To acknowledge the meaning of justice is always to be judged
September 15, 2016 6:46 PM   Subscribe

What ‘SJW’ really means - Fred Clark This “SJW” business doesn’t involve an argument contrasting opposing views of the nature and meaning of social justice. It doesn’t involve some ideological dispute between competing visions of the proper role of the state, or of law, or markets, civil society, neighborliness, etc. It’s a wholesale rejection of the idea that social justice — in any form — is worthwhile.

Part 2: No, ‘SJW’ is not used to deflate pompous Comstockian moralists. That’s not how it’s used at all
And in any case, we have seen the insult deployed — millions of times over — against people who have spoken out against racism and sexism without even the slightest hint of a “moral crusader’s” self-righteousness. Their criticism of racism and sexism may be as utterly understated as “Hey, that’s not cool” or “C’mon, you don’t want to turn into that guy,” and they will still be subjected to the scornful label “SJW.” The sentiment expressed might even be the mildest, most non-controversially minimalist, non-threatening statement imaginable — “black lives matter” — and still the response is “SJW.”

Asides:
The suffix ‘-lover’ isn’t useful for constructing insults Unless you are painstakingly precise, the danger is that you will wind up sounding like you’re accusing the other person of being so wholly defined by love that their love extends even unto the unlovely.
The more important point about “-lover” suffix insults (Slacktivist: Visit for the theology; stay for the pig-f–king jokes.)
posted by CrystalDave (88 comments total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
 
In a better world, it would be Fred Clark, not Franklin Graham, who spoke for American evangelical Christianity. But pastors like Mark Burns and James Dobson have great fine houses while Clark has struggled to keep the lights on, and if there were a God, I would have words for Him about that.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:08 PM on September 15, 2016 [32 favorites]


This is the (oft-cited) Fred Clark of the exhaustive/hilarious/horrifying/unending deconstruction of the Left Behind series.

He's a former journalist who got laid off and now works for a big box store of some description (as best I can tell). He is one of the few Christian writers I still respect.
posted by emjaybee at 7:22 PM on September 15, 2016 [16 favorites]


God bless Fred Clark.
posted by prize bull octorok at 7:25 PM on September 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


oh, right, "SJW" is one of those "insults" like "cuck" where using it earnestly automatically cedes the user of any sort of moral high ground, or indeed respectability of any sort
posted by DoctorFedora at 7:50 PM on September 15, 2016 [45 favorites]


But pastors like Mark Burns and James Dobson have great fine houses while Clark has struggled to keep the lights on, and if there were a God, I would have words for Him about that.

Every valley shall be exalted: and every mountain and hill shall be laid low.

I mean, I don't believe it, but I'm sure he does, and I'm content to have him judged by his own measure.
posted by praemunire at 7:53 PM on September 15, 2016 [10 favorites]


The only problem I have with SJW is that it's hard to pronounce as an acronym. Sijwah? Suhjwuh?

As insults go, it's a pretty good compliment. I'd be preening myself all day if someone called me a Social Justice Warrior. Though I doubt I deserve it most days.
posted by emjaybee at 7:54 PM on September 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


Two great posts. This reminds me of the last season of South Park, where "reality" sneaks in to bust up safe spaces, being portrayed as a Snidely Whiplash style villain. If you unpack that, then Parker and Stone are saying is that harassment, injustice, and unfairness are all "real", and that to do things to resist them is unrealistic. I think, instead, that it's just two old men who cannot handle not being the smartest people in the room - can't handle the fact that at certain points in the career they may have been insensitive and wrong. So instead they create this cartoon of "reality" to prove that, actually, they're as right as they always have been, and it's the simpering SJWs who can't take a joke.
posted by codacorolla at 7:57 PM on September 15, 2016 [24 favorites]


I've always been perplexed by people using SJW as an insult. If you're placing yourself in opposition to social justice, you're explicitly identifying yourself as one of the bad guys.
posted by adamrice at 7:58 PM on September 15, 2016 [38 favorites]


I think, instead, that it's just two old men who cannot handle not being the smartest people in the room

Thank you for finally articulating exactly what it was that I've often found vaguely off-putting about South Park.
posted by DoctorFedora at 8:03 PM on September 15, 2016 [34 favorites]


From the comments:
No one is more "PC" than anti-PC, anti-SJW "warriors". All they want is a "safe space" to be disgusting bigots without our oh-so-unfair criticisms.

Learn to take a punch, you poor babies.
posted by straight at 8:12 PM on September 15, 2016 [81 favorites]


I’m arguing that gamer-gaters and anti-SJW trolls should be saying “-f**ker” far more often than they already do.


Controversial, maybe, but he makes a compelling case.
posted by misfish at 8:16 PM on September 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


I'm more of a Social Justice Clerk-Typist (71B).
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:35 PM on September 15, 2016 [23 favorites]


SJW is a great time saver--anyone who uses that phrase I can tune out.
posted by Bee'sWing at 8:37 PM on September 15, 2016 [5 favorites]


DoctorFedora: "oh, right, "SJW" is one of those "insults" like "cuck" where using it earnestly automatically cedes the user of any sort of moral high ground, or indeed respectability of any sort"

Basically, yeah. Meanwhile, speaking of "cuck": has there ever been an insult that imparted a greater amount of self-ownage? I mean, the kind of person who uses it non-ironically as an insult thinks he's hurling an amazing and vicious put-down but somehow can't see that the entire rest of the world (outside of his little alt-right bubble) is laughing at him for using such a stupid -- and inadvertently revealing! -- term. It's like a gun that's designed to only shoot its wielder.
posted by mhum at 8:43 PM on September 15, 2016 [5 favorites]


a vision of human society as an oxymoron

I think this captures it. Having recently spent some time elsewhere on the internet, I think it's really clear that some people strongly feel that we're an accidental collection of individuals - they really can't and don't want to understand that larger forces exist, that there's something bigger (and different) than the sum of its parts. That idea threatens their sense of control (and possibility). The less control they feel in their lives, the more they seek it. Racism doesn't make sense to them (and definitely not affirmative action) because they really, deep-down believe that meritocracy's the logic making things move. (And feminists hate individual men, not patriarchy.) Suckers get it because they're weak; "isms" = excuses, etc.) It's a show, about fear.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:52 PM on September 15, 2016 [7 favorites]


You can be a social justice warrior, or a social justice wizard, or a social justice bard...

A friend designed the above after an absolute onslaught of Twitter, message board, email and other attacks on his D&D actual play podcast. He invited me, a decided non-gamer, to take part and in my intro episode I had the temerity to discuss the stereotyping of women in fantasy for about three minutes of an hour long podcast session. So many angry dudes and also a weird cadre of anti-feminist women. Inevitably, SJW was invoked. It served as shorthand for "this bitch's thoughts and opinions can and should be immediately discounted because she's a caricature straight out of PCU which is now practically a documentary, amirite?" It was a masterclass in trolling -- tone arguments (thinking out loud = rant), gendered insults, and SJW all day long. The show still gets one star reviews on iTunes complaining about "putting politics into my gaming." It is a recurring theme of disgruntled reviews since there are also LGBT relationships, diverse characters and all sorts of other themes that could fill out someone's idea of a parade of horribles. Apparently in a world with magic and dragon turtles and sentient cactus people, feminism, equality, and inclusiveness is just an unrealistic bridge too far.

I was just astonished because I didn't think SJW was a term anyone used with any seriousness, though apparently I've been living in a fantasy land of my own.
posted by HonoriaGlossop at 8:54 PM on September 15, 2016 [26 favorites]


"oh, right, "SJW" is one of those "insults" like "cuck" where using it earnestly automatically cedes the user of any sort of moral high ground, or indeed respectability of any sort"

Yes, but also like "cuck" it's not meant to appeal to the sensibilities of people outside the in-group. These are words used to solidify mutual support within a subculture.

If you unpack that, then Parker and Stone are saying is that harassment, injustice, and unfairness are all "real", and that to do things to resist them is unrealistic.

They're making a mistake a lot of people do (I've done so in the past) when they see a challenge to the dominant culture: the actions they see as attempts to hide from reality are really attempts to change it.
posted by AdamCSnider at 8:57 PM on September 15, 2016 [22 favorites]


It's so childish to me. I wouldn't even feel insulted to be called SJW or PC or whatever.

