Tech mogul and entrepreneur Elon Musk purchased Twitter in October of this year.
Since taking over he’s made some big changes to the social media giant, and he’s also let loose with his own tweets, making his priorities and beliefs crystal clear.
Despite a background in science and technology, Musk is deeply invested in cultural and political topics.
On December 12, he raised eyebrows with a tweet demanding that “the woke mind virus” be defeated or humanity will be doomed.
The woke mind virus is either defeated or nothing else matters
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 12, 2022
What did he mean by this?
Musk previously clashed with his ex-wife Grimes in 2020 over the woke topic when he sent out a tweet mocking gender pronouns.
She scolded him online and said she was sure it wasn’t what was truly in his “heart” and demanded him to stop spreading “hate.”
The term “woke” is a slang term that originated in the United States and has become associated with a social and political movement that focuses on issues of racial and social justice.
People who are described as “woke” are typically seen as being aware of and actively working to combat systemic racism and discrimination.
The “woke” movement often focuses on issues such as police brutality, racial inequality, and other forms of oppression.
While the term has been embraced by many as a positive and empowering way to describe those who are committed to social justice, it has also been criticized for being overly simplistic and for sometimes being used as a way to dismiss or diminish the experiences of marginalized individuals.
Wokeness has also become associated with many socially liberal institutions of higher education, where students may learn about concepts such as “decolonization,” the imperialist evils of the United States right from its foundation, or the racial roots of the gender binary, for example.
“Woke elites” in academia, the corporate world, government and media are spreading ideas that conservatives and many non-socially-liberal individuals consider psychologically and physically harmful, delusional, disloyal, dangerous and counterproductive.
As a libertarian-leaning contrarian who’s become disgusted by the “woke left,” Musk is among such critics of the woke ideology.
Musk considers wokeness to be a “mind virus” for three primary reasons.
Firstly, he considers it incorrect. Secondly, he considers it divisive and destructive to society working together. Thirdly, he considers it subversive and destructive of technological, societal, economic and political progress and unity.
Musk’s history of tangles with wokeness
This is far from the first time Musk has tangled with wokeness, nor was his fight with Grimes just a one-off.
It’s clear that at least part of his motivation in buying Twitter was standing up to what he considers this existential threat.
In the past, Musk has blamed many social ills in the West on wokeness, including earlier this year when Netflix experienced a serious dip in subscribers.
Apart from online squabbles with people who think he’s a square and routinely accuse him of racism, transphobia, homophobia and any other possible phobia, it’s clear that Musk views the ideology of wokeness itself as inherently malicious.
His main complaint is that wokeness is an ideology of grievances and questioning and challenging what is perceived as wrong or unjust.
It’s not only that Musk believes that woke people are wrong about what they complain about, it’s also that he believes this oppositional approach is inherently divisive and unhelpful to strengthening and improving society.
Opening up explicitly about his dislike of wokeness and far-left progressivism in the Western world, Musk said that woke people want a “humorless society” of constant squabbling, being offended and wasting energy.
Why Musk matters…
Love him or hate him, Musk’s opinion matters.
In fact, his opinion matters even more these days, considering he’s at the helm of one of the world’s largest social media companies and spearheading efforts to explore space, automate cars and revamp human society.
So let’s look at his view of “wokeness” and his belief that it’s a “virus” which must be “defeated.”
A key starting question is how do you “defeat” an ideology, especially a non-state ideology?
Next, what exactly defines whether somebody has the “woke mind virus” or if they just happen to disagree with Musk on various issues?
But first let’s get to the crux of the issue about wokeness.
Is Musk right?
Firstly, we can dismiss Musk’s claim that “nothing else matters” if wokeness isn’t defeated as rhetorical exaggeration.
It’s clearly not an accurate statement.
Even if wokeness was as bad as Musk claims, defeating it would not protect us from a potential nuclear war, global climate collapse, authoritarian regimes potentially enslaving people with high-tech control grids and numerous other challenges humanity faces.
