Unfortunately, the war is far from over
Has wokeism passed the high point of its influence? Tyler Cowen — who isn’t entirely hostile to the movement — believes that it has. By way of evidence, he points to the fact that diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) roles are taking the brunt of job cuts in the US tech industry.
According to figures compiled by Revelio Labs, and cited here by the Daily Mail, DEI teams have “shed about a third of their staff” over the last year. This reverses the previous trend — which had seen corporate America quadruple the number of DEI positions in the space of five years.
This isn’t the only setback for the woke agenda. For instance, its ideological monopoly over the big social media companies has been broken by Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter. There are signs of change in the legacy media too. Last week, the executive editor of the New York Times told staff to wind their necks in after they protested the publication of an article that offended them (an entirely reasonable defence of JK Rowling).
But don’t be fooled. The war against woke is far from won. For a start, the tech companies may be the exception not the rule. The downturn in the sector is prompting layoffs across all departments — not just in DEI and human resources. Even if the tech lords are especially tired of paying staff to be activists, that doesn’t mean that the same is true of other culturally significant industries. Just look at publishing, where the influence of sensitivity readers is as strong as ever — as demonstrated by the bowdlerisation of Roald Dahl. It’s encouraging to see authors like Salman Rushdie speaking out against this “absurd censorship”, but the battle is ongoing and its outcome uncertain.
Furthermore, it’s not enough to be tough on woke, we must also be tough on the causes of woke. The single best explanation for the rise of the movement is Peter Turchin’s theory of elite over-production. This is the idea that when a society produces more expensively-educated individuals than it actually needs, a frustrated intelligentsia ends up fomenting revolution.
On one level, wokeness is just another revolutionary movement. However, it pulls off the trick of not having to overthrow capitalism by creating non-jobs and the illusion of meaningful employment. No wonder big businesses love it. But can they still afford it? HR magazine reports that listings for DEI roles are down by 19% from last year. Thus if the supply of non-jobs is drying up, but universities continue to churn out surplus graduates at the same rate then the tensions generated by elite over-production will grow more acute.
The obvious solution is stop the universities pandering to teenage radicals while loading them up with lifelong debts. Ultimately, it is the State that underwrites the student loan system, therefore our politicians need to put an end to this misallocation of resources. If they don’t, then the forces of wokeness won’t weaken, and they’ll take on a new and more desperate form.
One last thing to think about. If we really have reached peak wokeness — then peak anti-wokeness is sure to follow. The two ideologies may be viscerally opposed to one another, but they also have a lot in common. Anti-woke activists and journalists operate in an attention economy that is every bit as hungry for clicks and clout as its woke counterpart.
If cultural conservatives lock themselves into an increasingly frantic competition for audience share, then they too will crack-up. Already we’re seeing tensions flare — for instance the clash between Matt Walsh and the Triggernometry podcast over the former’s highly personal attack on the trans activist Dylan Mulvaney.
It’s time to get off the outrage bus altogether. That doesn’t mean giving up the fight against wokeness, but taking it more seriously. Reclaiming our institutions for the common good requires painstaking policy work, it cannot be achieved by the Right-wing entertainment industry. That might sound po-faced, but true anti-wokeness begins by accepting reality.