deletedMar 14, 2022·edited Mar 14, 2022
Comment deleted
Expand full comment
Comment deleted
Expand full comment
Comment deleted
Expand full comment

I feel like it really depends on the academic’s personality. You have to be high in disagreeableness and enjoy conflict somewhat to successfully pull off the Berserker strategy. And you have to be generally agreeable and thought of as a non-troublemaker to execute the Fabian strategy.

Expand full comment

Gosh, I am out of touch. This post feels like reading the last book of Harry Potter without having read anything else. Maybe I should be using Twitter to keep up with the conversation online. Who I am kidding, I'm too lazy for that.

Expand full comment

The use of "wokeness" here as a catch-all term for anything related to social justice, as if it were a single force to be supported or opposed, feels really lazy and indiscriminate to me. There was a lot of reaction after George Floyd was killed, because a man was slowly murdered on camera while onlookers couldn't do anything about it, and that's horrible. Lots of people reacted in lots of ways, some of which seem wholly appropriate to me (protesting police brutality and lack of accountability), some of which were foolishly utopian but you can see where they were coming from (defund the police), and some of which were the kind of ridiculous symbolic gestures that get rightly derided as "woke" (renaming the "master" branch of version control systems to "main") - it was not nearly as simple as "wokeness got stronger".

Any serious attempt to deal with the genuine problem of dysfunctional "woke" ideology has to deal with the fact that a lot of people are trying to create a better world, and you don't _want_ to push back against that - you want to push the discourse sideways, so that that effort is directed in a healthier way.

Expand full comment

The strength of the George Floyd protests was down to the absolute horror of the Floyd murder itself. A cold blooded technicolor police murder, undeniable and inescapable. A secondary factor was that about ten percent of the workforce had lost their job and so were free to engage in political action they'd otherwise be too busy to even think about. The idea that you need some grand theory of wokeness (god I hate that word) to explain it is silly.

Expand full comment

Woke/unwoke has become a politically partisan issue, especially the unwoke half since Republicans view criticizing woke people as a winning political strategy. So Berserker strategy is far more likely to get your actions amplified by conservative media. That's great if you want to make money (you can quit your job where nobody likes you and start a conservative talk show!). Not so great if you want to actually convince anyone you're right on the merits.

Expand full comment

My instinct, the best strategy is a hybrid Fabian-Berserker. Pick fights, but appear not to pick fights. Perhaps MLK was in fact closer to Berserker, but that’s not how he’s usually remembered. And that’s easier said than done, and may not generalize. After three minutes of thinking about it, I’m pretty stumped about how to actually evaluate the relative EV of these strategies. I suspect the answer is highly context dependent.

Expand full comment

Re "How Should We Assess New Atheism?" - It contributed to the decline of the less credible claims of traditional religion. But perhaps it also contributed to the emergence of MORE credible non-traditional spirituality. Dawkins said loud and clear, in "The God Delusion" and elsewhere, that he is open to the possibility of God-like agents that emerged from and operate in the physical universe. He is also open to simulation cosmologies. In "Believing in Dawkins," Eric Steinhart develops a philosophy of spiritual naturalism, inspired by the works of Richard Dawkins but not attributed to Dawkins, to show “that the jobs once done by God can be done by natural entities,” including the possibility of life after death. I think non-traditional forms of spirituality like spiritual naturalism could continue to offer all that is good in religion, without all that is bad.

Expand full comment

Mid 2000s, I read an online debate forum about religion. Why? Maybe because I lacked the courage to stab pencils into my eyes and this was the next closest thing.

I saw many debating strategies used, each with strengths and weaknesses.

You had guys who would focus on the core of an opponent's argument, and only respond to that. But without fail, their opponent would retort "aha! You ignored 80% of my post!"

Then you had guys who were like machines, doing line by line rebuttals of every word their opponent said. But often this backfired on them. They'd get bogged down on some point where their opponent was clearly right, and get hammered on it. It also had the disadvantage of fragmenting the debate, pulling it a dozen different directions.

In general, the people I respected were the ones who were clearly motivated by principles like truth, rather than being argument robots, spamming out talking points and canned rebuttals so that their side could "win".

And I respected arguers who weren't ferociously single-issue about something. It seemethey had balanced minds and souls. You'd get people who only cared about ONE VERY IMPORTANT THING and wrote fifty screeds a day about that one thing...that always came off as obsessive and deranged.

I hate arguing for the sake of arguing. Without naming names, I see some people on the anti-woke side who've kind of built their whole brand around being anti-woke, and oppose it beyond all moderation and sympathy. One of them (Rot13: Gurbqber Eboreg Ornyr) wrote a book about how business owners should fire SJWs from jobs, and so forth. That sort of approach doesn't attract my sympathy. It makes me think you're a win-at-any-cost demagogue.

I would say to your friend "pick your battles. And be known for something else. Don't let your whole identity become 'anti-woke academic.'"

I wish him luck. Many before him have failed.

Expand full comment

As someone who models this entire issue as "sometimes people on both the left and right can be overly sanctimonious or prudish about otherwise legitimate moral issues, which can lead to problems when it drives toxic office politics, moral panics or government overreach", intentionally provoking overreactions from one specific side of the political spectrum would look a lot like a partisan political stunt to me.

If you wanted me to actually support an "anti-woke" movement, you'd need to either provide a compelling argument that the problem of moral sanctimony was qualitatively different on the left, or convincingly frame the movement as just a small part of a larger, much more even-handed effort to push back against this common failure mode.

Expand full comment

Both are arguably important. You need the "Berserkers" to keep the issue in the public's mind, so that when "Fabians" in opaque committees want to argue against crazy ideas there is ample evidence that excessive wokeness can go wrong. So probably he should pick the one he does best / is most comfortable with?

There is another plus to being a "Fabian" if he feels they are scarce, though. They can support "Berserkers" (and other "Fabians") that are less protected than he is. This can reduce the feeling that to speak against the prevailing culture before you are unfireable is career suicide. There's only so many unfireable positions, so for logistics it's important. Becoming a "Berserker" means he should refrain from supporting too much others. Unfair as it is, we all know how "X was endorsed by Y, and I hate Y" works.

Expand full comment

Personally, I think the trans issue could end wokeness. On the other hand it’s increasingly institutionally embedded now.

Expand full comment

Not about wokeness specifically, but if you want to dismantle unnecessary and damaging academic bureaucracy, you'll find that being successful means usually both 1. building a coalition of people who will support your cause, and 2. finding someone in a position of authority to support you. It also means being patient and persistent.

One example: it took me over a year and many patient conversations to eliminate a useless committee. It's absence hasn't caused any issues in the 8 years it's been gone, and 7 faculty/staff have been spared a monthly meeting. To make it happen it required that I be more stubborn than the existing bureaucracy.

In general I think there's room for multiple different approaches to the same issue. I don't think having only public jerks on one side of an issue works long term, and I would appreciate more Fabians in the academy in general, so if in doubt I'd recommend more people lean that way on a variety of issues. Being intentionally provocative has it's place, but I'm not into it. Righteous anger still leaves you feeling angry.

Expand full comment

Fabian I guess, if I'm forced to choose (though I am totally loath to do that).

How grievous is the wokeness, what is its potential harm to principles and practices? If it's minor, don't fight it too much: voice your opinion with your reasons, but leave it at that. Listen to other people's reasons with an open mind, make sure everyone is heard if they have something they wish to contribute, try to use meeting practices that make it easy rather than hard to say something, treat each conversant fairly as you'd like yourself to be treated as a sensible adult with reasoned opinions.

Frankly, I find the whole idea of picking a strategy juvenile and sort of dishonest and disrespectful towards your fellow coworkers. You're not supposed to act as if your workplace is some battlefield, your coworkers constitute an opposition to overcome, and concocting a workable strategy for overcoming that opposition to install your smarter, more sensible regime. Organised job action would be the acceptable exception in my mind, where the disagreements are so vast that an official set of measures are required to settle them so people can get on with their important jobs.

I often find both woke and anti-woke sides silly to the point of exhaustion and wish the silliness would just be put to rest, and I think the best way to achieve it is to make concessions on both sides and be very generous to people's reasoning. Not being able to keep your head and choose the side that is right when you actually think they are right means you're consigning to a stupid crusade for appearances, and that's not how a mature person ought to behave while expecting others to treat you with respect. I find many woke things impotent as tools for changing actual injustices, but they're often also very innocent (like do we make a meeting quorate or not when discussing policy on racism, do we refer to immigrants as immigrants or migrants because of cultural connotations etc.), so I let them slide fairly often, pointing out that "I don't think that will bear fruit, but you seem to be convinced so maybe you're right, but either way it's not a big deal so let's press on with the rest of the agenda and agree to do it your way."

It's very hard for me to imagine a situation at my own place of business that would warrant the berserker strategy, but I'm sure they exist and would like to hear examples.

Expand full comment

Hala! In the first half hour of this podcast I described why I had to create the Darwinian Gender Studies forum because the Richard Dawkins Forums had been taken over by irrational humanists. https://paulawright.substack.com/p/guesting-on-the-vent-podcast

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2022·edited Mar 10, 2022

What do I think? I think that putting phrases like "opposes wokeness" in the context of "join the fight for academic freedom" means that, somewhere when I was not looking, the meaning of "woke(ness)" changed from "alert to racial prejudice and discrimination", which is what I thought it meant, to "harsh cancel culture on behalf of racial issues." But I see that Wikipedia claims that the word's transfer into a pejorative already happened. Yep, I haven't been paying attention.

I also see the line about "hundreds of college students hurl garbage and expletives at some kindly old sociologist who said biological sex was real one time or whatever." I consider the phrase "biological sex is real" to be a kind of shibboleth, the use of which declares a willful refusal to understand what the fuss is about.

Nobody thinks that biological sex isn't real, least of all trans people. If there were no difference between the sexes, there would hardly be any point in transitioning between them, would there? What people who say "biological sex is real" and expect to be traduced for it are actually claiming is that epigenetic display is the -only- biological reality. What they're being traduced for (and properly so) is refusal to acknowledge that biological reality is more complicated than that, refusal to admit that sex definitions and assignments can be messy, and claiming that an internal sense of sexual identity doesn't exist (Ryan Anderson in "When Harry Became Sally" tries to make the concept of internal sense of sexual identity disappear in a puff of logic).

If Lucky Academic would like my support, he should take that giant chip off his shoulder.

Expand full comment

I don't understand the difference between the two strategies. Or rather, it seems the difference is more down to how the woke react to pushback, which is not something this academic can control, or even reliably predict.

IIRC, didn't Brett Weinstein express polite disagreement in a faculty meeting? Next thing you know he's driven off campus by an angry mob. Was that the Fabian or Berserker strategy?

Expand full comment

"if the voting public is very anti-woke, but universities are very woke," the outcome will be bad for universities in the long run. The public will stop taking academy and academicians seriously.

Expand full comment

When I read the description of the berserker strategy, it reminds me a lot of Jordan Peterson. I don't want to accuse him of picking fights, but he definitely stood his ground a lot, and usually on camera. I feel like it didn't work out that well for him in the end. But then again, I can't think of any notable examples of the Fabian strategy working out for Academics either, but I'd be interested if people had examples.

Expand full comment

I work at the intersection of academia and Hollywood (kill me.) I suspect there’s a false dichotomy here.

I mostly agree with Petey’s comment. You have to appear to be a Fabian and behave like a berserker. You have to take the logic of an obvious moment (“the state murdered a guy on live TV”) and expand it into non-obvious moments (“the same state is discouraging or punishing certain kinds of expression.”) Like a lot of people, I think we should avoid state oppression and promote self-expression.

I think that any state that relies on most citizens quietly hiding their sincere views is doomed. Where the New Atheists failed, I think, is in failing to provide an alternative positive theory of meaning. I think somebody in the near future will do a better job of this.

Expand full comment

I think you mean NAACP rather than ACLU?

Expand full comment

Perhaps counter-intuitive, but maybe try and work on addressing some of the underlying issues that "wokeness" cares about. I think a lot of the shift to the left over the past decade or so is just because most people in highly educated, cosmopolitan subcultures (like elite colleges and high-paid professional jobs) believe correctly (IMHO) that even if some "woke" people are annoying and behave in toxic ways, on the object level questions that have very real concerns. So they are prone to err on the side of ignoring excesses on the "correct" side of the issue. And the best way to marginalize the radicals is to provide a sane alternative that actually addresses the underlying issue. That is, the best defense against the crazy DEI consultants/trainings/etc is the actually help create a divers environment.

Expand full comment

38 states currently have legislation pending or passed which limits what teachers are allowed to teach about race and racism, and you're going to say with a straight face that an "unwoke" friend wants to join the fight for "academic freedom"?


This is the most alarmingly dishonest thing you've ever written, and it is deeply disappointing to think you're now using your considerable talents to fight the culture war on behalf of the side that unironically waves confederate flags. You have the potential to do real harm.

"For me, seeing actual injustices against minorities makes me more woke, and seeing woke people be stupid and unnecessarily combative makes me less woke."

So... you're openly admitting that you choose your ideology based on how sympathetic you are to the people who espouse it, and not on whether it is objectively true or morally correct? I mean, I guess the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem, but as a reader of yours for years, I still find this shocking. "I don't want to be on the same side as annoying people" is a terrible, terrible, terrible epistemology. Surely you can see that?

All your talk about motivated reasoning and correcting for bias and searching for truth rings a bit hollow now. I hope you take stock soon and recover from whatever phase this is, because the sentiments you have expressed in this post are unworthy of the intellectual achievements you've made up until now.

Expand full comment

None of the above. Don't fight "wokeness".

There are things worth fighting currently living under that umbrella. Examples include:

- hypocritical (and/or clueless) performance of ineffective strategies that predictably won't do a damn thing to help the supposed victims.

- silencing people whose opinions someone doesn't like

- insisting that all righteous people must (pretend to) believe things that aren't proven, are never to be investigated, and are probably untrue

- witch hunts

Note that *all* of these predate wokeness. In my young adulthood, the prime offender for all of these (in the US) were righteous Christians. Somewhat before that, the prime offenders were anti-communists, such as senator McCarthy.

When I see someone who cares about free speech - if and only if the speaker agrees with them, or is part of their team - I see someone who doesn't care about free speech.

Ditto re "academic freedom".

I think your friend should decide what they really want.

As you present them, their goals seem about as thought out - and reasonable - as those of the average protest-prone sophomore.

Expand full comment

The Fabian/Berserker axis is only one of several that need to be considered. Another (perhaps more) important one is the the Twitter/non-Twitter (or tribalism/reasoned dialogue) axis. Twitter has become THE vehicle for tribal pitch-fork-ism now, as in the recent beheading of Jeffrey Liebermann in your profession. He wasn't trying to be anti-woke (probably had no concept of such a thing), he just made an innocent mistake, which gave colleagues who wanted to take him down a peg their opportunity to move in. His ridiculous apology (from a psychiatrist!! "unconscious biases"? give me a break!) was clearly written for him; it sounds too familiar. But he shouldn't have put his name to it; there was in fact nothing in the least racist or sexist in his tweet and he should have stuck by that, perhaps apologizing for misunderstandings, since many of his readers evidently didn't realize that the expression "freak of nature" is not derogatory, has nothing to do with "freak" in its colloquial sense. He might agree now, looking back on it, but probably had no time to think about this.

But now the damage is done; another routine lynching, another nail in the coffin of the "open debate" whose absence in her undergraduate classes Emma Camp recently wrote in the NYT about (to the inarticulate distress of Nikole Hannah-Jones). But at least she and the students she describes can resist this tribalism *in person*; you can't resist it on Twitter -- you step on a banana peel and poof, you're gone! Liebermann could also have resisted in person, if he'd said it in person rather than tweeted it; he could have explained what he meant and apologized if someone had misunderstood and overreacted. So the choice between involvement-via-Twitter vs. involvement via media less vulnerable to tribalism is critical. There is no need for an academic to be on Twitter. Liebermann's mistake was to be on Twitter in the first place; it just gave his assassins-in-waiting (whom he was probably only vaguely even aware of) their forum and their opportunity.

So yes, the choice between Fabian and berserker is important (and doesn't need to be made once for all) but the choice whether to engage via Twitter or via slower, less tribally vulnerable media is equally important. And for an academic, that choice (unlike the Fabian/berserker one) is more of a no-brainer.

Expand full comment

Atheism has nothing to offer in the face of existential risks and we are increasingly ridden with fear. I think another reason why we no longer debate is because reason has failed us, nothing is black and white, everything is an iceberg ---connected, complex more interrelated than what at first seems obvious. Beauty offers respite.

Perhaps wokism is starting to crumble because the fear of speaking out is transferred onto the much stronger existential fears of Covid and the possibility of a Nuclear War. Its narrow minded and narcissistic qualities have simply worn out. And academia....academia is entirely irrelevant.

Expand full comment

I agree with others that you need to get more object-level here, and decide what it is you're actually fighting against.

Do you just care about invited speakers not getting cancelled? That might require some type of Berserker strategy (but make sure to be good at picking fights -- inviting some actual witch to speak will certainly backfire).

Do you instead care about ending affirmative action? That one's tough but I'd aim towards joining committees and silently pushing back where possible.

