A number of writers have noted that the woke ideology is now so entrenched in our institutions that it presents a genuine threat to Western culture. The term ‘woke’ had origins that I personally support, that is alertness ‘to racial prejudice and discrimination’. However, over time, those bearing the ‘woke’ label have adopted more extreme positions. It is now associated with intolerance and over-righteous zealots who believe they are morally superior.
Many people complain about political correctness and the woke culture, but it is harder to identify actions that will bring it to an end. Furthermore, sociology Professor Frank Furedi of the University of Kent noted that “If you rely on the existing institutions, they are not going to suddenly reform themselves.” Reform must come from outside these institutions. What is needed is a structured approach to dealing with this, including legislative and institutional changes.
In order to do this, we must first identify how this problem manifests itself and why it is such a cause of concern. This article identifies common manifestations of political correctness that are undermining Western values. It then suggests ways we can address this. My solutions, at this stage are un-formed. This article is merely the beginning of a conversation that needs to be had. We need to implement solutions.
HOW DOES THE PROBLEM MANIFEST ITSELF?
1. At Universities
Universities play a leading role in this process. They nurture the ideologies that are then transmitted to the media, education and other institutions. Behind this is a loss of tolerance and diversity in thought. Jeff Jacoby, writing in the Boston Globe1 noted that academics are over-whelming left leaning:
(Democrats and Greens) (Republicans or Libertarians)
Cornell 166 6
Stanford 151 17
San Diego State 80 11
SUNY Binghamton 35 1
UCLA 141 9
University of Colorado-Boulder 116 5
He also noted that a poll of Ivy League who voted in 2000 found 80% had cast their ballots for Democrat Al Gore while just 9 percent backed Republican George W. Bush.
These figures came from 2004. Since then, the situation has got even worse. In 2015, Duarte et al. noted how the field of psychology was “shifting leftward, the ratio of liberals to conservatives is now greater than 10:1, and there are hardly any conservative students in the pipeline…”
Some people might argue that this is not a problem and the only people concerned are those who vote right-wing. However, many people criticising this situation are actually left-wing voters. They recognise the loss of balance is undermining the development of knowledge. This is a concern for all political parties including Labour. Hence, from now on, I will differentiate between the political-left and the woke-left who are the target of this article.
An example of this concern can be seen in the writings of a group of psychologists led by Jose Duarte who noted that, although psychologists acknowledge the value of diversity of viewpoints to enhance creativity, discovery and problem solving, one key type of viewpoint diversity is lacking at universities today; that is “political diversity”. Duarte and his colleagues did not say if this was affecting the growth of knowledge but they identified three risk points:
Risk point 1: Liberal values and assumptions can become embedded into theory and method…
Risk point 2: Researchers may concentrate on topics that validate the liberal progress narrative and avoid topics that contest that narrative…
Risk point 3: Negative attitudes regarding conservatives can produce a psychological science that mischaracterizes their traits and attributes…
I can now tell you that, without doubt, these risks are valid and can give you examples of how they are manifesting today. Please note that the examples I give are a minor fraction of the examples that I could have given.
1 (a). Editors
The first area where political bias affects knowledge is at the level of academic editors. I could give you numerous examples and have provided an example in the appendix.
Those in the academic world are very aware of the political consequences of what they approve, and the politicisation of research is now fully recognised. For example, Small, Harding and Lamont (2010) made a strong statement on this tendency saying:
None of the three editors of this volume happen to fall on the right of the political spectrum, but our political orientation is beside the point. Whether, when, and how cultural tools and cultural constrains matter is ultimately an empirical not a political question.
An interesting aspect of this comment is all the authors are left wing but they too are complaining about the situation. The consequence is that woke academics are determining what is published and accepted as new knowledge, and it is happening to the point that even left-wing people are upset.
