Woke or Based?


I read an interesting essay the other day by James Lindsay, one of those who spoofed several journals by writing nonsensical, but Foucauldian-sounding scholarly papers, and getting them published. He and Helen Pluckrose then wrote the book Cynical Theories about the experience.

At any rate, the essay puts forward the idea that there is a war being waged by those are considered "progressive," or "woke," against those who are viewed as not sharing their views. The issue has been, according to Lindsay, that those on the receiving end of this treatment have not mobilized, in part because they don't know what they stand for--all they know is that they disagree with wokeness.

So Lindsay suggests they mobilize around the premise that they refuse to lie about reality, and he proposes they term that position "Based." "Based" is apparently slang in the online world of 4chan where it means (more or less) "based in reality." So Lindsay proposes those who reject wokeness call themselves based and make a stand thereby. Here are some of his thoughts on the subject:

"We have found ourselves in yet another period in human history when the many millions believe—or at least pretend to believe—outright, transparent lies about the nature of reality, both social and material. What’s more, our elites and the institutions they command have taken the repetition and promulgation of these lies as sure marks of both status and, believe it or not, sanity. That is, once again the lie is coming into the world, and we have been forced to ask ourselves: will it triumph? . . . [I]ts answer depends on how many people are willing to get based and stay that wa . . . [T]here’s just one option. It’s time to get based and help other people get based. It’s time for based nation. It’s time for a based movement.."

"To be based, simply enough, begins with being willing to speak your mind and state objectively true facts about the world even when people don’t like you for it. It means neither lying nor apologizing just because the crowd expects you to, least of all under the absurd implication that doing so makes you more virtuous and brave. It is the refusal to be concerned with what other people think of you when you’re being yourself and the recognition that it doesn’t even make sense to apologize for being true to yourself and your values, telling the truth as well as you can see it, or making a joke, even a bad one. In judo and jujitsu, base is what keeps you from getting thrown, swept, or flipped. Having base is based."

"[Lies hold up] a tyranny simultaneously doomed to fail and, according to the preposterous theory informing it, unable to fail. The lies serve this intolerable contradiction, and, in the end, so does the censorship, the gaslighting, the caprice, and the murder, by the tens of millions, if necessary. . . There are, in the end, only two things that can tear such a regime down, and they are, as it happens, interrelated. They are the two most powerful weapons against tyranny in the human arsenal: telling the truth, including by refusing the lie, and laughter. Both are based, and to win both are necessary."

"Humor isn’t necessary but is the key to being truly based. Absurdity must be exposed, and no acid is more corrosive to the absurdity of tyranny than laughter pointed in its general direction. So, while being based begins with being unapologetic in yourself and the truth, whatever anyone thinks, it does this ideally while being funny. Power, as it happens, abhors a laugh. . . Jokes are subversive. Jokes erode power everywhere it is abused. Jokes burn off the dead wood and leave what’s green, what’s authentic, untouched."

"[T]he difference between being based and being Woke is the difference between laughter and shame. Comedy and satire have always had incredible subversive potential against illegitimate power because they get those seduced by that power to laugh at themselves for being a bunch of rubes and fools. That makes them based. Shame has no subversive potential. It’s the tool of tools and scolds. It bends people only to a certain point, and that point is precisely the moment at which they finally laugh. This is why based will always defeat Woke. . . the truly absurd cannot possibly abide people who completely refuse to take them seriously. . . Being based is little more, then, than a laughing refusal to be pushed around by the preposterous. It’s a refusal to go along with the crowd when the crowd has gone mad."

There is more than a bit of good sense in what Lindsay has to say. If people are to resist mental coercion--and that's precisely what cancel culture is--they are going to need to be rooted in some position, some defensible position. Being based in reality, living not by lies, and laughing may be the a pretty good prescription to resist the soft totalitarianism that seems to be creeping into our society and our institutions. It's worth some consideration by those who are concerned by these trends.