Ever since Puppies in various heightened emotional states started lifting their legs and pissing all over the Hugo Awards a few years ago, the term Social Justice Warrior (SJW) has been bandied about as a kind of an all-purpose insult. The phrase has even moved away from the narrow world of fandom and has now started to appear in other, more mainstream areas of discussion. So perhaps it is time to come to grips with the idea. Lets see if we can work out exactly what people mean when they fling that insult at you...
Id never come across the term before the Puppies started using it and I was immediately rather angry at them because, taking the words at face value, I felt that the phrase Social Justice Warrior actually described me very well, and I rather objected to being turned into the Puppies whipping boy.
So let me be perfectly clear about it Social Justice Warrior is a label that Im happy to wear with a great deal of pride.
Now that weve got that out of the way, lets get down to business.
Generally the SJW insult is used as a somewhat pejorative synonym for "people whose opinions are different from mine" and therefore it has become an ad hominem strawman (but I repeat myself...). Under this definition, any given individual could legitimately call everybody else in the world an SJW because no two people can ever have completely congruent opinions on anything. So clearly the phrase lacks a certain precision when it is employed in this way. Nevertheless it does have its uses, particularly if you take each word completely literally
I see Social Justice Warriors as being people who advocate positive policies of social progression and/or reform, addressing aspects of society that are perceived to be unjust. Those who use the phrase as an insult presumably do not advocate such policies. So lets call these people Social Justice Deniers (SJDs), since we have to call them something!
One of the nastier aspects of the Social Justice Deniers is their propensity to denigrate members of society who are not like them. People whose race, colour, creed and gender differ from the race, colour, creed and gender of the SJDs themselves are seen as existential threats. Social Justice Warriors who, by and large, dont feel threatened by these things and who actively campaign to make them acceptable to the mainstream, are therefore seen as the enemy.
This world view categorises SJWs as the political police of the left wing, actively seeking to deny the SJDs their right of free speech. However the SJDs seem to define free speech as the right to make whatever racist and sexist remarks they chose about the groups they disapprove of, without any consequence to themselves. Unfortunately for them thats not how it works...
SJDs very much want to remake the world in their own image. This is why they vociferously support enforcing immigration quotas and why they want to eliminate (or refuse to acknowledge) diversity. If everyone was like them, their world would be perfect. They see themselves as a meritocracy in a world which just happens to favour people like them because people like them are just better than everyone else. The circularity of that argument seems to escape them
It is very hard to come to grips with this kind of attitude because its so very difficult to see how any legislative (or other) process can ameliorate it. The only (rather woolly) answer I can come up with for addressing it is a programme of education combined with a lot of wishful thinking and even here I am not hopeful. Some people just seem to have hatred engraved in their DNA. That doesnt mean we have to stop trying, but it does mean that we must expect to be disappointed with the results.
Since SJDs blame the political left wing for all the evils in their world, and because they consider SJWs to be the epitome of left wing thinking, its worth looking more closely at the kinds of things that the left wing stands for. Lets see just what it is that gets under the skin of the SJDs...
Well begin with the beautiful words of the American Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
You will notice that the declaration makes no mention of race, colour or creed things that are very important to the SJDs. So I doubt that the SJDs think very much of the declaration. But personally I rather like it.
None of the goals it defines can be pursued unless you are healthy and unless you have enough money to put food on the table and to keep a roof over your head. Legislation can supply you with both of those things (they come under the heading of life), leaving you with the liberty to pursue your idea of happiness. Thats terribly idealistic of course, and we cant even begin to come asymptotically close to that kind of Social Justice goal in real life. But by providing you with free health care and by giving you money when you need it to keep the wolf away from your door, we can at least give you a fighting chance at the rest of it
This is anathema to the SJDs. They claim (if I understand them correctly) that the implementation of such SJW policies will invariably lead to socialism a word, and a concept, that seems to terrify them. Hence, of course, their prejudice against the left wing.
