by UnHerd
Wednesday, 26
May 2021
Chart
07:30

Study: the culture war that does cut through

What may seem like a Twitter brouhaha can have political impact
by UnHerd
Photo by Guy Smallman/Getty Images

A study out this morning by Kings College London’s Policy Institute leads on the finding that the public aren’t even sure if the word “woke” is a compliment or an insult, and are unsure what “culture wars” actually means. It comes just days after a YouGov poll that found that 59% of people don’t know what “woke” means and most of the people who do, don’t consider themselves to be it.

It is tempting to jump on these findings as proof that the ongoing arguments about things like gender and race, empire and statues, are an obsession of a small minority on Twitter and have no political bearing on the wider population. Perhaps the righteous social justice warriors on the Left and the angry reactionaries on the Right are equally guilty of fighting an irrelevant battle? The FT’s Henry Mance certainly implied as much in his conclusion this week that ‘Britain’s culture war is not really taking place‘:

I had coffee with someone who didn’t even mention transgender bathrooms. I had a beer with a group of men, none of whom was concerned about the prominence of the union jack or the fate of Cecil Rhodes’ statue. What could explain their mysterious silence on these pressing issues? 
- Henry Mance, FT

To the extent that most people are not engaged in the details of the culture war or the latest Twitter brouhaha of course he is right. But it would be dangerous for the liberal Left to conclude on that basis that the culture wars don’t pose a threat.

Further down in the same KCL study, two findings jump out.

First, the issue most commonly bracketed with the notion of “culture wars” over the past two decades is Brexit — on this evidence, it is the biggest culture war of them all. 14% of articles mentioned the two concepts together, ahead of Empire and Slavery and Race. Not even the FT would deny that Brexit “cut through” and has left British politics forever altered in its wake.

Second, there is one concept attached to the “culture wars” that the KCL study shows has cut through far ahead of any others: the concept of “white privilege”. 55% of respondents say they have heard a lot about it, compared to just 33% for “being woke” and 29% for “cultural appropriation”. The trickle-down effect of the ongoing arguments about this or that protected minority seems to be that a substantial number of poor white voters have understood that, in this new ethic, they are somehow considered privileged. And that rankles. It would take a brave political analyst who discounted this effect on the historic turn to the Tories among poorer and middle class groups in the “Red Wall.”

No doubt much of the culture wars, as fought on social media on a daily basis, pass the vast majority of voters by. But the intuition that among many voters that they have slipped off the priority list of the progressive Left is all too real — as the election results this month devastatingly proved.

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Niobe Hunter
Niobe Hunter
1 year ago

The Chairman of the National Trust, Tim Parker, has been forced to resign by angry members who censured him. He led the branding of Churchill as a racist whose name should be slandered in the literature promoting his home. It was under his wise guidance that the Trust had enforced unconscious bias training on their volunteers, that the Trust published the slavery guide to the property list, that volunteer guides were forced to wear Pride ribbons in a house whose owner had never shown any signs of being ….whatever this website will allow me to hint at.
So I think the culture wars are certainly raging. Just for once, the Woke have suffered a defeat. Perhaps the FT, once an esteemed must read, now a media joke, is beginning to hope that they can make a clean sweep of all the traditional British institutions without too many of us plebs noticing – and fighting back.
Onwards,

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
1 year ago
Reply to  Niobe Hunter

Another victim of cancel culture?

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
1 year ago
Reply to  Niobe Hunter

So, the National Trust guy was a victim of cancel culture?

Andrew Raiment
Andrew Raiment
1 year ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

Hardly, it was an unpaid position and he won’t be asked to leave any other ones. The decision might provide cover for Hilary McGrady who is probably more responsible for the direction the NT has taken. My membership is up for renewal, I’m undecided as to whether to continue or cancel.

Last edited 1 year ago by Andrew Raiment
kathleen carr
kathleen carr
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew Raiment

Restore Trust group seem to got themselves organised but as they say they want to see the list of possible successors. Don’t think its unpaid-one of the arguments executive giving themselves pay rises while laying off ordinary staff

Johannes Kreisler
Johannes Kreisler
1 year ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

No, Bridgeford. The National Trust and its membership was a victim of a malignant charlatan being its chairman, until he got justly disposed of.
If Kim Yong-Un ever gets deposed, will you claim he was a victim of cancel culture?

