Social Justice: It’s not a Pejorative

Social-Justice

After spending far too much time arguing on the Internet, I’ve been thinking there needs to be a new variant of Godwin’s Law. For those that don’t know, Godwin’s Law is an assertion that the longer an online discussion continues the more likely someone will compare something to Hitler or the Nazis. When that happens, the conversation is over, because the comparison is usually indicative of a point when all logic and objectivity has faded; the individual guilty of such a comparison has probably fallen victim to some major fallacy, including hyperbole, slippery slope, or outright ad hominem attacks.

The same is true today with the pejorative “social justice warrior”, which is all too often trotted out when someone dares to make a suggestion that supports diversity, inclusion, cultural sensitivity, or any other ideal construed as “progressive”. The problem is, like Godwin’s law, the moment this pejorative is thrown out it means the conversation has lost all sense of reason and intelligence. “Social justice warrior” or “SJW” is a fallacious attack used to disregard the opposition, often in ignorance of the individual, the counterargument, and the original term itself.

Social Justice

Social justice is not a pejorative. At its core, it represents a demand for equity, equal opportunity, and protection regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, faith, economic status, etc. This concept has existed long before the divisiveness of 21st century America. Although the term originated in the 19th century, you’ll find its underlying tenets in the teachings of Ancient Greek philosophers and the great minds of the Renaissance and Age of Enlightenment. Labor movements rose from these ideas while international treaties used the concept to protect human rights. You’ll find “social justice” behind the end of slavery, Woman’s Suffrage, the Civil Rights Act, and the ADA. Today, this concept is part of social and mental health programs, influencing treatment methods, codes of ethics, and prevention programs.

There is nothing negative about social justice, so its use as a pejorative is fallacy. No one should decry social justice any more than they should denounce human rights or due process. Social justice is a lofty ideal that every society should strive for, to ensure health and happiness for as many of its citizens as possible. Which brings us to our next concern… the full term of “social justice warrior”.

Social Justice Warrior

“SJW”, like the concept of social justice, should not be a derogatory term. A “warrior” fighting for social justice should be someone who stands up for equity, equal opportunity, and human rights. Yet, like all causes, you’re going to have your few who take things too far. Some might become authoritarian themselves in their ideals of “justice”, often out of ignorance of how extreme or unreasonable their demands or beliefs are. Others might believe “justice” will only occur when the tables are turned, promoting superiority while falling victim to the same poor thinking as their opposition. And, of course, there are those few who might hide under the banner of “social justice”, while purposefully using it for their own maleficent reasons.

The thing to remember is that these individuals are no more supporting “social justice” than someone who denies individual rights is a “liberal” or a person who espouses bigotry is following the teachings of Jesus Christ. I could proclaim myself to be whatever I want, but whether I speak for a greater cause or support its tenets is what should be questioned… not the cause or tenets themselves. That’s where the fallacy of using “SJW” as a pejorative occurs, because people are denying valid arguments or the cause itself all because of a few extremists. Worse, they then use that same illogical thinking to reinforce a schema wherein “social justice” is a bad concept and any future discussions are immediately disregarded and disparaged without any sort of critical thought.

Thoughts

Social justice and “SJW” is not a pejorative. Social justice is a laudable philosophy that underlies everything from human and civil rights to equity and equal opportunity. You’ll find it in international treaties, labor movements, health programs, etc. and there is no ethical reason to oppose such a concept. The “warriors” who fight for it are varied, and while a few may be extreme or unreasonable, they are no more indicative of the greater cause than a fundamentalist Christian speaks for the entirety of the faith.

I posit there should be a new law, similar to Godwin’s law, which states that any conversation will eventually devolve into someone using “social justice” in a derogatory fashion. At that point, the conversation has ended and the person guilty of the ignorant fallacy automatically loses any validity or credibility. The only question is what to call it…

Equality – What Does It Mean?

Equality-sign

One of the biggest beefs I have in online debate is the concept of “equality”. All too often I see people deny others based on the concept that, “Well, they’re just treating everyone the same.” The problem is there’s a big difference between literal equality and the concept of “equal opportunity”. The former is best used in mathematics, sciences, etc. with objects; the latter is what we’re referring to when talking about society and philosophy.

Literal equality is what some people seem to be advocating for when it comes to race, gender, religion, etc. They want everyone to be treated equal regardless of any differences between them. This does sound like a Utopian ideal on the surface, but it ignores the fact that we are not all created equal and that similar situations may not have the same outcomes. In fact, in mental health and physical medicine, a generalized approach is the worst thing you can do. Doctors, psychiatrists, and other professionals recognize that each individual has a multitude of factors and that the rules must be changed for each situation.6a00e54f8c25c98834017c317442ea970b-500wi

There is no place for literal equality when it comes to people; this is the sort of flawed thinking behind everything from flat tax rates to segregation. If we were truly literal when it came to equality, and treated everyone with a single set of rules, then we’d have no handicapped parking or ramps. There would be no tax-exemption for non-profits, schools would have no special needs programs, and children would be subject to the same laws and consequences as adults. Yet we don’t do any of that because society recognizes the differences in these cases and changes the rules.

That’s where we come to equal opportunity, also known as fairness, equity, or justice: the philosophical concept that we everyone has the right to the same chances in life. This level playing field requires acknowledgment of differences and exceptions to the rules to account for this diversity. If someone is physically handicapped, they’re provided with accommodations like special parking and ramps so they may access locations with the same ease as other people. If someone is Deaf, they’re provided with interpreters so they may enjoy the same shows or presentations as the Hearing. If a student has special needs, they participate in an educational program that provides them the same opportunities to learn as the rest of the student body.

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Asking for equality isn’t “pandering” to a minority demographic, because that implies providing them an advantage. There is no advantage to parking closer for the physically handicapped; they’ll probably be in and out in the same time as everyone else. There is no advantage to making the poor pay less taxes; their quality of life is still low, just not as bad as if they’d paid more. This is where privilege blinds us to the reality of the situation, because we’re looking at what these populations receive through our own eyes. We see the handicapped space as convenient for us, thinking about how we’d get in and out faster, not knowing what it would be like to have a wheelchair or crutches. We see the poor receiving money back, thinking about how we received less (or had to pay), not knowing what it’s like to live off $20,000 a year as opposed to our own $100,000. Equality doesn’t mean we’re indulging the minority and giving them advantage over the majority; it means we’re allowing the minority the same chances in life as the majority.

Equality doesn’t mean we treat everyone equal, with no care for their situation; it means we find ways to allow everyone the same opportunities at education, success, and quality of life. It’s just a shame that’s hard for many to see, given they can’t see beyond their own privileged positions among the majority.