20 votes

Excommunicate Me from the Church of Social Justice

9 comments

  1. [8]
    nothis (edited ) Link
    It's a question of proportionality. You see the occasional left activist doing a "guys, let's stay reasonable" type of post, but still, I hear it mostly from right-wing commentators who love...

    It's a question of proportionality. You see the occasional left activist doing a "guys, let's stay reasonable" type of post, but still, I hear it mostly from right-wing commentators who love "exposing radical left-wing activists". The author of this is apparently a queer, trans person of color, a "Cultural Studies scholar", committed to "obliterating cisheteropatriarchy". In the alt-right's eyes, he (I'm worried I'm using the wrong pronoun, which is kinda further proving my point) is still a "radical left-wing activist".

    So, in a way... well, duh. It's a movement with some momentum, there's overzealous people involved, there's intolerance towards people not on the same path and there's "preaching". It can get a bit much, you occasionally roll your eyes and feel guilty for it. But in the end, it's relatively harmless. I don't see a "dangerous cult" when some trans students stage a protest to be referred to as "they" on some form. I especially don't see it as "just as bad as the right-wing groups", if for no other reason than the right wing groups having had a chance to see their ideologies blossom to their final form.

    Politics can become cynical, it's "a club" almost by definition. I think introspective pieces like the op's are important. But, 9 times out of 10 I see these arguments used, it's right-wingers wanting to discredit the entire left-wing movement. That's why I'm not cheering too much for this article pointing out things that, in a way, seem obvious. I think it's a minor issue of tone and proportionality, not a deep flaw in any of the underlying arguments, and I believe the author would agree with that.

    19 votes
    1. [7]
      Sahasrahla Link Parent
      I think that's caused partially by the issues raised in the OP article and it's part of the reason why these issues are so potentially damaging. It's very hard to criticize the methods and beliefs...

      But, 9 times out of 10 I see these arguments used, it's right-wingers wanting to discredit the entire left-wing movement.

      I think that's caused partially by the issues raised in the OP article and it's part of the reason why these issues are so potentially damaging. It's very hard to criticize the methods and beliefs of the anti-bigotry left without being labelled yourself as "problematic" at best, or a racist/misogynist/etc. at worst. That means most of the criticisms come from, like you said, those on the right who want to discredit the entirety of the left—because they're the only ones who don't care if the left says they're racist. The upshot of that is that anyone who comes to some of the same conclusions as in the OP article will only be able to find people talking about it on the right (likely alt-right) and they'll be drawn towards those online spaces.

      Imagine some hypothetical person online who's just getting interested in politics. They might notice some of the same problems talked about in the OP article but when they bring them up in left-leaning spaces they're shot down. They'll be told, essentially, only evil alt-right trolls would ask questions like that and they should shut up or else be branded a racist. When this person does find some people who agree with them about what they noticed on the left it's much more likely it will be someone from the alt-right welcome-wagon. They'll be told that, yeah, the left are a bit crazy aren't they? The left ignored this obvious issue that you noticed and branded you as a racist (which we definitely don't think you are!) and the reason for that is their entire philosophy is broken. Here's more you can read, and why don't you join us in talking about it...

      12 votes
      1. [6]
        nothis Link Parent
        This is something I would question. The "damage" narrative is mostly one proposed by the right, a self-fulfilling prophecy of how "the left is destroying itself with how crazy they act". IMO the...

        I think that's caused partially by the issues raised in the OP article and it's part of the reason why these issues are so potentially damaging.

        This is something I would question. The "damage" narrative is mostly one proposed by the right, a self-fulfilling prophecy of how "the left is destroying itself with how crazy they act". IMO the left is far more open to reasonable arguments than any deeply political right-wing movement, it's a movement that grew out of student protests and intellectualism. It's just that if you bring up things like – tongue-in-cheek example – "not everything Hitler did was bad, let's have a fair discussion about it!", well, duh, you'll be met with scorn because that's the slippery slope arguing that is fuel for many racist ideologies.

        It's the result of years of "let's hear both side arguments", Fox News style arguing having been abused to legitimize bullshit. Is climate change real? Let's hear both sides! Should you vaccinate your kids? We've got a doctor and a faith healer to discuss it! Should you be racist/sexist/homophobe? We've invited someone from both sides to discuss this issue! In the end, it's a matter of "yea, we know your arguments, we've settled on not being racist a long time ago, thank you and fuck off", which is not an unreasonable attitude.

        I'm trying to think of the most extreme demands by the left, the most out-there, crazy shit and it's stuff like... "hey, let's call individuals 'they' if they really want to". I think I've never seen a left-wing idea that truly had potential to make life miserable for anyone, and that's the real issue, here. If you're truly concerned with "facts and logic", there's few arguments you can make against the left except for a devotion to right-wing tradition.

