Wake-up or Deny, that is the Choice

Americans have awakened.  They’ve become “woke,” a term deriving its meaning from African American slang.  “Woke” came into the English language more than a decade ago when “stay woke” referred to the need for awareness about racial injustice issues.  The Woke Movement has since expanded exploded beyond the African American community to encompass an almost unlimited range of progressive, socially liberal groups whose causes include Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ rights, #MeToo, sexism, feminism, anti-Asian prejudice, environmentalism, etc. – in short, a broad range of actual and perceived inequities and injustices based, among other things, on race, color, national origin, sex, religion and age.  To those Americans who have been “Woked,” the Woke message is a clarion call for action, as in “Once I was asleep, but now I’m woke,” to redress societal flaws.  To others, Wokism speaks to an extremist, overreaching far-left minority overly-sensitive to an excessive number of sometimes-pseudo issues that are grounded in unrealistic Utopian expectations of human conduct and who aggressively push for radical change.

There is little objection to the inherent right of Wokists to highlight the inequities that have plagued America and its justice system throughout its history.  No one has asserted that American society is flawless.  The U.S., after all, is not Shangri-La …, nor has it claimed to be.  Human beings are flawed and Americans are human beings.  Injustice and inequality are endemic to human society.  Among the many things in its history that the substantial majority of Americans regret are that America was a significant actor in the global slave trade, enforced the Chinese Exclusion Act, created Japanese internment camps, adopted No Irish Need Apply policies, and promoted anti-Italian and anti-Semitic prejudices and practices …, and that’s only the short list of injustices committed by America during its history.  The fact is, however, that on a comparative basis America has been humanity’s greatest story, an unparalleled purveyor of tolerance, justice and equality …, the result being that there is far less inequality, prejudice and injustice in America today than anywhere else on Earth.  Is there a need ample room for improvement?  Always.  But America can never overcome all its prejudices or compensate for all its injustices …, and preaching for such Utopianism is not only frustrating, it leads – and has led – to the creation of unrealistic expectations … and disproportionate actions and reactions.  America indeed remains Ronald Reagan’s “shining city on the hill” …, yet even shining cities have shadowed areas.  Seeking perfection is laudable, but insisting on it is destructive.

A toll of Wokism has been the spawning of the aptly-named cancel culture … where an error or flaw in communicating or acting has often resulted in “career cancellation” – a phenomenon characterized by employee terminations and pressure on offending employees to resign or face continuing public shaming.  Those perceived as offenders have become objects of ridicule, bearers of a scarlet letter that demarks a unique 21st Century Puritanism, in some cases making offenders targets for retribution.  It doesn’t matter how many years ago an alleged wrongdoing or wrongsaying occurred, whether as a teenager or a college student or during a bygone era when the wrong wasn’t even a wrong.  Should George Washington’s ownership of slaves in the 18th Century – at a time when slavery was not merely widespread, but also traced its cultural normalcy heritage to ancient Athens and beyond –, bury disqualify overwhelm his accomplishments as America’s Founding Father …, or should Alexi McCammond have lost her 21st Century job as editor of Teen Vogue for mocking Asians in tweets as a 17-year old even though she apologized for those tweets when she reached adulthood?  The examples of the damage inflicted by rigid cancel culturalism are legion.  The effect is that media and influencers on all sides of America’s great divide have become empowered to suppress the speech and actions of those viewed by each as “wrong-thinkers” – a slippery standard that creates a potential for universal ostracism.  The result is that a mob-mentality is undermining Constitutional free speech, polarizing significant segments of the populace, and frequently disqualifying the capable … as well as the outstanding.  The over-emphasis on correctness has created a naturally-occurring and self-perpetuating censorship.  Crucially, the cancel culture has found no room and no apparent remedy for perceived “wrongness.”  Even prompt, unilateral repentance does not excise the scarlet letter.  Once a sinner, always a sinner …, even after repentance.

