19

I'm aware of "woke" and "cancel culture" being used by conservatives as pejorative terms and by others as non-pejorative attempts to describe the visible trend of fierce protest against (perceived) conservative agendas and for (perceived) progressive agendas.

Attempts to discuss the values or methods of "woke ideology" or "cancel culture" are often met with the claim that these things don't exist, which they don't inasmuch as there is no formal Woke Organization or Cancel Party. Or that they are "just normal people". Perhaps I'm wrong, but I would argue that there are common political values being expressed in:

  • What is being criticized. Both conservative values and the status quo.
  • What is being advocated for. Civil rights, with demands for certain types (?) of corrective action.
  • How political action is made. Disruptive protest, including denial of access, shutting down events, shaming (?) professionals (usually celebrities), and technical (?) disruptions.

A conservative might reject any one of these actions because they reject the underlying political values. Someone apolitical might reject these actions as unnecessarily disruptive. A progressive activists might share many values with this movement, but strongly reject some arguments, values, actions or demands as illiberal or even regressive. Someone else might not participate at all, but still feel a strong political affiliation with this movement (they would support leaders who emerge from this movement).

Given that "woke" and "cancel" are rejected, what umbrella term do participants in these activities use to describe themselves? Alternatively, is there an existing term that accurately and completely describes this political philosophy? ("Progressive" would be far too broad, for example.)

11
  • 5
    But boycotts - i.e. cancel culture more generic ancestor - have been used by both sides. On the other hand, deplatforming - i.e. banning on Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, etc isn't strictly the same thing as cancel culture, since the actors doing it are much centralized. Whoisit has the best answer - which I noticed after writing this comment - but I am not sure how much we've learned here, it's not like there is a long established history of a given school of thought (i.e. neocons) having put forward its formal viewpoints. "Woke" isn't very much to pin a formal set of principles on. Commented Jan 20, 2023 at 18:26
  • 11
    Related youtube.com/watch?v=CaZd_0mNOZY the story of "parental advisory" stickers on the front of music sold retail. There was cancel culture long before it was recognised with a name. (comment because not an answer but still relevant and interesting.)
    – Criggie
    Commented Jan 20, 2023 at 22:33
  • 7
    I think you'd have to clearly define what you mean by "woke and cancel groups" in order to make this question answerable. Would you say that the phrase "woke and cancel groups" could be defined as "left-wing groups which attempt to shut down specific speaking engagements and shame professionals for holding certain views"? If not, how would you define the phrase? Commented Jan 21, 2023 at 0:05
  • 6
    "I would argue that there is a unifying political philosophy here" If you're talking about the specifics, you're probably not right with that, because every issue is different. In generalities though, they clearly all fall under the banners of promoting civil rights and human right, and opposing people who are in favour of removing or reducing rights for minorities. Is that too general for your question?
    – Graham
    Commented Jan 21, 2023 at 11:18
  • 6
    You answered you're own question - these don't actually exist as organized groups so they can't call themselves anything. I would recommend that you stop trying to find big umbrella terms to describe people and opinions which don't neatly fit under an umbrella. You're never going to do this effectively without straw-manning a bunch of people. Instead, just be specific and promote or criticize the individual issues you agree or disagree with. Commented Jan 22, 2023 at 23:05

8 Answers 8

46

Progressive groups

The "woke" ideology is, in essence, being conscious of various prevailing discriminations, and actively working to reform the system against such.

They would like to call themselves Progressives, or Social Reformists.

