Why Social Justice Activists Are Right!- A Steelman
Updated: Nov 23, 2021
I recently read an extremely enlightening piece by Jeffery Thayne of LDSphilosopher.com in which he explores the social justice movement in its strongest terms. I had always assumed the social justice worldview was pure nonsense based more on childishness than solid philosophical grounding. And while I still think the movement is dangerous, mistaken and immoral it has a coherent framework from which it stems and is surprisingly convincing if you accept its basic secular premises. I want to share some of my take on Thaynes brilliant work. Also please keep in mind that I am merely describing the general patterns I see in the Social Justice movement. The movement (like all ideological movements) has plenty of variance and different spins within these patterns.
It all begins with the idea of power. The first thing to do is to describe power within the Social Justice worldview.
Power: The ability to acquire that which you desire either economically, socially, politically or culturally.
Most people in my conservative and libertarian circles think of power in terms of political power. They think of it in terms of government coercion and usually want to limit it so that people are free to do as they wish, so long as they don’t bother others. They assume that as long as you are not violating the legal rights of another, you have sufficient equality and thus the conversation is primarily a political one, focusing on giving individuals political autonomy (IE freedom in a legal sense).
The Social Justice worldview is much bigger. First, it rejects the idea that if individuals are left alone by government, they are in a state of equality. Legal equality is not the movements goal. The goal is a deeper and broader social equality. It’s a movement that is trying to fundamentally balance power (as defined above) in society. Politics just happens to be a means to that end.
So when we think of power in this broader sense and we examine the world, we ask ourselves, who has more power and who has less?
As we observe the world we can see different groups of people, different identities and different intersections of those identities (eg."intersectionality"). We also can see that not all groups have the same amounts of power (remember how power is defined). Thayne calls these, power asymmetries.
Social Justice Premise 1: Power asymmetries exist to the detriment of those with less power
Isn’t this true? Shouldn’t we work to empower those who are under privileged? Social Justice Premise 2: Power asymmetries should be eradicated to the greatest extent possible so that power is balanced.
Again, is this not reasonable? Should we not try and grant all people power (the ability for people to get what they desire socially, culturally and economically)? If a society or system culturally, economically, or politically plays more to the advantage and propensities of one group over others, should we not take steps to correct that problem? Obviously this is going to upset those who are part of the power group (typified by white heterosexual males) but why should the rest of society continue living in a world whose systems were designed by cis white males and disproportionately benefit cis white males? Is not systemic change needed?
The Goal: Power Symmetry Not Just Legal Equality
One of the ways to balance power is to try and grant privileges to those with less power, but also it involves challenging/denying privileges to those with power. Those with power will use it to stay on top and if you play by the rules of those with the power, they stay on top. This is why you don’t have to be tolerant of those in the power group because their position of power should not be tolerated. The dominant group will use its superior power to create systems that favor people who fit well into the power group. Capitalism for instance is a system that works well for white heterosexual males.
Remember, power symmetry is the goal. Therefore, the goal is not legal equality of opportunity but total equality of opportunity to the greatest extent possible which can be measured by how equal the outcomes are for different groups.
Equity is the goal. When a system consistently benefits one group to the detriment of others, it’s obvious that power is imbalanced even if a legal system (usually established by the power group) says things are legally equal. Legal equality does not mean much if the other forms of social power are not balanced and outcomes are consistently better for the privileged in the power group.
Naturally those in power don’t share the goal of eliminating power asymmetry because it results in them losing power. And thus begins the struggle between those with little power against those with a lot, the oppressors vs the oppressed, the supremacists vs those who want equality. The underprivileged vs the privileged. And that is the eternal struggle of man, the battle against those who use power to keep it and enjoy privilege and those who seek equal power with the privileged.
While this may not be the exact way things are articulated by any given Social Justice Activists, it seems clear that the patterns of the movement on a fundamental level seem to spring out from this type of reasoning. The interesting discovery for me was that this line of reasoning is not illogical if you grant its premises. So why do I oppose this worldview so vehemently? That is the subject of my next post.
Click here to see for the next post: "Why Social Justice Activists Are Wrong"