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Author Topic: Social Justice Bullies: The Authoritarianism of Millennial Social Justice  (Read 5594 times)

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Quote from: RandallS;174433
I suspect that is the idea -- that changing language will cause a change in thought and behavior. Unfortunately, in my experience, it does not work (it especially does not work with people not already predisposed to the desired thought and behavior). From what I've seen it works about as well as "trickle down economics" that is, it sounds like a great idea but does not work nearly as well as it sounds in actual use.

 
I think the people who do this are engaging in magical thinking (in the psychological sense), and don't really understand the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. While changing language is one of the tools in the toolbox for changing thought and behavior, and quite a powerful one when used well, it's a tool with which to do the work - the hammer won't drive the nails for you.

I'm uncomfortable with associating this too closely with current social justice trends, though; trying to accomplish societal change by enforcing ideological purity and/or by using bad Sapir-Whorf is nothing new (f'ex, 'herstory', which I don't mind when it's wordplay to make a point, though it's kind of overused, but which I despise when positioned as a serious argument that the first three letters of 'history' are etymologically a reference to the masculine possessive pronoun; or, gods help us, 'persondate' :rolleye:::rolleye:::rolleye:: - both of which go back to the '70s at least). It does seem to be particularly pervasive these days, especially online - I suspect, though, that if there's more to it than just that the nature of online communication makes it more visible, it's simply that the Internet makes it very easy for someone to feel like they've 'joined a movement', without them having to pay much attention to anything deeper or more cohesive than just 'I'll act the way those other people appear to be acting.'

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Quote from: Sefiru;174430
If all you do is police language, all you get is a euphemism treadmill.


This is brilliant.  Stealing and taking full credit.
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Quote from: SunflowerP;174439
I think the people who do this are engaging in magical thinking (in the psychological sense), and don't really understand the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. While changing language is one of the tools in the toolbox for changing thought and behavior, and quite a powerful one when used well, it's a tool with which to do the work - the hammer won't drive the nails for you.

The problem I have with it is that ONLINE, it seems to be the only thing many of the more active SJ people are doing. It's the only tool they seem to know how to use and they often wield it in the most disruptive and even hurtful manner -- and in ways that disrupt and hurt people who aren't even offending.  For example, every time SJ people derail a conversation on a message board, social platform, online chat to correct some word usage they disrupt the conversations of all the people involved in or reading the discussion who did not offend.
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Quote from: RandallS;174433
I suspect that is the idea -- that changing language will cause a change in thought and behavior. Unfortunately, in my experience, it does not work (it especially does not work with people not already predisposed to the desired thought and behavior). From what I've seen it works about as well as "trickle down economics" that is, it sounds like a great idea but does not work nearly as well as it sounds in actual use.
For me, its less about wanting to change how a person thinks and more about wanting to be treated with respect if I am having a dialogue with a person. If they use derogatory terms, I am more likely to write them off as not worth making the effort on. Granted, this also means that I don't engage with the person to correct them unless as a subtle aside if I am discussing something else.

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Quote from: Darkhawk;174421
I'm curious what you'd make of these articles that I've seen recently, as to whether they're addressing these issues more usefully.

http://feministing.com/2015/04/23/words-for-cutting-why-we-need-to-stop-abusing-the-tone-argument/

and

http://feministing.com/2015/04/16/so-youve-been-publicly-scapegoated-why-we-must-speak-out-on-call-out-culture/

(These struck me as... higher quality than I expect of Feministing, FWIW, not that I've poked my head over there for six years or so.)

 
Those are both much better articles I think.  Partly because they're focusing on specific issues rather then trying to paint an overly broad picture of what's going on. Also, the author of both pieces looks at specific incidents and then draws conclusions about those incidents.  Part of the problem with the essay in the OP is that he tries to make massive generalisations from very specific incidents as well as pulling in some stuff that isn't really related at all (McCarthy etc.)

On the two subjects it tackles.

