Our tolerance of intolerance must end. It’s time to reclaim the sanity of both public and private spaces with a counter-revolution
What’s to be done about the Woke revolution? Even its most vociferous critics rarely ask the question, let alone answer it. Meanwhile, champions in women’s sports boast stubble and penises; the police target hate speech instead of burglary; children are encouraged to question their gender; and universities ban research on sensitive topics, shield students from unwelcome ideas and defenestrate incautious professors.
These and myriad similar affronts are regularly bemoaned on niche websites and YouTube channels and in like-minded forums, journals and newspaper columns. Now, these comfort blankets have been joined by a definitive catalogue of Woke abuses in the shape of Douglas Murray’s The Madness of Crowds. The laments streaming from such sources doubtless console their authors and devotees; but they have little discernible impact outside their filter bubble.
The lack of active push-back might be understandable if the Woke ascendency had become unassailably entrenched. But it hasn’t, yet. Though it’s gained far more of a hold in Britain than elsewhere in Europe, it’s still a minority fixation. Last year, a YouGov survey found that 67 per cent of Britons think “too many people are too easily offended these days over the language that others use.” This summer, London School of Economics researchers reported that 76 per cent think political correctness “sometimes goes too far and exceeds common sense”. Is this silent majority not only unWoke, but actually asleep?
‘The Woke regard confession as proof that a demand deserves to be met in full. No sins are venial, and contrition doesn’t bring redemption’
To be fair, the insidiousness of Woke infiltration caught many people off-guard. Its early manifestations were often greeted as no more than the nonsense of the day—a transatlantic fad that would prove short-lived. Once the gathering thought-quake could no longer be dismissed as trivial, some tried to look on the positive side. We were well rid of the casual bullying, racism, sexism and homophobia that had once been pervasive. An increase in awareness of the needs of the disadvantaged could only be welcomed. Yet we could have achieved these advances without allowing the entire Woke creed in all its hideousness to engulf our institutions.
Today, some still hope that appeasement might beget compromise. In September, the Archbishop of Canterbury prostrated himself in Amritsar and declared that he felt “ashamed and sorry” about a century-old massacre. Maybe, some suggest, we should all engage in Maoist self-denunciation, and apologise for our misdeeds in the hope of forgiveness. Unfortunately, however, we should be unlikely to secure reciprocal concessions. The Woke regard confession as proof that a demand deserves to be met in full. No sins are venial, and contrition doesn’t bring redemption.
There are those who therefore conclude that the game is over and the bad guys have won: we might as well just get used to it. The best we can hope is that a swing of history’s pendulum will one day put things right. The novelist Lionel Shriver envisions some catastrophe like “a plague of antibiotic-resistant flesh-eating bacteria” that would repair the world’s current bizarre malfunction by restoring a sense of proportion. Still, for the time being at least, the Great Awokening looks impregnable.
But is it? Its foundations are rickety—neither philosophically coherent nor politically robust. Such a flimsily-based movement ought to be vulnerable to determined assault. Yet battle isn’t joined. Understandably enough, many people who are appalled by the acrimony that Woke activism has generated, hesitate to meet fire with fire. Yearning for the restoration of harmony, moderation and decorum, they shrink from adding to the current discord. Douglas Murray asks if “the spirit of generosity” can be extended, while love, culture, place and wonder replace politics as “a source of meaning”. Sadly, the answer seems to be No. Unfortunately, when the other side wants strife, peace has to be fought for.
First of all, a counter-position must be staked out, so that Woke ceases to win nem con. That means its opponents must stand up and be counted. Nowadays, when virtue-signallers prate at metropolitan dinner parties, dissidents usually bite their tongues, for fear of being called bigots. Reticence and self-censorship get them by at work, in the pub, on social media, at family get-togethers and in the public square. Yet if any progress is to be made, the unsayable has to be said.