Are you trying to combat woke bias in social science research? That only works if this academic friend of yours is in social science to begin with; you did not specify.

Fighting these things requires different strategies. Decide what you want to accomplish, and taboo the word "woke". Some otherwise un-woke people are in favor of affirmative action, for example. It's ambiguous.

Expand full comment

You can switch from Fabian to berserker if needed, you can not switch from berserker to Fabian. So you should always start Fabian and see how it goes.

Expand full comment

From my observations/experience, it's tough for even the tenured professors to exert influence over the university as a whole (unless your academic wants to become a dean) and therefore the best path would be to try to influence within the department.

But then it's tough to give advice without knowing what kind of academic this person is and how his peers think. In my experience with <specific hard science> departments at multiple universities, there's a tendency for the non-woke to go along with the woke just because they want to take the path of least resistance when it comes to every non-technical issue. So then being a Fabian makes sense because there would be a beloved colleague providing an alternative voice and perhaps provide some strength to those who would usually be swept up with the woke opinions to speak out as well. But I don't know if this strategy works in humanities and social science departments, where I imagine (but I don't know if this is the case) academics have actual opinions about social issues and aren't just trying to take the path of least resistance.

Expand full comment

Both of those are hard ways. A better way is "Meme it to win it".

There are multiple possibilities to make wokeness uncool... and something else cool. Sometimes a good slogan does the trick, like BLM or MAGA. Sometimes one letter has the power, like Z. Sometimes associating your opponent with your enemy is the way to go, you know plenty of those. For example, given that anti-Putin sentiment happened to be stronger on the left, because of Trump, associating Putin's gagging of the media with the similar strategies of The Woke might work. "One Nation -- One Truth". Something smarter and catchier, of course.

Expand full comment

Tangential, but I promise it is a genuine question:

> While I don’t morally blame the truckers for this, from a strategic point of view, they sure did cause it to happen.

I think this is petty. I think *you* think this is petty. So I hope you won't mind if I'm petty in return.

From a strategic point of view, people who failed to unequivocally support the truckers, caused the normalization of freezing bank accounts. While I don't morally blame the "silent majority" for this, they sure did cause it to happen.

I realize this isn't /quite/ apropos. Protest strategy is in some sense exogenous; the public's response is endogenous. Still, "an entirely nonviolent, but nevertheless internationally visible protest" is an extraordinarily high bar to meet, and the Canadian convoy managed it. Moreover, when I was a mere schoolboy, the standard story of the civil rights movement involved many benign protests designed to elicit a harsh overreaction. This, I was told, was a brilliant strategy: it made the protestors sympathetic, and the suppressive authorities were exposed as the bigoted incompetents they were. Did civil rights protestors (from a strategic point of view) normalize the use of firehoses on peaceful protests?

In short: What, specifically, could the truckers have done better, and how would it have led to better results?

Expand full comment

My advice would be: spend a lot of time thinking about exactly what your principles are. If you fight the Left they're going to spend a lot of time trying to tell you what you believe and why you're evil for believing those things.

It's important to keep a strong concept in your head of what you actually _do_ believe -- for instance, "I believe every individual should be treated equally regardless of sex, race or sexual orientation", or "I believe in [this very specific definition of] free speech". Then, be ready to stand up for those good principles when they are violated and articulate exactly why.

Being "anti-woke" is an understandable shorthand for a position, but it's not a good thought process for picking your fights. Fight the stuff that's genuinely wrong, not just the stuff that annoys you.

Expand full comment

Re: the Fabian strategy as applied to the civil rights movement, see these excellent recollections of Thurgood Marshall by one of his assistants:


It's worth mentioning the real Fabian strategy is that of Fabius Maximus Cunctator, the Roman general who was appointed dictator after a series of disastrous defeats at the hands of Hannibal, and employed what we would nowadays call guerrilla warfare until Roman strength could be rebuilt, a rare instance of Romans fighting as the underdogs.

Expand full comment

You've posted cringe

IN any case; he could try being not being aggressively annoying about speech when it makes him feel like a martyr, while totally failing to do anything but regurgitate reheated 90's pabulum about political correctness with the numbers filed off. That's been 100% of my experience with higher education reactionaries.

If he wants to challenge Wokeness as social phenomena, he needs to do it from the left, not the right.

When people attack Wokness from the right, it looks exactly like just being a normal ass racist. If he wants to convince people that aren't racist and aren't impressed with his noble defense of truth and freedom and blah blah blah, he needs to convince them that it's not just low class to be woke, but ineffective.

Expand full comment

Ah, cynical political strategy! I love it.

I’ve thought about this sort of question a lot in different contexts, but I think of the “Fabian” and “Berserker” strategies as “inside” and “outside” roles. Importantly, I do not consider them alternatives, but complements.

You need someone on the outside creating drama and generating pressure. And you also need someone on the inside negotiating a response to that pressure that suits your goals.

In professional politics I’ve seen members of party A deliberately feeding information to competing party B to attack party A with. Why would they do such a thing? Because that outside pressure helps them win the internal argument! “Party B is smashing us in this issue, we should do (thing I always wanted to do) so those attacks don’t damage us so much.”

So identify which of those roles needs to be filled in your current circumstance. If you have allies on the inside who don’t want to start drama and face blowback but do want to advance academic freedom, then you can fill the outside role and create drama so they can engineer “compromises” that give you some of what you want.

On the other hand if there is a lack of people on the inside that are sympathetic to the cause of academic freedom, then you should focus on building your own status and position and becoming that inside player.

Expand full comment

What's the point of banning culture war discussions if the articles are about how to ignite culture wars? Isn't this the most counter productive thing for ACX you could do, even if it works?

Expand full comment

Sorry I'm from Germany and really don't get it: what's the problem with wokeness? Is this really a big Problem in US? To me it seems like jumping the alt-right train because of annoyance of loved privileges. Also I don't get why quotas are a bad thing. It depends on the field but in politics and leading positions they are a valid tool imho.

Expand full comment

I think one of the biggest advantages of the Fabian strategy is that is lends itself towards institutionalization. You can build up a larger network/council/club/whatever that will persist for longer than you. Because eventually you’ll die, and my guess is that eventually something with similar problems will emerge (think the conservative censoring that went on in the late 1900s).

Expand full comment

Is the anonymous academic an unwoke progressive/liberal? If yes, he should probably make it very clear, regardless of the strategy he picks. And not by self-identifying as a leftist but by directly supporting specific causes. It doesn't always help, but at this point putting oneself on the line to preach civility by saying stuff like "you should treat me charitably" makes people more hostile both to them and to civility.

(My reservation is that doing it too strongly might draw the contour of a belief-shaped hole around the beliefs in which he (and his colleagues) diverges from progressivism.)

Expand full comment

Love the sign. Can it be ordered outside of the US?

"I, Greengrocer xy lives here" is rather cryptic though. Why does being a greengrocer, and/or denoting yourself xy, let you off the hook? Some local Berkeley story behind this, perhaps.

It reminds me of an old Peanuts strip. Lucy goes through the neighbourhood and gets everyone to sign a document stating, "I am absolved from all blame". Linus, a bit envious, comments: "That is a nice document to have".

Expand full comment

I was recently thinking about the truckers protests. And one questions that I got struck with is that: is government freezing the bank accounts of people doing the activity the government doesn't like really worse than government arresting people, all things being equal?

I live in Russia and I would really prefer if my government freezed my bank account for the time I participate in the protest instead of sending SWAT to beat the shit out of me and then arrest for a couple of days during which I may or may not be tortured. The bank account freezing seems much less violent measure.

Similarly, now all the world is imposing economical sanctions on Russia. And this seems to be a much less violent measure than directly sending armies and everyone understands that. Why then we are so worried about this new norm of freezing protesters' bank accounts?

Expand full comment

The wokeness movement, which is about power and control, not rights or repairing injustices, will not be beaten until some of its leaders are made to suffer personally. At the moment, they are in the position of bullies effectively able to pick on any target they choose. To the extent that right-wing legislators try to push back (and I think that's largely confined to the US) they are just playing the same game, albeit at a much more basic and unsophisticated level, and simply advance the victim narrative. Remember that wokeists have imbibed a half-understood set of ideas from Marcuse: tolerance is itself a form of violence, so it's wrong to tolerate people who disagree with you. So you can surrender to these people, or you can beat them, but you can't negotiate with them by definition.

What I would do is to pick a particularly egregious and unpopular wokeist, in a vulnerable position, and collect incriminating information on them. When you have enough, try to get them sacked or disciplined. Use their own tactics: mobilise students against them, get hold of alumni who have suffered at their hands, set up an anonymous bulletin board where people can make complaints .... Wokeists are used to treading all over opposition. They'll think again if they realise they may suffer personally.

Expand full comment

This seems way too navel-gazey to be a worry right now. Given the political successes and organization of the far-right in the US, seems like the most important thing to worry about right now is that we don't re-elect a former president who wants to take us out of NATO, supports Putin, and came close to succeeding in a coup attempt on manufactured bullshit around an election. This is a real risk considering some of the bills passed to change voting at the state level. The people who have the actual power are more dangerous than the wokesters at this point. The wokesters are now a sideshow that the likes of Tucker Carlson can point to justifying the latest outrage.

Expand full comment

I'm sorry, but this one should have stayed in Drafts longer. (-Kind +True +Necessary)

Ironically, most of the people I know who more than agree that "the previous panic about terrorism went a little too far" are either woke, or so danger-close to woke that it sure feels like you're knives-out for them.

People are trying to do what they think is best, and you're not trying to help them do Good, you're just planning how to fight them.

I hope that this post merely suffers from carelessness of writing, rather than serving as a rallying call for a proxy culture war.

Remember that time when whole communities rose up to support a minority group, and tried to recognize their struggles, and the minority group said "fucking finally"?

Yeah, I guess that was "a weird time".

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2022·edited Mar 10, 2022

I don't really know what wokeness is, besides the terrifying bogeyman. I don't follow the news particularly much, and I'm a college freshman in computer engineering so I haven't seen any terrifying suppression of academic freedom personally.

With that context, I think this post is written from entirely too meta a perspective. It reads to me that 'Wokeness' and 'Anti-wokeness' stand in for 'social justice and the belief that society needs to change to be more accepting' and 'society is accepting enough already; we don't need your delusions'. The Fabian strategy is being a polite and engaged community member and speaking up against policies not actually based in fact (if of course, there actually are issues with the policies) which attempt to signal an organizational belief in social justice but cause unintentional harm in other ways. The Beserker strategy is to intentionally try and cause people who want a more accepting and equal society to overreact and form a mob which harms some innocent seeming victim in order to defeat make them look bad and defeat wokeness. The latter seems to me to be an ineffective way to cause attempts at social justice to be rooted in data and experiment.

The ending section of the post, especially "maybe this will keep wokeness in the public eye long enough for the (now controlled by anti-woke people) government to reckon with it and change the relevant laws" stood about to me. What relevant laws? What fantasy based laws are tyrannizing academics? Laws meant to fix systemic inequalities? Those should be changed to be more effective certainly, but not removed---removing laws doesn't fix the inequalities. To me, the laws most in need of fighting are the anti trans laws many states (Idaho, Utah, Alabama, etc.) are in the process of passing.

Expand full comment

Unfortunately, I don't think either of these strategies will lead to happiness, and both are career-limiting in the woke academy. The question, as posed, is essentially "how obnoxious can I be and still keep my nearly-solid job." That's not what junior faculty generally want to solve for. There are other strategies.

Expand full comment

I think the Fabian strategy only works alongside the Berserker strategy. Fabians are supports for Berserkers (morally as well as practically), but the ideal strat is whatever one encourages the academic to do this consistently.

Probably the most important aspect of this is ensuring that Fabians can be recognised by other Fabians (or even by Berserkers)

Expand full comment

I suggest that at least the Fabian strategy should include opposition to actual prejudice.

One of the crazy-making thing about this era is having two sides. One believes that any disparity is evidence of bigotry, and the other (consider Lowry and Sowell) seem to believe that no disparity is worth considering as evidence of bigotry. Both views save the trouble of looking at specifics.

Expand full comment

The Berserker strategy is going to test just how strong the "almost" in "almost unfireable" really is.

Expand full comment

wokeness spreads in bureaucracies because

A) it is very useful in office politics

B) it justifies increasing the size and power of the bureaucracy

C) it justifies separating the bureaucracy from accountability to the outside

fabianism or berserkering are strategies to deal with A (with bersekering trying to counter C)

they also only work for the very very few with a secure position

that is not enough

Expand full comment

Modified Fabian. Become genuinely beloved in a different way, then use different tactics....

a. Start with relationships. Genuinely seek to befriend/mentor 2 to 4 African-American faculty and admin with strong Left/Woke credentials.

Start by having 30 coffee dates as one-shots. Whittle it down based on genuine connection and enjoyment of debate, and of course, people who seem to like you personally. Importantly, you are uniquely free to seek this. Others would be afraid to be cancelled on coffee chat itself (per UVa student column in NYT).

b. Do same with other tribes.

(Authentic relationships will also expose you to: actual and imagined discrimination your colleagues face. Perhaps it'll be the ratio you expect, perhaps not).

c. Now do what universities are supposed to do. Use those trusting relationships and create debate and discussion.

Maybe it's a "Forbidden Podcast" that discusses both the Fabian and Berserker concerns. Maybe it's "invite only" debates to give exclusivity/prestige. Importantly, you're not trying to "win" per se, you're trying to show the intellectual enjoyment of actual exchange. Honey not vinegar.

Model healthy exchange.

Goal: less Woke students gain courage.

Goal: more woke students see in your open-minded Woke counterpart - not YOU - the sheer fun of civil discussion without censorship.

d. Use your mini Dunbar of perhaps 15 new, real relationships to, perhaps once a year, defeat The Dumbest Thing. One Berserker per year. If there are 5 candidate targets, pick one where you have strongest alliance with a Woke tribe member so you can Berserker it together.

Expand full comment

Die on another hill. Fighting wokeness or even it's bad policy manifestations is a far cry from the most important issues facing society. An academic in such a position has far more valuable contributions to make to society than battling the subtleties of social justice overreach into wokeness.

Expand full comment

Christianity is far from gone. Politicians still have to convince everyone they’re good christians whose favorite book is the bible, ban abortion for religious reasons, etc. Everyone was Christian and then progressives let go of it whereas mostly conservatives kept it. But with wokeness the equivalent would be racism: everyone was racist and now progressives have shed that (and sometimes overshoot) and mostly conservatives are the ones holding on to it.

Expand full comment

"Berserker" sounds incredibly stressful. Even if the woke can't fire you (and are you *utterly* certain of that?), they can still protest you, spread lies about you online, shout insults at you in public, send you death threats, et cetera.

In my own life, the pattern I've seen is that someone says: "it's okay if I make (X) mad at me because there's nothing they can really do to me" and then (X) demonstrates that this statement was *really* incorrect. My personal life lesson is to never make that statement again.

There's such a thing as sacrificing for a cause you believe in, but "berserker" seems to be a *very expensive* sacrifice. My advice is not to do that.

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2022·edited Mar 10, 2022

Maybe relevant: ABET, the accreditor for any engineering program worth attending, has updated their accreditation criteria to include the following:

"The curriculum must include:

c) a professional education component that is consistent with the institution’s mission and the program educational objectives and promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion awareness for career success."


"The program faculty must demonstrate awareness and abilities appropriate to providing an equitable and inclusive environment for its students, and knowledge of appropriate institutional policies on diversity, equity, and inclusion."

It seems that, for ABET, to be a successful engineer (or an engineering professor), you must be woke.

Expand full comment

Fabian strategy and building a network behind the scenes, while waiting for a 100% fool proof berserker strategy about 5 to 7 years down the line, to be implemented strongly and once, to avoid the soft ending.

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2022·edited Mar 10, 2022

Start a news site for his school that receives tips and reports all of the woke stuff. It could be as simple as a substack.

Publicizing wokeness will hurt enrollment and pressure the administration.

Expand full comment

As an unwoke professor who made it to the dean ranks to try to make a difference, as soon as your friend reveals his true position and views his career progression will slow dramatically. There are a handful of universities where this would not be true, but for the vast majority of AAU research universities it is. The issue matters most in the humanities and social sciences, significantly less so in the physical sciences and engineering. Being ostracized is really hard over the long haul.

Expand full comment

Berserker Strategy, because the Fabian Strategy doesn't work online.

I've been participating in online arguments longer than many people engaging in them now have been alive. I eventually stopped, realising that there weren't any actual arguments being had between people. There were Social Games. And I've been around long enough to see the pieces of the Social Games change, multiple times. The same people playing the Social Game exchange pieces for new ones, and they won't even notice. To treat these pieces as arguments, positions, or even beliefs, is wrong-headed.

Just to clarify, I may use words like "nobody" and "people" but this does not mean literally no person, or literally all people. An individual pointing out an individual exception and claiming victory by beneficially expanding to the tribe is itself part of the Social Game. The Social Game is played by groups, not individuals.

What does this have to do with the question? Well, now adays, Twitter is real life. We have made the wonders of the internet real, and it is more horrible than we could have possibly imagined. And because Twitter is real life, acting as if there are beliefs being held is a mistake.