Tone policing- I largely agree with that article.  I do think we should recognise the Requires Hate situation is something of an extreme example.  That isn't to say that there aren't lessons that can be learnt from it.  In particular, I think we can reasonably suggest that some of the people pushing things like call-out culture act very differently when it's someone they consider "one of us".  At best, that's cowardly.  At worst, it's strong circumstantial evidence that at least some of the "people are using social justice as an excuse to behave appallingly" is a fair accusation.  Certainly, I don't think that anyone who was complicit in Requires Hate's abuses should be given the time of day when they pop up on similar issues in the future.  Especially those who took an active part in supporting them.

In general, there's a big kernel of truth in "don't tone police" arguments.  Not writing people off for being angry or upset is a good thing.  But, as the author points out, it's sometimes used to excuse any behaviour, no matter how objectionable.  And that's where it falls down.  Recognising that someone has the right to be angry isn't and shouldn't be the same as giving people a free pass to behave like total pricks.

Where it gets really murky is when you're dealing with someone who has really good reason for their anger, but the way they express it is so incoherent and flailing that it becomes counterproductive.  I think that there becomes a point where you have to cut people loose, even if you can understand why they might be behaving like that.  Political activity is not a therapy session.  It can't be.  If people consistently act in a way that makes them a liability, I think eventually you have to prioritise the greater good over a single individual.

For a (somewhat less serious) example that illustrates what I mean, a true anecdote.  Years ago now, a group of us were walking back from an anti capitalist demo when a riot van full of cops drove past.  At which point one of the people I was with decided it was a good idea to shout "fucking pigs" at them.  And they drove back, arrested him and searched the rest of us.  (Which also lead to my friend W getting taken in for having a little bit of cannabis in his pocket, that he'd forgotten to take out before the demo.  Which, frankly, is at least as much as his own fault.

Now, I know for a fact that the person in question had good personal and political reasons for not liking cops.  But that didn't stop me from having a real go and him later.  By the most rigid interpretations of "tone policing" I was out of line.  But I really don't think I was.  Whatever your reasons, when you act in a way that effects other people directly, you have to be accountable for that.

On call-out culture- There's a place for it.  Sometimes, people do need to be called out on stuff they've said.  However, far too often, it seems to me to be far more about the caller-outers grandstanding and gaining social capital in SJ circles then any real attempt to tackle the issue at hand.  Which leads to absolutely disproportionate responses.  I'm also not convinced by the current default of it always being public by a lot of people.  Most of the time, I'm of the opinion that a quiet word in private can have better results.  It's only if that fails that I think you should generally go for the nuclear option of a public shaming session.

That's partly assuming that you're dealing with a mistake borne from ignorance though.  If you're talking about someone who is deliberately making racist comments, the situation is different.  But that's less calling out to me and more ideological warfare.
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Jabberwocky

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Quote from: SunflowerP;174439

I think the people who do this are engaging in magical thinking (in the psychological sense), and don't really understand the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. While changing language is one of the tools in the toolbox for changing thought and behavior, and quite a powerful one when used well, it's a tool with which to do the work - the hammer won't drive the nails for you.


I also don't think it's existing in isolation.  It comes with the idea that cultural representation is a primary focus and more specifically that we should look at pop culture analysis as one of the primary analytical tools.  (Although the latter is at least partly to do with the overlap between online SJ and the geek community in my view).

Quote
I'm uncomfortable with associating this too closely with current social justice trends,

(...)

 both of which go back to the '70s at least).


While there's some links with the 1970's, I'd see the current trends as having their roots in things that were happening round identity politics in the 1980's.  That's when I see the concept of "language as a primary arena of struggle" really taking off.

Quote
It does seem to be particularly pervasive these days, especially online - I suspect, though, that if there's more to it than just that the nature of online communication makes it more visible, it's simply that the Internet makes it very easy for someone to feel like they've 'joined a movement', without them having to pay much attention to anything deeper or more cohesive than just 'I'll act the way those other people appear to be acting.'

Sunflower

 
That's definitely the case.  I also think that the nature of the Internet allows people to sign up to abstract theory, without that ever being tempered by the reality that having to implement that theory in a practical way brings.

I certainly know that, while I had read a fair bit of theory on the relationship between gender and class, what really molded my views was being involved in strike support work for the Magnet strikers back in my mid 20's.

