Woke Culture: Devouring Ourselves

I watched a Youtube video this morning of piranhas in a home aquarium. The owner feeds them by putting a chub into the water. For five minutes the piranha take turns calmly nipping at the fish. On minute six, sensing the chub is wounded, the piranhas attack in mass. Thirty seconds later all that is left of the chub, head and backbone, gills still grotesquely trying to breathe, settles to the bottom of the tank as the piranhas go back to peacefully flitting about. I couldn’t help but think of our current culture. It took about three weeks of lockdown last summer before we began feeding on one another – hyper-networked, political, quasi-religious, self-righteous piranhas in frenzy each time a new hot button issue appears in the water.

The price for acceptance by the social media powered activist piranhas is the wholesale adoption of their particular hashtag agenda. People administer purity tests with the fury of a Spanish inquisitor: did you vote for the right candidate? Whose “lives” matter to you? Did you surround your profile pic with the correct virtue signal? Both the Right and the Left engage in this. All dissent is “canceled” with a religious fervor. Be aware: if you dare not conform to the standard there is no redemption, there is no atonement, there is no path for forgiveness. There is only the swarming of the school as the voices of vitriol catechize us to despise the non-endorsers.

Australian pastor and social observer, Mark Sayers recently discussed (Rebuilders podcast) that while we were once polarized Right vs Left, increasingly we are divided into a plethora of competing hashtag virtue camps. We measure ourselves by the number of “friends” on our impersonal social networks and seek the validation of their “likes” – trapped in the online equivalent of Sally Fields 1985 Oscar speech, “You like me!

As Peggy Noonan reminded us in the Wall Street Journal last week, the boundaries are being redrawn in real time around dozens of single issues. Yet the results are remarkably consistent across those issues: We are measured by the correctness of our superior beliefs and the irredeemable evil of all outside our digital tribes. And the outsiders must be eaten. As not-woke enough progressive Andrew Sullivan wrote on July 9, “you are either fighting this and ‘on the right side of history,’ or you are against it and abetting evil. There is no neutrality. No space for skepticism. No room for debate. No space even for staying silent. (Silence, remember, is violence — perhaps the most profoundly anti-liberal slogan ever invented.)” When confronted by a non-conforming view we school, swarm and consume. 

The interesting thing, though, is that while we may hold divergent positions, when we look at the way people actually live: they way they use their time, money, and sexuality…behind the ideological bumper stickers, the life-scripts are nearly identical: hyper-individualism lived out on Instagram, TikTok, and dating apps.

Few notice that, despite how politically varied our Facebook activism might be, it produces eerily similar people: needing external affirmation to find meaning; dismissing anyone outside their network…living life at the depth of carefully curated and shared social media memes.

This is no recipe for a lasting culture. It is a recipe for anxiety and depression. Look at the rise in prescription medication and therapeutic relationships for those with health insurance, and the self-medication of addiction for those without. The bones falling to the bottom of the tank are our own.

Screen Capture of the head and backbone of that consumed chub fish.

Postscript: In this feeding frenzy we are told there are only two positions: predator and prey. If there really are only two positions, I will gladly be fish food. 

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32 

13 thoughts on “Woke Culture: Devouring Ourselves

  1. I wish I could say something more profound than, “Well done,” Matt, but, “Well done.” I’m either reasonably intelligent and most of this I’ve already noted to myself, or else it’s all just so obvious as to be absurd. My fear is that it’s the latter and Kafka, Nietzsche and Sartre all are snickering in whatever quarters of the underworld they’re occupying. My solace is in reading this morning that Christian faith is taking hold in Iran, and the onetime revolutionaries (for how can you have a 40-year-old revolution?) are fearful.

  2. So I do /not/ feel like signing in to leave a comment, BUT thanks for this read. I hope you and Kari are doing well!

  3. You nailed it…sadly enough. The question comes…how can “wiser” heads “parent” these people into the future?

  4. I am so tired of thinking that those who disagree with me are evil and even more tired of having to remind myself that I am thinking incorrectly. I would so like to be able to have a conversation that ends: “we disagree. Want to go for ice cream?”

  5. When I talk to my kids about the pre-internet world, it feels like I might as well have been talking about my life in ancient Egypt. They have never seen a rotary phone, and can not believe that everyone necessarily had 20-30 phone numbers memorized just to maintain adequate communications among friends and family.

    The advance of communication technologies has made the world logarithmically smaller, but has simultaneously rendered the distance and alienation of individual people from each other (and even from themselves) exponentially greater.

    The internet and social media has seemingly reduced our humanity in the aggregate. It has normalized a mode and tone of human interaction that would have resulted in violence (whether school yard fights or murders) in any other social context.

    This predicament is extremely useful to the political forces that seek to divide us against each other to increase their power. We can expect those people to resist any change of trajectory.

    • Hi Adam, it is amazing that we can have the illusion of more connectivity, with the reality that we have created a world of online bullies with our near anonymity. You have hit on something with “political forces.” I would add to it “a few big tech companies” which have also leveraged “engagement at any cost” for their benefit to the detriment of our souls.

      • After many years of thinking about politics, I have come to believe that most political problems are fundamentally spiritual problems. The abrogation by the political class of the spiritual values (in our case Judeo-Christian spiritual values) that have been the foundation of all great human cultures together for the entirety of human history.

        From Sumeria, to Greece, to Rome, to modern Christendom, the cycle is the same. The political state is founded and forged by men and women of great faith and spiritual dignity. The golden age then gives way to decadence, leading to an accelerating phase of spiritual decline, culminating in a near total rejection (and even inversion) of religion, faith, and morality. Finally objective reality itself is discarded, and people are convinced that 2 plus 2 equals 5. This is unfortunately where I see Christendom in 2021.

        The tech companies have power over the public mind that was unimaginable even ten years ago. They are also wholly controlled and directed by the very people who are committed to the rejection of Christianity, Christian values, monogamy, traditional marriage, self Discipline, sexual continence, hard work, personal integrity, individualism, and free speech/ thought. They are politburo for the political forces of anti-Christianity.

        My question is: what if anything can be done? How can we win the debate if we aren’t allowed to talk?

        President Kennedy said, “the people who make peaceful revolution impossible, make violent revolution inevitable”. Are those “people” the ones running Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Etc.?

        • Hi Adam. Your assessment of the history of civilizations seems accurate to me. The beauty is that the world will never have the last word. Oh, America will surely crumble as we descend into toxic narcissism and the morality of the consensus of the latest Instagram like, but I believe “The Patient Ferment” of the church (to quote Alan Kreider) will again emerge. The blood of the martyrs will again be the seed of the church.

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