A Stupefying Vanity
December 10, 2019
The ideal of social justice does not complement the ideal of education. The ideal of social justice replaces the ideal of education.
Lifted from the comments, David Randall on academia’s “social justice” infestation:
“Social justice” was everywhere in higher education. It was the slogan of student activists, the raison d’etre of many academic programmes, the research focus of scholars in many fields, part of the formal mission statements of many colleges, and a phrase that rolled off the tongues of sophomores as the smug answer to virtually any question about public policy. Looking for a definition of the term that fit its ten thousand applications proved futile. “Social justice” may have meant particular things to particular people, but in general it signified only an emotional disposition… When someone says “social justice,” he need not spell out the underlying propositions. The ideas and the temperament are taken for granted. By contrast, any critique of the social justice ideology will be familiar to hardly any students and very few faculty members.
It's a long read, but one with much to chew.
My own attempt to define “social justice,” the contortions it entails, and the kinds of behaviour to which it gives license, is reposted below:
“Social justice” entails treating people not as individuals but as mascots and categories. And judging a person and their actions based on which Designated Victim Group they supposedly belong to and then assigning various exemptions and indulgences depending on that notional group identity and whatever presumptuous baggage can be attached to it, with varying degrees of perversity. And conversely, assigning imaginary sins and “privilege” to someone else based on whatever Designated Oppressor Group they can be said to belong to, however fatuously, and regardless of the particulars of the actual person.
Which is to say, “social justice” is largely about judging people tribally, cartoonishly, and by different and contradictory standards, based on some supposed group identity, which apparently – and conveniently - overrides all else. It’s glib, question-begging and pernicious. Cargo-cult morality. Viewed with a cool eye, it’s something close to the opposite of justice. And yet, among our self-imagined betters, it’s the latest must-have.
In much the same way, “diversity” seems to be the belief that the less we have in common, and feel we have in common, the happier we will be. An unobvious proposition, to say the least. And then there’s “equity” - another word favoured by both educators and campus activists – and which is defined, if at all, only in the woolliest and most evasive of terms. And which, when used by those same educators and activists, seems to mean something like “equality of outcome regardless of inputs.” Inputs including diligence and punctuality. And that isn’t fair either.
Above all, “social justice” seems to function as a kind of cheap grace, a shortcut to imagined moral status, and thereby leverage:
If I regurgitate these attitudes and incantations, and if I stipulate my pronouns, then I become A Very Good Person Indeed, and therefore statusful. Which saves a lot of time and effort, frankly. And being instantly transformed into A Very Good Person Indeed, I am entitled to defame and browbeat and bully, to denounce books that I haven’t read, and to remind others of my Very Good Person status in all kinds of exciting ways. Say, with fits of mob coercion and practised hysteria, and putting polite and elderly scholars in fear of their safety. And if anyone hurts my feelings – say, by drawing attention to my ignorance, hypocrisy and pretension - my basic moral emptiness – then I can denounce them as opposing all of the glorious causes that I now pretend to embody. Or failing that, just hit them.
I’m paraphrasing, of course. But not, I think, wildly.
In the comments, WTP adds,
Social justice is the very same bigotry it pretends not to be. It’s projection.
Well, it’s not obvious how gleefully humiliating random white students, harassing them, obstructing them and making them walk through mud - for instance - could foster warm feelings. And “social justice” theatrics do seem to appeal to people with quite spiteful inclinations, and who want the rest of us to believe that they’re much more pious and benevolent than they evidently are.
It’s interesting just how often “social justice” posturing entails something that looks an awful lot like spite or petty malice, or an attempt to harass and dominate, or some other obnoxious behaviour. Behaviour that, without a “social justice” pretext, might get you called a wanker or a bitch.
A coincidence, I’m sure.