I woke up this morning to discover that the cantaloupe on my kitchen counter is rotten on one side and leaking juice. I bought it yesterday at the grocery store. Twenty four hours ago my unfortunate fruit was firm and just at the edge of ripening. The side that is not rotting is still green, but the raccoons will not mind.
Perhaps I read too much science fiction in my youth, but I’m tempted to believe that some grocery stores generate a stasis field in their produce departments which holds fruits and vegetables in a state of apparent freshness until you leave the area. That’s why the strawberries that are bright red and tasty in the store need a shave by the time you get them home.
We’ll come back to the produce department later, because my cantaloupe is a perfect metaphor for the transitional state of politics today. Bear with me.
For most of you reading this, the word “woke” is a verb, an intransitive verb, or the past tense of the infinitive, “to wake,” but every new generation takes ownership of elements of past generations for good or ill. “Woke” is now used by some to refer to social consciousness. To others, the word is a pejorative.
Social movements come and go, and they get recycled under different brand names. Like many of you, I may be prevented by education and experience from being fully “woke.” My social consciousness was inherited from my family, who passed along the Christian ideal that is fundamentally bound to the American character: The belief that in the eyes of God, the soul is colorless and all people are of equal value.
If anyone had bothered to look, gatherings at my family home often resembled one of those “socially engineered” television commercials where all the races and a good selection of the letters of the alphabet are represented. My parents taught us that the only measure of a human being is the quality of their character, and that measure is taken by observing what people do and, for the most part, disregarding what they say.
A few short years ago I would have been able to say, “The only measure of a ‘man’ is the quality of ‘his’ character,” and few would have taken notice of my faux pas in excluding almost half of the human race. I’m “woke” enough to realize the power of the words we choose in shaping the attitudes that lead to actions, and, did you notice? Woke enough to say “almost half” so as not to exclude those who identify as something other than male or female.
The problem, according to the woke paradigm, with the America that many of us grew up in, was that it excluded and marginalized too many people outside the mainstream. I would have to agree with that. Rivers change course, and younger generations replace older ones, and the woke generation is beginning to reach for the rudder.
This is as natural as it is inevitable. But readers of this column will be among the first to appreciate the irony. In reaching for the inclusive and egalitarian ideals of wokeness, many who adhere to these still unripe concepts have become, in word and deed, remarkably similar to that which they condemn.
Instead of attempting to bring the excluded and marginalized into the mainstream and together charting a new course, “wokeness” in many quarters seeks to annihilate the mainstream with an aggressive hostility toward much of our history and heritage, and in particular to anything that it perceives as having been “privileged.”
In this environment of hostile “wokeness” we hear some pretty strange statements. For example, a University of Illinois professor recently stated that mathematics is “racist.” (This might come as a surprise to the ancient Arabs who invented algebra.) Grammar has also been declared racist. Last week we learned that Nancy Pelosi, one of the most liberal Speakers of the House who has ever served in Congress, is also racist because she dares to criticize certain members of Congress “of color.” Her constant criticism of the great white “golden golem of greatness” (thank you, James Howard Kunstler) in the White House, carries no penalty.
I’m waiting for MSNBC to pick up on the fact that former president, Barack Obama, is also racist because the Betsy Ross flag was prominently displayed at his inaugural address.
There is nothing new in this time of dynamic change except for the technology leveraging the anger behind ideals which are in conflict mainly because they are badly communicated. A divisive force is wielded by corporate media, which has monetized anger and fear in its desperate attempt to remain relevant and profitable.
The ideals of the “woke” movement are sound, and not at all dissimilar to traditional American ideals. What is lacking is the civil dialogue necessary to discover the common ground. The biggest impediment to that dialogue is our national addiction to drama and the monetization of that addiction by the information business.
Should that dialogue take place, those who are older and/or more conservative in nature would soon discover their own values repackaged. Those who are younger and/or more liberal would discover that the “other side” was already well on its way to embracing a humanity devoid of labels.
Speaking from the middle, many of us have grown weary of the constant bickering. Turning to the left now, many of us, perhaps a majority, were well past noticing identities until they began to be shoved in our faces. “Pride” means confidence and self respect, but it also means deep pleasure or satisfaction in one’s self. It is the latter definition buoyed by anger that can continue to prevent any real understanding.
We have come full circle now, back to the produce department where we find that some of the fruits of “wokeness,” like the tortured fruits of industrial agriculture, are at once unripe and rotten, and I believe that they will be consigned to the compost pile just like the cantaloupe on my kitchen counter. Other, more palatable fruits will grow to replace them, because the roots are strong, and they run deep into the rich soil of our American heritage.