Taking on the ‘woke’ call-out culture

Woke Culture Obama
Screen capture from the Guardian video below.

On October 14 I wrote about criticism and critiques, exploring how in the wildland fire world they can provide a very valuable learning experience or there can be cascading negative repercussions. The outcome depends on the venue in which it is presented as well as the social maturity, motivation, knowledge, and diplomacy of the person expressing their opinion.

That article was followed a few days later by spotlighting Theodore Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena”.

When I heard about Former President Barack Obama speaking during a panel discussion on October 29 about the “call out culture”, I thought back to those two articles. Mr. Obama may have been referring to criticism related to social issues or politics, but the concept can also apply to discussions about firefighting and forest management — even to issues as meaningless as aggressively calling someone out for not using the most current version of firefighting jargon approved by the U.S. Forest Service, which I saw happen recently (but thankfully not on Wildfire Today).

Below is a transcript of portions of Mr. Obama’s discussion, and after that, a 2-minute video clip from the event:

“This idea of purity and you’re never compromised and you’re always politically woke and all that stuff — you should get over that quickly.

“The world is messy. There are ambiguities. People who do really good stuff have flaws. People who you are fighting may love their kids and, you know, share certain things with you.

“I do get a sense sometimes now among certain young people, and this is accelerated by social media, there is this sense sometimes of, the way of me making change is to be as judgmental as possible about other people and that’s enough.

“Like if I tweet or hashtag about how you didn’t do something right, or used the wrong verb, then I can sit back and feel pretty good about myself because: ‘Man, did you see how woke I was? I called you out.’

“That’s not activism. That’s not bringing about change. If all you’re doing is casting stones, you are probably not going to get that far.”

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

4 thoughts on “Taking on the ‘woke’ call-out culture”

  1. Greetings Bill,

    I just wanted to take a moment to thank you for all of your amazing, unselfish, tireless contributions to the world of Wildland fire and some beyond the scope of that subject.
    With that said, I personally feel that we are so blessed to have a person like you in our community with your awesome resume of thirty years plus of professional experience in WL Fire management combined with your excellent creative thinking & writing skills. These skills that you possess are just some of the powerful tools you’ve honed well to draw upon when it comes to the great work you do daily with the sharing of crucial information and ideas for us all to learn from and respect and lastly, to be truly grateful that there are still a few good WL Fire pro’s out there that are just as passionate about their own career goals as they are about making sure that their own experience of years of “hard earned Wildland Fire lessons learned”gets passed onto the next generation of Wildland Fire professionals.
    I have thoroughly enjoyed all your articles that you’ve posted lately with Wildfire Today.
    To me, they are superb examples of what’s possible today for a field retired veteran Wildland Fire professional like you to enjoy the new position of a being a great journalist by performing the very crucial role of “getting a story out” quick and without any sugar coating on it.
    With guys like you in the mix and good social media and the internet and many of the other important high tech solutions, such as the alertwildfire.org video cameras streaming wildfire information from around the country in real time for an example. Then, just maybe we might begin to keep up with some of the wild fast curveballs coming from a rapidly changing climate, combining with all of the other myriad of complicated factors involved with extreme weather events, rising global temperatures and fire science and fire ecology and get a better handle on some control with the future of massive devastating catastrophic wildfires, before they get the better of us and our precious natural wildland resources and WUI communities at risk and lastly finally dismantle our own states fragile economies out here in the beautiful greater western US.
    Thank you again Bill for all of your solid vital efforts to help us to find some possible solutions to deal with possibly one the biggest threats to our national security right now that I can think of and that is climate change.
    Maybe that’s a bit exaggerated, but it’s certainly not a stretch to say that, when it comes to a state (Ca is a country with the 5th gdp) like California and it’s own security.
    For those of you readers out there that might not agree with me on some of the points that I have tried to cover here, I encourage you all to please read the excellent issue of High Country News titled “2068”, The speculative journalism issue. It came out August or September 2019 I believe.
    One of the articles is about a wildland fire fighters fictional account of fighting the year round wildfires in the west and working for The US Fire service in 2048.(What becomes of the US Forest service in the story).
    This HCN story is a funny sci fi look into the future of Wildland Fire in the west and yet at the same time it’s quite frightening to me.
    What will the future of wildland fire look like to us in the west in say 25 years? Or 50 years? Or in 2068, when Bill and I are long gone?
    I was born and raised in southern and central California, but for the last 25 years I’ve been living up in the beautiful wilderness of the central Sangre de Cristo mountains of Taos New Mexico on three acres of forest land I bought and built on 1996. That same year we saw the medium sized Lama/ Arroyo Hondo Fire Fire explode a mile away to the north of us, with the fastest rate of spread in this country for a wildfire of its time.
    The epic 2011 Las Conchas Fire would blow everything else off “the rate of spread” wildfire record books, at least for the time being I believe.
    Three massive ripping hot crowning wildfires happened between 1996 and 2011 in the Jemez mountains above Los Alamos. 1996 Dome Fire, The escaped 2000 Cerro Grande Fire and 2011 Las Conchas Fire.
    Now, there’s literally nothing left to burn on the eastern and southeastern aspects of that range. Not much will ever grow back after the 2000 degree plus heat that those classic crown fires generated. Soil vitrification is what a fire science professional would call it and that’s sadly what happened to a lot of the forest land in those mountains south west of Taos NM as a result of those unprecedented in size and intensity wildfires.
    Its just like what a 2300 degree high fire kiln does to a glaze on a piece of ceramic stoneware.
    As a fellow Wildland fire fighting ground pounder that fought bush fires in Tasmania Australia and also helped with wildfire suppression at a large ranch near San Simeon California (Santa Lucia mts).
    I’ve seen my fair share of what’s being called now as “the new norm” for Wildland mega fires (100k +ac.) in both states in the last 25 years and what I’m seeing with these fires is very alarming and what I am learning from these alarming mega fire events is the reason why Bill is doing the work that he’s doing right now with WT in being the voice of the messenger and so much more . The message? Houston, we do have a big problem. It’s with wildfire.

