Are you woke?

Are you ‘woke’? I ask because I recently had a little investigation into the meaning of the word. As far as I can make it out it means not making judgments of individuals on the grounds of their shared characteristics or backgrounds. The most immediate example appears to be racial colour. Thus any pejorative judgment of, say, a negro would be ‘unwoke’.

In the UK, English accent is important. Not long ago the ‘public school’ accent was the ideal. But wokeness is making a change. I notice that, increasingly, the BBC requires experts to be working class or have local accents. I recall Wifred Pickles, in the late ’40’s, readng the News. Pickles was a Northen comedian by trade. I found that I had to check his information by also listening to the same information read in a ‘BBC’ accent at the next news, in order to be sure.

When I first went out into the world my mother warned me against marrying anyone in the Royal Family on the grounds that they were jolly-come-lately, despicable Germans (she was a member of a pre-Conquest family). She was even concerned about her own marriage since my father’s family was unknown before the fifteenth century.

We tend also to hold views on nationalities — such as the Scots and the Welsh. And even different localities in the country. Are you Cornish or Mancunian? German, French, American?

Certainly we have views and judgments on gender. I think my late wife must have been almost the last to vow her obedience to me at our marriage. And she honoured that throughout her life. However, through incomprehensible ways, she usually got her own wishes.

And of course there are other characteristics, established through surveys. For instance, people who wear spectacles are judged to be more intelligent, and taller men are more likely to be chosen for senior positions.

How irrational!

But is it? Back to our old friend: evolution. Early homo sapiens and, indeed their predecessors, lived in a very dangerous world. It was necessary to be aware of other groups who might well be a threat. So they would have developed a range of clues to establish whether stranger groups were safe. They may often have not been accurate, but their usage would have given at least an element of security. So they continued to breed and, over the centuries, became more accurate. We have simply inherited the skill to measure the safety of others by recognizing the broad characteristics distinguishing between the harmless groups and the dangerous. Ironically, lower animals and breeds of insects operate in the same way. For example, dolphins have been found to favour other dolphins who help their fellows in danger, and hold a grudge against those who don’t.*

*Telegraph 23/4/2021. Report & leader.

About Quentin

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25 Responses to Are you woke?

  1. David Smith says:

    Quentin writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2021/04/23/are-you-woke/ ) :

    // In the UK, English accent is important. Not long ago the ‘public school’ accent was the ideal. But wokeness is making a change. I notice that, increasingly, the BBC requires experts to be working class or have local accents. I recall Wifred Pickles, in the late ’40’s, readng the News. Pickles was a Northen comedian by trade. I found that I had to check his information by also listening to the same information read in a ‘BBC’ accent at the next news, in order to be sure. //

    You can only imagine how nearly impossible it is for me, as an American who has never lived in Britain, to understand these alien-sounding accents when listening to and trying to comprehend the spoken speech in movies, documentaries, and audio blogs. The imposition of “woke” ideology has in a not unimportant way severed vital parts of Britain from most of the rest of the world.

    • George Russell says:

      David: “You can only imagine how nearly impossible it is for me, as an American who has never lived in Britain, to understand these alien-sounding accents when listening to and trying to comprehend the spoken speech in movies, documentaries, and audio blogs” I can certainly understand that. I remember as a Britisher finding it very hard to understand the first few minutes of the film “O Brother, Where Art Thou” until I got used to the very strong Southern accents. Nevertheless I would rather have the actors speaking in authentic accents appropriate to the region they are supposed to come from than have them all speaking Standard American (whatever that is) and I would much prefer actors in British films to do so, than all speak as if they were in Brief Encounter.

      If you want to watch British films, fine. But we all know the joke about Britain and the USA being two countries divided by a common language; you should expect to have some work to do to understand what is going on in a culture which is not yours. If that’s too much, I would rather the films were broadcast with subtitles than have the language watered down to make it easy for everyone.

