Problems with “Woke”

America’s founding philosophy and Constitution prize the rights of individuals over the collective.

This philosophy is opposed by philosophies derived from Marxism, including current critical theory, which emphasize the collective and the group, and ignore the rights of the individual. (This description is oversimplified but accurate.)

(Theologically, Christians should care deeply about BOTH individual needs and the needs of the body/collective; that’s the NT perspective. Individual rights don’t outweigh group needs, group needs don’t invalidate individual rights. That’s the framework for understanding Paul’s teaching about restraining freedom. But let’s focus on politics here, not theology.)

This past weekend Andrew Sullivan posted a conversation he had with The Atlantic’s Emily Yoffe on his podcast, The Dishcast. The topic was Title IX and the government’s response to “rape culture”, which inevitably brought up the workings of the woke left. I thought several exchanges were illuminating.

Yoffe: Federal materials that colleges use to define sexual violence include in that definition “a range of behavior from rape to unwanted touching to unwanted compliments and jokes”.

Sullivan: “Violence in the critical theory terms also extends to words, looks, …” in addition to physical violence.

Yoffe: “There are people I have seen say many times, ‘OK, so if some innocent people get caught up, too bad, small price to pay to change the culture.’ I would ask these people, ‘How many innocent people, black men on death row, for example, are you okay with to punish people who commit mass murder or gun violence? Are you okay with innocent people being in prison?'”

Sullivan: “But what they would also say is that [they are] changing the culture.”

Sullivan, talking about the right to due process: “The beauty of doing away with these liberal [small l] values is that those questions of justice are resolved at a mass group level, not an individual level. That’s the perspective that it’s coming from.”[Sullivan was not advocating getting rid of due process, he was describing the woke perspective.]


My perspective: This whole approach that Yoffe and Sullivan were describing–justice for groups instead of individuals, can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs–has already been tried, and it led to the great atrocities of the 20th century. (As I say about communism, “I’ve already seen that movie, you won’t like how it ends.”)

This approach ignores the truth of human fallenness, and Acton’s axiom: power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

And despite its atheistic “scientific” trappings, it’s as thoroughly religious as throwing virgins into a volcano to appease the gods. Their religious faith is that they can bring in utopia by tinkering with this or transforming that.

The problem with yearning for Utopia is that, as the name suggests (ου = not, τοπος = place) it does not exist.

Constitutional democracy is messy and imperfect and prone to madness. It has a history of sometimes horrifying mistakes. But it remains the best political system for balancing individual rights and responsibilities while optimizing outcomes for the whole.

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