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Where do lucid ideas spread from?

“Team america: world police, a comedy puppet film that pokes fun at American egos. The theme song boasts of what the country created: McDonald’s, NFL and rock ‘n’ roll; and, less believably, freedom, Christmas, and books. New work by David Rozado of Te Pukenga, New Zealand’s Institute of Skills and Technology, suggests something else Americans didn’t invent: the phenomenon of “waking up.”

The term refers to a loose collection of ideas that change the way educated, left-leaning populace see the world. It says that all differences between racial groups are evidence of structural racism; that the norms of free speech, individualism, and universalism are a disguise for discrimination; and that this injustice will persist until the system of privilege is abolished. Conventional wisdom holds that awakening ideas began in the social science departments of American universities, migrated to the country’s newspapers, and spread elsewhere.

This is always a one-sided story. The godfathers of awakened thought, including Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida, philosophers who believed that all social relations were actually about power, mainly in France. Mr. Rozado’s new paper goes a step further. He analyzed 98 million news articles, tracking words like “transphobia,” “racism” and “sexism.” The phenomenon does not appear to have started in the US (see chart). Countries such as Australia, Canada and Sweden are actually leading the charge.

Why is America lagging behind? Maybe real prejudice suddenly got worse outside of the US, though that seems unlikely. Another possibility has to do with the economy. The US recovered faster than anywhere else from the 2007-09 global financial crisis. Anger against the system may be sharper elsewhere. A third possibility has to do with politics. The United States has historically been less accepting of left-wing ideas. It is perhaps not surprising that lucid thoughts are slower to take hold.

Researchers would take issue with this approach: It’s hard to rigorously quantify something as volatile as lucidity. Nonetheless, the phenomenon is undoubtedly global. No matter where you go, it’s hard to escape a Social Justice Warrior. A world policeman indeed.

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