And I’ve Found a Good Replacement
“Woke” is such a handy catch-all for the various forces making America miserable that it’s easy to forget we’re using our opponent’s term. And it’s a well-chosen one. It implies rejecting complacency in order to question received, official narratives. It implies looking beyond our self-interest to become aware of the suffering of our fellow man. What kind of moral cretin would oppose that?
We need a word that better captures how wokeism warps these virtues into weapons for seizing power and securing personal advancement. And it needs to be non-partisan: cynical strivers can be found wrapping themselves in both American and rainbow flags.
The work of the late critic and Army infantry vet Paul Fussell suggests a promising replacement: “chickenshit.” He defines it in his 1990 memoir-cum-cultural history, Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War:
Chickenshit refers to behavior that makes military life worse than it need be: petty harassment of the weak by the strong; open scrimmage for power and authority and prestige; sadism thinly disguised as necessary discipline; a constant “paying off of old scores”; and insistence on the letter rather than the spirit of the ordinances. Chickenshit is so called- instead of horse or bull- or elephant shit- because it is small- minded and ignoble and takes the trivial seriously. Chickenshit can be recognized instantly because it never has anything to do with winning the war.
We’re in a war, we’ve been told, against enemies no good person would defend: “racism,” “hate,’ “white supremacy.” What it ends up being is a war against the qualities that constitute our shared humanity: humor, reason, irony, empathy, joy. A force that would seek to root out and destroy these qualities, consciously or not, deserves both stern condemnation and lighthearted mockery. “Chickenshit” nails it.
Fussell’s harrowing combat experience instilled in him something all who risk life and limb in war share: “…an instinctive skepticism about pretension, publicly enunciated truths, the vanities of learning, and the pomp of authority.” In his long career, Fussell applied this skepticism with special scorn to those who obscure reality with euphemism, emotional appeals, and high-minded rhetoric.
It’s common to encounter these diversionary tactics in corporate media across the ideological spectrum. The small team behind Upward News seeks to stick to the facts, and present the news in a way that informs rather than propagandizes. To give their concise, daily email a try, subscribe here for free.
Whatever we want to call the relentless attack on common sense, civil disagreement, and good old-fashioned fun we’re enduring, what can we do about it? In many ways the best practice is to live our lives without apology. But noted “fascist,” “Nazi,” and “Jewish, female version of Kanye West” Bari Weiss has compiled a few other simple actions you can take to resist the mind virus, including “Trust your own eyes and ears” and “Use your capital to build original, interesting, and generative things right now.” Enjoy the full list here.
An overlooked downside of our culture’s obsession with “toxic masculinity” is the decreased tolerance for the kind of dumb but impressive feats of strength and dexterity that only guys seem to attempt. Organized sports may have fallen to the tag team of Big Race and Big Gender, but the spirit of goofy ingenuity survives in the cunning stunts of David and Daniel Hulett. They founded their viral empire during the Covid lockdowns with a beloved bro classic: sinking a ping pong ball into a red Solo cup. Since then, the Hulett brothers have incorporated common dorm room items into trick shots of increasing complexity. Very enjoyable to watch, and might even give you some ideas the next time you’re bored. In other words, do try this at home.
Hugh Grant didn’t do anything especially heroic or virtuous Sunday night. He showed up to one of those boring, obligatory industry functions many of us have to deal with. He did handle his presenter duties with above-average aplomb (the charmingly blunt quip likening his aging matinee idol face to a “scrotum” was funny), but that’s a job with a famously low bar for success. His modest triumph happened before the show, during the interminable series of “red carpet interviews” that always precede these things. He didn’t say anything shocking or insulting, but the short clip of him barely mustering the energy to answer Ashley Graham’s questions went viral nonetheless. The clickbait headlines trumpet his epic “rudeness,” but I think the appeal is something else entirely: the utter sincerity of his weary indifference to this increasingly irrelevant spectacle. Scolds who say he should have stayed home are missing the point: sometimes phoning it in is the most subversive act of all.