stree france urban peasant
Wokeness derives its power from deep truths, as the example of reformist education shows. If we don't recognize this, we risk losing our free will.

It is true: since the Woke Turn, we have all become conservatives.

But words have power; they connect us with concepts of a higher order, and therefore to entire thought clusters. We better know their nature if we are to avoid stumbling around blindly under a compulsion we don't understand, victims of yet another unholy dialectic: the playthings of forces whose very existence we actively deny by invoking an imaginary realm of facts and reason where there are mostly reactions and well-worn mind grooves that propel us in directions we may or may not want to go.

"Conservative," to many of us, connects to a sort of mirror image of Wokeness, its negation. Where those people say "anything goes," we demand discipline; where they say "you should express yourself," we say "just accept outside reality," and where they seek to "break free from how we have lived for centuries," we demand tradition to be honored.

But a merely reactive state like that, where we robotically invert the latest fashionable slogan, by definition is a state with little free will.

What's worse, we risk losing our way in a thought cluster and dynamic we know is not for us: a stale, dead, uninspired black-and-white affair which, to radiant people, feels every bit like a desert as the shrillness of the woke world. Absolute stillness is as dead as white noise.

The truth is, we can't outsource deep and hard thinking. Not to the dominating ideology, and not to its mirror image.

Much has been said about the sinister roots of Wokeism: misguided ideas about equity based on fairy tales about human nature; one-sided theories from Marx to Freud to the postmodernists spun out of control; narcissism-fueled pathological rebellions against reality; and so on.

Not so much has been said about the truth currents that made it possible for Wokeism to gain a foothold in the first place. For without nourishment, without a connection to the wellspring of existence, the fertile soil of the cosmic forces of love and truth, nothing can grow — not even falsehoods, manipulation, and evil.

Perhaps the greatest spiritual power center at the root of the Woke Turn is the viscerally felt need to grapple with modernity and its consequences. After all, everything has changed since the industrial revolution. Our present conflicts are still largely an extension of the forces that have been unleashed in the 19th century, including the counter-forces they provoked.

For instance, when Adorno and Horkheimer talked about the woos of the Enlightenment, or when later thinkers on the left criticized the West as "logocentric," these thoughts resonated because people understood them as a critique of the industrialized world, with its factory bells, eradication of peasant life and culture, its honorless mechanized wars, its honorless bourgeois class, its disenchantment and obsession with scientism — and more broadly with what Ernst Jünger called the Titanic forces, the mythological representation of the hypercharged drive to build, control, aggrandize, automate, complexify, empower.

A great example of this struggle against modernity is reformist education, in many ways the birthplace of ideas that were later to turn into cruel woke caricatures of themselves.

At its best, the reformist movement sought to go beyond the mechanized Prussian school system, which treated (and still treats) students as a mere sociological mass to be molded according to the economic and societal needs of the time. The reformist movement embodied what true progressivism looks like: correcting a negative development by going back to the culture's past and tradition, while combining it with modern insights and ideas in creative and productive ways. It is about going beyond the past, while retaining the roots.

Progressivism, so understood, moves along the right kind of dialectic — whereas the toxic dialectic of revolution and counterrevolution and counter-counter-revolution smashes culture around like a punching ball until society's last firing neuron quietly dies in an agonizing sigh, leaving in its wake a brutal clown world couched in idiotic slogans no radiant human being can bear without silent suffering, sending out wordless prayers as cosmic distress calls until the liberating and creative energy returns, as it inevitably does.