Where Clark says that the would-be name-callers are angry because no one sees them as truly oppressed, that's sad. They're so vested in perceiving the world in a win-lose framework, and that they themselves MUST be on the winning side by any means necessary, that they can't fathom that this same way of thinking by others higher on the financial and power totem pole are what's causing their problems! The ones they worship despise them.

I wish they could admit aloud that they don't want anyone to be treated kindly, with love and care, or to have the goodies of life but themselves. It's not as if we can't already see that, though. I would that they owned their childishness and selfishness the same way they expect us who are against racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, etc., to "own" how "wrong" we are.

The Trump types and the "red pill" swindlers will gladly take their money and votes, but leave them empty-handed, alone, and angrier. Why don't these guys ever confront the people who REALLY cause their problems? That I've never understood. Do they really think their ticket to Bohemian Grove got lost in the mail, or something?
posted by droplet at 9:02 PM on September 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


Mostly what "SJW" means in practice is "person who isn't a bigot". Anyone who uses the term as an insult is saying that they think bigotry is correct in at least some circumstances and that people who reject bigotry as a matter of course are cowards, but they know that trying to insult someone by calling them an "anti-bigot" is going to do more harm than good. AdamCSnider is right that the term is mostly used as a dogwhistle thing: it gathers support from some people who know what it really means, but it doesn't draw immediate fire from everyone else (unlike "anti-bigot", which by virtue of being more honest would immediately turn a lot of people against the user).

The comment that straight quotes above gets to the heart of one of the things I've always found strange about the conservative reactionary strain of anti-SJW rhetoric, even as far back as when it was just called anti-PC: these people are saying that they cannot stand a world in which certain things are happening and they frequently throw loud, public temper tantrums about it, while threatening everyone around them. How is it that they can't see that they're doing exactly the thing they're railing against?
posted by IAmUnaware at 9:05 PM on September 15, 2016 [5 favorites]


It's easier, more bearable, to be a victim than to understand that you may have been someone else's villain.
posted by bonehead at 9:06 PM on September 15, 2016 [19 favorites]


More than that, I think: if they were to admit the existence of white supremacy, etc., they would also have to admit that, even with those powerful advantages, they still couldn't make it to the top. That's downright humiliating. Remember that most, though not all, of these guys are losers by their own standards--they're not rich, successful, admired, surrounded by beautiful women. That distorts the thinking something fierce.
posted by praemunire at 9:22 PM on September 15, 2016 [31 favorites]


"Many people delight in skewering and misreading you because they don't see you as a real person. You have become The Man. By bringing you down a peg they feel that they can claim a victory over everything you represent. I've had haters from all sides--far left, far right, and everywhere in between. You also become a focus for folks who are unhappy, or who feel powerless. You become this symbol of all the reasons they feel powerless and unhappy."
"When you realize that life isn't going to hand you the job you want or the woman you want to fuck, you look around for someone to blame, and feminism becomes an easy target. If only women were more subservient objects who stayed at home, there would be more jobs open to young white men and more women with no other option but to have sex with them for sustenance."
--Kameron Hurley, The Geek Feminist Revolution
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:54 PM on September 15, 2016 [19 favorites]


I've posted this word trend chart before.

But the term SJW is of a general type: it's the kind of term that exists primarily to norm-ify oneself and other-ify people with views different from one's own. It's a way to say something like: we are regular guys; they are some kooky weird art majors with green hair and vaginas. We live in the real world; they live in some tumblr la-la land.

So now when someone says, for instance, that it's not nice to disrespect trans folks' pronouns, we can easily dismiss this notion by simply saying the speaker is probably one of those SJWs.
posted by splitpeasoup at 11:03 PM on September 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


Thank you for posting this thoughtful and interesting read; I enjoyed reading all the comments. I'm leaving the Internet now, to return tomorrow, because I want one day of on-line use this year to end like this.
posted by nfalkner at 11:43 PM on September 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


A video of this has got to be floating around on the internet somewhere, but I distinctly remember, it must have been back in his HLN days because I don't get Fox News, Glenn Beck doing one of his trademark chalkboard rants, this time against "Social Justice," telling his viewers to be hyperaware of that phrase and to be highly suspicious of anyone who would wear it as a badge of honor.

That was long before "SJW" was in the mainstream lexicon -- indeed, it might well be where the phrase "social justice warriors" was coined -- and was absolutely not aimed only at the overzealous People's Poet types.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:44 PM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


It took me forever to realise that "SJW" was a derogatory expression. Absent of the context of its coinage, it would be a great term to use as a value-free, or even positive descriptor for people who are very social justice minded:

"You're reading Rawls? Cool! You have to talk to my friend Chris, who's the greatest social justice warrior I know."

I may have even got in trouble for using the term before realising its implications.

Is it worth reclaiming it? Or is it more valuable as a shibboleth, because it marks people who use it?

I don't know.
posted by kandinski at 11:48 PM on September 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


I wish to become a social justice warlock but I am unsure which eldritch social justice entity I should be making a sinister pact with, please advise
I was originally planning on being a social justice wizard but spell preparation is a total pain
though I really should be more conscious about my arcane privilege, social justice warriors don't even get any spell slots most of the time

posted by NMcCoy at 1:53 AM on September 16, 2016 [14 favorites]


The author keeps doing this sort of thing:

Can’t we at least agree that “racism is bad”? No. No we cannot because, in their view — as far as I am able to discern it in their less-than-articulate, incoherent and spectacularly profane responses — this question is some kind of trick.

Well, no. To me, being a liberal also entails the principle of not shoving absolutist statements down your opponents' throat. As tempting as that may be. Them doing shitty stuff doesn't not mean we do shitty stuff except as a last resort. Let alone the problems of promulgating the underlying epistemics when advocating "X is some moral value".

As someone whose had my share of racist life experiences, I don't think it's appropriate and indeed my ongoing experience that reducing the nuance of problems to "racism is bad" as a healthy approach. Not all 21st-century progressives are simple moralist rationalists. Meanwhile, those new conservatives may be reacting aversively and avoidantly, because cornering them, who as the author says aren't ready to accept the concept "racism is bad" is sort of a bad approach itself. There's a wavelength problem, i.e. interpersonal dynamic there.

I just feel there's a lot going on in a single paragraph than the author let on in their claim. There were other places in the article just says a thing without clarifying or examining further in ways that I thought are kind of obvious. Is this just me?
posted by polymodus at 1:59 AM on September 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


Remember that most, though not all, of these guys are losers by their own standards--they're not rich, successful, admired, surrounded by beautiful women.

In my experience, successful white men aren't more aware of their privilege, though. If anything, they desperately want to believe that they've earned what they've got fair and square. I think it's a good example of attribution error. If you're not successful, you want to blame someone else, but if you are successful, you want to take the credit.

But also, I think that the culture these white men are immersed in is far more powerful than their individual experiences of success or failure.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 2:30 AM on September 16, 2016 [11 favorites]


I apologize for repeating their crude, hateful language here, but please note that I’ve refrained from describing their views as “deplorable” — so conservative white Christians reading this won’t have any reason to pretend to be offended.

Oh snap!!
posted by Pendragon at 2:48 AM on September 16, 2016 [8 favorites]


See also: the expansion of the word “Marxism” to refer to any worldview other than atomised individuals in a competitive market, up to and including the existence of inalienable universal rights that don't trickle down from one's betters.
posted by acb at 3:29 AM on September 16, 2016 [7 favorites]


I aspire to be a social justice warrior but in practice I'm usually more like a social justice townsperson who tells people that the first cave is to the northeast.
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:42 AM on September 16, 2016 [45 favorites]


That was long before "SJW" was in the mainstream lexicon -- indeed, it might well be where the phrase "social justice warriors" was coined -- and was absolutely not aimed only at the overzealous People's Poet types.

I think it's originally in reference to the popular socialjustice tag on Tumblr.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:02 AM on September 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


It's the same people who think "do-gooder" is supposed to be an insult.
posted by Brachinus at 5:03 AM on September 16, 2016 [8 favorites]


See also: the expansion of the word “Marxism” to refer to any worldview other than atomised individuals in a competitive market, up to and including the existence of inalienable universal rights that don't trickle down from one's betters.

