The opposite of woke

The word “woke” is getting lots of airtime these days. The GOP uses it derisively as an insult, indicating that woke is synonymous with leftist attitudes and beliefs about family, religion, patriotism, gender, and politics. In other words, that woke means liberal, and liberal means celebrating difference, showing compassion for the poor, believing that society should be equitable, and advocating that women should be able to make their own reproductive decisions. The GOP is right; liberals are woke.

The word woke appears to have first been used in the black community, an instruction mothers would give to their children about staying awake and aware of what is going on around them to lessen their vulnerability to harm. The implication was that woke was the opposite of being asleep and unaware of danger.

The Awakened One is one sobriquet of many for the Buddha, alluding to his enlightenment. Enlightenment has been described as spiritual awakening, in the case of the Buddha the realization of the emptiness of self, conditional existence, the nature of suffering and the imperative of compassion. When it comes to woke, I take my cue from the Dalai Lama, who was driven from his homeland of Tibet and has been relentlessly hounded by the Communist Chinese government. “My religion,” he answered when asked about it, “is kindness.”

So what does it mean to be anti-woke? Is the GOP in favor of being asleep and unaware of the world around us? I wish it was that simple and foolish; the truth is otherwise. The MAGAnetized GOP has turned to the dark side; for them the opposite of woke is cruel. At least the political and cultural choice we face is now abundantly clear: kindness or cruelty.

The GOP has become the party of Homo Pathologicus, fear-based and driven by paranoiac psychopathology. It’s behavior includes: forced bussing of immigrants to non-existing jobs in other states, floating razor-wire barriers in the Rio Grande, separating immigrant children from their families in detention, disenfranchising voters of color, banning books, closing libraries, refusing to condemn white nationalists, supporting personal possession of assault weapons, punishing the LGBTQ+ community, cutting medical benefits, restricting women’s reproductive decisions, inciting violent acts of insurrection, sedition, and even committing murder. Like I said, cruelty.

Unfortunately, it’s not just America suffering from a resurgence of cruelty; it’s a worldwide phenomenon. Xenophobia, misogyny, gender discrimination; they’re the official national policy in a growing number of countries. In Uganda, for example, homosexuality is punishable by death.

Transcending the cruelty of our predatory nature is a cultural process, not genetic, and therefore subject to what is taught and learned. Supposing that cruelty is just a manifestation of the last throes of patriarchy and religious intolerance is wishful thinking, as is the idea that we’re witnessing the final chapter in humanity’s war on itself; it’s not the last time, I’m afraid. Too easily forgotten or buried by fear, the lessons of kindness must repeatedly be taught to each successive generation.

The complex condition of the world feels overwhelming at times; it’s easy to become cynical, selfish, or pessimistic, but the effort towards kindness is a marathon, not a sprint. To paraphrase the Reverend Martin Luther King, who sixty years ago electrified the nation with his speech at The March on Washington: the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards woke.

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