The Woke Takeover Is Worse than You Think
From Campus to Workplace, Successor Ideology Is Remaking America
TL:DR Top-line Points:
- The institutional takeover by the Elect (Woke) is incredibly widespread — far more widespread than most people realize.
- Academia has now churned out a critical mass of zealots who, although still a decided minority, have an expert ability to capture institutions.
- Their institutional capture follows a similar, highly successful blueprint regardless of the size or prominence of that institution.
- George Floyd’s death was the “Gulf of Tonkin” moment that catalyzed and emboldened these takeovers.
- This phenomenon is so pervasive that, if left unchecked, Successor Ideology values will replace nearly all core American values within a generation.
My Twitter account is only about two months old, and I haven’t felt the need to retweet anything so far — except for one article.
This piece by Aaron Sibarium, which recently published at Bari Weiss’ Substack, provides a harrowing, in-depth look at the effects wrought by the viewpoint intolerance permeating law schools. The piece correctly focuses on the frightening implications of an already left-leaning legal profession suddenly adopting woke precepts as a matter of policy.
In particular, Sibarium notes, this hostility toward dissent or holding the “wrong” views creates a problem whereby a defendant who has committed wrongthink (even wrongthink unrelated to the case at issue), or who isn’t a member of the “right” identity group, is unworthy of representation. This argument holds that representing such a client would be akin to an endorsement of his beliefs and behavior — and should be avoided even if failing to represent him would prevent him from having a fair hearing.
You see, unfairness in service of progressive ends is more important than actual fairness.
Social justice trumps justice.
Even in 2022, this idea horrifies most attorneys, and certainly horrifies just about anyone who graduated from law school prior to the last decade or so. The article acknowledges that reality, but points out that this majority fears speaking up. Specifically:
Professors say it is harder to lecture about cases in which accused rapists are acquitted, or a police officer is found not guilty of abusing his authority. One criminal law professor at a top law school told me he’s even stopped teaching theories of punishment because of how negatively students react to retributivism-the view that punishment is justified because criminals deserve to suffer.
“I got into this job because I liked to play devil’s advocate,” said the tenured professor, who identifies as a liberal. “I can’t do that anymore. I have a family.”
Other law professors — several of whom asked me not to identify their institution, their area of expertise, or even their state of residence — were similarly terrified.
Nadine Strossen, the first woman to head the American Civil Liberties Union and a professor at New York Law School, told me: “I massively self-censor. I assume that every single thing that is said, every facial gesture, is going to be recorded and potentially disseminated to the entire world. I feel as if I am operating in a panopticon.”
As terrible as this account is on its own, it gets worse.
Sibarium correctly identifies all the ways in which the combination of (1) illiberal woke-ism and (2) the non-woke fear of the woke inevitably lead to bad policies pushed by that vocal minority.
These problems run the gamut from damaging the rights of defendants to creating major free-speech issues. This paradox highlights the self-defeating nature of the Successor Ideology when carried to its natural endpoint: it ultimately harms many of the people it purports to help.
Perhaps most alarmingly, Sibarium closes by noting that the language used in many of these DEI-type initiatives — even language used by American officials — has begun to resemble the same sort of rhetoric employed by South African politicians a generation ago.
There, laws requiring all businesses to be at least partially black-owned passed behind a wave of argument that sounds quite similar to the “antiracist” and “equity” tropes that have become ubiquitous among strident progressives over the past few years, catalyzed by the furor over the killing of George Floyd in 2020.
The problem is that these South African measures codified racial resentment in a country that had spent decades gradually un-codifying racial resentment.
Instead of removing racial bias, this movement ultimately replaced one type of bias with another — which is largely the central premise of what Ibram X. Kendi (laughably) calls “antiracism.”
Today, South Africa endures rampant violence and an almost-impossible-to-believe 35.3 percent unemployment rate.
Granted, America is not South Africa. That country has a unique history, as well as demographics that are very, very different from ours. But there’s a larger point, here, which Sibarium makes: American leaders are pointing to South Africa and essentially saying, “We should emulate that model in the name of equity.”
It isn’t that they don’t understand that race essentialism would expunge and replace things like the rule of law or “innocent until proven guilty.” Quite the contrary, it is fairly obvious that the Elect want to deliberately destroy these basic tenets of American and/or Western culture.
The most frightening thing of all is a point that is beyond the scope of Sibarium’s excellent article. Namely, that this takeover isn’t just present within the legal community. Nor is it present merely within the very visible examples of academia, legacy media, and Hollywood.
No, rather, our colleges have been mass-producing people who don’t believe in “America,” as a concept or as a country, for at least a decade. Perhaps two. And, although those people are still decidedly in the minority, they are almost everywhere.