Heh. I've come to recognize the common US right-wing concept of "soshulizm" (misspelling deliberate and evocative of the way they usually spit it out). Bring up any concept that contains the words "we" and "should" in the same sentence, and you're a soshulist.

Basically, for most of them, anyone to the left of Dick Nixon is soshulist, and soshulism is the penultimate evil - it's communism without the pyjamas.

But nobody is touchier about being PC than the right. Just try calling a self-described "climate change skeptic" a denier and watch the sparks fly.
posted by Artful Codger at 5:29 AM on September 16, 2016 [5 favorites]


In some ways, I 'get' what they are saying. From the libertarian / free-speech standpoint, it's easy to find some egregious violations of good sense on university campuses and elsewhere. And, in the generally accepted definition of the term, "social justice" usually comes bundled up with a generous dose of left-wing politics.

At the same time, from the tactical standpoint, it's not really the best term to use to define your political opponents. If I'm a libertarian, and my enemies are "social justice warriors", does that mean I'm in favor of ... injustice? Or in favor of a different form of justice which is not "social"?

Unfortunately, the term seems to have gotten entrenched, and largely supplanted "Political Correctness".
posted by theorique at 6:23 AM on September 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


No one is more "PC" than anti-PC, anti-SJW "warriors".

Something that really resonated with me from one of the enormous election threads recently was prize bull octorok's point on "PC" and its detractors. These chuckleheads want to come out and say "women are all stupid cunts and I hate and fear them!" but they know they'll be raked over the coals by everyone who isn't inside of their little Reddit circlejerk community. They desperately wish it were 50 years ago, and they could just come out with their contempt for women, but we live in a different era. So they've adopted the very guise they profess to hate, and made up inane (but politically correct!) terms like "SJW" and tried to use "social justice" as a pejorative, and it just makes the rest of us laugh and laugh and laugh.
posted by Mayor West at 6:40 AM on September 16, 2016 [6 favorites]


The author keeps doing this sort of thing:

The author is a self-identified evangelical Christian, and his blog is largely about how his Christianity and his progressive political outlook interact. You personally may hold that "absolutist" moral value judgments are fundamentally misguided, but they're part and parcel of the framework that he's working within, and that the people he's criticizing are supposed to be working within.

Expecting an evangelical Christian to dispense with absolutist moral positions is in essence to wish they weren't Christian, which I'm not sure is reasonable. I'll settle for wishing that more of them were as thoughtful as Fred Clark.
posted by Ipsifendus at 6:41 AM on September 16, 2016 [21 favorites]


theorique: One thing about the libertarian/free-speech standpoint is that while everyone has a right to say what they want, there's nothing that says their speech can't have consequences. If someone comes up to me and starts calling me a faggot, or starts threatening me with bodily harm, I do not have to listen to them. I can walk away. I can tell him to STFU. I can punch him in the face, though that carries risk of consequences, too.

***

There's an idea I've thought of in relation to the whole "censorship" angle about people being horrible, bigoted assholes, and it's this: "Freedom of speech is not freedom to be heard." It's not censorship if I choose not to watch FOX News on the TV.
posted by SansPoint at 6:41 AM on September 16, 2016 [4 favorites]


@SansPoint: Oh yeah, free speech definitely does (and should) come with consequences. In the university context, I'm thinking of universities dis-inviting speakers (on either end of the political spectrum) for sketchy or disingenuous reasons. Let them speak and let their free speech have whatever consequences for them that it does.
posted by theorique at 6:55 AM on September 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


From the article:

Can’t we at least agree that “racism is bad”? No. No we cannot because, in their view — as far as I am able to discern it in their less-than-articulate, incoherent and spectacularly profane responses — this question is some kind of trick. To agree to even such a basic proposition, they believe, would be to give words and ideas a power that might then be used against them. The question thus provokes a kind of fight-or-flight defensiveness — a raising of hackles and baring of claws. It’s some kind of trap with a hidden barb or a pit beneath palm fronds and they refuse to be taken in.

...And they’re not entirely wrong about that. It is a trap of a sort — although there’s nothing devious or sneaky about it. Even just this tiny concession — “racism is bad” or “justice is preferable to injustice” — would, in fact, grant power to ideas and morals that would, in turn, compel them to change. It would mean accepting the reality of some standard, of some good other than “winning.”


I'm saying all the following, knowing full well I'm totally the SJW I'm criticizing in this scenario.

The author seems to be hinting at the core conflict without really understanding it or giving it weight. He's saying: "OK, let's start with the most basic, simplest statement I can think of that anyone in their right mind should be able to agree on. Isn't racism bad?" And then when he gets any response other than "Yes," he's frustrated because he sees that as unwillingness to go down even the first basic consensus step needed, the undeniable end result of this process being that this person admits they're wrong and must change. He's imagining things as if the anti-SJW person is running through all the future chess moves that he will be forced down through tiny increments of logic, and thinking: "First I acknowledge racism is bad, then I acknowledge a white person calling a black man the N-word to his face is bad, then I acknowledge a white person saying the N-word in general is bad because it can have the same effect regardless of intent, then I acknowledge that making a joke where I use the N-word is bad for the same reason, then I acknowledge ironic racist jokes are bad for the same reason, then this person wins completely and I've lost all ground. So I won't even hedge on the first step down this road, even though it's perfectly agreeable."

But the so-called SJW (just using this as shorthand even though I don't mean it pejoratively) in this exchange is making several leaps, and is trying to claim huge swaths of rhetorical and linguistic ground before agreeing on any boundaries to that ground or coming to a shared framework or definition, then is throwing up his hands because if you think racism isn't necessarily bad, then are you saying you think lynchings and slavery need to be debated? Are you serious? What's wrong with you? What the anti-SJW person is intuiting that the SJW person misses, is that the question "isn't racism bad?" isn't the most basic question we can or should ask, or even the beginning consensus required for the heart of the discussion. Because, obviously, WHAT IS RACISM? What the hell are we agreeing is bad, before I can agree with you that racism is bad? There's this entire years-long, lifelong process of understanding what racism even IS, what its effects are, and you've assumed I've done the same and we've come to a mutual understanding of it all, and you're distilling it down to this word "racism," then giving it the blanket qualitative judgment of "bad". Do you see how much ground you're assuming has been covered already? When you say "racism is bad", you seem to be potentially covering everything from lynchings and Nazi genocide, to a policy disagreement on the merits of affirmative action, to someone gently roasting Neil-Degrasse Tyson on twitter. Why would I agree this is all bad, and equally bad, as a starting point? And the qualitative part - when you say it's "bad", what on earth do you mean? That it's harmful? That the person engaging in the racism is a bad person? That someone's feelings are hurt?

It's like someone saying "Charity is good, right?" Well, define charity. Are you including someone who is donating money to the police officers of Ferguson? What about a charity that aims to help impoverished Africans but ends up causing more harm than good? Are you including the philanthropic arm of a Monsanto or a Walmart? And when you say "good" do you mean it has a good societal effect in all instances, or that the person is good or should feel good or can only have the most altruistic reasons for their actions, or? You get the picture.

This is just a long-winded way of saying that the SJW in this conversation demands an unearned consensus on what racism is, followed by a moral/evaluative condemnation of it. The anti-SJW distrusts this for good reason, and the two talk past each other for the rest of the conversation, increasingly pissing each other off, with the SJW thinking the anti-SJW is a monster who won't even admit slavery is a harmful practice and who doesn't want to change because he's a petulant baby, and the anti-SJW thinking the SJW is a controlling moralist incapable of acknowledging any grey areas and eager to bully/censor anyone who doesn't fit into his unexamined groupthink.

And the SJW keeps mistaking these same mistakes throughout the entire discussion, with a noticeable focus on judgment and bad and this is all obvious.

