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How I learnt to stop caring about woke nonsense

How I learnt to stop caring about woke nonsense
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Mum often tells the story of how she used to argue politics with her dad. It’s one of my favourites – because I also like to argue politics. 

The story starts with Mum at Uni, coming home to family dinner and enlightening a fervently capitalist Grandad about the finer points of class warfare and the role of the petite bourgeoisie. The story ends with broken plates and a midnight drive back to uni. 

Amid all the talk of woke agendas and identity politics today, I find the story comforting. This is normal. 

So normal, in fact, you could argue that history is even built on it. At its core, the human story is one of revolution and reaction. The spectrum of this endless yin and yang struggle is vast – from bloody political revolutions that sow continent-wide chaos, to social revolutions where the battlefield is a gender-neutral bathroom.

Through the big picture lens of history, woke isn’t new. It’s just a new name for the same old struggle. Twenty years ago we called it the nanny state and political correctness – with its talk of workplace safety, anti-smacking legislation and a vision for a smoke-free generation. 

If the forces of reaction had the term “woke” at the time, I imagine it would have been applied to everything from the gay marriage debate to the anti-apartheid protests, the Māori renaissance and resurgence movement of the 1970s-’90s, self-expression and counter-culture in the 1960s, the Suffragette movement and even the old-school social troublemakers who had the gall to disparage the king and suggest the people rule themselves. 

While each of these chapters of history is different, the same underlying clash runs through them. The surging force of social change meeting the stationary force of the way things are. 

This is normal. This is how societies feel change – one loud, angry clash between revolution and reaction at a time.

These days, this age-old clash is supercharged through the darker sides of the digital era – social media algorithms upweighting outrage, digital echo chambers and soundbite media being the main culprits. 

This amplifies the extreme voices in each clash, lifting minor episodes from irrelevance into the cultural battlespace. 

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Case in point – 20 years ago, my single sex school switched to co-ed with zero controversy. A boy’s school in Sydney recently did the same and landed on the frontlines of the culture war with accusations of woke agendas and out-of-touch mindsets flying across no-person’s land. 

Other mundane episodes elevated to “woke” clashes include outrage at a United States military recruitment ad targeting young women with a message about social justice, Blackrock CEO and god of corporate capitalism Larry Fink giving the nod to environmental-social-governance investing, the Wiggles adding more racially diverse troupe members and the removal of the term “fieldwork” from some universities for its association with slavery. 

When you’re only dealing in the extremes, it can all get ridiculous pretty quickly – and is best left ignored. 

It seems that the two big woke issues are race and gender. These clashes can be harder to laugh off. The names we give our ministries (Māori or not), what age and how we teach kids about sex, how our museums integrate (or don’t) te ao Māori principles into their work and what kind of support we offer for gender-affirming care are controversial because they matter. 

I don’t have the word count to debate each of these in turn – so instead I offer a rule of thumb: demographics. 

Generation Z (those born between the 1990s and 2010s) are now the largest generation in the history of our species. Generally, they’re okay with multiculturalism and gender diversity. 

Just like the Boomers – who bent history’s long arc of justice towards female empowerment, racial tolerance and counter-culture – numbers and time will turn today’s woke clashes into tomorrow’s so-whats.

No doubt new issues will rise to take their place. Maybe technological body implants, AI spouses or second lives lived virtually. If those turn into the social revolutions of tomorrow, sign me up for Team Reaction!   

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In short, it’s good that some of us feel uncomfortable about change. It means things are normal – that we are on standard operating procedure. Franky I would be more worried if we weren’t lurching from one woke clash to another – that would signal that we’re not changing as a society. Because things that don’t change, generally don’t last. 



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