        8 votes
        1. [4]
          Sahasrahla Link Parent
          I think the disconnect between our points of view here is that you're saying (and sorry if I'm incorrectly putting words in your mouth) that there's not much to criticize on the left and that the...

          I think the disconnect between our points of view here is that you're saying (and sorry if I'm incorrectly putting words in your mouth) that there's not much to criticize on the left and that the criticisms that do exist are mostly from the right and are either unreasonable or in bad faith. If that's the case the concerns in the OP article are moot: they are concerned about backlash for, essentially, being incorrectly woke or questioning dogma—but if there's nothing the matter from a leftist perspective then there's no reason to fear a personal backlash.

          My perspective on this issue though is that there are legitimate criticisms of the left from the left and that it's hard to voice these concerns without being attacked. This is a huge and difficult issue to get into, so instead I'll just provide one example of the sort of thing I'm talking about:

          There's an ongoing controversy in young adult fandom and publishing about YA Twitter piling on certain authors and books and deeming them "problematic", sometimes even before they've been published. This has resulted in books being pulled and has caused a lot of harm to some new authors. One issue is that YA Twitter is notoriously hair-triggered and even speaking out against their dog-piles or defending a "problematic" book (even if it's just to suggest reading it before making a judgment) can result in being labelled problematic yourself and becoming a victim of the mob. Many authors need to use Twitter to connect with their fans and promote their books and they live in fear of attracting the ire of this group that, ostensibly, is only working to fight racism and sexism in books for young people. This is something that many authors are worried about but they fear speaking out against it publicly.

          Some articles that go more in depth:

          Wolves: A YA sensitivity reader watched his own community kill his debut novel before it was ever released.

          When Social Media Goes After Your Book, What’s the Right Response?

          The Toxic Drama on YA Twitter: Young-adult books are being targeted in intense social-media callouts, draggings, and pile-ons — sometimes before anybody’s even read them.

          Fantasy book by Asian author Amelie Wen Zhao slammed as ‘anti-black’ for slavery theme; release postponed

          Sorry for the pile of articles, but I wanted to make sure I gave a representative sample. One especially relevant section from the second article I'd like to highlight (as it pertains to this discussion):

          There is a climate of fear right now among writers and editors and reviewers in the children’s book world. As in Salem, Mass., circa 1692, this sort of fear often prompts decent people to stay silent. I am well aware that what I’ve written here may get me in a lot of trouble online. I can already see the pithy put-downs, the references to my white privilege, the seemingly endless analyses of everything that’s wrong with what I’ve said from a moral/political/historical/cultural perspective, the sanctimoniousness, the snarkiness, the outrage. Friends and editors will tell me that I have just seriously shot myself in the foot, that I should have stayed silent, and let all this madness blow over. Except it’s not blowing over. And so, to the online mob, I say, and encourage Amélie Wen Zhao to say, as did the Duke of Wellington in response to a threat to expose his extramarital affair, “Publish and be damned.”

          6 votes
          1. [3]
            nothis Link Parent
            Don't get me wrong, the over-interpretation of art from any perspective that could possibly be deemed "oppressive" is often bullshit. But it's still not a big deal. You're making art. Art has...

            Don't get me wrong, the over-interpretation of art from any perspective that could possibly be deemed "oppressive" is often bullshit. But it's still not a big deal. You're making art. Art has always caused controversy. If that makes it harder to sell, tough luck, but it's, ultimately, not an argument against left-wing ideals. Almost all the books in those articles, btw, specifically tackle the treatment of minorities which, ironically, might have been chosen as topics because of how much of a buzz they cause.

            I know this is just one example, but every time I see concrete examples of "the left going nuts", it's very specific and ultimately small-scale issues, often involving Twitter (which is an awful medium in general, which is a different topic). I'm not saying there aren't better ways to handle this, I'm not saying that there aren't people who get off too much on being offended. But it's so fucking harmless compared to an average alt-right post arguing that being gay is unnatural or climate change isn't real. It's nowhere near on the same level. To cynically proclaiming the "Church of Social Justice" is taking over is playing into the narrative that criticizing a children's book about slavery (sorry, but you just made a children's book about slavery, prepare to be scrutinized!) is somehow on the same level as arguing that poor people don't deserve health care. The "Church of Social Justice" might get angry at you, but... so what? Every political group would get angry if you accuse them of not having a point. That's life. The most relevant question, to me, is why the only alternative that offers itself seems to be the alt-right. That, to me, is suspicious.

            6 votes
            1. Sahasrahla Link Parent
              I think in some ways we're talking past each other a bit but we don't necessarily disagree entirely. You bring up examples of what is being done and said on the right and how it's worse than what...

