[Content warning: Social justice, anti-social justice, comparisons of social justice to anti-social-justice, comparisons of different groups’ experiences.]
The social justice narrative describes a political-economic elite dominated by white males persecuting anybody who doesn’t fit into their culture, like blacks, women, and gays. The anti-social-justice narrative describes an intellectual-cultural elite dominated by social justice activists persecuting anybody who doesn’t fit into their culture, like men, theists, and conservatives. Both are relatively plausible; Congress and millionaires are 80% – 90% white; journalists and the Ivy League are 80% – 90% leftist.
The narratives share a surprising number of other similarities. Both, for example, identify their enemy with the spirit of a discredited mid-twentieth century genocidal philosophy of government; fascists on the one side, communists on the other. Both believe they’re fighting a war for their very right to exist, despite the lack of any plausible path to reinstituting slavery or transitioning to a Stalinist dictatorship. Both operate through explosions of outrage at salient media examples of their out-group persecuting their in-group.
They have even converged on the same excuse for what their enemies call “politicizing” previously neutral territory – that what their enemies call “politicizing” is actually trying to restore balance to a field the other side has already successfully politicized. For example, on Vox recently a professor accused of replacing education with social justice propaganda in her classroom counterargues that:
All of my students, regardless of the identity categories they embraced, had been taught their entire lives that real literature is written by white people. Naturally, they felt they were being cheated by this strange professor’s “agenda”…It is worth asking, Who can most afford to teach in ways that are least likely to inspire controversy? Those who are not immediately hurt by dominant ideas. And what’s the most dominant idea of them all? That the white, male, heterosexual perspective is neutral, but all other perspectives are biased and must be treated with skepticism […]
Have we actually believed the lie that the only people who engage in “identity politics” are black feminists like me? Could it be that when some white men looked at more powerful white men, they could see them only as reasonable and not politically motivated, so they turned off their critical thinking skills when observing their actions? (Not everyone, of course.) Could it be that we only consider people ideologues when they don’t vow allegiance to capitalism?
Compare to the “Sad Puppies”, a group of conservatives accused of adding a conservative bent to science fiction’s Hugo Awards. They retort that “politicization is what leftists call it when you fight back against leftists politicizing something”. As per the Breitbart article:
The chief complaint from the Sad Puppies campaigners is the atmosphere of political intolerance and cliquishness that prevails in the sci-fi community. According to the libertarian sci-fi author Sarah A. Hoyt, whispering campaigns by insiders have been responsible for the de facto blacklisting of politically nonconformist writers across the sci-fi community. Authors who earn the ire of the dominant clique can expect to have a harder time getting published and be quietly passed over at award ceremonies […]
Brad R. Torgersen, who managed this year’s Sad Puppies campaign, spoke to Breitbart London about its success: “I am glad to be overturning the applecart. Numerous authors, editors, and markets have been routinely snubbed or ignored over the years because they were not popular inside WSFS or because their politics have made them radioactive.”
Torgersen cites a host of authors who have suffered de facto exclusion from the sci-fi community: David Drake, David Weber, L.E Modesitt Jr, Kevn J. Anderson, Eric Flint, and of course Orson Scott Card — the creator of the world-famous Ender’s Game, which was recently adapted into a successful movie. Despite his phenomenal success, Scott Card has been ostracized by sci-fi’s inner circle thanks to his opposition to gay marriage.
I see minimal awareness from the social justice movement and the anti-social-justice movement that their narratives are similar, and certainly no deliberate intent to copy from one another. That makes me think of this as a case of convergent evolution.
The social justice attitude evolved among minority groups living under the domination of a different culture, which at best wanted to ignore them and at worst actively loathed them for who they were and tried to bully them into submission. The closest the average white guy gets to that kind of environment is wandering into a social-justice-dominated space and getting to experience the same casual hatred and denigration for them and everyone like them, followed by the same insistence that they’re imagining things and how dare they make that accusation and actually everything is peachy.
And maybe that very specific situation breeds a very specific kind of malignant hypervigilance, sort of halfway between post-traumatic stress disorder and outright paranoia, which motivates the obvious fear and hatred felt by both groups.
