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Wokeness: a study in knee socks and achievement certificates

By Lillian Andrews - posted Monday, 21 February 2022

Many scholarly and carefully researched articles have attempted to identify the genesis of wokeness. These admirable tomes canvass everything from post-modernism, to technology, to profound existential philosophy. Myself, I believe that most human behaviour can be understood by watching primates in the wild. For the rest, just think back to high school and you won’t be far wrong.

Anyone who has a ‘4’ in front of their age would remember a group of girls at school who cared (you know, back before caring became mandatory). They cared about the starving Ethiopians, while gobbling down bags of barley sugar during the 40 hour famine and sighing that it, like, really made them understand hunger. They cared about saving the planet, signing up to fundraise for whichever environmental group was churning out the most scary publicity about the greenhouse effect. They cared about the children, piously demanding that the school sponsor a child in a third world country instead of buying new library books, because how can you care about books when children have no clean water?! Above all, they just wanted world peace, because that was the thing to care about.

Look – Jacinda Ardern’s been given a special place at assembly to talk about how if we don’t care, children will die. Hi Jac!


It wasn’t just girls. A handful of boys also professed undying devotion to whatever cause was fashionable, but their claims about saving the world always sounded slightly forced. One could almost suspect that their devotion was not to the starving Ethiopians, but to the faint hope that displaying new age sensitivity might get them a grab of boob that otherwise eluded them.

Hey Justin T! It’s cool you finally have a girlfriend!

In hindsight, it is clear that these kids were deeply insecure in that particular, confused-about-everything way that only teenagers can be. In the days before mass mental illness, overly anxious parents, and fashionable gender identity confusion, they still needed something to make them feel different and special. So they figured that “caring” would make people like them more – or at least pretend to - as well as give them a cloak of altruism that allowed them to take out their nastiness on others without retribution. They were, fundamentally, cunning but not very bright bullies who desperately wanted to be popular.

Occasionally a teacher, who was far braver and more thoughtful than anything an education degree now spits out, would gently ask how they proposed in practice to alleviate starvation, bring about meaningful environmental change, raise children out of poverty, or achieve world peace. Their response was an angry yet disconcertingly blank stare and huffy insistence that if everybody just wanted it enough, it would happen. Then they would go back to their latest Dolly magazine, to see if it held the answers. It didn’t.

Shhh – the wanna-be political advisor gang are over there, right next to the feminists!

Teachers were also the only ones who could get away with challenging these paragons of virtue, who had viciousness down to a fine art. Despite being quickest to champion behavioural rules like “no put downs”, they were the first to malign and ostracise anybody who didn’t agree with them. Pretending to think the “right” things was the easiest way to avoid becoming a target, and it really didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things anyway - what harm could it do to just pretend to care? Enter the relentless mob mentality of ruthlessly hounding dissent into submission, and capitulation to blatant stupidity in the pursuit of peace.


You look really nice today, pretty much all academics, every Australian media “personality,” and the major political parties. Honest!

The difference is that back then, nobody took these types too seriously. It was painfully obvious to everybody but themselves that they had no real answers to the problems of the world – just earnest faces and admirable but ultimately simplistic beliefs. Their parents, who had things to do like hold down jobs, pay bills, and deal with the many and varied unpleasant realities of being adults, shook their heads tiredly and figured it was a passing phase. Unfortunately, this coincided with the cult of self-esteem coming into its own, so actually telling kids they were wrong or expecting them to be able to intelligently justify their position became quite the no-no.

Oooh, I see you over there, cancel culture!

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About the Author

Lillian Andrews writes about politics, society, feminism, and anything else that interests her.

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