by Gerardo Papalia (PhD) for the Saker blog
What and who is “woke”?
“Woke” has become the latest scourge-term used by many right-leaning commentators with which to verbally flagellate progressives. In the Webster Dictionary, the term is defined as: “aware of and actively attentive to important societal facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice)”. In practice, these “important societal facts and issues” generally refer to concepts such as gender and racial identities, environmentalism, and anti-colonial histories, as in the case of slave narratives. As a counter to “woke”, right-leaning commentators espouse traditional values, gender roles, environmental policies and histories. We thus witness the creation of a binary where one can either be “woke” or anti-woke”.
I argue here that this dichotomy ends up concealing those underlying economic processes and realities that are actually purposing devising and fostering those very same issues the term “woke” refers to. These processes are deeply rooted in the neo-liberal world order which is the expression of contemporary financial capitalism. A good example of this is the” global network of influence” created by the billionaire stock-market speculator George Soros, who is currently funding an entire panoply of media and activist organisations, such as the Open Society Foundation. One could argue that the causes that Soros is funding align exactly with many “woke” agendas. But is Soros supporting “wokeness” which is awareness of societal problems, or is he instead engendering “wokeism”, which is the policing of differing viewpoints? And why would a finance capitalist do this? The answer lies in the nature of advanced financial capitalism itself.
In order to sell goods, the capitalist mode of production must define the buyer. In the earlier years of capitalism, identifying the buyer was easy: it was obvious to the producer what the needs of buyers were. The requirement to have shoes, bread, chairs, for example,after all, is self evident. The style of shoe, the type of bread and the quality of the chair were secondary considerations. As time progressed, and the productive system became more efficient and competitive, it became important to differentiate the style of shoe, the type of bread and the quality of the furniture, to attract buyers. But to attract buyers meant being able to differentiate among them and to target them with advertising. For example, what type of buyer would be interested in this style of shoe and how can I advertise this product? This meant examining and dividing the buyers into market segments. Hence, the birth of targeted advertising and the consumer.
Initially, this segmentation involved determining the broad social classes of consumers: whether they were white or blue collar workers, whether they lived in cities or on farms, whether they were educated or not. As time went on, and the system of production became more sophisticated, consumers were increasingly differentiated into ever smaller and more specific groups. Advertising began to penetrate ever more precisely defined subjectivities: demographic groups whether single, coupled or extended; age groups whether teenager, middle aged or elderly; gender identities whether male, female, fluid; interest groups whether in sport, politics, the arts or other areas; cultural identities whether autochthonous, native or diasporic, and so forth.
Instead of reflecting already existing groups, the advertising industry then began to actually fashion or create purpose built subjectivities in order to be able to sell pre-conceived products to them. The media industry became the chief vehicle in this process with distinctions between advertising and artistic output largely disappearing. This process is reflected in the dictum: capitalism will eventually create artificial needs so that it can satisfy them.
With the coming of the digital age, algorithms have made it possible to reduce societal groups almost to the category of the single individual. As a result society has been split into ever more specific niches, corresponding to an entire panoply of identities and orientations in an ever strengthening centrifugal dynamic. As consumers, human beings are continually being into ever more fragmented subjectivities, on the assumption that the nature of their existence is ultimately entirely ‘monadic’ and isolated, a condition where they would be vulnerable to each and every external force or influence, unable almost to conceive of positive social change.
The ideal human from the capitalist standpoint is a being who is entirely dependent on the products and services that its system can deliver, and whose only contribution consists in their atomised labour. The weak and the vulnerable are always the best consumers. This includes sexual and gender identities, assumed to operate as essentialised quanta within an economy of equally discrete and hollow bodies, separable from broader concerns or desires except insofar as they can be captured and filled by the same system of production.
Accordingly, under capitalism, human relationships have been moving away from historically consensual or collaborative paradigms to transactional ones. Collective activities that once enabled societies to function, such as political activism, trade union participation, social interest groups, are now increasingly being peopled with individuals asking what direct material benefit they can expect in exchange for their contribution. Even in charitable endeavours, the giving of money has largely replaced actual physical or intellectual commitment. This is the only type of exchange of interest to capitalism: all other relationships are but illusory ‘maya’ in comparison to the productive power of the system itself. A productive capacity has now become sufficiently articulated and flexible to be able to satisfy even single desires.
