The ideology of Critical Social Justice (CSJ) is incredibly destructive, and ironically, given its name—incredibly unjust. I will assume that the readers of this are familiar with it, and recognize it as a very serious threat to actual justice, as well as being antithetical to a number of principles that true progressives, liberals, and all fair-minded people embrace. Here I propose an alternative that I believe will be necessary to stop it.
I believe that increasing dissatisfaction with various aspects of modern life is the actual driving force fueling the spread of CSJ. Out of the various problems, growing financial inequality is one of the most easily identifiable. It has grown so extreme, with the resulting actual pain being so widespread and obvious, that most reasonable people think that something must be done. CSJ currently advertises itself as the solution, wrongly treating any situation with unequal outcomes as problematic, regardless of the area—as long as it supports the CSJ narrative.
- taking an existing genuine problem – bad outcomes for significant fractions of the population;
- providing a simple (if wrong and morally flawed) explanation – sexism/racism;
- identifying a group of “oppressors” to blame – straight white males;
- developing/evolving a supporting belief system – postmodern neo-marxism (or feminist/gender/queer/race/whiteness studies);
- providing a righteous sounding (but non-working) “solution” – defeating the oppressors by discriminating against them until equity, as they define it, is achieved.
This explanation of CSJ obviously oversimplifies the views of the Foucaults and DiAngelos of the world, but I argue that this condensed view is in fact more relevant, in that this is what 99% of the adherents of CSJ have condensed all that Theory down to. Even for the Theorists, this is the subtext, and it has a powerful emotional appeal.
The effectiveness of CSJ’s spreading has been vastly furthered by its co-opting of some very important terminology—social justice, diversity, equity, inclusion. CSJ has made its inroads into a variety of unsuspecting institutions by claiming it provides a solution to problems that we all should care about, combined with an incremental strategy of indoctrination.
With respect to the adoption of CSJ, consider the following four groups:
- those who benefit directly from CSJ;
- those who have adopted it because they think the only alternative explanation for unequal outcomes must be biologically based gender/race inferiority;
- those who don’t really know much about CSJ;
- the majority of the readers of this article, who are familiar with CSJ and have rejected it.
Those who directly benefit from CSJ have extra incentive to adopt it because it is in their own self-interest. This group is potentially comprised of anyone who is not a white male, though it should be noted in passing that CSJ has established a caste system with status based on identity distance from the designated oppressor group (so the less white and male you are, the higher your status). Most members of this group will not be swayed by any rational arguments. The fact that it is directly in their self-interest to adopt and promote CSJ will in many cases override all other considerations of fairness and reason.
Another group of people have adopted CSJ because they see it as a clear alternative explanation for inequality, and CSJ claims to provide a path towards remedying it. Reason may change some minds here, but may not always be effective due to the emotional satisfaction that CSJ provides by identifying a group of people to blame.
A third group, the majority of people so far, don’t know much about social justice at all, other than that the name sounds good. These people have yet to be indoctrinated, but—in the absence of a competing ideology—the majority of them are likely to adopt CSJ. This is due to CSJ’s positive branding as a form of “social justice,” which results in a maxim of “when in doubt, go with social justice,” thus driving this situation and letting CSJ get away with its bullying.
A final group is comprised of those who have become familiar with CSJ, and reject it because they recognize it for the hate-fueled ideology that it is. We need to provide an ideology that will counter CSJ, so that those who haven’t adopted it have an alternative solution (and if we’re lucky, some of those who have already adopted CSJ might be starting to recognize how toxic it is, and be looking for an alternative).
I propose we call this alternative “Universal Social Justice” (USJ). CSJ has so far insulated itself very effectively from criticism by making people who are against it have to say they are “against Social Justice.” It’s worth thinking for a moment about how that sounds to someone who doesn’t know anything about CSJ yet. Making it clear that you are definitely in favor of a form of social justice that actually improves all people’s lives—a Universal Social Justice—but that you are against a destructive and hate-filled ideology—Critical Social Justice—allows you to start a discussion without instantly alienating the other party.