7
  • 2
    OP writes that Liberal is far too broad. So maybe explain why Progressive is more specific? Maybe add a quote from that link which does that? Commented Jan 20, 2023 at 23:35
  • 1
    I think in some cases "anti-racist" also. For example, those who promote critical race theory likely see themselves as anti-racist. Commented Jan 21, 2023 at 2:44
  • 5
    Progressive is definitely a lot more specific than "liberal", which can encompass anyone from Friedrich Hayek to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: Liberal can mean anything from free-market, low-tariff economics ("classical liberalism") to centrism (the British Liberal Party and Liberal Democrats), to in the US most centre-left and leftist politicians.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jan 21, 2023 at 17:33
  • 3
    In a strange twist, "liberal" means exactly what Wikipedia says it does - even though almost everyone abuses the term to mean nothing coherent, and even though Wikipedia is usually biased and wrong about anything even slightly political. "Liberalism is a political and moral philosophy based on the rights of the individual, liberty, consent of the governed, political equality and equality before the law.[1][2][3]" It's really quite simple, yet somehow almost nobody can keep it straight. Commented Jan 22, 2023 at 14:43
  • (A previous version, which I recalled, listed only "liberty, consent of the governed, and equality before the law" in the lede. The other points flow naturally.) Commented Jan 22, 2023 at 14:44
28

Wikipedia defines "woke" as:

a broader awareness of social inequalities such as sexism, and has also been used as shorthand for American Left ideas involving identity politics and social justice, such as the notion of white privilege and slavery reparations for African Americans.

The term actually used to be used as a self-description. As in "I woke up from my slumber and became aware of the systematic injustice around me". But since the term was appropriated by conservative circles as a derogatory fighting-word, it is rarely used as a self-description.

A more classic political term of the ideology that society is injust and should be progressed to one that gives more equity to marginalized groups is usually referred to as progressivism or social liberalism, which are labels most opponent of bigotry would probably be comfortable with. Some of the more radical adherents to this philosophy like to refer to themselves as anti-fascist (or "antifa", for short). Their idea is that othering and discriminating groups of society and enforcing conformity with traditional lifestyles and means of self-expression is an inherent element of fascism. (that's how they self-describe. Please, no debate about the definition of fascism again!)


"Cancel Culture", on the other hand, is a term which can not really be attributed to any particular political ideology. "Canceling" or demanding the deplatforming of celebrities with political opinions one does not agree with, is a strategy that is employed by pretty much all political ideologies. There were both people who demanded that TV entertainers should lose their shows for making racist posts on social media, as well as people who demanded that American football players who protested against racism by refusing to stand during the national anthem shouldn't be allowed to play anymore.

We could now of course debate about which adherents of which political idea use this strategy the most or who is most successful with it. But that's not really productive, because it's really just finger-pointing. It's like asking "how do people who participate in public protests with signs call themselves" or "how do people who participate in letter campaigns call themselves". The term would probably be "political activist". But that's probably not what you are looking for.

9
  • 2
    Does the conservative-imposed label "woke" have the same meaning as the self-imposed one? Commented Jan 20, 2023 at 15:34
  • 21
    @user253751 Conservatives are not a hive-mind, and progressives aren't one either. So some people will use and understand the term different than others.
    – Philipp
    Commented Jan 20, 2023 at 15:42
  • 6
    For what it's worth, this pattern is definitely not new. Essentially the same path happened with "politically correct", although starting from Communist writings, rather than African-American vernacular.
    – origimbo
    Commented Jan 20, 2023 at 16:11
  • 7
    @user253751 The Conservative label is used as a critique of the liberal-progressive label, and conservatives typically will call out grievances they have with the philosophy. Going off of Phillip's comment of a lack of Hive Mind, there are conservatives who note hypocritical behaviors of those who are self-described as woke. In addition to origimbo's statement, Social Justice Warrior is another such term that this happened to, and for a reverse, Compassionate Conservative was similarly mocked by the left after being coined by the right.
    – hszmv
    Commented Jan 20, 2023 at 16:53
  • 2
    @user253751 I agree with philipp statement that everyone views terms differently. I'd say progressive means more then the literal definition of woke. For instance switching to a healthcare for all system is 'progressive', but that does not directly come from the literal definition of 'woke' (indirectly changes to healthcare are more likely to help underrepresented classes). However, conservatives don't use woke as it's literal definition either. I think progressive ideology is mostly what a conservative complaining about 'woke' is referring to regardless of it's literal definition.
    – dsollen
    Commented Jan 20, 2023 at 18:30
19

I mostly agree with Phillip's answer, but I want to get more in depth with how woke is used and why it's hard to give a good alternative.