If there's going to be any kind of genuine breakthrough, you have to do the hard work of defining and agreeing upon a shared framework for some difficult concepts. That is, if you're the sort of person who believes this, that racism is the result of entrenched structural inequities and power dynamics that we've all been born into and indoctrinated into, that its power works on us in deep ways, and because of that none of us is ever free of it, even or especially yourself. That it's unconscious more than it is conscious, and that we're able to see it in others much better than we're able to see it in ourselves. That the consequences may be obviously harmful on multiple levels like in the case of Nazis, but also may be incredibly subtle to detect or not immediately harmful for years, or may be one of thousands of instances that add up to a harmful cumulative effect. That someone engaged in such an instance is not necessarily "bad" themselves. Etc. These are all very important things and there is a high chance that the anti-SJW will disagree with these wholesale, or agree with them and a lightbulb will go off, or disagree but think about them, but at least you're discussing the basic super important stuff before you spring "isn't racism bad?" And actually, when you think about all that, you realize you shouldn't be asking that question at all! You shouldn't be bringing qualitative moralistic judgments to bear. Racism isn't bad and racists aren't bad; racist actions have harmful consequences. Or what you mean to say is something like: actions and biases that are premised upon or that further entrenched, structural racial inequities, regardless of their purpose or intent, almost always have some harmful impact, at the very least by advancing the status quo of that inequality. You won't come to an agreement on that, either. Because that's a hard concept for anyone to wrap their head around, and in itself requires an understanding that structural racial inequities exist and are harmful. At least that last part has endless amounts of factual data supporting it.

One hard thing about this is you, the social justice minded person, actually have to believe all of this; and if you do, you will have less of the attitude the author has: "Musical chairs and dog-eat-dog and every man for himself... That’s how a world without any standard of justice works. There’s no just and unjust, no good and bad, no better and worse — only winners and losers." You're both not quite right? Nothing really works in terms of these Judeo-christian-sounding binaries of a good, just person passing judgment on a bad, just person; that's just the flipside of thinking of the world in terms of winners and losers. And the anti-SJW is picking up on the sanctimoniousness of that. Instead, racist actions and biases have harmful impacts in a variety of ways, and it's worth mitigating that harm for the good of making our society a better, more liveable place for everyone. THAT'S the purpose of justice.

But anyway, if you go through all this hard work, at least you aren't asking "isn't racism bad?" and then throwing your hands up in frustration when someone responds in a way you don't like. And the good news is, once you have these hard-earned underpinnings for understanding what racism is and how it's harmful, then that person potentially has a system for thinking about thousands of issues and having answers naturally spring out of that understanding, whether it's the need for AA to combat the ongoing impact of historic harms, why racist jokes further entrench a harmful status quo even if they're intended ironically, the ways in which making fun of NDT might be acceptable or unacceptable depending on how exactly you're doing it, etc.
posted by naju at 6:56 AM on September 16, 2016 [28 favorites]


“You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.”

(Harlan Ellison)

Of course, at the same time, dismissing someone's argument because you think they're stupid or ignorant is reinforcement for their (sometimes valid) contention that they're up against a bunch of elitists who only preach and talk down to them.

My sort of rule of thumb is - the first time a dumb argument surfaces, I should calmly show why it's wrong, and see where that goes; the second time it comes up, I refer them to the previous discussion; if it surfaces yet again (and it usually does), they're willfully ignorant and not worth any further effort.
posted by Artful Codger at 6:56 AM on September 16, 2016


naju: That's asking a lot from people, and most of us are intellectually lazy enough—on both sides—that they're not going to put in the work. You'll get a knee-jerk reaction based on all their pre-concieved notions and lived experience. It takes a lot to shock someone out of their ingrained ways of thinking, but people can come around in a more gradual process. The Internet doesn't reward any of that, though. It's optimized towards knee-jerk reactions.
posted by SansPoint at 7:05 AM on September 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


It's a lot of work without necessarily any payoff, and a medium like twitter is absolute crap at it. There's also a major problem with expecting people who have to live with inequality to do that work all the time. And yes, people will be kneejerk resistant in the moment. But I'm bringing it up because I think it's an important way of at least understanding why these discussions fail, and how your own approach and mindset might be dooming you right out of the starting gate. As with most things, understanding how this person you're talking to might have reasonable concerns is key. This is assuming they're not just a hateful troll but rather someone worth engaging with for a length of time.
posted by naju at 7:14 AM on September 16, 2016 [6 favorites]


After reading these comments and having a cup of coffee, I had an interesting thought: the insult in SJW isn't in the "S" or "J", it's in the "W".

Hear me out. This will be rambling.

A few months ago, I was playing Rocket League online in a competitive 2v2 match. My teammate wasn't a friend of mine, just some rando calrissian, and we were down 3-0 with 90 seconds to play. He wants to forfeit the match so he can stop wasting his time in what he considers a lost cause, but I wanna play it out. Instead of just leaving the match, he, my teammate, just starts driving around in circles and trolling me in chat:

"a random try-hard appears"
"try-hard uses effort, it's not very effective"

Why did he think this was an effective troll? He too was trying hard for the first few minutes of the match, but it is so much easier to quit and find a more competitive match, than try to come back down from a 3 goal deficit. Effort is an investment of energy and emotion, and it is super frustrating when it doesn't pay off. So to prevent being frustrated, downplay the stakes. Trying isn't worth it. He's essentially saying "it's just a video game, the stakes are low for us, let's just forget this and move on."

When someone calls another an SJW, what I hear is:

"it's just black people, the stakes are low for us white people, let's just forget this and move on."
"it's just women, the stakes are low for us men, let's just forget this and move on."
"it's just (oppressed group), the stakes are low for us (oppressing group), let's just forget this and move on."

This anti-SJW attitude seems to be: don't invest emotion or energy into these causes, it only leads to frustration.
To a degree this is true. Doing the right thing is really fucking hard sometimes. Even bringing about positive change doesn't mean your effort will pay off. For all MLK Jr. did, in the end his reward was an assassin's bullet. That's some dark night of the soul shit there.

This anti-SJW attitude seems to be: being an SJW will not pay off. Stop trying.
There is a temptation in this line of thinking (for me, at least). No matter how hard I try to undo some of the toxic bullshit of how I was raised, I still have racist and sexist thoughts. I'm good at recognizing them now and calling myself out in my own head and working to make sure they aren't expressed, but it takes effort. I may have to resign myself to the fact that these things will never go away. It's like when I quit smoking 3 years ago. For the most part, things are great, but there are still days when the craving hits me hard.

This anti-SJW attitude seems to be: you have racist and sexist thoughts too, you hypocrite.
This is an attempt to claim the moral high ground. It is the claim that, ultimately, SJWs are disingenuous. It's obfuscation of the highest order, but one that historically effective. Examples of this include the following:

"Why give women the right to vote? They will just vote as their husband does. It's in their best interest to do so. Therefore the status-quo is fine."

"Why free the slaves? These africans are backwards and we are teaching them the protestant work ethic and the bible. It is in their best interest. Therefore the status-quo is fine."

Cultural inertia is a hell of a drug.

This anti-SJW attitude seems to be: please stop trying, because if you try and actually succeed, I won't have my fake moral high ground anymore.
posted by Groundhog Week at 7:15 AM on September 16, 2016 [28 favorites]


Oh yeah, free speech definitely does (and should) come with consequences. In the university context, I'm thinking of universities dis-inviting speakers (on either end of the political spectrum) for sketchy or disingenuous reasons. Let them speak and let their free speech have whatever consequences for them that it does.

But why is being "dis-invited" to speak at a university not an acceptable consequence of their speech? If someone is a bigoted asshat, and we're allowed to hold them to task for that, what is the issue with university speaking engagements being one withheld or withdrawn in response to people's track record?
posted by Dysk at 7:17 AM on September 16, 2016 [10 favorites]


Dysk: I think it's a perfectly acceptable consequence, in the same way as an athelete losing their sponsorship contract over doing something awful would be. And, perhaps, there's some viewpoints that you wouldn't want to let your school be seen as supporting. Would you say Yeshiva University should let a Holocaust denier speak to their students? (Not you, specifically, but you in the general sense.)

In a previous thread about that topic, I suggested that if a university wants to invite someone to speak on a controvertial, potentially offensive topic, then they should also invite someone to speak on the opposing side. Not a debate, necessarily, but let the students decide who they want to see speak.
posted by SansPoint at 7:21 AM on September 16, 2016


naju: This is just a long-winded way of saying that the SJW in this conversation demands an unearned consensus on what racism is, followed by a moral/evaluative condemnation of it. The anti-SJW distrusts this for good reason, and the two talk past each other for the rest of the conversation, increasingly pissing each other off, with the SJW thinking the anti-SJW is a monster who won't even admit slavery is a harmful practice and who doesn't want to change because he's a petulant baby, and the anti-SJW thinking the SJW is a controlling moralist incapable of acknowledging any grey areas and eager to bully/censor anyone who doesn't fit into his unexamined groupthink.

