Charles Pincourt (with James Lindsay), Counter Wokecraft: A Field Manual for Combatting the Woke in the University and Beyond, Orlando, FL: New Discourses, 2021.
When I had read about seventy-five percent of Charles Pincourt’s “Field Manual for Combatting the Woke,” an interested friend asked me what I thought of it so far. My response was that if I had to hand in my book review the next day, and had to articulate it in just two words, I would simply write “Read this!” That opinion hasn’t changed now that I have finished Counter Wokecraft.
Though there are many fine resources for understanding and coping with the phenomena of “Wokeness,” “cancel-culture,” etc., over the past few years as I have come to realize more fully what these disastrous movements entail, I have also come to regard at least three books as absolute must-reads. For any responsible citizen seeking a cogent explanation of what the veneer called “social justice” covers, and some of the key forces driving it, I have recommended Lukianoff and Haidt’s now famous The Coddling of the American Mind (London: Penguin, 2018). For those intellectually and philosophically inclined, my next indispensable list item would be Allan Bloom’s classic, The Closing of the American Mind (NY: Schuster, 2008). In more technical terms related to post-modernism, a reader could hardly do better than Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay’s Cynical Theories (Durham, NC: Pitchstone, 2020).
Charles Pincourt’s Counter Wokecraft adds a fourth item to my recommended social-justice-survival reading list, not only because it shares virtues such as comprehensiveness and clarity with the other books, but also because it serves a distinct purpose, as described in the subtitle. It does function as a field manual for carrying into battle, whether on a campus, in a corporate setting, or in any other relevant organizational circumstance, from school board meetings to service club committees.
The collaboration of James Lindsay enhances the book’s already substantial credibility. And a reader can see at a glance, through the detailed and well-organized table of contents, exactly what is offered, as well as the trajectory of Pincourt’s arguments. The book’s careful articulation is further signaled by the author’s reluctant, but well-justified application of the word “woke” itself. And the stated purpose of “helping those concerned to understand the Critical Social Justice perspective, what drives it, identify when and how it makes inroads, and how to resist and prevent it from taking over…” is precisely what it can accomplish for any determined reader, in a little under a hundred pages.
Of particular interest may be Pincourt’s explanations of tactics used by social justice proponents, that could be difficult to detect as such. For instance, I remember being shocked during a meeting from which a normally self-controlled and civil colleague suddenly stormed out (and I do mean “stormed”). The situation did not seem to warrant behaviour this extreme, and oddly, the other meeting participants (in their failure to react to the slamming of the door) gave me the sense that either there was something everyone else knew but to which I was not privy, or that perhaps the colleagues in attendance didn’t have any idea how to respond to such a display. Pincourt explains this kind of behavior, not as extraordinary, but as likely a planned tactic, aimed at getting particular kinds of results. In addition to simply informing the reader that such behaviors are often deliberate and are more common than he or she may suppose, this kind of example can help a person to address a difficult situation calmly, since it shows that there are many moves from the Woke playbook that are just that. In other words, it decodes fundamental ways that woke maneuvers can mask a tactically driven game, not as something to be taken personally, but rather as something to be confronted by an equally tactical counter move. Naturally, a person needs strategic training for success in any metaphorical “chess match.” But with stakes as high as they are in the context of the culture wars, the importance of such a cache of good advice should not be underestimated.
A final benefit of Charles Pincourt’s operational manual is its planned use as a venue for potentially continual updating, ideally through input from other “woke dissidents.” He ends by emphasizing that any successful struggle against wokeness cannot be brief or easy, since the Critical Social Justice movements have an unsuspectedly early start on us. (He estimates that even the form emergent since the 1990s has roots reaching back many decades, and further cites Rousseau’s anti-enlightenment rhetoric and even the classical Greek school of skepticism.) Most importantly however, the author stresses that it is possible to win the war, with commitment, and through the proper use of the tools provided by such a resource as his skilled offering to readers.