Social Justice: It’s not a Pejorative

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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…

Gaming: Fun, Social Commentary, or Both?

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All too often I hear a rather questionable remark regarding gaming and social issues: “It’s supposed to be fun, so stop bringing real-world stuff into it.” Something has never sat right with that comment, and only recently have I realized what the problem is. It’s presumption and fallacy in two parts: 1) everyone has the same idea of “fun” and 2) gaming is solely about “fun”.

Having read Designers & Dragons, a great history of the role-playing industry that I reviewed earlier, I realize both of these concepts are erroneous. The industry has changed so much over the decades, that there is no specific goal or approach to table-top RPGs. The 1970’s was all about expansions on wargames and competitive play and overly realistic simulations. In the 1980’s, cinematic simulations and cooperative play stood alongside pop culture licenses to usher in the feel of comics and Hollywood. By the 1990’s, introspective storytelling was king as the other genres adapted and evolved to compete in a growing market. In the 21st century, we’ve had not only a return to earlier styles but also expansion into independent, story-driven systems.

There has never been any single approach to gaming nor has there been any single concept of “fun”, even if there have been zeitgeists. The Fantasy dungeon-delver may not like Gothic-Punk political games, and both may be anathema to the humorous Parody player or the Space Opera lover. If there is no single idea of “fun”, then how can there be a singular criteria by which games are judged as such? If someone enjoys games where social issues take the forefront, they are therefore having “fun” and thus the argument is invalid.

This also assumes that gaming is solely about enjoyment, when role-playing has so many further uses. Role-playing has been used in many scenarios, psychological and educational. You can find examples of role-playing games in therapy, from group sessions to virtual scenarios. Children playing games can learn important social and mental skills and adults use the process as a training technique. Although not all of these are “games” per se, they still represent that putting on another mask and playing pretend can have many uses other than “fun”.

Role-playing of any kind, including at a tabletop with friends, can have uses other than the typical escapism or moment of levity. Some people use it to confront their own psychodynamic turmoil whereas others wish to see life through another perspective. Although many circles of friends just want to slay dragons or plot Machiavellian machinations, others might use this medium to answer questions about themselves, society, or life in general. And who’s to say they’re wrong for doing so? Is not the catharsis from solving a psychosocial mystery possibly as enjoyable as blowing up a space station?

Everyone comes to the table for their own reasons. Certainly it’s common to do so for the same (or similar) concept, but that’s not a requirement. Some players may not want those pesky “real world issues” coming into their games, which is perfectly fine… they can always choose to go to another table with a different game or group. To deny the presence of those who want to confront social and psychological topics, however, under the guise that gaming is solely “fun”? That’s fallacy and rather presumptuous, especially of a hobby that is so varied in its styles, genres, and approaches.

Gaming can be whatever you want, or need, it to be. As long as everyone agrees to the rules of the game and table, then enjoy it however you see fit.

Why You’re Probably “Privileged”

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One of the most frustrating topics to discuss is the concept of “privilege”. Far too many people can’t seem to grasp this word, especially those who have it. I usually see the following arguments why the term doesn’t apply:

1) “I’m poor and struggling, therefore I’m not privileged.”

There is a tendency to equate privilege solely with money or economic class. Wealth is but a single factor in whether you are privileged or not, and not having money doesn’t mean you aren’t privileged. You can be poor and still have an advantage over others just as you can be wealthy and disadvantaged. For example, a homeless man probably doesn’t have to worry about rape every time he sleeps in an alleyway compared to his female counterpart. Similarly, there are anecdotes of rich African-Americans being followed in stores, something their White counterparts (even with lesser money) don’t have to deal with.

2) “I’ve experienced X social stigma in the past because of my faith or social status, therefore I’m not privileged.”

Too many times people equate privilege with whether you are (or have been) disadvantaged. Quite simply, you cannot negate privilege because of a lack in other areas; you still maintain some form of advantage regardless of the disadvantage from others. For example, you can be female (a disadvantaged category in a male-dominant society) and still have advantage because of the color of your skin. Even more blatant are White, male “nerds” who are ignorant of their advantage from the first two categories because of perceived disadvantage in the latter.

Privilege is defined as, “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people”. Note that this definition is neither contingent on a single advantage nor a lack of disadvantage. Think of privilege as a variety of factors, some of which hold more weight than others depending on the social norms. Race, gender, sexual orientation & identity, culture, religion, and (of course) wealth all play a role in whether you are privileged… and some moreso than others. How so? Well, it is far easier to not express religion than it is to hide ones sexual orientation… and racial features are almost impossible to hide (and usually the most divisive).

The next time you deny or question your own privilege, ask yourself this: is there something about one of my classifications that makes my life easier compared to people of others? You may be poor, but are you treated like other poor people of a different gender? You may be female, but have you experienced constant bias or restriction just because of the color of your skin? You may be pagan, but do you have the freedom to express and participate in yourself that is denied to those of another sexual orientation or identity?

Think about the classifications that apply to you, whether they are subject to biased treatment, and the intensity or likelihood of said bias. Tally up how much you might hold in advantage over others, giving more weight to certain categories. If you hold more advantage than disadvantage in majority society… you might just be privileged.