Someone is going to freak out and say I am a disgusting privileged shitlord for daring to compare the experience of people concerned about social justice to the experience of genuinely oppressed people, but they really shouldn’t. That’s the explicit goal of large parts of the social justice movement. For example, on the Hacker News thread about far-rightist Curtis Yarvin being kicked out of a tech conference for his views, one commenter writes:
I’ve been involved in anti-racist/anti-fascist work, either directly or on the periphery, for about ten years at this point. This takes many forms, from street confrontations with fascists, protests at book readings and other events, and also disrupting fascist conferences and similar […]
As far as this issue and other similar issues are concerned, I’m overjoyed that, as you put it, a climate of fear exists for fascists, misogynists, racists, and similar. I hope that this continues and only worsens for these people.
I’m happy for many reasons. The first is that it has, as you’ve said, made privileged people afraid. I think this is only the beginning. Privilege creates safety, and as it is removed, I think the unsafety of the oppressed will in part come to the currently privileged classes. But if I could flip a switch and make every man feel the persistent, gnawing fear that a woman has of men, I would in a heartbeat. I wouldn’t even consider whether the consequences were strategic, I would just do it.
This not the only time I’ve heard this opinion expressed, just the most recent. I feel like if you admit that you’re trying your hardest to make privileged people feel afraid and uncomfortable and under siege in a way much like minorities traditionally do, and privileged people are in fact complaining of feeling afraid and uncomfortable and under siege in a way much like minorities traditionally do, you shouldn’t immediately doubt their experience. Give yourself some more credit than that. You’ve been working hard, and at least in a few isolated cases here and there it’s paid off.
The commenter continues:
I would not say that I set out to defeat a “discourse-stifling” monster. The monsters I set out to defeat were patriarchy, capitalism, and white supremacy. These systems violently oppress, they don’t “stifle discourse.” In fact, they LOVE discourse! When people are discoursing, they aren’t in the streets. I’ve seen so many promising movements hobbled by reformism that I’m glad the possibility no longer exists, though that isn’t at all the fault of SJW-outrage (and is rather a consequence of the fact that the economy is in large part so perilous that nobody can afford the concessions that were previously won by reformists). So if discourse is permanently removed as a tactical and strategic option for future leftists, I’ll consider it a victory.
Needless to say, that is not this blog’s philosophy. But I think there is nevertheless something to be gained from all of the hard work this guy and his colleagues have put in making other people feel unsafe.
The mirror neuron has always been one of liberalism’s strongest weapon. A Christian doesn’t decide to tolerate Islam because she likes Islam, she decides to tolerate Islam because she can put herself in a Muslim’s shoes and realize that banning Islam would make him deeply upset in the same way that banning Christianity would make her deeply upset.
If the fear and hypervigilance that majority groups feel in social-justice-dominated spaces is the same as the fear and hypervigilance that minority groups feel in potentially discriminatory spaces, that gives us a whole lot more mirror neurons to work with and allows us to get a gut-level understanding of the other side of the dynamic. It lets us check my intuitions against their own evil twins on the other side to determine when we are proving too much.
A couple of months ago the owners of a pizzeria mentioned in an interview that they wouldn’t serve pizza at gay weddings because they’re against gay marriage. Instantly the nation united in hatred of them and sent a bunch of death threats and rape threats and eventually they had to close down.
I thought this was ridiculous. I mean, obviously death threats are never acceptable, but there seemed to be something especially frivolous about this case, where there are dozens of other pizzerias gay people can go to and where no one would ever serve pizza at a wedding anyway. A pizzeria hardly holds the World Levers Of Power, so just let them have their weird opinion. All they’re doing is sending potential paying customers to their more tolerant competitors, who are laughing all the way to the bank. It’s a self-punishing offense.
This was very reasonable of me and I should be praised for my reasonableness, except that when a technology conference recently booted a speaker for having far-right views on his own time, I was one of the many people who found this really scary and thought they needed to be publicly condemned for this intolerant act.
In theory, the same considerations ought to apply. There are dozens of other technology conferences in the world. Technology conferences also do not hold the World Levers Of Power. And when they reject qualified rightist speakers, that just means they’re just making life easier for their competitors who will be happy to grab the opportunity and laugh all the way to the bank. It ought to be self-punishing, so what’s the worry.