Nonsense shouldn’t go unchallenged. The biological differences between the sexes cannot be wished away. Accusers shouldn’t be styled “victims” when their case has yet to be proved. Masculinity isn’t always toxic. Europe cannot absorb every migrant who might want to come. Not all white people are privileged, and prejudice isn’t the sole cause of disparate ethnic outcomes.
WokeWorld terminology needn’t be adopted without question. All criticism of Islamic behaviour doesn’t have to be classed as “phobic”. Wolf-whistlers may be disrespectful, but if misogyny is the hatred of women, they’re not all necessarily misogynists. Abuse is not violence, and taking offence is not the same as suffering injury.
Traditional values that have ceased to resonate need to be expounded afresh, but it has to be appreciated that these aren’t God-given certainties. If free speech causes harm, however mild, then its utility will have to be justified. Someone who believes there are too few convictions for rape has the right to question the presumption of innocence. To defend a time-honoured principle successfully, those who have taken it for granted may need to rediscover its purpose.
Not that argument alone, however sound, will be enough. In a world in which more and more minds are closed, the scope for persuasion is limited. The Woke know this, and therefore pursue other approaches. They pillory, calumniate, shame and hector with the help of flash-mobs, open letters, demonstrations, petitions and witch-hunting Twitter-storms. Their opponents too must act as well as speak. However, they’ll have to avoid the viciousness of their antagonists, as they’ll be defending civility. Nor will they be able to deploy anger as if it proved they were in the right, since they’ll be upholding reason over emotion.
They must learn to politicise things they would rather not, and to seize the initiative rather than merely react. Specific demands must be devised, not just in the hope of their being met, but to define a contrasting world-view. Perhaps we need a statute to defend free expression, as America has its First Amendment. Universities that fail to uphold freedom of thought might have public funding withdrawn. Positive discrimination by either explicit or implicit quotas could be outlawed. Access to women’s sporting contests could be denied to those born male, while self-declared change of gender could be discounted by public bodies.
Objectives should be identified not just for legislation, but for human resources codes of conduct, professional procedures and the operation of public services. Once identified, they must be pursued. Some potential fields of conflict are dominated by the sincerely Woke; in others, managements have merely bowed to the prevailing Weltanschauung to avoid trouble. In both cases, pressure can bring results, whether applied through customer services, parent-teacher meetings, feedback forms, letters to CEOs, shareholder AGMs, product boycotts, MPs’ surgeries or corporate complaints procedures. Complaints about Emily Maitlis’s monstering of Rod Liddle when she was supposed to be hosting a Newsnight discussion were eventually upheld by the BBC.
There is scope for simple recalcitrance: employees could turn down “unconscious bias” courses; students could spurn seminars on sexual consent. For major issues, the courts await. Because the law lags political change, it isn’t always abreast of the latest voguish baloney. The Equality Act dates back to 2010, a far-off time when parity of treatment was still the progressive goal. Now, the law might be used as a brake on current efforts to privilege favoured groups.
Last year, Noah Carl was examining genetic influence on intelligence at St Edmund’s College, Cambridge. An open letter signed by hundreds of students and academics condemned his study as “racist pseudoscience”. The college decided his work was “problematic”, apologised for the “hurt” his appointment had caused, and terminated his fellowship. But his response wasn’t a plaintive blogpost. Instead, he resorted to crowd-funding to pay for legal support. Now he’s using contracts and employment law to bring the college to book.
Those who want to make a real impact may have to change their lives. More of them must become school governors, student officials, trustees, magistrates, non-executive directors, parish councillors, trade unionists and political party members. They must learn how to support each other and to form productive alliances; if necessary, with unlikely partners.
All this is no small ask. The Woke don’t take prisoners: those who defy them can expect retribution. Jobs could be put at risk; friendships and even marital tranquillity may be jeopardised. Yet trying to duck these risks only cedes ground. The creation of the Journal of Controversial Ideas, which will enable academics to publish anonymously, is a retrograde step. This war has to be fought in the open. It may or may not be winnable, but it can at least be steadfastly waged.