What Is “Woke”?

As a public service, I shall now attempt to define “woke” for all of us (myself included) who don’t always know what it means.

“Wokeness” exists at four different levels, increasing from harmless to virulent.

At its most basic level, “woke” refers to seeing things you haven’t seen before. The way you look at the world has been changed. “I once was asleep to this condition/fact/phenomenon/etc., but now I am awake to it. I see it. I am woke.”

At a more aggressive and contentious level, “woke” refers to the takeover of some institutions by political correctness run amok.

Remember how cute political correctness was in the 90’s and 2000’s? All those college freshman being offended by this or that? Remember how we laughed at those snowflakes? Well, all those snowflakes graduated and went to work for Disney and the New York Times, and they’re not happy that we called them snowflakes. And … well, more on this below.

At an even more escalated level, “woke” refers to the idea that the controlling political priority should be totally remaking the world, ridding the world BY FORCE of everything that is unsafe or offensive, until we all reach a nirvana of safeness and bliss. Utopia.

(Of course, “Utopia” means “no place”, as in “this place doesn’t exist”. ου = “not”, τόπος = “place”. That’s one of Plato’s great ironies. The Republic is in toto a great ancient act of literary deconstruction; the way Plato frames the discussion tells you that Socrates is spinning a huge lie for his audience and laughing at them behind his bowl of wine. The original “utopia” is quite dystopian, an authoritarian nightmare.)

In its worst, most escalated and combative form, “woke” refers to this aggressive utopian project further escalated through a series of cognitive distortions, as Greg Lukainof and Jon Haidt have shown. The principles and commandments that many of today’s social justice warriors live by are a catalog of the cognitive distortions that Aaron Beck, the pioneer of cognitive behavioral therapy, catalogued after years of experience as a psychotherapist. Check this out:

In CBT you learn to recognize when your ruminations and automatic thinking patterns exemplify one or more of about a dozen “cognitive distortions,” such as catastrophizing, black-and-white thinking, fortune telling, or emotional reasoning. …

What Greg saw in 2013 were students justifying the suppression of speech and the punishment of dissent using the exact distortions that Greg had learned to free himself from. Students were saying that an unorthodox speaker on campus would cause severe harm to vulnerable students (catastrophizing); they were using their emotions as proof that a text should be removed from a syllabus (emotional reasoning). Greg hypothesized that if colleges supported the use of these cognitive distortions, rather than teaching students skills of critical thinking (which is basically what CBT is), then this could cause students to become depressed. Greg feared that colleges were performing reverse CBT. 

Greg and I decided to expand our original essay into a book in which we delved into the many causes of the sudden change in campus culture. Our book focused on three “great untruths” that seemed to be widely believed by the students who were trying to shut down speech and prosecute dissent:

  1. What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker
  2. Always trust your feelings
  3. Life is a battle between good people and evil people.


A couple of final disorganized related thoughts:

  1. Not everything that is “woke” is pernicious and poisonous, but a great many “woke” things ARE pernicious and poisonous. As the aforementioned Disney and NYT appear to have learned, wokeness combined with toxic personalities is a recipe for disaster. Both institutions are pushing back against the woke mobs that tried to take control of them over the past couple of years. Let’s hope they learn their lesson.
  2. Christians should not fear everything that sounds like social justice, because social justice is one of the great concerns of the Bible. Why did Jesus talk so much about money and caring for the poor? Why do the prophets care so much about wealth and poverty and how the rich people of Israel and Judah mistreated the poor? Because God cares about social justice. And he expects us to care, too.
    • “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” Stand up and recite that in church, don’t tell anyone you’re quoting the Bible, and see if you don’t get called woke. Or Jesus’ sermon in Luke 4. Or the opening chapters of Isaiah. Or Amos, the whole book. People will call you woke.
  3. Conservatives–whatever that means these days. STOP. Let me start that sentence again. People on the political right (I refuse to call “conservative” what in fact is NOT conservative) do themselves a horrible disservice when they adopt the same cognitive distortions that are accelerating the flames of wokeness that threaten to consume valuable institutions in our nation.
    • Catastrophizing: “If Biden is elected, the USA is OVER. Move to Australia or Hungary or whatever, because this country is DONE.”
    • Emotional reasoning: if in one breath you demand that the NFL fire players who kneel during the national anthem, and in the next breath complain about cancel culture … Why was it different? Not for any logical reason, but because of how it made you FEEL. (It offended me, too. But calling for someone to be canceled–that’s what it is–because you don’t like the way they make you feel is probably not a good idea. Because someone might not like the way YOU make THEM feel, and … well … turnabout is fair play.)
    • Manicheanism (thank you SWNID), apocalyptic thinking, the belief that life is a battle between good and bad people (and of course you’re on the good side, and everyone who disagrees with you is evil) …

Listen: fear is the mind-killer. Think. You’re not trusting God with this.

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

Go back to the things you know are true. Count to 10 and reexamine what’s made you so fearful. Is it true, or are you catastrophizing and believing emotions instead of things you know to be fact, etc.?

Is EVERY school teacher in America a pedophile groomer, after your children? Really? Even the ones at your church, or the ones in your family? EVERY teacher? (I’m not asking if you like the education establishment. I don’t like them much either. But good public school teachers—and there are many—are angels sent from God, who pray over our children & live lives of great personal sacrifice.)

If the country survived eight years of Clinton and eight years of Obama, what makes you think it won’t survive four years of Biden?

Christians have never been so threatened as they are today; really? Even when the Romans were feeding them to lions?

As the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy said on its cover, …

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