Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Passion and Prejudice of the Newly Woke

I discovered feminism in college and for a couple of years that’s all I wanted to think about. Once I got my head around how to use it, I wanted to exercise that intellectual hammer to pound on anything that even vaguely resembled a nail. I came home on break and made incisive observations about my parents’ relationship, some of them out loud even, I’m embarrassed to remember. I’m still an ardent feminist but I’ve stopped being so childishly judgmental about it, I hope. It’s a tool to use, and actual people and their actual relationships are more interesting and a thousand times more complicated than any -ism ever invented. My radical feminist stage has matured to an ongoing practice that is less about judgement and more about compassion for everyone, both men and women, who have been ill-served by the age-old patterns of patriarchy. We can build better patterns, I am certain of it, and that certainty is more powerful than my old insurgency. But it will take time, that slow daily grind of making something real as dirt.
I try to remember my own fervent embrace of feminism when faced with people who seem a little drunk on ideology. For instance, those who, having recently become aware that their food doesn’t magically appear in the grocery stores, denounce “industrial agriculture” or “corporations” every time the existence of the modern food system comes up. Or that denounce “profit” and “corporations” because they’ve recently discovered capitalism and the kleptocratic patterns that it creates. The newly woke have to draw and enforce bright lines between good and evil, us and them, in order to consolidate and confirm their own understanding.
Likewise our species, homo sapiens, having created a new tool - a peculiar form of consciousness built around linguistic symbolism - are drunk as a new born feminist (or communist or nationalist or evangelical) on the power and possibilities that our ideological distinction seems to offer. We draw bright lines between us and them - us humans and all other forms of life that don’t have our kind of consciousness.
Only we humans matter because we are conscious; this is  the ideology we’ve lived by for thousands of years now, but a thousand years is nothing, a blink of the eye on the timescale of biology and geology.
It is a childishly selfish way to look at the world, an absolutism that hides our deep uncertainly. We are uncertain of the existence and meaning of our own consciousness. We know ourselves to be but newly woke, and that our time as this consciousness, this Me awoken from the darkness of all the ages that have come before, to be limited, imperiled, uncertain. It is a fragile, intricate, miraculous thing - this consciousness that we inhabit, that is all that we know.
Knowing this we are afraid for it.  We are so afraid of losing what we just got ahold of. We want to define and defend it, against all that is not conscious, against death, against our own mortal, biological bodies - even if that defensiveness doesn’t make a lot of sense. It’s understandable, we’re new at this.

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