Your friend is not fighting for academic freedom. Nobody really cares about academic freedom. People care about if they can be insulted as X-ist or Phobic, and if they can insult others as X-ist or Phobic. This time we live in now is not comparable to the Civil Rights era (that was not an internet Social Game), and so the Civil Rights era, and other real protest movements did not solve these problems, and cannot teach us anything about them. They had nothing to do with these problems.

New Atheism is also not comparable, at least not in the way you wish it to be. This is because New Atheism and the war against Religion-but-Actually-Just-Vague-Christianity was an online battle (and thus, nobody fighting it had beliefs), before the horrific merger of reality with Twitter. Ultimately the Christian Monoculture as you call it lost out, but New Atheism was just along for the ride. The pieces merely changed after the fall.

Nothing "convinces" people to be Woke or Un-Woke, because these are not beliefs and nobody cares about arguments. People switch sides rarely these days, and usually only for social reasons that I doubt could be distilled into any strategies.

Now, to take a completely different angle than trying to answer your specific questions, let me talk about 4chan. 4chan has mostly solved these problems, and solved them over a decade ago. The problem is not policy (Academic Freedom), but fashion (Wokeness). Fashion changes trends, and it is of groups, not individuals. If a single person goes outside wearing something completely bonkers, we call them tacky at best, crazy at worst. But if an entire group goes outside wearing something bonkers, we call them hipsters.

4chan eschews the entire concept of fashion by embracing a fashion that cannot be bought in to by half measures. That is, to speak specifically, 4chan values the policy of anonymity and freedom to such an extent that in order to preserve it, it spontaneously developed an extremely toxic environment as a defence mechanism, to both ward off and kick out anybody who refuses to conform to it. If you are the type of person who wants to build social capital by playing social games, you will find 4chan almost impossible to deal with. First of all it is so toxic most people will lose social capital merely by associating with it in the first place. Second, you will be relentlessly insulted for establishing an identity outside of a very few situations. And third, in order to learn how to avoid these two issues, you must not engage immediately and instead watch and learn how to fit in.

4chan cannot have any *real* culture wars, because its users have no identity within a culture in the first place. A fervent believer is indistinguishable from a troll. You cannot gain social capital, you can only lose it, which means there is no motivation to fight. It is not even easy to tell that discussion is happening at all, as discussion between multiple parties is indistinguishable from some random person performing an elaborate prank.

And how does this relate to our current situation, where real life and the internet are one thing? 4chan sustains its preferences by making opposition socially unpalatable inside of its domain. While it does this by being unpalatable to the wider population, it still succeeds at its goal. And so it seems that the equivalent strategy for real life is the Berserker strategy. Make sure you never lose fights in the academic sphere, and do your best to make sure your opponent can't win them. If everybody does this in their own domain in the same direction, it'll work out. Now there is still stuff to be said about the idea that perhaps there *are* underlying policies behind the Social Game, since this is a Social Game played In Real Life. But the "Woke" position is incoherent (something players of the Social Game will admit to when they need to claim that the Woke position doesn't exist in the form its detractors says it does) as a policy, and whatever real policies had by it, and the opposition players, are played in a different arena using different terms, by individuals and not groups.

Of course ideally we'd just uncouple the internet from real life. That's possible but also an entirely different discussion.

Expand full comment

We don’t need more celebrity intellectuals. We need long-term, solid academics who can talk people away from the teetering point or lead people away by example. Especially if this person is publishing frequently, I think it’s better to become that community pillar. Fabian.

Expand full comment

I can't say which strategy is more effective in a 'total war' against wokeness. But if you just want to cultivate your garden - and as part of that I would include making your garden a pleasant place for your colleagues! - I would recommend the Fabian approach. I am not in academia but have reached a similarly 'unfireable' position in my company while still being relatively junior, and have been employing this strategy for the last few years. It has been successful in curbing the worst excesses of HR/'People' teams, and has also I think helped to establish that it is possible to be 'unwoke' while *also* being a compassionate, caring and (I hope) competent boss. This has meant that as well as being able to fight my own little corner of the business, I now have allies in other parts of it who think and act likewise, and people who I have trained or who have reported to me have been in part converted to my position. If you care about your colleagues and don't want to sacrifice them in a larger conflict, please don't be a berserker.

Expand full comment

I'm not sure this reduction to binary choices is helpful. The degree to which "woke" ideology is monolithic and dominant on campuses varies with the campus (since the context of the post concerns colleges and universities) and among units on campus. The optimal strategy a concerned faculty member might best adopt (depending on their personalities) could vary accordingly.

As others commenting have noted, there's a lot of what we call "woke" that involves both views that have broad validity and social results that have been constructive. I think the two elements that make woke culture destructive are the excessively simplistic and reductive tendencies of some extreme (but not necessarily fringe) elements of woke ideology, and the culturally stifling effects of woke campus culture at some schools where it has become dominant, either among the faculty and student bodies, or via administrative norms.

I think there is no reason a faculty member committed to mitigating the excesses of woke culture without reversing its positive features couldn't mix "Fabian" strategy and occasional "berserker" tactics. One is optimal for persuasion by positive example, the other for provoking persuasion by the negative example of woke cultural excesses. In the long run, the former seems preferable because its effect tends to undercut polarization, while pushing woke culture towards extreme behavior relies on exacerbating polarization and gambling that moderate pluralism will somehow win out, rather than full-blown anti-wokism, which risks the growth of white nationalist and similar elements, especially among the student body.

Expand full comment

Which strategy is correct probably depends on the temperament and characteristics of that person. Which strategy can they execute better?

For me, personally, I am seeing that the berserker strategy just makes a bunch of semi-woke people get more woke. I've been talking with a friend i consider semi-woke and am realizing that my objections to wokism have been tinged with so much anger and frustration that he's never taken it seriously.

here was a paragraph i wrote that punched me in the face for great justice after i wrote it:

"it turns out that it's really, really, really, really hard to be truly open minded and fair to people we disagree with. It's extremely difficult, not because we are bad or evil, but because we care, and when people care a lot, and don't have the skills necessary to disagree calmly and fairly, they come across like belligerent assholes."

On that note, i don't think MLK was berserker style at all. I think he and the people in his movement _didn't_ get all aggressive and punchy and angry. They didn't sit at the counters in montomgery and say 'fuck you racist assholes we just want sandwiches.' They sat down camly, politely, with intense dignity while being attacked, and asked politely 'why can't i have lunch.' They arranged the bus boycott but they didn't block the busses. They marched peacefully, no shouting, no angry faces, and when the attack dogs came, they _didn't fight back_

I think people really do respond to truly virtuous behavior, and if we want to oppose wokism we have to be really virtuous and kind to do so successfully. Because the reality is that they are very very concerned about what is 'right', it's a religion, and nobody likes having their religion challenged. Telling Christians that they are idiots isn't nearly as effective as saying, 'but this jesus fellow seemed really loving, is that really a loving way to be?', in a kind, loving tone.

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2022·edited Mar 10, 2022

I’m not sure this quite fits your dichotomy, but the most effective tactic seems to be “let the really woke expose their crazier views” (or expose them yourself). These views currently are very powerful but in very narrow bubbles, and are protected by folks with outsized voices who are willing to “sanewash” these ideas outside the bubble. To the “normies” outside these media/academic/very online bubbles, the ideas are crazy. The sanewashers might be able to keep the normies sympathetic by religiously touting the motte, but put them in direct contact with the woke in the bailey and their support will collapse.

Which do you think did more damage to “wokeness”, getting Jordan Peterson onto Evergreen, or passing around that Smithsonian poster that said that punctuality and objectivity are white supremacy?

One of the bigger victories attributed to anti-wokeness was the election of Glenn Youngkin. Part of the catalyst for this was the pandemic giving otherwise mostly liberal parents a more direct view of what their kids were being taught in classrooms, and them not liking what they saw. Then, seeing what lengths the gatekeepers and sanewashers would go to to discredit them (up to and including keeping enemies lists and getting them labeled domestic terrorists).

That said, a good example of a relatively successful deployment of the Fabian strategy might be JK Rowling?

Expand full comment

While my gut response is sympathetic to Alex’s main points, I think a large part of that is because I am in a social milieu where critical analysis of the tools and language of woke movements are not adequately addressed (or even recognized). In this case, my response is partly emotional and tied to feeling affirmation.

However, taking a step back I have to agree with a lot of the more measured takes in the comments section, regarding the need to be more measured in our discussion of wokeness, and not to conflate it with social justice. The illiberal tendencies of wokeness I imagine many of us are concerned about is *not* exclusive to social justice movements. It is also shared by conservative movements, except there the litmus test is whether you use terms like “RINO” and “stop the steal”, and attempts at measured discourse get you primaried.

The point is, the illiberal tendency is everywhere. I think Alex did gesture at this point by comparing the SJ movement to Christianity. Growing up, I learned to pay lip service to Christian modes of speaking to get by.

I think the danger of simplifying wokeness (and our terminology) into only its illiberal tendencies is that it address ANYONE’s innocent concerns. A) it doesn’t address real concerns about diversity and inequality so woke people dismiss you and you’re only radicalizing their movement more by taking moderate people out, and B) you reduce your language to be imprecise, making your brand “anti-woke” when it really should be an orthogonal brand like “liberal discourse.” After the woke movement passes and the next ascendant movement comes with the same illiberal tendencies, you have to reinvent your branding and fight all the same fights. We need a better long term banner to fight *for*.

(Side rant: another pet peeve of mine is SJ activism language that analyzes everything as an evil of capitalism and systems. It’s monistic and lacks nuance. I also am perplexed by the extreme ethnocentrism that woke movements lean into. I agree with woke movements in their analysis that white-ethnocentrism has perpetuated harms because as a whole they have been the people with power to propagate harms, but the solution to that is *not* “more ethnocentrism around other groups!” That just shifts who has the power to do harm, instead of actually addressing deeper, harmful human tendencies, and in that sense isn’t really moving the needle in any way. But maybe I’m being idealistic in my desire to change human nature instead of merely guiding/aligning it with better outcomes)

What is more constructive long term (but harder) is to show constructive ways to align truth with other genuine/sincerely held concerns. This is maybe hard because all communication is lossy and we rely on shorthand that oversimplifies nuance (as pointed out by many comments), and the fact that truth is it’s own independent axis means sometimes it *does* run counter to your other interests, leading to illiberal tendencies when you sacrifice truth in favor of those interests.

Expand full comment

As with the "donate 10% to charity because it's achievable" perspective, I think there are several things that non-woke can do to better the situation without making it their life pursuit. These can be applied to universities but also other organizations as well.

1. Kindly and consistently point out when your organization is attempting to do something illegal, like explicit discrimination. For instance, racial quotas, intentionally not hiring a qualified white person, or similar. On the more extreme end of this, report the illegal activity to the relevant governmental organization, police, or concerned NGO (like FIRE for universities). You can often do this anonymously.

2. Be a sane but non-confrontational voice in meetings. You don't need to make yourself a pariah in order to quietly speak against excesses of wokeness. You can even do this while being woke yourself, if the woke are taking something too far. You don't need to invite Ben Shapiro to your school just to make a point, but maybe a middle-of-the-road liberal that isn't explicitly woke but has useful thoughts on some subject. Say normal and sane things, make normal suggestions. Normalize being normal, even if your organization is much further left than normal. Quietly move the Overton Window back.

3. Be honest in filling out surveys and forms, and in private discussions. You can generally do this without jumping down specific rabbit holes (genetic differences between races, inherent sex differences) that you know will cause significant pushback. Basic responses like "I don't see an issue with his Halloween costume" or "we should hire the most qualified candidate" are necessary for a functioning society. One person being able to say the obvious will encourage others to do the same.

4. Be steady in your responses. You don't need to respond angrily. You don't need to fight. But you also shouldn't apologize for having a normal opinion about a subjective situation. It's perfectly okay to vote for a Republican, or to eat Thai food even if you're Polish, or whatever people might want to make you feel bad about.

5. Consider getting off of Twitter and other social media entirely. It's amazing how much less ability people have to harass and intimidate you when you take away the avenue.

One thing to keep in mind with this or any approach is the need to be a generally well-regarded member of your organization. It's a lot easier to attack the guy who constantly has interpersonal problems with colleagues, students, customers, whatever. It's easier to get management to discipline someone that's already a poor worker and barely doing their job. It's a lot harder to get a mob to go after the guy who is nice to everyone and has good interpersonal relationships.

Expand full comment

This gets very little attention, but the NAACP’s anti-segregation legal strategy was extremely Fabian. It started in 1935, when they sued on behalf of a black student who wanted admission to U of Missouri’s whites-only law school (Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada – Canada being the surname of the school registrar). Even under the “separate but equal” doctrine U of Mo didn’t have much of a case since there was no equivalent black law school. The Supreme Court rejected their offer that Missouri pay to have Gaines attend law school in a different state. The NAACP then won similar cases against whites-only Texas and Oklahoma law schools.

Southern states responded in two ways. Texas tried to create a separate black law school, but the Supreme Court found that this was obvious unequal since the new law school was tiny and less prestigious (Sweatt v. Painter, 1950). Oklahoma tried to create internal segregation arrangements in their graduate schools, which the Supreme Court regarded as degrading and ridiculous. (McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, 1950). Only in 1951, after more than a decade of winning easier cases and establishing precedent for desegregation, did the NAACP decide to try desegregating primary schools in Topeka, Kansas.

This story is often told as NAACP as berserker – bravely using unconventional arguments to overturn established law in Brown v. Board, but it was absolutely a Fabian triumph. Perhaps heroic Fabians are always fated to be recast as berserkers. I’ve always thought something similar happened with gay rights: everyone likes talking about Stonewall but from what I can tell, there’s been tremendously increased acceptance since I became politically conscious in the early 1990s and disruptive activism has played almost zero role in that. Fabians may have won a lot of stuff without building legends.

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2022·edited Mar 10, 2022

If you are concerned with wokeness as a movement, the obvious answer is to crowd out bad ideas on solving or explaining away problems with better ones.

To me, it’s seems that the policing debate has been less successful for wokeness than people would have expected. We went from defund as scripture in 2021 to some real debate on the left and a bunch of democrats reneging on it.

(Not an American) - This seemed to be because:

1) many intended beneficiaries actually wanted policing,

2) the quiet and non-confrontational work of criminologists and economists who did studies on policing

3) the rising murder rate, which heavily affected minorités

This may require advocating for a saner and fairer form of social justice.

If anything, one should work to amplify non-conservative alt/anti-woke viewpoints or research.

Many anti-woke people noted that mainstream parties would have to deal with immigration concerns to stave off the far right if mainstream parties were indeed concerned about their rise and influence.

Wouldn’t the same apply here?

Expand full comment

> For me, seeing actual injustices against minorities makes me more woke, and seeing woke people be stupid and unnecessarily combative makes me less woke.

Understandable as it may be, I would encourage anyone with this mindset to reflect on whether it is an optimal strategy in an age where both partisan extremes are incentivized to amplify fringe voices through social media.

I never lived in a big liberal city. I am not compelled to shape my views on 'wokeness' based on woke SF-based twitter accounts, any more than I expect other readers to become more skeptical of conservatives because of my own worst experiences in rural Kansas. Besides, having brought both crowds together for my wedding, I am happy to report that people from both political 'extremes' get along just fine once you get them off the internet.

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2022·edited Mar 10, 2022

>Were The George Floyd Protests An Example Of Woke Power Or Woke Overreach?

This framing makes no sense to me - it asks many questions about the *method* and *intensity* of protest without ever mentioning the *subject* of the protest, which I would think is the most important part of whether a protest gets popular support!

To me, the simplest explanation is this: George Floyd shifted the stereotype of the SJ movement from "those people who complain that yoga classes are cultural appropriation" to "those people who are against black people being choked to death by police." Unsurprisingly, the latter got a lot more people out in support.

Asking "did the George Floyd protests result in wokeness gaining power?" where "wokeness" describes both the anti-yoga people and the anti-police-brutality people seems like a false category. It's like that post about how neoreactionaries lump modern democracies and murderous communist regimes into the same category of "not ruled by a king, therefore bad," and asking if Biden's election means that the communists are gaining power. They might share some supporters, in the same way that leftists probably prefer communists over fascists, but it doesn't seem useful to fight "wokeness" as a single entity and judge actions on whether it'll help or hurt that entity as a whole. You want to hurt the anti-yoga nuts and help the not-brutalizing-minorities crowd.

(And to show that I'm not simply splitting the group I like and homogenizing the rest, on the right wing I would like to hurt the QAnon nuts and help the free market types.)

Edit: It also reminds me of that "ethnic tension" post about how politics is often done by linking something you hate to something else that feels similar but is unrelated. I worry that making "fighting wokeness" a terminal goal would lead them to fighting something genuinely important just because it *feels* kinda similar to the anti-yoga people in terms of language used or the people who support it.

Expand full comment

Your friend's target audience is fence-sitters. To pick his battles, he should figure out what things concern them about wokeness, identifying the rifts between them and the university orthodoxy. Then, he should hammer in the wedge as much as he can.

Do fence-sitters think we've clamped down too far on Halloween costumes? If so, your friend should pull a Christakis. Do they have a closeted belief in biological sex? If so, your friend should pull a Rowling. Do they think defunding police is a bad idea? Then he should voice that opinion.

