Saturday, May 03, 2014

I'm Not Sure Who They Are but I Know Who They've Been

Will Shetterly:

And since I'm on the subject, I've seen a person or two suggest I coined "social justice warrior". Nope. I'm not sure where I found it first, but it's been around a while. Urban Dictionary had it long before me, and so did Be a SJ Ally, not a SJ Sally. I don't like it, but it's common, and I haven't found another name for identitarians who think raging online about social privilege will make a better world. If I was prone to conspiracy theory, I would think they were all provocateurs trying to discredit the real social justice workers who spend time in the world working to end poverty for everyone, regardless of their social identity.

Several years ago, frustrated by the progressive fixation on cosmetic diversity masking ideological uniformity, I wrote to a few of my former-academic friends and asked them if they could recommend any incisive liberal critiques of the identitarian left. After a lot of shrugging and head-scratching, the only one that got offered up was Robert Hughes' The Culture of Complaint, which was indeed a good book. Since then, I've read books like Russell Jacoby's The End of Utopia, which criticizes the left's post-Marxist turn toward postmodern academic obscurantism in lieu of trying to make positive political change in the real world, Richard Bernstein's Dictatorship of Virtue, written in the mid-90s, which criticized the multicultural academic agenda from a liberal perspective, Keith Windschuttle's The Killing of History, which, despite Windschuttle's conservatism, seemed to me to be one of the most clearly-written and genuinely informative looks at the various postmodern/cultural studies trends in academic history, and Bruce Bawer's The Victim's Revolution, which, though containing some good points, came off as a little too desperate to impress upon the reader the intellectual bankruptcy of the academic trends he covered, rather than simply giving his subjects enough rope to fairly hang themselves.

What I've mainly learned is that there is nothing new under the left-wing sun. The only difference, the only difference in a book like Bernstein's, say, is a lack of references to the Internet and an abundance of references to Poppy Bush/Clinton era politics. Otherwise, it could have been published last week. The academic climate it describes and the multiculti dogmas it presents can be observed in real time by twentysomethings preaching on Twitter right now. Well, actually, that is one other important difference — now, we have social media, which magnifies and amplifies all the absolute worst tendencies of group behavior, so that obnoxious behaviors and delusional theories which would have formerly been confined to campus lecture halls and mimeographed zines are now shared with everyone. "Social justice warriors" seems like as good a term as any for describing what happened when the multiculti left met Web 2.0.

(Speaking of twentysomethings, I still favor my hypothesis that the apparent omnipresence of SJW issues on the web is due to us currently experiencing a glut of underemployed millennials who have graduated college but are yet to settle down with families and serious careers, thus leaving them with a lot of free time to waste online sharing the pearls of their postcolonial gender studies wisdom. This gives me hope that in a few more years, they'll be too busy changing diapers and climbing the corporate ladder to bother the rest of us anymore.)