The Totalitarian Doctrine of ‘Social Justice Warriors’

From The Observer:

Much of SJW’s passion goes into speech and culture policing directed at victimless crimes that violate their moral taboos


The modern social justice movement, or the new “political correctness,” vaulted into the spotlight last year.  Student protests swept across campuses with demands often focused on purging thoughtcrime—leading to heated debates on whether this movement is a dangerous pseudo-progressive authoritarianism or a long-overdue effort to achieve justice for all. A year-in-review piece in The Daily Dot in late December proclaimed 2015 “the year of the social justice warrior.”

The Daily Dot author, graduate student and political columnist Michael Rosa, hailed this trend and urged liberals to “embrace the term.” Yet the accomplishments he invoked are, as the social justice crowd likes to say, problematic. His Exhibit A, the legalization of same-sex marriage, actually had very little to do with the current social justice movement; it was the result of two decades of very different, pragmatic activism that focused on a clear goal—the legal right to marry—and stressed equality, not gay identity. And #BlackLivesMatter, also a movement with a specific focus—police violence toward African-Americans—has been arguably hurt, not helped, by PC dogma that suppresses discussion of thorny issues such as black-on-black crime and attacks “insensitive” dissenting speech (Amherst protesters demanded disciplinary action against students who had put up “All Lives Matter” posters).

Unfortunately, Mr. Rosa’s other examples of “social justice” in action—the feminist revival, the new visibility of transgender issues and opposition to “Islamophobia”—are squarely in train-wreck territory. Not that there’s anything wrong with the principles: Most Americans support gender equality, believe transgender people should be able to live as they wish and reject anti-Muslim hate. But social justice warriors have turned these causes into malignant self-parody. Their feminism frets over men sitting with their legs apart on public transit, seeks dissent-free “safe spaces” and cries oppression at concern about obesity’s health risks. Their transgender advocacy demands respect for customized gender identities with personal pronouns that may change on a whim and crucifies a devoutly progressive filmmaker for a “transphobic” joke that presumes that female characters are anatomically female. Their anti-Islamophobia trashes feminist critics of conservative Islamism and victim-blames journalists murdered for publishing Mohammed cartoons.

Have the social justice warriors of 2015 supported some worthy causes? Sure. But much of their passion goes into speech and culture policing directed at victimless crimes that violate their moral taboos.

Consider last year’s protest against a Boston Museum of Fine Arts exhibit that allowed visitors to try on a kimono: Activists assailed this as “cultural appropriation” and racist imperialism, much to the bafflement of local Japanese-Americans and Japanese consulate staffers. Or consider the outcry over a T-shirt worn in promotional photos by stars of the film Suffragette, using a slogan from suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst, “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave.” This was blasted for “co-opting” the black experience of slavery and racism and ignoring the Civil War connotations of “rebel”—even though the quote had nothing to do with American slavery or Confederate rebellion and used both words in the universal sense.

Behind these outbreaks of self-righteous wrath is a distinct if somewhat amorphous ideology we could dub “SocJus.” (The callback to “IngSoc” from George Orwell’s 1984 is not quite coincidental.) At the center of this worldview is the evil of oppression, the virtue of “marginalized” identities—based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion or disability—and the perfectionist quest to eliminate anything the marginalized may perceive as oppressive or “invalidating.” Such perceptions are given a near-absolute presumption of validity, even if shared by a fraction of the “oppressed group.” Meanwhile, the viewpoints of the “privileged”—a category that includes economically disadvantaged whites, especially men—are radically devalued.

Because SocJus is so focused on changing bad attitudes and ferreting out subtle biases and insensitivities, its hostility to free speech and thought is not an unfortunate byproduct of the movement but its very essence. You can be welcoming and respectful toward transgender people yet still be branded a bigot if you don’t quite believe that transwomen who identify as female but have an intact male anatomy are “real women”—and even if you keep that opinion to yourself, you can be challenged to prove your loyalty to the party line.

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