So: we know Musk is wrong that the “woke mind virus” is the primary threat facing humanity, but is he right about its danger otherwise?
I’d say no, but for a reason that many wouldn’t expect.
I’d say no, because wokeness is a societal foil: just like a boxer gets better training sparring with somebody who can anticipate their moves and tactics, political parties, individuals and groups get better when they have truly determined opponents.
No matter how much Musk or others hate the “woke” and consider it a psychiatric delusional hysteria, woke individuals and groups are a product of this society we live in right now.
Castigating the woke as the problem will only increase the exact divisiveness that Musk claims to be so against.
If the “woke” are treated as crazy, evil or actively malicious, they become a giant bogeyman that keeps growing in the mind of those who fear and dislike them.
If they are treated as human beings who are just as smart, stupid, lost and inspired as all the rest of us, then they can be engaged with on an authentic level that’s actually productive and won’t lead to the kind of polarization that’s happening online and offline.
In order to avoid this polarization trap, we need to look at wokeness in a new way: as a misguided religious and spiritual impulse.
Wokeness is spiritual?
At its heart, wokeness is clearly a spiritual impulse, something many thinkers on the right (even those very critical of the woke left) have noted.
The basic idea is that the Enlightenment values of reason, science and facts have not provided sufficient meaning for many people.
While traditional religiosity has waned, many have searched for a new faith and found it in wokeness, which claims to champion a world that is “fair” and will finally bring justice and truth to those who have been historically different, downtrodden, misunderstood and ignored.
As Mary Harrington wrote at Unherd:
“Wokeness is a religion, or at least a re-emergence of religious impulse. But this is not a bug, it’s a feature…
“It’s been barely half a millennium since we first started trying to dethrone God, and barely decades since we mostly succeeded.
“But if you take a longer view, morality and religious doctrine have been fused in human cultures for as long as humans have had cultures.
“Far from being a devastating own, the more religion-like wokeness is, the more seriously we should take it.”
Harrington is absolutely right here. The idea Musk has of wokeness being a “mind virus” is quite off base.
Wokeness is actually an attempt to find spiritual meaning and truth in a world that seems increasingly secular and run by technology.
Those who splinter off into the fringe right and fringe left being called “crazy” will only lead to further polarization and extremism. The reason is simple:
People need meaning and a guiding impulse, and for an increasing number, wokeness provides that.
Calling it evil won’t stop it, but understanding its roots and perhaps providing an alternative will open up more paths in society apart from a binary choice between “woke” or “standard.”
How woke is too woke?
How woke is too woke?
According to Musk, wokeness has no redeeming characteristics and is the ideology of a complaining and petulant child which just wants to destroy anything good it can’t have.
Similarly to how Musk claims wokeness oversimplifies everything and creates an emotional narrative, that’s what he is doing here as well.
There are many forms and varieties of wokeness, for one thing, and for another thing, the idea that wokeness is “completely” incorrect about everything is clearly off base.
Is wokeness wrong that many powerful historical institutions have harmed human beings or disrespected their rights? Clearly not…
Is wokeness wrong that the world is more complicated than what you find in a science book and that people have very different feelings about who they are and their identity? Clearly not…
Is wokeness wrong that skin tone, tribe and wealth have been used as the basis of awful persecutions and still are in many parts of the world? Not wrong at all…
That’s why it’s important not to paint with too broad a brush here.
Just as Musk makes some reasonable points at times about the dangers of embracing wokeness uncritically, dismissing all wokeness as delusion is also a dead-end path.
It’s critical to free our mind and get outside this black or white thinking.
If you want to escape conditioning that’s trying to stick a label on you and fit you in a box, you need to allow ambivalence and undefined matter to exist and have some patience with people and with subjects.
Here’s the truth:
Not every topic can be neatly wrapped up in one tweet.