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HWFO's Unified Theory of Wokeness
Writing the entire definition down in one place.
In the past several weeks, some folks on the left had a fun time trolling some folks on the right who were complaining about “Wokeness” without being able to clearly define the term. This is a fun magic trick because the protean nature of Wokeness means it’s constantly changing, making it intentionally difficult to define. “Oh yeah, well define Wokeness if you hate it so much” stands to persist for years as a valid defense. And the antiwokes, by virtue of being antiwoke, don’t realize that.
Following this culture war eruption, I was asked by several people to coalesce many of the different observations and definitions from HWFO’s half a decade of writing on the subject into one place, for easy reference. A Grand Unified Theory of Wokeness. Herein, we will see that Wokeness is a result of the intersection of population level genetics and falling religiosity, is a system of luxury beliefs which propagates like fashion, is built on the backbone of social media interconnectedness, is an emergent beta test of a new religious framework, and is built on simple seed crystals that cause it to look like it looks today.
We will also postulate towards the end how competing belief systems might look, as they emerge in the 21st Century.
Wokeness is Biological
Science currently estimates that somewhere between 20% and 60% of temperament, the behavioral traits which include sociability, emotionality, and attention level, are hereditary in nature. They’re hard coded in our genes. Further, neural scientists going back a decade have been able to isolate certain genetic contributions to moral judgments themselves. Heredity partially determines how “judgey” a person is, therefore the number of “judgey” people in a society should stay relatively fixed over time barring any major gene pool shocks such as genocide or mass immigration.
This sounds bad on the surface, but it makes sense from the standpoint of evolutionary psychology. Human beings evolved a variety of hard coded behavioral traits to contribute to an overall societal system, so it stands to reason that having some number of moralistic judgmental asshats is evolutionarily beneficial to the overall society in some way. It doesn’t actually matter whether the moral-thing the asshat is screaming about truly matters. It just matters that all the moralistic judgmental asshats all get judgey about the same thing, because that keeps the society bounded and on the same set of rails.
We accidentally created a deep well of unaligned moralistic judgmental asshats at exactly the same time we invented the internet.
Imagine, for instance, you’re an Aztec. You don’t want to give your baby to the priest to have its heart cut out. But if you don’t, then your neighbor might not either, and his neighbor might not, and sooner or later it’s mass pandemonium and the sun might not come up. Which means there were assuredly moralistic judgmental asshat Aztec Karens who would give you no end of shit if you didn’t give your baby to the priest, and in that way order was maintained, the economy thrived, the society flourished, and the sun came up. Moralistic judgmental asshat Karens are of value to the firmament of society. They’re like glue, or border collies. And up through the 1980s, the moralistic judgmental asshat Karens in the United States were mostly Christians, pushing the Christian morality program.
J. Tobin Grant in 2008 established a means to measure and track aggregate religosity in the United States, and the graph looks like this:
That’s an index, not a percentage, so the Y axis is not easily superimposed on other axis, but it conveys the overall point. Religosity was high in the 50s and 60s, fell some in the 70s, was flat in the 80s, and cratered in the mid 90s. But our genetics mean we have certain fixed number of moralistic judgmental asshat Karens, and if those turn atheist they need something else to be moralistic about. We accidentally created a deep well of unaligned moralistic judgmental asshats at exactly the same time we invented the internet. HWFO expressed the general idea in 2022 like this, when we were tracking the heat level of the TERF war:
This well of otherwise untapped moralistic indignation produced Wokeness as we see it today, but it just as easily could have produced an entirely different arbitrary moralistic framework, depending on its starting conditions. And if Wokeness were to die out tomorrow, that well of moralism would still remain, would become untapped again, and a new Wokeness would emerge from it. Perhaps with different beliefs, and perhaps different parameters, but it would utilize the same propagation methods because these propagation methods are what makes Wokeness unique and fascinating. They work like fashion.
Wokeness is Morality Fashion
Human beings use fashion as a form of social signaling. Peacocking behavior arises in many species in mate signaling. Lacking tail feathers, human beings use clothes, cars, Rolex watches, Gucci, Versace, and such, to signal fitness to mates, as well as signal social capital to those of the same sex to ward off competition. Fashion is monkey behavior for the rich.
