This is a controversial post. I expect that there will be some strong feelings by those who read it. I want to make clear that I am not against a fight for equality. In fact, equality is something I strive for, but I disagree with the model and approach used by social justice movements on a fundamental level. My criticism of social justice movements isn’t to end them, but to improve them. My hope, is that you will consider what I have to say with a rational mind, and put emotions to the side.
The word “equality” doesn’t have the same meaning to everyone, so I will give my understanding of the word. Equality to me is equality of opportunity where unchangeable parts of a person are not used to keep them out of different arenas of life that are needed to live. This means that a person who is qualified and capable of doing a job, for example, isn’t hired because of gender, race, neurotype, sexual orientation, etc… It also means that certain social behavior doesn’t work to minimize or otherwise damage the understanding of a groups capability or virtue. Equality also means not setting a double standard in our societal rules based on how we group people.
Current social justice movements are rooted in intersectional theory. While there is a lot of merit to the theory, the application of it has gone terribly wrong in many prominent social justice movements. The problems as I see it begins with the idea of grouping people based on certain shared features. Intersectional theory only has merit because the system of grouping people based on certain shared features, then assigning capability and virtue, or lack thereof, to them already existed. Without the practice of grouping people and then following it up with the assignment of characteristics beyond that of the characteristic used to group them in the first place, intersectional theory has no reason to exist. In short, look at people as individuals and not as members of a group.
Grouping can have some practical applications, so I don’t want to make it seem as no good can come from it at all. But these are limited in scope, and should be used in a very surgical way. Understanding that a group of people with a shared genetic trait are more prone to certain diseases has it’s uses in medicine, for example.
Social justice movements have adopted the model of grouping people based on a characteristic, then assigning virtue, or lack thereof, and other characteristics beyond the initial common characteristics. This system is at the heart of bigotry. For example, Europeans and Americans characterizing all black people as incapable of the intellectual capabilities of Europeans and as unable to meet European standard of being civilized hundreds of years ago. Grouping them and then assigning a Eurocentric based lack of virtue on the group, allowed them to justify dehumanizing Africans and then enslave them.
The dehumanization is a key part to this practice. If we can stop seeing someone as an individual, but the representative of a group with preset thoughts, feelings, capability, intentions, and/or virtue, or lack thereof, then we can justify any treatment of the individual that we deem morally correct regardless of the reality of who that individual is. This practice has been used by bigots since bigotry was invented. Social justice movements, and many individuals that support social justice, have adopted this and it is evident in their tactics to confront “the oppressor.” Depending on the social justice movement one can see variation on how this plays out. An example would be a feminist that insist that men are inherently violent and women aren’t. Yet, one can look at a CDC study that collected data on domestic violence, commonly cited by some feminists to demonstrate the rate at which women are victims of domestic violence at the hands of men, that also states that 43% of domestic violence is against men. Women are capable of violence and the disparity between the percentage of violent men and violent women in domestic abuse isn’t very big. But the narrative must be framed as “men are violent” in order to continue the narrative that men lack virtue and women have virtue in this arena. It ignores the individuals in both groups that don’t fit the narrative. I want to make clear, that not all feminists believe the same thing. Each person taking on the label of “feminist” should be treated as an individual with their own ideas.
Many social justice movements, often the ones with the loudest voice in the room, cannot hope to achieve equality because the method they use to do so is the same method used to create inequality. And such is the case in many situations. Not to beat up on feminism, but I am going to use it as an example again. Most feminists will claim they are fighting for equality. I think they are sincere for the most part. Yet, what does equality mean to them? While feminists may fight for equality in hiring practices, equality in treatment in society, etc…, all of which are great goals and I hope we can achieve them, there are powerful feminist organizations that come out against equality in the family court system that disproportionately privileges women. 83% of custody hearings are decided in favor of women, and powerful feminist groups have lobbied to stop any attempt to equalize that. Often citing three interesting arguments. One is that men are inherently violent and a child is in more danger with a father, something that doesn’t seem to be as of much concern if the couple stays together. The second is that mothers make better parents because they have a better nurturing instinct, which isn’t necessarily true either. The rate of abusive and neglectful mothers is disturbingly high. The last, and I think most interesting argument, is that men have so much privilege in so many other areas that the inequality in the family court system levels the playing field. This last one is particularly problematic for social justice and the fight for equality.
The idea that equality can be achieved by creating, or continuing, inequality for a group in one arena so that it contributes to an overall leveling of privilege is not really equality. It is attempting to create equal amount of inequality. Even doing that is difficult. How does one quantify the degree of privilege between being able to have your child live with you and being able to more easily get a job, for example?
Ultimately, I argue that social justice movements that continue to use the same model used for bigotry cannot possibly achieve equality. They cannot change the minds of the people whose mind’s need to be changed. They will burn bridges and continue to hurt their cause by contributing to an ever greater divide. I think many who espouse social justice ideology know this intuitively and that is why more aggressive means have been used to force equality on people. The only issue with that is force doesn’t convince anyone. It doesn’t create allies. It makes people find more subtle ways to continue to oppress groups of people. It turns explicit bigotry into implicit bigotry. Bigots will spread their bigotry on to the next generation and those in their social circle behind closed doors. They will use their power in subtle ways to continue to oppress. Seeing people as individuals and treating them a certain way based on who they are as an individual is the only way equality can ever be achieved. A person is what is in their mind. Other characteristics can shape a person’s life experience and shape their mind, but their mind is still who they are. To achieve equality we need a new way of looking at people, not more of the same flawed way. The autistic community has a saying, “If you have met one person with autism, you have met one person with autism.” We understand that while we have a shared characteristic, it exists on a spectrum and we are all individuals whose entire being isn’t defined by autism. Perhaps the world of social justice could learn a thing or two from the autistic community.