My brain is totally not on board with this reasoning. When I ask it why, it says something like “No, you don’t understand, these people are relentless, unless they are constantly pushed against they will put pressure on more and more institutions until their enemies are starved out or limited to tiny ghettos. Then they will gradually expand the definition of ‘enemy’ until everybody who doesn’t do whatever they say is blacklisted from everywhere.”
And if you think that’s hyper-paranoid, then, well, you’re probably right, but at least I have a lot of company. Here are some other comments on the same situation from the last links thread:
I spent a semester of college in Massachusetts. That’s where I found out that there are a lot of people who’d kill me and most of my family if they were given the chance. And thought it was totally reasonable and acceptable to say as much. (The things that are associated with Tumblr these days existed long before it. And mostly came from academia.)
About the same time that sort of thing was happening in that online community, the same thing was happening in the real-world meat-space gatherings, also quite literally with shrill screams, mostly by [reacted] [reacted]s, who would overhear someone else’s private conversations, and then start streaming “I BEG YOUR PARDON!” and “HOW CAN YOU SAY THAT!”, and by [reacted] [reacted]’s who were bullying their way onto programming committees, and then making sure that various speakers, panelists, artists, authors, dealers, and GoHs known to be guilty of wrongthink were never invited in the first place. Were it not for the lucky circumstance of the rise of the web, the market takeoff of ebooks, especially a large ebook vendor (named after a river)’s ebook direct program, and the brave anchoring of a well known genre publisher that was specifically not homed in NYC, the purging of the genre and the community would have been complete.
Almost nobody wants to physically murder and maim the enemy, at least at the start. That’s, well, the Final Solution. Plan A is pretty much always for the enemy to admit their wrongness or at least weakness, surrender, and agree to live according to the conqueror’s rules. Maybe the leaders will have to go to prison for a while, but everyone else can just quietly recant and submit, nobody has to be maimed or killed. [The social justice community] almost certainly imagine they can achieve this through organized ostracism, social harassment, and democratic political activism. It’s when they find that this won’t actually make all the racists shut up and go away, that we get to see what their Plan B, and ultimately their final solution, look like.
And if you think my commenters are also hyper-paranoid, then you’re probably still right. But it seems like the same kind of paranoia that makes gay people and their allies scream bloody murder against a single pizzeria, the kind that makes them think of it as a potential existential threat even though they’ve won victory after victory after victory and the only question still in the Overton Window is the terms of their enemies’ surrender.
I mocked the hell out of the people boycotting Indiana businesses because of their right-to-discriminate law:
Can we admit it's KIND OF funny ppl are boycotting Indiana for the immoral act of allowing people to boycott those they think act immorally?
— Scott Alexander (@slatestarcodex) March 31, 2015
But if some state were to pass a law specifically saying “It is definitely super legal to discriminate against conservatives for their political beliefs,” this would freak me out, even though I am not conservative and even though this is already totally legal so the law would change nothing. I would not want to rule out any response, up to and including salting their fields to make sure no bad ideas could ever grow there again.
Like many people, I am not very good at consistency.
Author John Green writes books related to social justice. A couple of days ago, some social justice bloggers who disagreed with his perspective decided that a proportional response was to imply he was a creep who might sexually abuse children. Green was somewhat put out by this, and said on his Tumblr that he was “tired of seeing the language of social justice – important language doing important work – misused as a way to dehumanize others and treat them hatefully” and that he thought his harassers “were not treating him like a person”.
Speaking of the language of social justice, “dehumanizing” and “not treating like a person” are some pretty strong terms. They’re terms I’ve criticized before – like when feminists say they feel like women aren’t being treated as people, I’m tempted to say something like “the worst you’ve ever been able to find is a single-digit pay gap which may or may not exist, and you’re going to turn that into people not thinking you’re human?”
Here’s another strong term: “hatred”. The activist who got Mencius Moldbug banned from Strange Loop reassured us that he would never want someone banned merely for having unusual political views, but Moldbug went beyond that into “hatred”, which means his speech is “hate speech”, which is of course intolerable. This is a bit strange to anybody who’s read any of his essays, which seem to have trouble with any emotion beyond smugness. I call him a bloodless and analytical thinker; the idea of his veins suddenly bulging out when he thinks about black people is too silly to even talk about. The same is true of the idea that people should feel “unsafe” around him; his entire shtick is that no one except the state should be able to initiate violence!
Likewise, when people wanted TV star Phil Robertson fired for saying (on his own time) that homosexuality was unnatural and led to bestiality and adultery, they said it wasn’t about policing his religion, it was about how these were “hateful” comments that would make the people working with him feel unsafe. At the time I said that was poppycock and that people who wanted him fired for having a private opinion were the worst kinds of illiberal witch-hunters.
On the other hand, consider Irene Gallo. I know nothing of her except what the Alas blog post says, but apparently in science fiction’s ongoing conflict between the establishment and the anti-SJW “Sad Puppies”/”Rabid Puppies” groups, she referred to the latter as:
Two extreme right-wing to neo-nazi groups that are calling for the end of social justice in science fiction and fantasy. They are unrepentantly racist, sexist and homophobic.
These are some pretty strong allegations, and range from “false” to “bizarre”; Brad Torgenson, leader of the group she called “extreme right wing neo nazi unrepentant racists”, is happily married to a black woman. And the people she’s talking about are her company’s authors and customers, which hardly seems like good business practice. Some authors have said they feel uncomfortable working for a company whose employees think of them that way, and others have suggested boycotting Tor until they make her apologize or fire her.
Barry says that since she said these on her own private Facebook page, it is a private opinion that it would be pretty censorious to fire her over. Part of me agrees.
On the other hand, if I were a sci-fi author in one of the groups that she was talking about, I’m not sure I’d be able to work with her. Like, really? You want me to sit across a table and smile at the woman who thinks I’m a racist sexist homophobic extremist neo-Nazi just because I disagree with her?
Robertson’s comment is just standard having-theological-opinions. Like, “Christian thinks homosexuality is sinful, more at eleven.” Big deal. But Gallo’s comment feels more like white hot burning hatred. She’s clearly too genteel to personally kill me, but one gets the clear impression that if she could just press a button and have me die screaming, she’d do it with a smile on her face.
But this is just interpretation. Maybe Gallo doesn’t consider “neo-Nazi” a term of abuse. Maybe this was just her dispassionate way of describing a political philosophy with the most appropriate analogy she could think of.
It doesn’t seem likely to me. Then again, even though it seems obvious to me that stating “homosexuality is sinful and similar to bestiality” is a theological position totally compatible with being able to love the sinner and hate the sin, gay people have a lot of trouble believing it. And although I cannot condone firing people for their private opinions, back when people were trying to get rid of Gawker honcho Sam Biddle for saying that “nerds should be constantly shamed and degraded into submission”, God help me it certainly crossed my head that there were even the slightest consequences for this kind of behavior, maybe other social justice writers would stop saying and acting upon statements like that all the frickin’ time?
Once again, I’m not scoring very highly in consistency here.
A little while ago I had a bad couple of days. Some people were suggesting I was a liability to a group I was part of because I’d written some posts critical of feminism, and I got in a big fight about it. Then someone sent my ex-girlfriend a Tumblr message asking if they’d broken up with me “because I was racist”. Then despite my best efforts to prevent this, my Facebook feed decided to show me a bunch of Gawker-style articles about “Are all white people to blame for [latest atrocity]? I was too exhausted to write a real blog post, so I just threw together a links post. Because among two dozen or so links there was one (1) to the Moldbug story previously mentioned above, one commenter wrote that “your links posts are becoming indistinguishable from Chaos Patch” (Chaos Patch is the links post of notable far-right blog Xenosystems).
So I decided to ban that commenter. But since I have a policy in place of waiting an hour before doing anything rash, I took a long walk, thought about it a bit, and settled for just yelling at him instead.
Is banning someone for a kind of meaningless barb excessive? Well, yes. But given everything else that had happened, I didn’t have the energy to deal with it, and since this is my blog and the one corner of the world I have at least a tiny bit of control over I could at least symbolically get rid of a small fraction of my problems.
Plus, to me the barb seemed like an obvious veiled threat. “As long as you post any links about rightist causes, I can accuse you of being far-right. And we all know what happens to far-right people, eh?”
So even though out of context it was about the most minimal hostility possible, barely rising to the level where somebody would say it was even capable of being a problem at all, in context it really bothered me and made me at least somewhat justifiably feel unsafe.
Ever since I learned the word “microaggression” I have been unironically fond of it.
Microagressions. Nanoagressions. Picoagressions. The Planck Hostility.
— Map of Territory (@MapOfTerritory) January 28, 2015
When I’m putting up with too much and I’ve used up my entire mental buffer, then somebody bothering me and hiding under the cover of “oh, this was such a tiny insult that you would seem completely crazy to call me on it” is especially infuriating, even more infuriating than someone insulting me outright and me being able to respond freely. The more you have to deal with people who hate you and want to exclude you, the more likely you are to get into this mode, not to mention people who have developed their own little secret language of insults.
Here’s an example of what I mean by “secret language of insults”: consider the term “dude”, as in “white dude”. There is nothing objectively wrong with “dude” when it is applied to surfers or something. But when a feminist says it, as in the term “white dudes”, you know it is going to be followed by some claim that as a white dude, you are exactly the same as all other white dudes and entirely to blame for something you don’t endorse. The first page of Google results is overratedwhitedudes.tumblr.com, Gawker saying Wimpy White Dudes Ruined American Idol, and Mother Jones saying glowingly that You Won’t Find Many White Dudes At This Tech Startup. Being called a “white dude” is always followed by the implication that you’re ruining something or that your very presence is cringeworthy and disgusting.
I had a feminist friend who used to use the term “dudes” for “men” all the time. I asked them to please stop. They said that was silly, because that was just the word the culture they’d grown up in used, and obviously no harm was meant by it, and if I took it as an insult then I was just being oversensitive. This is word for word the explanation I got when I asked one of my elderly patients to stop calling black people their particular ethnic slur.
The counterpart to subliminal insults is superliminal insults; ones that are hard to detect because they’re so over-the-top obvious.
I was recently reading a social justice blog where someone complained about men telling women “Make me a sandwich!” in what was obvious jest.
On the one hand, no one can possibly take this seriously.
On the other hand, there’s a common social justice meme where people post under the hashtag #killallwhitemen.
Certainly this cannot be taken seriously; most social justice activists don’t have the means to kill all white men, and probably there are several of them who wouldn’t do it even if they could. It should not be taken, literally, as a suggestion that all white men should be killed. On the other hand, for some bizarre reason this tends to make white men uncomfortable.
The obvious answer is that the people posting “Wimmen, make me a sandwich!” don’t literally believe that women exist only for making them sandwiches, but they might believe a much weaker claim along the same lines, and by making the absurd sandwich claim, they can rub it in while also claiming to be joking. At least this is how I feel about the “kill all white men” claim.
As long as you’ve got a secret language of insults that your target knows perfectly well are insulting, but which you can credibly claim are not insulting at all – maybe even believing it yourself – then you have the ability to make them feel vaguely uncomfortable and disliked everywhere you go without even trying. If they bring it up, you can just laugh about how silly it is that people believe in “microaggressions” and make some bon mot about “the Planck hostility”.
I’m taking a pretty heavy Outside View line here, so let me allow my lizard brain a few words in its own defense.
“Yes,” my lizard brain says, “social justice activists and the people silenced by social justice activists use some of the same terms and have some of the same worries. But the latter group has reasonable worries, and the former group has totally unreasonable worries, which breaks the symmetry.”
Interesting. Please continue, lizard brain.
“Black people might be very worried about being discriminated against. But the chance that someone would say ‘Let’s ban all black people from our technology conference, because they are gross’, and everyone would say ‘Yes, that is a splendid idea’, and the government and media would say ‘Oh, wonderful, we are so proud of you for banning all black people from your conference’ is zero point zero zero zero. On the other hand, this is something that conservatives worry about every day. The chance that someone would say ‘You know, there’s no reason raping women should be illegal, let’s not even bother recording it in our official statistics’ is even lower than that, but this is exactly what several countries do with male rape victims. If someone says ‘kill all white men’, then all we do is hold an interminable debate about whether that disqualifies them from the position of Diversity Officer; if someone said ‘kill all gays’, we would be much more final in pronouncing them Not Quite Diversity Officer Material.”
But don’t you –
“The reason why we don’t care about a pizzeria that won’t serve gay people is that recent years have shown an overwhelming trend in favor of more and more rights and acceptance of gay people, and the pizzeria is a tiny deviation from the pattern which is obviously going to get crushed under the weight of history even without our help. The reason we worry about a conference banning conservatives is that conservatives are an actually-at-risk group, and their exclusion could grow and grow until it reaches horrific proportions. The idea of a pizzeria banning gays and a conference banning conservatives may seem superficially similar out of context, but when you add this piece of context they’re two completely different beasts.”
Two responses come to mind.
First, this is obviously true and correct.
Second, this is exactly symmetrical to my least favorite argument, the argument from privilege.
The argument from privilege is something like “Yeah, sure, every so often the system is unfair to white people or men or whatever in some way. But this is not a problem and we should not even be talking about it, because privilege. Shows that mock women for stereotypically female failings are sexist, but shows that mock men for stereotypically male failings are hilarious, and you may not call them sexist because you can’t be sexist against privileged groups.”
My argument has always been “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander”.
But either this argument goes, or my lizard brain’s argument goes, or we have to move to the object level, or somebody has to get more subtle.
My point is, there are a lot of social justice arguments I really hate, but which I find myself unintentionally reinventing any time things go really bad for me, or I feel like myself or my friends are being persecuted.
I should stop to clarify something. “Persecuted” is a strong word. “Feel like we are being persecuted” is way weaker.
A couple weeks ago there was a Vox article, America’s Never Been Safer, So Why Do Republicans Believe It Is In Mortal Peril?. It brought up a lot of cute statistics, like that the rate of pedestrians being killed by car accidents is much higher than the rate of civilians being killed in terrorist attacks. It joked that “You’re over 100 times more likely to die by literally walking around than you are to be killed in a terrorist attack.”
On the other hand, vox has practically led the news media in 24-7 coverage of police officers shooting unarmed black people, talking about how it’s a huge threat to our values as a civilization and how white people don’t understand that all black people have to constantly live in fear for their lives.
But a quick calculation demonstrates that unarmed black people are about 10 times more likely to die by literally walking around than by getting shot by a white police officer. One gets the feeling Vox doesn’t find this one nearly as funny.
But here I would perform another quick calculation. Here’s a list of people who have been publicly shamed or fired for having politically incorrect opinions. Even if we assume the list is understating the extent of the problem by an entire order of magnitude, you’re still more likely to die by literally walking around than you are to get purged for your politically incorrect opinion.
Like a lot non-feminists, I was freaked out by the recent story about a man who was raped while unconscious being declared the rapist and expelled from college without getting to tell his side of the story. I have no evidence that this has ever happened more than just the one time mentioned in the article, let alone it being a national epidemic that might one day catch me in its clutches, but because I’ve had to deal with overly feminist colleges in other ways, my brain immediately raised it to Threat Level Red and I had to resist the urge to tell my friends in colleges to get out while they still could. If we non-feminists can get worried about this – and we can – we have less than no right to tell feminists they shouldn’t really be worried about college rape because the real statistics are 1 in X and not 1 in Y like they claim.
Hopefully some readers are lucky enough never to have felt much personal concern about terrorism, police shootings, rape, rape accusations, or political correctness. But if you’ve worried about at least one of these low-probability things, then I hope you can extend that concern to understand why other people might be worried about the others. It seems to have something to do with the chilling effect of knowing that something is intended to send a message to you, and in fact receiving that message.
(as an aside, I find it surprising that so many people, including myself, are able to accept the statistics about terrorism so calmly without feeling personally threatened. My guess is that, as per Part VIII here, we don’t primarily identify as Americans, so a threat deliberately framed as wanting to make Americans feel unsafe just bounces off us.)
In an age where the media faithfully relates and signal-boosts all threats aimed at different groups, and commentators then serve their own political needs by shouting at us that WE ARE NOT FEELING THREATENED ENOUGH and WE NEED TO FEEL MORE THREATENED, it is very easy for a group that faces even a small amount of concerted opposition, even when most of society is their nominal allies and trying hard to protect them, to get pushed into a total paranoia that a vast conspiracy is after them and they will never be safe. This is obviously the state that my commenters who I quoted in Part II are stuck in, obviously the state that those people boycotting the Indiana pizzeria are stuck in, and, I admit, a state I’m stuck in a lot of the time as well.
Getting back to the thesis, my point is there are a lot of social justice arguments I really hate, but which I find myself unintentionally reinventing any time things go really bad for me, or I feel like myself or my friends are being persecuted.
Once events provoke a certain level of hypervigilance in someone – which is very easy and requires only a couple of people being hostile, plus the implication that they there’s much more hostility hidden under the surface – then that person gets in fear for their life and livelihood and starts saying apparently bizarre things: that nobody treats them as a person, that their very right to exist is being challenged. Their increasingly strident rhetoric attracts increasingly strident and personal counter-rhetoric from the other side, making them more and more threatened until they reach the point where Israel is stealing their shoe. And because they feel like every short-term battle is the last step on the slippery slope to their total marginalization, they engage in crisis-mode short-term thinking and are understandably willing to throw longer-term values like free speech, politeness, nonviolence, et cetera, under the bus.
Although it’s very easy enter this state of hypervigilance yourself no matter how safe you are, it’s very hard to understand why anyone else could possibly be pushed into it despite by-the-numbers safety. As a result, we constantly end up with two sides both shouting “You’re making me live in fear, and also you’re making the obviously false claim that you live in fear yourself! Stop it!” and no one getting anywhere. At worst, it degenerates into people saying “These people are falsely accusing me of persecuting them, and falsely claiming to be persecuted themselves, I’ll get back at them by mocking them relentlessly, doxxing them, and trying to make them miserable!” and then you get the kind of atmosphere you find in places like SRS and Gamergate and FreeThoughtBlogs.
But I’m also slightly optimistic for the future. The conservative side seems to have been about ten years behind the progressive side in this, but they’re catching up quickly. Now everybody has to worry about being triggered, everybody has to worry about their comments being taken out of context by Gawker/Breitbart and used to get them fired and discredit their entire identity group, everybody has to worry about getting death threats, et cetera. This is bad, but also sort of good. When one side has nukes, they nuke Hiroshima and win handily. When both sides have nukes, then under the threat of mutually assured destruction they eventually come up with protocols to prevent those nukes from being used.
Now that it’s easier to offend straight white men, hopefully they’ll agree trigger warnings can be a useful concept. And now that some social justice activists are getting fired for voicing their opinions in private, hopefully they’ll agree that you shouldn’t fire people for things they say on their own time. Once everyone agrees with each other, there’s a chance of getting somewhere. Yes, all of this will run up against a wall of “how dare you compare what I’m doing to what you’re doing, I’m defending my right to exist but you’re engaging in hate speech!” but maybe as everyone gets tired of the nukes flying all the time people will become less invested in this point and willing to go to the hypothetical Platonic negotiation table.
My advice for people on the anti-social justice side – I don’t expect giving the SJ people advice would go very well – is that it’s time to stop talking about how social justice activism is necessarily a plot to get more political power, or steal resources, or silence dissenting views. Like everything else in the world it can certainly turn into that, but I think our own experience gives us a lot of reasons to believe they’re exactly as terrified as they say, and that we can’t expect them to accept “you have no provable objective right to be terrified” any more than our lizard brains would accept it of us. I think it’s time to stop believing that they censor and doxx and fire their opponents out of some innate inability to understand liberalism, and admit that they probably censor and doxx and fire their opponents because they’re as scared as we are and feel a need to strike back.
This isn’t a claim that they don’t have it in for us – many of them freely admit they do – and that they don’t need to be stopped. It’s just a claim that we can gain a good understanding of why they have it in for us, and how we might engineer stopping them in a way less confrontational than fighting an endless feud.
Yesterday, a friend on Facebook posted something about a thing men do which makes women feel uncomfortable and which she wanted men to stop. I carefully thought about whether I ever did it, couldn’t think of a time I had, but decided to make sure I didn’t do it in the future.
I realized that if I’d heard the exact same statement from Gawker, I would have interpreted it (correctly) as yet another way to paint men as constant oppressors and women as constant victims in order to discredit men’s opinions on everything, and blocked the person who mentioned it to me so I didn’t have to deal with yet another person shouting that message at me. The difference this time was that it came from an acquaintance who was no friend of feminism, who has some opinions of her own that might get her banned from tech conferences, and who I know would have been equally willing to share something women do that bothers men, if she had thought it important.
If we can get to a point where we don’t feel like requests are part of a giant conspiracy to discredit and silence us, people are sometimes willing to listen. Even me.