Will The Social Justice Revolution Ever Stop Eating Its Own?

social-justice

Slowly, tentatively, a few identity politics activists are starting to question their current scorched earth tactics and the unforgiving way that they tackle “heresy” within their own ranks. But will it make a difference?

Everyday Feminism may be the go-to site for all things Social Justice, but at least one writer there has started to display some unusual self-awareness, questioning whether the constant backbiting, jockeying for position and competitive victimhood within the activist world might actually be doing more harm than good.

Kai Cheng Thom, a self-described Chinese trans woman writer, poet, and performance artist, writes:

When I found activist culture, with its powerful ideas about privilege and oppression and its simmering, explosive rage, I was intoxicated. I thought that I could purge my self-hatred with that fiery rhetoric and create the family I wanted so much with the bond that comes from shared trauma.

Social justice was a set of rules that could finally put the world into an order that made sense to me. If I could only use all the right language, do enough direct action, be critical enough of the systems around me, then I could finally be a good person.

All around me, it felt like my activist community was doing the same thing – throwing ourselves into “the revolution,” exhausting ourselves and burning out, watching each other for oppressive thoughts and behavior and calling each other on it vociferously.

Occasionally – rarely – folks were driven out of community for being “fucked up.” More often, though, attempts to hold people accountable through call-outs and exclusion just exploded into huge online flame wars and IRL drama that left deep rifts in community for years. Only the most vulnerable – folks without large friend groups and social stability – were excluded permanently.

Like my blood family, my activist family was re-enacting the trauma that we had experienced at the hands of an oppressive society.

Credit where it is due – this is a mature and thoughtful observation, especially from somebody in the thick of the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics. It cannot be easy to admit such a glaring flaw in one’s own social movement, so kudos to Kai for doing so.

This is actually one of the aspects of the whole social justice phenomenon which fascinates me the most – the dual scrambles to both climb the victimhood pyramid and claim the most “oppressions” while also seeking to be the most fastidious observer of the new rules laid down to govern how people speak and interact with one another.

For me, it crystallised with the story in Britain of NUS LGBT officer Fran Cowling, who sanctimoniously and publicly refused to share a stage with lifelong gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, on the grounds that he was insufficiently enthusiastic about banning the speech of people who disagree with the current orthodoxy about transgender issues.

As I wrote at the time:

It is obvious that NUS LGBT officer Fran Cowling is attempting to gain a vast amount of social currency and standing from her peers by trying to take down Peter Tatchell, an A-lister in activist circles. By refusing to share a stage with him, Cowling is effectively declaring to the world that she is morally superior to Tatchell, he having failed the latest racism and transphobia tests. Thus, she can bank all of Tatchell’s personal accomplishments for herself, add the fact that unlike him she is not a “transphobe”, and Win the Game.

And that’s the rotten core of today’s student identity politics movement. A constant, bitchy, backbiting game of snakes and ladders, with one insufferable petty tyrant rising to the top of the Moral Virtue Pyramid only to be brought down by their jealous rivals, either for no reason at all, or for having unknowingly violated one of the many red lines that they themselves helped to draw across our political discourse.

Too often the internal machinations and politicking of these activist movements seem to vastly overshadow any possible good that they may seek to accomplish. Too often it seems that social justice warriors are more interested in enforcing arbitrary rules and squashing dissent than actually making tangible efforts to help the people on whose behalf they claim to speak.

Kai Cheng Thom goes on to quote an anonymous writer:

There are no activist communities, only the desire for communities, or the convenient fiction of communities. A community is a material web that binds people together, for better and for worse, in interdependence…

If it is easier to kick someone out than to go through a difficult series of conversations with them, it is not a community.

At present, social justice activists are very proficient at excluding and excommunicating those who stray from the One True Path. Never mind agnostics or opponents; many SJW communities will excommunicate fellow members for little more than not being fully up to speed on the latest terminology – a constantly changing glossary of “correct” and “incorrect” words.

