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 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.
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…