Is this Fabian or Berserker? I don't think it necessarily involves being either... he doesn't need to be on committees, nor does he need to be an intentional provocateur; he can just write a careful op-ed. And regardless of which tactics he chooses, if he wants to move the needle, he needs to find the wedge issues.

Expand full comment

In general, I favor the Fabian strategy for a different reason as well - it's more likely to converge on truth. If I'm wrong and wokeness actually is correct and necessary, it'll do better at avoiding hurting people and would be more likely to realize it was wrong.

(I think the actual word is less binary - with some wokeness things being bad and others being good - and on the detailed level, it's likelier to converge on fighting just the bad woke things).

Re the fashion barberpole - interesting to note that South Korea elected an openly anti-feminist president this week. Not sure if this shows American cultural exportability is weakening or if it's another crack at the top of the barberpole, but it is an interesting crack in global wokeness - I don't think there's been any first world country leader before (very much including Trump) who didn't at least give vocal support for feminism.

Expand full comment

"While I don’t morally blame the truckers for this, from a strategic point of view, they sure did cause it to happen."

"Why do you make me do this to you? I don't want to beat you, but you make me so angry! You know you shouldn't provoke me!" is the mantra of abusers.

I didn't think the trucker protest was a good idea, but the way it was carried out seemed to be acting civilly; yes, they inconvenienced and annoyed people, but they didn't burn down any buildings or shoot people or any of the other types of behaviour we saw in other protests.

So it really was Side A showing its disdain, contempt and vengefulness against Side B. I'm sure any and every government would love to do such things, but that the Canadian government did this in this context, rather than against a different protest (such as this one https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/fairy-creek-protest-largest-act-of-civil-disobedience-1.6168210) does show a bias.

I've seen the Canadian truckers described as "far-right" which seems to be the new code for "Nazis or close to it". I don't know if they were, I'm not clear on what they were protesting about. But when it's the side of Tolerance and Inclusivity that starts using such tactics against those they deem unacceptable, it begins to look less like "we are on the right side of history" and more "when in power, we do what we want".

Expand full comment

I would try to sincerely want the best for everyone including yourself and then do what you think is right with a clear explanation. I don’t know how sustainable tit for tat games are beyond single exchanges and you can’t make people fight you every step of the way and change a culture. Or as my grade school martial arts teacher said: “when pushed, pull.”

That said, I do have a couple of more cynical things I do when someone is just being a dick that I call Fred Rogers Machiavellianism.

Preemptively agreement: I will pay very close attention to things a person has said and then use them to construct an argument for what I genuinely abs sincerely believe to be the best for everyone, but phrase it as though it was their idea. “Remember when you suggested X? Oh because you said A B C I took that to mean X which was a great idea and you did a good job coming up with it and it seems to follow really straight forwardly. So I just wanted to say I agree. We should do X.”

Deliberate Forced Understanding: related to above. If someone says something genuinely stupid, mean, hurtful, bad faith, etc I pretend I heard something that made sense and respond accordingly. I have never ever had someone stop me and say “No, wait, you misheard me. I was being a dick.” Or “No, wait, what I said was dumber than that.”

“You’re right it’s critical we increase the well being of group X, so we need to hold ourselves accountable with concrete measurable numbers and make sure we’re not just putting ourselves on the back but instead track trends over time.”

This does require me to understand where someone is coming from emotionally which sometimes people aren’t willing to do but I find it works.

Consensus Building: I never ever let something contentious come to a surprise vote. Always meet with people off the side and one on one and hear them out. Make needed adjustments. Then when I give a presentation I usually rattle on for five or so minutes about the most boring stuff imaginable with one slide up that has a boring top paragraph, a middle paragraph recapping what everyone already off to the side agreed on, and then another boring paragraph. Then I ask for ideas and without fail at least one person says what’s in the middle paragraph. Then I say I agree (and nobody notices I just agreed with myself) and then by sheer momentum another person agrees.

So, Fabian approach here. Has worked well for me on various projects.

I do genuinely get where a lot of the woke stuff comes from (mixed ethnicity family) but Jesus can it get tiring and counterproductive. People aren’t necessarily monsters because they want something good in a dumb/bad way.

Expand full comment

As I think several people are saying, wokeness (as used here) is different in an essential way from things like homophobia or racism (in the historical form that the civil rights movement fought them). "The woke" is much less a category of people or a point of view and more a certain negative-sum strategy to fight for (at least initially) reasonable goals. While there are certainly people whose identity is wrapped in this negative-sum point of view and who have deeply held beliefs in favor of cancel culture, etc., they are a small percentage of the people who are participating in the epiphenomenon of wokeness. In this a much better historical precedent is anti-communism during the early cold war, minus the uniquely polarizing figure of McCarthy. I think one consequence of this difference is that changing media focus has a much larger impact on wokeness rhetoric than on more object-level disagreements like abortion or gay rights: in particular I expect to see a similar level of "loss of interest in woke discourse" during the war in Ukraine as we saw when people lost interest in #metoo in favor of #blacklivesmatter.

Expand full comment

It seems to me there's some conflation here between "supporting academic freedom" and "opposing wokeness".

Mind, I oppose wokeness; it's currently the biggest threat to academic freedom. However, I also oppose conservatism, which is the second biggest threat to academic freedom.

(Although wokeness feels more acute, more like a fundamental betrayal, because the left was supposed to be the ones who fought this bullshit)

I don't know what my recommendation is, here, but both of these options seem to be targeting the wrong thing.

Expand full comment

I'm not so sure that much of this is new or even cyclical. What were people saying about campus culture when you were in school? "Political correctness" has been used since the early 90s to describe many of the same things "wokeness" is used for and didn't fade particularly quietly into the night. It seems to me that's the better analogy than 90s Christianity, notwithstanding internet culture's apparent migration from atheism to feminism to social justice.

(A cynical point of view: both "political correctness" and "wokeness" are used to turn arguments about a just society into arguments about superficial behavior and language. This was partly an agenda-setting tactic by conservative media [as you point out, it's where the easy victories are] but eagerly adopted more widely, particularly in discourse about campus culture, partly for the usual reason that people who manipulate symbols for a living are inclined to believe symbol manipulation is a powerful force for change, to paraphrase Alan Jacobs. The terms so far have a similarly rapid trajectories in their adoption [if you like, https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=%22+politically+correct+%22%2C%22+atheist+%22%2C%22+woke+%22%2C%22+culture+war+%22%2C%22+feminist+%22%2C%22+social+justice+%22&year_start=1960&year_end=2019&corpus=28&smoothing=0#]. Substituting this for your analogy, the default outcome is then that there continue to be mainly token symbolic victories for social justice alongside a corresponding reaction.)

I would advise a politically-minded academic who wants to maintain credibility to stay focused on material outcomes without investing their reputation in them.

Expand full comment

My thought is to go meta. Instead of opposing woke people, oppose the idea of wokeness. Point out, whenever possible, that a liberal (classic liberal aka libertarian) society supports minorities as much as is possible. Sure, you could have governments enacting more supportive legislation. Instead, have civil society supporting minorities, because anything a government gives you, a government can take away.

Expand full comment

I think there’s a lot to be said for the Fabian strategy because it’s very convincing on an interpersonal level when done right. Changing hearts is no substitute for winning legal battles, but nor will legal or technical victories suffice on their own. Enough people being openly and firmly unwoke (sub Muslim, atheist, gay, poly, whatever unfamiliar or suspect thing) while being beloved and helpful to the community is what actually changes minds, creates trust, and allows others to speak up.

Expand full comment

Neither strategy is going to work, because the first time the professor in question employs it, he'll discover that he is not nearly as un-fireable as he thought. Wokeness has won and it's here to stay. Protesting against it is possible, but it should be done from minimum safe distance -- as Sakharov found out.

Expand full comment

To reiterate a comment I made below: if your friend pursues the Fabian strategy, one of the most fearsome weapons in his arsenal can be asking for a legal review. "We're creating a program exclusively for black women in theater" - "can we do a legal review as a CYA?" It's costly for his counterparts to refuse, and can shut down civil rights violations.

Expand full comment

This was very enjoyable to read, and I'd like to provide a recent anecdote. I'm at a major Canadian university that has been somewhat quietly embroiled in a woke adjacent issue, specifically Israeli students and BDS supporters. The wrinkle here is that both sides claim the mantle of wokeness in public discussions. I've been involved in this for a few years now, and it's given me a great inside view of the machinery a university has to handle these issues. It took over three years for the University to hold back fees from the Student Union over them including a statement on Israeli borders in their Bylaws. (This was a bog-standard application of the Union's own equity policy, as it forces Israeli students to pay money into an institution that calls for their country to be sanctioned.)

This is of course an anecdote. The amount of work hours invested by university officials on this is hard to calculate, but I would guess it's quite high. Wokeness may lose symbolic battles, but there's a large carrying capacity for do-nothing positions in University Admin. These people think what they do is important, or at least, easy money.

Best case scenario we have mandatory milquetoast diversity training forever, but everyone treats it like fire drills. Worst case, we see a doubling down by those who stand to lose prestige and power if woke politics get deemphasized.

Expand full comment

Does your friend want to do anything else with his life? The Fabian strategy is compatible with still living a reasonably normal and fulfilling professional life. The Berserker strategy means essentially becoming a full time activist (on the anti-woke side).

Expand full comment

Berserker is very, very difficult. Never underestimate HR.

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2022·edited Mar 10, 2022

My recommendations to them:

1. Read Rules for Radicals

2. Make them live up to their own standards. If they begin talking about how structurally racist the University is, demand they turn back government funding which is contingent on not being racist, etc...

3. Try to create preference cascades. Figure out which aspects of wokeness are the least popular amongst the faculty/students and publicly defy those. Come up with ways for others to signal their support on the matter, at first anonymously, if necessary. Soon people will recognize that it's safe to defy that particular item and even better, it's popular to do so.

4. Publicize the most egregious examples. Shine sunlight as a disinfectant so much that the administration will run in terror whenever someone suggests a course of woke action which will cause them grief from the public / board when publicized.

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2022·edited Mar 10, 2022

Scott, as a long-time reader and fan I know what you mean here, but I suspect the way you worded this post will do more harm than good. You went very vague in multiple places where vagueness is often interpreted in bad faith (mention of “George Floyd protest” and “bad” without clarifying what happened in particular that’s bad, etc.; this can and probably will be used by outsiders to imply that you think George Floyd deserved it or something), which is obviously not a great assumption for constructive dialogue, but it is the world we currently live in. I think the annoying reality is that if you want to talk about culture war stuff, using shorthand which is not clearly defined is a very dangerous game, since it people from different political backgrounds often use the same words to mean *very* different things.

One example of this I mentioned in response to another comment is the word “woke” itself. To grey tribe members it tends to mean “liberals over-reacting through censorship and bad-faith,” to red tribe members it can also mean that, but for both extremely leftist and very far-to-alt-right people, it is interpreted to mean “statements in support of the humanity of people who aren’t cis white American males”. For the alt-right-veering-on-neo-nazi-territory camp, this definition is used as a dog-whistle, and on the far left, the definition is used to ad-hominem anyone who uses the word “woke”.

As unfair as it is, I don’t want you to be immediately dismissed by blue-tribe individuals simply due to your use of wording, when I know your intentions are not actually in support of misogyny or anything terrible.

So yeah, that’s my two cents on the matter.

Expand full comment

𝐖𝐡𝐚𝐭 𝐌𝐞𝐬𝐬𝐚𝐠𝐞 𝐃𝐨𝐞𝐬 𝐀 𝐇𝐚𝐫𝐝-𝐖𝐨𝐧 𝐕𝐢𝐜𝐭𝐨𝐫𝐲 𝐒𝐞𝐧𝐝?

(What message does a hard-won victory send?)

Suppose this guy… [engages berserker-style]… If this case becomes news and helps set ppl’s expectations, what message does it send to the average academic?

(I’m trying to do like Scott did to the recent “Classifieds” post—make top-level comments to collect answers to the various Q’s in these top-level posts in 1 place…-ish? May or may not be helpful!)

Expand full comment

𝐖𝐞𝐫𝐞 𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐆𝐞𝐨𝐫𝐠𝐞 𝐅𝐥𝐨𝐲𝐝 𝐏𝐫𝐨𝐭𝐞𝐬𝐭𝐬 𝐀𝐧 𝐄𝐱𝐚𝐦𝐩𝐥𝐞 𝐎𝐟 𝐖𝐨𝐤𝐞 𝐏𝐨𝐰𝐞𝐫 𝐎𝐫 𝐖𝐨𝐤𝐞 𝐎𝐯𝐞𝐫𝐫𝐞𝐚𝐜𝐡?

(Were The George Floyd Protests An Example Of Woke Power Or Woke Overreach?)

(I’m trying to do like Scott did to the recent “Classifieds” post—make top-level comments to collect answers to the various Q’s in these top-level posts in 1 place…-ish? May or may not be helpful!)

Expand full comment

𝐖𝐡𝐚𝐭 𝐖𝐨𝐮𝐥𝐝 𝐂𝐨𝐧𝐯𝐢𝐧𝐜𝐞 𝐘𝐨𝐮 𝐓𝐨 𝐁𝐞 𝐖𝐨𝐤𝐞?

(What Would Convince You To Be Woke?)

…if you are unwoke or on the fence; what might push you more towards the woke direction?

(I’m trying to do like Scott did to the recent “Classifieds” post—make top-level comments to collect answers to the various Q’s in these top-level posts in 1 place…-ish? May or may not be helpful!)

Expand full comment

I think it depends on how extreme your views are. If you think wokeness has good intentions, but the way they are handling it is wrong, the Fabian strategy is a great way to turn the movement gradually to something less harmful, and maybe even helpful. If you think it is a cynical power grab and that the country needs to do a 180 and accept extremely controversial beliefs, then I think berserker is more useful.

Temperament of the individual is also important. The most successful Fabians will be outgoing, personable, and soft spoken. The most successful Berserkers will have thick skin, be aggressive, and not mind having few friends.

Expand full comment

𝐇𝐨𝐰 𝐒𝐡𝐨𝐮𝐥𝐝 𝐖𝐞 𝐀𝐬𝐬𝐞𝐬𝐬 𝐍𝐞𝐰 𝐀𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐢𝐬𝐦?

(How Should We Assess New Atheism?)

Should we care about [the way that the New Atheists look at this moment in time, in hindsight]?

If you were giving strategic advice to Richard Dawkins in 2005, would you have told him to tone it down?

How analogous is the current situation?

(I’m trying to do like Scott did to the recent “Classifieds” post—make top-level comments to collect answers to the various Q’s in these top-level posts in 1 place…-ish? May or may not be helpful!)

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2022·edited Mar 10, 2022

Posts like this make me realize that I don't actually know what wokeness IS. All I've got right now is a cluster concept. But what is the thing that banning speakers and BLM virtue signalling and quotas and whatever else boil down to? What is it that this academic is against when he says he is anti-woke?

Perhaps the closest thing I've seen to a good summation of what's at the core of wokeness came in Scott's post on Neoreaction (https://slatestarcodex.com/2013/03/03/reactionary-philosophy-in-an-enormous-planet-sized-nutshell/):

"To Reactionaries, the epitome of the progressive aesthetic theory against which they rebel is the fairy tale of the Ugly Duckling, where one duckling is uglier than the rest, everyone mocks him, but then he turns out to be the most beautiful of all. The moral of the story is that ugly things are really the most beautiful, beautiful things are for bullies who just want to oppress the less beautiful things, and if you don’t realize this, you’re dumb and have no taste."

Maybe wokeness is just the supercharged and enforced application of this aesthetic to everything? I'm not sure. If anyone knows of a good description of what's at the heart of wokeness, either from Scott or elsewhere, I'd love to read it.

Expand full comment

I worry about the hard won victories, because of the conservative prof who committed suicide a year or so ago after he'd won several victories, but become so beaten down and sad because of the constant attacks on his character and person.

Expand full comment

𝐇𝐨𝐰 𝐃𝐢𝐝 𝐎𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐫 𝐏𝐫𝐨𝐭𝐞𝐬𝐭 𝐌𝐨𝐯𝐞𝐦𝐞𝐧𝐭𝐬 𝐒𝐨𝐥𝐯𝐞 𝐓𝐡𝐢𝐬 𝐏𝐫𝐨𝐛𝐥𝐞𝐦?

(How Did Other Protest Movements Solve This Problem?)

Does [the possibility that MLK and both fall into the category “Berserker”] mean our dichotomy is too weak?

Did anyone do Fabian for civil rights?

(I’m trying to do like Scott did to the recent “Classifieds” post—make top-level comments to collect answers to the various Q’s in these top-level posts in 1 place…-ish? May or may not be helpful!)

Expand full comment

𝐃𝐨𝐞𝐬 𝐏𝐨𝐨𝐫𝐥𝐲-𝐏𝐥𝐚𝐧𝐧𝐞𝐝 𝐑𝐞𝐬𝐢𝐬𝐭𝐚𝐧𝐜𝐞 𝐏𝐫𝐨𝐯𝐢𝐝𝐞 𝐀 𝐂𝐨𝐯𝐞𝐫 𝐅𝐨𝐫 𝐂𝐫𝐚𝐜𝐤𝐝𝐨𝐰𝐧𝐬?

(Does Poorly-Planned Resistance Provide A Cover For Crackdowns?)