1 (b). Political bias at the reviewer level
If you get past the editor, your work is then sent to two reviewers. This is the second level where the woke-left determine what is considered knowledge. To illustrate this, I will refer to a review of my book “Industrial Development”. This was not a controversial topic so should not have aroused any woke angst, but some paragraphs did, and they were perceived to be so bad that the reviewer did not want my book published. The paragraphs refer to Lee Kuan Yew’s government and the changes he implemented when he came to power. These are the paragraphs that the reviewers thought were offensive:
All governments need to contend with getting the right balance between equity and incentives. The new government had a background in the socialist labour movement and believed in fair shares for all. However, once in power, they learned that rewards and motivation were important to generate economic growth. But this has its limits. An economy based solely on incentives could be undermined by social tensions. They did not want a ‘winner takes all society’ like Hong Kong, so settled on a degree of redistribution in areas like education and housing. These areas became highly controlled by government so that the Housing Development Board provided 85% of the country’s housing.[i]
At the same time, they were cautious not to go too far for this would discourage the high performers. They had personally seen how paternalistic action by the government in Britain had robbed the British people of drive and motivation. Too much state welfare undermines self-reliance. Hence, on this issue, they deferred to traditional Confucian values in which a man is responsible for his family.[ii]
Another threat to social harmony lay in racial differences. Malay students consistently performed poorer at school compared to other students. This also meant they were less likely to contribute to economic growth. To deal with this situation, Lee Kwan Yew met with Malay community leaders and told them the government would support them to address this issue. A positive response from community leaders led to the establishment of Mendaki (Council on Education for Muslim Children). This community-led self-help group focused on values and behaviours and provided extra tuition. The result was a steady improvement in the grades of Malay students.[iii]
The reviewer highlighted the last two paragraphs as being so bad that my book should not be published. S/he was particularly offended by the second paragraph with its negative reference to state welfare and in their eyes, the third paragraph was racist.
My source for my paragraphs were from Lee Kuan Yew’s autobiography so they were historically accurate reflections of the thoughts behind his policies. Whether the reviewer likes it not, these were the thoughts behind Lee Kuan Yew’s successful policies. It seemed the reviewer didn’t want a history published that went against their political views, regardless of its historical accuracy. This is how academics re-shape history and determine what is published as knowledge.
There is no end of examples that I could give but probably my favourite is this, from a reviewer who didn’t want another one of my books published:
“I think the book might be of interest in highly capitalistic contexts and not very well received elsewhere.”
1 (c). On Campus Communication
The third area by which universities spread their political bias is in their communication with students. Many of you will have read the account of Yeonmi Park who defected from North Korea and attended Columbia University. She was struck by the focus on political correctness and claimed “even North Korea isn’t this nuts.” She described how:
“they are forcing you to think the way they want you to think”.
She gave the example of how she loved the writings of Jane Austin, only to be told by her professors that “those writers had a colonial mindset? They were racists and bigots and are subconsciously brainwashing you.’”
I have seen for myself how some lecturers take every opportunity they can to push their political views on their students. For example, students would often tell me how their lecturers told them how bad neo-liberalism and agriculture were. I have seen the same statements at academic conferences. There was no attempt to provide alternative views.
Of course, academics don’t just produce knowledge, they also define the course content at universities and the beliefs of future journalists, civil servants and teachers. This then determines the information received by our children and their parents.
2. History as a Political Resource
Professor Ferudi noted how history is being used as a political resource. We saw this in NZ recently, when proposals were put forward on teaching Maori history in NZ schools. A large number of submissions wanted to concentrate on post 1840 history and ignore what happened before hand. This of course allows people to focus on the bad treatment of Maori by pakeha. The political implications of history were more important than the history itself.
I have met students coming out of teacher’s college who did not know that Maori were cannibals and took slaves, but they knew a long list of bad things that the colonial government had done.
Another example of this was when Paul Goldsmith suggested that there were some benefits to colonialisation. He got brutally attacked and lost his education portfolio. In today’s society, we are only allowed to identify the negative aspects of colonialism.
Students today have no idea of the importance of the enlightenment, the industrial revolution and the scientific revolution. Nor do they know how these forces enhanced human welfare. If they are taught anything about the industrial revolution it is of dark satanic mills, not the modern economy that it led to.
Similarly, if they are taught about slavery, they are taught about how bad white people were. They will not be told that slavery was a behaviour practiced throughout the world, or that it was white people who put an end to it. They certainly will not be taught that the colonial government put an end to slavery in New Zealand.
3. Education institutions definition of harassment
Another point identified by Professor Ferudi is that “even if you offend somebody inadvertently, unwittingly because you don’t mean to offend them, it is still seen as a cause for offense.” This is the case throughout the whole education system and it needs to change.
I used to teach the management of harassment. Traditionally harassment was defined and placed in two categories. The first is category was subjective harassment in which someone claims they feel hurt by another person. However, just because someone is offended does not mean they have been harassed. Hence the second category was “Objective harassment” in which an investigation is done to determine if harassment has occurred. However, today’s education institutions only use subjective harassment in their definition ie if someone says they are offended, they have been harassed.
These policies are based on a simple view of communication. There are a number of models of communication and the following is a simplification, but nevertheless reveals the problem with emerging harassment policies.