I find this attitude hard to understand. Partly this is because what they call socialism and what I call socialism are often two very different things (nobody can split definitional hairs like socialists who are attempting to define socialism!) and partly its because Ive lived all my life in more or less socialist societies under the control of more or less socialist governments. Sometimes these have been very left wing (Harold Wilsons Labour government in the UK in the 1960s, for example) and sometimes they have been very right wing (John Keys National government in New Zealand in the early years of the twenty-first century springs to mind). But one thing that all the governments in my life have had in common, be they right wing or be they left wing, is that they have never dared to mess with the basic legislative tenets of Social Justice because, one and all, they knew that to do so would make them unelectable. Make no mistake about it, SJW policies are very popular policies in the countries that have implemented them people who have lived with those policies in place always come to like them, and dont want to lose them. So while governments may tinker around the ideological edges of the policies, the fundamental policies themselves always remain firmly in place.
I can quite literally claim that these socialist policies have saved my life. When I was three years old I got pneumonia. But because medical attention in the UK is free, the antibiotics that I needed were readily available and I made a full recovery. Without a free, universal health care service, my poor as church mice parents would never have been able to pay for the treatment I needed and therefore, for the last sixty-seven years Id almost certainly have been dead. Im sure you will all agree that the world would have been a much poorer place if that had happened.
When I relate this anecdote, the SJDs usually point out that the health care I received was not free it was paid for by the government from the taxes that the government collected. This observation has the interesting property of being both absolutely true and completely irrelevant at one and the same time. Taxes happen. You cant avoid them unless you are a billionaire. And once your taxes have been paid, the services the government provides with the money are freely available to you whenever you need them. Speaking personally, I really rather like the idea of my taxes being used to finance an enlightened social programme in which everyone gets free medical treatment and everyone has the money to buy food and pay rent if they happen to be unemployed or sick. Yes, I really do want to make a contribution to the medical bills run up by the homeless meth addict lying comatose in the gutter over there. Who knows? Maybe hell make a full recovery and one day his taxes will make a contribution to the care that I will need in the future when Im raving with dementia in a nursing home. What kind of people are we if we dont look after each other? I dont have it in me to be that cruel.
Karl Marx summed it up very succinctly when he said, From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs. Karl said a lot of very stupid things in his lifetime, but I think we can forgive them for the sake of the insight that rather pithy saying provides.
SJDs tend to have very little difficulty with the first part of this. From each according to his ability. After all, people with abilities are productive in terms of both goods and services and all of us, both SJWs and SJDs can take full advantage of that productivity, to our mutual benefit. And quite right too.
But its the to each according to his needs that sticks in the SJDs craw. They seem to feel no need to give anything back to someone who may be a bit down on their luck. Again, to be fair, this is not invariably the case. Many SJDs will voluntarily give aid to someone in need. What they object to is being coerced into doing so by a "socialist" government that wont allow them to opt out in the name of individualism and freedom of choice.
I dont see that position as freedom of choice or as individualism, I see it as selfishness. In the UK in the 1950s, there was a saying, Im all right Jack! That was its more polite formulation. Perhaps the less polite version gets the point across better. Screw you, Jack! Im all right. In other words, once my needs have been satisfied by my own efforts, why should I care about your needs? What would motivate me to do so? God helps those who help themselves. If you cant afford to buy food, go and get a job like I did. If that attitude prevails, if there is too much of that kind of "freedom", people will start to suffer because ultimately there will be nobody there to help them when they truly are in need.
Of course it can be argued that requiring the state to give to each according to his needs will simply encourage an attitude of dependency. After all, because there is always a safety net to catch you when you fall, why not just lie back and enjoy the largesse? Open your mouth, its raining soup. Isnt that just human nature? And so we come right back to Im all right, Jack again, only the other way round this time you are freely giving me what I need, so why should I bother to get off my chuff and go and hunt a mammoth? Hunting mammoths is hard work! So tell me, you Social Justice Warrior you, why should my taxes be used to encourage such lotus eating? Grumble, grumble Yours Sincerely, Disgusted Social Justice Denier, Tunbridge Wells...
Its a legitimate concern, and that kind of systemic abuse is why you need rules and regulations to make the thing work. The regulations can be both formal organisational ones together with other less formal, though often very effective, social ones. Social pressure from your peers can sometimes work wonders. Youll never completely get rid of any abuse of the system. No matter what the system is, there will always be people who abuse it we just have to grin and bear it, shrug our shoulders and accept it, and move on. With luck, this combination of Social Justice will minimise that kind of abuse. I like to think of it as enlightened (or "woke") socialism, and it really does seem to work. I see the results all around me every day. Surely that has to be a good thing?
Unless you are a Social Justice Denier of course