The problem is that while woke was once a real term created and used by the left, it's not usually used in the left any more. Frankly, I don't think it ever got huge traction outside of specific circles that already were heavily focused on discussion and debate on such topics. At no point in time was a random democratic voter likely to say "I'm woke!" However, even those who used to use the term have backed off of it, mostly because of how it's been translated in meaning once conservatives started using it.

What it was

So first we have to look at the original definition:

a broader awareness of social inequalities such as sexism, and has also been used as shorthand for American Left ideas involving identity politics and social justice, such as the notion of white privilege and slavery reparations for African Americans.

There isn't a single good alternative term I can think of that describes this concept perfectly. If you look at the part about sexual inequalities the term feminist fits quite nicely. However feminism is only focused on issues related to sex - and often gender, but let's not get into how those are different. Woke includes more then that. It is true many feminists are also woke when it comes to areas outside of sex/gender, but it's not required by the definition of feminism.

For the racial part, this is very similar to critical race theory, but since that term is also in the process of being misrepresented and turned into a snarl word, as I'll talk about lower, it's probably not a good 'safe' alternative. Anti-racism isn't a great alternative, but it works good enough.

Socially aware or social activist might better encompass all aspects that woke is trying to cover, but those are both very general terms and how closely they match up with the original definition of woke really depends on who you ask and how they define the terms.

I could go on trying to give you alternatives, but in a way it's pointless because what you are asking is not for an alternative for how to refer to what woke originally meant, but what it means when conservatives use it today...

Woke as snarl word

As it is now the term woke is used largely by conservatives, not liberals, and it is used not to refer to the original meaning but as a snarl word. Snarl words—which are often phrases not just words, but we still call them snarl words for some reason—are very general terms meant to indicate the group you're referring to is one your suppose to hate.

These words usually had a specific meaning at one time, some still do have a legitimate and still in use meaning, but when they are used as a snarl word they really aren't about the actual definition or how exactly someone fits into it; they're catch-all terms that are meant to suggest you should hate this group. So, phrases like PC culture, Social Justice Warrior (SJW), Welfare queen, nazi, mansplaining, gun nut, cult, Bible thumper and many many others can or are often used by at least one group as a snarl word to refer to another.

These snarl words do somewhat refer to a group, for instance, a social justice warrior need not be a welfare queen; I could call a rich liberal person donating money to support some minority base scholarship program a SJW, but not a welfare queen. However, the definition of what is or isn't part of that group are very unclear to make it easier to toss the snarl word label on whoever you want other's to hate. So for instance I could arguable call anyone who criticizes anything I say a SJW, I could call anyone who gets any government assistance, no matter how little or rather they arguably earned it, a welfare queen. I could call anyone who likes, uses, or owns a gun, no matter how reasonable they are in their use or about legislation about them, a gun nut. You can argue the terms are supposed to refer to more heinous examples then the ones I listed, but when someone is painting the narrative to demonize a group they can do a great job of convincing others even relatively minor offenses warrant a snarl word label, and they often do. The point is snarl words tend to intentionally be undefined and unclear to make it easier to apply them to whoever you want to tell others to hate.

Let me be absolutely clear; snarl words are used by both sides of the political spectrum, and by plenty of other groups that don't fit in an easy left vs right division. Human nature is to create groups and factions and then tell everyone that is part of their group that anyone part of the other groups are somehow wrong or evil. It's been happening for as long as we had recorded history and likely far before that. Snarl words are useful for this, and so everyone uses them. I wish they didn't, that humanity didn't have to hate anyone they saw as not 'one of us', but well I can't change human nature.

While there may be some conservatives out there who understand the literal definition of woke and are making real criticisms about the actual meaning and interpretation, by and large when you see a conservative complain about a person or group being woke they are not using the original definition and instead using woke as a snarl word.

So what do conservatives mean by woke?

As I already explained, since it's being used as a snarl word, woke is very general and ill-defined. In fact, I'd argue the word woke is even less defined than most snarl words. It's so terribly ill-defined as to make any definition of 'who is woke' difficult to make.

