Will The Social Justice Revolution Ever Stop Eating Its Own?


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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Tales From The Safe Space, Part 37 – Whisperings Of A Revolt

NUS Disaffiliation Campaign

Has the NUS finally gone too far?

All tyrants, petty or otherwise, eventually go too far and overextend their vast authority. Maybe they get cocky. Maybe they surround themselves with so many Yes Men that they lose the pulse of the people. But inevitably, somehow or other, they will at some point find themselves overextended, and see their exalted position threatened as a consequence.

It is delightful to see such a thing now happening to the National Union of Students, that censorious, moralising platform for embryonic leftist politicians and demagogues, which long ago gave up any pretence at advocating for students, preferring to exercise paranoid control over them instead.

Now, some students are fighting back. A number of smart, more liberty-minded students have realised that since most Student Unions derive their democratic “legitimacy” from a vanishingly small slice of their respective student populations, it should be relatively easy to mount a small insurgency of their own to topple the Social Justice and Identity Politics cultists in charge, and make their local unions work for the students rather than simply trying to control their thoughts, behaviour and speech.

Hence the brilliant NUS disaffiliation campaigns now springing up at campuses around the country.

Spiked’s Tom Slater reports in The Spectator:

In a move that has left student union politicos across the country clinging to their therapy dogs, the University of Lincoln Students’ Union has voted to disaffiliate from the NUS. Springing from the new, anti-NUS sentiment that is brewing on campuses across the country, Lincoln students voted 881 to 804 to leave.

This was a big breakthrough, putting wind in the sails of disaffiliation campaigns currently being fought at York, Oxford, Exeter and Manchester. And though this was all sparked by the election of new NUS president Malia Bouattia – the overgrown student fond of waxing lyrical about the ‘zionist-led media’ – the gulf between NUS leadership and its members has been growing for years.

After Lincoln’s vote, outgoing NUS president Megan Dunn said she was ‘sorry this decision was made by such a small number of students’. Which was a bit rich, seeing as she was elected in 2015 by a whopping 413 NUS delegates, and turnout at campus NUS elections – which select those delegates – is notoriously low.

Lincoln’s vote is significant. Not least because so many felt so detached from the NUS they didn’t even turn out to vote. And, in an interesting twist, Lincoln SU’s own president appeared to approve of the move, telling the Independent that ‘for some time… the NUS has been far removed from the issues our students tell us are important’.

And now Newcastle University has followed suit:

Newcastle University Students’ Union (NUSU) has become the second to announce it is to disaffiliate from the National Union of Students (NUS) following a controversial National Conference in Brighton last month.

The move has come as a double blow for the national student campaigner after Lincoln University announced on Monday it, too, will be breaking away from the NUS at the end of the year.

NUSU confirmed on Thursday that 1,469 total votes had been cast in the referendum by Newcastle University students, with a majority of 67 per cent voting in favour of disaffiliation.

Brilliant. While this blog contends that the power and influence now wielded by the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics can only be truly broken when those with most authority – professors and university administrators – finally rediscover their backbone and begin to defend academic freedom and free speech rights, it is heartening to once again see students in the vanguard of the resistance.

For in truth, it is in the interests of almost no students – save the Identity Politics priests who derive power and influence from policing the culture of their institutions and the behaviour of their peers – to allow the NUS to continue along its present, authoritarian path. As Tom Slater argues in The Spectator, students deserve local unions which fight for their interests as students, rather than a union which wastes its time fighting a culture war and playing off different groups of students against one other based on an arbitrary judgement over how “oppressed” they happen to be.

The growing NUS disaffiliation movement should be encouraged and helped to spread like wildfire, burning through the rotten foundations and (ideally) causing the whole organisation to topple. And now is the time to strike, when the enemy is dangerously overextended, making very specific and highly controversial claims (pro-censorship and the identity politics agenda) on behalf of all students when in fact they speak only for a small but noisy illiberal minority.

First Lincoln, then Newcastle. Who will be next to throw off the puritanical, totalitarian shackles of the National Union of Students?


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Tales From The Safe Space, Part 31 – Snowflake Students Are Now Being ‘Harmed’ By Their Own Activism

NUS Conference 2016 - Brighton

Coddled student demands that his entirely voluntary extra-curricular activities conform to the EU Working Time Directive

Prior to this year’s NUS Annual Conference in Brighton, now just concluded, one poor precious snowflake of a student was weighing up whether or not he would be able to attend conference for the third consecutive year, because the process of getting on a train and then sitting through three days of speeches was simply too draining.

Here is the weepy missive from Alasdair Clarke, Vice President of Education at Fife College Students’ Association, in full:

After two years of making the annual trip to Liverpool for NUS National Conference, I’ve left feeling exhausted and been unable to go back to work after it. If this is the effect on me as someone who has no access needs, I know that we’re further shutting out those who do.