(I’m trying to do like Scott did to the recent “Classifieds” post—make top-level comments to collect answers to the various Q’s in these top-level posts in 1 place…-ish? May or may not be helpful!)

Expand full comment

(edited first to remove all the <b>html</b> that didn't work, edited a second time to remove more personal details.)

I recently witnessed a fairly "soft" cancellation attempt at my institution where I'm a postdoc, and I think I learned a bit from the experience. Here are some recommendations.

TL;DR: Please please do not go berserk. I'm begging you here. I think there is room for a couple of strategically-picked controversial actions above what the Fabian strategy would suggest, but the less you instigate edgy actions for the sake of being edgy, the better off we will all be.

Practical points:

Point 1: The berserk method is bad strategy for convincing institutions to be less woke (confidence: 70%). Your cause is to curb the excesses of wokeness (presumably while preserving the good parts like treating each other decently). I get that a controversial talk might bring that to make national news more than a benign one -- toxoplasma of rage and all that. But realistically, will that end up changing the climate on campuses nationwide? At the institutional level, I watched my institution (which is actually quite free-speech-friendly compared to others I've heard about) loudly and officially berate incidents at other universities that made national news, usually with no context to explain what actually happened. A faculty or student reader unaware of the event would come out with the impression that the event was Really Bad And Extremely Racist and they need to be more woke, not that something controversial had happened and gotten quashed mercilessly. This makes me think that even if you make national news and get lots of attention, you are only entrenching universities further. (Especially consider how the event will be portrayed in national news that academic administrators would read.) At the bottom of the post I have a suggestion for a different way you can impact the national campus viewpoint.

Point 2: The berserk method will not convince people on the fence, and will convince woke-proponents that they're right (confidence: 60%). Anyone who is already vaguely anti-woke is going to say "ugh, another example of leftists cancelling someone" and anyone who is vaguely woke is going to say "ugh, I can't believe a university actually invited awful demagogue So-and-So, what do they even still have to say at this point?" IMO there are two groups of people you can reach: (1) people who haven't made an opinion either way, and (2) woke-proponents who haven't seen an example of how bad it can get (surprisingly common!) Personally, I was on the pro-woke side of this for quite a while until I watched a video of some college students shouting down a pretty feminist speaker for a benign statement that was not quite feminist enough (I think she had said there were distributional differences between men and women). I would never have been convinced by watching college students shout down Ben Shapiro -- I mean, they were Right and he was Wrong. Maybe I'm typical-minding here, but with all due respect everyone in *my* bubble who has gone down this path has gone down it by seeing an example of a woke overreaction to something they could see as being mildly acceptable, not something they disagreed with, especially from a speaker who has a reputation of edginess for its own sake.

Moral point:

I really don't think fighting fire with fire is morally right here (confidence 65%). I could *maybe* see an exception if it were in "self-defense" i.e. if it looked like the overly-woke bandwagon were going to crack down forever. But I don't think it looks that way. So I think you can stay on the side of righteousness and preventing censorship without needing to invite edgy people just for the sake of it. I wouldn't say "don't go looking for trouble" but I will say "don't cause trouble for its own sake." This approach seems more honest to me, and I don't believe it's justified to abandon that approach unless absolutely necessary.


Finally, a few points of practical advice, assuming you're in it for the long haul:

1. When speakers get cancelled at other universities for unrelated views, invite them to speak at your campus instead. For example when MIT cancelled a geophysics talk for the speaker opposing race-based affirmative action, Princeton invited him to speak there instead https://thehill.com/changing-america/respect/diversity-inclusion/577972-princeton-hosts-speech-by-geophysicist-who-was . I think this would be a useful signal to professors and other potential speakers that they can hold semi-controversial views more openly without being blacklisted from speaking at every university.

2. Even if you don't invite edgy people yourself, defend *student-invited* edgy people. (don't "encourage" them to invite edgy people -- which will both look bad and mean you will actually be skirting the norms -- but if it's genuinely their idea, defend them as much as you can.)

3. Consider softening the edginess of edgy speaker invitees by inviting them for a "debate" rather than a "seminar." Pick someone to debate them that will actually do a good job.

4. Become well-liked by professor colleagues, administration colleagues, and students. Thinking you're un-fireable is one thing, but if you are universally loathed in your institution, good luck changing anything. Also, FIRE (see below) has documented many times when professors weren't as un-fireable as they thought.

5. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has some good resources on this and coverage of prior cases that you can read to see how these things have gone: https://www.thefire.org . See especially their "Guide to free speech on campus" https://www.thefire.org/research/publications/fire-guides/fires-guide-to-free-speech-on-campus-3/fires-guide-to-free-speech-on-campus-full-text-2/ , it has a section on faculty speech. I wouldn't fall back on legal defenses where moral defenses will do, but it's good to know your rights.

So in your position, I would go about my daily life, pushing back on the small things when they come up. Keep your ear to the ground so that when something bigger comes up (as it surely will), you can spend your reputational points there. You're not trying to make "the news", you're trying to influence the national campus climate. Invite people cancelled by other universities, you don't have to completely hide out. But don't just invite edgy people for the sake of inviting edgy people; that will only make the overly-woke people -- and people currently undecided -- more convinced they're right.

Expand full comment

Hmm, wokeness is not the problem per se. The kind of diversity universities need is more conservative, libertarian, republican voices. I've been binge reading Jonathan Turley https://jonathanturley.org/2022/03/09/should-universities-take-a-stand-on-ukraine-uchicago-is-facing-that-question/ , the answer to bad speech is more speech, not cancelling speech.

Expand full comment

𝐖𝐡𝐚𝐭’𝐬 𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐂𝐮𝐫𝐫𝐞𝐧𝐭 𝐃𝐞𝐟𝐚𝐮𝐥𝐭 𝐓𝐫𝐚𝐣𝐞𝐜𝐭𝐨𝐫𝐲?

(What’s The Current Default Trajectory?)

Does this suggest the Berserker Strategy, to make sure the issue doesn’t fade quietly into the night?

Is the goal to have different parts of society (e.g. the voting public vs. universities) out of sync with each other?

Would that conflict potentially keep wokeness in the public eye, and what would be the consequences of that? Some stuff that potentially really needs to happen?

Or is that playing with fire?

(I, umm, egregiously altered one of Scott’s final questions here!!

I’m trying to do like Scott did to the recent “Classifieds” post—make top-level comments to collect answers to the various Q’s in these top-level posts in 1 place…-ish? May or may not be helpful!)

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2022·edited Mar 10, 2022

Since the woke/nonwoke divide seems to break down along similar humanistic tendencies aligned with our hard wiring (e.g., head/heart, romanticism/ordered liberty, Rousseau/Locke, blank slate/evolutionary psychology, revolution/reaction) I expect a continuum with ebb and flow between the polarities with excesses toward one end contravened by events/public opinion back toward the other.

We reached peak wokeness in Summer 2020. Then the Prez election followed by the vaccines broke the fever, everywhere except academia (where I work) and those excesses are being voted out in this election cycle.

Will the Cold War Redux start to swing things back towards the Enlightenment Civilization and away from Post-Modern Revolution? I think so. Boutique, fabricated social crises will look absurdist compared to 21st Century land wars in Europe.

Expand full comment

Has anyone suggested he talk to Johathan Haidt?

Expand full comment

No offense, but this is one of the worst articles I've seen on this site in a long time. Is this really what you're focused on now, when a sovereign nations in the developed world is under attack by an expansionist superpower, the international order that's kept the world in a state of relative peace since 1991 (and arguably since 1945) is on the verge of breaking down, and food and fuel prices throughout the Western world are on the rise? I know that's something of a Whataboutist argument, and I'm not trying to say that people can't be upset about more than one bad thing at a time, but having articles on Ukraine followed up by a spiel about college SJWs that would have felt outdated 6 years ago really highlights the contrast in importance there, in a way that makes this feel especially irrelevant and tone-deaf.

On a more substantive level, the core problem here is that the article treats wokeness as a singular and unified movement, a thing-in-itself, when that really isn't the case. Most of what you're associating with "wokeness" isn't even an ideology at all, it's a set of tactics - harmful and counter-productive ones - that are used by people all across the political spectrum, even if they're used disproportionately more by a certain type of left-wing campus activists. (Islamic fundamentalists may be associated with terrorism in the public eye, but that doesn't make the non-Islamic terrorism of the Tamil Tigers any less deadly, nor does it make the non-terroristic Islamic fundamentalism of Saudi Arabia any less repressive.)

If you want to criticize the far-left, then criticize the Twitter tankies who are currently cheering Putin on out of contrarian hatred for NATO and some delusion that they're still living in 1956. If you want to criticize deplatforming tactics and the use of social pressure to browbeat people into ideological conformity, then criticize those tactics in general, including the many instances where they're done by the right. But just sniping at college activists like this amounts to little more than the sort of political tribalism that you've so often condemned in the past.

Expand full comment

I'm going to remember this conversation while I'm getting my teeth kicked in by a brownshirt in November 2024 and I'm going to laugh and laugh and laugh, because being a cynical bastard is just about the only way you can get by these days.

Expand full comment

It looks like no-one has mentioned Charles Pincourt and James Lindsay's short book Counter Wokecraft, about how to resist woke culture, especially in academia. It makes a number of practical suggestions. Examples (from memory) include:

1. Make sure you understand the woke mindset, and don't get sidetracked into lengthy but ultimately pointless arguments.

2. Identify other like-minded people on campus and co-ordinate action with them.

3. Join committees and politely but firmly resist woke action by appealing to liberal values.

4. Insist on norms in meetings such as written agendas, keeping to time and procedures for voting, so that changes receive proper scrutiny.

5. Watch out for loosely worded regulations and statements that could be subverted to the woke cause.

I'd say it tends towards the Fabian approach.

Expand full comment

Fabian but not to win colleagues, to win students.

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2022·edited Mar 10, 2022

4 unrelated comments on strategy in ascending order of pointedness

1. Partner up

My local UU preacher would like a word about the strategic contrast between "Fabian" and "Berserker", between MLKJr and Malcolm X, between Susan B. Anthony and Alice Paul, between the Mattachine Society and the Stonewall rioters, and so on. In clear terms, it's the choice between respectability politics and radicalism. My preacher would advise you to always choose both, if you want to win.

You can't do both yourself obviously; you need a foil, an antagonistic partner in progress. One side of the split takes the respectable approach, and the other takes the radical approach, because you'll need both. If a movement is composed only of polite reform-minded Respectables, they'll get ignored indefinitely and maybe forever. Oh, maybe there will be some rousing debates, but those will change only a few minds at the most. If the movement is composed only of un-ignorable fiery radicals, then it'll be trivially easy to paint them as unreasonable enemies of the people, and to whip up popular support for their suppression. But with enough people taking both the respectable and radical approaches, the political situation changes. The polarity is now not between the pro- and the anti-, but between the mild pro- and the extreme pro-. The cheapest, most convenient, most face-saving option becomes claiming to see reason in the arguments of the respectables and adopting some of their reforms.

So in your choice between the Fabian route and the Berserker route, consider reinforcing the weaker of those two factions.

2. Watch Out for the Great Sucking Void

Beware of success. If wokeness is displaced but not replaced, the result will most assuredly not be a pristine realm of freedom for all to pursue their individuality. It will be a great sucking void, and something will fill it. The first stage of filling it will be like Chesterton's quote, "When a man stops believing in <God/wokeness>, he doesn't then believe in nothing, he believes anything." All the cranks and crackpots and ideologues and true philosophers will rush into the gap, and cultural evolution will commence. Of necessity, what emerges victorious will have positive and negative social characteristics similar to wokeness and the previous conservative religious monoculture.

Maybe success is a long time off and you don't need to worry about the "what comes next". For what it's worth, I'm not so confident of that. But whether it's near or far, having a positive vision of what you could want to become the new corrupt monoculture will help.

3. Eventually you become who you pretend to be

If you go the Fabian route, eventually you'll really be a beloved pillar of the community. If you go the Berserker route, eventually you'll really be an antagonistic, litigious jerk.

4. Take a less provincial attitude and switch sides

I've never lived in a blue state, so it's true I don't know what it's like. Most states are not blue. Most countries are not blue. If you have the freedom to move versus stay and fight ... just move. It's easier and you'll be happier. It's really nice to not be a public target.

A strange thing might even happen. You'll stop being exposed to the excesses of wokeness, but you'll start being exposed to the excesses of anti-wokeness. When you see your state proposing to, e.g., make parents felons for moving out of state with a trans child (Idaho, March 9th 2022), you might even feel like switching sides for a while.

Expand full comment

Two thoughts: 1) there's a lot of variation around what "woke" actually means, especially in the comments. 2) The choice between the two options depends to some extent on whether you're trying to persuade people to your cause vs. highlighting the issues.

1. Reading some comments in the thread that followed DecipheredStones' pushback, woke seems like more of a shibboleth than a meaningful term. It's characterized as performative social activism, but also as a creeping collectivist ideology, leveraging institutions to suppress dissenting voices, or even a totalitarian revolutionary movement. Many of these interpretations are so different it feels like the comments are talking past one another. Not to mention that some interpretations come from actual actions, while others seem to be coming second-hand from deeply uncharitable sources.

Lumping together individual and institutional performativity similarly seems to be concerning. Yale Law jumping the gun to sanction a student who sent an edgy email seems very different from the family across the street putting up a sign and spouting talking points they don't understand without making an actual change to their behavior. The harms of each are different, and the responses should vary as well.

2. It feels a little unclear what the berserker strategy does except gaining notoriety and isolation. Like I understand that the nominal goal is to provoke the woke into the type of excesses which alienate those on the fence, but in practice it seems like its just a performative as woke "awareness raising". In my experience, groups that would call themselves "anti-woke" end up adopting "woke" (e.g. performative but useless) tactics to try and bait out woke overreactions. For example, a group of college republicans staging a barbecue in front of a group hunger striking for racial justice.

Expand full comment

With TSA pre check, you won’t have to take your shoes off before a flight. Though YMMV.

Expand full comment

As a professor, the most important contribution would be influencing the students directly, instead of fighting administrative fights.

We're in a situation where the students are the problem. In collage as well as after graduation.

P.S. Last time I flu internationally from Boston they were not asking for shoes to be removed.

Expand full comment

There’s a third possible strategy (maybe more). Fabian vs Berserker considers the frame of this specific institution. But the larger societal and cultural frame is also grappling with woke. Maybe the academic wants to choose his(?) position in the National or international debate first and then see where that leaves him in regard to his institution.

If he’s really that unfireable, he has the ability to be a pillar of the movement to make it acceptable to not destroy norms of free speech and expression. Don’t waste that by going it alone. If you volunteer to be a trophy for the woke establishment, they will be happy to hunt you and it’s getting even less scrupulous. He’ll end up facing untraceable sexual harassment allegations, the IRS, they’ll find cocaine in his car. Fabian or berserker won’t matter.

Having allies at other campuses and other disciplines is good. Where is “woke” at historically Black colleges and universities? Heterodox Academy, Free Black Thought, there are people of color who are working to reframe social justice without the discourse-destroying, society-fraying, obedience-demanding elements. Find them, let them teach you. Then figure out your approach at your institution. Wokeness is antifragile in that the more the errors are pointed out, the more it’s debunked, the more the adherents refuse to consider other ideas. It makes them look bad, but mainly to powerless outsiders.

Signal-boost the next wave of social justice ideas that acknowledge and value free speech. Then when something comes along on your campus, your response can be consistent with whatever your larger stand is.

Expand full comment

"He thinks a world where the [BLM] protests had never happened would be woker than our current world right now." "We both agree that wokeness is currently in a weird place; ascendant in all measurable ways, but with cracks beginning to show ."

But are Scott and his friend really in a position to know to whether the BLM protests strengthened or weakened wokeness? -- and how many cracks are beginning to show in wokeness? I'm sure Scott and his friend between them know quite a large number of people in academia and other relevant fields, but it's still a tiny sample of the total relevant population and almost certainly not a representative sample. So I'm in doubt about where really things stand overall with wokeness. Anyone have ideas about ways to assess this that are more systematic than generalizing from private conversations with acquaintances?

Also, even if we knew for sure that wokeness is getting old and brittle, it's not clear how things would play out if it were challenged in a particular way. Seems to be the kind of situation where all sorts of smallish things could greatly change the outcome: whether certain parts of the news media pick up on a particular challenge to wokeness at some university, what else is going on in the news cycle that day, which high-profile Twitter wits get off takes that go viral.

For what it's worth I'm inclined to be less optimistic about the Berserker Strategy since it looks to me like manifesting indignation does not break up the ice dams these days. Instead, one generates counter-indignation and the rage vs. rage equilibrium continues, keeping the social media machines humming vigorously, like power plants that run on rat shit.

Expand full comment

My advice is to adopt the 'Skynet Weasel Strategy' and encourage the woke crowd to launch ICBMs against another nuclear superpower in the name of woke.

The goals are twofold:

1. The counterstrike will hit the woke much harder than the unwoke (targets are more likely to be urban not rural).

2. As the aggressor and the loser, 'woke' will become the new 'nazi'.

Expand full comment

It is easy to poke fun at academics who betray their professions for the sake of taking pretentious stands in support of long ago freed slaves, long dead, whose humanity was denied them in order to steal their labor. I say pretentious, for much of modern pretenders of downtroddenness find themselves rightly prejudiced and well-earned opposition for antisocial and destructive behavior such as deliberate and chosen ignorance, slovenliness and lawlessness.