However, in general woke tends to be used for 'anyone of the opposite political spectrum as us'. In effect, anyone who would call themselves a democratic, liberal, or progressive could be called woke. How much they do, or don't, fit the original literal definition of woke doesn't really matter; all that maters is that they fit close enough to 'not conservative' to allow throwing the snarl word at.

As such, pretty much any term for 'not conservative' could potentially be used in place of the word woke as it's used by most conservatives. This is why liberals have mostly given it up; it's been generalized and demonized so much that it doesn't have much meaning beyond 'bad liberal folks'. At this point, the only individuals I see actively calling themselves woke often are the ones who are using it semi-ironically to mean 'I'm one of those folks conservatives would hate'.

I will back what others have said, that 'progressive' or 'social progressive' is probably the closest you can get to answering your question, but I also stress it's not that great an answer. A progressive implies something more than what the original word woke meant; while it's plausible a very progressive person would likely believe they fit the original definition of woke, it is not required for one to be progressive. But how well progressive fits the original definition of the word doesn't matter, only how well it fits the snarl word and I'd say it a close enough fit. No word will be perfect since the very nature of being a snarl word is that it's too open-ended to clearly define who fits in.

What about cancel culture?

Well, cancel culture is also a snarl word, but at least it's a bit better defined of one.

As already said by Phillip, having things canceled you don't like is a technique used by both sides of the political spectrum, and it isn't new. When tv sitcoms first appeared it was considered scandalous and forbidden to show a toilet in a restroom, or a married couple sharing the same bed, and when Lucy from 'I Love Lucy' revealed she was pregnant, the episode was titled "Lucy Is Enceinte", because apparently saying the word pregnant was a terrible thing. One of the first (though not the first as some like to claim) onscreen interracial kiss, in Star Trek, only happened because both actors effectively refused to film any alternative to force a network, afraid it would get them cancelled to air the kiss. And let's not get into the many books that have been banned or even burned over the centuries.

However, while there is no doubt forcing things to be canceled if you disagree with them existed for a long time when a conservative says cancel culture, they are using it as a snarl word. It's meant to be "canceling when it's something I don't agree with". Or, in other words "when a woke person gets things cancelled, but not when a conservative does it" There are progressives out there that vehemently argue comprehensive sex education would better protect teens from the dangers of STI, unwanted pregnancies, and abortions and would argue that the reason kids don't get full sex education they 'deserve' is that it was 'canceled' by conservatives; but I doubt any conservative would call that cancel culture.

As such, in theory you could say again that progressive is the closest to the left equivalent for someone the term cancel culture is trying to refer to. Really though, I'm not sure most who identify as 'progressive' would be vocal enough to push for cancelation. You might want a word that more accurately expresses not just that they have progressive views, but that they consider themselves someone who is going to vocally act on those views, so perhaps something like 'social activist' would work better.

Though again it's not perfect, the very nature of snarl words makes it hard to put a good definition and thus alternative term to them.

13
  • 3
    I like this answer, so I've taken the time to try to clean up the grammar as much as I can. I'm a bit weak on my comma usage rules, but I'm confident in my apostrophes, the differences between adverbs and verbs, and homophones. A bit more clean-up might be warranted. I didn't try to reword sentences even in a few cases where that might be useful. Commented Jan 21, 2023 at 0:08
  • 7
    As a liberal, I also wouldn't call conservatives "cancelling" sex-ed to be part of "cancel culture", because "cancel culture" refers to a sort of "mob justice" targeting individuals, companies, shows, etc., either beyond the scope of the legal system, or where the legal system has failed, in one's opinion. To include legislation or pushes for or against causes in general in there would just make the term refer to basically anyone doing anything to disagree with anything, which renders the term rather meaningless. But I would agree that conservatives definitely also engage in "cancelling".
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Jan 22, 2023 at 6:39
  • 2
    I think it's wrong to describe people who use "woke" as a pejorative, as "conservatives". I've met many literal communists and socialists who do the same. Commented Jan 22, 2023 at 14:29
  • 2
    I don't think there's anything conservative about the premise that supposedly-left-wing identity politics are fundamentally wrecker behaviour. Commented Jan 23, 2023 at 13:27
  • 2
    I would say that Cancel Culture is something that isn't associated with one political ideology or another. I'm old enough to remember when the side trying to get the latest Harry Potter Product banned was the Christian Right. Now it's the Progressive Left (I'm sure the "Harry Potter is the Devil" crowd is still out there, but they've either kept their opinions to themselves or nobody cares to listen anymore.).
    – hszmv
    Commented Jan 23, 2023 at 19:20
6

