A Woke CIA Will Make America Safer
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- In one of the greatest marketing coups in the U.S. government history, the CIA has succeeded at one of the most difficult tasks facing any organization, public or private: It has produced a viral video.
Some wags on Twitter are referring to the video as “Woke James Bond.” The narrative presents a Latina woman — and employee of the Central Intelligence Agency — with two children, describing herself as a “cisgender Millennial,” a “woman of color,” “intersectional,” and also suffering from generalized anxiety disorder. Not exactly the portrait of a spy from a Robert Ludlum novel.
First, the CIA is seriously understaffed. Most CIA jobs pay standard government wages, which are less than many private-sector alternatives. Meanwhile, the cost of living in northern Virginia, where the agency’s headquarters are, has been rising steeply.
If the CIA is to remain a viable organization, it has to look for new sources of talent — and send out many new and different kinds of Bat-Signals. Simply putting the idea of working for the CIA into people’s heads, in this case through a viral video, is a very effective marketing strategy, even for viewers who do not like the video. Fifty years later, I still remember Coca-Cola’s “I’d like to teach the world to sing,” even though the ad (and song) bugged me at the time.
By no means do all CIA employees come from northern Virginia, but many do, due to proximity and familiarity. And the area is rich with immigrants of many kinds, including Latinos, so the deliberate targeting of non-Whites might well pay dividends. In American popular culture, most spies are White, such as Carrie of “Homeland.” Why not try something different?
A further reality is that most CIA jobs are bureaucratic desk jobs, involving research into countries, regions and groups, and possibly requiring linguistic expertise. Non-White women will very often have comparative expertise in those areas. It is not necessary for every CIA employee to be able to perform the kinds of stunts you see in the movie “Moonraker.”
And what about the “wokeness” of the video? Isn’t that objectionable? Won’t the Taliban and Al-Qaeda be mocking America’s political correctness?
In fact, the video’s wokeness pleases me. To be clear, I do not consider myself woke, nor would those who know me classify me as such. (As an aside, I prefer to be “orthogonal to woke” rather than “opposed to woke,” as I think most social institutions should be more inclusive, though I reject the piousness and dogmatism of the woke as we find them.)
If you wanted to dilute wokeness, and limit its appeal to young radicals, what could be better than a CIA endorsement? I, for one, would like to make wokeness decidedly uncool — and if this video can recruit some new talent to the CIA at the same time, what’s not to like?
If you are a passionate young person, deeply concerned with social justice, you will be looking for causes rejected by the Establishment and embraced by a cool, in-the-know vanguard. Think of Marlon Brando’s line in “The Wild One,” when he is asked what he is rebelling against: “Whadda you got?”
The CIA just went a long way toward making wokeness feel ordinary and anodyne. Wokeness isn’t going to disappear, so the sooner wokeness becomes like the Unitarian Church — broadly admired but commanding only a modicum of passion and commitment — the better.
For similar reasons, those skeptical of wokeness should not be overly worried about so many American businesses embracing the concept, at least rhetorically. Some left-wing radicals might even consider the notion of woke and inclusive CIA assassins to be sinister, just as they fear that international conglomerates will neuter wokeness by embracing it.
Have you ever been walking through a department store and heard the Muzak version of John Lennon’s “Imagine”? Do you know the line: “Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can”? Maybe hearing the accompanying melody, perhaps while browsing the men’s wear section, made you think that Karl Marx had taken over the world. Or maybe — if you’re like me — your reaction was that John Lennon had found his place in history, and that both capitalism and conservatism were more robust than he had imagined.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Tyler Cowen is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is a professor of economics at George Mason University and writes for the blog Marginal Revolution. His books include "Big Business: A Love Letter to an American Anti-Hero."
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.