In other words, as Kai puts it, many activists currently operate according to the philosophy that “if I could only use all the right language, do enough direct action, be critical enough of the systems around me, then I could finally be a good person”. It is almost a points-based system. Attend enough protests, share enough memes on social media, parrot enough orthodoxy and avoid committing too many mistakes and in time you will “level up”. Fail to keep up with the herd, however, and you will be left in the wilderness.

Kai Cheng Thom’s article at least suggests that there are growing glimmers of awareness that this approach is a) not working, and b) hardly an appropriate way to live the values that they preach.

For in truth, the social justice movement is a symptom of the only real kind of privilege left out there – rich, Western country privilege. That’s not to say that racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia have been fully vanquished – clearly not. But the fact that so many people in the English-speaking Western world are now able to devote such significant amounts of time to activism tackling the remaining vestiges of oppression in their own back yards is itself a sign that we live in unprecedentedly prosperous and egalitarian times.

In large part, social justice activism is nothing more than a luxury pursuit, indulged in primarily by those people who have the fortune to be attending college or university in one or other of the richest and most prosperous democratic countries on this Earth. Anyone marching in a campus protest to restrict the rights and freedoms of other people to say things which they may find offensive would, if they actually took the words “social justice” remotely seriously, immediately redirect their anger toward those benighted parts of the world where racial minorities, women, gay, transgender and disabled people face overt and often physical hostility. Yet for some reason the social justice community often has little negative to say about many of these places, while remaining ever-ready to criticise the good-faith efforts of those closer to home.

And the online obergruppenführers of this petty, thin-skinned self-actualisation cult, this morally lost movement, have grown accustomed to consolidating their power by doing the one thing they claim to be most against – oppressing and marginalising other people, in this case those who step out of line and deliberately or accidentally say, think or do the “wrong” thing.

It is wonderful that some of these cultists may be starting to realise the error of their ways. For as Kai says, “only the most vulnerable – folks without large friend groups and social stability – [are] excluded permanently”. And why is that the case?

Because at its rotten heart, the social justice movement can be most likened to that quintessential bastion of “white privilege”, the suburban country club. The club has many strict rules. Arcane rules which are often incomprehensible to outsiders. Rules which must be acknowledged and obeyed, and only ever flouted if one has sufficient social currency within the group to get away with it.

That is what the social justice movement has become. A virtual, worldwide country club for privileged young millennials and some aged hangers-on in academia, easy to join (so long as one passes ideological inspection) but swift to exclude those caught breaking the finicky, ever-changing rules. A club in which anyone and everyone is ultimately disposable in the neverending competition for power and status.

Can the social justice revolution ever stop eating its own? I don’t see how. Most of those at the country club’s core seem motivated primarily by the desire to feast on the shortcomings and innocent mistakes of others. Take that inducement away and they may as well just join their nearest fraternity or sorority, fully embracing the “social” aspect and ceasing to feign an interest in “justice” altogether.

 

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Now Even Peter Tatchell Is A “Racist”

Moscow Gay Pride Parade Attacked

In the accusatory minds of the new PC Left, a lifetime spent fighting for LGBT and racial equality counts for nothing if one also supports the free speech rights of those who disagree

Ask anyone to write down their top twenty racists in Britain, and very few people would put Peter Tatchell anywhere on their list. After all, the man’s life has been dedicated to overcoming prejudice and fighting for racial, sexual and LGBT equality.

While others now wear their progressivism as a virtue-signalling badge of honour, something to be ostentatiously flaunted on social media, Tatchell has put his body in harms way to protest what he sees as real injustices taking place against persecuted minorities. And whether you agree with Tatchell on every single one of his causes or not, one can certainly admire the way that he has lived his public life by the credo “actions and words”.

Unless, that is, you happen to be a member of the activist student PC Left, part of that spoiled and coddled generation of today’s young people whose freedoms were won by the likes of Tatchell, and whose own meagre campaigns perch precariously on the far greater and more noble endeavours of those who came before them. They have now turned on Tatchell, accusing him – hilariously – of being both racist and “transphobic” in a blatant and supremely ungrateful move to destroy his reputation and credibility.