This is a good point. The classic example of such a non-consensus is indeed the definition of "racism" itself.

I can't tell you how many conversations I've seen run aground on these rocks:

anti-SJW : "X is an example of racism."
SJW : "No, that's not racism because racism is {structural, prejudice + power, etc} and what you describe was bigotry expressed by a person of color."
anti-SJW : "So you're defining that whatever white people do is racist and whatever people of color do is never racist. That makes no sense."
SJW : "but that's the definition of racism!"
(endless boring back and forth)

Generally conversations between people who have conflicting definitions converge to a disagreement about language rather than a discussion of the underlying phenomena that language is supposed to describe. I try not to enter such discussions any more.


Dysk: But why is being "dis-invited" to speak at a university not an acceptable consequence of their speech? If someone is a bigoted asshat, and we're allowed to hold them to task for that, what is the issue with university speaking engagements being one withheld or withdrawn in response to people's track record?

I think there's a distinction to be made which is this: if the group within the university who issued the invitation says "you know what, we don't like this guy/girl's views and we don't want him/her to speak here any more", that's perfectly fair. If the administration or other power center issues an order from above declaring that the person should not be allowed to speak at the university because of their views, I view that as suppressive and antithetical to free speech. Doubly so if they issue some kind of mealy-mouthed excuse rather than honestly owning their political stance against the potential speaker.
posted by theorique at 7:28 AM on September 16, 2016 [4 favorites]


naju, if we have to go back to the Big Bang and work forward every time we want to discuss politics, we might as well give up now. I do think "racism is bad" is basic enough (though you can certainly argue that Thing A is or isn't racist, and what the specific "bad" result under discussion is) that it is a reasonable place to start. If someone says "Well no I don't think racism is actually bad," then I have the choice of giving up because there's no way to agree with them, or I have the choice of trying to find some other point of agreement and hope we can come back around to discuss their troubling belief that racism is ok.

If they are not a child, relative or friend, chances are I'm going with the first one because life is short.

In the same way, if were were discussing geography, I don't want to have to prove the world is round first.

We are talking about people who want to discuss politics--if you want to do that, you must then understand the terms under discussion. Most people have a working definition of racism as "discrimination based on skin color." Most people will be starting there, however simplistic and unsatisfying it may be to you, however much it leaves out, because that is how it operates for most people, most of the time.

If a given commenter wants to come up with a new and novel definition of racism that contradicts this, it's on them to describe and defend it.

And also you seem to be assuming good intent here, in all these demands to agree on the details of definitions, and I don't think you should. Sometimes (I would actually say, most of the time) people who do this are just fucking with you and moving the goalposts because they don't actually have a good argument but they don't want to admit yours is stronger.

People who use the term "SJW" as an epithet are acting like Orwell's Big Brother, trying to redefine everything--up is down, left is right, justice is injustice--in order to make themselves the good guys, the truly oppressed heroes. They might borrow the language of smart people like yourself who are well-versed in deconstructing assumptions and exploring the underpinnings of philosophical thought, but only because it muddies the water and gives them a chance to avoid ever having to say that yes, actually they are perfectly fine with racism, sexism, homophobia and other oppressive forces.
posted by emjaybee at 7:33 AM on September 16, 2016 [18 favorites]


I'm semi active in the subreddit for Magic the Gathering, and discussions of social justice and equity regarding women, trans people, other sexual and ethnic minorities etc come up from time to time. They usually don't go well, this is Reddit, but I do try to make an effort to be vocal and lend my support and amplification, to fight for kindness and inclusiveness over the "deal with it" attitude.

The pushback I get is maddening. Any show of support and you're dismissed as an SJW, a white knight, a virtue signaller. They call you these names to shut you up, to prove that your only interest is making yourself feel good. They rant and scream about how you're the bigot, you're the one shutting them out, that your libtard beta regressive views are strangling discourse, that you're invalidating them based on their skin color or their genitals. They will literally flop their dicks all over the discourse when no one was talking about them, when you're just saying hey maybe that player who jokingly asked a trans woman if he could cop a feel was being a jerk? They'll point to their one trans friend who always says awful shit on the internet, so how can they be bigots?

The other day one of these dudes was minorly chastised by the game's community manager, they just said they don't reward his kind of behaviour. He has launched a scorched earth campaign against them, going on a free speech tear. When called on the basics of free speech, that sure you can say whatever you want but it's going to have social consequence, he says "ooooooh look who's using dictionary definitions."

You can't win and they're not listening. I don't know if it's a they got theirs thing so things are fine, or a they're suffering despite the fact that people try to shame them with their privilege so everything sucks for everyone and that's reality so suck it up suckers thing. I just know that I still try to refute them when I can because despite the angry messages I might get I want people to see that people exist who want things to be better.
posted by yellowbinder at 7:33 AM on September 16, 2016 [21 favorites]


theorique: Typically when I hear about speakers being shot down at universities, it's because of student backlash to the speaker. Then it gets spun as "oh, those poor, coddled students can't handle an opposing viewpoint." Maybe that's the case sometimes, but it's also a question about what you want your organization to be linked with. To reuse an example from earlier: I don't think anyone would bat an eye at Yeshiva University dis-inviting a holocaust denier.
posted by SansPoint at 7:35 AM on September 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


From the libertarian / free-speech standpoint, it's easy to find some egregious violations of good sense on university campuses and elsewhere.

Is it, though?

A lot of the concerns that I see libertarians complain about or dismiss in this respect turns out to be pretty valid, or at least arguably correct. And libertarianism, as it exists in the US, has a lot of entrenched power. They are almost entirely white (94%), overwhelmingly men (68%), oppose SSM (59%), and are mostly conservative (57%). So when PoC, women, liberals, and LGBTQ people have concerns, chances are they're likely to dismiss it on identity politics grounds. Which is ironic, seeing as how they're almost always the ones to use that term with an almost visible sneer. It's not really surprising, then, that the people who really love throwing around "SJW" and "(cultural) Marxism" tend to fit this mold: gamergate, the puppies (both sad and rabid), the "new atheists," and so forth. These also overlap a lot, and tend to be led by and largely composed of the above-mentioned strain of libertarians. But one common thread is that many of them have some really uninformed or twisted opinions on what social justice and/or Marxism really is. If you want to know how these terms got so entrenched, that's a large part of it.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:36 AM on September 16, 2016 [14 favorites]


This reminds me a bit of the recent controversy at LambdaConf, where Curtis Yarvin, AKA, Meniscus Moldbug, was invited to speak on Functional Programming. While Curtis is an expert in the topic, he's also known for his political views, which are neoreactionary and if not outright racist, at least sympathetic to white nationalism.

Part of the argument defending having Yarvin speak was that he is an expert in his field, and he wouldn't be speaking about politics. On the other hand, if you're a person of color, or anyone else who would be impacted by his politics, how comfortable would you be if you're watching someone who loathes you speak from a stage?
posted by SansPoint at 7:42 AM on September 16, 2016 [7 favorites]


Sys Rq:
"Glenn Beck doing one of his trademark chalkboard rants, this time against "Social Justice," telling his viewers to be hyperaware of that phrase and to be highly suspicious of anyone who would wear it as a badge of honor."
He's talking about Catholic social teaching which has "social justice" as one of it's big tent poles. It has become associated with Distributionism and other non-capitalist ways of thinking so he's effectively saying "if someone says they're about social justice, they're probably a commie."

The term really has evolved over time. There was a point where SJW was used more in the sense that people were claiming it did, aimed at the overenthusiastic self-righteousness online. But that really didn't last long and now it's just an insult for any soulless alt-right jackhole to hurl at someone who has any sort of conscience at all.