But for two years I’ve also sat and listened to DPC speech after DPC speech telling me conference is inaccessible and that we “must do something about it now”, and I’m told this isn’t new. So what has been done?

Well in truth, I’m not sure anything has been. This year, it’s been decided that National Conference will be held in Brighton – I understand well the need for NUS to keep the costs of these events as low as possible whilst finding hotels and venues for a huge amount of delegates and meeting as many access needs as is humanly possible, but I absolutely refuse to believe that the only place they could find this year was Brighton. The very bottom of the United Kingdom.

This piece could be about cost, and believe me this weighs massively on my mind. We already pay thousands to be a part of NUS and the prospect of paying another few thousand pounds to take part in its democracy isn’t one that is all that appealing – especially when we’ve seen examples already this year where that democracy can be over ridden by the National President – but there is something much more important we need to start seriously talking about beyond tired old platitudes from election candidates and NUS Officers.

Brighton is a 16 hour round train trip from my home in Fife, which is relatively central in Scotland – it’s a 22 hour round trip from Aberdeen – this coupled with 3 days of conference will be absolutely draining. I’m worried that for Scottish delegates it will just be too much, and many will just not come.

Conference itself already breaks the EU Working Time Directive, with the majority of the ‘breaks’ disguised as Fringe sessions you already have to choose between eating and resting or missing out on important sessions for the majority of the conference. The working time directive also includes travelling time, this huge increase in delegates travel time will further break this law – and let’s be clear it is a law and employers can be prosecuted for allowing, or forcing, employees to work for extended periods over it. That’s why I would never ask our unions staff to attend. If we heard that our institutions were abusing staff like this we’d quite rightly have something to say and we’d be doing something about it. So where is the anger at NUS?

However, as a sabbatical I don’t just have myself to think about. The majority of our delegation is made up of students, people who give up a week of their Easter Break to come and take part in NUS. We tell them it’s really important, and we tell them how much we value their engagement with their Union and with NUS. We thank them by putting them into a situation which is dangerous to their health and then send them back to complete their final exams the week after. This isn’t fair of us, and it’s time we done something about it.

It is probably too late to change the location this year. So I hope that within the governance review we get to talk about how we do conference, and next year we see it extended or split into two sessions throughout the year. I understand there are pros and cons to each of those but let’s stop kidding ourselves that what we have just now is ideal.

NUS Conference needs to be as central in the UK as possible, and NUS needs to start putting delegate’s health over cost, and unless I see a solution to these issues proposed – I’ll be suggesting my union doesn’t attend in 2016.

Just to be clear – Alasdair Clark specifies that he is not disabled and has no “access needs” which might make travelling and attending a conference away from home particularly challenging, and yet on both prior occasions attending conference he has been “unable to go back to work after it”.

Ladies and gentleman, that makes Alastair Clark lazy. L-A-Z-Y. It is not the fault of the NUS Conference that there is a lot of work to get through in a short space of time, or that conference might sometimes be held in an inconvenient location. Those are the realities of organising large scale national events, which by definition cannot be conveniently situated for all attendees.

In my professional life I cannot count the number of times I have been required to get on a train or a plane and travel to meetings, often at short notice, often involving very early starts, very late finishes and precious little time for relaxing in between. On one two-week trip to Beijing I saw only the airport, the hotel, the taxi and the office for the entire time, with a mere 45 minutes carved out at the end for a frantic sightseeing dash before returning home and immediately continuing with the day job. And at the other end of the spectrum, I have taken the first train from London to get to meetings in Newcastle for a 9 o’clock start, arriving back home close to midnight. And my jobs have all been relatively easy compared to some others.

That is the reality of professional working life. That is the reality of working for a company where things need to get done, employees are expected to deliver, and where feeble cries of “but it makes me feel tired!” are not looked upon kindly when there is no underlying medical excuse.

Consider just how self-entitled one would have to be to angrily demand that the NUS re-work their entire conference so as to ensure that nobody has to work or travel for more than eight hours per day in compliance with the EU Working Time Directive, while still somehow getting through their agenda within three days, all because doing more than the bare minimum for a few days of Conference sounds a bit too much like hard work. Everybody would have to talk at two hundred words per minute just to stay within time, and even then Alasdair Clark would complain that the fast paced speeches were giving him a headache or somehow contravening his human rights.

If this mentality is widely shared among student activists, none of them have a hope in hell of surviving in the corporate environment. For many, this will not be a problem – they could not handle a really demanding job in a million years, nor do they aspire to one, and so will gravitate to the woollier parts of academia or activism and become Social Justice professors or bitter, moralising benefit claimants. But those who want to have their cake and eat it – to get a well paying job and still insist that employers bow and scrape to their every delicate sensibility – will find themselves justifiably cast on the unemployed scrapheap.