Fashion is networked. Fashion trends flow from a few important nexuses in high society centered in New York City, Paris, and Milan, where esoteric socialites determine by a blend of aesthetic acumen and status jockeying what the new trend shall be. Those socially adjacent adopt the trend, those socially adjacent to them adopt it from them, and the trend flows out like a wave. A pair of pants becomes viral, and suddenly pleats are back in.
Having the time to follow clothes trends is a luxury, and signals to others that you don’t work as hard as they do. Having the money to revise your wardrobe yearly is a luxury, and signals to others that you are richer than they are. Being able to wear increasingly more absurd and impractical clothing is a luxury, and signals to your peers that your life contains less manual labor than theirs.
Now swap “clothes” for “beliefs” and swap “rich” for “virtuous,” and you understand the update mechanics within the overall Woke operating system. Wokeness is a system of luxury beliefs which propagate like fashion, for the same reasons fashion propagates. Wokeness is a status symbol, and a way to look cool. “Woke” Americans from the blue collar classes are effectively nonexistent, because nobody with a demanding job has time to keep up with whatever belief is currently in fashion. That these beliefs are purported to help the working class does not matter.
The most obvious example of this is the phrase “LatinX” to describe Latinos and Latinas. This phrase is not only derided among Latin populations in the United States privy to it, it’s mostly unknown to the rest because they’re too busy putting a new roof on the Woke’s house as the Woke bangs away on Twitter.
The word itself is almost literally “lingual colonization,” wherein a small group of elite academics leverage morality fashion to steal elements of an entirely different language, change them in the halls of academia, and then push those changes onto the unwashed Latin proles “for their own good” just like the Europeans did with Christianity during the colonial period. This stands to reason because Wokeness is a pseudo-religion beta test.
Wokeness is a Religion 2.0 Beta Test
When the long tendrils of Christianity spread across Europe in the centuries following the death of Christ, memetic mapping became the most fruitful method of spread. Gods mapped to saints and holidays to analogues, to make conversion more seamless and less confusing. Is it a fertility ritual to honor Ostara and commemorate the planting day on the calendar? Not anymore, now it’s a celebration to commemorate the death and rebirth of Christ, but you can keep the bunnies and eggs.
Christians often don’t like hearing that, but modern Wokes don’t like hearing that they’re unwittingly doing the same thing.
“The meek shall inherit the earth” became “the future is intersectional.” The Woke needed a way to measure meekness, so they adopted Kimberlé Crenshaw’s Intersectional Matrix of Privilege and Oppression. They use that to mentally calculate a meekness score for anyone they encounter based on superficial matrix qualities, and grant more social virtue to whoever is the most meek, or “marginalized,” to atone for historical prejudice.
“Original Sin” became “white privilege” or “male privilege,” or such. “Heresy” became “problematic speech,” where anyone challenging the dogma could be shouted down, ignored, or “cancelled.” (excommunicated) One could also be cancelled for speaking “blasphemy” - things which aren’t “politically correct.”
The mapping isn’t universal. Christian original sin applies to everyone, while Wokeness original sin only applies to certain target groups, making discrimination and social derision against them permissible and encouraged. In Christianity all may be redeemed through ritual, whereas in Wokeness no redemption ritual exists and cancellations are permanent. These are flaws, and make 2023 Wokeness vulnerable to collapse, although they could in the future push out an update via the fashion network to implement these concepts as well.
This update mechanic makes Wokeness unique and interesting among prior attempts at religion, because unlike a Council of Nicaea, Wokeness updates on the feed in a matter of days or weeks instead of centuries, and it updates from a crowdsourced hivemind, not a central cabal of Papal fuddy duddies. Its members partake in “the discourse,” thereby generating new moralities or updates to old ones in real time. The ability to actually help weave the moral framework itself intoxicates the moralistic judgmental asshat Karens, and they commit their lives to their new activist hobby. And when the updates propagate, all the Wokes forget they were ever operating under a different version of Truth. In 2016 there were 37 specific genders, each with its own pronoun and gender symbol and failure to memorize them was transphobic. In 2018, they were infinite. In 2020, trans women were women. Nobody inside it remembers the version history, and the woke websites scrub outdated documentation. And this behavior, of allowing an internet groupthink entity to modify not only your behavior but your memories themselves, is the sign of an Egregore at work.