To get a sense of what I'm talking about, consider this passage from a biography about R. G. Collingwood, one of my philosophical heroes. Collingwood enjoyed a fabulous education that combined a sort of liberal homeschooling with the progressive, reformist ideas of John Ruskin. Notice the many themes of what we might consider leftist ideas about education, but also the elements that run completely counter to contemporary wokeism:
The Collingwood family education was, one could say, anchored to that powerful tradition which inaugurated the Arts and Crafts movement and was commanded by Ruskin, the childless patriarch. The official content of its curriculum, as we saw, placed painting, music, classical, folk, and English literature as its heart, but it was above all practical, active, an education in studying by doing, doing painting, writing poems, building a little theatre for a drama with marionettes (as the children did at Lanehead), and leaving the schoolroom for the lived endeavour of archaeology on the very sites of Roman or Norse habitation, for the strenuous discovery of geological formation, fossil traces, or (also launched from Lanehead) copper ore. Learning to sail was then just another active art-and-science, and one learned it best out of the schoolroom, in the making of if in its proper place, on the water; where else?
Surrounding and pervading this rich, dense, and even at that date and to the village schoolchildren slightly strange and fey form of life was the calm, absolute, and loving authority of Dorrie and Gershom Collingwood. To say to contemporary managers of either state or private education in the twenty-first century that the first and cherished value of a human education must be love invites the glazed eye and wrinkled nostril with which the good professor or head teacher would consign the interlocutor to the barmy enclaves of Rudolf Steiner. But love and its authority was the first, unspoken principle of Collingwoodian education, and in this parents and children spoke for a tradition that inspired British progressive and experimental education for a century. It is a tradition that expressed itself in the strong psychoanalytic doctrines of such teachers as Melanie Klein and Susan Isaacs, which had in turn so marked an influence on the making of nursery education, and came to a brief official flowering in the government report on primary schools published in 1967 as the Plowden Report.
The Plowden Report mentioned at the end is an interesting case in itself, since both conservatives and wokeists will likely be offended by this attempt to focus on the individual along the lines of Piaget's developmental theory. At the very least, it may show the complexities involved in education, perhaps even the impossibility of any one-size-fits-all educational system and the futility of large-scale education as opposed to the education of an individual.

It is only logical, then, that in the end, Collingwood recommended that "all children are best raised and educated by their parents and within their family, and kept well away from any kind of formal or state-managed education." And that children will thrive best if "deliberately placed at the centre of orderly and exhilarating freedom."

The importance of love, freedom for the student, working with the impulses coming from the children themselves as opposed to hammering a curriculum into their heads, emphasis on arts, creativity and self-expression, exploring nature... These are all ideas of various pedagogical reform movements that are still discernible in woke discourse, and they are what gives the whole thing plausibility.

Or at least gave it plausibility; because modern wokeism clearly has ended up combining the worst of both worlds: a rigid, centralized, bureaucratic system with neither freedom nor order.

This is what an unholy dialectic produces: Prussia and Hitler are inverted, while retaining some of their worst elements; because all dialectical processes, all counter-revolutions, always retain parts of that which they seek to move away from, whether they want it or are even aware of it or not. The question is which.

What we might call a sacred dialectic, then, in this case looks at the worst elements of the post-industrialization system and overcomes them, while retaining the best elements of preindustrial tradition as well as the flowers that the new system has managed to produce nonetheless despite its flaws.

The sacred dialectic makes conscious use of history by directing a subtle and loving gaze at people's experiences in the past and present, and uses historical momentum to manifest a heartfelt and intelligent vision that makes things a little better in the here and now.

To understand the sacred dialectic, we must refuse to be blindly thrown around by the unholy dialectic; and for that, we must seek to understand the truthful grounds that every development by definition must grow out of, including the worst ones.

We can repeat this exercise with other issues besides education, and perhaps I will do so in future posts.

Because I believe it is not only worthwhile — it's our only chance to use the creative energies that have only just begun to rain down on us instead of turning them into a hard rain, a metaphysical storm of steel trapping us in the eternal hell of dialectical shitshows.

Let's break out of the prison shell of our ill-understood concepts and counter-concepts, and explore the radiant galaxy of mind and possibilities all around us, shall we?
L.P. Koch writes about philosophy & religion in our crazy times.