Andrew Raiment
Andrew Raiment
1 year ago

Maybe these phrases don’t cut through because the general public, on the whole agree that Britain is an accepting and tolerant place. The culture war is entirely of the Left’s making, they are outraged when people don’t take notice, equally outraged when they do but not in the way they hoped, so they then deny there is a culture war or say it’s a right wing ploy. Like arguing with small child.

Last edited 1 year ago by Andrew Raiment
Paul Wright
Paul Wright
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew Raiment

Only half the story, I think: the concepts the survey asked about come from the American left and have been imported, like many other bits of culture. But the war is of the Right’s making in that the Right uses the fact that some in the UK (a minority though perhaps an influential one) subscribe to the concepts to rile up their own supporters, and places like Unherd use it to get clicks. By doing so they are also importing the concepts.

Andrew Raiment
Andrew Raiment
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Wright

Agreed, that it can work to the rights advantage, and every media outlet is desperate for clicks.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Wright

But the war is of the Right’s making in that the Right uses the fact that some in the UK (a minority though perhaps an influential one) subscribe to the concepts to rile up their own supporters,
That makes no sense beyond the typical blame the right for whatever is happening. If the right is using a fact, as you call it, then it appears the right is responding, not initiating something. It’s not the right clutching its pearls over “only women get pregnant.” It’s not the right claiming that cops go hunting for black people every day. It’s not the right treating being white as a crime.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
1 year ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

I knew practically nothing about Critical Race Theory before reading lots of articles in the right wing press telling me what a threat it was which led me to finding out what it was all about. Didn’t pick it up from the Guardian – got it from here and the Telegraph.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 year ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

Do you not see an issue with knowing nothing about it? It’s something being forced not just into schools, but into a variety of institutions. It’s almost like the left-wing press wants to keep its audience in the dark.
The opposition is not hard to explain. Telling children especially that they are oppressed or oppressors based on skin color is not a good societal foundation. It’s not going to create smooth relations among adults, either.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
1 year ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Alex, what you have written is also not an accurate representation of much of CRT thinking. That’s why I did my own reading.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 year ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

CRT’s core belief is that racism is a social construct woven into the fiber of society. But apparently only majority white society. Bigotry has been an unfortunate part of the human feature set since the dawn of time and continues today, often between people who are indistinguishable.
It gives lip service to the notion that racism is not exclusive to any single group, then typically targets white people. What is amazing is about America is that Founders came from wholly white societies with no experience of multicultural anything because the term didn’t exist back then.
Yet men with no such experience created the greatest multicultural society the world has ever known. In a sane world, someone like Ibram Kendi would be Henry Rogers, which is what’s on his birth certificate. One could not invent a more racist caricature of a person than one claiming to be anti-racist.

Andrew Raiment
Andrew Raiment
1 year ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

I found out about CRT from the Grievance Studies Affair or aka Sokal Squared Affair and I am very grateful to them, for bringing notice to this pernicious ideology.

Johannes Kreisler
Johannes Kreisler
1 year ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

I knew practically nothing about Critical Race Theory before reading lots of articles in the right wing press telling me what a threat it was which led me to finding out what it was all about. Didn’t pick it up from the Guardian 

Had you been as studious Guardian reader as i am, you wouldn’t make that claim. The content of CRT was/is oozing from the Guardian like pus from a septic hæmorrhoid, via multiple articles per day in the past five years i’m reading it. The fact that they did not assigned its official name [CRT] to the content does not change the fact, it only shows how deeply unobservant you are.
I did pick it up from The Guardian, same as anyone with a modicum of reading comprehension.

Peter LR
Peter LR
1 year ago

What a daft quote from Henry Mance. I’m sure they also didn’t mention other important things: our pandemic debt and unemployment, climate change and our weird weather, China imperialism and our dependence on it, etc.
I’m sure that all media people and journalists come in that green band of 13-55%, writing about bizarre woke ideas for copy and clicks. But our wonderful British population are concerned about real things: family, friends and life.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter LR

‘writing about bizarre woke ideas for copy and clicks.’
They do it for ‘clickbacks’.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter LR

He was shocked that life outside his echo chamber is markedly different that life within it.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter LR

Unherd DOES NOT DISCUSS THE ECONOMIC IMPACT OF COVID (China virus) which makes me think Unherd is a sheep in wolf’s clothing, an a Lefty False Flag, as the economic side is much more important than the health side. The Lockdown worse than the disease.

