Heroics, obnoxiousness, and winning allies

In today’s ‘oppression olympics’ climate, people try to demonstrate how oppressed they are, and to call out others as oppressors. Which ironically both appeals to something which appears to be a part of our human evolutionary psychology, and also repels something which appeals to be part of our evolutionary psychology.

I recently watched a video on Youtube, by Lloyd of Lindybeige, about two LARP (live action role playing) characters which he had previously portrayed, and how they taught him about life and human nature. The first was a character named Agin, who was stupid, trusting, and quick to anger. Lloyd’s intention was that Agin would be easily exploitable. However, this turned out to be not so much the case. It seemed that other characters, when they would seem Agin being in a situation where he might be exploited, tended to stand up for him, and try to prevent this exploitation.

The second character was Barkan(?). This was a guy who, like many on the left today, believed that those in power were exploitative and that anyone with any power simply uses it to exploit others. He found that this character was frequently mistreated, even when it was somewhat obvious to everyone that he was being mistreated. Indeed, after heroically sacrificing himself, this character was passed over for being resurrected (according to the rules of magic in the LARP universe which only allowed for 5 people to be resurrected in that situation), even though he had personally defeated the big monster, at the cost of his own life!

Lloyd concluded with some text, as is his wont, but in this case, I think the text was rather appropriate. It read: ‘So, if you think the worst of people, they will think the worst of you/People like to be heroes, and most will help someone in need/And there is no justice.’

Okay, disregarding the last sentence, I think the first two bear keeping in mind. Let us compare them to the situation among what we might call the regressive left or ‘social justice warrior’ movement. I will focus here upon whites vs. people of colour, and males vs. females, although similar concerns apply to any of the SJW causes.

First, the regressive left likes to think the worst of ‘white/male’ people. These people are told they are the evil oppressors, that they are racists/sexists even if they have no racial bigotry or sex-based bigotry themselves, and so on. What are the natural consequences of this?

First, these people will say the regressive left are ridiculous and horrible. Second, they are more likely to become actual racists/sexists, because if you are going to be accused of such things, you may as well actually be those things.

But what are they unlikely to do, as a result of such accusations? Care about helping fix any real problems, that is what. Because if you blame such problems on them, you are inherently going to make them less likely to want to help you, and perhaps even want to deny such problems exist.

Let us try to bring this consideration into the real world for a moment. Suppose that a white male, we will call him WM, deplores racism and sexism. It’s possible that an employer picked them because of their race or gender, but they were not involved in this decision, and if they knew what had motivated the decision, they would be appalled. But we cannot even be sure their hiring was motivated by racist or sexist concerns. They constantly fight for women and people of colour.

Then one day someone comes up to WM, and tells him (and this paraphrased from something I actually read): ‘Being an ally of people of colour and women means unlearning your sexist and racist attitudes and acknowledging your part in oppressing them, not just in opposing those systems. That means you are a racist and a sexist, whether you think you are or not.’ But before we ask how WM is likely to respond, let us consider a couple of similar situations in the past.

For an analogy: suppose that we have person X, who lives under Nazi controlled Europe, and who wants to save Jews. So X helps Jews to escape, provides them shelter at great risk to themselves, and generally tries to make sure Jews get to safety. Then along comes Jew SJW: SJW tells X ‘Well, you have benefited from gentile privilege, which makes you a racist against Jews, whether you think you are or not! You need to repent of this racism!’

What is person X going to think? It’s not their fault the Nazis are rounding up Jews. They don’t want it to happen, and they would like to stop it, and they are doing whatever they can to keep it from being carried out. Yet, suddenly, they are being lumped in with the Nazis who want to kill all the Jews, simply because the Nazis aren’t also trying to kill them! Why keep working for the people who lump them in with the Nazis, anyway? If these Jews think X is just as bad as the Nazis trying to kill them, is he going to feel very motivated to continue rescuing them? (There are, ethically, still reasons to save them, but psychologically, a big motivator is lost).

