Wokery and zealotry

‘You are either awake — aware to the evils of the world and the one true path for dealing with them — or shamefully asleep. There is no room for discussion. You just have to wake up’

Manchester Square
Illustration by Peter Schrank

Standpoint welcomes mistakes. Not those of grammar and spelling, nor careless errors of fact and flawed arguments. What we like are honest mistakes. Indeed, we revere them. Only by being ready to try things that may fail do we have a chance of finding what works. When the facts change, we humbly change our mind. The alternative is ignorance.

Open-mindedness and rationality are our watchwords, just as dogmatism has long been the hallmark of the ideological left. The pursuit of identity politics offers adherents the fervid certainty relished by Marxist revolutionaries in the past. The modish term “woke” epitomises the zealots’ self-righteousness. Their views on gender, race, sexual orientation and disability (rarely class, but that’s another matter) are not a matter of opinion; they reflect a state of mind. You are either awake—aware to the evils of the world and the one true path for dealing with them—or shamefully asleep. There is no room for discussion. You just have to wake up.

This magazine is wide awake. We like grappling with new ideas, and testing our beliefs against inconvenient truths. So we object to the sanctimonious, totalitarian way in which the Wokeists like to frame discussion of their views. They may of course be right sometimes; few would dispute that past generations were shamefully wrong on many social issues, and it is reasonable to assume that we are getting things wrong now too, though not necessarily in the way the Wokeists claim. In particular, women—to be precise, as one must be now, those born female—are losing ground, literally. From single-sex lavatories to rape-crisis centres, women-only spaces are sacrificed to the trans lobby, with its syllogistic insistence that gender and sex are the same thing, always, everywhere and absolutely. Helen Joyce (page 28) explores the upheavals at Stonewall, a gay-rights organisation that should be celebrating victory, but has instead adopted the new and divisive cause of unconditional trans equality.

These arguments are not just heated. They are laden, especially from the Wokeists, with allegations of prejudice and bad faith. We expect our opponents to argue their case honestly, not just denounce us as bigoted. David Cox (page 24) outlines the problem—and rallies the unWoke to his standard. We are glad to join him. Samir Shah (page 26) takes up the cudgels in favour of “white saviours”—do-gooders whose admirable charitable efforts are ignored because of their evil, colonialist skin colour.

It is not just fanatics who adopt Wokeist tactics. Secrecy and obfuscation are the instinctive reaction of those whose cause suffers when it is stated. The inability of Cambridge University to deal with Noel Malcolm’s mild complaint (page 30) highlights this. Rather than admit a minor mistake, the academic bureaucrats in charge of the university’s public relations retreat into opaque language, distraction and eventually stony silence. Stonewall declined to answer Helen Joyce’s questions too.

Obstinacy and secrecy also surface as themes of our international coverage. The Chinese Communist Party and its satraps in Hong Kong have stoked the protest movement there (page 34) by their obdurate refusal to deal with its initially modest demands. The Kremlin’s unflinching defence of its corrupt authoritarian rule has sparked dissent even in the loyal ranks of the Orthodox priesthood in Russia (page 33). It is a hallmark of a free society that it allows citizens to contest, openly and reasonably, the authorities’ mistakes. That can be through public protest, the courts or the media, as well as through the electoral system.

But change needs to be constrained. Just as the absolutism and self-righteousness of the Wokeists kill discussion, the heat of the moment melts the reasonableness and restraint that stops democracy turning into majoritarian mob rule. Nick Cohen’s essay (page 10) shows how conservatives once cherished this country’s constitutional order. Now they are bulldozing it in the pursuit of a political principle. That may be tactically smart, but it is strategically stupid. With conventions and institutions weakened, the way is clear for a future left-wing government to attack private property and ancient liberties.

As this issue went to press, the next stage of the Brexit saga was utterly unclear. But whatever deal is done, undone or postponed, it is likely that the United Kingdom faces a crash landing. The political system has come under huge strain. The ties that hold Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland together with England have rarely looked so fragile. As Simon Jenkins explains (page 18) dogmatic centralism, not the mythical nationalism of the (patronisingly named) Celtic fringe, is to blame. Decades of misrule from London have sowed a harvest of mistrust and resentment. We will reap the results in the years ahead. As we grapple with these stresses and strains, humility and open-mindedness will help. Toxic tantrums, from the Wokeists—or anyone else—will not.

 

                Edward Lucas, Editor