Under this process, communication begins with a desire to send a message. So, you encode your message in to words and send the message along the appropriate communication channel. That channel may be as simple as just talking to someone. On receiving the message, the receiver will decode the words and interpret your message. However, they may not interpret the message directly as you sent.
Sender encodes message message sent message decoded message received
Under the current harassment policies, the sender is held responsible for the whole process, but that does not reflect reality. The sender cannot be responsible for how the receiver decodes the message. Secondly, the whole process can be influenced by factors that the sender has no control over. In the communication models, these external interferences are referred to as noise and can include many factors including the receiver’s previous beliefs or messages sent by other people.
Communication is prone to distortions and interpretations and to make one person responsible for the whole process is exceptionally naïve. Most important it gives the receiver a weapon by which they can hurt the sender. In today’s education institutions, the best way to silence opposition is to claim they offend you.
The question you might ask is ‘could a left-wing academic complain about a right-wing academic’s views and have it upheld by left wing managers’? – You bet it does!
Professor Ferudi noted that “Universities have become like a feudal monastery with a very powerful group-think so that young scholars can be scared to voice their opinions with only one narrative that’s allowed.”
a) This leaves right wing people working in education vulnerable.
b) It takes away the need for people to show tolerance – they can complain and create a work climate consistent with their values.
c) We lose diversity of thought.
4. People with right wing views denied the use of government or university halls or speaking rights
We saw this most blatantly when Don Brash was initially blocked from speaking at Massey University. He had been the head of Treasury and the National Party but was deemed to be too extreme for some at the university. Fortunately, the decision was reversed but it tells you how far people at universities will go in order to block people who disagree with them. There is ideological bullying and censorship.
5. Some lecturers migrate here with a mission to change NZ and make it a left-woke paradise
The English journalist Douglas Murray previously stated how Germans led the way in woke behaviour. He noted that when Angela Merkel opened the door to ‘refugees’, Germans went down to train stations with balloons and would high-five people who they knew little about but were letting live in their country. Of course, the Germans are keen to hide their Nazi past, but their motive to prove to the world that they are not racist has resulted in a political zealotry.
I learned from experience not to send articles to any journal based in Germany because they were so closed to anything outside the woke paradigm. I have met many young German and Dutch academics who have come to New Zealand with a mission of spreading their gospel. They want to educate your children on their perception of truth and they make no attempt to disguise this. They want to increase migration, restrict New Zealand farming and, if they get a job in business schools, they want to teach business sustainability, not business. In other words, they want to turn New Zealand into their woke paradise.
Now I want to make it very clear that I am all for environmentally-sustainable business. It is a very important topic, but when I have students coming to me saying they have been made to feel guilty because they are farmers, it is going too far.
Their actions also have a very important implication for NZ culture. For example, in town planning they want us to live in intense housing developments. The days when young kiwis could climb trees and kick balls in their own backyard will go, with implications for the development of children’s motor skills.
(Please note, this criticism does not apply to all migrant academics. I found the Asian academics to be the most open-minded and many remain friends to this day. If there is no change, I predict in the future that Asian universities will surpass those in Europe).
6. Sense of moral superiority and loss of tolerance
Former BBC Journalist Robin Aitkin made a documentary that highlighted how the woke culture had infiltrated the BBC and repeatedly favoured left wing political positions. Another characteristic that he noted was the sense of moral superiority that pervaded the staff.
I also noted this among the left-woke academics, they thought their position was morally superior and justified the offence they feel from right-wing views. They do not need to tolerate right wing views because, in their eyes, these views are morally bankrupt. As British journalist Rod Liddle points out:
“They don’t see it as a bias. They see it as decency. It is this liberal world view – it’s incredibly arrogant that it is decent, and anyone who disagrees with them is indecent beyond the pale.”
7. Tax-payer funded lobby groups
Organisations like the Ministry for Women have as their goal the promotion of certain demographic groups. For example, one of their goals is to get more women on corporate boards. They claim that gender diversity improves corporate performance.
What surprised me when I studied the Ministry’s literature about women on corporate boards is their selective use of research. They only cited research that supported their argument. There is much more research available on this topic, and a lot of it has different results to the reports they used. A summary of the research was provided by Deborah Rhode and Amanda Packel who noted:
despite increasing acceptance of the business case for diversity, empirical evidence on the issue is mixed … Although empirical research has drawn much-needed attention to the underrepresentation of women and minorities on corporate boards, it has not convincingly established that board diversity leads to improved financial performance.