    • Alasdair says:

      David “The imposition of “woke” ideology has in a not unimportant way severed vital parts of Britain from most of the rest of the world”.
      Not sure why that should be the case David since “woke” has it’s origins in US centres of higher education and is pretty much thriving throughout the English speaking world and far beyond (like it or not),

  2. David Smith says:

    Quentin writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2021/04/23/are-you-woke/ ) :

    // So they would have developed a range of clues to establish whether stranger groups were safe. They may often have not been accurate, but their usage would have given at least an element of security. So they continued to breed and, over the centuries, became more accurate. We have simply inherited the skill to measure the safety of others by recognizing the broad characteristics distinguishing between the harmless groups and the dangerous. //

    But of course. To attempt to make everyone believe that this is evil and that it should be officially punished is to attempt to cauterize common sense and to replace it with political nonsense.

    What’s the truth today? Better check the news.

  3. John Nolan says:

    Any foreigner learning English has to learn how to pronounce it, which means either using RP or a ‘neutral’ North American accent, assuming there’s such a thing. BBC and ITV newsreaders, since they are broadcasting nationally (and in the case of the World Service, internationally) use RP, although this is not the same accent as it was in the days of Alvar Lidell and Jack de Manio, both of whom were incidentally foreigners, Swedish in the case of the former and Italian in the case of the latter. Huw Edwards has a Welsh accent, but this doesn’t count.

    Dialects (non-standard vocabulary and grammar) are less acceptable in England than in other countries. An educated German would use Hochdeutsch in a formal or professional context but might switch to Swabian dialect in a family or informal setting.

    The problem with dialectical English is that it imposes a disjunct between the spoken and written language, which can have an adverse effect educationally.

    Pronunciation? I found no difficulty in switching between the classical pronunciation of Latin I learned at school to the Italianate pronunciation I used in church. As for the superseded and idiosyncratic English pronunciation, still used in legal and botanical Latin and for Latin words in the context of an English sentence, I stick with it, although most people don’t have a clue as to how it should be pronounced.

    • Alasdair says:

      A couple of years ago I was a guest at a Junior High School production of “Matilda” in Katy, just west of Houston Texas. To my surprise, the entire cast of some 30 or so American teenagers were able to speak and sing with ease with the “British” accents appropriate to the show. This was after a short period of coaching in the technique of mispronouncing some of the vowels and omitting some of the consonants required to sound “British”. For example a “British” accent mispronounces “water” as wow-tah. Actually a small number of the students were of UK origin but spoke with quite different British accents. When the speeches of greeting and thanks were given at the end, the speakers had reverted to their own east Texas accents,

    • Alasdair says:

      John, your comment that “RP” is no longer the same accent is probably due to it never having existed in the first place. Similarly, one would struggle to identify a neutral N American accent – perhaps mid 20th century Cape Cod/Hartford Connecticut (now extinct) as spoken by Katharine Hepburn?

      • John Nolan says:

        Alastair

        I’ve never heard anyone say ‘wow-tah’ for water. A Cockney (should such a species still exist) would replace the ‘t’ with a glottal stop. In Nottingham they say ‘watter’. There’s no such thing as a British accent. The only consonant often not sounded in English is ‘r’, and when it comes to mispronunciation Americans often pronounce ‘t’ as ‘d’ and miss out the vowel entirely in words ending ‘ile’, so ‘futile’ comes out as ‘feudal’ and there is nothing to distinguish the Missale Romanum from a thrown weapon.

        In the ‘forties and ‘fifties there was a RADA accent (a now dated form of RP – think Celia Johnson in ‘Brief Encounter’) but actors and actresses were also taught a generic northern accent which was used for playing working-class characters north of Watford. The 1960 film ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’ was set in Nottingham, but nobody has a Nottingham accent.

  4. FZM says:

    Are you ‘woke’? I ask because I recently had a little investigation into the meaning of the word. As far as I can make it out it means not making judgments of individuals on the grounds of their shared characteristics or backgrounds.

    As I understand it Woke views on race are more unusual or novel than this. Counterintuitively, for the woke failing to be aware of race, particularly as a white person, can be evidence of one of the most insidious forms of racism, liberal colourblindness. To be Woke refers to having become conscious of systems of social power and the identity groups that create or are subject to them, especially the way these systems reproduce relations of dominance and oppression. Whiteness is considered one of the key systems of social power, a cultural structure created by white people to dominate and exploit black people. All white people (unless they are consciously woke) are supposed to participate in maintaining this oppressive system of power all of the time and in all their interactions with black people. Mostly they will do this unwittingly because they take their dominant status for granted and it is invisible to them.