              I think in some ways we're talking past each other a bit but we don't necessarily disagree entirely. You bring up examples of what is being done and said on the right and how it's worse than what the left is being accused of. I'm more saying, the left has a problem with silencing self-criticism (which, I think, can drive people towards online alt-right spaces since those are among the few places willing to host that discussion). Maybe the disconnect (aside from whether there is valid criticism of the left in the first place) is in part how much this is a problem: is it more important for the left to be open to criticizing itself even if some of those criticisms might come from outside and be unwarranted or in bad faith, or is it more important to shut down all criticism and present a united front against dangerous ideological enemies?

              Anyway, thanks for the thoughtful discussion. I think I probably don't have much more to add that isn't outside of the scope of the original article.

              5 votes
            2. [2]
              Comment deleted by author
              Link Parent
              1. nothis Link Parent
                I mean, yea, kinda. It's awful. Politics is an awful place to be caught in the middle. But it's IMO not a problem with "social justice warriors" but with human nature. You might as well say,...

                Do you have much experience with left activist movements?

                I mean, yea, kinda. It's awful. Politics is an awful place to be caught in the middle. But it's IMO not a problem with "social justice warriors" but with human nature. You might as well say, "humans are flawed, what do?".

                I see that, for the first time in history, progressive, left ideologies find themselves in a position of relative power. At university campuses and in big cities. Not in any real majority, but large enough places for their presence to feel significant. I think that makes a tone that was formed in a counter-culture movement sound especially shrill when there doesn't seem to be any real opposition. But "Church of Social Justice" is rhetoric borrowed from the alt-right, plain and simple. It separates left-wing clique behavior from general clique behavior, which I think is a problem. It implies that this is a specific flaw with left activism when, in my opinion, it is a flaw in how human beings interact, usually because the side that is in power using populism to swing any "open discussion" in their favor.

                Again, I won't dismiss any of his actual points, this is almost entirely about the phrase "Church of Social Justice" and the associations that implies. In a time where most discussions are based on click-bait headlines, that matters. It's self-sabotage to adopt that from the alt-right.

                1 vote
        2. Greg Link Parent
          There are plenty of arguments to be made within the left about how best to achieve certain goals, about the extent to which one person's right to do "X" trumps another person's right to do "Y"...

          I'm trying to think of the most extreme demands by the left, the most out-there, crazy shit and it's stuff like... "hey, let's call individuals 'they' if they really want to". I think I've never seen a left-wing idea that truly had potential to make life miserable for anyone, and that's the real issue, here. If you're truly concerned with "facts and logic", there's few arguments you can make against the left except for a devotion to right-wing tradition.

          There are plenty of arguments to be made within the left about how best to achieve certain goals, about the extent to which one person's right to do "X" trumps another person's right to do "Y" when they are at odds, about "freedom to" vs "freedom from". These are serious, complex, nuanced questions with no simple right or wrong answer, and people hold strong and heartfelt opinions on which would be best for society.

          The problem here is that sometimes a person challenging the orthodoxy of how best to achieve, say, gender equality is treated as if they were challenging the concept of achieving gender equality as a whole.

          This stifles debate, silences participants, fractures groups that would be stronger united, and perhaps most importantly (as @Sahasrala so rightly said above), scares off those who are asking the questions from a place of genuine uncertainty and desire to learn.

          As a pragmatist who wants to see the same ideals you talk about upheld, anything that hurts the cause worries me.

          3 votes
  2. mir (edited ) Link
    "I believe it is our duty to obliterate white supremacy, anti-blackness, cisheteropatriarchy, ableism, capitalism, and imperialism. And I also believe there should be openness around the tactics...

    "I believe it is our duty to obliterate white supremacy, anti-blackness, cisheteropatriarchy, ableism, capitalism, and imperialism. And I also believe there should be openness around the tactics we use and ways our commitments are manifested over time. Beliefs and actions are too often conflated with each other, yet questioning the latter should not renege the former. As a Cultural Studies scholar, I am interested in the ways that culture does the work of power. What then, is the culture of activism, and in what ways are activists restrained by it? To be clear, I’m only one person who is trying to figure things out, and I’m open to revisions and learning. But as someone who has spent the last decade recovering from a forced conversion to evangelical Christianity, I’m seeing a disturbing parallel between religion and activism in the presence of dogma."

    An essay from a little while back focusing on the parallels between the desire for purity of thought within the activist groups and the Christian communities. I am not entirely certain about the validity of the second point - the "reproducing colonialist logics" bit, where the author writes about the possibility of those colonized maintaining the oppressive systems of colonization by replacing those at top by those previously at the bottom due to a successful revolution. Perhaps I merely haven't experienced enough reproduction of such colonialist logic within the oppressed groups, but I am somewhat doubtful of such a blatant reversal of roles maintaining the existing structure of oppression. The Seeking Purity and the Preaching/Punishments segments spoke to me however, since the critiques of the author are largely similar to my own experiences with the local environmental activist groups, where the desire for purity of thought and lack of focus on the actual issues at hand (rather than posturing for a number of speaking points that had little to do with the environment) left a sour taste in my mouth.

    3 votes