Sharon Overy
Sharon Overy
1 year ago

You do know that YouGov polls are self-selective, don’t you? They poll those who have signed up with them to be regularly surveyed online, therefore they’re generally people who specifically want to tell others their opinions.

A YouGov poll is usually as pointless as what’s trending on Twitter.

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
1 year ago
Reply to  Sharon Overy

Indeed. I once considered signing up but quickly realised that there is a hole in its basic premise that you could drive a bus through.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago

This is another example of statistics used in a silly way to provide a few even sillier results.
If the results are to be discussed properly, we need a lot more information: the numbers of people involved in the survey, the ages of those people and how their reactions varied with age, etc
I am definitely in the bracket of ‘older person’ and almost all of my friends are of a similar age – I have asked them about the meaning of ‘woke’ and they haven’t a clue. I have grandchildren, who have friends, and almost no-one has heard of woke. Why should we be surprised at the above results?
My own theory, with no evidence, is that woke ideas come from people who are aged 30-40. These people will have been well educated but youth has passed them by. They want to try to become young again, to speak for the young people. They realise that young people are only interested in themselves so they provide another voice, that of a ‘more mature’ young person.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Some of the info you request is in the links contained in the article. But feel free to use your own theory with no evidence instead!

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
1 year ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

The evidence culled from just looking around you.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

What a ridiculous answer. You have a survey which the author of an article uses to prove a point. You have a website, called UnHerd, where people have opinions which they share and experiences which may be anecdotal but they must still be meaningful.
Please tell me where my ideas are wrong. Young people are not fighting each other to get to voting booths. I know about 20 young people and a couple have heard the word ‘woke’ but they don’t know what it means. Only two of these youngsters admit to voting on May 6th.
Who is writing about woke things? People with degrees (over 21), people with the confidence to write (probably over 25) but not the old because it is their lives which have been ruined. Therefore, intellectuals aged 30-40. Maybe even up to 45 years. They see themselves as young and supportive of young ideas. In fact they (like you) are old and stuck in a time warp.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

I honestly didn’t mean to upset you by quoting your wordsMy own theory, with no evidence…’
I was just pointing out that some of the information you asked for (number of people in the survey, for example) was given in the links.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Chris – Ever watch any Protests video? BLM. Extinction Rebellion, statue toppling? University cancelling and no-platforming?

IT IS THE YOUNG as they have been trained, Pavlovian style, by their education – so I guess by the 40 somethings, but it is the youth who are the ‘Red Guards’ doing the Culturial Revolution beating and burning.

Johnny Sutherland
Johnny Sutherland
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Agreed. I know most of the terms listed but I read a lot of newsfeeds from different places. My dog-walking friend though it meant he wasn’t asleep.

Kremlington Swan
Kremlington Swan
1 year ago

Yes, I think that sounds about right.
One of the interesting things I have found is the extent to which the the resentment among white working class people is hidden. It is not hidden from me because I have done so much site work as a member of that demographic (even if my sensibilities make me an incomplete fit). For theorists on the left who have not had this ongoing contact, I do believe that were they to experience for themselves the unvarnished truth of the terrible resentment and sense of betrayal, they would be shocked.
I think they think this degree of resentment and hatred is only felt by those they accept as the marginalised and the oppressed, but it is not. Once you get past the wall of silence you hear language that would rival that of the most hate filled religious fanatic. There is no equivocation, either.

This remains under the surface until it comes time to vote. If the left understood what was going on, they would have predicted the fall of Hartlepool. Their leader would not be in the least surprised or dismayed by the scale of the loss.

The people I am talking about have been robbed of the power and the right to express their resentment. The situation is not getting better, either, it is getting worse.

The problem the left have is that they will not accept the above as bearing any resemblance to reality. As long as they fail to accept it (and why would they accept it when they do not see it), Hartlepool will just be the beginning.

Last edited 1 year ago by Kremlington Swan
Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago

Being a tradesman on construction sites in USA the workers know very well indeed who the Woke are, even if they would not know the word, and they despise them.

Andrew Raiment
Andrew Raiment
1 year ago

The first time I ever heard the term “woke” was during season 6 of Curb Your Enthusiasm, that must have been around 2008 though it could have been a couple of years after that. I didn’t really give it any further thought until 2014/15.

Last edited 1 year ago by Andrew Raiment