    The correct way to think is to be conscious of the race pretty much all of the time and in all interactions, but in a ‘liberating’ way, as directed by Woke theorists. This is a departure from traditional ‘liberal’ and individualist approaches to anti-racism, the more usual way people understood anti-racism before Woke and Critical Race Theory became mainstream recently.

    The surprising thing is that this obviously Marxist influenced theory has become so mainstream, I don’t think it has happened before in the English speaking world. Also one way to really trigger and provoke the Woke is to point to possible evolutionary explanations of ethnic and racial differences, even if they are very plausible.

  5. David Smith says:

    FZM writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2021/04/23/are-you-woke/#comment-63385 ) :

    // The surprising thing is that this obviously Marxist influenced theory has become so mainstream, I don’t think it has happened before in the English speaking world. //

    No social change has a single cause, but it seems to me that the immediacy, omnipresence, and propagandizing power of electronic mass media must explain a great deal of it. Just as politicians fear bad publicity, so do large commercial organizations, and it looks as though politicians and corporations reacting rapidly in sympathy to propaganda from mass media has convinced an always gullible public of the correctness of this craziness. If schools, entertainers, mainstream journals, news readers, politicians, and large corporations are all saying the same thing, it simply *must* be true.

    Radio and television have probably always had this potential, but in the relatively distant past, a certain sense of restraint and responsibility to try to be objective have prevented its being used as blatantly as it has been in recent years. Now, in fact, journalists are openly saying that trying for objectivity is wrong. If you’re sceptical, try googling “journalistic objectivity”.

    Looking further back in time, this traces directly to the late sixties and early seventies, when the long march through the schools began to condition several generations of students to a way of thinking about life that made them susceptible to this most recent ideological onslaught. And, of course, the sixties did not erupt out of nothing. Nor, for that matter, did Marx, Hitler, Mao, and Stalin. I suppose it goes back to the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the industrial revolution, then up through Rousseau, Marx, Hitler, Mao, and Stalin.

    Please, God, next time, no brains.

  6. FZM says:

    Radio and television have probably always had this potential, but in the relatively distant past, a certain sense of restraint and responsibility to try to be objective have prevented its being used as blatantly as it has been in recent years. Now, in fact, journalists are openly saying that trying for objectivity is wrong. If you’re sceptical, try googling “journalistic objectivity”.

    I have heard about this, I think it is becoming more noticeable in some of the reporting. It looks like a manifestation of the Marxist idea that the media must first serve the goal of liberation from oppression, changing the world being prioritised over understanding it, and that all claims about objectivity are really just political power narratives. This is not a good tendency to see.

    I think you are right about the ‘ideas pipeline’ behind it, Rousseau, Kant to the German idealists, then Hegel, then Marx, Lenin, Trotsky and in the West the Cultural Marxists like Gramsci, Marcuse, Althusser etc. Chairman Mao in East Asia. German National Socialism is interesting, because it is not discussed often in relation to this, but it was an offshoot from the right wing reading of Hegel and German idealism. And, thinking about pictures of Nazi rallies you do see fields of SA and SS flags, with the Nazi slogan ‘Deutschland Erwache’ written on them, because the Nazis saw themselves as a kind of revolutionary liberation movement.

  7. John Nolan says:

    Is ‘wokery’ Marxist? Karl Marx was racist even by the standards of his time; he regarded negroes as ‘degenerate’ and despite his own Jewish ancestry was a rabid anti-semite.

    According to the ‘woke’ brigade, I have inherited the original sin of racism. Since there is no possibility of redemption, I might as well admit that on balance I am proud of my white European culture. I don’t denigrate (now that’s a racist word for you!) other cultures and were I a Chinaman or a Hindu I would no doubt think differently. But I’m not, and I’m glad I’m not.

    The Guardian newspaper, organ of the left-leaning metropolitan chattering classes, complained that the term ‘woke’ has been ‘weaponized’ by the Right. Something else for the woke warriors to get offended about. The best way to deal with them is to send them up, ridicule their pseudo-academic post-modern theories and endeavour to offend them wherever possible.