Much of that behavior has, especially since the "war on poverty", been mimicked by the hoard of whites who have slavishly clamored after government handouts. Even to the point of copying the pigeon English originally developed to disguise private conversation from slave-owners. One could justify such ignorance as a point of pride, but to insist on foisting it off in the school and workplace it appears more as defiance.

It is no wonder that such are attracted to Communism, with its envy-based attacks on discipline and hard work. It is something to be wondered at, however, that ignorance is preferred to learning. Hard work can be fairly easily be avoided, and discipline too, but ignorance is a bridge too far. More so in the workplace than, apparently, in academia. Woke, indeed, in stark contrast with awakened.

Poverty, especially imposed poverty, admits some sympathy. But self-imposed ignorance and poverty by way of ignoring obvious self-discipline issues like staying in committed relationships, taking responsibility for behavior and lack of willingness for hard work and willingness to comply with basic civic norms are beyond understanding. Drug dependency and drunkenness are equally inexplicable.

Expand full comment

Maybe one of the most straightforward lessons to learn from the Fabian Society is, "organizations can achieve goals that individuals can't."

So, if I were giving advice to Scott's professor friend, I wouldn't frame it so much as "which strategy should you, personally, follow?" Instead, I'd say, "which organizations can you join which share your goals?"

For example, off the top of my head: Heterodox Academy. Is that the sort of organization they'd would be interested in joining?

Expand full comment

Scott, I notice you don't ever reference Otto Rank and I wondered what you think about his idea that any ideology must deal with both our animal and spiritual nature? In other words, atheists still need to say something about soul belief, and if there's no soul then what happens to the taste of my food, what will happen to my rock 'n roll?

Expand full comment

I've seen Scott come off as lovably awkward before, but this is the first post I've been outright embarrassed to read.

Expand full comment

This feels like the kind of post that gets written by someone in the upper-middle class living in the bay area. When I went to college a few years ago, none of my professors were woke, and one econ professor would take points off your essay if you weren't sufficiently libertarian. There were a few protests that were woke, but they blended in with Greek life events and sports clubs. I have this weird feeling of seeing people complain about wokeness all the time, but they just don't seem like a gigantic problem where you need to intentionally antagonize woke people to win points.

In terms of actual advice for your friend, how about they try to do their job really well, get promoted, possibly become friends with people regardless of their politics, and try not to pick fights? I don't really think an academic is going to be super effective at achieving political goals anyway.

Expand full comment

I'm probably too far to the "woke" side to really be who this article is for, but...

IMO the issue with Wokeness is less the goals than the means. Institutionalized disadvantages do exist and there's nothing wrong with challenging that status quo.

The problem is that a small but powerful subset of people have been raised by academia to believe persuasion against one's own interest is literally impossible. According to this philosophy, when someone asks to be persuaded before endorsing a cause or course of action, they're aggressively protecting their own power.

If debate and persuasion are doomed to failure, the only conceivable way to remedy injustice is coercion. That's the source from whence all "Woke" evils spring (and incidentally why it's ultimately doomed to failure - if you refuse to try to persuade anyone then nobody will be persuaded).

So the best advocate against wokeness is one who restores debate and persuasion to its rightful place. And the question to your friend is "has the taboo against persuasion metastasized in your institution?"

If it hasn't yet, then Fabian Strategy is the way to go - he needs to defend the norm of adopting ideas because people think they're good. Berserker tactics undermine that goal.

If it has, then unfortunately the best option will be Berserker tactics. He needs to demonstrate that the larger system in which his institution operates still wishes to be persuaded before acting, and will punish the new coercive norms.

Expand full comment

This is a topic near to my heart.

I am a white woman and I recently got a tenure-track faculty position at a large American university. While hiring a lab assistant, I was told by the administration that, in addition to a CV and cover letter, all applicants must submit a statement of DEI excellence, describing their past, present, and/or future activities in promoting Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

Obligatory disclaimer! I am a liberal, I hate racism, sexism, and all other -isms, and I want a society where everyone is treated with respect and has equal rights and opportunities.

All that said, I want to hire a good lab assistant who does the job well and is a decent person, but I really don't care whether they spend their free time advancing DEI excellence or sitting on the couch and watching "This Is Us." All this requirement is doing is narrowing my applicant pool to those who either are genuinely passionate about DEI or can convincingly fake it on their DEI statement.

Also, implicit in the DEI requirement is the belief that fighting racism/transphobia/etc. is the most important thing in American society today. What if a person doesn't do a thing about DEI, but instead volunteers at a food bank or helps register voters or campaigns against climate change in their free time? Is this applicant less worthy?

And I can't risk saying any of this at my university, lest I be branded a clueless, privileged, racist white Karen.

Looking forward to some good discussion in this thread.

Expand full comment
(Banned)Mar 10, 2022·edited Mar 10, 2022

My best advice is don't analyze any advice from someone who is a wokester. Listen for entertainment purposes if you like, but don't give their strategic advice any substantive value. Listening to people who disagree with you is great when you're trying to improve your epistemics. It's terrible when you're trying to devise a plan of action.

REALLY don't listen to any advice from people who are asking you to "improve your argument" or "convince people that wokeness is bad on the merits" because that's all just a trap to move you away from pursuing your goal and trying to make you reconsider it.

Academics get too caught up in the epistemic portion of OODA looping. They Observe the world of politics as they see it, they Orient themselves based on their observations and their education, they Decide that X is the correct plan, then they Act a little. But they always go back and check the feedback too quickly. You have to act enough to actually get meaningful feedback before reconsidering everything. This is the opposite of the wokesters who just have a pre-formed ideology/goal and just constantly act to further it without considering if it's the right ideology/goal for them.

My second best advice is think and investigate what would be hardest for the wokesters to deal with. Find out what they would NOT want you to do. Do that.

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2022·edited Mar 10, 2022

1. Notice certain groups are treated unfairly

2. Start a movement to promote fair treatment

3. Movement horribly overreaches while still achieving none of its stated goals

4. Cry

Expand full comment

This is super unspecified. What kind of woke is this person against? People over applying cultural appropriation? Hormone therapy in children? Native land acknowledgments?

This goes to the picking of fights.

Also, as a medical professional who doesn't have smallpox and knows history... I am surprised you didn't point out that the Canadian truckers were there for a recklessly stupid cause.

Expand full comment

I think the difficulty with the berserker strategy is that these ideologies thrive on conflict and define themselves by reference to their enemies' perceived power. So by choosing to create new conflicts you provide them with food. It is sort of like how Hamas is in a de facto alliance with the Israeli right. When one of them is ascendant the other gains power as well, because they practice the same brand of politics.

Expand full comment

I'm never 100% sure what to make of any of Scott's posts on wokeness, because buried in there somewhere is the implicit understanding that abuses against minorities happen, that George Floyd probably shouldn't have gotten murdered, etc etc. But then these things are swept aside in favor of the _real_ injustices, people getting "cancelled" on twitter.

I would ask "who hurt you", but as a long time reader I know it was some incident in college. That was close to half your life ago, though, so instead I'll say "Please get over it".

Expand full comment

Just say things that are true and don't say things that are not true. Easy.

Expand full comment

An aspect I haven't seen mention is that this person probably doesn't exist in a vacuum in academia - they have a job, probably interacting with students.

In general it feels like the Fabian strategie would lend itself more to a positive interaction with the students, which (imho) is useful for their academic advancement. If you are known to be a shit-stirrer, that will impact how much students trust you with their work and in general, and it will probably not make the most of his talents regarding his students. While it is not his job to be likable, we all know that student perception has an impact on their learning and work, and especially interacting with staff. Not only as agreeable, but also specifically as being percieved as picking fights.

So, I's say Fabian for that reason.

Expand full comment

You're probably not as immune to cancellation as you think.

And I don't see cracks in wokeness, except for the 20 Stalins criticisms. Scott said that some people question whether wokeness is the underdog because it's too powerful, but I wouldn't count that as a crack because iit's a self-correcting problem--if people actually gave up on wokeness for that reason, it would invalidate the reason. It's like the restaurant that nobody goes to because it's too popular. Seeing fewer BLM slogans is not a crack in wokeness either, because the left always turns on its own; there's a difference between the cause of the day not being the cause of the day any more, and an actual decrease in wokeness.

Expand full comment

What not enough people understand about "academic freedom" is its resemblance to communism: a beautiful utopian vision that has never been realized, and has eventually devolved into dystopic tyranny whenever anyone has actually tried to implement it--somehow without discouraging its many devotees. Universities are institutions founded on a completely different ideal: academic rigor, in which students and experts devote themselves to mastering and practicing complex, arcane disciplines. "Academic freedom" is in (often unacknowledged) direct tension with academic rigor, in the sense that rigor requires effectively forbidding or suppressing scholarship that doesn't meet the standards of the discipline.

These can be reconciled in various ways in principle, but in practice the institutional tools for imposing rigor can be--and inevitably are--ultimately co-opted to defeat academic freedom whenever the latter is prioritized. That's how today's "woke" tyranny works: the infamous mobbing and shouting down of dissenters on campus is just an outward symptom of the real power struggles taking place, in which "woke" faculty and administrators manipulate the processes designed to maintain academic rigor in order to establish "woke" ideas as part of the core standards of every discipline.

Campaigners for "academic freedom"--whether "Fabians" or "berzerkers"--are thus pursuing an entirely wrong, doomed solution to the problem they're seeking to solve. Instead of demanding more freedom on campus--thus easing the path for those who seek to co-opt and subvert academic rigor for their own ends, "woke" or otherwise--they should join the campaign for renewed academic rigor, calling out examples of shoddy academic research and teaching and demanding tougher accountability of academics for the quality of their work. Only an academia devoted to, and accountable for adherence to, its original purpose can fend off the corruption of that purpose in the service of other goals, including "woke-ism".

Expand full comment

This is all a bit facile. Both your metaphors are drawn from armies. Armies are organized groups with substantial backing engaging in direct conflict which, at the end of it, the enemy is destroyed. Political battles do not work this way outside of maybe dictatorships. You can hit an army so hard it disintegrates and then stick its generals' heads on pikes. You cannot outvote a political party so hard it disintegrates and then execute its candidates in a democracy. That's a good thing! But it means such direct military analogies don't work.

The answer is building institutions. It basically always is. That takes many people but can start with one. The hard part is actually doing that and how to set it up so that it structurally serves your goals. And the issue there is that you haven't even defined the goals. If your goal is just to personally maximize then just... become the Vicar of Bray. If you want to change society then you can't do that alone, no matter how much power you personally amass. (In fact, power is inherently a social concept.)

To take a simple example: if you're really fighting wokeness then you could just hand the administration of every university to the Republican Party. You'd probably decrease academic freedom in net but that would certainly end wokeness. Is that what you want or is there some wider principle? If that seems ridiculous, keep in mind that is absolutely something that's been done historically. If you have some wider principle then what, specifically, is it?

The difference between Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X is not whether they delayed or attacked. They did both. The difference is the kind of organizations they built. But both realized, correctly, that in an atomized society the correct move for an individual Black person was to ameliorate their individual circumstances in ways that didn't change the overall system. Anyone who was more confrontational was marginalized or lynched. So they convinced large numbers of people to sacrifice collectively towards that goal. It was a coordination problem and one that MLK solved pretty well.

Seriously, if I have one critique of rationalism it's that it really doesn't seem good at building institutions. I have yet to see a rationalist I'd describe as a good cat herder. I've been told this is because I don't live in SF and there's a glorious promised land of rationalist institutions out there. I can't say. What I can say is that I've never encountered them.

Expand full comment

I still think that most of the discussion around "wokeness" conflates many very different policy arguments under one term. Scott, would you really support cancelling yoga classes more if you saw more examples of black people being unjustly murdered by police? No, because there are actually two policy issues!

You can be in favor of police reform, and still think that white people can do yoga.

You can be in favor of some forms of affirmative action (you have one admission spot left in an engineering program—does it go to a rich white kid who skipped a grade and who got a 790 on the math section of the SAT with lots of extracurriculars, or the poor black kid who dropped out of high school, and got his GED and a 720 on the math section of the SAT at the age of 20, while working at a McDonalds?) and still think that the modern anti-SAT policies will result in a much higher number of legacy applicants at the expense of people who deserve it.

You can support the examination of the fact that US high school history classes, in many cases, present a niceified version of American History (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Blair_Mountain and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilmington_insurrection_of_1898 are major events that I was shocked to learn about, because they seemed far more important than the stuff I had learned about), but still object to the removal of important voices from the curriculum just because they're white.

Most of the woke people I know see this as a fight against those who would use carefully designed policies to keep black people a perpetual underclass, excise gay and trans people from the public eye, force women to bear children and stay in the home, and make christianity the national religion of the United States, but they're only reluctantly allied with the attention-seeking virtue-signaling twitter mob.

The other group of woke people I know are people who legitimately see themselves as at risk of being killed or physically hurt by the actions of an unaccountable overclass—something which, although we may disagree on the extent to which it exists, I think we agree on the fact that it existing would be bad. They also dislike the mob, but see them as the lesser of two evils, one which will at least performatively support them when they come under fire.

I'm not sure what this says about how to prevent the uglier parts of wokeism from gaining hold in society at large—but it does make me uncomfortable every time I see them portrayed as the enemy.

Expand full comment

Neither strategy is appropriate. We all make choices. If we 'defund' idiocy -- i.e., withdraw physical support for ideas that offend us -- idiocy is diminished. If Europeans, for example, had wanted to protest American military adventures in Iraq or Afghanistan, they could have refused to patronize McDonald's, Starbucks, Apple, Microsoft, etc. We recently stopped patronizing a business that placed an offensive 'woke' gatekeeper between customers and their product, and redirected $5,000 in annual business to a more professional organization. The new place plays hokey country music on the radio, and the wait staff can be surly, but we don't have to do more 'validation' than a parking attendant. The 'woke' will eventually deplete the trust fund grandpa worked hard to create, and have to live by their own choices. Defund postmodernism.

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2022·edited Mar 10, 2022

Neither of these strategies is going to be effective in the future in most parts of academia.

The Fabian strategy won't work because things will get worse. Younger generations of academics and students are even more left-leaning and less tolerant than others, according to a number of recent surveys. As you wait for the right time, the odds will become increasingly stacked against you.

I once witnessed an older center-left distinguished professor eloquently defend the right of conservatives to voice their speech on campus at a meeting in which a young assistant professor claimed that because conservatives caused "harm" with their rhetoric, they should be censored and prosecuted under the student code of conduct. There will be many more of those young assistant professors coming up and I doubt they'll mellow in their age.

And no matter how much respect you think you can amass among your colleagues and students, the moment you break with the orthodoxy you will become a pariah. All that respect will vanish when you "out" yourself as someone who's not part of the tribe.

The Berserker strategy's problems have been well-documented elsewhere in this thread in terms of turning away potential allies and bringing down massive social opprobrium on anyone who tries such tactics. I would only like to make two points:

First, this "berserker" approach is actually what centrists like David French are calling for when they say that current civil rights laws will protect the non-woke. They believe that you filing a lawsuit and enduring whatever interim punishment is inflicted on you for a decade or so will be worth it in the end and bring about lasting, fair changes. This, to me, seems absurd. Not only will your career in academia be finished, but there are many other tools that can be used to get around whatever ultimate court decision is made. Your fight will be for naught.

Which gets to my second point: Tenure will not protect you. They will find something. They might find some state law or policy that you at some point violated. The most likely is some very expansive notion of "harm" in which you are accused of causing it merely by existing on campus. Students will be useful allies for them in this case, and you will likely get accused of all kinds of things. Students will be "fearful" and "traumatized" by you. At the very least, even if you survive, they will make doing your basic duties like teaching a living hell. There's no enjoyment in that.

Also, lest someone bring this up, faculty unions have gone so far left that they would probably welcome the opportunity to openly refuse to fight for non-woke faculty's rights; in fact, they probably would view that as a positive step towards increasing equity and inclusion.

Unfortunately, I cannot recommend anything other than hiding and biding one's time to retirement.

Expand full comment

I think there might be a bit of a false dichotomy involved. The Berserker strategy seems to be the most effective, or at least thorough, but an important aspect is that it only works once whatever you’re fighting for has a certain level of organizational/institutional support. Applying the Berserker strategy without the requisite institutional support would be not only ineffective but even counter productive, as shown by eg: the Canadian truckers, GamerGate or any other well known “anti-woke” movement in the past 8 years.

I’m reminded of a SlateStarCodex post that mentioned “respectability cascades” (unfortunately I forgot what the exact post was). Basically I think the best “meta strategy” would be to start with the Fabian strategy with an eye towards converting institutions and organizations to your cause. Once you reach a certain level of “respectability” (i.e. institutional support) that’s when you switch over to the Berserker strategy to “rout the enemy” and change society in your preferred way.

An example of what I’m talking about is the Civil Rights movement. The Berserker strategy of MLK (and to a lesser extent Malcom X) was undeniably effective, but it wouldn’t have been possible without the groundwork laid by Fabian strategists such as Booker T. Washington, who in turn never would have been able to get something like the Civil Rights act passed which required a stronger Berserker approach.