    Keep up the good work Bill
    Jamie B.
    Taos, NM

    1. Here’s a good article. Maybe Obama read it. https://qz.com/1599699/socrates-shows-why-moral-posturing-on-social-media-is-so-annoying/

      What the article fails to mention is that the sophist, moral,”woke” Athenians executed Socrates for pointing out their shortfalls. Today you just get excoriated in social media.

      Fixing our wildfire problem requires less politics, a whole lot less hubris, more science and fact based logic.
      Unfortunately, the wildfire issues are already too politicized and unlike science, our politics hasn’t improved since ancient Athens.

  2. So how can we constructively criticize an audience about wildland fire management, whether it’s the media, who are constantly getting terminology wrong, politicians, or new firefighters, who in my opinion, are learning and implementing strategy and tactics that are completely different and less effective than what I was taught 40+ years ago, without that audience getting defensive or ignoring us altogether?

    1. Start with what you have in common. Don’t try to fix the whole world in one shot. Show by your actions and words you respect their efforts and praise the parts of what they are doing that works.
      It may be helpful for you to review what the Quincy Library group did and how they came about to work on forest management issues with strong disagreements between the three major sides to the issues. They had to work hard to build trust before they could start work on the specific issues at hand.
      It won’t be easy and it won’t be quick. It will be as hard as any work you have done on the fireline.
      My Dad (CDF Forester II, region 4) was happy if the media could at least spell his name right, he let any other details slide. And any time he had a reporter’s attention, he focused on one short message with concrete examples from a local site.
      If you have the chance to mentor new firefighters, remember they are working with a new normal that was highly unusual when you started your career. Not only fire conditions, but the behind the scenes stuff of funding, environmental studies, urban interface with millions of people living in what used to be just forest. But they most likely have the same love of the outdoors, the same desire to serve and protect that you do.
      If a shiny new fire photographer shows up on one of your fires, make sure they have the basics (nomex and shelter, etc.), then embed them with a crew for a shift or all week, and build that personal relationship that will help them do their job. If you can get them a photo that goes viral (there’s a term you never heard 40 years ago), you will be their friend for life. And they will spend the rest of their careers writing stories that spread the word you want to get out there.


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