Left is Not Woke?

By Robert Bernstein   |   November 14, 2023

In ancient Greek tragedy, exile was considered a worse punishment than death. In modern times, woke cancel culture applies exile with little regard to its devastating impact on the target and on society.

“Woke” originally meant a person was awake to actual racial and social injustice. Leftist Susan Neiman wrote a book Left is Not Woke challenging what woke became. She noted “woke” originated in the 1938 Lead Belly song “Scottsboro Boys” who were falsely accused of rape and spent years in prison. True injustice.

Neiman explained that the true political Left elevates universal values over tribalism. Justice over power. And the possibility of progress. “Woke” became a monster that defeats all of these.

Woke focuses on what separates us. It elevates victimhood above heroism. It offers a view of history that is all about power and that offers no hope of progress.

Naomi Klein is a Leftist progressive thinker explaining how the Climate Crisis revealed the market failures of capitalism. But more recently she has criticized the very idea of the Enlightenment.

The Enlightenment brought us modern science and a global, universal perspective. The idea that laws should apply to everyone equally. That science and technology can bring progress to everyone.

Woke thinking has turned this on its head, claiming that the Enlightenment is nothing but a Eurocentric view that justifies colonialism. As if people in poor countries don’t deserve and desire democracy and safe drinking water, electricity, and modern communication.

One woke battle has been over Confederate monuments and symbols. I grew up well aware that the Confederate flag was a symbol of hate and fear, like the Nazi swastika. Some monuments and symbols belong in a museum, not in the town square. But then things went nuts. Lincoln statues had to come down because he said racist things. An entire life’s work is erased because of a perceived flaw. Canceling Lincoln is the reductio ad absurdum proof that woke is now insane.

Woke cancel culture became quite personal for me when a tenured UCSB professor friend got canceled. Someone with a grudge accused him of “stalking and bullying” a young student. The student wanted no part of this and denied she was a victim. In the twisted woke world, this was more evidence that she was a victim!

There was no due process. No transparency. A friend and I wrote to the Chancellor on his behalf. No reply. Our friend was banned from campus. Exile. This harmed a wide circle of grad students and fellow researchers as well as the innocent professor.

This is a recapitulation of the right-wing era of Joe McCarthy, who built his career on false accusations of Communists in our midst. No evidence needed. Just an accusation by someone with a grudge and a person’s life was destroyed.

Inevitably, it hit home with me more recently. I was canceled by an organization I have supported and worked tirelessly for since graduating college. Someone with a grudge used the modern McCarthy era system of “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” (DEI) to claim that I had violated their rules of “inclusivity.”

Unlike the case of my professor friend, not even a fake victim or specific policy violation was identified. Just a vague claim of “creating a hostile environment.” And “This policy is […] intended to cover inappropriate behavior that may not rise to the level of a legal violation.” An invitation for abuse. Even if the worst claims were true, the exile was utterly disproportionate to the claim. Proportionality is the core of our justice system.

Our planet is on fire with the Climate Crisis. We need all hands on deck and can’t afford this paranoia that corrodes the ability of people to work together.

I pointed out this behavior makes people vote for Trump. The Right is all about identity politics and tribalism. They claim that white Christian men are the victims and they have to fight back against woke cancel culture.

I have a better idea: Why don’t we return to the values of the Enlightenment and of the traditional Left? The values of Bernie Sanders. Bernie stays laser focused on the Climate Crisis, real justice, and progress, not tribalism and victimhood.


You might also be interested in...