For the oligarchs of this world, the human exists only as a fetish, or a zombie; an entirely knowable, predictable and manipulable creature, much like the way slaves were viewed by their masters, and subjugated people the world over are by the neo-colonial powers that be.
Advertisers continue to hope that they can direct human exchange into ways that make money, and yet people always seek to escape from this conditioning. Advertisers call this process ‘Cool Hunting’.
Beati pauperes spiritu
This is where capitalism comes undone. For humans are not static creatures that can be precisely defined into discrete entities. People exist in a diachronic dimension: they change in unforeseen ways and are much more complex than capitalism will allow. It is always possible that they will evolve and develop in ways that the advertising industry cannot capture or even envisage.
Humans know the difference between true generosity and self-interested benevolence. They will act in ways that are not transactional and make no economic sense, such as being generous and kind and, horror of horrors, actually love others for what they are. They will act in solidarity and not just by giving money. They will show kindness, be generous without want of return, contribute each and severally to the common good. They will also continue to work with and care for others in non transactional ways. In other words, people will practice selflessness, which contravenes every classical economic principle.
All of these behaviours constitute an enormous blind spot in classical economic theory: its inability to accommodate so called “unpaid” labour. It is not surprising that work in the domestic sphere is largely excluded from economic output calculations, particularly the contribution of women. Marx, who was very attentive to the contribution of labour to the economy, expressed this vital effort as the faculty of proletarian “reproduction.” Unpaid labour has been the minimum common denominator, and I daresay the prerequisite, of any economic system from the beginning of time.
Humans create meaning for themselves by living for each other, which is perhaps what Margaret Thatcher actually meant when she stated: “There is no such thing as society.” Hence they will commit to work to the best of their abilities, not principally for material gain, but for the sake of their own dignity as individuals and for the benefit of the greater whole. For the same reasons they will also embrace difference, not simply tolerate it, in recognition of the dignity that is the abiding quality and the due of each and very human being. Such an approach can be termed “wokeness”. We need only look around us to see this in families, among friends, and even in nation states.
Today the social battleground is not only, as Marx envisaged, a struggle for the control over the means of production, it has become a social, even a spiritual struggle between capitalism and humanity. Any form of division, of separation of people into distinct groups premised on essentialised identities, an expression of wokeism, as opposed to “wokeness”, will promote capitalism and ultimately destroy human solidarity.
We should be mindful of the origin of the word ‘devil’: it derives from the Ancient Greek ‘daimōn’, which means ‘he who divides’. By focusing on what separates us from our fellow human beings, we are ultimately doing the work of the devil.
Excellent analysis! Intelligence, driven by very strong desires, but totally lacking in empathy — in fact filled with antipathy — is perhaps another way to define ‘devil’.
A great article !
Not only is the author in tune with the works of Marx, his writing style is reminiscent of Marx at his best.
“For the same reasons they (humans) will also embrace difference, not simply tolerate it, in recognition of the dignity that is the abiding quality and the due of each and very human being.” So not only Marx, but the best of Proudhon as well ! My cup floweth over.
It is interesting how Soros’ projects are put forth with a high moral virtue, but when put into practice quite the opposite happens. His capstone achievement must be the Ukraine. (grrr..) Is Soros really that much of a bungler?
I’m thinking a lot of this woke politics goes beyond finance capitalism. It cuts to a greater issue; that of secularizing what little is left of moral values in the true christian sense. That secularzing process has been going on for a long time as in Santa Claus shopping before Christmas, opps can’t say “Christmas”, need to say “Holiday” shopping, Rudolf the raindeer, the Easter Bunny, etc. etc…..Woke politics brings it to a new level; like in bring on that me, me, me world, and forget them values that held society together. I guess that goes together with finance capitalism, but I believe the woke politics we are seeing today is more about trying to get rid of that dude who rode into town on a donkey, and is now hanging around everywhere on a cross.
