Let’s Re-Claim “Woke”

It’s about respect, not about censorship

I’m going to posit a new working definition of the word Woke.

Woke: Respecting the history and life experience of historically marginalized people and treating historically marginalized people with dignity.

Hopefully that’s a pretty straightforward definition for most of you. Because if that definition stands, then the opposite is also true.

Anti-Woke: Disrespecting the history and life experience of historically marginalized people and treating historically marginalized people without dignity.

I think that second definition is more useful. Sure, you can be anti-woke. Sure, you can disrespect marginalized people – but if you are disrespecting marginalized people get the f**k out of the public square and come back when you have calmed down and can behave with dignity and respect again. This doesn’t require the government to step in. It doesn’t require arguments about the first amendment. It requires adults to step in when someone has lost their head and setting them straight. And if you refuse to show marginalized people respect and dignity? Then we all know who you are and what you are about.

But, if you aren’t able to respect or dignify marginalized people… move out of the United States. Because this country is filled with folks who have historically been marginalized, daily life is going to be rough for you. Move away. This country is the land of the free and the home of the brave. If you aren’t brave enough to show people basic respect, you aren’t brave enough to be an American. You are too fragile to be American.

This brings me to a fundamental misunderstanding of humanity in our modern social media platforms. Facebook figured out that posts that elicit anger get more interactions, keeping more people on their platform longer. They didn’t realize that the anger is people’s innate instinct to reign in people who are being assholes. So the more they boosted asshole content, the more people felt the need to reign it in. Why does this matter? Because if you are going to facilitate the public square, you need to actually facilitate it. If someone is showing up and getting everyone to yell at them, it’s time to remove them and take some time to get their head straight. Not encourage their asshole behavior. When you do that, when you let regular people see that no one is going to stop the assholes, then you give the space over to the assholes. Without regulation, bad actors do whatever they want. You have now ceded your public square to the worst of us. Whatever discussions that educate, provoke the intellect, create friendly and loving connections, and stir the soul have now taken a back seat to assholes yelling.

Facebook and Twitter (every other social media platform seems to aspire to be them) have created a public square and signed up to be the facilitators. They seem not to realize, though, that the role of the facilitator is the most important role in the public square. If people can’t trust the facilitator to facilitate fairly and to make sure the public square is a safe place to be, they will leave. Twitter, at this moment, seems to be wrapped up in thinking they have to enforce everyone’s first amendment rights. But Twitter has no obligation to let everyone speak whatever they want on their platform. In fact, the opposite is true. If they allow everyone to say whatever, then the entire place will devolve into bots and assholes yelling at each other. Twitter, if it wants to maintain it’s user base, needs to let it’s users know that they can safely be there. So far, it has failed to do so. The first amendment only applies to the US Government. Twitter is not the government.

If you actually value conversations that help people to change how they view the world, you have to ensure that they are experiencing psychological safety. What is psychological safety?

For those of you who need a url, check out this url: https://www.ccl.org/articles/leading-effectively-articles/what-is-psychological-safety-at-work/

If you are a free speech absolutist, then you aren’t going to stop people from being punished, humiliated, or shouted down for sharing their ideas. Eventually, you are going to cede your entire space to the yellers – because people who want to do other things aren’t going to hang out in your space.

So how do you reign in assholes without making them feel like they are being targeted for their deeply held beliefs? That’s a hard thing to do. It takes a combination of skills and abilities – and even the people who are good at it are continually bumping up against new challenges in that endeavor. But we have no evidence that people who write code for a living are especially skilled in that work.

Of course, all that I’m talking about unfolds over time. We’re seeing the decline of facebook because they have demonstrated their inability to facilitate effectively. Twitter claims that they are doing well… but we’ll see the reality as the months and years play out.

In the meantime, folks, let’s keep showing people dignity and respect.

Writing through Writer’s Block

Ok, ok. So for years I’ve said (mostly to myself) that I don’t get writer’s block. But here I am, stuck with it for months now. But if I don’t get writer’s block…? I’ve always felt that the thing to do with writer’s block is to write exactly what you are thinking. That is what I’ve been reluctant to do, and that’s why I’ve been stuck. So here are the things on my mind…

Seeing Elon Musk out himself as intellectually vapid with fascist leanings in his take over of Twitter has been something. I mean, being a native of Silicon Valley, I’ve known about his shortcomings for a long time. But to see someone completely expose himself on a worldwide scale so quickly… I did not think he would do so much obviously dumb stuff so fast.

Being a burner, I’ll never forget Elon criticizing someone by saying that they have “never been to Burning Man.” Well, now it’s clear to me that Elon managed to insulate himself so much from the experience that he didn’t learn some of the fundamental things that people learn for themselves when they go to Burning Man; namely, a commitment to community. Elon, at this moment, seems to be most interested in self aggrandizement. Just as the shine is coming off of another self aggrandizer in America (Trump), Elon shows up to take his place.

I’ve said (to myself) for a while now, American culture has a fetish for achievement. But it’s shiny “look at how perfect I am!” achievement, not the achievement that comes from hard work, failure, and mistakes. So people like Musk, like Trump, spit-shine their failures and manage to actually accomplish very little – all while claiming that they can do anything. With enough money, you can make any mistake look like a success. Musk and Trump had enough money from the beginning.

I’m sure part of my reluctance to write about my true feelings about the world is that I am now the Executive Director of an organization. I haven’t wanted my thoughts to be construed as the official statements of the organization that I have built. So I’ve said nothing…

Which is not healthy. And the truth is, is that I have always kept a bright big line between what I say and do in a professional capacity and what I don’t. Writing this blog gives me clarity. Writing this blog is about the thoughts that I am thinking. My work is not about that.

So, what else is on my mind? I’m pretty darn proud of my oldest daughter these days. Why is enough for a whole blog itself… so keep your eye out for that. You may have a hint if you follow my wife on facebook, though.

So, the fight to maintain democracy goes on in America. This is something that deserves a lot more writing from me, since it’s something that’s on my mind a lot – but I’ll collect my thoughts before I publish them.

Meanwhile, I think I’ve said what I need to say today.