    I have been dealing with the Left since university days, and I have learned that they are utterly devoid of anything resembling a sense of humour.

  8. ignatius says:

    In my university days I was one of those leftists. I understand wokery quite well from those days and the description Quentin gives is simply wrong
    “Are you ‘woke’? I ask because I recently had a little investigation into the meaning of the word. As far as I can make it out it means not making judgments of individuals on the grounds of their shared characteristics or backgrounds. The most immediate example appears to be racial colour. Thus any pejorative judgment of, say, a negro would be ‘unwoke’.”

    To be “Woke” is to think ideologically and to attempt to ensnare others into a kind of politicised and rationalised world in which ‘Woke’ always knows best. It is a sad and dangerously life sapping setup, Orwell seemed to understand it quite well as did Ayn Rand.

  9. David Smith says:

    John Nolan writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2021/04/23/are-you-woke/#comment-63392 ) :

    // I have been dealing with the Left since university days, and I have learned that they are utterly devoid of anything resembling a sense of humour. //

    Yes, that’s an odd thing. I think they have what they regard as a sense of humor, but it’s not what has usually been though of as humor. I’ve yet to come up with a description for it.

    // The best way to deal with them is to send them up, ridicule their pseudo-academic post-modern theories and endeavour to offend them wherever possible. //

    I like that. I wonder how they handle it mentally. No doubt as a sign of your inadequacy in some way. I think I’ll start looking for reading on the mindset of the typical radical – what defines his universe, what clockwork makes him tick, what engine drives him and what strange fuel powers it. That would likely hardly matter in normal times, when his is but one of the millions of patterns in which man is made, but in this tumultuous and threatening time, he’s become the enemy, and it behooves the cautious traveler to understand the land he travels through in order to walk there safely. I remember writing here a few days ago that the modern mind is too much focused on the causes of things, rather than simply accepting them for what they are – reality in the beauty of nature, on the ground, in a design, a smile, a touch. That’s true, I think, but, still, one can’t help puzzling a bit on oddities.

  10. David Smith says:

    ignatius writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2021/04/23/are-you-woke/#comment-63398 ) :

    // In my university days I was one of those leftists. I understand wokery quite well from those days //

    Ah, perfect. An in-house expert. Please say a lot more.

    // To be “Woke” is to think ideologically and to attempt to ensnare others into a kind of politicised and rationalised world in which ‘Woke’ always knows best. It is a sad and dangerously life sapping setup, Orwell seemed to understand it quite well as did Ayn Rand. //

    Good places to look, then, to start exploring what sort of thinking leads them to their bizarre and suddenly threatening convictions. Thanks.

    I suppose that among other useful generalizations, they are of the family or genus True Believer. I have a copy somewhere of that little book by Eric Hoffer. If it resists unearthing, there’s always Kindle.

  11. David Smith says:

    FZM writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2021/04/23/are-you-woke/#comment-63391 ) :

    // German National Socialism is interesting, because it is not discussed often in relation to this, but it was an offshoot from the right wing reading of Hegel and German idealism. And, thinking about pictures of Nazi rallies you do see fields of SA and SS flags, with the Nazi slogan ‘Deutschland Erwache’ written on them, because the Nazis saw themselves as a kind of revolutionary liberation movement. //

    Liberation only for Germany, though? Were they not initially proselytizers of the idea beyond their own national boundaries? Evidently their *ultimate* goal was world domination; they simply decided to establish Germany as a fortified castle from which to launch the next stage. Did their failure convince the communists (or Marxists, or whatever it’s most accurate to call them) that the long march through the institutions was a more promising way to go than military aggression? Or is that distinction simply what separates a “right wing” approach to world domination from a “left wing” approach? Is left wing more partial and patient than right wing?

  12. John Nolan says:

    Paul Johnson, I think correctly, categorized Bolshevism, Fascism and National Socialism as ‘Marxist heresies’ and therefore movements of the Left.

