Monday, December 12, 2016

Social Justice Warriors

Lately I've been coming across the term "SJW" online, and for awhile was willing to not really know what it meant beyond being a putdown of some kind or another. Finally, however, curiosity got the best of me and I consulted Wikipedia:

"Social justice warrior" (commonly abbreviated SJW) is a pejorative term for an individual promoting socially progressive views, including feminism, civil rights, multiculturalism, and identity politics. The accusation of being an SJW carries implications of pursuing personal validation rather than any deep-seated conviction, and being engaged in disingenuous social justice arguments or activism to raise personal reputation, also known as virtue signalling.

And so in case you didn't get the memo, the term "do-gooder" is now enjoying a sunny retirement in Ormond Beach, Florida and has passed the torch of bourgeouis contempt for those who actually want to effect change and (God forbid!) make the world a better and more just place to the term "SJW". The thing to understand, however, is that like any putdown, the term (and the assumptions that go with it) says more about the person using it than the one to whom it is directed.

From where I'm sitting, it would seem the kind of person who hurls "SJW" as an insult is someone who doesn't want change, or at least any disruption of a society or system that is treating them just right. Furthermore, they probably object to talk of class struggle, systemic racism or human rights - after all, such talk may expose the fact that they have it pretty good through no merit of their own compared to those who have it much worse through no fault of their own. It's hard enough being a member of the dominator culture without these other human insects buzzing at the perimeter of their own self-importance.

On the other hand, have a look at those throughout history who would have had "SJW" spat at them had the term existed in their time...

Take, for example, those who took part in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, a time when doing so meant serious risk of bodily injury or worse. They locked arms and stood their ground, regardless of what anyone else had to say or do about it. Because of those SJW's, nobody can be discriminated against on the basis of race or religion, and thanks to their successors in more recent years, the same also holds true for discrimination on the basis of physical disabilties or sexual orientation. (Caveat: the civil rights movement didn't make discrimination go away - what it did do is establish legal or legislative frameworks for protecting and expanding those rights and freedoms, thus helping the consitution live up to its full potential.)

Similarly, if you enjoy having an eight-hour workday, weekends off, some degree of health benefits, maternity leave, and wages that are decent compared to less fortunate parts of the world, then you can thank the SJW's of the previous century's labor movement who had the courage to endure state violence at the hands of police and hired goons. (A particularly egregious example of this is the incident where "officers of the peace" and others beat women and children with clubs during the "Bread and Roses" strike of 1912 in Lawrence, Massachusetts.) Industry didn't suddenly just decide to improve working conditions and wages out of the goodness of its own heart. It took relentless agitation from below. Call these SJWs of yesteryear "reds" or "commies" if you like - just realize that you have grown up feasting on the fruits of their sacrifice.

And finally, self-described Christians who would mock people with the term "SJW" or at least roll their eyes at the mention of "social justice" should probably take a closer look at the red-lettered passages in their family bibles. As a man of the Christian faith, however flawed an example I may be, I consider "social justice" to be just a natual byproduct of living the spiritual life with any sort of integrity. Furthermore, in His time Jesus would have been called an "SJW" by those not wanting to see their own good lives disrupted by having to live for something other than their immediate personal gain.

(While I offer no apologies for bringing Jesus into this, that last example isn't for the sake of proselytization but merely as a rebuke to fellow Christians whose first instinct is to sneer from the sidelines at others who are trying to improve this world. I also realize that Christianity doesn't have the monopoly on "social justice" - we can thank Judaism for providing the mindset that has made our contemporary notions of social justice possible, not to mention Christianity in and of itself. For more information, see Thomas Cahill's The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels.)

Like I said, a putdown says more about the person saying it than the person on the receiving end, and so the next time you feel tempted to "call out" someone as an "SJW", try opening your mind and heart to what it is the person is trying to tell you, and ask yourself why their message is such a threat, and whether you are just trying to circumvent the issue at hand with a thought-terminating cliché.

As Max Hill writes in his essay, In defence of 'social justice warriors':

But what’s really going on is that those who do dominate the conversation are reacting with fear and confusion to the shifting tides of cultural acceptance and values. Female, non-white, LGBTQ, non-binary, disabled, low income, and other formerly silent voices are slowly gaining a foothold in our society, and those who openly express support are vilified and deprecated for their “hypocrisy” and “shallowness.”

As for me, at times I blog about issues that are important to me, and on occasion I fire off a letter to the editor, or an email to a public official to protest this or that. And last February, I nearly froze my feet off while egaging in minority unionism by participating in a picket line in front of a workplace that wasn't my own. Don't be taken in by such deeds, however, as they are mere dabbling. I don't blog enough, I don't raise hell enough, and I certainly don't pray enough.

In short, don't call me a "Social Justice Warrior", as I haven't done nearly enough yet to deserve that honor.