While there have always been radical campus politics, the craziness usually evaporated under the disinfecting light of what we used to call “the real world.”
This is no longer the case.
Sibarium spotlights this reality in a legal context, but it’s even worse than that. It isn’t just that the associates at major law firms want to (metaphorically) burn the firm down.
It’s that nearly every mid-to-large employer in a major metropolitan area has a cadre of unjustifiably emboldened junior staffers who believe that their ideology must permeate every fiber of the business. Anything less makes them feel “unsafe,” or so they claim.
Company leadership, confused and scared by this phenomenon, often doesn’t know how to handle it. More to the point, the vast majority of employees just want to show up, do their jobs, and, most importantly, not get fired.
Thus, keeping quiet becomes a strategic calculation, the woke run roughshod (aided and augmented by activist HR or DEI staff). With shocking speed, a company that sells coffee beans or t-shirts or refrigerator magnets suddenly finds itself regularly issuing statements on racial equity or mask mandates or the January 6th “insurrection” or the war in Ukraine.
We’re seeing this now in highly visible organizations like Spotify, Netflix, and, most recently, Disney, which has fully embraced a political posture in Florida that puts it squarely at odds with the majority of the state’s parents — over an issue that Disney need not even address.
In the old days (and, by that, I mean more than five or so years ago), Disney would have obviously made a decision not to have a stance at all, let alone take a stance that it knows is going to upset a huge portion of its core audience.
Why is this happening? Over at Quillette, a Disney employee writing under a pseudonym notes how the internal politics that have infected Disney have become so embedded and so paramount that they override the company’s very identity.
Using the entry point of the company’s DEI Department, divisive ideas and practices gain an initial foothold, then meet little resistance as rank-and-file employees dare not speak up for fear of being painted negatively by “diversity” enforcers. This parasitic process is so successful that it eventually overwrites a company’s own core values.
After noting that Disney has its own “Ten Commandments” related to company philosophy and customer service, the anonymous employee explains:
These Commandments are complemented by Disney’s “Four Keys.” Every new cast member has these four keys drilled into them from day one: Safety, Courtesy, Show, and Efficiency. For over six decades, the Four Keys and Mickey’s 10 Commandments guided storytelling and experience-making in the Disney parks. These guiding principles have been in place, with only minor alterations, for roughly 65 years — nearly as long as the parks themselves have existed . . .
But suddenly, this is all changing. The last couple years have brought COVID, lockdowns, the summer of 2020, and the doctrines of critical theory and its various permutations to the Disney corporation. Ibram X. Kendi was a featured speaker in the “Reimagine Tomorrow” series, an internal Disney effort to promote Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives within the corporation. Employees stuck behind laptop screens at home joined BERGs and Slack channels, and used their ample spare time for internal political action. The DEI department within the company expanded by an astonishing 633 percent in 2019–21, at the same time that nearly every other department was contracting by 25–75 percent.
Most surprising of all was the addition, in April 2021, of a FIFTH key — Inclusion — to the traditional Four Keys used in training. “Like The Four Keys before them,” announced Josh D’Amaro, “The 5 Keys — with Inclusion at the heart — will continue to guide us as we interact with guests, collaborate together, create the next generation of Disney products and experiences, and make critical decisions about the future of our business.”
The employee continues, connecting this institutional capture to the ongoing corporate activism around the mislabeled “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida.
This type of capture is so alarming because it is so portable. Any HR Department, much less an explicit “DEI” Department, can begin to infect an organization with these ideas and practices. The staffers in the HR / DEI infrastructure dress up these ideas as neutral principles, but, in reality, push them as a mandatory ideology that will be enforced as such.
Yet another extremely useful example showed up last week on Wesley Yang’s Year Zero Substack. There, Yang, who gave us the term “Successor Ideology” in the first place, explains how this ideology is so insidious as to control what ideas may be taught and learned in a Canadian college.
Professor Stéphane Sérafin is a subject matter expert when it comes to the normally dry subject of property rights. He found himself in a significant controversy when he dared to treat historical claims of property right of indigenous people as an open question, rather than a moral certainty requiring self-flagellation.
As such, he became the subject of a human rights complaint over his “colonialist” teaching. This led to a series of actions from frightened or activist administrators to ensure that faculty would not commit the grave sin of academic inquiry again.
It initially appeared as though Sérafin’s penance would be confined to a new teaching module that promoted the preferred Successor Ideology principles of the complaining students (and activist administrators). The ultimate outcome was much more insidious, as Sérafin explains, noting that tension between academic freedom and the promotion of Successor Ideology tenets is now always resolved in favor of the latter.
[M]ost disturbingly, the course is not actually to be a course-or rather, is not expected to be confined to one. The expectation instead is that, in addition to a new formal first-year course dedicated to anti-racism and decolonization, a portion of every other first-year course will now be explicitly set aside for the purpose of teaching similar ideas . . .