You can actually follow the usage of the term on MetaFilter to watch its devolution. It begins being used as originally intended but not long afterwards people begin pointing out that the type of person who uses that term is one you don't want to associate with. Once Gamergate came about it was full on, "Don't use that word. It is only used to insult people who have non-horrible opinions." And here we are. Honestly I can't think of any other way for the term to have ended up since it began as disparaging extremes on the left - it was only natural for it to eventually be used by gamergaters to point at the left entirely.
posted by charred husk at 7:51 AM on September 16, 2016 [4 favorites]


Part of the argument defending having Yarvin speak was that he is an expert in his field, and he wouldn't be speaking about politics. On the other hand, if you're a person of color, or anyone else who would be impacted by his politics, how comfortable would you be if you're watching someone who loathes you speak from a stage?

Yeah, the ability to separate someone's work or expertise from their politics like this is a privilege of being fundamentally unaffected by those 'politics'. Homophobia is an academic concern to many straight people, for example, whereas it is a visceral and literal threat to many queer people.
posted by Dysk at 7:53 AM on September 16, 2016 [14 favorites]


. . . No matter how hard I try to undo some of the toxic bullshit of how I was raised, I still have racist and sexist thoughts.

This is true for all of us, certainly me. And yet I have to admit that this language and this argument echoes the Christian doctrine on sin -- "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Confessional thinkpieces and college classes amplify that impression. If there's one thing a typical white American dude loves, it's to think of himself as a cowboy, a maverick, a bucker of the system. If he's immersed in his own pieties, there's nothing more satisfying than mocking someone else's. I used to think that "sacred cows make the best hamburger" was a funny joke, until I realized that the people who tell it never mean their own sacred cows, just the ones belonging to those people, over there.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:56 AM on September 16, 2016 [8 favorites]


if we have to go back to the Big Bang and work forward every time we want to discuss politics, we might as well give up now. I do think "racism is bad" is basic enough

In terms of actually advancing the goal of ending race-based discrimination, I think it's much more effective to focus on the actual harm of the race-based act or opinion in question, instead of driving to "that's racist" -> "you're racist" -> QED.
posted by Artful Codger at 8:01 AM on September 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


Dysk Yeah, the ability to separate someone's work or expertise from their politics like this is a privilege of being fundamentally unaffected by those 'politics'. Homophobia is an academic concern to many straight people, for example, whereas it is a visceral and literal threat to many queer people.

<sarcasm>
"Oh, those damn queers/blacks/women. They have to make it all about them, and their feelings! This is computer science. There's no place for feelings in computer science!"
</sarcasm>

I see this attitude a lot around discussion of things like Codes of Conduct for conferences or open-source projects. At best, people espousing this see the discussion as a distraction, at worst as an imposition. A sort of "Sorry you got your jimmies rustled, but that's how we do things here" attitude that helps nobody. Never mind that creating a space where people aren't going to feel like they're going to be attacked for their gender or their work makes for a better environment for everyone.

And yet, I can understand the reaction. I'm a socially awkward, white nerdy guy with anxiety issues. In spaces with strong Codes of Conduct, I've worried that I might do something stupid, get called out, and have to leave, blubbering apologies all along the way. This isn't the Code of Conduct's fault, it's my fault for being anxious and socially awkward. But it's not hard to see someone taking it the other way around. Because I've done it (though I know better now), and I've seen others do it.
posted by SansPoint at 8:04 AM on September 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


Sanspoint: theorique: Typically when I hear about speakers being shot down at universities, it's because of student backlash to the speaker. Then it gets spun as "oh, those poor, coddled students can't handle an opposing viewpoint." Maybe that's the case sometimes, but it's also a question about what you want your organization to be linked with. To reuse an example from earlier: I don't think anyone would bat an eye at Yeshiva University dis-inviting a holocaust denier.

I'd say it depends on the origin of the backlash and/or disinvitation. For example, if an iconoclastic or contrarian student group at YU invited (e.g.) David Faurisson to speak on why the Holocaust didn't happen, I think that would be perfectly permissible. If a large group of students protested the speaker, and held a noisy rally outside the auditorium where he was speaking, that also would be perfectly permissible. I would say it crosses the line when people are physically blocked from entering the auditorium, or when the university decides that a certain speaker may not be allowed to speak there (presumably in opposition to the wishes of the student group issuing the invitation).

This applies across the political spectrum: I don't like the idea of barring "offensive" speakers of any political persuasion, be they Moldbug or the Black Panthers.

(Faurisson came to mind because he and his Holocaust-revisionist views were defended by Noam Chomsky on a free-speech basis, despite Chomsky's Jewish heritage.)
posted by theorique at 8:23 AM on September 16, 2016 [4 favorites]


naju, if we have to go back to the Big Bang and work forward every time we want to discuss politics, we might as well give up now.

In the same way, if were were discussing geography, I don't want to have to prove the world is round first.


I hear you. I just think so much of the common misunderstandings around social justice issues really, really do require going back to absolute first principles, unfortunately. At some point, we've all had to think deeply about things, read material, or have painful lived experiences in order to arrive at the models of justice that we hold in our heads. I wouldn't assume we've all gone on that journey and had that same education. I made it sound like a tedious interminable slog, but it doesn't have to necessarily be that. You can communicate this stuff in a sentence or two and have a dialogue about it, and figure out each other's groundings for stuff, provided after a few passes they're not "just asking questions" insincerely or jerking you around.

And also you seem to be assuming good intent here, in all these demands to agree on the details of definitions, and I don't think you should. Sometimes (I would actually say, most of the time) people who do this are just fucking with you and moving the goalposts because they don't actually have a good argument but they don't want to admit yours is stronger.

Yeah, I'm assuming reasonable good faith. In general, if someone proves they're not actually willing to think about something, I don't think there's much use in forcing the issue. You can figure that out pretty quickly. I wouldn't assume that's the case all the time, though. I have friends who've gotten some ideas about social justice, based on interactions or stories. We sometimes act in ways that support those ideas, frankly.
posted by naju at 8:28 AM on September 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


I always just assumed using 'SJW' as a pejorative term meant the speaker was a misogynist. They may have many other problems as well, but I always consider it a way for sexists to out themselves.

It's an awful term and it's sad when I see friends use it. I guess they think it's edgy.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 8:28 AM on September 16, 2016


And yet, I can understand the reaction. I'm a socially awkward, white nerdy guy with anxiety issues. In spaces with strong Codes of Conduct, I've worried that I might do something stupid, get called out, and have to leave, blubbering apologies all along the way. This isn't the Code of Conduct's fault, it's my fault for being anxious and socially awkward. But it's not hard to see someone taking it the other way around. Because I've done it (though I know better now), and I've seen others do it.

As a socially awkward nerdy white person myself, I love codes of conduct, because that's more information on what is and isn't socially acceptable in a given space, which is less shit for me to (fail to) figure out by reading the room or having any social intuition or whatever. It makes it easier not to be a dick, compared to having no guidelines for what constitutes appropriate behaviour in a space.
posted by Dysk at 8:37 AM on September 16, 2016 [5 favorites]


theorique: It seems to come down to the idea of whether allowing someone to speak constitutes a tacit endorsement of their views. In the case of Moldbug at LambdaConf, I doubt the organizers agree with his politics. They just want someone who knows their shit about functional programming. In the theoretical case of Faurisson at YU, there's no doubt that either the university, or the student group, are endorsing his views. They want to have the debate.

But in both cases, it's a matter of communication on behalf of the people inviting the controversial speaker in the first place. I think in a lot of cases, a university inviting a speaker is presented as just "Here's so-and-so to talk about such-and such," leaving the endorsement or not up in the air.
posted by SansPoint at 8:38 AM on September 16, 2016


Dysk: Oh, no question. Codes of Conduct are a good thing. I'm just anxious and worried I'll screw up in general. (Don't worry, though. I'm working on that with therapy and medication.)
posted by SansPoint at 8:40 AM on September 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


If there's going to be any kind of genuine breakthrough, you have to do the hard work of defining and agreeing upon a shared framework for some difficult concepts.

The refusal to accept or acknowledge that entrenched biases and institutional norms do real and measurable harm to political and cultural minorities is almost never a good-faith error; it is a bad-faith error. It is the privileging of one's own emotional satisfaction and self-image over reality.

When one party volunteers to do almost all of the intellectual or emotional labor, the end result is not usually that the other party eventually comes to see that they, too, must do their share. Rather, the end result is the entrenchment of entitlement, of privilege and privilege-blindness.