Tatchell himself responds in the Telegraph:

Free speech and enlightenment values are under attack in our universities. In the worthy name of defending the weak and marginalised, many student activists are now adopting the unworthy tactic of seeking to close down open debate. They want to censor people they disagree with. I am their latest victim.

This is not quite the Star Chamber, but it is the same intolerant mentality. Student leader Fran Cowling has denounced me as racist and transphobic, even though I’ve supported every anti-racist and pro-transgender campaign during my 49 years of human rights work.

Fran is the LGBT+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) Officer of the National Union of Students (NUS). She refused to speak at an LGBT event at Canterbury Christ Church University tonight unless I was dropped from the line-up. This is a variation of the NUS “no-platform” policy; instead of blocking me from speaking, Fran is refusing to share a platform with me.

While the Guardian explains the context:

In the emails, sent to the organisers of a talk at Canterbury Christ Church University on Monday on the topic of “re-radicalising queers”, Cowling refuses an invitation to speak unless Tatchell, who has also been invited, does not attend. In the emails she cites Tatchell’s signing of an open letter in the Observer last year in support of free speech and against the growing trend of universities to “no-platform” people, such as Germaine Greer, for holding views with which they disagree.

Cowling claims the letter supports the incitement of violence against transgender people. She also made an allegation against him of racism or of using racist language. Tatchell told the Observer that the incident was yet another example of “a witch-hunting, accusatory atmosphere” symptomatic of a decline in “open debate on some university campuses”.

Because campaigning is no longer about securing freedoms and liberties for marginalised people. It is about not just holding the “correct” opinion on any given issue, but crucially also being seen to hold the correct opinion, and orchestrating various situations whereby one’s own bien pensant opinions can be shown off to greatest effect.

It is about making oneself look good by jumping on the slightest deviation from prevailing PC orthodoxy by someone else – often a friend and erstwhile ally – and seeking to destroy them with it, hysterically declaring it to be evidence of moral turpitude, even when the target is someone as respected in the field as Peter Tatchell.

Some on the PC Left, recognising that this particular smear by the NUS may stretch credibility too far, are trying to spin Tatchell’s naturally outraged reaction as yet more evidence of racism. In an eye-rollingly titled piece called “Problematic Proximities, Or why Critiques of Gay Imperialism Matter”, Sara Ahmed tries to argue:

I do want to question here how Mr Tatchell is responding to the critique.

[..] Critiques of racism are reduced and misheard as personal attacks, which is what blocks a hearing of the critique. In the end, the situation becomes re-coded as a question of individual reputation and good will: we lose the chance to attend to the politics of the original critique.

We need to reflect on what we are talking about when we are talking about racism. Racism in speech does not simply depend on the explicit articulation of ideas of racial superiority but often works given that such associations do not need to be made explicit. So for example politicians might use a qualifier ‘this is not a war against Islam’ and then use repeatedly terms like ‘Islamic terrorists’ which work to associate Islam with terror through the mere proximity of the words: the repetition of that proximity makes the association ‘essential’.

[..] It is my view that Mr Tatchell’s writings on Islam and multiculturalism repeat and reproduce many ‘problematic proximities’ between Islam and violence, and thus participate in the culture of Islamaphobia.

Ahmed is trying to advance a semi-cogent (though still wrong) argument here. She is effectively saying “Wait a minute! We may have called Peter Tatchell a racist, but it wasn’t a personal attack. Heavens, no. It was simply pointing out that some of the things that he says are problematic for us because we believe they help to reinforce negative stereotypes about religious minorities”.

This would at least have the makings of a cogent argument – that we all have good and bad within us, that we all have our own prejudices which we should seek to recognise and overcome, and that any of us might say something which might be construed as “racist”, but with no malice whatsoever.

But if this is what the NUS and Fran Cowling actually believe, why refuse to take the stage with Tatchell? If indeed their intention was not to launch a “personal attack”, why on earth refuse to admit all the good which Peter Tatchell has done for their causes, and why refuse to share a stage with him now?

