What’s an SJW – Social Justice Warrior?

I discovered the term when reading about #gamergate. Although it did not originate with this, it seems to be the catch-all phrase for the enemy of the gamers. There is no definition of who is on either side of the gamergate war but it seems that people too often revert to “hardcore gamers” versus “SJWs”. But before we get to the definition, we must look at the anon culture which propagates the term, and, ultimately, maybe I’ll be able to tell what justice really means. I’m not gonna dwell on gamergate, but I’ll explain it in order to segway into anon culture and from there discuss the philosophical aspect of social justice within this context and in general.

Gamers are upset that game journalists are in bed with game developers, figuratively and literally. Game journalists are upset by the harassment and death threats they have received as a result of this. Gamers are upset because the game journalists ignored the criticism and waved it off as misogyny (85% of hardcore gamers are male, according to Based Mom). Game journalists are upset because gamergate is inflated by or even entirely consisting of trolls and duped, naive followers. Gamers, lastly, joined a real grass-roots movement under the gamergate tag, although the amount of trolling makes it impossible to tell how much influence the serious gamers have. The outcome is yet unclear and is likely to take several more turns, especially if the serious gamers keep pushing the issue, regardless of whether they are pushing towards a specific end or not. The gamer community has several links to the anon culture. Anon culture is hard to define because in theory everyone is an anon (anonymous) and in practice there are innumerable websites where users can enjoy various levels of anonymity, in addition to technical and real life attempts at hiding one’s identity.

To simplify, I’ll use 4chan as the representative of anon culture, even though tumblr, reddit, twitter, irc etc are all vital components. 4chan is a website where anyone can create a discussion thread and anyone can reply and post images and links. The most popular topics of discussion involve computer games, anime, porn, politics and memes. 4chan is infamous for raids, meaning a group of people gathered in a discussion and agreeing to create havoc, e.g. in the form of spamming or otherwise harassing a specific person or group on another website. Sometimes the motivation is ideological, sometimes it’s just for their own entertainment.

The urban dictionary, which can be considered an artefact of the anon culture, defines SJW as follows: “Social Justice Warrior. A pejorative term for an individual who repeatedly and vehemently engages in arguments on social justice on the Internet, often in a shallow or not well-thought-out way, for the purpose of raising their own personal reputation. A social justice warrior, or SJW, does not necessarily strongly believe all that they say, or even care about the groups they are fighting on behalf of,”

and “derogatory term for people who are basically overly in defense of whatever the popular beliefs portray as the greater victim of discrimination (usually SJWs would be defending women, african americans [written from a U.S. American point of view], homosexuals, etc).”

So, basically, SJWs are very vocal online, looking for every opportunity to receive admiration, fame, likes, followers and monetary gain, by engaging in debates and defending whoever is perceived as the greater victim in society or in a specific situation. This can be contrasted with e.g. the more neutral term civil rights activist, which is simply a person who fights for justice, not for personal gain, but for the sake of justice. However, many anons label all civil rights activists or human rights activists as SJWs. Feminists, gay rights activists and anti-racists (as per the urban dictionary definition) easily get lumped together as all being SJWs. The more vocal, the more likely someone is to be labelled an SJW (and the more likely it’s actually true). The self-important behaviour of acting like victims and asking for donations or other favours also strongly conflicts with the cynical legion-mentality, almost to the point of self-destructive nihilism, of being an expendable, anonymous, insignificant piece in the whole of things.

Obviously, not all activists are selfish assholes, so there must be an ideological undercurrent to the usage of the term – and other pejorative or simply related words like man-haters, leftists, radical, feminazi, cultural marxist, social darwinism, political correctness gone mad and so on all seem to thrive in this company. These words might seem harsh and to some they are even insulting, but it should be noted that the words faggot, retard and nigger are not only everyday words on 4chan, but so overused that they are treated as hilarious puns (memes) in and of themselves, because the culture rotates partly around anonymity, partly around free speech and partly around trolling and using insults as entertainment and even as a means of making/defining friends by insulting perceived (i.e. upset) non-friends.

Not all anons are the same of course so it’s unfair to put an ideological label on the whole culture. However, there is one opinion which is fuelling the use of the term SJW in all the other subgroups of this culture, as evidenced by the high prevalence of its use in connection with the gamergate tag, despite there being no direct link between the typical gamer and debates about social justice. Ironically (?) 4chan moderators are deleting discussions about gamergate.

The opinion I’m talking about is that social justice, (or even moral justice according to one person), is redundant to the point of being harmful in a society with legal justice. The argument can be illustrated with an example, even though I’m oversimplifying here to get to the discussion quicker: “It is wrong to spend more money on female victims of rape than on male victims of rape, if both genders are treated the same way in court, even if females more easily fall victim to rape in our current society.”