"Woke"

I think it is a disservice to ignore the fact that "woke" is vernacular from the Black community. A kind of whitewashing, even. The reason I bring this up is because it strikes at the heart of your question: there are issues which concern the Black community which are also shared by whites and other groups, but Blacks don't necessarily align themselves with those other people on all issues. For instance, a lot of black people are conservative, to varying degrees. And yet, virtually all black people are wary of police and skeptical of government (c.f. the Tuskegee Experiment). Thus, the original people who called themselves "woke" didn't need a term that encompassed all the other social justice or progressive ideas in play, because they didn't see themselves as a kind of political monolith.

The very notion that there ought to be a term that so encompasses is a kind of reductionism that is common in the political sphere, but often to reduce complex ideas into trivial ones that are more easily ignored. Politics has to a great extent been reduced to boiling everything down to a label and demonizing it. The reason you are having trouble finding the word you are looking for is because you are trying to apply a label to a concept that doesn't exist.

The reason we don't solve grand problems any more is because we want ideas to be simple, but the world is complex. Just look at feminists vs. TERFs. Or MAGA vs. Log Cabin Republicans. The neat categories which our brains strive for are wholly synthetic and only loosely justified by reality. Should we make everyone drive electric cars? Even if that means supporting slave labor at lithium mines? Is natural gas really green? Is nuclear power really bad? Can you actually put 100 "progressives" in a room and get them to agree to the answers of all these questions?

The term you are looking for doesn't exist because the people you are trying to describe don't find a need to lump themselves into the artificial category you've invented. Each person is unique, and they find common cause with others who share a more clearly named set of values and principles.

"Slept"

What about the dual of your question? What do you call the group of people who oppose "woke culture" or "cancel culture"? Are they "conservatives"? Does it really include all conservatives? Are they MAGA? QAnon? Republicans? Fox News viewers? Are these groups all the same, all different, all under one umbrella that has/deserves its own name?

The reality is that the line between "woke" and "slept" is just the same as "liberal" vs. "conservative". It has basically the same precision and failure to adequately describe each group. And just as there are pro-life Democrats and pro-choice Republicans, so also there are "conservative woke" and probably some "liberal anti-woke" folks out there. Reality is messy.

But hey, if you really want a single all-encompassing term for activist liberals that align strongly on "woke" issues, you could hardly do better than "social justice warrior", as dsollen@ notes. Certainly, this is the term that many opponents use, even if it is a little dated by now.

Left vs. Right

You do notice a perennial truth: the world really can be divided into two groups, even if the line between them is fuzzy and imprecise. And yes, it really is "liberal/conservative", "Democrat/Republican", "Left/Right". But I would argue that the divide goes back to the majority of our history, when we were cavemen and cavewomen. And I would call the classes "Protector/Explorer".

You see, if you are a smooth-brained hominid living in a small tribe of people who are mostly related to you and living constantly at subsistence level, the world is a big, scary place. On the one hand, you want to stick with what you know, because that gives you the best odds for survival. And on the other, you need to strike out and find new hunting/gathering territory, because nature is fickle and disasters happen. Such Stone Age peoples constantly needed to balance protecting the tribe against exploiting new lands. And in the absence of some omniscience guiding them and telling them how much to prioritize each, it makes sense that a kind of equilibrium would be established when you have roughly half of each type of human.

And so, the explorers are the ones who would leave Africa, cross Asia, and make their way across the Bering land bridge. And the protectors are the ones that would build communities in all the places the explorers discovered. Game theory alone tells us in the absence of a strong prior, the optimal strategy is to split the risk between staying or leaving. Everything else, everything we have today in modern politics, is ultimately the inheritance of the cavemen who enshrined this optimal strategy in their genes and passed them down to us over thousands of generations.

