Earlier, by Ann Coulter: Donald McNeil And The Attack Of The Woke Teen Career Killers
In 2019, I reported that British academic Noah Carl had found, using a Twitter survey (a forecasting method for which there’s surprising scientific support) that (incredible as it may then have seemed) we were probably still pre-Peak Woke. The 2020 Black Lives Matter “Moral Panic” has cleared proved that Carl’s Twitter followers were right. Can this go on forever? The good news: those who have researched Moral Panics have found that they always eventually burn out. The bad news: they can leave a relatively permanent legacy. The less obvious news: they happen because powerful interests feel afraid.
Certainly, the BLM Moral Panic has reached insane levels. This is nowhere clearer than in the way in which the very same anti-racist liberals who have spent decades setting up our current “racism”-obsessed society are now themselves being burnt alive thanks to an ever-intensifying witch-hunt for previous alleged racial insensitivity. Most recently, New York Times stalwart Donald McNeil has been “struggled against” in the BLM-Maoist Cultural Revolution.
McNeil’s crime: to have repeated the “n-word” when discussing, with a group of students, whether it was acceptable to use it in certain contexts e.g. rap songs. With this past blasphemy unearthed—along with his failure to immediately recant—he has been metaphorically burned at the stake.
One of Carl’s Twitter followers quoted in my 2019 article asserted: “Wait until the millennials are in societal leadership positions in 5 to 10 years’ time and Gen Z are all in their 20s, that’s when we’ll hit Peak Woke.”
Maybe it only took three years.
Strangely, the dynamics of Moral Panics appears to have been little-explored of late. But there was a sociological study in 1994 [Moral Panics, Annual Review of Sociology, 1994] by Erich Goode, now of State University of New York, and Nachman Ben-Yehuda of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The authors observed that Moral Panics are defined by a period of intense concern about some perceived harm that is out of all proportion to the extent of that harm. Moral Panics are usually relatively short-lived, at least in their most intense phase, and they involve combatting the source of the supposed “harm” by very clearly creating “folk devils.” These “folk devils” are persecuted, thus drawing the boundaries of what is acceptable in society anew and more starkly.
Crucially, these panics occur at times of change or challenge when a society, its leaders or some interest group within it, feels threatened.
At periods of particular Moral Panic intensity, such as we are in now over “race” and the “Far Right,” even minor “deviations” can result in becoming embroiled in what McNeil has rightly called a “witch hunt.” However, according to Goode and Ben-Yehuda’s assessment of historical Moral Panics, they can be compared to the charismatic leaders of religious revivals, who excite and inspire their followers. With the passing of the charismatic leader, emotions die down and order is restored, although there may be a lasting “legacy,” such as new laws or slightly altered attitudes.
As a clearly elite-driven Moral Panic, the authors give the example of attitudes to marijuana in America. In 1930, it was only illegal in six states. However, the authorities were concerned about the lack of control over drug-taking, so they effectively initiated a Moral Panic over the dangers of narcotics through a newspaper campaign. By the end of the decade, marijuana was outlawed—an example of a “legacy” that extends to this day.
Some panics are initiated by those in the middle of society or even at its base. The authors give the example of the panic in Britain in 1964 over “Mods and Rockers.” This was originally sparked by two youth gangs having a fight on a beach. However, it symbolized the feeling of many Britons that the traditional, conservative society was falling apart. Reflecting these concerns, the newspapers heavily exaggerated the situation, triggering a Moral Panic.
For special interest groups, the authors give the example of the “Satanic child abuse” Moral Panic of the 1980s. This, they argue, was spear-headed by evangelical Christians who felt anxiety over the increasing marginalization of religion. It helped to draw a clear boundary with “Christians” as the manifest good guys.
Of course, this research was conducted by sociologists. And even in 1994 sociology departments were extremely left-wing, though nowhere near as biased as they are now, when at least 90 percent of them are Leftists [Why are so many social scientists left-liberal? by William Reville, The Irish Times, February 5, 2015].
Thus, we would not expect them to deal with a Moral Panic set off by the Left. Clearly, BLM is a more obvious example of a Moral Panic that has been manufactured by special interest groups—specifically ethnic minority lobbies and white Leftists, who have been in a state of profound anxiety about the rise of Donald Trump, and what it says about what has happened to the “liberal” society in which they have a strong vested interest. Accordingly, the death of the black criminal George Floyd and the predictable black riots that resulted were used as a means of manufacturing a Moral Panic over “race.”
As the authors noted, in the fervor of a Moral Panic—such as the Salem Witch Trials—people will be so anxious that they will denounce others in order to signal their righteousness and thus avoid being denounced themselves. And once you are denounced, there is no defense. Anybody who has made any enemies is in trouble, for example an old white man whom the Young Turks might want to replace, such as McNeil.
In fact, as researcher Peter Turchin has noted, the “elite over-production” we have seen in recent decades—far too many graduates looking for far too few graduate jobs—would incentivize young Leftists to find ways of “struggling against” their own Old Guard, for example cancelling them for long-ago slips of the tongue, all the while brimming with righteous fervor. As Turchin puts it: “Who gets ahead is no longer the most capable, but [the one] who is willing to play dirtier” [We’re on the verge of breakdown: a data scientist’s take on Trump and Biden, by Edward Helmore, The Guardian, January 17, 2021].
Quite why we started to become more pro-Woke around 2008 is unclear. One possibility is that this is when a number of generational “tipping points” were reached; it having been shown that once about 20 percent of a group support a new perspective it gains momentum leading to mass defections [Experimental evidence for tipping points in social convention, by D. Centola et al., Science, 2018]. By 2008, most of those born in the 1920s—the “Greatest Generation”—were dead and those born in the 1930s and 1940s were retiring. People born in 1970s were moving into positions of power and those born in 1980s, suffering from huge elite-production, were struggling to find elite positions, compounded by an economic downturn.
This may be why the tipping point was hit around that time.
The now decades-old research by Goode and Ben-Yehuda seems to give some reason for optimism about the future, however.
This may be why our current Moral Panic is so intense—the “Folk Devil” actually got a taste of power.
On some level, the American Liberal Elite know Trump could have imposed terrible and unpredictable change that would have threatened their interests.
And that this change might still happen.
Lance Welton [email him] is the pen name of a freelance journalist living in New York.