Traditionally, cis, white, not disabled, upper-class, adult men have been privileged and in power. Various movements have tried to combat this inequality. Right now we are in a state where some privileges have been revoked in some places and others remains in some places. If you are e.g. a white man in a place where there is no longer any racism and no longer any sexism, you might be hurt by anti-racists and feminists, either physically or mentally, but mainly indirectly via their demands of social justice. Maybe you are already struggling with normal things and then you have to suffer even more because some black women on the other side of the planet are being discriminated against. Obviously you’re gonna think this is unfair and you will say it’s gone too far, that feminists want all men to die, that they believe all humans are exactly equally physically strong and that anti-racists want all white people to die. However, equally obvious, there is still a need for anti-racist and feminist movements and demands until the day when there is equality in every inch of our world. And, in Hegelian fashion, the opposing forces will keep swinging our society back and forth like Gandalf and the Balrog fighting each other while falling into the unknown abyss.

So, should we adapt to the complexity of a society where discrimination under the right (or wrong) circumstances can hit anyone regardless of their starting point? Should we spend time on this discussion in every debate about justice? Should we let the once-privileged, at the moment under-privileged, regain the power over the discourse? Should we let the once under-privileged, at the moment privileged, keep the power over the discourse? I don’t know. There might not be much of a choice. However, maybe I can get to the bottom of the conflict between legal and social justice. To do so, we will have to take a long and difficult tour through unresolved philosophical discussions about what justice really is. According to Fred Hutchison, the conflict exists between natural law theory and social justice theory:

“The natural law definition of equality involves a metaphysical equality of humanness – that is to say, equality in terms of what it means to be human. A father and a young son are equal in terms of possessing the nature of human beings. However, they are not equal in psychological, intellectual, and moral development, or in authority, experience, and wealth – nor are they necessarily equal in talent, determination, or character. In like manner, the citizenry is wildly diverse in wisdom, virtue, merit, and talent. However, they are all equal in possessing a human nature and are entitled to equal justice under the law and subject to equal moral and legal accountability for their conduct.” “Liberals confuse the idea of equality with an incompatible mixture of social justice ideas and natural law ideas. Social justice theorists go far beyond the idea of equal dignity as human beings and equal justice under law. They greatly inflate the idea of equality to include an entitlement to an equal share in the external goods of society – independent of abilities, achievements, and merits.” “God designed man and gave him rights according to that design. Rights based on natural law are permanent and readily definable. Such rights are an objective and steady foundation for a rational government of laws and not men. Natural law promotes freedom by keeping arbitrary power out of the hands of government. In contrast, social justice ‘rights’ are subjectively invented and cannot be discovered from nature. For this reason, social justice is arbitrary and irrational in essence, no matter how it is rationalized. Social justice ideas are in continual flux and are unsteady as a foundation for law.”

(Btw, you might have noticed the use of “men” as opposed to “humans”, which in itself is further divisive)

“the rule of the liberal elites would subject us all to arbitrary, irrational, politically-correct codes of speech, thought, and behavior. Like the shamans, liberals attempt to enforce their taboos through intimidation. The rule of shamans requires tribal group-think. This is why the ultimate triumph of social justice theory must signal the end of personal freedom. Social justice theorists are unable to provide rational grounds for social justice theory, because their theories are based upon magical thinking. The society of liberal shamans works from a romantic, subjective, intuitive, emotional, and political basis. Like an exclusive priesthood of shamans, elite liberal circles expect the rest of us to submit to their decrees concerning social justice. Liberal elitists prefer that the rest of us do not ask too many questions, because they cannot provide rational explanations for why a particular social condition is inherently unjust. All they can say without equivocation is that a situation is unjust because they feel it to be so.”

Ok, I’ve had enough bullshit now. Humans are not made by a magical man in the sky and must not accept their lot on earth as a trial for their real, eternal, life that begins after the trial life ends. No, there is no objective morality or master-plan to fall back on. Instead, humans are arbitrary creations of mindless physics and emotionally driven machines, therefore justice, freedom, happiness and all the other arbitrary values, begin and end with our emotions. Our emotions, no matter how subjective and difficult to qualify and quantify and gather empirically according to the scientific model, are the ONLY measurements of success in regard to these values. A feeling, thus, is an actual argument and as any argument it can be analyzed rationally and subjected to logical deduction.

From this standpoint, it’s theoretically simple to adopt a utilitarian ideology and use emotions as the standard for utilitarian success. In practice it is of course a much more difficult relativism, but then again, that’s just the nature of the universe and its subjects. Now, if we assume this philosophical starting point, can we differentiate between legal (and/or natural) justice and social justice? I’m gonna skip past Hobbes’ social contract and the philosophical debate concerning the existence of a state. I’ll mention that Nobel Prize-winner Amartya Sen wrote a book “The Idea of Justice” in 2010 trying to define justice and discussing how it can be achieved, both in theory and in practice, but I’ll just conclude that mention by saying that the jury is still out on the subject. I’m not even gonna talk about Plato or Swift. Instead, let’s go for the throat.

The following quotes are from http://www.libertylawsite.org/liberty-forum/what-is-social-justice

“[Where society is the whole and individuals its parts] legal justice orientates the parts to the whole, distributive the whole to the parts while commutative orients the parts one to another.”

“social justice is not and cannot be the government’s exclusive concern. The common good is everyone’s concern. Hence, not every or even most actions that seek to contribute to its realization should necessarily come from the state.”

