WOKE: A New Word for an Old World

As a Year 12 student in a co-ed public, secondary school in 1966, highly respected for its “rigorous, academic curriculum”, I chose to study Social Studies; an apparently less controversial, and perhaps more comfortable title for Politics back then. The course included Australia’s political system, our alliance with America and its relationship to our foreign policy and military presence in Vietnam.

The teacher made no apology for his strong support of ANZUS and our commitment to fighting communism and the Yellow Peril up North.

Two boys I befriended adamantly argued that communism and/or socialism offered far greater opportunities for genuine equity and fairness for more people. They privately denounced the teacher as a right-wing, war-mongering fascist.

In all due respect to Kevin Donnelly (“Woking up to this PC world”, Opinion, 13/8),   a PC world was alive and well over 50 years ago without any awareness of indoctrination or dystopian delusions.

As a naïve and ignorant 16-year-old, I was confused about so-called left and right ideologies, and reading several texts considered whether communism would, even could, work in practice. My friends vehemently voiced their disagreement.

The teacher advised them about possible failure by promoting a politically incorrect agenda in the exam at that time. Reluctantly, I resolved my confusion by “arguing for common sense” to obtain an honour. By “failing to conform (both boys)… (faced)  immediate punishment”; they did  not achieve a top mark.

The “mind control” as Donnelly discerns politics today was no less pervasive amid the 1960s education system; the difference being the dominant “groupthink” was the conservative right, not the supposed “cultural left”.

Moreover I contend, the “freedoms and liberties” that Donnelly considers almost irrelevant in this current PC world were denied to many young men dissenting against conscription. One conscripted 18-year-old boy I knew was in Holsworthy jail in NSW as a conscientious objector, while another was on the run from the authorities for years. Donnelly also asserts the democratic “right to engage in reasoned debate free of hostility and prejudice” needs evoking; a hollow hypocrisy similarly to decades past.

Certainly, concurring with him that “words, phrases and ideas have been weaponised…to impose a politically correct agenda”, I contest wokism is just a new word for an old world.  

While he implores people acknowledge “the strength and benefits of Western civilisation”, an intangible, socio-political straitjacket has usually, if not always, been needed for acceptance and approval for humankind, or at least most of us, since time immemorial. The B.C. wars between Athens and Sparta are just one testimony to that reality.

Maybe all dictionaries need to redefine the human condition as complex, if not sometimes incomprehensible, across all societies throughout history.

Being a non-conformist is not, and has never been, an intrinsically simple, sensible or sanguine choice, as evidenced by the trial and execution of Greek philosopher Socrates for his iconoclastic thoughts. Nonetheless, the foundation stones of humanity, not just liberal democracy, should embrace individual freedom of choice, with no fear of freedom.

As J.S. Mill wrote in his 19th century tome “On Liberty”, freedom should focus on no “harm” to others, or self.    

Perhaps an inconvenient truth is that a PC world has always underpinned our pattern of life!