Because these were mostly middle aged women.  A lot of us had been quite lifestylist before that point.  Dealing with the day to day struggle of women of our mother's generation who didn't look in the slightest bit 'alternative' and would prefer to go to a bingo hall then a punk gig was something of a wake up call.
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Darkhawk

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Quote from: Jabberwocky;174468
That's definitely the case.  I also think that the nature of the Internet allows people to sign up to abstract theory, without that ever being tempered by the reality that having to implement that theory in a practical way brings.

 
I've had a ... lot ... of run-ins for people whose theory was more important than reality, on the internet.

Another major factor:  language is the primary thing that's accessible as an action on the internet, which means that it's going to be one of the things that gets the most immediate response.  This is the flipside of "On the internet, nobody knows that you're a dog"; on the internet, nobody knows anything more than what you've said.  (Or photographed.  Or.)
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Quote from: Darkhawk;174470
Another major factor:  language is the primary thing that's accessible as an action on the internet, which means that it's going to be one of the things that gets the most immediate response.  This is the flipside of "On the internet, nobody knows that you're a dog"; on the internet, nobody knows anything more than what you've said.  (Or photographed.  Or.)

 
This is the key issue for me on the internet. A lot of people have accused me of doing nothing more than theorising and talking. That's because I don't go on about my activism: the time I've spent blocking roads in front of Downing Street, marching on disability rights and gender equality and LGBT equality marches; working in unions and with grassroots groups for various causes; representations to the government, in person and through persistent letter-writing; volunteering with charities and disabled people's orgs; volunteering with interfaith groups in the various cities I've lived in; writing for all kinds of publications; online activism of lots of kinds (something that disabled people have to do a lot of, for obvious reasons)... and many other things that I can't think of right now. There's really no point in going on about such things. Those things speak for themselves. On the internet, I'm simply representing my position. And mostly, I'm trying to get on with being me. When I get attacked for that, I don't dredge up all the activism I've done, since I don't need to prove my worth in some way. I need to deal with the arsehole in front of me attacking my right to exist. So, yes, to the person I'm talking to, it might look like all I do is talk. I don't really care.
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Quote from: RandallS;174103
This article puts most of my feelings about what I often see being done in the name of social justice online into words -- words I had not thought of. Most of you know that I abhor and oppose political Authoritarianism and I do so no matter what the political color of that Authoritarianism is (left, center, right, other). In my humble opinion, the author is correct at least about Social Justice as it is most often handled online: it has become authoritarian.

 
I just came across this article which I think makes that point far more effectively.  

An extract:

I have occasionally been surprised to meet people who think that I don’t believe, for example, that mansplaining or tone policing are real, or even worse that I don’t think privilege is real. Of course I think those things are real. They’re real and pernicious and have to be accounted for. But I find myself arguing against their particular use in so many instances because they’re often employed in a sloppy, unhelpful, or dishonest way. Worse, even pointing out that they’ve been employed in a sloppy, unhelpful or dishonest way is treated as absolutely anathema by a very vocal and influential part of the online left. That’s bad in and of itself, and it fuels backlash.

It also hampers our ability to meaningfully spread the critique. I’ve been asked point blank on many occasions how one can know when a disagreement coming from a man becomes mansplaining. On an intellectual, theoretical level, I absolutely believe there’s an important difference. In the realm of actual practice? At this point, I’m not sure there is any such definition, because the term is so often used as a meaningless intensifier or petty insult. Likewise, I absolutely believe that tone policing is a real and troubling phenomenon, and that there’s a space between doing that and doing the kind of inevitable and necessary criticism of tactics and language that any political movement needs. But in the actual scrum of online political argument, “tone policing” now seems to mean nothing but “criticism of my argument that I don’t like.” That’s critique drift.
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Quote from: Jabberwocky;175018
I just came across this article which I think makes that point far more effectively.  

It's another excellent article but it doesn't make the point about authoritarianism at all.
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Quote from: Jabberwocky;175018
I just came across this article which I think makes that point far more effectively.  

