Wokeness and History

Today: some better descriptions of wokeism; how wokeness undermines the idea of eternal conservative values; and if so many other books are banned from public schools, why not the Bible?

Today’s NY Times website has this letter column: A Conservative’s View of What ‘Woke’ Means

These are letters responding to conservative NYT columnist Roth Douthat piece, dated March 18, called What It Means to Be Woke, which I did not find compelling enough to link or discuss at the time.

Several of today’s letters, however, offer much more robust takes on what “woke” means than Douthat’s, or my own take on March 4.

Here are some better takes from the NYT letters:

Philip Walsh, Cape Elizabeth, Maine:

Wokeness, if anything, is understanding that our pluralistic, complex democracy must be open to all our voices, perspectives, stories, histories and visions of the future, even and especially those of the most marginalized. In this way, wokeness is a commitment to truth and justice as the American way.

Staying asleep among the ranks of the unwoke is a choice. It may be more comfortable. It is also fundamentally undemocratic and un-American.

Liane M. Lee, Winter Park, Fla.:

Woke stresses the value and goodness of being human, emphasizing common human needs, and seeking rational ways of solving human problems. It is similar to humanism. “Woke” has become and should be called “neo-humanism.”

Neo-humanists, stand up and be heard!

Bill Fyfe, Denver, responding to a characterization of Douthat’s:

No liberal I know discounts biological differences. To become aware of the range of sexual orientations is no sin. Today young people see sex as it is, infinitely more complicated and mysterious.

In sum, you either become better informed or you remain asleep. And you stop blaming the world’s problems on those who have learned to appreciate seeing more of reality.


This leads to one of those insights that occurs to you in the middle of the night, as inputs from various sources over recent days suddenly fit together.

Recall three days ago I discussed a piece in which a conservative columnist described a book about the conservative intellectual tradition is all about.

Among other insights, he stresses the need to preserve customs and institutions that direct wayward human beings. These systems of social control are complex, easy to dismantle and difficult to rebuild. For these reasons, conservatives are leery of campaigns that promise to liberate us from a host of norms and institutions that the left sometimes sees as unjust, like marriage, religion, gender roles, the police and sexual repression.

And how

our ancestors were not merely fools or bigots. Instead, they built social institutions that, however flawed, also repressed some of our more self-destructive impulses and encouraged some of our better angels.

And I responded,

My issue with this piece, and with the thinking of conservatives in general who think traditional institutions must be preserved because they represent the accumulated wisdom of past generations, is this: slavery. That was a valued institution for centuries until relatively recently, only a century and a half ago, and is still defended by some on the extreme right (the slaves liked being taken care of, and so on). Not to mention the subjugation of women, and the demonization of gays and other sexual minorities.


Now, then, why are conservatives so upset by the themes of “wokism, which “stresses the value and goodness of being human, emphasizing common human needs, and seeking rational ways of solving human problems.”? And in particular, notions of Critical Race Theory (CRT) which reveal the underpinnings of social injustice in the US as — obviously to many of us — derived from the fact that the US was settled by peoples from one area of the world who *kidnapped and enslaved* peoples from another area of the world?

Well, maybe because they don’t want to admit, or don’t want their children to discover, that some of conservative’s supposedly eternal values actually aren’t eternal. They do change, they have changed. And if some of them have changed, then maybe more of them can change without bringing about the destruction of the republic, as conservatives fear.

This trend to deny that the present is different from the past — and imply that racism is no longer a problem — leads to the implicit claim that problems of the past weren’t due to racism either. So now, the Rosa Parks is no longer an issue of race! (See the last item in this post. Where I doubt the governor has yet to explain, if systemic racism no longer exists, when it ended.) And the Civil War, as conservatives will tell you, was about states’ rights and not about slavery.


You’d think the truth about the values of past cultures, in particular those of the Biblical writers, would be obvious to everyone who reads their Bibles. To me this is more evidence that most people don’t read their Bibles, at least not very closely, not even the concerned conservative Christians who want anything they find alarming regulated or banned from schools. But if you do read the Bible closely, it’s worth asking, why not ban that too?

Friendly Atheist, Hemant Mehta, 24 Mar 2023: After Utah lawmakers allowed book banning, one parent went after the Bible, subtitled “The parent submitted a detailed request to get the holy book banned due to its inappropriate content”

Of course the request was cheeky and not expected to pass. Still.

“Incest, onanism, bestiality, prostitution, genital mutilation, fellatio, dildos, rape, and even infanticide,” the parent wrote in their request, listing topics they found concerning in the religious text. “You’ll no doubt find that the Bible, under Utah Code Ann. § 76-10-1227, has ‘no serious values for minors’ because it’s pornographic by our new definition.”

Mehta concludes,

To be clear, the purpose of calling for a ban on the Bible isn’t to actually ban the Bible. It’s to highlight the absurdity of banning books, period. The solution isn’t to toss the Bible out of school for children who may want to read it; it’s to make sure public school students have access to all kinds of literature.

This entry was posted in Conservative Resistance, Culture. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.