    A man of the Right is socially and politically conservative, respects tradition, is patriotic (which can sometimes lead to xenophobia) and dislikes ideological posturing, which he sees as the stock-in-trade of the Left. He is by nature and conviction a reactionary rather than a revolutionary and would describe the former as someone who takes a step back when sees a precipice before his feet.

    The framework for 20th century totalitarianism was constructed by Lenin and copied by Mussolini and then Hitler. Stalin was a Great Russian hegemonist who had more-or-less abandoned the idea of world revolution in the 1920s.

    Hindenburg, an old-fashioned Prussian militarist, regarded Hitler as a dangerous revolutionary. Not for the first or last time, the Right was right.

  13. David Smith says:

    George Russell writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2021/04/23/are-you-woke/#comment-63396 ) :

    // I would rather have the actors speaking in authentic accents appropriate to the region they are supposed to come from than have them all speaking Standard American (whatever that is) and I would much prefer actors in British films to do so, than all speak as if they were in Brief Encounter. //

    Fair enough – up to a point. But would you have the actors in performances of Shakespearean plays in British theatres done only in the best possible approximation to period accents? Would you have English-language Bollywood productions in which actors are all using the English accents predominant in the regions depicted? Plays and films set in Scotland and Wales performed only with native vocabularies and strong Scots and Welsh accents? Perhaps you would.

    In fact, I have no difficulty with British cinema because I scarcely watch films. I did at one time, and I still remember particularly and with pleasure “Darling”, “A Taste of Honey”, and the Ealing Studios comedies. Fortunately, their producers and directors did not succumb to a desire to make the dialogue simultaneously “authentic” and incomprehensible to “foreigners”. Had they done so, I suspect that British cinema of the time would have been confined largely to Britain.

    You write: “Standard American (whatever that is)”. Standard American is real, used very widely in radio, television, and cinema, and has little or nothing to do with class. It’s used commonly because owners, producers, and directors are eager to have their work reach the largest possible audiences. That could change as woke anti-culture grows in influence and authenticity and diversity come to trump comprehensibility.

    By the way, though I’ve not seen “O Brother, Where Art Thou”, I’ll wager that “the very strong Southern accents” you heard were considerably watered down from nature. Had they not been, even American audiences outside the region and social milieu would not have understood them, and the film would have failed at the box office. As I recall, it did not.

    // If you want to watch British films, fine. But we all know the joke about Britain and the USA being two countries divided by a common language; you should expect to have some work to do to understand what is going on in a culture which is not yours. If that’s too much, I would rather the films were broadcast with subtitles than have the language watered down to make it easy for everyone. //

    As I said, I don’t watch films. But I would from time to time like to listen to podcasts. Some of that is now cut off from those of us not accustomed to the strong regional accents. And, no, it is simply unreasonable to expect non-British listeners to decipher them, no matter how much “work” we put into it. You can have authenticity and diversity but it will be at the cost of losing many potential listeners. Is that a price you’re willing to pay?

    • George Russell says:

      David, you touch a lot of bases. I’ll try to reply to each point, but it will be brief.
      “Fair enough – up to a point. But would you have the actors in performances of Shakespearean plays in British theatres done only in the best possible approximation to period accents?” No. I think Shakespeare is rather different, because no-one today speaks English the way it was spoken in his time. I’ve heard Shakespeare performed with Received Pronounciation, with American accents, with regional British accents, I have also heard it translated into various foreign languages. All can work, the most important thing is that the actors are comfortable within the language they are speaking.

      “Would you have English-language Bollywood productions in which actors are all using the English accents predominant in the regions depicted?” I have seen several Bollywood films, but none all in English. More usual is that they use Hindi most of the time, but English for stylistic effect. My understanding is that English is not usually the mother tongue, but the language learnt at school. (It happens that Indians seem to learn English far better than the British typically learn any foreign language, like most of the world …) My impression is that English as learnt at school in India, if you get away from the kind of babu-impressions used for comic effect, is often closer to British English of the 1940s than modern British English. So I wouldn’t be surprised at hearing fairly old-fashioned English in a Bollywood film.