In Matthew 22:37-40 Christ said there was 2 commandments; to love God with all your heart and to love your neighbor as yourself. In Matthew 23:23 he tells the Pharisees that they ignore the weightier matters of the Law which were justice, and mercy. This is the definition of loving your neighbor. Consider what God told the ancient Hebrews in Gen. 18:19, 2 Sam 8:15, Proverbs 1:3, 21:21, Isaiah 5:7, Micah 6:8, and many more. It is the same thing, to treat people like you would want to be treated. Woke liberalism is the opposite of that. It is rude angry people lashing out playing God and persecuting anyone that does not agree with their program. This is so pervasive that the Empire has been trying to cancel out a whole country and it’s people, namely Russia. These filthy quizzlings are destined to be destroyed by God on the day of judgement. They can repent, but that really appears to be a stretch.
As for capitalism, it has shown itself to be perfect for woke ideology. This is where Blackrock, Vanguard, and their ilk come to play. The proper way for someone at the ground level to operate is a market based economy where someone brings value in service or product and allows the market to pay what the market will bear. At this level a start vendor can provide to the community and bring monetary value to his home.
Excellent article, here is more on how wokeism has taken over the western cultures:
Identity Politics serves the corporate world in 2 ways.
1. It divides people. It tries to change the working class from seeing themselves as a member of the working class with the concomitant class-based concerns about wages, health care, housing costs, etc., which had unified their class in the past through unions and political activism, into seeing themselves as belonging to separate and atomized tribal group identities based on race, ethnicity, sexuality, and gender. Divide and conquer is the idea behind corporate support for Identity Politics. They are literally paying woke ideologues to promote separatism between different racial, sexual, and ethnic identities, and even hatred towards people of a different race or sexuality — through decrees on corporate HR policies. And of course by changing what is taught in school as well. Divide and conquer — it’s the oldest trick in the book.
2. Identity politics promotes the idea that all you have to do to be a good person is to say that you support all the various racial, ethnic, sexual, and gender tribal agendas. Being an “ally” is all it takes to be considered a member of good standing from the new progressive worldview. A corporation may have terrible policies against unions, workers health and safety, and workers rights in general, but now they can be given a pass by the liberal new progressives by simply being “an ally” to the various identity groups. What does being an ally entail? Not much. Simply voicing your support, and if you have big money by giving money which is tax deductible to various identity based organizations and leaders. Then you are good to go with “progressives” and all who consider liberalism a virtue. From The New Progressive World Order
carpe, nice work.
I’m glad that you have a PhD, Mr Gerardo Papalia, for your article, and indeed the comments also, because since I first heard the word ‘woke’, and ‘wokism’, I had no idea what they were talking about, honest to God, and now I know, such a relief, I’m wiser altogether, but the mind of those who use it, I don’t get, it’s an intelligence failing, it must be….
Unfortunately this analysis is confused because it doesn’t understand Capitalism. If, as you read this article, you mentally replace “Capitalism” with the concept of “economic greed”, you will find that the author’s line of reasoning still tracks. Thus, the author has subconsciously identified “Capitalism” as a system which encourages and facilitates unbridled and insatiable greed. But — that has nothing to do with Capitalism.
Capitalism according to Merriam-Webster is, and I encourage you to look up the definition,
“an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market.”
Thus, Capitalism is simply economic freedom. That’s it. There’s no “oversight forum” who interrupts your decision to do something generous with your private company because such an action “violates the tenets of Capitalism that all choices must constantly make money.” There’s no “regulatory board” who rides in and squelches your decision to make better quality products instead of maximizing profits because that decision violates the fundamental tenet of Capitalism that “maximum profits must always be milked from the consumer.” Nope — your company, your means of production, your choice. Do as you will.