The biggest issue with this I think is determining when exactly you gather enough institutional support (“respectability”) to switch over from Fabian to Berserker. Doing it too late risks people losing interest, and doing it too soon risks undoing all the hard work you did building up support.

Expand full comment

This risks betraying my username, but I have somewhat relevant experience. I'm a very fireable technically minded person working or studying in what would generally considered a very "woke" environment.

In the wake of a major diversity push I joined the relevant committee because I strongly believed in their goals, if not always their methods. From there I was able to use a combination of agreeableness and social capital to influence tone and priorities of the committee in a way that was consistent with maximizing positive impact and minimizing inflammatory or aggressive "woke" language.

I eventually burnt out on the efforts after a moderate amount of time but definitely believed that I had a substantial positive both in terms of impact, because I was able to steer the efforts in a way that garnered more support for the generally (small c) conservative leadership and provided resistance to some of the more gross excesses that got expressed in a neighboring division.

In general, I'm a strong advocate for the Fabian strategy and would advocate that there's a fair amount of space to leverage the fact that "woke" rhetoric often doesn't achieve "woke" aims to challenge people to push for more effective (and often as a result less "woke") efforts.

NB: I put "woke" in quotes because while I think it gestures pretty effectively at a vague cluster of traits, I think it a bad job of capturing really important distinctions between different schools of thought and is much more of a tribal signaler than I'm comfortable with.

Expand full comment

Scott, do you realize there's a war on? I know you're relatively well-off and insulated from all of this, but don't you think it's a bit trite to keep going on about the whole woke vs. unwoke circus when millions of people are fleeing their homes and hundreds of millions more are going to feel extremely tough repercussions from the broader economic conflict at hand? Troops are massing on either side of the NATO border, prices for everything are about to undergo a stratospheric rise due to the global energy crisis and yet you still rant about academic freedom on campuses and twitter "mobs"? Now more than ever, don't you think it may be time to log off?

Expand full comment

Arguably a successful movement needs a combination of both? Yes, berserkers will often alienate reasonable people, but without some sort of rallying cry people who agree there's a problem in principle may never consider the problem serious enough to actually do anything about it. Bonus follow-up question: Is that part of why Rationality is not viral? Because of a lack of berserkers?

Expand full comment

It is perfectly reasonable to believe that all three of your bullet points are true, and that the Floyd killing is a good example to demonstrate those points. Also, those points are not made in a way that is annoying or insulting to one's intellect; which is how we know they are not woke

Expand full comment

apply the fabian strategy most of the time, and when the opportune moment arises, apply the beserker.

Expand full comment

The move to wokeness in K-12 education presents the Fabian/Berserker paradigm in a similar way for teachers, though I think we have a third option: move to a school district in a place that aligns more closely with our politics. I'm still going to live in an urban area because I like cities and diversity, but I hate our district's piousness and censoriousness and don't feel like I would get anywhere trying to get them to be less woke, so I'm moving to a suburban district next year where the official line from the district is "let's not talk about politics."

Expand full comment

Off-hand, I'd say that having a powerfully-placed anti-woke asset inside academia is too rare and valuable to waste on "berserker" stunts that could be better handled by activists. This is equivalent to the Russians recruiting Kim Philby or something.

Another question: Is it enough to rely on ad hoc actions by individuals to push back on Wokeism, or do the anti-woke need to organize a sophisticated, multi-layered, semi-centralized program to do a reverse-Gramsci "march through the institutions?"

Actually, the issue is probably moot as that kind of program is against the DNA of the Burkean Conservative, libertarians, and old-school Liberals who make up the ranks of non-woke/anti-woke.

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2022·edited Mar 10, 2022

"Volunteer for all those committees everyone always tries to weasel out of." -- You can't over-emphasize this.

I wrote a series of blog posts in 2017 called "How I took a literary theory class and accidentally stopped hating Republicans" ( https://www.fimfiction.net/blog/733383 ) after I enrolled to get a Master's of English Literature, took the "Literary Theory" class, and discovered that instead of studying literature, we studied Marx, Freud, Lacan, Foucault, feminism, body positivity, intersectionality, colonialism, and why straight white males are the source of all the world's problems.

I'd enrolled because I wanted to understand why printed fiction no longer held any interest for me. I discovered that this was by design. English literary fiction had been perverted by the doctrine that all art is purely political, and so the only task of critics is to expose political agendas, and the only task of artists is to undercut the bourgeois hegemonic powers by not producing more of their opiates (meaning art that normal people like).

The academic journals of English literature had likewise become Marxist propaganda flacks. In the 4th post in my series, "College English leftism: How did it begin?" ( https://www.fimfiction.net/blog/734086 ), I traced the problem back through the journals to "the sixties" (which actually means ~1967-1974). It had been trivially easy for radicals to subvert English literature journals and associations because *nobody else wanted to be on the committees*. They didn't have to argue or fight; they just had to show up.

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2022·edited Mar 10, 2022

My impression is that most people are better suited to either the Fabian or the Berserker strategy, and the strategic value of playing to one's strengths easily surpasses general strategic considerations. An academic with a lot of existing academic prestige (e.g., Pinker) can play the Fabian strategy successfully and keep that prestige, whereas he would tank it if he went Berserker. A relative outsider with a non-academic audience (like Kirkegaard) can ignore academic prestige and play to the vox populi, so the Berserker strategy becomes the right one. At the end of the day, the two flanks support each other unless they do a bad job.

Wokeness is at that strange point where it has lost all cultural momentum but is gaining political power (see FIRE's database of firings). I'd caution against letting the former lull you into a false sense of security. Putinism culturally ran out of steam in the late 2000s as the various Putinjugends ("Nashi", "Idushie vmeste") got mothballed, and never recovered its pull on the intelligentsia. Unfortunately, zombies can keep running without their brains.

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2022·edited Mar 10, 2022

Nice photo on this post...

Realistically, I think at most universities any of the things you are suggesting are almost certainly going to get him fired or to get him to quit. "Almost un-fireable" is not going to be enough. When his lack of wokeness comes up, nobody will care how useful, famous, beloved he is.

To be sure, there are universities somewhere where the administration stands behind their un-woke professors. There are just not a lot of them.

He will also become toxic to associate with, hurting his students, which is the reason Jordan Peterson quit:


I think just about the only things that might work are if he either somehow manages to become some university's president (while not known to be un-woke) or gets his university to hire as president another closet un-woke person who is ready to get out of the closet. Presidents do have a lot of power and influence. These are long odds, but this could actually work.

Expand full comment

I'd like to point out that due to the changes in the rules of engagement, in these affected institutions, and in the media, that those pursuing the Fabian strategy will likely be labeled as Berserkers. Really making one question the values of building a reputation and laying low.

Expand full comment

Perhaps MLK wouldn't have such a pristine reputation today if he hadn't been made a martyr. Not sure if this makes him a worse example for strategic inspiration.

Expand full comment

"When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries of life disappear and life stands explained." Mark Twain, Notebook, 1898.

Expand full comment

Scott I am frankly disappointed in this piece. This is close to outrage bait, far below your usual standards.

Expand full comment

Is there a post where Scott more thoroughly defines what he means by "Wokeness"? Because, in a sense, it's an emotionally loaded term without any kind of consistent definition across the spectrum (and with the definition changing depending on one's overall political views). Even in this post, using available context, it's hard for me to pin it down to a very precise definition. The meaning seems to change depending on the specific instance it's being applied to.

From the post, I get the following definitions:

- awareness of and sympathy to the challenges faced by marginalized people, possibly to the extent of taking action to effect change (Wokeness - Original Flavor).

- a performance signaling sympathy for marginalized people, in order to indicate alignment with current in-groups, but without any real sympathy or active steps to effecting change (Performative Wokeness).

- a zealous attack on anything that meets a strict, un-nuanced view of "racial/gender/cultural insensitivity" without regards for any mitigating circumstances (Dogmatic Wokeness).

Expand full comment

Is there any evidence that George Floyd's race played any role in his death?

Expand full comment

And actual support for disadvantaged groups fell in between cracks. American liberals are getting into each other's hair, while American fundamental Christians finance anti-LGBT and pro-life propaganda unimpeded in Eastern Europe and Africa, causing real suffering.

Expand full comment

Good rule of thumb is, don't be an asshole. Using tenure as protection for being an asshole is bad form, regardless of content.

Expand full comment

I think this post was perfectly fine and reasonable tho I have no substantive input to share because I'm too personally averse to confront 'woke' anything in-person unless it's in small and mostly-private groups with which I expect at least modest tolerance of any dissent.

Expand full comment

I recently left a tenured academic position and, while there were several issues, this was definitely one of them for me. I struggled a lot with how to approach the issue. What I realized is that I actually care about injustice at least as much as many of the woke people at the university. I actually tried pretty hard to address problematic situations. But whenever I tried to approach a problematic person, I was immediately written off as another crazy woke person. The point being, the extreme wokeness is actually hurting the cause by removing its credibility. Very frustrating. (And probably not surprising to readers here.)

Although I didn't have much success, I can share the approach I converged on when trying to talk to woke people. It boils down to, "I'm on your side, just with a different approach." My argument is that there are people on either end who probably won't change their minds, and we should focus on the people in the middle. But if we're so harsh with censorship then the people in the middle will feel alienated and just disengage. They will say the words while being silently frustrated. Indeed, I observed a bigger and bigger gap between what people think and what people say. But only changing what people say won't solve these big problems.

Overall, I can only reiterate how toxic the environment was. Open hostility towards while males was completely tolerated. Not sure if it's exaggeration but people who previously lived under oppressive regimes said this reminded them of old times.

Expand full comment

Didn't you write a post a few weeks ago (where you responded to reader complaints about the new blog) in which you asked if "wokeness is even a thing anymore"? Helping someone come up with a strategy to fight wokeness seems to be a fairly clear acknowledgement that it a) exists and b) is something worth worrying about. Would you care to clarify your stance here?

As for effective approaches for your academic friend, I would caution that being 'unfireable' doesn't really protect him from much. There are a lot of informal sanctions that he'd still be subject to: social shunning by other faculty, not advancing departmentally (e.g. never becoming dept chair), being tarred as 'racist', annoying student protests, possibly being targeted for fabricated accusations of sexual assault, etc. As a staunch anti-woker I'm not trying to discourage him from taking a much-needed principled stand against the lunacy, I just think he should consider the stakes before he sticks his hand into the hornet's nest.

Expand full comment

"What Message Does A Hard-Won Victory Send..... what message does it send to the average academic? It could be “have hope, it’s possible to win a fight against wokeness”. Or it could be “if you offend woke people, you’ll have to deal with angry mobs and a long court case; sure, you’ll win in the end, but it sounds horrible”.

I think it's a mistake to think of this as a message you are only sending to other academics. Your friend is unfireable and at least considering being brave/proactive. Yes, winning a battle would send a message to the normal guy, whichever the one you choose. But more importantly, you've just sent a message to the whole administration of the college that you are sue-happy and win sometimes.

Now the powers-that-be can't fire him, and he goes to bat and causes *them* a bunch of bullshit they have to deal with. There's no reason to assume the administration doesn't hear "There's someone who fights back and burns a ton of our time". If you are already assuming the students/fellow academics are going to have a strong reaction from *seeing* that, then you have to assume the administration has an even stronger reaction from having to deal with it.

When college administrations have to deal with a bunch of litigation, whining, protesting and bad press they fold like card tables. That's why we have the woke shit in the first place. Your friend wouldn't just be suing to show people how to sue; he'd be suing to gradually change the environment so they don't have to.

Expand full comment

I'm just pleased to see Vaclav Havel's greengrocer reborn on a "In THIS house..." lawn sign.

Expand full comment

It's important to separate wokeness into its ideological component and it's cultural component. And these parts are linked somewhat but are also often separable. The ideological component involves opposition to meritocracy, cancel culture, equity, reparations. The cultural component involves blaming white supremacy and capitalism, declaring pronouns, acknowledging land.

A second observation is that a lot of the cultural war is, as the name implies, in the cultural realm.

So, a possible strategy would be to adopt woke rethoric and mannerisms and oppose woke ideology. This fits well with a Fabian strategy. It is the equivalent of saying "onto Caesar's what's Caesar's and onto God what's God's" in order to defend secularism.

Here's how it could pan out: you could argue that white supremacists latch on to subjectivity in order to discriminate against minorities. If they are not objective they have an easier time justifying their racist behavior. Don't you know that holistic college admissions were originally created in order to discriminate against Jews? That's why we need objective criteria that selects people based on how knowledgeable and competent they are ( don't use the word meritocracy, that's a dirty word). Say that even if we could on short term use subjectivity to defend minorities, such tool would create a precedent and soon be appropriated by the powers that be.

And you go on, acknowledge land, declare pronouns and do whatever meaningless ritual they expect you to do.

A woke ideologue will obviously not accept the argument, but for a woke adjacent, the person who's embedded in the culture and superficially agrees with it's tenets, but doesn't go into details, the above discourse looks a lot like the good, "our tribe" discourse.

Expand full comment

He could try accelerationism.

Scream at anyone reading a Harry Potter book, shout to anyone that asks that America is racist because 50% of the prison population is Black, call Asians "White adjacent".

It is very easy to make woke points in a way that can easily be parodied and isolate ordinary people from it and it is safe because you can't be cancelled for it.

Expand full comment

A pretty good example of the natural transition to anti-wokeness is the (post) French Revolution! After the excesses of the woke crowd purging the non-woke crowd, the incumbent government got elected on the basis of not being very woke, and enacted common sense measures to curb back wokeness.

This can clearly happen in the US as well, when a non-woke, non-Trump president gets elected.

Expand full comment

Hopefully your overall goal is to improve society, not to minimise wokeness at all costs. So please think about the possible negative side-effects of the 'beserker' strategy, beyond just the risk that it backfires directly and helps your woke enemies win. This isn't a zero-sum game, and tactics that turn up the heat and increase anger and division can plausibly leave almost everyone worse off.

Expand full comment

It seems to me that to actually defeat wokeness, you need to defeat the institutions that lend it strength within the halls of power. I am no expert on the 90s Christian domination, but it seems to me that Christian influence on the elite/intelligentsia is not comparable to the domination of the woke. As Scott mentions, the woke have enacted a whole set of powerful institutions that reproduce, if not full insanity wokeness, at least a low-level concentration. It seems to me that, both strategies rely on the support of an anti-woke community. Fabians will need non/anti woke people to interact with, if only to prevent gradual assimilation. Berserkers will need shield-bearers to make their fights winnable and to keep their spirits up in the face of woke backlash. Because of this, it seems to me that the only way to win this fight will be groups of both Fabians and Berserkers. Berserkers do the actual job of tearing down woke institutions while Fabians help to provide aid and comfort to Berserkers in their fights.

One of the weaknesses of you paradigm, Scott, seems to me the intense individual focus. Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Congressman #26 Who Voted For Civil Rights Legislation, even if they weren't directly collaborating and even if they often disagreed, all pulled in the same direction on the civil rights issue. It takes many people to reform a society. Thus, my advice to your academic friend would be to try and find a community who oppose the woke. Initially this will probably mean taking a Fabian approach (fools rush in where angels fear to tread) until a decent number of people have been found. After that, flip strategies whichever way you think will be conducive to increasing the strength and size of your anti-woke coalition, strength measured by ability to remove woke influence. (This may not be the same thing as size as a large but tepid group will be less useful to dismantling wokeness than a few devoted diehards).

Expand full comment

The object-level question of this post -- "what should my friend in a powerful academic position do to most effectively curb the current problems of silencing on campus" -- seems perfectly reasonable. Speculating on the strategic and moral differences between the Fabian and berserk approaches also seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to do. However, at the meta-level, it is clear there is a massive disconnect between various groups in the commentariat, and between some of those groups and Scott himself.

Two points on the subject:

1. Not an original insight: "Woke" means the positive aspects of decency to some people, but means the negative aspects of social silencing to other people. Scott probably thought he had already clarified his views on this but he hadn't.

As per the usual process, a word that doesn't really encapsulate the nuance of the question becomes the word that is used by proxy on two sides of the debate, meaning vastly different things to different people. I think it's fair to use the term "woke" as shorthand, but if you're speaking to a group of people who include both "pro-woke" and "anti-woke" people (as I expect the ACX comments section to), you will get some very confused readers if you pick one of those without explaining what you're doing. The folks who know "woke" as a synonym for good things -- treating each other decently, not using slurs, learning about various issues involving marginalized/oppressed groups, finding ways to fight that oppression -- will say "hey what do you mean, the problem isn't wokeness, it's censorship and witch-hunts, and those have been deployed in other settings like squelching communist intellectuals. The "pro-woke" people are right that those issues pre-date wokeness, but wrong that their use of the term "woke" is any better than the "anti-woke" people -- the anti-woke group could just as easily say that saying you're "woke" is silly when what you really mean is that you're for basic human decency and fighting against oppression. At this point I think it's fair for either group to use the term as shorthand, but people used to one or the other might get confused by the difference.

