Thinking Critically About Social Justice

Thinking Critically About Social Justice, by Uri Harris.

Yesterday, the U.S. National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) released a memo written by an attorney, Jayme Sophir, which determined that Google did not violate United States federal law when it fired James Damore. Sophir reasoned that references to psychometric literature on sex differences in personality were “discriminatory and constitute sexual harassment,” and on these grounds, Damore’s firing was justified.

Of course Google did not violate the law — justice has gone tribal.

One libertarian respondent claimed there’s a “concerted purge of conservative employees at Apple.” … A Google employee claimed to have lost multiple talented colleagues who resigned rather than continue in “an increasingly extreme, narrow-minded, and regressive environment.” …

Companies seem to be rapidly adopting a culture of social justice that is far more consciously activist than the libertarianism and/or moderate liberalism that preceded it. As a consequence, conservatives and libertarians are now viewed less as people with different views, and more as obstacles to moral progress, thus justifying their harassment.

A similar trend seems to be taking place in other parts of society as well. The last few Oscars and Grammys clearly demonstrated a more overt embrace of social justice ideology by the mainstream entertainment industry than before. …

The methodology underpinning much of the social justice perspective is known as critical theory, which draws heavily on German philosopher Karl Marx’s notion of ideology. Because the bourgeoisie control the means of production in a capitalist society, Marx suggested, they control the culture. Consequently, the laws, beliefs, and morality of society come to reflect their interests. And importantly, workers are unaware this is the case. …

Gradually, critical theorists broadened their attention to other forms of oppression—gender, race, and sexual orientation especially—but the methodology remained the same: to identify the hidden and complex ways in which power and oppression permeate society, and then dismantle them. …

Where the social justice narrative went dangerously off the rails:

There’s something missing from the social justice narrative though … it doesn’t take into account the power and oppression it exerts itself. In a society where social justice advocates are outside the dominant power structure — as was the case when these ideas were originally articulated — this doesn’t matter much, since their power is negligible. That’s increasingly no longer the case, as social justice advocates have come to exert major influence over central areas of society, and consequently have also gained substantial power over society as a whole. Clearly, an accurate model of societal power must include social justice ideology and its advocates.

If this seems strange, it’s because social justice advocates have created a portrayal of themselves as being outside the flow of power; everyone else is exerting power or being oppressed by it, while they are simply observing it, and any power they do exert is selfless and unoppressive. Oppression is class-based, we’ve been conditioned to think, or based on race, gender, or sexual orientation. We therefore don’t see the power and oppression exerted by social justice advocates, because it’s based on none of those things; it’s based on values. And there’s nothing selfless about it. People exert power to shape the world according to their values, while preventing others from doing the same. In fact, there are close similarities between value oppression and other forms of oppression. …

Conflicting values are considered immoral: people who value a more competitive society, or a smaller government, or a stronger national identity, or a tougher culture, or more traditional family structures, or less immigration aren’t just regarded as having different values; they’re regarded as bad people.

Help help, I’m being repressed by the social justice warriors! Immigration and crime:

This is especially clear in the context of immigration, which is something I’ve witnessed myself. I grew up in a part of Europe undergoing significant changes due to immigration, and I lived close enough to troubled areas to see how working-class people were especially affected by rising crime rates and cultural clashes.

Yet there was a virtual ban in mainstream society on people expressing their concerns. Anyone doing so would be met by a unified front of academics, journalists, and cultural figures expressing their moral outrage, wrapped up in sophisticated words and scientific-sounding terminology like xenophobia. (Further implying that being critical of mass immigration is a psychological disorder.) And being morally tainted could have serious consequences for a person’s career and personal relations.

This is unquestionably an exertion of power. Morality is used here by the intellectual and cultural elite as a tool to suppress the expression of values by people they disagree with. By embedding their morality in thick moral concepts like xenophobia, producing academic theories supporting their position, and filling the culture with idealisations of their values, they produce an impenetrable web of power that — combined with the threat of direct moral condemnation and its social consequences — shuts down any expression of alternative values, or even of information that threatens the idealised picture of the dominant values.

Hence, you get situations where people in these areas are afraid to come home at night and are wondering how things could have changed so quickly, yet no one is allowed to talk about it. And when someone does say something, they are met with a wave of sophisticated terminology backed by academic credentials that they have no way of parsing. All they know is something is wrong, but they’re unable to parse the academic discourse, and so they’re effectively shut down. And as conservatives and libertarians become increasingly scarce in academia, academia becomes more and more a tool of power to oppress their values. …

Like communism all over again:

Some of the most explicitly social justice-oriented societies ever to exist were the communist regimes of the 20th century, and they were characterised by tremendous oppression of their citizens. Why — when the explicit aim of these regimes was to liberate their citizens from oppression — did the opposite occur? The answer, surely, is that they made the same mistake contemporary social justice advocates make: not including themselves in the power analysis. (Which is especially questionable when you’re the dictator.)

This means they could send millions of political opponents and dissenters to prison camps, have a population living in terror of a secret police ready to pounce on any word deemed subversive, erect walls manned by armed guards to prevent people from leaving, yet consider themselves liberators for having reduced class differences. …

Reality is much closer to classic liberal thought:

The irony of doing a proper power analysis — not the selective power analysis of social justice ideology, but a complete one — is that you end up with something not that far from the Hobbesian view of human nature that formed the foundation of classical liberal thought, and which social justice advocates dislike.