March 2, 2021

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Reflections on Wokedom: The early stage

Woke: the existential act of identifying with others as the self.

Levinas: hospitality is the deconstruction of the self to embrace the other.

Fukuyama writes about the shift from a culture lacking in empathy to one in which empathy breaks down class and caste barriers, and the development of democracy:

Tocqueville, noting the rise of compassion already when writing Democracy in America in the 1830s, quotes a letter written in 1675 by Mme. de Sévigné to her daughter, in which she calmly describes watching a fiddler broken on a wheel for stealing some paper, and then being quartered after death (i.e., his body cut into four pieces) with ‘his limbs exposed at the four corners of the city.’ Tocqueville, amazed that she speaks of this as lightly as she discusses the weather, attributes the softening of customs that had occurred since then to the rise of equality. Democracy breaks down the walls that had earlier divided social classes, walls which prevented educated and sensitive people like Mme. de Sévigné from even recognizing the fiddler as a fellow human being. Today, our compassion extends not only to lower classes of human beings, but to the higher animals as well. (The End of History, p. 261)

In To Kill a Mockingbird when the lawyer gets people to flip the identity of the victim, he did it along a racial line.

Hari Krisna did it on a cosmic plane in which not only tribal but even individual identities dissolve in the oceanic feeling of oneness. John Lennon was channeling that when he composed Imagine.

This radical act of empathy, throws into complete turmoil the certainties of the us-them world that have informed human calculations for millennia if not hundreds of millennia. Their pleasure our sorrow (envy), their suffering our joy (Schadenfreude), and the political axiom: rule or be ruled.

But with the woke, this senseless world of zero-sum competition yields to the positive-sum embrace: everyone’s a winner. Not: “I can only win if you lose…”, but: “We can both, all win!”  

At its core, this sense of cosmic solidarity with all humans, indeed with all creatures, is existentially a religious experience that turns the suspected hostile other into an unimpeded extension of the self. It is so compelling that people will sacrifice a great deal of their mimetic desires and even their survival instincts, in order to cleave to it.

This was certainly a central feature of the 1960s, especially the American combination of Woodstock, Communes, Eastern religions, sex, drugs and rock and roll. The empathic revolution. We all win when we are all one.

To paraphrase Pogo, the woke says: “We have met the enemy, and it is the guys among us who say “us,” and calculate victories on the back of others.

Of course, there’s always others. And they’re not always on the same page…

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