The answer, of course, is that this was fully meant to be a personal attack. Vicious personal attacks conducted through social media and the press are the chief modus operandi for today’s youthful practitioners of Identity Politics, and if their self-advancement involves a.few instances of friendly fire – even the destruction of someone like Peter Tatchell – so be it.

Some people tell me that I am being too hard on the students involved; that they are well-intentioned young people simply trying to navigate difficult issues as best they can. Well I’m sorry, but I’m just not buying it. Obviously we are only talking about a minority of students here – the ones drawn to take an active role in student governance, social affairs and campus life. But these students are behaving in an utterly reprehensible way, completely without justification and to be opposed by lovers of liberty at all costs.

This is an attempted power grab, plain and simple. Just like it was at Mizzou, and Yale, and Oxford, and countless more universities every year. This is an attempted coup by an utterly coddled and spoiled generation of students who know almost nothing of hardship, deprivation or prejudice compared to their predecessors even just a few decades ago.

These tinpot student dictators arrive on campus at the age of eighteen to find most of the really hard battles already won for them – ironically, by genuinely brave radicals like Germaine Greer and Peter Tatchell. But these students must find some outlet for their youthful “idealism”, and so they latch on to the growing Politics of Identity, assimilating its intricacies and genuinely persuading themselves of its core message – that what matters is not the content of one’s character, but rather one’s arbitrary lived experience as a member of a defined and segregated subgroup.

And so rather than simply accepting that they have it rather good, even compared to their parents and grandparents, these student snowflakes go on the march. They find ever-smaller slights or “microaggressions” and protest them ever-more loudly and hysterically in an attempt to assert power over university administrations – many of which meekly submit without so much as putting up a fight.

Throw in the fact that their social hierarchy is based on a purist adherence to the Politics of Identity – with members gaining social currency for flaunting their own tolerant nature or identifying and persecuting anyone whose behaviour happens to violate one of the many invisible lines restricting our speech and behaviour – and you have a potent and deadly combination.

Viewed in this context, it is obvious that NUS LGBT officer Fran Cowling is attempting to gain a vast amount of social currency and standing from her peers by trying to take down Peter Tatchell, an A-lister in activist circles. By refusing to share a stage with him, Cowling is effectively declaring to the world that she is morally superior to Tatchell, he having failed the latest racism and transphobia tests. Thus, she can bank all of Tatchell’s personal accomplishments for herself, add the fact that unlike him she is not a “transphobe”, and Win the Game.

And that’s the rotten core of today’s student identity politics movement. A constant, bitchy, backbiting game of snakes and ladders, with one insufferable petty tyrant rising to the top of the Moral Virtue Pyramid only to be brought down by their jealous rivals, either for no reason at all, or for having unknowingly violated one of the many red lines that they themselves helped to draw across our political discourse.

I can’t say any better than Brendan O’Neill on this occasion, so I will give him the last word:

This Veruca Salt-style revolt against late 20th-century liberators, this sullen, thankless turn by radical young women, gay people and black people against those who devoted their lives to fighting for women, gay people and black people, reveals how poisonous the politics of identity has become.

Where late 20th-century warriors for civil rights basically argued for the right of people to be free and equal regardless of their gender, sexuality or race — that is, they wanted identity demoted — today’s identitarians prefer to obsess over people’s natural characteristics and sexual habits. They instinctively loathe King’s claim that character is more important than colour. They hate Greer’s insistence that women are as capable as men (and that a man can’t become a woman at the click of his fingers). They have disappeared so far up the fundament of identity politics that they bristle at any argument that smacks of universalism, which emphasises the sameness and the shared capacity for autonomy of all human beings.

They seem hellbent on reversing the social gains of the late 20th century, preferring to shove people back into the biological, racial boxes from which mankind spent so long trying to escape. It is they, not Tatchell, who are racialist (if not racist), and a threat to what most of us consider to be the decent civilisational value of treating people as people rather than as colours or genders.

Amen to that. And shame – yet more ignominious shame – on the NUS.

Peter Tatchell attacked

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