The conclusion of these academics is at contrast to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs which told the New Zealand public that:
The evidence shows that women directors can help companies gain competitive advantage and increase profits, and that companies that have women on their boards outperform those that do not.
In other words, the Ministry have not objectively reviewed the literature. They have only cited the literature that supports their case. Sadly, they are perfectly entitled to do this, as their mandate is to progress the position of women. They have no obligation to be provide a balanced perspective. You could say that they have been dishonest by omission, but the legislation allows them to do this.
8. Positive Discrimination
It is nearly thirty years since the Human Rights Act outlawed discrimination against people on the basis of race, religion and many other characteristics. However, the Bill of Rights gives one exemption. Discrimination could occur to advance groups that were considered disadvantaged. This has come to mean women and ethnic minorities; everyone except white males.
This law was motivated with a good purpose, that is to help disadvantaged people. It was hoped that their leadership would clear barriers to success and provide a leadership model for others to follow. Thirty years later, we have seen that positive discrimination has failed to achieve the results hoped for. A small number of people have been given plum jobs while the majority are no better off.
The vast majority of these demographic groups have not benefitted from these policies. Positive discrimination fails because it ignores the many other factors that determine success.
Of course, the other consequence of these policies is that it provides another vehicle by which anti-white man rhetoric is promulgated. One of the themes that Yeonmi Park noted when she arrived in the West is the constant blaming of the world’s problems on white men – “The world is having all these problems because of white men”.
9. Ministry of Education
The Ministry of Education have a monopoly in determining the curriculum of schools. This monopoly status allows them to ignore the views of parents and fill the curriculum with woke material.
A Christian woman once complained to me about the content her children were being taught at schools. The issue was on transgender studies, and I understand why she was upset given her beliefs, but she was powerless to stop it.
I must stress that she was not criticising the transgender lifestyle nor was she wanting to impose her values on other people. She just didn’t want other people pushing their values on her children. It seems the Ministry of Education give greater emphasis on transgender sensitivities than Christian sensitivities. It left me wondering how the Ministry establish their priorities.
It is interesting to hear the British journalist Douglas Murray talk on gender issues. The first point to note is that Murray is gay and a strong supporter of LGBTQ rights. He notes that the Western political traditions have given him the freedom that he now enjoys, but they are the fruits of that tradition, not the basis of it. The problem today is that these fruits are given priority over the traditions that gave birth to them.
The teaching of tolerance at schools is selective. Some schools encourage students to go out and protest normally along the same political lines of the teachers. Children are taught to protest and complain at a time when they should be learning to understand issues from diverse perspectives. They are not learning to respect and understand people with different views. Nor are they taught tolerance of political ideology and the need to understand those who disagree with them. They are taught to voice the views that their teachers say are disagreeable.
10. A very poor understanding of the western tradition
Many people have no idea of the foundations of the current lifestyle that they now enjoy. They have not even heard of the enlightenment nor know how it and the industrial revolution enhanced human welfare.
Every year, millions of people are migrating to countries based on enlightenment principles. They come from societies that don’t have these values, but the woke-left will not acknowledge the importance of Western principles.
This poor understanding of economics has other implications. For example, they don’t realise that if the economy grows, we can spend more on conservation. The people that want to stop coal and dairy exports are the same people who want to pay nurses more. They will compare what Australia pays nurses and ignore that fact that Australia is the biggest exporter of coal in the world. They also think that the only reason some people are rich is because other people are poor. And the only reason people are poor is because some people are rich.
SOLUTIONS TO THE WOKE WAVE:
Professor Ferudi noted that “If you rely on the existing institutions, they are not going to suddenly reform themselves.” Clearly, outside intervention is needed to end this, and the only organisation with the power to do so is government.
There are limits to what the government can do. For example, they cannot deal with international editors and reviewers. Nevertheless, the next government needs to implement a program to remedy these trends, and restore tolerance and freedom of speech.
The purpose of this section is not to provide fool-proof solutions but to start the discussion on vehicles by which this process can be halted. I fully admit that these ideas are not fully informed and more research is needed. I invite criticism of these ideas as this will allows us to discard the bad ideas and modify those with potential. They are just ideas to start the investigation and get the debate going:
A. At Universities
- Review teacher training programs for embedded political bias. This must not lead to restrictions on left-woke academics who must have freedom of speech. If bias is found, the remedy is to ensure other views are presented.
- Review journalism training programs for embedded political bias.
