The Ideology of Social JustUs
A highly contagious virus plagues political discourse today. To be accepted in the mainstream of politically correct opinion, one must take appropriate measures to demonstrate allegiance to what is known as ‘social justice.’ Views that do not take into account social justice are unfashionable at best and offensive at worst. [Author’s Note: this blog does not take any socially advisable precautions of this sort.] Below I explain what social justice means today, and why the infected are unlikely to be cured.
Confronting the onslaught of social justice hysteria is troublesome for many. The difficulty in combating this worldview is a consequence of the ambiguous nature of the term itself. How can one be expected to argue against a philosophy that doesn’t seem to have a substantive, distinguishable core in the first place?
But even here, a terrible assumption has been allowed to pass. Social justice theory is nothing new.
It is communism re-branded.
It is John Stuart Mill’s principle of distributive justice rehashed.
It is egalitarianism with a pretty face.
It is a politically correct weapon of mass destruction that carpet bombs any intelligent discussion of justice and society.
Rejecting social justice theory requires zero original theory. Rather, one need only employ the same critical thinking that allows for the rejection of other morally or intellectually bankrupt philosophies.
This hasn’t stopped some self-identified libertarians from waving the flag of social justice in order to prove to themselves and to prospective libertarian converts that the philosophy of freedom cares about the disadvantaged too. This is the Activist Dilemma. Those transfixed with contorting liberty into a politically correct package to sell to naive students and rent- and vote-seeking politicians–these activists–have taken to social justice like a tobacco addict to Nicotine patches. Apparently, the inherent truth that respect for the natural law–that is, respect for private property rights–uplifts the poor and disadvantaged just as it punishes those who reap ill-gotten gains isn’t enough. For these self-identified libertarian Social Justice Warriors (SJW) palatability of message trumps truth.
Though the historical development of social justice is not the subject here, those interested may take a look at the chapter entitled ‘Social’ or Distributive Justice in Volume II of Friedrich Hayek’s Law, Legislation, and Liberty (it begins on pg. 269 in the PDF format).
Instead, the goal here is to address what social justice has come to mean in today’s vernacular. Social justice in 2015 may be thought of as equality in economic, cultural, and environmental circumstances; and likewise, as equality of opportunity, privilege, advantage, and biological endowment. Social justice is bigger than the standard political discourse, which generally concerns itself with economic conditions. If the topic may be subject to human cognition, it is fair game for social justice analysis.
Notice the fundamental focus on equality in the above definition. SJWs are obsessed with it–equality of income, of humans and animals, of welfare benefits, of treatment by police, of social status, of potential, and so forth. Equality is the supreme goal of social justice.
Do not be confused when social justice warriors cry for fairness instead of equality. Their metric of success for the former is always the degree to which the latter is achieved. Even in cases where individuals of a particular race carry out violence against individuals of another race as revenge for ‘unfair’ treatment of ancestors, the goal is always to bring the state of justice back to equilibrium where current violent acts make up for–or equal–the severity of crimes committed in the past.
Some may argue that my definition of social justice is too broad. They may argue that social justice applies to narrow, specific domains of human experience. Empirical evidence to the contrary aside, this is beside the point. It is not that social justice need incorporate all possible aspects of experience, but rather that wherever it is applied (and applied everywhere it is), it is a proscription for unmitigated disaster.
The Social Justice obsession in 2015 is a consequence of the rebirth of the equality fetish. Murray Rothbard writes in Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature:
“[T]he equality of all men–the egalitarian [social justice] ideal–can only be achieved if all men are precisely uniform, precisely identical with respect to all of their attributes. The egalitarian [social justice] world necessarily be a world of horror fiction–a world of faceless and identical creatures, devoid of all individuality, variety, or social creativity” (comment added, p. 6 in print, p. 35 in PDF format).
What a world social justice warriors prescribe.
Well what gives? Why then do so many disadvantaged people recourse to social justice as justification for their behavior? Why do so many intellectual elites prate on about the imminent demand for social justice, lest the world spontaneously combust? Is it abject confusion? Disingenuous pontificating? No. Something far more powerful motivates individuals stupid and smart, young and old, liberal and conservative, black and white, educated and self-taught to adopt the banner of social justice.
In chapter three of Crisis and Leviathan Robert Higgs offers his analysis of ideology. First,
“By ideology [he means] a somewhat coherent, rather comprehensive belief system about social relations. To say that it is somewhat coherent implies that its components hang together, though not necessarily in a way that would satisfy a logician. To say that it is rather comprehensive implies that it subsumes a wide variety of social categories and their interrelations.” (comment added, p. 37)
Higgsian “[i]deology has four distinct aspects: cognitive, affective, programmatic, and solidary” (p. 37). In other words, individuals employ cognition in an attempt to understand their world. They act in certain ways based upon their cognition–their understanding–of their circumstances. Some of these actions become programmed; i.e., certain actions are effectively embedded in their general pattern of behavior as a result of this understanding. Finally, actions taken in accordance with these first three aspects may resemble those taken by others. In this way, humans develop solidarity in action.
Of these four aspects of Higgsian ideology, the fourth, what Higgs originally calls the “solidary" aspect of ideology, and what I’ll call solidarity is the most important for analyzing social justice and its pole-bearers (SJWs).
Individual identity is laced with solidarity. How humans choose to act accounts in part for how other humans choose to act. By conducting ourselves in similar fashion, humans acting in a particular way, in accordance with a particular ideology, become comrades with their fellow travelers.
Human beings are remarkable in that we possess the capability to dedicate our lives to what some may consider useless, unproductive, immoral, or hopeless endeavors. Why? As Benjamin Franklin says, “we must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
This is the role of ideology in human action. This is why social justice warriors continue to exist, despite the abominable consequences their actions would bring about, if successful. Higgs writes:
“Ideologies have sources in the guts as well as the mind, and neither logic nor empirical observation can resolve visceral disagreements” (p. 38).
Those who understand the consequences of the implementation of equality writ large–or social justice, if you still prefer–are up against human nature in their campaign against social justice warriors. To convert a social justice warrior would require a feat of persuasive ability so great so as to convince the warrior to forfeit his solidarity with his fellow comrades. In short, to expect a social justice warrior to capitulate to reason is to expect him to sacrifice part of his identity.
This is a tall order. Frankly, limited resources are better allocated to other activities. I advise enhancing one’s own understanding of the principles of liberty in the radical, Rothbardian, austro-libertarian tradition. At least if the social justice warriors achieve their goals–that is, the destruction of their own condition in the name of equality–there will remain a strong core of individuals equipped with the knowledge of how to generate prosperity in reality bound by natural law.
In the meantime, it should be clear that ‘social justice’ is the incorrect spelling. A more accurate form is ‘social justus’ or ‘social just us’ (feel free to add a hashtag).
Most who advocate social justus do not follow their philosophy to its tragic end of ‘inequality for none, destitution for all.’ One does not see the Black Lives Matter crowd campaigning for the equal rights of poor Indonesians. Nor do the elitist environmental protectionists (whom I endearingly refer to as eco-terrorists) refuse to consume organic–and thus, living–matter in solidarity with their pro-life, in the most literal sense, views. Nor do self-styled feminists commit suicide when they reach the average age of male life expectancy. But this isn’t about justice, or fairness, or equality. It’s about justus.