I realize Scott probably thinks he's already established that he uses the term "woke" as shorthand for bad connotations and not good connotations, but if you go back and look at some prior uses of the term on ACX/SSC, they're mostly compatible with both views (e.g. "[Trump was] probably not a white supremacist at all except in whatever boring way you can call anyone who isn't super-woke a white supremacist"). The only other post I can think of where he really came out and used the term "woke" purely negatively was the Why Do I Suck post, but that was a very small part of a large article, and I even for that I see comments on that post debating over whether "woke" represented the good parts (being against racism) or the bad parts (censoring people needlessly). I realize that having a disclaimer of "wokeness is a multi-faceted term" would have felt like a waste of time to make in this post, and that this probably wasn't intentional, but IMO this post was an exceptionally poor one to make the transition into using the term "woke" negatively as an assumption. Add to that some absolutely bananas takes on object-level wokeness-related questions and the result is some very perplexed and alarmed readers.

2. There are some absolutely bananas takes on object-level wokeness-related questions in this post

I was very taken aback by some of the takes in the second half of the post, especially wrt George Floyd. My perception of the George Floyd protests does not match Scott's in the slightest -- IMO they were an understandable reaction to an event that, if you watched the video, was absolutely awful. Compare the reaction to current events in Ukraine -- I see it as the same kind of expression, except the US one hit much closer to home. Everyone witnessed something horrible, everyone wanted to do something to show they were in support -- partly because I think people are desperate to feel like they're contributing, and partly because we've been awash with messages that signaling support is genuinely helpful. Did some of the BLM protesters go too far, did it enable negative consequences of wokeness? Absolutely. Are some of the Ukraine protestors going too far, is it enabling negative consequences of political opinions? Yes, definitely. But no one would suggest that the average person putting a Ukraine flag on their lawn is doing anything *wrong* or that it's a sign of "Ukrainian power" or "Ukrainian overreach" or anything like that (although some might question whether it's truly helpful). So to see BLM portrayed as either "woke power" or "woke overreach" seems absurdly outside the window of possibility to me -- we just live in a time when people want to declare their support for things, and so when things happen it's pretty normal for people to put posters up about it.

And one last point that comments on both the object-level strategy for Scott's friend and on the meta-level question of reactions to this post. Every time I see something like this, it makes me less willing to jump in and defend "anti-wokeness" (here meaning anti-witch-hunty-censorship). I'm not saying it doesn't come from a good place, and I even agree with the main issue -- I'm genuinely very concerned about the silencing going on in academia and I think cancel culture is a huge toxic problem. But even though this post seems to be about strategizing on how to make there be less silencing, there are all these really weird zingers in there like the George Floyd protests being "a giant show of strength, briefly cow[ing] everyone, and intimidat[ing] any attempt at change" (what kind of change???) or depicting the NAACP passing over other candidates pre-Rosa Parks as part of the "be as controversial as humanly possible" strategy (strategy != dishonest controversy). I find it really bizarre that the berserk strategy survived the initial round of potential criticisms *that Scott has made before* (e.g. in Sacred Principles as Exhaustible Resources) to the point where it was pitched in this post as an option with nearly-equal merit to the approach of not being maximally edgy.

I hope to see some continued interaction about this (maybe in a "Hightlights from the Comments" post), becuase I really think this post and its reception deserve a post-mortem.

Expand full comment

Just noticed 'woke' pop up as an attack on Zelenskyy in Ukraine coverage, what a world:

"Remember that Zelenskyy is a thug," Cawthorn said in the video. "Remember that the Ukrainian government is incredibly corrupt and is incredibly evil and has been pushing woke ideologies."


Expand full comment

May I suggest a Third Way: make Woke people THINK. Thinking is what universities are for. There are woke values and woke solutions. The former are subjective. The latter are subject to thinking.

Once upon a time, about the only group talking about the mass incarceration of Black men was the Libertarians. They didn't talk as loudly as BLM, because such race-baiting was considered bad taste, and Libertarians tend to be nerdy white men. The take-away is that it is possible to be in favor of a much smaller prison population for Black men without calling for a socialist agenda or struggle sessions to expose subconscious racists.

So instead of bringing in red meat spewing right wingers, bring in those who share some of the woke values but have different solutions. Get people thinking about the unintended consequences of some woke policies.

For example, if you allow recreational shoplifting, you increase global warming as people move to the exurbs to get away from the crime. And bring in speakers who point out synergies: the slavery in Old Testament Law was in large part their alternative to prisons. Working on a farm is less harsh than living in an American prison! Old Testament slavery had a maximum term of 6 years, the enslaved kept their families, and they got capital upon release. That last factor is a biggie! Jail time stinks up a resume. To release people with little cash and a stinky resume is to send them back into criminality.

Here's another: subconscious bias exists, so having some kind of affirmative action as an offset is economically efficient as well as justice to offset past persecution. However, too much affirmative action magnifies the Peter Principle for the formerly persecuted. Meanwhile, hostile workplace laws make it downright dangerous to hire members of formerly persecuted groups. "We want you to hire this black women. As an incentive, if you make her mad, an economic bomb goes off which destroys your company." As a white male, I have this remaining privilege: I can be easily fired. This makes me a desirable hire for certain positions.

Bring on the controversial *solutions*, not the controversial values.

Expand full comment

I do not think either strategy will change any hearts or minds. This entire article feels rooted in the assumption that there is no real problem with our society to which ‘wokeness’ is a response. And the end goal is to just somehow travel back in time to before ‘wokeness’ was a thing? I just don’t get it. Instead of yelling ‘this policy is bad’, why not connect with both administrators and students and work to understand the underlying concerns driving the creation of the bad policies and then work to figure out a better way to address those concerns. To assume that you totally understand everything and are right to wave your hand and dismiss the rabble who oppose you just reeks of arrogance, which, to be fair, is the American way.

I think the comparison is beyond silly, but MLK and Malcolm X were both beloved and respected members of their respective communities (btw, would highly recommend The Autobiography of Malcolm X if you have not read it). And they both had something your friend does not (yet): A vision for a better tomorrow.

Good luck.

Addendum: It is interesting that ‘wokeness’ is framed as the biggest threat to ‘academic freedom’. I suppose it is the blue-state goggles in play, but there is at least as much pressure on academic freedom from other directions. Texas seems likely to fight wokeness by removing tenure entirely from its public universities, and it isn’t because they’re worried about professors not being current on their pronouns.

Expand full comment

is there anything this academic can do to contribute to AI safety

Expand full comment

Protesting Black people being murdered is cancel culture...

Now that's nice and clear.

Expand full comment

Really disappointed The Good Soldier Svejk strategy wasn't listed. Why are the great ideas from literature always ignored?

Expand full comment

Fighting wokeness is a weird thing to organize your life around. I feel like being woke is a strategy to achieve certain social goals regarding justice and equality. Rather than opposing woke policies or cancel culture, shouldn't this professor try to optimize for their actual terminal values, eg free speech?

Expand full comment

The comments so far suggest that wokeness requires defining before the discussion can proceed, so allow me to start with my leftist, materialist take.

What we gesture towards when invoking the term wokeness, the epistemically important part of it, should be thought of as a set of strategies and talking points evolved to maximize the users' fitness in the dog-eat-dog world of middle class institutions. It allows the young, upstart elite aspirants to coordinate with each other and conspire against the entrenched elite, with the goal of appropriating their positions, status, jobs, pensions, grant money, etc.

It's often mischaracterized as left-wing because many of its talking points are taken from left-associated philosophical currents like post-modernism/-structuralism or marxism. However, they're used completely aideologically, without any logical coherence and in a manner and with an aim contrary to those currents' intellectual goals. (In particular - by selectively applying them to their victims, and not themselves.)

Right-wingers have he hardest time intellectually opposing them, because they just straight up deny that the talking points are true, which, usually, they are. Meaning, they go straight for the motte without even thinking of cutting off the access to the bailey. But others struggle, too, the beauty of the tactic is that while the motte is hard to attack, the bailey, at least from within the institutional setting, is merely an even ground, with two elite factions accusing each other of being elite. Once entrenched, the woke lose their tactical advantage, and to preserve their status, they're forced to enforce a climate of strict intellectual conformity (so that no opposition to them arises) or to find an even higher-status target to continue with their charade of fighting for the disadvantaged. (It's usually culminating in a permanent moral struggle against an impersonal opponent - systemic, internalized evils permeating all society.)

You'll note that this tactic, despite its short-term advantages to individuals, is parasitical and long-term unsustainable, at least in the cases where the constant internal struggle interferes with normal functioning of an otherwise socially beneficial institution. Eventually, it will (temporarily) die off due to the mechanics of Turchinian fathers-and-sons cycle, with the woke as radicals and the growing movement of preserving the societal benefits of institutions (and either reclaiming them to do their real job or creating alternative ones actually performing that job) as moderates.

I can't emphasize enough how much all this points to a Fabian strategy in this particular situation. If you want to operate from within the institution, you want to cherish and cultivate the goals and benefits the institution provides. Berserk prevents you from doing this, instead, it's broadcasting the institution's inability to provide those benefits. You should only use it in cases where you think the institution is irredeemable and you're either trying to speed-up its demise or to show the road forward after its demise. (I'm currently going Berserk in mine, it's kind of fun, and a great occupational therapy for my social anxiety. But I have little hope for it, or for my own success within it.) It's extremely counterproductive if you simultaneously bet your future and continued employment on the institution's continued existence.

PS: MLK was clearly a Fabian, at least as a civil rights advocate, working within the social norms of US liberal democracy and christian religion, convincing people who believed in them that a) he's on their side and b) the norms would benefit from being more universal. (Later on, he turned his attention to an economically-transformative policy which went against a lot of entrenched institutions, so he had to go. Hereafter, wokeness avoids any serious tackling of economic inequality. It's just not a winning career strategy.) Malcolm X was a Berserker for the surrounding society, but nevertheless operated within a successful alternative social institution. Whatever your tactics, you need to act towards some socially beneficial goal. Society (whether at large or of your immediate peers) is the ultimate judge, and the best way to disarm the woke is to actually address the problem they disingenuously claim to be addressing.

Expand full comment

(I posted this response first on the r/slatestarcodex subreddit. If it's impolite to repost it here, please tell me so and I'll delete it) Thanks for posting this article! It's close to a lot of the arguments that I've been having with myself. How polite do I want to be? How safe? Should I just keep my head down and work or stand up and fight? But my wife (an IT entrepreneur in Bulgaria who spent yesterday figuring out how to employ Ukrainian refugees) had a pointed answer: that's a false dichotomy. Do "real, solid, human" work.

The example she gave was of a Japanese flower-grower who set up greenhouses in Fukushima to convince people that things can grow there (and also he sells flowers and makes a profit). He's not working against the idea that "we should abandon Fukushima as an irradiated wasteland", he's working to grow and sell flowers.

For myself, I'm an ESL teacher and science fiction author. I connect with people by sharing stories, so I teach English to refugees and write about it (although neither exclusively). I'm not working against xenophobic Bulgarian nationalism* but _to_ give refugees a way to share their stories more broadly.

I don't know what kind of professor the OP is, but for the sake of argument, I'll imagine he's a history professor like my advisor in college. He might think "I teach history so that we will not repeat it" or "I teach history so that my students can become informed voters and productive citizens." Or he might teach for some other reason. Whatever that reason is, it will suggest an answer to his question. Not in order to work against Wokeness, but in order to work to ______ (please fill in the blank with the appropriate infinitive verb) :)

*note: almost all of the Bulgarians I talk to are eager to welcome Ukrainian refugees to their country. The level of xenophobia I see here is far outweighed by generosity.

Expand full comment

Scott: Good to see you wading back into hot-button culture-war topics, as those are always interesting posts.

I hope the comments on this one have helped persuade you of something people were trying to argue in the comments on "Why Do I Suck": that wokeness is still a major area of controversy (what exactly it means and what it encompasses, which bits of it are good or bad, and whether it's good or bad overall), and that your post-woke bubble is very unrepresentative.

Expand full comment

I know five unwoke academics. All stay under the radar and stick to the object level of their profession. They make slight pushes against woke overreach to keep pressure on the administration, but nothing big. My biggest concern in 2016 was that they were all going to become radicalized against anything even mildly smacking of woke as the politization of everything results in the mind-killing of everyone. I was really worried about several of my friends who seemed to be losing perspective and hope. Intellectual isolation clearly was taking a toll psychologically and academically.

Today, I think currently there is a lot more breathing room in private conversations than there was during Trump's presidency. But the institutional inertia is still pushing towards woke things. And while the current cracks get bigger when a Blue person holds the White House, the cracks shrink otherwise. So in this time of relative cultural harmony, I would make as many allies as possible.

I have tried berserker as an undergraduate along with some other professors in college. It's high risk! There are many ways to fail: choosing the wrong target, failing to grab widespread attention to the injustice, failure to execute in a synchronized way. If you fail to identify the right target, ranks close against you and the administration puts you under suspicion. If you fail to attract attention, no one notices that there was a bruhaha, and you don't make the news, and no lesson is learned. If you fail to affect change, you make enemies of potential allies who find you disagreeable, current allies are forced out, and then you find your cause more isolated than before.

Three allied professors were forced out, but the two top ranking administrators President and Dean of College were asked to step down. It was a Pyrrhic Victory at best, but in reality, it was damned disaster. Psychologically the toll was high, and losing professors is not worth the heads of a few administrators when the damage has already been done. It wasn't worth it for anyone involved.

Now as an experienced administrator, I can tell you, the Fabian Strategy works. Be seen working, industrious, come up with proposals, write down the ideas and the first draft of official documents, call the private meetings, make phone calls asking for feedback, be a good listener. Do a yearly review of the different internal documents and memos, propose revisions, streamline processes, make everyone else's jobs easier. It only takes two or three years of doing that to have an immense inertial change on an institution or department.

And that, in my opinion, is way better than waiting 100 years to get tenure.

Expand full comment

Doesn’t it come down to a morality question? We’ve killed Christianity and people need something to fill the moral vacuum. Neo-Marxists have helpfully provided a substitute. Wokeness (or the next pseudo-morality fad to spin out of the Critical Theory dialectical logic machine) will only die when society finds a grounding morality. So what your friend needs to do (unless he wants to play morality whack-a-mole) is to identify and promote a grounding morality that society can get behind.

Expand full comment

The most intolerant wins. So Berserker

Expand full comment

I think there are two weaknesses with the Fabian strategy that are not addressed here, although they do not necessarily recommend the berserk strategy so much as a hybrid.

1: By not coming into direct conflict that requires the woke to exert their power to strike you down, the woke get to claim that they are not doing anything wrong. One can see it over and over here in the comments, people asking "What unwoke people have been cancelled? What do you mean those on the right are blocked out of academia? Give one example!" Some of this is just partiality and ignoring of events, but it is also due to the fact that anyone on the American right that is is still employed by the vast majority of colleges and universities are there because they have been cowed into never sticking their necks out.

By way of analogy, if there was legislation saying "Everyone who eats hotdogs will be executed on the spot" and everyone gave up eating hotdogs, people would soon forget the legislation even existed. When was the last time you saw someone executed for eating a hotdog? There is no anti-hotdog movement! Although in this case there would at least be legislation on the books regarding the illegality of hotdog consumption; make all the rules informal based on interpretation of extremely vague statutes and you have life in the woke academy.

2: Simply pushing back on woke policy is often enough to get you in trouble. Woke ideology is used for competition, where "good enough" isn't enough to keep yourself safe. Rather you need to demonstrate that you are a true believer, perhaps the truest believer, to successfully keep your head down. Pushing back in any way demonstrates that you are not of the faith unless you can demonstrate that you are pushing back precisely because your target is doing the faith wrong.

Now in industry jobs, sure, Fabian as described is probably fine, (unless you work in Hollywood or at Disney or something.) The described Fabian strategy in academia, however, would keep you employed about as well as suggesting "Hey, are we REALLY sure there is a God?" would keep you employed in the College of Cardinals.

If you are very unfirable, beyond just tenured, the Fabian strategy might keep you safe and pushing back against the excesses of wokeism, but I don't think it is nearly so safe as some seem to think. Consider how many leftists in good stead got fired and cancelled via simply expressing concerns that were wholly acceptable just a few years prior.

Expand full comment

Perhaps a third option: given Anonymous Academic's newfound position of power in proximity to "Woke People" maybe A.A. could try to form meaningful relationships with as many of "Them" as they can, especially those for whom "Woke" causes are not just a social scene, but real injustices and personal experience. Maybe they could try to understand where "They" are coming from, gather information from real people, update their world model, and do the hard introspection work in order to reconcile their own internal representation of what a "Woke Person" looks like with the actual people that they are now trying to have a relationship with. Admit that many things can be simultaneously true, and try to be as intellectually honest and open-minded as possible about discovering the totality of those truths, and force themselves to try to understand why certain truths may be more important to "The Woke" and other truths may be more important to "The Unwoke." Then do the opposite thing and admit that many things can simultaneously be bullshit. Try to gain their trust to the extent that you can have honest and difficult conversations about their bullshit and yours. Is it possible to do this in a way that helps them rather than defeats them? Is it possible to gain their trust to the extent that you can say "I'm saying this to help you" and they believe you even if they disagree with you? Maybe try to get out there and build some fucking community rather than trying to find the most strategic way win.

Expand full comment

Rufo's strategy appears to be working fairly well. How do we classify it? Seems Berserker-like.

Expand full comment