Those hominids did not need an intellectual explanation for why they wanted to stay and protect their ancestral lands, or why they wanted to build boats and venture into a hostile ocean. They just did it. The wonderful thing about the human brain, especially the conscious part, is that it is a consummate storyteller. The primary purpose of consciousness appears to be to weave a consistent story about the raw stream of sensations that we have. And so, we often act, and then justify our actions after the fact, pretending all along that the justification was the cause of our action, when it was really an ad-hoc excuse invented on the fly.

When interviewers go and ask people on the street why they believe in the Confederate flag or gay rights or foreign aid, an embarrassing number of people have ridiculous reasons that they give out quite happily and without shame or remorse. And if you can observe some of the choices those people have made in other areas of their lives, you can probably guess whether they are an Explorer or a Protector, and thus, what kinds of answers they will give in response to these interviews. For all our supposed sophistication, we really are quite simple cave people.

Experience

Now, it may seem like I have totally destroyed my own argument, by starting out saying we are all unique, then that we are all the same, just in two camps. I will finish by explaining how we are both at the same time.

The human brain, being a metabolically expensive device to operate, takes all the shortcuts it can. And when it comes to thinking, that means it has a default, canned answer for most situations that might arise. And this answer might be a reflex, an instinct, a learned social cue, or something more complex. But when the brain is challenged for a response, it judges the outcome and decides whether more effort is warranted. If the challenge turns out neutral to good, the brain says: "Job well done" and carries on. If the challenge results in failure, then the brain says: "Hmm...maybe my response was bad." So if a brain says: "red berries are tasty", that will work until you come across a bitter or poisonous berry, and then the brain says: "Welp, that myth is busted!"

And so, with politics, we are born with some inclination on the left/right spectrum, which is then influenced by our social environment, and then is finally molded by our personal experiences. We are far more likely to hold a diverging viewpoint on some issue if we have some kind of personal experience with it, even if that experience is just knowing a trusted person who shares a very strong view on the subject. And this is how you get fiscal conservatives who support TANF or progressive liberals who support their local LE.

The prediction here is that on some new issue that you don't know about, and for which you do not have a consensus opinion from others in your in-group, you will form a default opinion based first on your "genetic" left/right bias, then on your learned political orientation, and finally on your personal experience that is relevant to the topic at hand.

Since none of us have personal experience on every political topic, most of us tend to align at the broadest level with the left or the right side of the political spectrum. Even people who claim to be moderates/centrists will tend to use language that identifies them as leaning more towards the left or the right. And so, in broad strokes, there are only two groups, and we already have many names for those groups. But at a granular level, there are thousands, even millions of groups, all disagreeing on some important policy. There are no useful names for these groups, because there are just too many of them.

6
  • 1
    "For instance, a lot of black people are conservative, to varying degrees. And yet, virtually all black people are wary of police and skeptical of government (c.f. the Tuskegee Experiment)." You present this as though there were an ideological conflict, but I don't think there is. Skepticism of police and especially of government is something I would consider inherently conservative. Commented Jan 22, 2023 at 14:35
  • 4
    @KarlKnechtel contrast that with "Back the Blue", "Blue Lives Matter", "Thin Blue Line", etc. Support of LE is inherently conservative. Support for the military is inherently conservative. And deference to a strong authority figure is inherently conservative. So being skeptical of a Democratic admin is conservative, sure. But respecting a badge or a symbol of authority in general is a conservative tendency. Commented Jan 22, 2023 at 22:23
  • 1
    On the other hand- A strong military is needed for Protecting the tribe but even more for Exploring (or Conquering) new lands, because offense requires a stronger force than defense. The populist Julius Ceasar combined military expansion with welfare and reform. Around 1900 the "Progressive", populist Theorore Roosevelt combined empire building with trustbusting and regulation of business. On the other side there is a long history including the Roman Senate, the Magna Carta, the US founding fathers of powerful, conservative people opposing single individuals who sought very great power.
    – ttulinsky
    Commented Jan 22, 2023 at 23:06
  • 3
    Should we make everyone drive electric cars? — not even the most extreme car-lobbying I've seen wants to make everyone drive cars.
    – gerrit
    Commented Jan 23, 2023 at 9:30
  • Who holds back the electric car?
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Jan 23, 2023 at 9:51
3

This answer covers the term "cancel culture".

