OPINION: The Dangers of Staying “Woke”

Updated: Dec 2, 2019

by THOMAS PUGH - Is waking up to the community’s ideas leading to closed-minded perspectives?

On April 15, 2019, the Notre Dame caught fire from an unknown origin, causing extensive damage to the iconic French landmark. This architectural masterpiece is a tourist hotspot and the pride of many French, and the sight of its roof and spires crumbling broke hearts around the world. The cathedral has received numerous donations--over a billion dollars--from the community at large in order to fund reconstruction at renovation.

Meanwhile, in other parts of the world, more than 3 billion people live in poverty, approximately 50 percent of mankind (“11 Facts”). The ocean contains more than 150 million metric tons of plastic, not including the eight metric tons carelessly added every year (“The Problem”). Carbon dioxide emissions have grown by 2.7 percent last year, filling the atmosphere with pollution (Levin). Almost 13 million hectares of forests are cut down every year in South America, Africa and Eastern Asia, tearing down the world’s natural resources and the homes of many species (“Deforestation”). And finally, as of 2016, more than 10.7 percent of the world suffers from undernourishment (“2018 World Hunger”). Where is the money going again? A building?

So I, personally, have a question for you: Is it wrong to donate 1 billion dollars to a building when there are many other concerning issues in the world?

Short answer: No.

Okay, a little context. I’m certainly not claiming every single problem I listed above is less important than rebuilding the cathedral. In fact, I do believe that these problems should be prioritized over a reconstruction project. However, it isn’t wrong to donate money to the cathedral instead. You may be feeling a bit aggravated at my claim right now. Think of the people! Think of the wildlife! I can tell you I am. However, all of our opinions most likely stem from a common source that didn’t quite show the whole picture.

Around the world, an estimated 2.77 billion people will use social media in 2019. In 2017, 71 percent of internet-users used social media (“Numbers”). With so much freedom of communication in this era, ideas spread like wildfire. I’m sure you all have heard this spiel before: “Social media bad!” “Be careful what you believe!” “Not everything on the internet is right!” But I’m certain you are all as quick as I am to latch on to statistics you see online, even with the basic motto we all supposedly follow.

Consider “woke” social media posts. From feminism to nationalism, social media users have the freedom to demonstrate whatever political idea they see as politically correct. Being “woke,” or being socially conscious, has gained the stigma of being unreliable, unrealistic or even unintentionally ignorant. And the stigma, more often than not, is correct, but not for the reasons you’d think.

For example, take this picture that has been floating around Instagram. Many different users have posted it, and many more have reposted it on their stories. One simple statement. A simple fallacy. It lacks key pieces of evidence and gives no context. As I intend on demonstrating, these posts create a skewed picture of the world that people believe. Don’t get me wrong--it isn’t wrong for being a new idea. New ideas should be praised and supported. It’s wrong for being a biased idea, without any perspective into other sides of the story.

I’d like to use this picture as reference. It simply says that the $1 billion plus could have been spent to clean up the Pacific Garbage Patch. That seems like a great idea, and the fact that the money donated was not used in this way probably invokes a sense of disbelief or frustration. However, for $25 million, the Ocean Cleanup organization already has launched System 001, a 600-meter long machine that collects trash and takes it out of the ocean (Barnes). This post certainly failed to mention that. Or how about the fact that Notre Dame brings in up to 14 million visitors per year (“14 million”), generating a whole lot of tourism revenue for France, or that the Notre Dame has long been underfunded, and was already falling apart and desperately needed more money (Vargas)? In the attempt to be as open-minded and woke as possible, this image represented this issue through a narrow lens that failed to consider the other side. A billion dollars is not a black or white issue where you can just say, “money needs to go here because it’s sad.” Do your research, and certainly don’t let the first thing you see be the first thing you believe.

Even arguing the ethical aspect of the money going to Notre Dame, there’s still more to consider than, “animals are dying, this building isn’t saving any lives.” How is throwing a bunch of money to a miscellaneous organization going to guarantee the cleansing of the ocean? Somebody has to oversee this influx of a billion dollars. People have to go out to sea to do the base-level work of cleaning garbage. Sailors have to conduct the boats. Boats have to be purchased. This isn’t as simple as it seems. On the other hand, the Notre Dame cathedral hosts thousands of jobs. It is a historic piece of architecture that attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists per day. It holds innumerable pieces of history and art.

Overall, you can see this is a multifaceted issue, and the simple picture dramatically oversimplified its importance. Woke posts such as these are dangerous kinds of posts because they lack perspective. If people choose to ignore the other lenses in order to be as “woke” as they can be, they start missing important pieces of information, and they will start passing along significantly skewed data. Clearly, not all woke things are inherently bad, and many do indeed offer multiple perspectives; however, the stereotypical and common instances found online are detrimental to opinions and knowledge. As long as we are aware of these deviant snippets of the truth, we will be able to make less woke decisions, and more smart decisions.

So what am I saying? Is it wrong to fund the rebuilding of Notre Dame? No. Is it wrong to fund cleaning the Pacific Garbage Patch? No. Does a person need to consider more than just the mainstream articles they see on the internet before determining their opinion on a wide-scale issue? Absolutely, positively YES. After evaluating multiple perspectives, I definitely would say that I would prefer the money to go towards solving more life-threatening issues. However, I have made this opinion through research and understanding of the issue. This is what staying woke should look like. Informed decisions. Open minds. Interest in worldwide development. So remember, don’t stay woke. Stay educated.

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