[A] professor in my position, having received a human rights complaint because I dared to teach certain material in a way that did not conform to the dictates of the ideology, will now be expected to not only teach this material, but to do so in precisely the way that the [Successor] ideology demands. Side-stepping the controversial material altogether, as I did this year, will no longer be an option.
So, this is how it appears that the law school ultimately resolves the contradiction. Academic freedom, to the extent it means the freedom to choose what I, as a subject matter expert, feel appropriate to teach my students, was always constrained by the requirement that I actually satisfy the description of the course I am teaching. Now it seems that the description of these courses will be changed in at least some way, to formalize what had until now been an informal practice backed up by social pressure and the threat of human rights complaints.
As frustrating as these details of Sérafin’s account are, the most insightful portion comes from his observation about the speed with which all of this happened. As he notes, even around 2014 or so, most of the ideas in play were either fringe (even among academics) or unknown. By 2019, there had been a shift in thinking among more academics and administrators, but not much of a substantive change.
In a passage eerily similar to the Disney employee’s tale, Sérafin explains what happened next:
Then came the summer of 2020. Although I teach at a Canadian university, the complete penetration of American media in Anglo-Canadian culture meant that the George Floyd story was totalizing. It did not matter that Floyd had been killed by a police officer in another country, with a different history and a different set of laws governing police liability. Per the proponents of the ideology, Canada’s own systemic racism had also been exposed. Which justified mass protests in the middle of a pandemic. And necessitated that our institutions of higher learning be held to the commitments they’d been undertaking over the past few years, with the newly hired administrators often being called in to put these same commitments into practice.
See the pattern yet?
Groundwork laid by academic institutions produced a powerful minority of administrators and private-sector employees who were eager to implement and enforce Successor Ideology principles at the first reasonable opportunity. George Floyd’s death and the subsequent protests provided their “Gulf of Tonkin” moment.
That foot in the door is how we go from an idea being fringe to it being mainstream to it being mandatory in the span of half a decade.
But, as I said, this model isn’t confined to academia. Far from it. And that ubiquity will create devastating results if left unchecked.
If we don’t have the stomach to fight this with our own norms, Successor Ideology will replace what we have come to understand broadly as American principles and culture (which are already being retroactively branded as shameful and despicable in the new canon).
The good news is that everyday people are becoming aware that this is all happening. We see that recognition more and more on a local level via battles over public-school curriculum.
Moreover, high-profile opposition to “woke” thinking helpfully transcends convenient ideological, religious, or ethnic categories — despite what the Elect may tell us. Whether staunch conservatives like Ben Shapiro or Dennis Prager, liberals like John McWhorter or Bill Maher, libertarian-leaning folks like Elon Musk or Peter Thiel, or difficult-to-classify free spirits like Russell Brand or the much-maligned Joe Rogan, there now exists a wide array of thoughtful voices speaking out about the damaging effects of a rigidly enforced Successor Ideology.
The news isn’t all good, though. Far from it.
First, this ideological takeover was a project built carefully and methodically. We only noticed how effective it was when we could no longer simply laugh it off. Now, even though the “woke” are perhaps 10–15 percent of the workforce, they dominate the organizational direction of institutions.
What this means is that not only do these individuals have outsized importance (and will continue to have it), but any effort to counteract their decades-in-the-making influence will likewise take many years.
The second piece of bad news is that the results of this takeover could indeed destroy our nation as we have known it.
I don’t like using hyperbole, and I don’t believe I’m doing so now. But the elimination of such ideals as racial equality, presumptive innocence, or core tenets of free speech can’t be discounted as merely a minor tweak. These are wholesale changes with massive implications.
And they’ll be made even worse when coupled with the relentless, intense desire to besmirch the history of our nation that inevitably accompanies the attempt to impose these changes.
To stop all of this will require each of us, in our own way, to simply say “no more.”
That is much more difficult to do than say, and I freely admit that my own anonymity speaks to that difficulty. Indeed, my employer, like Disney, recently incorporated DEI principles as one of our core values. At the time, there was even discussion that it would replace one of the existing values, although we had enough sense not to go that far, at least.
Until all of us, myself included, have the conviction to elect leaders who will say “enough,” and have the courage to do so in our own lives and jobs, this tiny fraction of our country’s population will continue to dismantle and replace everything that made our nation great in the first place. And they won’t hide it.
If you believe in classical liberal values, traditional American freedom, and the ability to choose to speak freely — or not at all, even when pressured, I urge you to find that courage as soon as you can.
Before it’s too late.
Originally published at https://cultoftheoffensive.substack.com on April 22, 2022.