One may be surprised by the question. It is quite relevant however, if the recent wokism movement is given proper attention. The name derives from the African-American word “woke” and refers to awareness of social justice issues and to the many Puritan Protestant revivals that occurred in the United States after the 1776 independence. This is the reason why the French philosopher J.F. Braunstein calls wokism “religion” in his fundamental book (1) on the subject, a view shared by the linguist John McWhorter (2). The movement has taken root in American academic circles. It has been quickly imported in Europe and is now widespread in Western culture. Wokism promotes gender theory and denounces biology as a ‘virilistic’ or ‘racist’ science because it was developed by white heterosexual males. The example of a university religion is almost unique to this day. Universities in the West have traditionally been at most – at the beginning of their existence – zealots of established religions and not creators of new beliefs. From biology the accusations of virilism and racism have been extended to other disciplines including mathematics, gradually covering all “hard“ sciences. The hostility of the woke movement towards hard sciences is congenital to the creed. In particular it is strongly against the recognition of an objective reality and the existence of a universality principle. In short, the movement is totally opposed to Enlightenment. History offers here an astonishing surprise: who would have thought, a few years ago that an opposition to the emancipation of science from religion was possible? Yet this is exactly what is happening: the antagonism of wokism to science is the exact opposite of the knowledge paradigm shift that occurred in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, at the time of Copernicus, Kepler, Tycho Brahe and Galilee.
Compliance with the woke creed requirements
Unfortunately, the antagonism between wokism and science does not stop here. At the end of August 2022, Steven Pinker, a renowned cognitive scientist at Harvard University, protested in a tweet against the well known journal Nature Human Behavior, which had decided to replace the paper selection process that all professional researchers have been practiced since generations – peer review – by a simple certification of authors’ compliance with the woke creed requirements. Aware of the implications of this declaration, Pinker announced that he would no longer collaborate with the journal. He is not alone to understand the danger: in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on April 27, two American academics in biology and chemistry, Jerry Coyne and Anna Krylov (3) denounce the same practice, gradually spreading in scientific journals. If the method were applied to all journals of every scientific discipline, paper qualities and justifications for publication would be much more difficult to guarantee. This is far from an incidental concern since publications quality is a primary requirement to get research credits. It is easy enough to imagine the negative consequences of such a decision. Moreover, it would certainly have an impact on the development of contacts between talented researchers, the possibility for younger researchers to make themselves known outside a close circle becoming more difficult. At the end it would slow the pace of scientific progress. As Europe is sensitive to wokism, the practice of authors certification rather than peer review could also be introduced in a relatively short term.
In the footsteps of Lyssenkism
One understands easily that the “system” promoted by wokism is a refusal of the primacy of merit under the false pretext of equal opportunities. Merit is an essential pillar of liberal epistemology, humanism and democracy, as a collective of 29 scientists denouncing the attempts of wokism grip very clearly states: “The merit-based scientific enterprise has proven to be extremely effective in driving technological advances, reducing social gaps and improving the quality of life globally.” (4).
For wokism supporters it may perhaps be no better way to softly eliminate an undesirable system (hard sciences) than to make it as mediocre as possible.
The subordination of scientific credibility to the dominant political creed is not a new phenomenon. Joseph Stalin’s USSR had adopted this attitude in the 1930s towards biologist and agronomist Trofim Lyssenko, who opposed Mendel’s work on the chromosomal origin of heredity. He supported an environmental origin of the latter in accordance with the vision of one of his colleagues Ivan Mitchourine. The requirement of conformity to the ‘official’ theory – called Lyssenkism – was a real catastrophe for biological and agronomic research in the USSR which never fully recovered from the mistakes in which it had been engaged. If wokism were to succeed in this matter, it is almost certain that the consequences would be identical in the West.
What is certainly of concern is the fact that today’s industrial society has many enemies that could benefit from wokism. At the forefront of the enemies, stands “deep ecology“ for which humanity’s future is population degrowth, a potential deadlock on the Promethean destiny of technology (5).
The unqualified statements of the French MEP Sandrine Rousseau from the EELV party (6), on the right to laziness in the context of the recent pension reform in France, also show mistrust and hostility towards the private sector industrial policy and its corollary, economic liberalism. Moreover, proclaiming herself an eco-feminist, Sandrine Rousseau endorses the wokism’s assertions in the name of the intersectionality of the struggle against “white suprematism“ and all its past and present achievements, encompassing this development.
The industrial society is certainly far from perfect in its present form; it has many undeniable defects such as pollution, industrial wastes and waste of raw materials. So we have to make sure that we correct these defects to make it more acceptable in terms of environmental concerns. But it must be defended tooth and nail: its disappearance would be a catastrophe for the future of mankind.
(1) J.F. Braunstein, ‘La Religion Woke’, Grasset (2022)
(2) J. McWhorter, ‘Woke Racism – How a New Religion has Betrayed Black America’, Portfolio/Penguin (2021)
(4) D. Abbot et al. ‘In defense of Merit in Science’, Journal of Controversial Ideas 2023, 3(1)
(5) Antoine Missemer. Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen and degrowth. European Journal of the History of Economic Thought, 2017, 24 (3), pp.493-506. ff10.1080/09672567.2016.1189945ff. ffhalshs-01324487
(6) ‘Ecologie Les Verts’
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