The most popular, and most-used, alternative to cancelationism (to coin a term) has been denialism, which is far more destructive.  If absolution is unattainable and the penalty for error is demonization by the cancel culture, then denialism preaches that what society incorrectly thought to be wrong must be right.  Lying – that is, denying that words said or actions taken were erroneous or require correction (or, sometimes, denying that they were even said or done) –, therefore has become a common defense.  Examples of denialism abound.  The following are only a sampling of what can be found on social media (with political fabrications omitted):

    • The Holocaust is a phony story invented by Jews as part of their plot to take over the world. There is ample evidence that few Jews were killed by Nazi Germany and none in so-called extermination camps … which, as history shows, were actually work camps for Nazi society’s rejects.
    • Feminists are lesbians who hate men. It would be wrong to treat men and women the same, whether from a religious, biological or ethical perspective.  Most women agree.
    • The LGBTQ Movement includes many – perhaps most – who have designs on America’s children. For example, a social researcher who studied sexual behavior for 24 years concluded that there were sound reasons for the Boy Scouts of America to prohibit gay scoutmasters.
    • Black Lives Matter is controlled by Antifa, socialist terrorists.
    • Environmentalism is an invention of tree-hugging rich people who want to use the land for their own purposes.
    • Climate change is fake. You can see examples of its invalidity all over the world.  Climates always change – some places get hotter and others get colder, some have worse weather and others better –, and most credible scientists agree that man is not causing such changes.

Denialism works best when supported by colorable evidence – which, when creditable evidence is lacking, is stated as an amorphous assertion, as in “there is ample evidence,” or “history shows,” or “most credible scientists agree,” or “most women agree,” rather than hard evidence such as “The New England Journal of Medicine concluded in its article entitled [X] that ….”  It is further enhanced when what is asserted is contrasted with the excesses of the cancel culture movement …, and there is more than enough over-the-top cancel material to excite condemnation.  Few question that the cancel culture often goes too far.  Its emphasis on “correctness in thought and action” – Utopian purity – contradicts the most basic American belief in individual freedom.  The right to speak without fear of retribution is a cornerstone of Americanism (discussed by TLR here, here, and here).  Cultural correctness, the prerequisite for cancelationism, is the opposite of Americanism.  It requires a homogenous society, one that thrives on orthodoxy and conformity, concepts inherently antithetical to America’s frontier individualism and its ethos of self-determinism.  Free expression is an essential element of a pluralistic, democratic society and has been a key ingredient in making America a melting pot of people, ideas, practices and philosophies.

It’s not only cancelationism that is inconsistent with foundational Americanism.  Denialism represents precisely the opposite of what Americans treasure:   “Truth, justice and the American Way.”  America has thrived precisely because Truth has been a necessary enabler of Justice.  Denialism succeeds only through the perversion of that Truth by assertions that ignore fact, relying on ignorance or blind acceptance.  Like cancelationism, denialism is an UnAmerican extreme.  Although denialism has thrived from time-to-time in America’s past (McCarthyism being a notable 20th Century example of (to be charitable) truth-twisting), it has never been the American Way.

Americans today consequently are faced with the polar extremes of denialism and cancelationism.  The middle ground has been vacated.  Those who make mistakes and recant no longer receive media absolution.  They instead are compelled to either accept the cancelation of their careers and status …, or deny all error in the hope that they will fool enough people to intimidate and silence critics.  Such a survival choice necessarily encourages the subversion of Truth.  As a result, deniers and liars today outnumber the cancel culture’s poster children.  The historically-proven and religiously-validated approach of admitting error, seeking forgiveness, being judged on the basis of fact, and being granted absolution is not currently a saving option.  It needs to be accepted as one.  Cultural conformity to extremes is bad.  Both denialism and cancelationism do not foster the Truth, Justice and American Way that have made America the greatest country on Earth.

Finally (from a good friend)

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