Different groups will give themselves different names. There is no generic term, and in particular "cancel culture" exists on both sides of the political spectrum. Since other answers are already discussing progressive opposition to conservative or right-wing content, this answer will focus on conservative opposition to progressive content.

To take one example of a group that supports prohibiting certain books from school libraries, i.e. quite literally cancel culture, consider the Moms for Liberty and some of the books they want to cancel:

Moms for Liberty formed last year and has become known since then for its opposition to critical race theory in public schools, and its efforts to get books with LGBTQ+ themes removed from school libraries.

The list includes the modern classic Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Khaled Hosseini's acclaimed novel The Kite Runner and Sally Rooney's bestselling Normal People.

So, this particular cancel group describes cancelling and censorship as "liberty". Other cancel groups use different terms.

I believe the group is genuine and no satire is intended.

Other, similar groups call themselves Parents Defending Education or No Left Turn in Education, but there does not appear to be a generic term encompassing this movement in general. Others yet might just call themselves Republicans, at least in the U.S. context, but of course not all Republicans support banning titles from school libraries, so this term would be too broad. I'm not aware of similar campaigns to remove books from school libraries in other western countries.

NB: Groups described as "woke" have described themselves as "woke", or at least used to. Unlike "cancel culture", "woke" was initially a term used positively in self-description. How a positive term came to be used negatively is a different question (see also "social justice warrior" and "Obamacare").

3
  • 4
    War Is Peace, Freedom Is Slavery, and Liberty is Banning Books :-) Commented Jan 23, 2023 at 9:45
  • 1
    I don't think anyone would call Moms For Liberty woke; my (possibly incorrect?) observation is that the term "cancel culture" is reserved for progressive boycotts (of course other people also call for boycotts)
    – user45152
    Commented Jan 23, 2023 at 19:12
  • Why would the term cancel culture be reserved for progressive boycotts but not for conservative boycotts (NB: removing books from libraries goes much further than a boycott)? I've certainly seen Moms for Liberty being described as "right-wing cancel culture".
    – gerrit
    Commented Jan 24, 2023 at 7:26
2

This is my attempt to synthesise the many excellent comments and answers, particularly dsollen, Philipp and whoisit.

No communal name

Although different protests share values and language, the participants have not united behind a communal name. At least some activists used to identify as "woke", but its pejorative use has now made it so unpopular that using "woke" identifies you as a member of the out-group. (Similar to the phrase "social justice warrior".)

Since then, attempts to name or classify this movement have been rejected, so a new self-descriptor is unlikely.

Simply "progressive" or "social reformist"

The original "woke" ideology calls for participants to be conscious of various prevailing discriminations, and actively working to reform the system against such.

As such, they would likely accept being described as Progressive, or Social Reformists, and likely reject any further qualification for fear of it too becoming a pejorative.

Other progressives

But not all progressive philosophies align. One progressive activist might strongly reject another, including claiming that the other is not progressive. An outside observer might still assess them both, on balance, to be progressive.

There are progressives who strongly disagree with aspects of the "woke" movement, but there is no terminology that distinguishes "woke progressives" from "other progressives".

0

identity synthesis

Yascha Mounk uses this term as a neutral label in his book The Identity Trap. So this could be an answer to "is there an existing term that accurately and completely describes this political philosophy?" Note that Mounk is critical of the movement.

But over the past decades, a healthy appreciation for the culture and heritage of minority groups has transformed into a counterproductive obsession with group identity in all its forms...

In The Identity Trap, Mounk provides the most ambitious and comprehensive account to date of the origins, consequences, and limitations of so-called “wokeness.” He is the first to show how postmodernism, postcolonialism, and critical race theory forged the “identity synthesis” that conquered many college campuses by 2010. He lays out how a relatively marginal set of ideas came to gain tremendous influence in business, media, and government by 2020.