To give another example, what if a white person, in 1855, were harbouring slaves and helping them on the underground railroad, and one of these escaped slaves started lecturing them on how ‘white privilege’ meant they weren’t a slave and how they ‘benefited from living in an economy that involved slavery’? Wouldn’t they say ‘No shit, but I’m fighting against slavery, so why are you mad at me for some shit that isn’t my fault and that I oppose? I don’t want to benefit from slavery; that is why I am helping you now, you insufferable nag!’

Well, person WM is likely to feel rather similarly. After all, they’re trying to end ‘white privilege’ and ‘male privilege.’ If they benefited from such things, it was not deliberately, nor do they approve of this, and thus, it is hardly morally their fault; in fact they are devoted to putting an end to such things. Yet they are being demonized as nearly equivalent to Richard Spencer (racist) or Mike Cernovich (rape apologist)!

Now, WM might respond by thinking they really are racist, and being driven into feeling guilt for things that are obviously not morally his fault. That is irrational, and few rational people will fall into this reaction (though there are people who will fall into this, whether because they are irrational, or simply need approval and so will, Stockholm-syndrome-like, look for approval from the SJWs even as they are demeaned). On the other hand, they might recognize that the accusation itself is irrational, and deny it. Of course, this will likely result in ostracizing from the regressive left. So in this case, what could happen? If WM is rational, they will see that the principle is still worth fighting for, even if they are wrongly accused, and they will keep fighting, even as the regressive left refuses to consider them an ally. However, if WM is not 100% rational, they might think ‘Hey, if I am going to be accused of racism and sexism just because I was born the way I am, why should I care about the people who are accusing me? Maybe I should just go whole hog and really be racist and sexist! Especially against these people who are accusing me, because they definitely don’t deserve me standing up for them!’

I disagree with this last reaction. It is not rational, for two reasons: first, not all people of colour/women agree with the SJWs who accuse white males of racism and sexism regardless of their personal opinions, and second, because we should stand up for what is right no matter who calls us names. However, in practice, there are big psychological discouragements involved in the way white/male ‘allies’ are currently treated by the regressive left. Is it any wonder that, in response to identity politics, over half of whites, including over half of white women, chose to go with Trump?

So, I am going to give a few suggestions, based upon Lloyd’s conclusions, for how social justice advocates can win allies:

  1. Make allies feel like heroes. There’s a stigma against this, because it feels like asking for ‘white knights.’ But you need to recognize that, e.g., white people who are advocating against racism really do not want to benefit from racism, and are actively trying to end something that benefits (or could benefit) them. This is heroic (at least in the sense that they are fighting for a cause that does not benefit themselves). Even if you don’t like calling it heroic, recognize that calling it heroic (perhaps not in those words) will psychologically reinforce their devotion to your cause – perhaps even attract more supporters (who doesn’t want to be the hero?). Of course, people of colour/women/other ‘oppressed’ groups don’t want to sound ‘weak,’ like they are looking for heroes. But appealing to allies by holding them up as heroic supporters (who are helpful, though perhaps not necessary) is a really good way to both psychologically reward your allies and also to attract new supporters.
  2. Recognize that shaming people is a bad approach. If you shame people, they are likely to avoid that shame by simply dismissing you and your argument. Now, I get it, there are some people who legitimately are so bad, they deserve to be shamed. But when someone is trying to help you, don’t shame them. If you think they are ineffective or overlooking something in their own attitudes/lives, try to help them see it without shaming them.
  3. Recognize that people who feel like no matter what they do, they will be called oppressors, are somewhat likely to actually decide to engage in more oppression, since they may as well get as many perks as possible from being oppressors, if the name is going to stick regardless.

In other words, the current SJW approach may be pretty much psychologically the opposite of effective. Demonizing everyone outside your group and demonizing those in your group of the wrong (white/male) skin colour/sex is not an effective method of keeping or attracting support, from a psychological perspective. On the other hand, trying to reward your supporters psychologically by making them feel ‘heroic’ could be a very effective way to win support.

To put it a bit more colloquially: if you treat others as obnoxious gits, don’t be surprised if they return the favour, and even end up opposing the causes you champion. On the other hand, if you make people feel like they’re being helpful, even heroic, they’re likely to want to help you. So instead of claiming that ‘being an ally means unlearning your oppressive nature,’ try asking people to ‘stand up for the little guy.’


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