August 29, 2019

Wokeness' Puritan origins: A material analysis

Expanding somewhat on one of my comments to the post on the ethnic composition of the anti-woke left:

Wokeness is not unique to 21st-century America -- it's a variation on a timeless and placeless theme. The British Empire had something similar during their imperial heyday (Victorian: stiff upper lip, and White Man's Burden), as did the Roman Empire at their height (2nd C. AD: Stoicism, and polytheistic tolerance + imperial cult).

The function is social control -- to keep the commoners from getting too unruly, and to legitimate the elites. Isn't that needed for any society? Somewhat -- but especially so for a sprawling multi-ethnic empire whose leaders have soaring levels of wealth and power compared to the commoners.

There are two aspects:

1) Restraining libidinal desires for both the commoners (moral panics targeting urges of common folk), and the elites (self-denial, stiff upper lip, etc.). This keeps the mass of people from getting too rowdy and unruly to be governed by the elites. And it also legitimates the elites as being dispassionate altruistic stewards rather than parasites driven by selfish base urges like greed, lust, and gluttony.

2) Promoting harmony among varying groups in a multi-ethnic empire. This means buying off elites from peripheral groups who normally wouldn't be influenced by the imperial core, if it weren't an empire. It's both material funneling of resources to such secondary elites, as well as cultural / symbolic pluralism like honoring their regional gods (polytheistic tolerance) -- provided that everyone upholds the imperial cult. Without this buy-off, newcomer groups would chafe at being ruled by foreigners, and be a constant thorn in the side of the imperial core.

Puritans in America were just the initial material elites -- representing the mercantile and financial sectors of society, not the agricultural sector or the military sector (Southern slave-owners and martial elites, who lost the material and cultural war against the mercantile / financial Yankees).

The particular American form of wokeness is just a local version of the British imperial and Roman imperial ideology -- Stoicism and buying off exotic elites, to promote domestic social control and imperial integration.

This accounts for why American-style wokeness is not found very much in the left wings of other countries -- if they aren't multi-ethnic empires like us, they have no material reason to uphold identity politics among ethnic groups.

And if they're leading smaller-scale societies -- rather than a towering empire -- they don't have as much to prove about being responsible and virtuous. The greater the degree of wealth and power you're in control of, the greater your sense of responsibility is expected to be. If far less wealth and power is at stake, then who cares if the nation's leaders have a sweet tooth and get horny?

Trump, of course, violates both aspects of wokeness. He doesn't care about imperial integration, and regularly says he wishes we would cut loose our occupation of Germany, Italy, and NATO generally, not to mention South Korea and Japan. And he is infamous for gorging on junk food, paying pornstars to screw him, and unleashing his rage.

It's a clear signal of an empire in decline, and the elites would rather complain about the symptom, as though that could reverse the decline of the empire. The only way forward is to accept and speed up the breakdown of the empire, and enjoy having leaders like the normal, non-imperial countries have, whose private lives we won't care much about.

Lastly, this material analysis rejects the idealist / culturalist view that emphasizes the Puritans' control of the press and the academy (for a time, since overtaken by the other primary elite, Ashkenazi Jews). Control over cultural institutions stemmed from their material standing as the mercantile and financial elites, and their leading an empire toward integrating more and more exotic groups. The military may have conquered those groups in war, but the mercantile sector has to integrate them afterward, in peacetime, to keep the economic and political system well-oiled and harmonious.

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