Woke and Cancel Culture
Because of the culturally binary world in which we now live, it is almost impossible to speak without unwanted value being added or subtracted by others. Words or statements are too often enveloped in a pejorative package by those who disagree, thus excusing the package creator from having to deal with the truth being conveyed. Wrapping things as ‘woke’ is one such package of avoidance.
‘Woke’ is now weaponised by those on the right to belittle expressions of value or opinion that appear to challenge preconceived notions of what is acceptable. Those who dare to challenge some of the stories that undergird present day ANZAC celebrations are definitely ‘woke’. Those who support lifting the age of criminal responsibility in children, or wish to see imprisonment as the last resort for young offenders are ‘woke’. Those of us who are outraged by charges being laid against whistle blowers such as witness K and Bernard Collaery are ‘woke’. To be appalled by the endless incarceration of asylum seekers is definitely ‘woke’.
And yet ‘woke’ is a state to which all should aspire. That is, we should all aspire to an awakening based on insight and knowledge. Funnily enough ‘woke’ is the condition that undergirds Christian discipleship. All Christians are compelled to embrace ‘metanoia’, usually translated as ‘repentance’. Repentance is not primarily beating one’s breast in sorrow and regret, but living differently as a result of seeing differently.
There are many aspects to my personal life that have needed to respond in metanoia. I began with a strong patriarchal mindset. I had no knowledge of indigenous life, history and culture and as such had a racist mindset. I was unaware of my personal responsibility for environmental sustainability. To many of these realities I have ‘awoken’. That this journey needs to continue for the rest of my life, I am well aware. I aspire to be ‘woke’. All of us should aspire to be ‘woke’. The weaponizing of the term to deride or discredit is a cowardly act by those who refuse to be informed or worse, to change their way of life.
Freedom of speech is rightly lauded as one of the most important values undergirding democratic society. ‘Cancel culture’, is a weaponised term used to illustrate the perceived manner in which this value is thought to be undermined and as a consequence democracy itself is thought to be under threat. But hang on a minute!
In a democratic society, is it desirable, or should it be possible, for people or mediums of influence to publicly state that which is knowingly and blatantly untrue, especially when the intention of doing so is to mislead for personal gain? No, it should not. The most obvious example is Trump and his supporters who claimed they won the last election when clearly, they had not. The intention was to mislead and undermine democratic processes. It would have been irresponsible not to take steps to mitigate this activity. Cancelling the spread of these statements protected democracy, not the other way around.
For two decades Australian politics has been riven asunder by one side of politics refusing to accept verifiable scientific facts. The cost has been enormous. By now many thousands of Australians could have transited into new sustainable, highly skilled jobs. Australia could have been far more ready to trade on the emerging international market rather than being laggards. Australia could have developed policies that would have been environmentally and economically effective. Instead, we have seen two decades of wasted opportunity and the cost of putting things right escalating by the day. Giving free rein to an alternative view, when in reality there was no alternative view, has seriously undermined Australia
So, does freedom of speech mean that people have the right to say whatever they like. No, it most certainly does not. Individuals do not have the right to slander others, and people or institutions in positions of influence do not have the right to untruths which protect their own privilege or power.
It is ironic that those who argue for the absolute right of ‘freedom of speech’ are themselves less than good examples of this democratic value.
There are a multitude of issues in every generation that ‘dare not speak their name’. Until recently violence in the home and violence towards children has been in this category.
All of us ‘see through a glass darkly’. There must be far more open and non-partisan debate about the issues that confront us in the 21st century. As these conversations occur, blatant mistruths and manipulation in protection of self-interest opposed to ‘common good’, need to be called out for what they are. Protection of the fossil fuel industry by companies and compliant politicians is absolutely in this category.
May we all wake to the challenges that confront us and remain awake (woke) to the democratic call for trust and respect without which an open society implodes.