do with standard liberal values such as intellectual open-mindedness or tolerance of political diversity. Instead, the modern, woke Left is a political life form besotted with illiberal identity politics and the analytical simplicities of skin pigmentation, chromosomal makeup, sexual orientation and pick-and-mix gender choice, none of which has much to do with the Marxist-based politics of the older, traditional Left and its dreary, quotidian concerns of class and economics.
Woke: The OED defines ‘woke’ as meaning ‘alert to injustice in society, especially racism’. Woke appears to have been first used back in the 1940s by American blacks to describe awareness of then-serious racial discrimination. Today’s Woke are similarly awake, but to the whole rainbow of social justice issues that place race, sex and other identity characteristics front-and-centre. Woke is interchangeable with the cumbersome ‘social justice warrior’. The woke have attitude: with sarcastic concision, the Urban Dictionary defines ‘woke’ as ‘the act of being very pretentious about how much you care about a social issue’.
Angry: This is a superfluous term for describing the woke liberal. Intolerant, belligerent and frequently profanity-laced anger defines the woke liberal’s default mode of social interaction with the unwoke (i.e. normal people). Shouting down different opinions replaces calm discussion and civil debate.
The decline of amicable political discussion
The quasi-revolutionary upsurge of democratic national working-class populism and sovereignty, as manifested in Brexit and Trump’s 2016 victory, stunned and infuriated the woke Left, which has found it impossible to accept these electoral repudiations of their out-of-touch political vision and program. Their reaction has been one of hysteria (the political pathology of Trump Derangement Syndrome) with ostentatious virtue-signalling to self-validate their self-perceived fundamental correctness and goodness vis-a-vis what Hillary Clinton’s christened her Deplorables.
Without missing a beat, the woke Left have now become deranged COVID hysterics, panicking about what is, in most cases, a nasty but relatively innocuous virus whilst releasing their inner moral Gauleiter as advocates and enforcers of the lockdowns’ economic damage, plus all those absurd, ineffective, placebo-like ‘social distancing’ rituals.
‘See how caring we are about saving lives’, they gesture, ‘unlike you selfish, mask-less, economy-first, morally-deficient lockdown sceptics (Covid Deniers!’, ‘Covidiots!!, Granny-Killers!!!) whom the woke Left bundle up with Brexiteers, Trumpists and other political devils. The potty-mouth Trump-Hater and shouty COVID hysteric are cut from the same woke cloth.
Ten Top Tips for Deal with an AWL
So, here we are, with the political opponents of the Woke declared enemies to be loudly talked-over or otherwise cancelled, resulting in raised blood pressures all round and hot-tempered volleys of sweeping generalisations and hyperbole at ten paces. This might extend up to and including the throwing of crockery or the death of once-loving romantic relationships. What follows are ten practical, road-tested conversational tools to help besieged members of the Great Unwoked handle social interaction with the AWL
- George Orwell and the Two Minutes Hate
When an AWL launches into the ritual denunciation of the political object of woke loathing de jour, intervene with a comment along the lines of “I see that it’s time for the scheduled Two Minutes Hate again”. Any liberal worth their literary salt will get the reference to Emmanuel Goldstein, the officially-designated ‘Enemy of the People’, the ersatz Trotsky-figure from Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, whose image and memory all good and loyal citizens are daily required to curse and spit upon as a sign of their virtue and fealty to ‘correct’ political thought. The Woke like to imagine themselves as tolerant and liberal, and will not want to be compared to thought-totalitarians whipping up fear and hatred of an approved enemy. An AWL does not like to be Orwelled.
- ‘Foul language’ and Leon Trotsky
The woke hate-fest will often involve profanity, so when the political Tourette’s syndrome of swearing begins, cite Leon Trotsky who wrote that “foul language” shows “disrespect for the dignity of man, one’s own dignity and that of other people” including, and especially, when used by the “advanced and so-called responsible elements in our present social order” (like today’s woke liberal, say). No one on the ‘left’ likes being Trotsky’d.
- Neurology and the Lizard Brain
When your AWL’s swearing reaches warp-speed, gently note that the science of neurology is very familiar with severe brain injuries that wipe the capacity for coherent speech yet still leave their victims with the ability to curse, volubly and frequently, using the primitive and reptilian brain stem. Also note that the science of psychology has documented a strong correlation between dysfunctional personality traits and extreme liberal politics: liberals tend to be more dogmatic than conservatives, and conservatives tend to have better emotional control than liberals, whilst the need to virtue-signal is often predicted by the ‘dark triad’ personality traits of narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy (see, for example, here, here and here).