Now, when humans are given economic freedom, unfortunately many do choose to embrace unbridled greed. But, that is not a Capitalism problem. That is a people problem. And because that’s a people problem rather than a system problem, it means that ANY system will be prey to humans choosing greed rather than altruism. And lo and behold, when you look back at history, that’s exactly what we find. Monarchy — endless litany of monarchs choosing to milk the people to benefit themselves rather than serving the people. Dictatorship — same thing minus the pretense of serving the people. Theocracy — endless series of leaders seeking power and prestige at the expense of the people, with cutthroat palace intrigues a constant staple. Communism — notice how all are equal but some always more equal than others, with special lanes to drive in, dachas rather than drab cement apartment complexes, their own private cars, all so they can “serve the people better” if you are actually foolish enough to fall for that excuse. Socialism — bureaucracies full of people who want easy jobs with cush benefits for a minimum of work regardless of whether it benefits the people or not. And on and on and on.
People are greedy. That is the unfortunate truth. Greed thus shines through and dominates any system you try to lay over the top of it. But, and this is the most important point, in a system of economic freedom, YOU CAN ESCAPE. You don’t get to choose to not feed the Monarch’s greed by not paying taxes — into the debtors dungeon you go. Try telling a dictator that you don’t want to give him your money so he can buy that new yacht. Try telling the leader of a Theocracy that you don’t want to pay their religious tax because a sumptuous new temple is less important than a new roof for you. Try telling a Communist apparatchik that their sweetheart deal is hurting the people — off to the gulag you go. Try telling Socialists that they are encouraging societal parasitism in exchange for prestige, but prepared to be vilified and to have your life ruined.
But if you don’t like Bill Gates and his nonsense? Don’t buy his products. Feed his competition with your purchases instead. That’s the ultimate vote, much more meaningful than voting in the voting booth, and more importantly, it allows society to change without requiring a bloody revolution first. Infinitely adjustable, all because all of us have that sweet and infinitely valuable economic freedom.
In times past, life was more difficult. Materials were scarce. Food was hard to come by. Energy had to be wrestled away from Nature. Tough times led people to band together for survival — and since this state of affairs marks the vast majority of human history and experience, that is what our emotions and abilities are built for. We are happiest when we are part of a small group. Our neurologic system and emotional systems are built for tribes. And, when we are forced to constantly cooperate with each other out of necessity, we ourselves control our own greed. Can you refuse to help with the neighbor’s barn building? Of course — but you don’t, because then you don’t get help with yours when you need it. Thus in the past, limited resources balanced out our innate desire to choose greed.
But Capitalism, allowing humans the possibility of freely associating and disassociating, freely choosing their own goals and projects, constantly trimming out inefficient processes and removing power in real time from poor decision makers — essentially unleashing the power of evolution and survival of the fittest on an economic system — ended up being so ridiculously productive that societies who chose it found themselves in uncharted territory — a territory where energy and materials were so readily available that no constraints forced us to check our greed in order to cooperate with each other. And thus I agree that Capitalism, due to its inherent productivity advantage, does allow society members to drift apart, to become atomized and disconnected and thus easy prey for greedy manipulators.
So the question really is — can humans handle an environment of abundance? Arguing for a different economic system is really arguing that humans are in general incapable of making good choices and thus need rulers. Some top down paradigm to be forced on them. I reject that concept because it is so pessimistic about humans and their capabilities as to be profoundly depressing, and it just doesn’t fit what I see around me. Rather, I see this as a new tool that we all individually need to come to terms with — and some of us will voluntarily choose a healthier community.
It is a mirror image of the relationship of our bodies to diet and exercise and lifestyle choices — do you want to live in a world where food is so scarce and hard to come by that you stay lean and healthy by necessity? Or, once you recognize the necessity of limiting your caloric intake and voluntarily choosing to exercise, stay healthy that way? Can we as humans handle the freedom but also the responsibility of a world of caloric abundance?
Similarly, do we want a system where we have minimal options and thus are forced into the relationships and communities that are healthy for us? Or, once we recognize their importance, do we voluntarily choose to shun the activities and paradigms and slogans of the hucksters and instead choose the relationships and communities that are healthy for us?
Woke and Wokeism is not some anti-greed, healthy community prescription. It is instead simply a new religion, the birth of a new theocracy, complete with priests and rituals and magical beliefs and sacred martyrs. It is a top down paradigm that is trying to smother and take over society. Don’t let the greed of the Woke snuff out your option to choose freedom.
The author has consciously and mindfully looked around and observed that the ever-so-pure dictionary meaning of “Capitalism” is being used as decoy for the system which encourages, facilitates and justifies unbridled and insatiable greed and exploitation.
I am sorry to have to point out that dictionary meanings do not describe the realpolitik of unbridled power and greed.
And the point of my comment is that all systems are used as a decoy to allow unbridled and insatiable greed and exploitation. Changing the system does not change that, because the unbridled and insatiable greed and exploitation does not come from the system, but comes from human nature. Holding out other systems as a “fix” for human nature is a con job, because the constant to all systems is the human component.
I am reminded of the movie “The Jerk” when Steve Martin is getting shot at, and the gunman misses and hits oil cans next to him, and Martin reacts, horrified, “he hates these cans!” When people look at economic freedom, see human greed, and declare that “the design of Capitalism must be to facilitate greed and exploitation”, that’s their “he hates these cans” moment.
Thank you for the clarification, Gwiss.
But a sceptic like me would still like to see one durable, non-exploitative and proven historical example of “pure capitalism”. I use the word “non-exploitative” here in the sense that it applies beyond one’s own national boundaries. For example, the definition should apply to a corporation in London sourcing cobalt from DRC and being a major international “player” in cobalt. Should the “purity” of capitalism not extend beyond national borders?
You won’t ever find an example of “durable, non-exploitative” Capitalism because, again, it’s a human system. Think about history, is there ever an example of durable, non-exploitative Monarchy? Theocracy? Communism? Socialism? Of course not. In all of these systems there are people who use the system to unethically take things from others, who use the system to unethically gain advantage. But that’s not because of the system, but rather because the system is populated by human beings, who have a human nature that looks for and uses advantages like these regardless of which political system you paste over the top of human culture. (And, let’s recognize that we are freely interchanging political and economic systems in this discussion, which adds confusion. The political system heavily impacts how the economic system appears and functions. There’s not just one “flavor” of Capitalism because of this.)
The point of my post was not that Capitalism is some pure incorruptible thing. No one who looks at our current corporation dominated business environment, hopped up on the steroids of freely available imaginary money, protected and abetted by a captured regulatory environment and an unholy alliance with corrupt politicians, would imagine it to be wonderful. Crony capitalism is toxic. Iron triangles (look them up) are parasitic infections that are really difficult to remove. The point of my post was not that the advantages of Capitalism are that it is pure and incorruptible. The advantages instead are:
1) it is remarkably efficient at producing material things, because inefficiencies are removed not eventually in some committee subject to political machinations, but instead on the fly by market forces not under the control of businesses
2) It is easier to change the system in Capitalism and steer it in a more healthy direction because the system is not bound by entrenched political ramparts and fortifications that are unassailable to the average citizen. In Capitalism, citizens don’t vote once every four years for corrupt politicians. They vote multiple times each day with their wallets. You buy a product and it sucks? You don’t buy it again, and the company goes out of business. Not because you had to call your congressman, who then had to build a coalition and trade political chits to get a large enough group together to bring legislation to the floor revoking their business certificate, in the process removing a source of support from the factions who support that business, such that the business world ends up being a reflection of the political landscape. Nope. Capitalism bypasses all of that. Crappy products get direct feedback from the people. That’s about as democratic as you can get.
Now, is it possible to screw up Capitalism? Absolutely. Shady regulations, corrupt oversight, crony legislation, crony government contracts, crony government influence operations, shady courts and legal rulings and precedents, imaginary concepts like “corporations” whose only purpose is to protect businessmen from their business mistakes at the expense of the people, captured media, the list goes on and on and on.
But — those aren’t features of capitalism. They are instead features of government and human society. So let’s not imagine that any other government type wouldn’t also be subject to those same corruptions, right?
Of course you are right about human behaviour, but there is a very basic issue involved here — Whether “captalism” is the right word to describe faithfully the free and fair economic exchanges which we all understand and cherish. I think we should be able to find a better word.
Please see this essay, which I wrote in 2020: