Identity Politics & ‘Anti-Wokeism’ Serve the Same Interests

The more people are fixated on the mainstream culture war, the less likely they are to decide they want to do more challenging things like defund the Pentagon, says Caitlin Johnstone. 

Red Herring by algotruneman. (OpenClipart, Public domain)

By Caitlin Johnstone

Listen to a reading of this article.

It’s an interesting time for culture war red herrings in the shadow of the empire.

There are no major electoral races currently underway. Government Covid regulations have been mostly rolled back. The empire is waging an extremely dangerous and continually escalating proxy war with Russia that should be getting a lot of scrutiny.

If one didn’t know better one might expect this to be a time when the rank-and-file public would be doing a bit less barking and snarling at one another and a bit more at the people in charge.

But if one is reading this, one probably knows better.

The world is roaring toward multipolarity and the empire is doing everything it can to slam on the brakes, up to and including ramping up for a global confrontation with noncompliant nuclear-armed powers, and meanwhile the public is growing more and more disaffected with stagnant wages and soaring inequality even as concerns grow that we are headed toward environmental collapse.

So of course, at this crucial point in history, they’ve got everyone arguing about “wokeness.”

What “woke” means depends on who you ask. According to the original AAVE definition, it means “alert to racial prejudice and discrimination.” If you ask Ron DeSantis’ lawyers when they were made to define the term in court, it means “the belief there are systemic injustices in American society and the need to address them.” Both of which sound entirely reasonable.

If you ask members of the rank-and-file right wing, though, the answers range from the incoherent to the insanely bigoted to the profoundly stupid.

You’ll hear gibberish about “Cultural Marxism” (not a real thing), about communist conspiracies to give your child puberty blockers and gender reassignment surgery, about a liberal plot to normalize child molestation and erase women as a gender and about the agenda to deteriorate society and plunge Western culture into chaos and disorder because it makes Satan happy. In my experience the arguments are often intensely emotional and lacking in substance.

You’ll also run into the occasional good-faith actor who sincerely believes “wokeism” needs to be aggressively opposed because the obsession with racial and sexual justice is sucking all the oxygen out of the room for more important matters and being used as a weapon to ram through pernicious power-serving agendas. It’s this category that I am mainly addressing here, because I view the previous category as generally beyond redemption.

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It is entirely true that identity politics are being used to ram through establishment-serving agendas and subvert real dissent. We saw a very in-your-face example of this in 2016 with the extremely aggressive push to elect America’s first woman president, when anyone who pointed out her horrifyingly awful track record on things like war and militarism was shouted down as a misogynist.

The entire Democratic Party is essentially one big psyop designed to kill any attempt to redress income and wealth inequality, poverty, wars, militarism, money in politics, surveillance, government secrecy, police militarization and every other control mechanism designed to hold the status quo in place, while herding any revolutionary zeitgeist back toward establishment loyalism with false promises to make life better for women and marginalized groups.

But it is also true that pouring your energy into “anti-wokeism” serves the establishment in the exact same way as pouring your energy into identity politics.

Anti-wokeism — if you will permit me a somewhat counterintuitive turn of phrase — is identity politics dressed in drag. Fixation on fighting “wokeness” corrals people into mainstream establishment-serving frameworks in exactly the same way identity politics corrals people into mainstream establishment-serving frameworks.

It makes sure the rank-and-file public stays busy barking and snarling at one another instead of the people in charge.

Does it not seem odd to you that half of the ruling class has been getting half of the population to fixate on identity politics while the other half has been getting half the population increasingly panicked about “wokeness?”

While mainstream right-wing politicians are making anti-wokeism a major part of their platforms, mainstream right-wing pundits are doing everything they can to make their audiences more panicked about how “woke” everything is getting and Elon Musk is talking about “the woke mind virus” in exactly the same way more liberal-aligned oligarchs champion social justice issues.

This is because both anti-wokeism and identity politics serve the same establishment agendas, entirely by design.

The more people are fixated on the mainstream culture war, the less likely they are to decide they want to do things like defund the Pentagon or take back everything the rich have stolen from them.

Time you’re spending yelling at the other side of the cultural divide is time you’re not spending eating your landlord as God and nature intended.

And of course, by saying these things are used in the same way I do not mean to imply that “anti-wokeism” is equal in value to the struggle for social justice. It absolutely is the case that there are disadvantaged groups in our society who do need to be uplifted and anyone who tries to stop that from happening is plainly in the wrong.

What I’m pointing at here, rather, is the way lip service to racial and sexual justice is used to get people supporting a mainstream political faction that never does anything other than facilitate oligarchy, exploitation and imperialism, in precisely the same way right-wing hysteria about “wokeness” is used to do precisely the same thing.

So what is to be done about the culture war we’re being pushed into fighting with greater and greater force?

Well this is just my opinion, but the answer can perhaps be found in the famous line from the movie WarGames: “A strange game. The only winning move is not to play.”

That’s been my approach, anyway. I’ve found that getting too wrapped up in pushing or pulling any part of that debate only feeds into it by increasing opposition (which is why this is likely the only article I’ll ever write on the subject), so I’m better off just focusing on attacking the actual power structure.

If our rulers are trying to divert us into a culture war, the most inconvenient thing we can do is keep doing everything we can to hurt the agendas of the empire.

Caitlin Johnstone’s work is entirely reader-supported, so if you enjoyed this piece please consider sharing it around, following her on FacebookTwitterSoundcloud or YouTube, or throwing some money into her tip jar on Ko-fiPatreon or Paypal. If you want to read more you can buy her books. The best way to make sure you see the stuff she publishes is to subscribe to the mailing list at her website or on Substack, which will get you an email notification for everything she publishes.  For more info on who she is, where she stands and what she’s trying to do with her platform, click here. All works are co-authored with her American husband Tim Foley.

This article is from and re-published with permission.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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21 comments for “Identity Politics & ‘Anti-Wokeism’ Serve the Same Interests

  1. michael888
    December 22, 2022 at 14:00

    It is odd to me that Johnstone defines “wokeism” as helping the Poor and Disadvantaged? I would think that would be “human decency” or maybe “charity” which of course is entirely lacking in the UniParty, which seemingly only cares about More Corruption for their friends and families, and killing, maiming and displacing foreign people with resources that “America needs” but of course refuses to buy or engage in trade.

    I would define “wokeism” as the belief that Russians are everywhere, interfering in our elections and in our lives, spreading misinformation, disinformation and malinformation, and hiding under our beds (they are never there when I check; clever Russians). The US doesn’t give $100 billion to Ukrainian NAZIs to eliminate systemic inequality and racism (or maybe Australians see things in Manichean terms?) The US doesn’t negotiate in good faith. The only goal is to eliminate the untermenschen, Russians of course, but also domestic political opponents (Putin puppets). The American Dream, for our rulers, is now about leveraging Military Power to steal from others from our shining city on a hill. Happy talk, vicious unfair actions.

    “Anti-wokeism” is to deviate/ dissent/ question our “woke” (paradoxical when one follows Joe Biden and his history) leadership.

  2. Rudy Haugeneder
    December 22, 2022 at 13:25

    I wish I did not understand what she wrote but, unfortunately, I do. And it will get worse in the New Year and the years following notwithstanding that some people understand what she wrote. Gulp.

  3. lester
    December 22, 2022 at 13:07

    When I first encountered “woke” it seemed to mean Republicans who’d decided everything Alex Jones said was true.

  4. Lasur
    December 22, 2022 at 12:02

    There is a flaw in this reasoning, it is written form an old social-liberal perspective who feel the “anti-establishment left” is being subverted. In reality this left is dead and people who would have belong to it up until the bush area are now belonging to the nationalist-populist camp. Secondly promoting something as wokism as a way to divert attention underlines the desperation or incompetence or both of those in power. More than once in history people thought themselves clever by playing dived and conquer only to be overthrown by one of their would-be pawn.

    • Piotr Berman
      December 23, 2022 at 14:05

      “[…] promoting something as wokism as a way to divert attention underlines the desperation or incompetence or both of those in power. ”

      Perhaps not a desperation but another edition of old and time-proven techniques of political manipulation, more specifically, “wedge issue” methodology. As the prevalent consensus in the population changes, so do the wedge issues. In “good, old days” the right could raise issues like contraceptives or mix race marriages, so “anti-wokism” could be viewed as a retreat, except that they could care less which issue keeps the flock together. And the “woke” side, the new frontier seems to be the rights of “trans people” which are genuinely puzzling and raising fears and legitimate concerns.

      On the “left side”, again and again “woke issues” are used to justify — and demand — censorship that whacks opponent of imperialism, using social platform for thought control orchestrated by FBI etc. This is but one example: hxxps://
      Here, Bari Weiss floats in water, hence she is made of wood, hence she is a witch. More precisely, Musk is anti-woke and disclose incestuous relationship between Twitter, FBI and politicians to remove politically inconvenient content like the laptop of Hunter Biden. Taibbi makes a series of articles on that, so he is “enemy of the people”, anti-woke. Bari Weiss likes that, so she is “enemy of the people” too, and a KAPO. To be more hilarious (in a gloomy way), the article starts with a discussion that it is despicable to use kapo as an invective without profound reasons. As you can see, this is a pretty dense stew, but with “pro-woke” component that seems indispensable in “intra left” witch hunts.

      In short, we should love trans people and thus FBI, censorship, wars, bombing Iran (unlike KSA, very anti-woke, I am getting dizzy with this spinning) etc. And the latter, Iran is not bombed yet, but we should love to see that done. “We got the men, we got the ships, we got the money, and by Woke, we will go!”

  5. Larry Gates
    December 22, 2022 at 08:53

    Wokism is a deliberate distraction from more important concerns about economic justice, class, and peace. So is anti-wokism, but wokism came first, and anti-wokism is not unreasonable.. I am a big fan of Caitlin and read almost everything she writes, but I’m only partially onboard for this article. It disturbs me that corporate America has jumped on the woke bandwagon and now is teaming up with Democrats. It gives cover. It hides their very real crimes against humanity. I do believe in equal protection under the law, but for everybody, including straight white males.

  6. Charles InCharge
    December 22, 2022 at 08:12

    “IF” the mainstream media was not wholly weighted one direction?… then your position would deserve greater consideration. But when open debate is not allowed, then it’s like watching a sporting event where referees dictate outcomes. To ignore the impact “that” has on the unrepresented group’s behavior?… it invalidates the moral equivalency (ying/yang) you attempt to address. Unrepresented groups most always resort to more extreme behavior until their position is heard & represented.

    Elon Musk (flawed or not) has attempted to address this. But even his attempts to rectify this are venomously demonized or unduly silenced by MSM.

    THAT is the elephant in the room that you have omitted, and it would need to be rectified for you comments to be endorsable.

  7. robert e williamson jr
    December 22, 2022 at 00:28

    You are brilliant! Great, great stuff!

    For sure the MSM uses the “special interests” “woke card” to promote the groups you speak of. It is, and I’m going to regret this, psy-ops being run by MSM and the effort must be supported from high-up or outside the actual MSM management. Whether they realize it r not. I have never seen evidence of the program directors producers being that smart or caring.

    Truth is this obvious ploy, the psy-ops angle has probably completely escaped them. It happens.

    Regardless you have a classic here precisely describing the mechanisms at work in a way I think only you can. This might be the only time you ned to write on this topic.

    MSM! Doing the deed right out in the open on nationwide “Public Tech” , five times and hour ofrmore.

    Thank you for your efforts.

    PEACE to all the CN and Crew

  8. Rich
    December 21, 2022 at 23:00

    It’s so easy to get caught up in this divide and conquer nonsense. I see too many on the Right obsess a lot over vaccines and how much of a threat they are, literally talking 24/7 about stupid vaccine conspiracies/Fauci- yet potential nuclear war with Russia or China and the extermination of all life on Earth doesn’t top their list of threats? Where are the freedom truckers leading protests against the wars and theft of taxpayer money to fund a proxy war in illegitimate Ukraine? In the end, all this rugged individualism and mass selfishness will lead to the death of Humanity. I mean, just how can one claim to be anti-War/anti-system yet still vote for warmongering MIC scum simply because they agree with them on culture war issues? Both the Left and Right are guilty of this. War is the greatest evil.

  9. Caliman
    December 21, 2022 at 21:40

    Totally agree re the futility of arguing amongst ourselves distracting from far more critical issues.

    On the other hand, any comment on the oddity of the entirety of the corporate/government power structure suddenly and vehemently adopting new positions on various “woke” positions and (crucially) then attacking disfavored persons and foreign governments using those positions? Perhaps that’s part of what people are objecting to when they fight “wokeness” …

  10. vinnieoh
    December 21, 2022 at 15:11

    Since the arrival of MS Edge, I’ve had the MSN newsfeed as the opening screen there. I haven’t edited it for preferences or the like and just let it spew out its “video slime” (thank you FZ). As per Caitlin here, much of it (the posted articles) are obviously designed to pander to one faction or another’s already nurtured rage (I seldom click on any of it, just peruse and shudder at the breathless doom-filled headlines.)

    Yes, task one, to distract, and deflect. And then there is the equally contemptible purpose of attracting eyeballs and hence advertising dollars, piggybacked on that cultivated rage.

    I sometimes console myself that “Well surely, most know they’re being played,” and then am floored when I realize that those I credited with having discerning sense, in fact, do not.

  11. Tom_Q_Collins
    December 21, 2022 at 12:45

    This article was cross posted / linked in comments at Moon of Alabama and it received the expected jeers (and a few defenses) from the commentariat there. Some are very worried about the culture wars, it would seem..

    To the other commenter who mentioned that this unfortunately won’t reach those in the two siloes who most need it, I agree completely. Thing is, and Caitlyn might not understand it, most Americans are just fine with Empire, even wars. It’s just when the (always a) guy with the letter of the other party’s name is on the war, it’s bad. When it’s their (always, but should Killary have been elected) guy, the war is always justified or at least they can see the (lack of) logic behind it.

  12. mgr
    December 21, 2022 at 11:30

    Thank you for pointing that out. Since the 2016 “Democratic” campaign between Sanders and HRC that ripped the happy-face veneer from the “Democratic Party,” it has been clear to me that the only issues that actually make a difference to our survival on this planet are, accelerating wealth concentration into fewer and fewer hands, war, and environmental destruction. All the other, yes, important social issues, have no effective nor lasting solution until we get a handle on these three which include permanently subduing the war-mongers and enablers who are intent on foisting their lunacy on everyone else. Yes, lunacy; no matter how you frame it, what is more lunatic than taking and supporting actions that ensure one’s own, and everyone’s extinction?

  13. Linda Lewis
    December 21, 2022 at 10:37

    Spot on, Ms. Johnstone!

  14. Michael P Goldenberg
    December 21, 2022 at 10:32

    A particularly incisive piece that unfortunately will not reach the vast majority of people in either silo that most need to read it.

    Last night I was told on YouTube by a commenter from the anti-woke silo that I was ignorant for not seeing that social-emotional learning and critical race theory were fundamentally the same plot to destroy America. That was a new one to me (apparently I should attend more school board meetings outside of my home city of Ann Arbor, since Google quickly informed me that this nutty theory was fodder in school districts and board meetings across the nation!).

    It’s one example out of countless more and of course that’s just one silo. Digesting breakfast persuades me not to delve into the pseudo-liberal one I abandoned in 2016, as visiting that one generally renders me unable to convert nutrients to useable energy for hours at
    a time.

    At any rate, kudos to Caitlin for this one. It’s the perfect antidote to the insanity rife on both sides. But how do we get the silo residents to read it?

  15. Vera Gottlieb
    December 21, 2022 at 10:28

    The ‘game’ is…keep ’em distracted. While ‘busy’ watching the front door they’ll come in through the back one.

  16. evelync
    December 21, 2022 at 09:22

    Thank you Caitlin Johnstone for covering the duplicity of the empire monster with this latest divide and conquer distraction.
    Two things come to mind.
    1. If the current manufactured divide could be distilled into “do unto others….” …maybe we’d have a chance to put that in perspective and unite against the thieves.
    2. Well meaning people like Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbin sadly don’t seem to understand how vicious and evil the war mongers are.
    If for once they could play hardball and hammer out that the distant dreams they have for healthcare, sustainable jobs, a functioning infrastructure and all the rest will never be achieved until the $trillions wasted on the empires for profit forever wars are repurposed to serving the multitudes who do all the work.
    It’s shocking that the State Dept wastes $80B to destabilize other countries.
    The world would be much better off if those people were put to work in community service here at home although that would take a mind meld that infuses GOOD WILL into their mental framework.
    Our COUP dept. works overtime, the latest sadly being Peru.
    We should be meddling to serve this country not destroying other countries for the founders the the political campaigns.

  17. J Anthony
    December 21, 2022 at 09:04

    Thank you once again Caitlin for pointing out the obvious, it’s most nauseating to see and hear otherwise sensible people get caught up in this nonsense, while the most relevant issues get swept under the rug.

  18. jamie
    December 21, 2022 at 07:39

    If there anything close to freedom, is the ability of a person, society to free itself from any ideology, to develop the holistic intelligence (which the west lacks, not because it doesn’t have it but because “supremacism”, among many other factors, inhibit it, if not repress it), the ability to become aware of the human condition and its interconnections, to know it without bias, deal with it without being judgmental, without fearing it, without exploiting it, without moralizing it. To be self-aware, to be capable of harmonizing it, ultimately transcending it, is to be truly free. I believe that most human problems exist because we fail to comprehend the human condition, particularly at the biological-psychological-cultural level, and that it is thanks to the “ideological education” which is surely not directed toward unbiased self-awareness. I have always believed that information is the building block of life and that the meaning of our existence is to understand who we are across any dimension, to be self-aware… then anything can happen

    • mgr
      December 21, 2022 at 17:23

      jamie: Nicely put. Thank you. Ideology or belief, for good or ill, is always the foundation of perception and action. Trying to force change in the action without addressing the underlying belief or ideology doesn’t change much. We need to cultivate, I believe, a culture of peace founded upon mutual respect for the dignity and potential that lies inherent in each person regardless of where they are from.

      • jamie
        December 23, 2022 at 11:45

        to be fair, rather than “free itself from any ideology” I should have wrote “free from any ideological constrains and dominance” naive of me; per se ideology is necessary, inevitable at this stage of humanity, what we should not allow is one ideology to dominate a society, to limit and shape humans’ perceptions and behaviors based on that ideology, to create an enemy (often a competing/contrasting ideology) and again a mindset of “right-wrong/good-evil; to do that, as you have so well put “mutual respect” is essential; “respect” is an undervalued word, secondary to love, peace, openness all of which depend on “respect”. Yet mutual respect is a daunting task, anthropological approach can help; it is very difficult at time respect some barbaric practices, such as infanticide in Kamayurá tribe, which anthropologists sees as part of a culture, not to be forbidden; the acceptance of such practice can be painful for us, as it is painful for some other cultures to see abortion so much hailed and accepted in our culture. “mutual respect” is hard work, but it is what makes us grow, open, and love, and I am also sure it will bring not peace but harmony, which is much better

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