Daddy, what is Woke?
This is a temporary newsletter to document the process of writing my book on wokeism.
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This project began for me when my wife bought me a copy of Darren McGarvey's book, Poverty Safari. The idea was consolidated when I thought of Yanis Varoufakis' book, Talking to my Daughter: A Brief History of Capitalism, which I read in 2019 and reviewed as follows:
I've never had more than a passing interest in politics, and, for that reason, I've never been sure who I am in political terms. Darren's book opened my eyes, given that we have some similarities in our background: We both grew up poor in the west of Scotland; we both have a history of substance abuse; we'd both never written a book.
One of the phrases Darren often repeats in Poverty Safari is, 'guys like me don't write books.' But he did write one. And then he wrote another one.
After I read Poverty Safari in November last year, I did a Google search on Darren McGarvey and found an interview on the TRIGGERnometry channel.
"The System is Rigged Against the Poor" - Darren McGarvey
Thus began what has become a personal obsession with that channel. It's operated by two satirists, Konstantin Kisin and Frances Foster. They've recorded many 'honest conversations with fascinating people', one of whom is Yoram Hazony, an Israeli-American philosopher. A lot of what Hazony said was beyond my comprehension, but it whetted my appetite to learn more about liberalism and conservatism (and all the other -isms that go along with studying politics and history).
I bought Yoram Hazony's book, Conservatism: A Rediscovery and found myself journalling my way into spending a Sunday afternoon reading it by the big fireplace in the Auchrannie Hotel in Brodick after a swim and a sauna.
It was a very fulfilling afternoon and, as I was driving back home that afternoon, I had the thought that I couldn't possibly be the only person who had no idea what wokeism was. I thought of Varoufakis' book, about how the whole premise of it was to explain the complex topic of capitalism to his daughter. It seemed like a good way of presenting it. I realise that the similarities between Varoufakis and me completely break down here, as, being the former finance minister of Greece, he knows his topic inside out, while I, on the other hand, know bugger all about wokeism. But I wasn't going to let that stop me.
When I got home, I asked my wife if she knew what wokeism meant. She didn't. My daughter (18) had a rough idea, and my son (16) had no idea and couldn't have cared less. Then I called my brother to ask him and had a really interesting conversation with him and his wife. They have an idea of what it means. Then I asked some creative friends in a group chat for YouTubers. They all had different takes. Interesting!
"Guys like me don't write books." - Darren McGarvey, Poverty Safari
Darren McGarvey's quotation keeps coming back to me and gives me the self-belief that this is a project that's worth pursuing. I was encouraged by the fact that I could barely sleep from excitement once I'd had the idea. But the biggest dose of encouragement came from the feedback I got from the participants of the Foster writing course, The Art of Modern Writing. I submitted an introductory piece for critique while I was still high on excitement, and the comments I got back were very positive; so much so that I haven't really stopped researching the topic since I completed the course in mid-February. It's becoming all-consuming, as is my typically autistic way of taking on creative projects.
The all-consuming research means that I'm not spending much time actually writing, so that, by the time I start, there's a danger that I'll have lost the charming ignorance that I want to colour my writing. I want it to be about my journey of discovery, like turning on the firehose of news after 20 years of self-imposed avoidance and trying to make sense of it all in a world that I'm struggling to make sense of.
So, with that in mind, I'm starting a journal that documents the process. I know that publishing adds a degree of accountability that really works for me, so that's why I'm publishing this journal as a newsletter. Free subscribers will get notes on the source materials I'm researching, while paid subscribers will get those notes, and also my thoughts and ideas that might become part of the book.
It will be irregular, messy and, at least to begin with, incoherent, but that's what building in public is supposed to be like. I'd like to think that it will become more coherent over time, with a structure forming itself as I go, and then I'll start publishing chapter drafts for paid subscribers.
It's both a little bit scary and a big bit exciting!
If you'd like to follow along, I'd love to have you with me! Comments will be very welcome, whether that be just to cheer me along, to offer your thoughts, to provide links to other source materials you think I would find useful, or whatever!
My thanks to Rob Hardy for his support and encouragement with this newsletter idea. It might be the very thing that helps me move forward with the project.