So in addition to its many other flaws, the NUS is now apparently an organisation comprised of delicate students who believe that attending a three-day conference as part of their entirely voluntary student political activism is a grave contravention of their human rights, and that their own union is “putting them into a situation which is dangerous to their health” simply by asking them to put in three days of moderately hard work once a year.

This is not going to do wonders for Britain’s productivity gap.


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Tales From The Safe Space, Part 30 – Students Against The NUS

Malia Bouattia - NUS President - Disaffiliation Campaign - National Union of Students

Some encouraging signs in the growing backlash against the censorious, paternalistic National Union of Students

For once, a positive development in these Tales From The Safe Space – the first green shoots of an anti-NUS, anti-SJW grassroots backlash among students who are sick of being spoken for by the identity politics cultists currently in positions of leadership both in local university students’ union and the national organisation.

NUSceptics is a new forum for students at British universities to advance the free speech agenda and organise disaffiliation campaigns from the irretrievably corrupted National Union of Students.

This piece by student Ellie Spawton hits the nail on the head on the need to resist the growth of the new victimhood culture taking root in universities and wider society.

Money quote:

The NUS panders to this culture of victimhood, seeing it as their role to protect and defend anyone deemed a minority, or lacking in privilege. Whereas traditionally university is where young adults gain their freedom and are subject to debates and ideas, the NUS’ nannyish, moral crusader involvement in students’ everyday lives restricts and stifles not only debate and freedom of speech, but also moral independence and independent thought.

[..] The most concerning issue of the NUS is not its censorious nature, but the fact that it doesn’t trust the students it represents. It treats us like we are unable to be exposed to opinions that don’t conform to the progressive mindset without being offended and needing to retreat to a ‘safe space’. It is removing our ability to make our own decisions and our own mistakes, and depriving us of the ability to speak out and challenge viewpoints. It is condoning and feeding the emerging culture of victimhood, which in turn is creating moral dependence, fuelling conflict and preventing the development of young minds. The NUS needs to step back, stop nannying us and focus on larger issues than identity politics.

It is heartening to see such sensible, small-L liberal ideas being expressed by some students, even if they are presently drowned out by the opposing voices of social justice and identity politics.

Whether or not any of the nascent NUS disaffiliation campaigns will succeed is currently unknown – though it seems like a long-shot since any such movement would have to be comprised largely of people who are not already engaged in student politics (those already politically active clearly being overwhelmingly in favour of recent developments, as it is they who voted for the policies in the first place).

This is where university faculty and administrators need to rediscover their cojones and their commitment to academic freedom, and step in to support these brave students protesting against their own unions. Clearly universities cannot overtly support any attempt to build rival student organisations which aim to represent students while upholding the right to free speech, but at the very least they must make clear that any reprisals against these students by the NUS, local students’ unions or other vengeful individuals will not be tolerated.

As always, the hard work in rolling back the present identity politics-soaked victimhood culture must be carried out by the students themselves. But universities have an academic – and moral – duty to provide them with some valuable air cover.


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Tales From The Safe Space, Part 29 – The Surreal NUS Annual Conference

NUS annual conference

Down with the National Union of Students

We know that they are highly averse to clapping and that many of their affiliate university students’ unions have been entirely conquered by the Cult of Identity Politics, but what is life really like at the NUS annual conference?

Jack Grove has been into the lion’s den (or should that be sheep’s pen?), and reports in the Times Higher Education:

On arrival at the registration desk at the Brighton Centre, I was able to choose from a range of stickers that would indicate to delegates if I’d prefer to be addressed along the lines of “he/him/his” or perhaps “they/them/theirs”. Later in the day, delegates elected a full-time sabbatical officer to deal with trans issues – a major financial commitment for a union that can’t afford a paid post dedicated to postgraduate issues.

When Ms Bouattia was elected as president – the union’s first female black Muslim leader – her supporters were chided by the panel chair for clapping and cheering as this may cause distress to other delegates and trigger a trauma episode.

Instead, delegates were asked by a sincere delegate not to whoop or holler, or clap at all, but use “jazz hands” to show appreciation (people were asked to wiggle their fingers) as the noise created was “ableist” and had indeed caused the delegate in question to have a panic attack on previous occasions.