The more woke the liberal, the more magnified are such characteristics. The woke Left doesn’t have a monopoly on unpleasant personality types, of course, but they do have market dominance with their aggressive, look-how-good-I-am, emotionally incontinent behaviour.
- Reframe a Political Argument as a Meta-Argument
Instead of simply arguing the toss, your AWL will attempt to drag you into a discussion about how to have an argument. It can help, for example, to note that the AWL’s belligerence is not conducive to fostering respect for differing opinions or, indeed, civility towards the holders of those views (see #3 above). As evidence, cite the surveys (here and here, for example) that show around two-thirds to three-quarters of Trump supporters say they have political views they’re afraid to share publicly. Add that combative hectoring and didactic lecturing directed at the Great Unwoked is more likely to dissuade than persuade of any inherent merit of the woke agenda.
- Do Not Fight on the AWL’s Turf (a): ad hominem attacks
The AWL’s preferred conversational turf often consists of ad hominem attacks on the personal deficiencies in character and/or intelligence of the new populist standard-bearers (‘Trump is a moron/fascist/racist’ or some such variant). Don’t buy into this. Fighting on the opposition’s chosen ground is a mug’s game. Deny or be agnostic on an alleged flaw and … Gotcha! You must be harbouring the same moral failings, you’ll be told.
The best response is to note that ad hominem attacks implicitly take aim at the figure-head’s social base, a millions-strong, democratically triumphant demographic, with condescension (‘forgive the thickos, for they know not what they do’), caricature (‘Rednecks!’) or hostility (‘gap-toothed, simian-like Deplorables’). Character assassination is not only lazy politics, it also masks a woke distaste for democracy.
- Do Not Fight on the AWL’s Turf (b): media headlines and talking points
The AWL will usually recite the establishment media’s woke headlines and talking points ‘unfounded allegations of electoral fraud’) but, because it is hard to stay across the multitudinous dramatis personae and ever-evolving plot minutiae of the daily political diet, a good response for the lay populist is to short-circuit the AWL in mid-rant by reminding the speaker that it is the material, political and cultural needs of the working class (e.g. jobs and living standards, democratic national sovereignty, community cohesion, shared cultural values and history, etc.) which are powering the populist charabanc. These are concerns notably not being addressed by the modern woke Left. Even woke liberals, who like to think of themselves as left wing, may be somewhat discomfited at being reminded of their ancestral political attachment to the working class and associated left-wing principles such as free speech, democracy, anti-war foreign policy, anti-globalisation, etc. The woke echoing of the establishment media is just so much white noise to drown out the real substance of political issues vital to the proletariat.
- Diversity of Opinion. Political kryptonite to the Woke
The AWL will make dogmatic political assertions. Do not respond in kind! Simply observe that such propositions are but one set of opinions amongst others, based on a different selection and/or interpretation of facts and encompassing a different value system. Note how the ‘diversity’ so valued by the AWLs will not tolerate diversity of opinion. This is not healthy in a democracy.
- Don’t take it personally: avoid first- and second-person pronoun
Using the second-person pronoun, “you”, will only give conversation with an AWL an ugly personal edge and provoke them to even greater intemperance. It is preferable to refer to your AWL in the third person (‘they’, ‘them’) as some sort of zoological curiosity, an object for study. Less schoolyard, more seminar-room will serve you well.
- ‘You’re a better man than me, Gunga Din’
If the AWL continues to manifest an insufferably moral superiority (regarding Islamophobia, xenophobia, open borders, transphobia, or whatever), and acts as if the truth is known only to an enlightened few (starting with themselves), and that it is their job to inform rather than listen, refrain from interrupting and discuss, then a very effective way of bailing out of a dead-end exchange, and getting in the last word to boot, is to close the struggle session with a simple bequest from Rudyard Kipling, “Well, you’re a better man than me, Gunga Din.”
This might, just might, get your AWL to reflect on how they come across to others – as self-righteous and intimidating in their moral and political shaming of the unwoke. Getting people to see themselves as others see them can bear fruit.
- Your last resort? Don’t argue at all
OK, so you’ve tried all the above, you’ve been the very model of sweet reasonableness and good humour, but you find that the AWL will not be tamed into civil discourse. At this point you will be agreeing with Peter Smith, who argued with resigned exasperation in a recent Quadrant Online essay that “it is no longer possible to come together. The modern Left have gone far beyond reach and reason.”
If this is the case, and to allow your headspace to be occupied with more productive activities, simply disengage from the taunts, the baiting and general unpleasantness and go mute. You wouldn’t waste your time or composure arguing with alcoholics or street lunatics, and while your AWL might offer less olfactory offence, their reeking arguments remain very much on the nose.
Unless there is a third party to be influenced, when all else has failed with the AWL, save your breath!