Memespace Egregores are entities HWFO is gone into a great amount of detail to describe, but the very short version is this. We all have a smartphone. We all use the smartphones to do some of our thinking for us. Some use them more than others, and people use them for different things, such as grocery lists, medical record keeping, or road navigation. The Woke use them to catch morality updates on the feed, and to participate in the real-time crafting of new and different moral frameworks. In so doing, they become a connected hive mind of both behavioral indoctrination and the crafting and updating of new behavioral indoctrinations, so when you have a conversation with someone who is “woke,” you are in a very real way not conversing with them at all. You are conversing with the Woke Egregore by proxy.
This is important to realize on Facebook or Twitter. When you identify you interlocutor as being ‘woke,’ stop trying to convince them of anything. They are just a dialogue box to talk to the Egregore.
Wokeness in 2023
The emerging band of antiwoke writers focus on the symptoms of Wokeness or the current edicts of Wokeness without understanding what it actually is. Here’s a snapshot from a prior HWFO article about Sam Harris:
Rozado’s Visual Analytics put together some interesting visuals based on word associations with the term in media.
In 2023 they’ve gotten quieter, because the rubber band is snapping back on them. They overran their supply lines in 2020 when they thought they had broken through the lines of the patriarchy, and attempted to run too deep in the culture war battle space, into college admissions and child indoctrination in grade schools. Deep in enemy territory in 2021 and 2022, they encountered stiff resistance by bands of Normal Moms and Asian Dragon Ladies, groups equal to the Woke in tenacity and arguably much larger, if more poorly organized. Shocked with their defeat, they’ve fallen back to regroup.
In the Critical Race Theory battle, for instance, their defense became “nobody is teaching CRT in grade school,” which forced them to retreat from the Bailey of teaching “white guilt” adjacent things in grade school and return to the Motte of teaching fairly reasonable Derrick Bell material in college.
The TERF War continues to rage, however. We should see that get even hotter as it is such a tremendous scissor, and abandoning it would undermine the entire postmodern idea of “identification” with a marginalized group to gain virtue.
Many of the Woke cling to the idea of self-identification as a marginalized class, because many of them are variously doing it to gain virtue within the overall Woke system. If self-identification as marginalized were removed from the system by a future Woke systems update, then many of them will have no further reason to support it, and will wander off to become normal white people again, seeking a different platform about which to act like moralistic judgmental asshat Karens. Which brings us to our final section - predictions for the future.
Wokeness in the 21st Century
By the HWFO formulation, this pool of moralistic judgmental asshat Karens will exist, and continue to exist, in some form or fashion indefinitely. As a return to traditional religion isn’t likely for them, they will either continue to refine Wokeness as a behavioral vehicle, or will craft something new in opposition to it which also updates on the feed in the same way, or both. If some antiwoke were to “smash Wokeness” then something would jump into its place, we just don’t know what.
The seed crystal for modern Wokeness was postmodernism, political correctness, and baby boomers telling their children “you can be anything you want to be.” The boomers never considered that their sons might come home and call their bluff, saying “Ok mom, I decided I want to be a woman.” Whether the future flavors of Woke are more or less toxic than the current flavor will depend on which seeds the new flavors crystalize around. Either the MAGAs or the TERFs might become such a seed, since each has a deep connection to social media spaces. MAGAs already have the “update on the feed mechanic,” in the form of QAnon, but the Q updates are less crowdsourced in nature. The TERF movement is completely crowdsourced, as an offshoot of modern internet feminism, and it behaves in much the same way as other angry feminist movements have in the past, so it stands to possibly be a similar crystal.
I think good arguments could be made that the Woke Egregore has a net damaging effect on society, but I’m increasingly worried about how damaging a different egregore could have been, such as one that used national socialism as a seed crystal. It could be that having to put up with hippie anarchists firebombing bulldozers at Cop City is a relatively minor inconvenience compared to some other alternatives. It could be that letting deep blue tribe liberals sterilize their children with gender affirming care is vastly preferable to some other egregore deciding to sterilize other people’s children. It could be that the antiwokes aren’t carefully considering the counterfactuals, and that a Egregore Hivemind based around the teachings of the Azov Battalion in Ukraine for instance might be considerably more awful to deal with.
Whatever the case, I expect we are going to find out, and quickly.