The term wokeism has been weaponised by the right and to understand why that is, we have to engage with the philosophical, social, psychological, and political reasons why the gender identity movement has taken off with such speed and power – largely in the anglophone world.
Firstly, for those who would argue it is not a movement and nor does it have an ideology – it is, and it does. I am happy to explain why if anyone is interested but in the meantime I am indulging myself in a bit of social speculation.
This extraordinary social movement questions arguably the most deep rooted, ancient and universal of human understandings – not the multitude of kinship arrangements and gender-roles we wrap around sex, but the understanding of what it takes to perpetuate the species which, at its core, is biological and binary.
Given the universality and the complexities of what it challenges, and the implausibility and sheer nonsensicality of much of the evidence it uses to construct its theories and support its claims, the GI movement could easily become the focus of the sort of moral panic and witch hunt it seems intent upon creating in relation to so-called TERFs and “white feminists”.
There can be no doubt that gender identity theory and resulting praxis are being propelled by powerful social, political, commercial interests which undoubtedly see the phenomenon as far more of an opportunity than a threat. At present.
However, those drivers only have so much power because they tap into something very deep in the human psyche – I think at the species level, which is one that is as often obscured and denied as it is examined and embraced.
Post-modernism, which gave birth to gender identity theory and praxis, is arguably one of the most ideological of epistemologies – the more so because it claims not to be. The denial of "grand narratives" and the claim that there is no universal hierarchy of values etc, constitutes a system of ideas and beliefs (an ideology) which was aimed at, and has had the effect of undermining class-based theories and the great social and political movements associated with them.
In a deeply stratified world, post-modernism serves entrenched power. By undermining materialism, Marxism, and class-based, collectivist politics - it laid the foundation for the emergence of the hyper-individualism and extreme commodification of the neo-liberal era / digital age.
The thing with the destruction of collectives and of community, the undermining of widely accepted ethics and norms, and the rise of hyper-individualism, is that many people, young people especially, have ended up stranded on the island of the 'self'.
This can lead to a profound sense of alienation – in the psychiatric sense of a loss of identity– because we can only make sense of our ‘self’ and the world, within physical collectives - or more properly, in a series of interconnected collectives.
We are profoundly social creatures – we instinctively clump and coalesce – and in the context of the loneliness and disconnectedness of extreme individualism and individualisation, the unceasing demands of aspirational culture, and the unrelenting, judgemental ‘gaze’ of (anti)social media – the need to be a part of something bigger than the hermitic, be-spoke, ‘self’, results in an almost hysterical release when a sense of wider community is established.
'I am not alone. There are others on my island. I am more than just me, and I must signal my belongingness and protect my community from those who would destroy it or make me question it.'
Cue religiosity, dogmatism, the creation of absolutes, the drive to hunt and to punish heretics in what at times, approaches a fundamentalist frenzy.
That of course, cuts both ways, and it is a mischief-maker’s paradise.
If you will forgive a segue into al flight of fancy, it often seems to me that the groups which now comprise the two polar extremes of the gender identity debate are – to borrow a quote from Dostoyevsky – like two enemies who are in love with each other.
They hate each other with a passion but cannot envisage a world in which the other does not exist, for what validates them as a group is the existence of the enemy. But when a common hatred of an enemy is the only thing binding a group together, if you take away the object of hatred, the group has no basis for internal or external validation.
Having no other shared purpose or belief, there is nothing to stop them flying apart and floating off into cyber space.... lost souls in search of another enemy to love to hate.
Who benefits from this polarisation? What other progressive movement has been embraced and elevated in this way, and with such speed?
For all the over-blown rhetoric about the far right and religious fundamentalists in alliance with the evil bitch-witch TERFs, what other movement representing the interests of a tiny minority, and which challenges such deeply entrenched beliefs, has gained so much governmental, corporate, institutional heft so quickly and with so little effort?
Can we explain that extraordinary progress and its astonishing degree of institutional and policy capture simply by reference to a critical mass of social progressivism?
And if there is such a critical mass, how then to explain what has been left behind in our aspirational, me-first world?
I've said it before and I'll keep saying it -– this issue is divisive. And who is being divided, distracted and diverted? Who are turning in on themselves, having declared largely socialist and radical feminists to be the greatest enemy of social progress ever?
On the one hand, cast as a tiny, insignificant bunch of lunatics who can be ignored because they are at odds with a broad consensus, and on the other, the most terrible enemy the progressive world has ever faced. Well, having already declared TERFs to be a tiny insignificant minority, to justify the hyperbolic reaction they have to be made the vanguard of the looming horror of a far-right backlash.
I think too many of the neo-liberal left have the political version of the twisties. They’ve spun the narrative so much they’ve lost all sense of where they are in political space.