Excellent piece (“The Problem of Social Justice Elitism”) in the Bulletin for the Study of Religion by Matt Sheedy, highly progressive faculty member at the University of Manitoba, which gets at the heart of what is wrong with Social Justice Warriors and their quasi-religious belief in their own righteousness regardless of truth:
I have been thinking about this problem ever since an experience I had as a Master’s student at Harvard Divinity School. While the political culture of HDS was overwhelmingly progressive, seminars were often plagued by the sort of one-upmanship described by Ahmed, wherein the perfect were made the enemy of the good. Then one night there was a party in the courtyard of Beckwith Circle, an apartment complex for divinity students. A large, slightly inebriated man wandered up from the street and joined us. The stranger turned out to be a Neo-Nazi who proceeded to debate us about whether the holocaust had really happened. He also asserted that deporting all Jews from the United States and Western Europe was the only way to prevent widespread violence and rioting when the population rises up against “Jewish arrogance.”
The divinity students made a few efforts to debate him, but of course, the Neo-Nazi had come prepared for this debate. No one asked him to leave. Instead, one by one, they excused themselves and retreated into their apartments. I was one of only two students who continued to talk with this person. While I became mildly concerned the encounter might end in violence, everyone remained calm. I stopped trying to argue with him and instead asked him how he became a Neo-Nazi. He told me he was a quarter Jewish and that he had been attacked in a nightclub “for being Jewish.” He also praised the intellectualism of the Boston Neo-Nazis he had met, who could allegedly read Sanskrit. My overall impression was of someone struggling to form a sense of identity from the resources available to him. Eventually, he left of his own volition.
I woke up the next morning feeling frustrated with my fellow divinity students. What did it mean that we spent so much time in seminar challenging each other over increasingly subtle concessions to the kyriarchy, but retreated when confronted by an honest-to-goodness Neo-Nazi? What if well-meaning academics had made this Neo-Nazi feel vilified and ashamed, driving him into the arms of the white supremacists?
In the years since this incident, I have thought a lot about the difference between sincere discussion about social justice and the more self-interested rhetoric described by Ahmed. First, true discussion about social justice is conjunctive rather than disjunctive. That is, it creates connections by promoting an understanding of the experience of the other. By contrast, the rhetoric of social justice elitism divides people by assessing the degree to which they contribute to a system of injustice. Second, while sincere dialogue about social justice requires courage, social justice elitism rarely involves risk. Speaking truth to power is a frightening undertaking. So is talking about social justice in a way that leverages one’s privilege or runs the risk of being misunderstood. The rhetoric of social justice elitism generally occurs through channels in which there is no risk of being challenged: online comment sections, gossip, and seminars full of like-minded people.
Ironically, I suspect that we engage in social justice elitism for the same reason an otherwise reasonable man became a Neo-Nazi: out of a desire to construct and perform an identity. While the SJWs really do care about social justice, they are also invested in constructing a heroic self-narrative. This often entails a Quixotic project of creating villains by casting whoever is around them as the forces of oppression. As a teaching assistant, an undergraduate asked me about a paper she wanted to write on the Bible and gay rights. She explained that she was very pro-gay but knew “by word of mouth” that the professor opposed gay rights. In essence, she wanted to know if she would be punished for defending gay rights against an intolerant authority figure. The problem with this narrative was that there was no such authority figure. The professor was an arch-progressive and the victim of malicious gossip. At its worst, the move to create villains where none exist can amount to “weaponizing” the values of social justice. I have even seen cases where undergraduates have used the rhetoric of tolerance to punish faculty for giving them low grades. There has probably never been a religion professor who “hates other cultures,” but this accusation has been made on teaching evaluations.
This game of heroes and villains is not merely annoying or hypocritical. It directly undermines the very causes that SJWs advocate. When well-meaning students fear being attacked for their lack of sensitivity, the opportunity for a sincere dialogue or a teachable moment about structural injustice closes. A judgmental classroom environment also lends credence to the canard that higher education claims to promote critical thinking while actually enforcing “liberal brainwashing.” The most ironic consequence of these sorts of attacks is that untenured white male professors (i.e. professors like me) may feel discouraged from discussing those voices and traditions that have historically been neglected by academia. Had the professor I worked under not invited students to write on Biblical hermeneutics regarding homosexuality, he probably would not have been slandered as homophobic.
The sealed grievance bubble of like-minded true believers is impervious to facts and assumes only they have a connection to “truthiness.” In that, it resembles a cult or one of those hate groups the Southern Poverty Law Center likes to label dangerous, but of course the prevailing politics gives them a pass because they “mean well.”
Young people who latch onto a belief system and self-righteously hurt others are also in the news: jihadists leaving privileged backgrounds in Western countries to behead innocents also fit the pattern. They seek glamour and meaning at the expense of human values, defending an abstract victim class by crucifying real people.
As moderate Muslims give a pass to Jihadists because they are “just trying to do good,” older and wiser academics fail to stand up to SJWs because they are sympathetic to their ideals, but they are doing great damage to freedom of thought in their schools.
Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations
[From Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations, available now in Kindle and trade paperback.]
Corporate HR Scrambles to Halt Publication of “Death by HR”
Nobody gets a job through HR. The purpose of HR is to protect their parent organization against lawsuits for running afoul of the government’s diversity extortion bureaus. HR kills companies by blanketing industry with onerous gender and race labor compliance rules and forcing companies to hire useless HR staff to process the associated paperwork… a tour de force… carefully explains to CEOs how HR poisons their companies and what steps they may take to marginalize this threat… It is time to turn the tide against this madness, and Death by HR is an important research tool… All CEOs should read this book. If you are a mere worker drone but care about your company, you should forward an anonymous copy to him.
More on Social Justice Warriors, etc.:
Social Justice Warriors: #GamerGate Explained
Emma Watson’s Message: Intelligence Trumps Sex
Divorced Men 8 Times as Likely to Commit Suicide as Divorced Women
Life Is Unfair! The Militant Red Pill Movement
Leftover Women: The Chinese Scene
“Divorce in America: Who Really Wants Out and Why”
View Marriage as a Private Contract?
Madmen, Red Pill, and Social Justice Wars
Unrealistic Expectations: Liberal Arts Woman and Amazon Men
Stable is Boring? “Psychology Today” Article on Bad Boyfriends
Ross Douthat on Unstable Families and Culture
Ev Psych: Parental Preferences in Partners
Purge: the Feminist Grievance Bubble
The Social Decay of Black Neighborhoods (And Yours!)
Modern Feminism: Victim-Based Special Pleading
Stereotype Inaccuracy: False Dichotomies
Real-Life “Hunger Games”: Soft Oppression Destroys the Poor
Red Pill Women — Female MRAs
Why Did Black Crime Syndicates Fail to Go Legit?
The “Fairy Tale” Myth: Both False and Destructive
Feminism’s Heritage: Freedom vs. Special Protections
Evolve or Die: Survival Value of the Feminine Imperative
“Why Are Great Husbands Being Abandoned?”
Divorce and Alimony: State-By-State Reform, Massachusetts Edition
Reading “50 Shades of Grey” Gives You Anorexia and an Abusive Partner!
Why We Are Attracted to Bad Partners (Who Resemble a Parent)
Gaming and Science Fiction: Social Justice Warriors Strike Again
Culture Wars: Peace Through Limited Government