The following quote is from http://www.libertylawsite.org/liberty-forum/social-justice-is-the-state

“Social justice doctrines of the sort we have been considering are at some deep level wed to the idea that society itself is an organization or an enterprise.  Society itself has a purpose, viz., the proper distribution of, say, happiness or whatever are the best proxies for happiness.  And society fulfills that purpose by properly exercising its authority over whatever is available to be distributed.  If, as a member of the organization, I appeal for a larger slice, I must explain to those in charge how my getting a larger slice will advance the organization’s purpose.    Society qua organization, i.e., the state, might recognize that sometimes its ends are better served by allowing its members a considerable degree of local discretionary control.   The state might be convinced by its pro-freedom and pro-market advisors that this is the best way for the state to make use of people’s talents, energies, and knowledge for the sake of social justice.  Still, individual discretionary control – especially over the fruits of one’s permitted economic activity – will have to remain hostage to the state’s judgment about the distributional justice of those individual freedoms.  This also is what I mean to convey by my perhaps not very hyperbolic title [Social Justice is the State]”

So, it seems, we end up with a problem of power. The power that is controlled by the state, with it’s military and police force, and how much power each individual is allowed by the state. The author, Eric Mack, of the last quote conflates power and happiness in a very telling way (and it comes as no surprise that he uses wealth as an approximation of happiness in his argumentation, even if it is just an intentional approximation.) Power is not only conflated with happiness, but with violence. I could go to anti-statist Stefan Molyneux’ non-aggression principle argument, but I won’t. I could mention the golden rule and how your freedom ends at the tip of my nose, but these are practical solutions, not theoretical.

I will offer a third option to those in a legal/natural justice versus social justice discussion. There is simply no need to make that differentiation unless the discussion is specifically concerned with the difference between legal/natural justice and social justice. Justice is justice, justice is happiness, happiness is equal opportunity. Oh yes, now we’re cooking. Equal opportunity is justice, justice is happiness, equal opportunity is happiness. Equal opportunity now becomes the new target of the debate. Equal opportunity is not about allowing blind people to become pilots. Equal opportunity is about giving everyone the same chance at happiness. Not ensuring that all people are equally happy, or that they have the same opportunities to wealth, sex, food or any other MEANS for achieving happiness, but ensuring that all people have the same chance at happiness itself, at happiness as an isolated goal.

Can legal justice provide this? Yes. Can social justice provide this? Yes, certainly if social justice is the state and its legislative powers, but otherwise yes, in an anarchic society as well. Can nature provide this? That is a nonsensical question. Nature is just another word for reality, it just is, it doesn’t do anything. So, legal justice and social justice both strive for equal opportunity at happiness, given that happiness is the net sum of varying emotions, including some measurement of stability and a minimum of positive emotions. We’ve reduced the debate about terminology to equating justice with justice, which means we can drop that part of the disagreement, no matter how enticing that dimension of justice and the whole of history and statistics are to discuss. The response to someone hijacking a debate with a discussion of justice is to ask whether the other person believes in the principle that ALL humans (and other sentient beings) should be allowed as equal as possible opportunities for happiness and follow that up by asking if the person believes this principle is practiced today or not. If the answer to the first question is yes and the answer to the latter question is no, then the other person has agreed that there is a need to fight for the cause in question. Thereafter it becomes a matter of personal insight. Am I fighting for the sake of the cause or for selfish reasons? If you have trouble with the finer points of different definitions of “equal opportunities” or want more fleshed-out arguments I recommend starting here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equal_opportunity#Practical_considerations

Post Scriptum, Jan 2016
So, there’s a problem with rights. “Liberals confuse the idea of equality with an incompatible mixture of social justice ideas and natural law ideas. Social justice theorists go far beyond the idea of equal dignity as human beings and equal justice under law. They greatly inflate the idea of equality to include an entitlement to an equal share in the external goods of society – independent of abilities, achievements, and merits.”

We might, as I had written, circumvent this problem by saying that there are no natural rights and that any other rights are simply matters of discussion. If humans agree to what is right, then so be it. It doesn’t either matter if there is a distinction between equal dignity and equal happiness. What is key to realizing, is that the external goods are not separate from society. Society, I’ve recently discovered, is an anthropocentric construct, implying that humans are essentially separate from the rest of the universe and together form a separate sphere, the humanisphere, where civilization is greater than the sum of its citizens. So, when we speak of happiness or any other perceived value, we can’t limit it to the humanisphere, we can’t fix all the problems in isolation inside the bubble of society. Our communication must extend to all sentient beings and to all objects.

We don’t need to define ‘subject’ or even care about whether it exists and we don’t need to know exactly how happy a fly is, we can still see that whatever happiness is, it is there, somewhere in the universe. Since there is no natural good or right, the variation between e.g. bipeds and quadropeds, does not allow us to make essential distinctions, but instead we are forced to rely on the only tool we have, communication. It should be noted that even if some of us are too stupid to understand what a cat is trying to convey, we can still imagine that the cat has feelings and can make that part of discussions on morality between two humans.

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