Fully developing USJ will take the work of many, but I’ll attempt an imperfect start with a quick outline here. To begin with, I propose we follow the approach taken by CSJ, but in a positive way. Let’s:
- acknowledge a genuine problem – bad outcomes for a significant fraction of the population;
- tease these apart from a different, sometimes concerning (and sometimes not) issue – financial inequality;
- identify the real explanations for differing outcomes – systemic issues with our current economic system and cultural variations between groups;
- identify the real explanations for other types of differences in results (e.g. STEM gender balance) – biology, preference, culture;
- accept that differences in results in some areas are okay – preference-driven differences don’t need to be fixed;
- explicitly reject oppression as the primary explanation for existing inequality – reject victimhood;
- reaffirm our commitment to equality of opportunity and legal status – reject discrimination;
- propose potentially workable solutions – UBI, promotion of intergroup mixing, providing better educational opportunities.
Financial inequality exists, and is becoming worse in ways that are patently obvious to everyone. Any ideology that attempts to sugar-coat or ignore this problem is doomed to failure, because the problem is now great enough so that no amount of spin can justify where we presently are. Harmful examples of this could fill a book; I’ll limit myself here to the observation that economics overlay laws, so that no democracy can exist where wealth disparities are too great. By way of example, having no income threatens your ability to find food and shelter; satisfying these needs requires you to take a job, and accept the conditions your employer chooses in the process. Though legally you may have the right to move around and wear any clothing you like, your employer can require you to stand still on a corner wearing a clown nose eighty hours per week, and you will do so if no other jobs are available. The control of employees outside the working hours is expanding as well, where an employee’s failure to exercise, on their own time, may result in a denial of health insurance benefits. As jobs become scarcer this level of control—off the job as well as on—becomes more pronounced.
Where USJ differs from CSJ regarding this is that USJ recognizes that the root of the problem is not directly attributable to any particular group of people/oppressors. It stems instead from the complex economic system we have jointly created, with corresponding emergent behavior that is only loosely predictable. Right now that system is behaving in a way that is overly concentrating wealth.
A core principle of USJ must thus be a recognition of the existence of objective reality, and its effects on all of us. CSJ denies the existence of this reality because it has to—otherwise numerous aspects of its claims become demonstrably falsifiable. This denial of reality is also why its solutions won’t work; problems are rarely solved if their causes are incorrectly identified.
One example of this denial is that of biology with respect to gender. If some psychological differences between the genders due to biology are present on a statistical basis, corresponding differences in the statistics of STEM representation by gender can be (and are) explained without appealing to oppression. This totally defeats the oppressor narrative, and thus biology cannot be allowed by CSJ. (The flip-side is also a feature of CSJ: if such differences exist, acknowledging them could potentially be misused to justify oppression, so they cannot be allowed by CSJ.)
Another example is that of effects of cultural variation on income levels. If we acknowledge that the culture of one group results, on average, in half as much time spent studying as that of another, then this is sufficient to explain statistical differences in financial outcomes. This explanation also runs counter to the CSJ narrative, and thus the importance of cultural differences on outcomes must be denied. Recognizing objective reality thus allows USJ to reject the oppressor/victim mentality, which is key to actually making progress.
A Universal Social Justice also must reaffirm our commitment to some of the principles that have resulted in the incredible progress that actually has been made. We need to reaffirm that everyone must be treated equally without regard to any non-behavioral characteristics (e.g. race/gender/sexual orientation), and explicitly reject discrimination. Critical Social Justice seeks to create a new caste system with preferential behavior towards those of higher status legally enshrined in it; this must be stopped. We must also explicitly support freedom of speech, having faith that good ideas will overcome bad ones in the marketplace of ideas. We must also address solutions towards financial inequality, admitting there’s an issue and experimenting with ways to ameliorate it, such as Universal Basic Income, or other changes in our economic system. Finally, we must work against tribalism, minimizing that which divides us and reaffirming the common characteristics shared by all humanity.
Universal Social Justice—applicable to all—needs to be developed. Let’s build it, so that institutions (and individuals) have a concrete alternative to Critical Social Justice that will help us get back on the track to making progress for everyone.