      “In fact, I have no difficulty with British cinema because I scarcely watch films. I did at one time, and I still remember particularly and with pleasure “Darling”, “A Taste of Honey”, and the Ealing Studios comedies.” I love the Ealing Studio comedies. But nobody speaks like that today. My favorite, “Kind Hearts and Coronets”, doesn’t even pretend to be modern, it is set in the time 50 years before it was filmed.

      “Standard American is real, used very widely in radio, television, and cinema” I suspect the case is similar to British Received Pronunciation. Despite what Alasdair says I think there is such a thing, and indeed I probably use it. But every RP speaker speaks it in a different way and it has changed substantially over the decades.

      ” I’ll wager that “the very strong Southern accents” you heard were considerably watered down from nature.” I googled a bit. There seems to be some dispute about how authentic the accents in “O Brother, Where Art Thou” are, but I’d love to hear what a real expert on Southern accents thinks. But the Coen brothers are so good, I suspect they would still find an audience for their films if they were in Attic Greek.

      ” You can have authenticity and diversity but it will be at the cost of losing many potential listeners. Is that a price you’re willing to pay?” Very often, yes. Authenticity in particular is absolutely essential for art.

  14. Geordie says:

    About 40 years ago, in a school staff room, approximately 20 of the staff were discussing people they liked and those they disliked, based on where they came from. No matter who was discussed we could not all agree on the people we liked. Some didn’t like the Welsh; others found the Scots unbearable; southerners weren’t liked by many: Yorkshiremen were criticised; only one person liked the French. Eventually we boiled it down to those people we could all agree on liking. They were the people who lived within a mile either side of the River Tyne, between the mouth of the river and Hexham, although some people from Jarrow could be annoying.
    And Geordies have a reputation for being friendly. Well, I suppose we can be nice to people even though we don’t particularly like the place they came from.

  15. John Nolan says:

    Geordie, it’s that southerners find that the north-east accent has a pleasant lilt. A bit hard on Scousers and Brummies, who are no doubt just as friendly but whose accents grate.

  16. ignatius says:

    “Geordie, it’s that southerners find that the north-east accent has a pleasant lilt. A bit hard on Scousers and Brummies, who are no doubt just as friendly but whose accents grate.”

    Clearly a discriminatory hegemony of power and an obvious abuse of the word ‘grate’ here. All grates north of the Tees Ex line should be interviewed and inducted on to elecution classes in order to raise up their diction from mediocre up to grateness of display. Possession of a tiled fireplaces is no excuse.
    And none of this is a woke but all a matter of grate seriousness…so stop laughing or face the consequences which will be grate indeed.

  17. David Smith says:

    George Russell writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2021/04/23/are-you-woke/#comment-63422 ) :

    // My favorite, “Kind Hearts and Coronets”, doesn’t even pretend to be modern, it is set in the time 50 years before it was filmed. //

    My favorite, “Ladykillers”, set in the post-war period, is considerably more modern. A with-it British director today might choose to use more authentic accents, but that would be a pity. I imagine that authentic underworld accents might challenge even British audiences. As it is, the film is simply perfect.

    One British film that I will always remember with pleasure and respect is “Tunes of Glory”. Authentic deep Scots accents there would have been a tragedy, I think, because that would have made a splendid production incomprehensible to many in the large audience it richly deserves.

    // Authenticity in particular is absolutely essential for art. //

    Do you you mean in the spoken word on the stage and in cinema? If so, I’d probably beg to differ. For me, comprehensibility must trump authentic accents if a production is to reach more than a smallish audience. Of course, productions designed for small audiences have a legitimate place.

    Thank you for your gracious reply.

  18. David Smith says:

    What happened to the loo library?

  19. milliganp says:

    Just another contribution on the RP accent. Given we’ve all been locked indoors for 6 months I’ve watched a number of films in the 1940-1960 era including several Carry On comedies. Nearly every actor has a mild variation of Received Pronunciation with the possible exception of Sid James. It actually does feel anachronistic watching them but the accents don’t detract from the stories.
    For closer to our times, in the TV series “Are You Being Served” part of the comedy was that each of the characters had a voice for dealing with customers different to the voice they used in general conversation.
    One of my daughters worked for a number of years in a Mayfair hair salon; she had her “Lady Di” voice for work and polite conversation and her “Sarf Lundun” when out with her mates.

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