Source: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/712961/the-identity-trap-by-yascha-mounk/

-3

If I understood this right, you are asking for a unifying label for all people who participate in protests against conservative ideologies. And you are asking for a label those people would accept, not one that is imposed on them like "woke".

I think the most specific it gets is "left-wing protestor".

"woke or cancel people" who oppose conservatism

There certainly isn't a single umbrella term that "woke or cancel people" use to call themselves.

Terms like "woke" and "cancel" are to conservatism as "heresy" and "blasphemy" are to Christianity - they are made by taking everyone who doesn't agree with a certain philosophy/ideology and then assigning them a single label. What is the unifying philosophy that unites all heretics and blasphemers? Probably "not Christian." What is the unifying philosophy that unites all wokists and cancellers? Probably "not conservative."

I think it's reasonably obvious that if you asked a bunch of anti-conservative protestors "are you conservative?" almost all of them would say no. So "not conservative" could be the label you are looking for. Perhaps some would play with the label like "yes, I want to conserve the environment and human rights" but that isn't what it actually means.

Being "not Christian" and "not conservative" is the default state of human existence, so members of the group probably also think of themselves as "normal" and "not brainwashed".

... who participate in protests

Since you are only interested in people who protest, I doubt you'll find many centrists, either. Centrists are generally people who don't care about the outcome either way, so there's no reason they should spend their time protesting. That leaves left-wing people... who protest. Hence "left-wing protestors" and I don't think, with the constraints in the question, you can get more specific than that.

Addendum: focused protest groups and the non-equivalence between right and left

You mentioned "protest groups with more focused agendas" separately from "organic movements", so I wanted to point out these "protest groups" are also organic.

For example, there is no Extinction Rebellion centralized leadership. It's more like a slogan. It is "loosely organized" in the sense that people who call themselves part of XR broadly agree on things (else they would not have joined) and some of them take the initiative to set up more formal meetings or plan protests. These people who take initiative may be called "local chapter leaders" by the press, but it's not a position as such - it's because of what they do. There is no sign-up sheet for XR - you just... do XR stuff, and then you are XR. Of course, sometimes they do have to formalize it, e.g. in order to rent an office for a meeting.

Since left-wing "protest groups" tend to draw from the general population, they can be more like slow-motion flash mobs, that suddenly appear out of nowhere and disperse just as quickly, unlike the more hierarchical, organizationally-centred approaches of right-wing groups such as the Proud Boys.

I'm definitely not a Proud Boy, since I haven't recited an oath to be a Western Chauvinist, passed the hazing rituals, and pledged to abstain from pornography. But I went to a protest against police brutality once, so does that mean I'm Antifa?

4
  • 1
    Methinks you are getting downvoted because with "left wing protestor" you are offering another term that is used in a derogatory way, and is not the way those groups would self-identify. Your answer as a whole is pretty good at being politically neutral, but does not really answer the question. I'm not a downvoter, just a commentator. Commented Jan 21, 2023 at 0:20
  • How do you define centrist here? Like protestors are most definitely not passive if that is what you meant, but they don't necessarily define themselves as being aligned to a particular side, especially when it's issue focused. Like environmentalists can come from any ideology and you'd expect conservatives to also care about the conservation of the environment. And any democratic faction can and should be antifascist. It's rather concerning on it's own that apparently that is no longer the case, so it might not be useful to polarize that further outside of the issue.
    – haxor789
    Commented Jan 21, 2023 at 11:03
  • 3
    @AldusBumblebore I guarantee you that 90% of the people at left-wing protests would accept the term "left-wing protestor", which is not derogatory, and is escriptive. Commented Jan 21, 2023 at 11:16
  • While I kind of get what you're saying, almost no-one would label themselves "not Christian" or "not conservative". The answer someone would give to a question is not the same as how they'd generally describe themselves. It suggests that people in those groups would define themselves in terms of (the absence of) Christianity or conservatism, which just isn't generally the case. An atheist is an atheist, and a Muslim is a Muslim, neither are "non-Christian", and they're very different. It would be like saying "everyone not named John": there are no particularly useful unifying traits there.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Jan 22, 2023 at 19:18

You must log in to answer this question.