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The fashionable revolution

| Monday, September 27, 2021

No one can deny that we are in a time of great social change in America. Just a cursory look at U.S. politics and culture over the past ten to fifteen years makes this abundantly clear. Indeed, what we have seen over this period of time — and particularly over the past five years or so — is so dramatic that it can rightly be called a revolution of sorts. It represents nothing less than a radical restructuring and overhaul of fundamental principles and how we think about ourselves, humanity, society and the world around us. Despite having a Republican president for the past four years, this revolution has been decidedly “woke” and widely successful in such a short amount of time, especially on topics like race, LGBTQ issues and climate change.

The woke revolution has in many ways become the dominant voice in social matters, yet it still brands itself as fundamentally revolutionary and counter-cultural. Its adherents see themselves as courageous as they take on the powerful, socially conservative, white male leaders of business and government. Yet this is largely misguided. Part of what makes the woke revolution so peculiar is that so many of the nation’s biggest businesses and politicians are wokeism’s most fervent supporters. If you don’t believe me, just remember all the corporations that bent over backward to celebrate Pride Month this summer and the television commercials (and TV shows, including kids’ shows) we constantly see promoting progressive messaging on race and LGBTQ issues. The rainbow flag and a Black Lives Matter banner, too, have both been unfurled in front of U.S. embassies around the world, including, for at least the Pride Flag, places like the U.A.E. Some may suggest that these actions are more or less disingenuous, that these groups don’t really buy into the whole woke mission. This could be disputed, considering how incessantly they promote woke talking points and donate money to woke causes and organizations. Still, even if they are doing it with ulterior motives, they have functionally bought into the woke message so much that they are, in reality, its greatest supporters and exporters of the woke ideology.

It is here that we discover the frankly strange nature of the woke revolution. It aims to “resist” and “change the system” and the way things are done, yet it is actively supported in almost all areas of the national culture. It claims to be scandalous, yet we seem to be encouraged, day in and day out, to adopt its tenets and beliefs. It labels itself “the resistance,” yet it seems like the woke are given the most time of day, held in the greatest esteem and have the driver’s seat in conversations about our culture. Many of its beliefs are truly radical, yet, in most circles, it would be far more dangerous to actively oppose the woke agenda than to support it. It is a fashionable revolution, a movement that is at the same time radical yet in style and applauded.

Perhaps you have seen this played out in your classes. Your class gets to talking about a contemporary social subject.  A progressive position is introduced, and your classmates go over the woke talking points you’ve all heard over the years. Your classmates, however, may feel as if they have hit on something uniquely profound.  “Why don’t they” — those in power — “understand this?” your classmates say, slightly stunned. Yet you realize that nothing profound or new has really been said at all. It is the same conversation you’ve heard again and again just rephrased and repackaged. More than that, the other side was not fairly presented or discussed, let alone mentioned. There are probably some in your class (maybe you) who don’t agree with what’s been said. But no counterarguments were brought up. Maybe someone just had a question. But very few, if any, were asked that could make the student seem in opposition to what was being said. In some way, then, being woke is not just fashionable. To openly oppose it can, in some situations, be like breaking an unwritten code of etiquette; it might raise a few eyebrows.  

This is not uniformly true across the U.S., of course. Nor does it mean that many people don’t disagree with much, if not all, of the woke agenda. The popularity of Donald Trump shows that to be false. But what it does mean is that radical progressivism, as seen in wokeism, is given preferred status in “mixed conversation” (in a political sense). It’s almost like the polite default position and the one who promotes its beliefs is seen as astute and wise and is given praise. All are expected to agree or simply nod along. Conservative voices are self-filtered to avoid confrontation and potentially ridicule with the scandalous and counter-cultural mainstream that is progressivism and wokeism.

Both sides on the “woke debate” can learn much from what has been said here. For those on the left, one should see that wokeism’s claims of being outside the mainstream and being revolutionary are overblown. You cannot be both the resistance and the dominant and driving voice in American culture. To oppose wokeism is far more risky and revolutionary than to support it (think about political opinions shared on Instagram stories). Wokeism, to some extent, is more the trendy, fashionable position than a counter-cultural one that requires sacrifice and risk to support it.

This does not mean, however, that those on the right should simply wring their hands and say “woe is me.” They should rightly shed light on the echo chambers so much of our cultural dialogues and classrooms have become. But at the same time, conservatives should not simply remain silent until things change. They must slowly begin to enter the dialogue and respectfully challenge progressive opinions themselves. Study the issues. Look at the evidence. And then consider entering the conversation, despite the looks or raised eyebrows you get. It requires risk. It requires putting oneself out there. But it is the only way to move forward. That is truly revolutionary.

Andrew Sveda is a junior at Notre Dame from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, majoring in political science with a supplementary major in theology. In his free time, he enjoys writing (obviously), reading and playing the piano. He can be reached at [email protected] or @SvedaAndrew on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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