If you own a business or run an organization, there’s a fairly good chance that you might be concerned about how you can resist the social pressure of the “Woke” mob, should it come yelling (or tweeting). Maybe you wonder what to do when it turns its sights on either your organization or some of its membership, like your employees, whom you might be pressured to discipline or fire. You’ve probably seen countless examples of organizations similar enough to your own getting pressured into taking actions you don’t want to take (unless forced). These might include making structural changes, even replacements of senior management, changes to product lines, taking on (sometimes expensive) symbolic actions, being expected to employ dubious, unethical, and potentially illegal “anti-racism,” “unconscious bias,” or “diversity” training modules, or meeting any number of other “demands” levied at them when the Woke mob turns its petition-fueled, hashtag-driven ire upon them.
I’d imagine you don’t want to deal with this at all, if it can be avoided, and you’d like to know what to do. Here are a few things you’ll want to know.
First, you need to realize that you probably can’t avoid the mob forever. This kind of mobbing is just part of the world today, given social media and a lack of developed social and legal enforcement against it—or even knowing what such things could or should look like in practice.
Second, you need to understand that giving in to this kind of extortion doesn’t make it go away, just like giving in to the mafia wouldn’t get them off your back. You’re just signaling that you’re an easy mark, and you can easily be targeted again soon and probably will be.
Gave in to demands to donate money to some organization? You didn’t give enough because it’s not possible to give enough, so you’ll see demands to give more again soon. Signed up for installing mandatory “anti-racism” trainings? The work, they say, is “never done.” Give up some administrative or senior management positions to critical agitators? Not only will they now change policy to make things run their way, they’ll keep pressing for more positions at that level by picking off the most “problematic” people who stand up to anything they say. You surely don’t think you’ll be able to say no to any of this once it starts, do you, you racist in charge of a systemically racist organization?
Third, this points us to the most important thing to know about how social pressure of this kind works in practice. If you’re unified within, it can be withstood as a team. If not, your organization will crack like an egg the second the pressure shows up. What’s worse, the real test of your organization won’t be its leadership but whether or not the internal organizational culture will fracture around some “Woke” controversy that targets it. If your organization breaks within, it’s done.
To understand this concept, think of something like how it’s possible to stand on an empty soda can even though the aluminum walls are literally almost paper thin. So long as the cylindrical shape of the can stays intact, rather a lot of weight can be put on top of it without it being crushed, but if there’s even a slight dent in the side of the can, almost no pressure at all will smash it to the floor. The integrity of the shape of the can, in this metaphor, is the integrity of your organization’s internal culture. If it is strong, unified, and clear in purpose, it can resist a lot of outside pressure and activist braying of various demands. If not, it will be crushed by the extortion.
We seem to have seen this internal strength (we hope) in action recently with Trader Joe’s. That brand was attacked by an online mob after a single disgruntled teenager started a complaint that their cute ethnic brands, like “Trader José’s” for Mexican products, “Trader Giotto” for Italian ones, and “Trader Ming’s” for Asian ones, are clearly “racist.” This is obviously absurd, but we’ve already had to watch a lot of companies and individuals cave in to far less. The moment the public pressure ramped up on social media and through coverage of the petition in the established media, we all had good reason to worry that Trader Joe’s would be the next pitiful story we’d have to endure watching unfold.
It didn’t happen to Trader Joe’s, though. They stood by their brands, and in their public statement about the incident, they mentioned that they make these sorts of decisions in accordance with what their team thinks (along with feedback from loyal customers). What’s more, they said explicitly that they do not make corporate decisions because of petitions. That’s the thing, too: these petitions can be started by anybody with a “critical” consciousness, power trip, and internet connection.
One point that needs raising here is that if Trader Joe’s faced an internal mutiny over this incident, they’d have had a far bigger problem. (As it was, some people bellyached online while many supported the brand, and nothing else of significance seems to have happened yet.) Maybe they could have withstood the pressure without internal unity, but it’s unlikely, as the internal workings of the company would have ground to a halt over the controversy, and the demands would have rapidly escalated until management was forced to do something, where “something” usually means giving in to the demands or firing a lot of people who are causing the problem (which might or might not work at that stage because it will be called discriminatory firing for certain).
That second possibility, getting rid of those people who might undermine the unity of the internal organizational culture, we might speculate to be what led Red Bull’s recent decision to fire prominent members of its North American senior management. These were using their roles to expand corporate policy about diversity and inclusion, in line with the standard (and now exceedingly predictable and boring) activist demands looming all over every institution in the developed world. Rather than facing the internal turmoil and potential coup that tends to follow such things, Red Bull got rid of its architects.
While I’m staunchly against cancel culture in all of its manifestations, this rather extreme course of action, I fear, is actually likely to be necessary in this rather unique climate (for American businesses, anyway). Bringing divisive political agitation into a workplace isn’t, as we keep hearing, an opinion, so firing activists who have infiltrated the internal culture of an organization and who are working to sow division within isn’t cancel culture; it’s smart business.
People are, of course, free to be activists on their own time for whatever causes they like, and it remains my opinion that this should typically have little or nothing to do with their employability, so long as they’re still doing their jobs adequately. In fact, I don’t think it’s any of their employers’ business what they do with their off time, within some reasonable limits. That said, it’s wholly different to bring political activism into the office environment, especially when it is divisive to internal culture in the organization (as identity politics will always be, with no exceptions) or the operational missions of the organization itself.
If you’re having trouble telling the difference, just ask yourself, is your organization’s mission anything other than aligning all of our culture with one very specific, narrow, and aggressive conception of “social justice” that seeks to use discrimination (both positive for some identities and negative against others) to achieve its “equity” goals? If so, it’s probably inappropriate to bring in Critical Social Justice, a.k.a., “Woke,” activism into your organization because that form of activism is something distinctly different that has a habit of diverting an incredible proportion of the internal resources to the only thing it ever focuses on: critical identity politics.
You can avoid fracturing your organization’s internal culture by engaging in real leadership orientation, focusing on the job at hand, cultivating an anti-fragile, anti-victimhood team mindset, and, if necessary, offering short informative primers in the differences between liberal approaches to anti-racism (or diversity, or whatever) and critical approaches, which are fundamentally different, while affirming a commitment to the former and a rejection of the latter. These things can work, but anything you can do to keep a strong internal culture that’s committed to seeing itself as a team focused on your organization’s goals can work as well.
The last thing you want to do is bring in a critical diversity, anti-racism, or bias training, however, because the core purpose of these trainings is to create a subset of your organizational culture that is sympathetic to the (highly seductive) critical view while generating a few genuine agitators and activists—while disarming possible dissenters by, in some cases, creating a paper trail of their “problematic” objections to the training materials. This manufactured arrangement won’t help your organization do any of its operational goals in a better way, but it does create the perfect situation for an internal fracture should that external pressure ever come about.
So, that’s it. The world has changed, mostly thanks to the internet and partly due to us having educated a generation of our children to believe that finding “problematics” in everything they see is a useful pathway to improving civil rights. For the foreseeable future, online outrage mobs are going to happen, and they will probably eventually target your organization. Your only chance of resisting them is to maintain a positive, anti-fragile, team-oriented internal culture that acts as a counterbalance that gets you through the storm (think about it like boarding up your windows against a rhetorical hurricane). That requires making use of organizational leadership to cultivate the right internal values—broadly liberal and anti-victimhood—and to treat them like a condition of employment or participation in your organization. Then, you can stand against this obnoxious pressure and keep fulfilling your organization’s missions and purposes, as a team.