While Spiked’s Tom Slater reports:

The National Union of Students conference is over. But we’ll still have the memories – the jazz hands, the whingeing and the casual anti-Semitism. For this was the year when this tyranny of crybabies, this politburo of plonkers, truly outdid itself. Not only did delegates call for social-media apps to be banned (people are saying nasty things on them) and for Holocaust Memorial Day to be scrapped (apparently it’s not ‘inclusive’) — they also elected as the new NUS president Malia Bouattia, someone who thinks condemning ISIS might ‘send the wrong message’ and is wont to wax lyrical about the ‘Zionist-led media’.

This year’s shitshow has led to students around the country calling for their unions to disaffiliate from the NUS. About time. The NUS is a censorious, anti-democratic husk, propped up by right-on middle-class cliques. Though it claims to fight for students’ rights, it doesn’t have much truck with their right to speak freely, their right to conduct their sexual lives as they see fit, or even their right to party. In 2013, the NUS signed up to minimum pricing: this is a students’ union that thinks beer is too cheap.

It’s time to smash the NUS and start anew. Students need a union that truly looks out for them, that allows them to make common cause on the issues that matter. But, above all, they need a union that treats them as morally autonomous adults, that takes them seriously, that believes students can change the world rather than just be triggered by it.

I cannot emphasise enough that this is no longer a niche phenomenon. This is not a few isolated incidents, or a few overenthusiastic students on a few of the more liberal university campuses. This is not only nationwide, but also transatlantic.  And it is here to stay.

Here is a National Union of Students whose theoretical purpose is to represent the academic and pastoral interests of all students in the country, but which feels the need to lavish resources on a full-time Trans Issues officer at a time when they do not even have a paid officer to represent the different needs of postgraduate students. In other words, here is a union which has left behind any pretence of doing what a union should do, and instead devoted itself wholly to the furtherance of the identity politics agenda.

We would never witness this dereliction of duty in pursuit of secondary objectives in any other trade union, even (or especially) the most militant and prone to industrial action. The RMT union – and one has to hand it to them – seeks to grind out the best financial settlement possible for its members, and uses strikes or even just the threat of strikes to paralyse London, bring an elected Conservative mayor to his knees, and win key concessions for already well-paid tube drivers on the London Underground.

You would never see the RMT being half-hearted in its negotiations with Transport for London because its leadership was too distracted instituting a new Safe Space policy or agitating for mandatory social justice re-education courses for workers. They focus, with undeniable effectiveness, on fulfilling their primary duty to their members – namely, achieving the best possible employer settlements on wages and conditions.

And this is the key point. The National Union of Students not only no longer represents the majority of university students, it now pursues aims and objectives which are irrelevant to many of them and are even sometimes directly antagonistic toward them (particularly in the case of conservatives, small-L liberals or assorted others who simply value free speech). They no longer even claim to act for all students. They act primarily for those students bound up in the social justice movement.

It is now ten years since I graduated, and during my time at Cambridge and Warwick universities the NUS was never anything more than an annoyingly persistent leftist buzzing in my ear. Sure, it was stupid when the Warwick Students’ Union wasted time debating a motion to express their objection to George W. Bush making a state visit to Britain, but they did not actively go out of their way to interfere in my life. This is no longer the case. Now, the Warwick Students’ Union is rated Red in the annual Spiked university free speech rankings, and actively seeks to control what every student in campus is allowed to read, buy, think, hear or say.

In other words, a lot has changed in a decade. In just the last few years in particular, identity politics cultists and assorted Social Justice Warriors have made an unprecedented power play within students union, against university administrators and against any of their peers who do not subscribe to their own worldview. Those who graduated a decade or more ago and do not pay close attention to what is happening in our universities may well see this as alarmism at first glance – “surely things can’t be that ridiculous?” goes the common refrain.

But they are. And it is going to get worse. We are already at a point where holding conservative views on campus attracts outright ridicule and hostility. In a few more years, this opprobrium will spread to those who merely fail to sing from the social justice hymn sheet loudly and sincerely enough. And to date there has been almost zero fightback from the supposed adults in the room, the university faculties and administrators. Liberty-loving students have been left to face the onslaught alone.

Now, nobody can predict exactly what will be the consequence of a growing number of identity politics-infected young people graduating and joining the labour market and becoming involved in party political activism. Some will doubtless be jolted to their senses by their collision with reality, and come to look back in shame on their illiberal student ways. But many others will survive the impact, and when they regroup they will begin to look for ways to recreate their university Safe Space environment here among us. It has already begun.

So calling attention to the identity politics/social justice takeover of universities is not a fringe interest or a massive overreaction. This new focus by writers – including this blog’s own “Tales From The Safe Space” series – provides an unsettling preview of what life will be like in another decade, unless those who object to this therapeutic, victimhood culture begin to get organised and fight back.

But if you are happy for your future workplace to gradually turn into a never-ending NUS conference, then by all means continue burying your head in the sand.


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Top Image: Lancaster University Students’ Union

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