Students of my work – supposing there to be any – will not, until today, have found a single reference to the phenomenon of “woke”. It’s not a word I care to use and the arguments it has incited are not such as I have wanted to join. Woke is the Softer Side of Radical Left Politics for Dummies and so all too easy to mock. Of course Gender Neutral Lavatories are nonsensical, especially when you’re in a hurry. Of course we snort when we get an email from someone advising us of his/her/their pronouns of choice. And of course we cannot contain our contempt when some fragile Bristolian tells us that having to pass a statue of a colonist make her/him/them cry. Try being a Jew having to negotiate a dozen churches every day, each a memorial to your infamy, each reminding you of who you were reported to have killed and what the consequences still are. But do we ask for them to be pulled down?
There’s a further compelling reason for Jews to shy away from woke. We don’t need to be given lessons in how to treat the poor, the repressed, the alien, the easily wounded, the neglected and the incoherent. Moses handed us a comprehensive ethical code we call the Ten Commandments, hot from the mouth of God, several thousand years ago. And we were given a sense of humour a thousand or so years before that. When a full-woke Minnesota librarian says we should stop teaching Shakespeare because his ‘works are full of problematic, outdated ideas, with plenty of misogyny, racism, homophobia, classism, anti-Semitism and misogynoir,’ we laugh not only because what makes writers problematic is precisely what we read them for, but because of the way woke invariably spirals into grievances most of us have never heard of. Misogynoir! What does Moses have to say about hating black women? Ask the black woman he married.
So why am I invoking what we neither need nor respect? Because woke doesn’t respect us. Because woke will trammel us in its nets if we are not careful.
Only think of the sorrow for Israelis and rage against Hamas we expected after October 7. Weren’t the woke so many snowflakes who fainted if someone made a cutting remark in their presence and didn’t dare go to the theatre for fear someone might die on stage? How would they survive the images of Hamas murdering babies? Well, here’s a surprise. They not only loved them, they called for more.
Remember microaggression – those small, day-to-day rudenesses that feed into racism and sexism? How does an authority on small rudenesses get his/her/their mind round the macroaggression of a massacre? Funny, you should ask. It would seem that a massacre is not small enough to be a worry.
Rape, ditto. Could it really be that the massed ranks of woke feminists and MeToo revolutionaries, who analyse every masculinist encroachment on a woman’s space and nervous system and body, who can smell a half-bad intention, a mere sexist velleity, a mile away, and who have ended the careers of many a professor who let his arm slip a little too far down the waist of a female colleague while posing drunkenly for the end-of-term photograph – could it really be that such women have nothing to say about the rape and torture of their sisters if the sisters in question aren’t quite ideologically comme il faut? Seems so. Fail the identity test and you can’t be raped.
And what about those trembling stars of woke who need trigger warnings to protect them against the re-awakening of bad memories - how were they ever going to cope with Hamas evoking reminiscences of Kishniev and Odessa, not to mention Hebron? Where? Hebron - 1929. Never heard of it? No matter. Because yet again, they coped with remarkable buoyancy. Say trigger and they will love whoever pulls it. So long as the target is a Jew.
Am I being a bit wokishly over-sensitive myself? Must I call every murder of a Jew antisemitic? I have seen it argued that the victims of the October 7 massacre weren’t Jews qua Jews. They were just Israelis, for God’s sake. Not every Israeli is a Jew, you know. To which the answer is – Yes I do know. It seems that you just got lucky in the majority of cases.
And so, at its first big test, woke collapses like a pack of cards. After all its protestations of refined alertness to cruelty, prejudice and bullying, it has all along been in thrall to a dogma that hierarchizes pain. Much like the Radical Left of which it is a scion, it doesn’t care how many people die so long as one small idea lives.