- It might not be possible to reverse the university trend to left wing people but the current PBRF focus ensures researchers are hired at universities with little understanding of the real world.
- Maybe offer scholarships to study freedom of speech (there are plenty of scholarships for people studying climate change, women issues, etc).
- Education institutions should be fined for not upholding diversity of belief.
- Establish a Free Speech Bureau which includes in its mission monitoring of universities.
- Create a whistle blowing channel for lecturers whose free speech is threatened.
- The National Business Review should hold an annual ranking of business schools which focus on business needs not ideology.
B. Tax-payer funded lobby groups
- Reduce their budgets
- Create a Ministry of Men to counter-balance their views and provide the rest of the research.
C. End all discrimination
- We need to treat white men the same as other members of society and put an end to all discrimination.
D. Ministry of Education
- Provide parents and teachers with more choice in the curriculum.
- Provide plurality in education and removing the monopoly.
- Review the curriculum formation process.
- Establish whistle blowing channels for teachers and trainee teachers.
- Greater power for school boards to determine content.
- Given the politicisation of education, review the education sector for political objectivity
E. Education institutions definition of harassment
- Educational Institutions must not circumvent legal descriptions of harassment.
- Education institutions should be fined if not upholding diversity of belief.
F. People with right wing views denied the use of government or university halls or speaking rights
- Strengthening the Human Rights Act to deal with this.
- Provide fines.
G. School Content
- Introduce in to the curriculum, the role of the enlightenment and other foundations of the quality lifestyle that we now possess.
- Remove social engineering from curriculum
- All students in a modern economy need some basic understanding of the relationship between economic growth and government spending. They also need education on how growth is created to ignore these stupid zero-sum game beliefs. Supply and demand models do not address this, so it is not appropriate to simply ‘teach more economics’. It requires different targeted content.
H. University Donors
- Donors to universities need to be aware of what is happening at the universities before they provide funds.
I. Media requirements
- A legal requirement for the company resulting from the merger of RadioNZ and TVNZ to present political diversity.
One thing is for sure: This process will continue to grow unless action is taken and will not stop own its own accord. It will not stop unless government action is taken.
APPENDIX: One of many examples of editor bias
I once sent a book proposal and sample chapters to an academic publisher. I didn’t know it at the time but the editor had previously stood for the Green party in an English election. She rejected my book without sending it out for review so I wrote back asking for feedback.
The editor replied “I was concerned in particular by generalisations, for instance about race, which didn’t have linked references”.
I was surprised by these comments, so I wrote back asking where in my text had I made generalisations without references. She sent me a couple of examples but, each of them were clearly referenced. Consider the paragraph below:
Academic success is of vital importance for future income streams. However, significant differences in education outcomes exist between ethnic groups, and these differences appear at a very young age. A number of studies have found that White children started kindergarten with significantly higher math and reading scores than Black and Latino children. The scores of Asian children were significantly higher than all1. The differences are so reliable that it justifies an examination of factors within specific racial/ethnic impact on the child’s skills.
I am sure you can see the number 1 on the second to last line. This is the normal referencing system and if she had followed the number up, she would have found that I had referenced a number of articles from very good journals.
I pointed this out to her and she responded that it didn’t matter that my comments were backed up by evidence. It wasn’t the sort of content that she could champion as a commissioning editor.
Now this book was about improving development outcomes for marginalised ethnic groups. It seems that we are allowed to help these people but we can’t admit that there are problems. If someone does not like the politics in your work, they can find all sorts of stupid reasons for not publishing it. For example, this editor criticised a comment in my book that said…
‘For much of humanity, the Chinese have ranked among the wealthiest nations on the planet’
She complained that this comment of mine…
“seems like a very fleeting and understated comment – my understanding as a lay person, is that actually China and Asia’s economic dominance exceeds that of the West by a very long way for most of the last two thousand years.”
In other words, I am saying that China has been one of the richest nations on the planet for most of humanity and she says this comment understates China’s prosperity because it exceeds the West for most of the last two thousand years. How can ‘wealthiest nations on the planet’ be an understatement of China’s wealth?
The irony is, I have I have written a book on the history of Chinese business and know much more about this subject than the editor who, by her own admission, is a lay-person. Yet, with very little knowledge of the subject, she blocked a book that she disagreed with. She represented a feature that I learned to accommodate in my work, that is, I had to write my articles as if they had to be approved by a member of the Green party.
[i] Chang et al. (2013).
[ii] Lee (2000).
[iii] Lee (2000), pp.210–211.