An extract:

I have occasionally been surprised to meet people who think that I don’t believe, for example, that mansplaining or tone policing are real, or even worse that I don’t think privilege is real. Of course I think those things are real. They’re real and pernicious and have to be accounted for. But I find myself arguing against their particular use in so many instances because they’re often employed in a sloppy, unhelpful, or dishonest way. Worse, even pointing out that they’ve been employed in a sloppy, unhelpful or dishonest way is treated as absolutely anathema by a very vocal and influential part of the online left. That’s bad in and of itself, and it fuels backlash.

It also hampers our ability to meaningfully spread the critique. I’ve been asked point blank on many occasions how one can know when a disagreement coming from a man becomes mansplaining. On an intellectual, theoretical level, I absolutely believe there’s an important difference. In the realm of actual practice? At this point, I’m not sure there is any such definition, because the term is so often used as a meaningless intensifier or petty insult. Likewise, I absolutely believe that tone policing is a real and troubling phenomenon, and that there’s a space between doing that and doing the kind of inevitable and necessary criticism of tactics and language that any political movement needs. But in the actual scrum of online political argument, “tone policing” now seems to mean nothing but “criticism of my argument that I don’t like.” That’s critique drift.

 
I don't mean to kick the hornet's nest, but I've been doing some reading on this. I think that sometimes people (including me and Tumblr) don't have the best grasp on the Social Justice theories they're championing, and that does diminish an ability to effectively communicate and promote change.

Peggy McIntosh, author of the Invisible Backpack, had this to say about privilege in a recent interview with The New Yorker.


"When Tal Fortgang was told, “Check your privilege”—which is a flip, get-with-it kind of statement—it infuriated him, because he didn’t want to see himself systemically. But what I believe is that everybody has a combination of unearned advantage and unearned disadvantage in life. Whiteness is just one of the many variables that one can look at, starting with, for example, one’s place in the birth order, or your body type, or your athletic abilities, or your relationship to written and spoken words, or your parents’ places of origin, or your parents’ relationship to education and to English, or what is projected onto your religious or ethnic background. We’re all put ahead and behind by the circumstances of our birth. We all have a combination of both. And it changes minute by minute, depending on where we are, who we’re seeing, or what we’re required to do."

Privilege is fluid. Privilege is a grey scale. In ever instance I have the potential of being the privileged or the unprivileged. But too often I see people being labeled as The Privileged, period, without any regard for personal experience or circumstance.

" In order to understand the way privilege works, you have to be able to see patterns and systems in social life, but you also have to care about individual experiences. I think one’s own individual experience is sacred. Testifying to it is very important—but so is seeing that it is set within a framework outside of one’s personal experience that is much bigger, and has repetitive statistical patterns in it.

...

The key thing is to let people testify to their own experience. Then they’ll stop fighting with each other. One of my colleagues at SEED says, “Unless you let the students testify to what they know, which schools usually don’t let them do, they will continue to do just what the dominant society wants them to do, which is to tear each other apart.” The students who are sitting there fighting with one another aren’t allowed to have their lives become the source for their own growth and development."

Anyway. I thought that was helpful for me.
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Quote from: RandallS;174102
Whether or not you agree with this author's opinion (completely or partially), I think this article should be read by everyone remotely interested in social justice today.

Social Justice Bullies: The Authoritarianism of Millennial Social Justice


It reminds me of the French expression...

Quote from: 'Pierre Victurnien Vergniaud'

Citoyens, il est à craindre que la révolution, comme Saturne, ne dévore successivement tous ses enfants et n’engendre enfin le despotisme avec les calamités qui l’accompagnent.


In English, it translates to

"Citizens, we have reason to fear that the Revolution, like Saturn, will successively devour all its children, and finally produce despotism, with the calamities that accompany it."

Now I don't think that social justice will produce despotism, but I do think that the social justice movement(like the left overall) has a habit of "devouring its children", meaning that it tends to turn on people internally as opposed to turning outward.

Much like the French Revolution(from which that quote was made) to Communism, to the "sex wars" among the feminists, this is a habit that goes back for a long time.

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