A Word on Our Betters, the Woke

Originally published on Robert Franklin’s blog, The Word of Damocles.

Last time, in discussing the subculture of the “woke,” I mentioned that the very concept of wokeness and the woke themselves remind us greatly of times supposedly gone by, of the monied classes and their disdain for the peasantry.

Inevitably, that sense of their own moral rectitude produces an attitude in the “woke” somewhere between condescension and disdain.  The very term itself connotes a higher level of awareness meant to contrast dramatically with that of the degraded state of the rest of us.  In so doing, it echoes class antagonisms that are neither recent in origin nor woke.

The antics of the woke bring unbidden to mind that ancient human relationship – haves and have-nots.  There, the haves invariably conclude that they know better what’s good, not just for them, but for the have-nots as well.  In mid-19th century Great Britain, Viscount Palmerston made the point succinctly to William Gladstone:

You lay down the Doctrine of Universal Suffrage, which I can never accept.   I entirely deny that every sane and not disqualified man has a moral right to vote.  What every man and woman too have a Right to, is to be well governed and under just laws…

See?  According to the good Viscount, those who decide what constitutes good government and just laws are, coincidentally, people like him.  That the poor might have different thoughts on that subject, different interests, than the wealthy seems no more to have occurred to him than the concept that no government can be considered good if it denies a stake in its doings to 90% of the people it governs.

Which brings us to the woke today.  Their message: we know what’s best for all of us; if you disagree, you’re at best misinformed and at worst an enemy of the Greater Good; follow us without question and all will be well.  Like the working classes of Great Britain in Lord Palmerston’s day, most of us now find ourselves being looked down upon by those who not only consider themselves our betters but to whom it never occurs that our needs, our voices, our values, our arguments matter.

But, let us not pretend that it’s only attitudes that the woke seek to control.  Quite the contrary.  Consider this article from the UK that points out all too clearly the economic consequences of woke climate policies on the working class.

Climate alarmism is inherently opposed to the interests of working-class people, and more and more people are starting to clock this. Bans on petrol and diesel cars might mean little if getting around for you means cycling around Stroud. But it means a hell of a lot if you drive for a living and rely on your car to get the kids to school. Fantasising about the end of the world is a luxury most people do not have. As the gilets jaunes used to say, the elites care about the end of the world, while everyone else worries about the end of the month.

Just so.  Rising prices on fuel, vehicles, electric power, etc. bear disproportionately on those least able to absorb them.  And, just in case we of the Great Unwashed missed the message, the woke happily remind us.

Plus, the seemingly never-ending stories of green hypocrisy make clear that eco-austerity is only really for the plebs. The more that energy and travel are made more expensive, in an attempt to stem our movement and consumption, the more the good things in life will become the sole preserve of the wealthy, who will always be able to pay more…

Indeed.  The latest Davos conference on climate issues didn’t see many attendees arriving exhausted on bicycles or simply tuning in remotely.  Private jets were more the order of the day.

Much the same holds true among the woke beyond climate politics.  When Harvard, Yale, etc. offer enormous privileges to black applicants, others suffer.  That’s the nut of the lawsuit against Harvard by Asian applicants who rightly claim that they’ve been discriminated against on account of their race.  In the process, perfectly qualified Asian and white students find themselves attending less prestigious institutions than they would have absent affirmative action.

Before the term “woke” was even coined, Charles Murray reported the phenomenon of a growing class divide in his book “Coming Apart.”

But along with the continuing individual American success stories, is a growing majority of the people who run the institutions of America who do share tastes, preferences and culture.  They increasingly constitute a class.
They are also increasingly isolated. … This growing isolation has been accompanied by growing ignorance about the country over which they have so much power.


A significant part of the great divide Murray identified consists of education.  What Murray called the “Narrow Elite” tends strongly to attend, not just college, but elite colleges.  And what happens at those elite institutions?  Students are force-fed woke-ism, often from the first day they step on campus.  Young men are taught that to be male is to be toxic, a danger to themselves and others.  Students generally are taught that white people are privileged racists.

After college, those elites tend strongly to live together, work together, read the same newspapers and books, worship together, etc.  And they almost never meet or talk to anyone else in any meaningful way.  The unsurprising result being that the narrow elite has come to resemble an echo chamber, whose ever-repeated messages go unchallenged and whose members apparently never question the idea that they’re both qualified and entitled to govern and instruct the rest of us.

Lord Palmerston would understand completely.

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