More broadly, people tend to be much more inconsistent than a "first principles approach" acknowledges. Almost by definition, a person who has not done the deep thinking is the sort of person who will not do the deep thinking barring massive social incentives.

I think the real solution will always be to generate solidarity among those who already agree on -- and think through -- first principles, and to use that solidarity to begin shifting the culture. To the extent that's already happening, it is what provokes backlash. If the folks on the other side weren't already being confronted with their own doubts about how the world works, the response would be apathy, not hostility.

There's room, on the interpersonal level, for behaviors -- not conversations -- that reinforce the idea that we should and often do already care about and respect each other as people. But the idea that disagreements about the reality and effects of bigotry-plus-power are always "teachable moments" really doesn't work very well in practice (or in its underlying ethical assumptions).
posted by kewb at 8:40 AM on September 16, 2016 [11 favorites]


Sanspoint: That makes a lot of sense to me. It might be a good idea to have a boilerplate CW/TW for all invited speakers, something like:

"The invitation of this speaker by SUBGROUP_X does not constitute an endorsement by UNIVERSITY_Y. We encourage students and members of the university community to make their own decisions about attendance based on their personal preferences and values."

This probably wouldn't matter for 99% of speakers, especially the more technical ones, but in the cases where it did matter, it might be useful.
posted by theorique at 8:49 AM on September 16, 2016


They just want someone who knows their shit about functional programming.

But Yarvin is not the only person who knows functional programming; the fact that he is treated as someone so brilliant and special in his field that no one else is an adequate substitute, even just to speak on programming, is a big part of *why* he believes and advocates the political positions he does.
posted by kewb at 8:50 AM on September 16, 2016 [8 favorites]


kewb: No disagreement here.
posted by SansPoint at 8:51 AM on September 16, 2016


Seems like this is something that's changed.

I remember the first time I became aware of the term "social justice warrior": it was due to a sequence in Homestuck from about four years ago, introducing a bunch of minor characters -- basically, alternate universe versions of the main cast, mostly reduced to stereotypes of social media. The actual terms "social justice warrior" and "SJW" were not used in this sequence, but one of the characters, named Kankri, was specifically compared to "terrible social justice bloggers", and the comment threads about him at the time identified him as an obvious Tumblr SJW parody. Kankri was long-winded, pompous, self-righteous, and hypocritical, and basically treated every interaction as an opportunity to deliver a lecture.

Here's the thing, though: The same sequence introduced another character named Porrim. Porrim was portrayed as a basically decent person, friendly and helpful, if a bit prone to badmouthing people behind their backs. She's also an outspoken feminist, but she doesn't bend every conversation to feminism the way Kankri does with his pet concerns. She gets into some arguments with Kankri because Kankri doesn't think women's issues are important, and also because she treats Kankri like he's a child and he can't stand that.

The author self-insertion character had this to say about the two of them: "Porrim is better at social justice than Kankri because she isn't a boring asshole. Some social justice people should try looking into that." This assessment carried a bit of surprise to the readers at the time, because they weren't thinking of Porrim as a SJW. She didn't fit the stereotype. These words on the author's part are pretty much exactly the attitude that Fred Clark finds lacking in people using the term "SJW" today: that social justice is worthwhile and that the problem with the "terrible social justice bloggers" is solely and completely that they're not good at it. Today, I get the impression that the people using the term "SJW" disapprovingly would totally apply it to Porrim, and, having applied that label, would imagine that it makes her as bad as Kankri.
posted by baf at 8:59 AM on September 16, 2016


baf:
"Today, I get the impression that the people using the term "SJW" disapprovingly would totally apply it to Porrim, and, having applied that label, would imagine that it makes her as bad as Kankri."
The people using the term SJW today would apply it to the author and stop reading their stuff except for to send them insulting and threatening messages.
posted by charred husk at 9:06 AM on September 16, 2016 [6 favorites]


But Yarvin is not the only person who knows functional programming; the fact that he is treated as someone so brilliant and special in his field that no one else is an adequate substitute, even just to speak on programming, is a big part of *why* he believes and advocates the political positions he does.

If there's only one person who is an expert in something your area of knowledge needs, that's a problem already (what if they get hit by a bus?) so it seems like it would behoove institutions that need specific knowledge to train up/educate as many other people as possible in that area.

Bonus: once you do that you don't have to invite a speaker who's a garbage person because they're your only choice.
posted by emjaybee at 9:39 AM on September 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


I always just assumed using 'SJW' as a pejorative term meant the speaker was a misogynist. They may have many other problems as well, but I always consider it a way for sexists to out themselves.

It's an awful term and it's sad when I see friends use it. I guess they think it's edgy.


There's a lot of that to it, yes. It's broader than just misogyny but boy howdy is there a lot of misogyny in it. People mentioned its use as a shibboleth above - it's one of those words that serves mainly to signal to others who share your beliefs that you share their beliefs.

I call people I know out when they use it. That might or might not work for you.
posted by kafziel at 9:56 AM on September 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


emjaybee: The other side of the coin is that Yarvin is a known figure in the functional programming community. So, he's not only an expert, but he's a known name, which has the additional ability to draw more people to LambdaConf than giving the spot to someone who is just as smart (or smarter), but less well known.

(Unfortunately, for LambdaConf, his name is as much known for his views as it is for his functional programming knowledge, if not moreso. This is why it bit them in the ass.)
posted by SansPoint at 9:58 AM on September 16, 2016


"Virtue signalling" is always the one that blows my mind, because it suggests that the speaker literally can't conceive of a plausible reason to do good for others except to improve one's public image. Sometimes your chosen epithets say a lot more about you than they do about the person they're being applied to.
posted by praemunire at 11:21 AM on September 16, 2016 [19 favorites]


Never mind that creating a space where people aren't going to feel like they're going to be attacked for their gender or their work makes for a better environment for everyone.

And yet, I can understand the reaction. I'm a socially awkward, white nerdy guy with anxiety issues. In spaces with strong Codes of Conduct, I've worried that I might do something stupid, get called out, and have to leave, blubbering apologies all along the way.


But can we agree that there's a very fundamental difference between the fear that I'm going to be held accountable for inadvertently saying/doing something harmful and the fear that I'm going to be treated as a second-class person because of my race or gender or sexual orientation?

If I get embarrassed because I get called out for saying something that implies I think of women as potential sexual partners first and competent colleagues second, I can fix that embarrassment by learning to see women as people, or at least by learning to keep my mouth shut. But a woman discouraged to hear my reminder that some guys see her more as a sex object than a colleague can...what? Stop being a woman?

The response you often hear, "She should just get over it," applies far more aptly to dudes butthurt at being called out for their sexism. Both sides theoretically can "get over it," but only one side has the power to just stop doing the thing so they don't have any discomfort to get over.
posted by straight at 11:28 AM on September 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


straight: But can we agree that there's a very fundamental difference between the fear that I'm going to be held accountable for inadvertently saying/doing something harmful and the fear that I'm going to be treated as a second-class person because of my race or gender or sexual orientation?

Yes! I can completely agree with that. My fear is irrational, stupid, and caused by some fucked-up brain chemistry. Your fear is not only legit, but has been likely born out by genuine, lived experience way more times than I've been called to the carpet for saying or doing something stupid.
posted by SansPoint at 11:32 AM on September 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


"Glenn Beck doing one of his trademark chalkboard rants, this time against "Social Justice," telling his viewers to be hyperaware of that phrase and to be highly suspicious of anyone who would wear it as a badge of honor."
He's talking about Catholic social teaching which has "social justice" as one of it's big tent poles. It has become associated with Distributionism and other non-capitalist ways of thinking so he's effectively saying "if someone says they're about social justice, they're probably a commie."

This, but also the Social Gospel movement in Protestantism, which really got rolling with Walter Rauschenbush and his 1917 book A Theology for the Social Gospel. The specific term "social justice"--used in its present sense--starts showing up in Protestant theological literature by the 1940s. The May 1, 1946 edition of The Christian Century, for example, contains a short article entitled "Three Social Justice Standards for Protestant Churches." It mentions an (apparently somewhat controversial) emergency meeting of the Federal Council of Churches regarding economic problems. In addition to whatever was said about the UN and Russia, which had been the focus of most of the discussion, they also made recommendations for the economic policies of US churches. The article quotes the Council as saying:
As stewards before God the churches carry a responsibility in the administration of their funds that includes but goes beyond prudence...; it involves in a particular way the exercise of the Christian conscience and of understanding in relation to the social character of the purposes, policies, and practices of the economic undertakings in which the funds are invested...

