Posted on July 7, by Scott Alexander [Content note: I get words all day through. First from him, now from you. Is that all you blighters can do? I recently learned there is a term for the thing social justice does.
But first, a png from racism school dot tumblr dot com. So, it turns out that privilege gets used perfectly reasonably. Their explanation was lucid and reasonable. At this point I jumped in and commented: I feel like every single term in social justice terminology has a totally unobjectionable and obviously important meaning — and then is actually used a completely different way.
Surely no one can object to criticizing people who do that? I have yet to find a good way around this tactic. As such it should be taken as a sort of weird Rosetta Stone of social justicing, and I can only hope that similarly illustrative explanations are made of other equally charged terms.
Does that sound kind of paranoid? I freely admit I am paranoid in this area. But let me flesh it out with one more example. Everyone is a little bit racist. Also because most people score poorly on implicit association tests, because a lot of white people will get anxious if they see a black man on a deserted street late at night, and because if you prime people with traditionally white versus traditionally black names they will answer questions differently in psychology experiments.
It is no shame to be racist as long as you admit that you are racist and you try your best to resist your racism. Donald Sterling is racist. We know this because he made a racist comment in the privacy of his own home.
He deserved it because he was racist. And racist people deserve to lose everything they have and be hated by everyone. This seems like it might present a problem. Unless of course you plan to be the person who gets to decide which racists lose everything and get hated by everyone, and which racists are okay for now as long as they never cross you in any way. To which I would respond that this is exactly the point. But I think there is a strain of the social justice movement which is very much about abusing this ability to tar people with extremely dangerous labels that they are not allowed to deny, in order to further their political goals.
I started this post by saying I recently learned there is a term for the thing social justice does. For example, I might view a certain shade of bluish-green as blue, and someone raised in a different culture might view it as green.
The writers of the paper compare this to a form of medieval castle, where there would be a field of desirable and economically productive land called a bailey, and a big ugly tower in the middle called the motte. If you were a medieval lord, you would do most of your economic activity in the bailey and get rich.
If an enemy approached, you would retreat to the motte and rain down arrows on the enemy until they gave up and went away. Then you would go back to the bailey, which is the place you wanted to be all along. As soon as someone challenges you, you retreat to the impregnable motte and glare at them until they get annoyed and go away. Then you go back to the bailey.
I probably still sound paranoid. So let me point out something I think the standard theory fails to explain, but my theory explains pretty well. Like, even bringing this up freaks people out. And this is surprising. I know a lot of men who are scared of being Forever Alone but terrified to ask women out, and I feel their pain and most of my male friends feel their pain.
This seems to me to be something of a disconnect and an underappreciation of the pain of others, of exactly the dog-lizard variety. Yet if anyone mentions it in real life, they are likely to have earned themselves a link to an Explanatory Article. Or the one on how there is no female privilege, just benevolent sexism. But why should there be a nerve here?
If you are the sort of person who likes throwing rocks at hornet nests, ask anyone in social justice whether trans men or trans women have male privilege. As far as I can tell, the debate is about whether trans women are more privileged than cis women, because they have residual male privilege from the period when they presented as men, or less privileged than cis women, because they are transsexual — plus a more or less symmetrical debate on the trans man side.
We find the same unexpected pattern with racism. We all know everyone is racist, because racism just means you have unconscious biases and expectations.
But they are not racist. All of these sources make the same argument: As one of the bloggers above puts it: Inevitably, here comes a white person either claiming that they have a similar experience because they grew up in an all black neighborhood and got chased on the way home from school a few times and OMG THAT IS SO RACIST and it is the exact same thing, or some other such bullshittery, and they expect that ignorance to be suffered in silence and with respect.
In a sense, I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: Kill the Indian in him, and save the man. One cannot argue definitions, but one can analyze them, so you have to ask — whence the insistence that racism have the structural-oppression definition rather than the original and more commonly used one?
Or why not admit that this entire dispute is pointless and you should try to avoid being mean to people no matter what word you call the meanness by? And how come this happens with every social justice word?
How come the intertubes are clogged with pages arguing that blacks cannot be racist, that women cannot have privilege, that there is no such thing as misandry, that you should be ashamed for even thinking the word cisphobia? Who the heck cares? This would never happen in any other field. The degree to which substantive arguments have been replaced by arguments over what words we are allowed to use against which people is, as far as I know, completely unique to social justice.
And so we return to my claim from earlier: I think there is a strain of the social justice movement which is entirely about abusing the ability to tar people with extremely dangerous labels that they are not allowed to deny, in order to further their political goals.
The social justice movement is the mad scientist sitting at the control panel ready to direct them at whomever she chooses. Get hit, and you are marked as a terrible person who has no right to have an opinion and who deserves the same utter ruin and universal scorn as Donald Sterling.
Appease the mad scientist by doing everything she wants, and you will be passed over in favor of the poor shmuck to your right and live to see another day. Because the power of the social justice movement derives from their control over these weapons, their highest priority should be to protect them, refine them, and most of all prevent them from falling into enemy hands.
No one need worry too much about their definitions except insofar as it is unclear what someone meant to say. No one need worry about whether the words are used to describe them personally, except insofar as their use reveals states of the world which are independent of the words used. However, government employees are all observed drinking bottled water exclusively, and if anyone suggests that government employees might also want to take the completely innocuous drug and become kinder, they freak out and call you a terrorist and a shitlord and say they hope you die.
This is the current state of my relationship with social justice.