The woke movement hits you hard with its theology. And after simmering in the social science departments of universities for years, those doctrines have reached a threshold: apostates can now be identified …… and they’re increasingly being cancelled.
With the recent public conversions of the Democratic Party, corporate broadcasters, and social media elites to the social justice faith, the movement’s authoritarian tendencies are suddenly being leveraged and scaled to a degree that many find disorienting.
So …… what happens next?
Isaac Newton taught us that for every action there’s an opposite reaction …… a law that seems to apply to politics as much as physics. Therefore, the credentialed class breathlessly awaits a draconian response from “the right.” As the thinking goes, “the left” has made their bold, riotous move in 2020, so the other shoe is bound to drop. Right?
In one sense, they’re correct: an equal and opposite reaction is occurring. But in another sense, they’ve missed the bigger picture. The push-back has already arrived. And it’s coming from …… the left.
Unbeknownst to many – including every member of America’s punditry – the liberal tradition is divided into two major components: an “upper left”, oriented heavily toward institutional, bureaucratic power, and a “lower left”, focused on individual and community empowerment. The new battle lines of the country’s culture war run between these two groups. And the citizen–empowering left has now begun to construct sound arguments against centralist left overreach.
This previously unnoticed contingent has been privately intense and passionate about woke’s excesses for quite awhile. Ironically, however, the members’ public statements were initially self-muted. But they now know they’re in an existential fight for beliefs they hold dear and they realize that something must be done. Their voices don’t yet reflect the full-throated confidence of a stand-alone movement. That will come soon enough, though.
This new group is best represented by members of the intellectual dark web, a phrase coined half-facetiously by one of its founders: Eric Weinstein. The IDW does contain a few right-leaning figures, as logic would indicate, but most members self-label as liberal, including Weinstein, his brother Bret (of Evergreen State College fame), Joe Rogan, Sam Harris, and others.
The IDW was joined in quick order by signatories to the Harper’s Magazine letter on open debate. It was a direct response to the social justice movement’s increasing embrace of cancel culture. Long time free speech liberals like Jonathan Haidt, Nicholas Christakis, and John McWhorter were joined by new converts to citizen-based flexing, like Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling.
The shift is also impacting journalism. Glenn Greenwald has advocated citizen empowerment for awhile. Matt Taibbi is now asserting his voice. And Bari Weiss defined her sharp break with the SJWs in a resignation letter to the New York Times.
The IDW and its allies are not the early adopters, however. James Howard Kunstler, Chris Martenson, and Charles Hugh Smith, among others, have eloquently outlined the principles of these positions since the early 2000s, and even earlier, in some cases. Later-arriving figures will continue to settle the territory that those brave souls have pioneered.
This resurgent force won’t remain beneath the radar for long. Legacy media will soon proclaim “a civil war within liberal ideology.” These headlines will be titillating, but the credentialed class will continue to overlook basic structural divisions in the partisan spectrum. A fundamental axis has always bisected the left side of the circle, just as it has on the right ……
The cries now emerging from the lower left quadrant hearken back to Paul Revere. They proclaim, “The authoritarians are coming!” But this is not a case of diametric opposition. These citizen-empowering figures still declare their allegiance to maternally-weighted liberal values. Their beef with the social justice movement is not with woke values, per se. Instead, the growing woke preference for top-down institutional leverage is the approach they oppose.
When I first began to speak publicly about the political circle, a common response was, “But there’s no one in the lower quadrants.” Sometimes it was clarified with examples: “Ron Paul is in the lower right, and Ralph Nader is in the lower left, but they’re getting up there in age. Who will take their place?”
Those were reasonable questions. The lower left quadrant had been demographically denuded by the late nineteenth century’s progressive movement. For most of the twentieth century, the bottom of the circle was a barren land. Most liberals believed, as a matter of faith, that the best shot at a better society lay with the large regulating institutions of a “federal” bureaucracy.
That orientation has shifted imperceptibly and gradually, however. As those government agencies found that they shared common ground with the agendas of large corporations, many liberals found themselves searching for an identity. Bret Weinstein summed it up concisely: “I used to believe in top down solutions. But I no longer think that works.” The shift of mindset in similar thinkers preceded today’s rift between the social justice movement and its new adversaries.
In the short term, the lower left will stand staunchly against the excesses of centralist liberalism. Its voices will gain confidence. The battle will be joined.
In the longer term, however, adjacent quadrants must form alliances. And the left side quadrants have too much in common to remain in perpetual existential conflict. Like the right, they must eventually strike some balance between centralized and citizen-based power. If they fail to do so, events will overtake ideology.
It will likely take the better part of our decade to resolve these issues. All four quadrants will take the field. Social questions will intersect with disconcerting new economic constraints. And the America of 2030 will look vastly different than the America of 2020.
So the answer to the title of this post is “no.” The SJWs are not SOL. But they are due for a backlash. There’s a growing political force in America. It’s a citizen-empowering liberalism that believes in the power of emergent, self-organizing systems. That new force will form unexpected new alliances, most notably with citizen-empowering conservatives. The “lower left” is here to stay.