There are relatively few churches that do not have at least a part-time helper, and in many instances denominations employ large numbers... The churches have an obligation to support by their own example the highest standards in such matters as wages, hours, vacation provisions and labor-management relations.
That use of "social justice" is recognizable to a current reader, and from a beginning largely focused on economic deprivation, "social justice" in Christian circles became concerned with gender and race, and with gay and lesbian and now intersex and transgender rights. I was aware at least in the 90s of the evangelical pushback against social justice theology, which basically claimed that liberal social justice types focused too much on feeding people when they should be saving their souls, and what was the point of helping someone survive the week who would spend eternity in hell. It's not hard to find ardent declarations that the gospel has nothing to do with social justice.
We live in a time when many preachers and churches are proclaiming a counterfeit gospel of so-called "social justice" instead of the one true Biblical Gospel of salvation from sin and from God's eternal wrath by faith in the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. But this false gospel seeks to manufacture some of the earthly results of the true Gospel without the regenerated hearts that only the Holy Spirit can give.
--Social Justice is not the Gospel

The social justice gospel is the opposite of Jesus' message of repentance. Social justice is built on the idea that economic and social injustice are at the root of people's problems. It leads multitudes of people to believe they are innocent victims. The social justice gospel says that its not our own sins that create our problems, but rather its the sins of an unjust system. Social justice is built on justifying oneself, and blaming someone or something else.

Social justice may sound benign, but a lot of harm can come from this type of thinking. It may not be the intention, but social justice is a convenient way to avoid accepting responsibility for one's life. Someone who believes they are a victim, is not in a morally responsible state of mind. Someone who feels like they are righteous and innocent will naturally work against the will of God.
--The Social Justice Gospel
This was still somewhat of a contentious issue at my seminary when I began in 1999, but the "social justice is an integral part of our calling" message was far louder than the shouts of the detractors. Still, it's an active issue, and from my perspective it seems highly likely that, though GamerGaters don't know it, the ultimate origin of the derogatory SJW label is fundamentalists and evangelicals (and conservative Catholics) aghast the the social justice theology and work of their more progressive religious peers.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 12:05 PM on September 16, 2016 [17 favorites]


Pater, I remember that discussion vaguely, though I always thought that was about "liberation theology" in Catholicism, which also appeared to rattle some Protestants. I admit to not knowing much about all of that, because the idea that Jesus would be mad at you for feeding the poor was so stupid I stopped listening.
posted by emjaybee at 12:37 PM on September 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


other than atomised individuals in a competitive market

...but enough about the latest news from Iraq, they're so depressing.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 12:57 PM on September 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


There was a point where SJW was used more in the sense that people were claiming it did, aimed at the overenthusiastic self-righteousness online.

I was starting to think I was the only person who remembered this. At one point, the "sarcastic" reading that Fred discusses was the primary one.

It definitely hasn't been for a long time, though.
posted by tobascodagama at 3:14 PM on September 16, 2016


Yeah, I remember it being used on livejournal among people of reasonably similar ideologies as well. In my mind, it'll always be associated with the phrase "THE BURNING TIMES" in a large animated typeface on a snark community.

charred husk is probably right that it was inevitable for the right to pick it up as an insult against everyone on the left, but I can still hold a grudge against them for it. The people we called social justice warriors back then may have been doofuses worthy of gentle snarking, but they were our doofuses. The alt-right assholes and gamergaters stomped all nuance out of the phrase.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 5:55 PM on September 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


You personally may hold that "absolutist" moral value judgments are fundamentally misguided, but they're part and parcel of the framework that he's working within, and that the people he's criticizing are supposed to be working within.

I think you're giving way more credit by supposing that he has a framework. Let's suppose instead the hygienic approach is to critique what they're proposing, for inconsistencies, incompleteness, contradictions, etc. We all inhabit different value systems, or perspectives, but "framework" as I understand it refers to an intellectual tool, that from a researcher's standpoint typically raises the natural question of its structural integrity, i.e. its justification, defensibility, and so on.
posted by polymodus at 1:46 AM on September 17, 2016


The people we called social justice warriors back then may have been doofuses worthy of gentle snarking, but they were our doofuses. The alt-right assholes and gamergaters stomped all nuance out of the phrase.

That's been my observation as well. A few years ago, the phrase seemed to refer to a specific, highly disagreeable kind of person who pursued his/her vision of social justice in a rude, angry, and single-minded way, and damn you if you disagreed. Anybody who's spent time in activist circles has probably encountered the type: an eccentric ideologue whose dedication to their particular cause is so great (and that cause so much more important than whatever anyone else cares about) that any level of compromise, or in some cases even politeness, is unacceptable.

With further (right-wing) usage, it seems to have been broadened to include almost anyone to the left of the people using it as an insult.
posted by theorique at 5:34 AM on September 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


“Oooh, look at the mighty social justice warrior. Yeah, you’re exactly like Captain America. You’re Rosa freakin’ Parks. Bayard Rustin’s got nothing on you, there, Mr. SJW.”

But that won’t do. That’s never how these folks employ the term.


Eh, except this is exactly how I've seen people employ the term about 80% of the time. The thing about people who pejoratively use "SJW" (almost always online, on places like Reddit, etc) isn't that they see themselves as people who are in "opposition to social justice". They love social justice, "ACTUAL" social justice - basically, issues that they personally deem worthwhile: either the issue affects them directly, or it is very explicitly black-and-white and doesn't require much nuance to uncover systemic issues. They agree, rapists are bad! But "rape culture" isn't real. Racism is bad! But "privilege" isn't real. That woman who refused to make a wedding cake for the gay couple is a bigoted asshole! But what the fuck is wrong with you SJW's, my gay joke was just a joke.

Almost everyone who uses "SJW" was probably called out at one point or another for using words that they thought were okay. They made a rape joke, someone called them on it and used words like "patriarchy"; to them, the other party is a warrior just choosing the wrong hill to die on and using SJW language to try and police them. In almost every case I've seen "SJW" used, it's meant to imply that this other party is "offended" when they don't *have* to be offended, and almost every time it is about how words are used. "Offense" and "language policing" is what it comes down to for a lot of these folks, this is like their core issue - who is offended by what, and what is worth being deemed "offensive" or not, and that these "offended" people are really just engaging in some form of recreational outrage so they can feel self-righteous. This is pretty much the South Park guys worldview, and in my opinion the angle which this stuff should be attacked from.
posted by windbox at 6:10 AM on September 17, 2016 [5 favorites]


In almost every case I've seen "SJW" used, it's meant to imply that this other party is "offended" when they don't *have* to be offended, and almost every time it is about how words are used. "Offense" and "language policing" is what it comes down to for a lot of these folks, this is like their core issue - who is offended by what, and what is worth being deemed "offensive" or not, and that these "offended" people are really just engaging in some form of recreational outrage so they can feel self-righteous.

And if that isn't the pot calling the kettle recreationally outraged, I don't know what is.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:10 AM on September 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


And libertarianism, as it exists in the US, has a lot of entrenched power. They are almost entirely white (94%), overwhelmingly men (68%), oppose SSM (59%), and are mostly conservative (57%).

Let me get this straight. They're "libertarian" yet a majority of them oppose same-sex marriage. As Sesame Street used to say, "One of these things is not like the others."
posted by jonp72 at 2:08 PM on September 17, 2016 [5 favorites]


I think you're giving way more credit by supposing that he has a framework.

I think you meant "way more credit [than Fred Clark deserves] by supposing that he has a framework." If not, my apologies in advance. If that IS what you meant, I'll just say you're wrong, and a read through the archives of his blog will make that clear very quickly.
posted by Ipsifendus at 11:13 AM on September 18, 2016 [5 favorites]


The "asides" links were real gems. Thanks for posting, CrystalDave.
posted by eviemath at 7:06 PM on September 18, 2016


« Older The Battle of Palmdale   |   Both sides do it! Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments