One of the problems in today’s sociopolitical climate is that there are lots of terms, used by lots of people, often in somewhat distinct ways. A good example is ‘alt left.’ I’ve seen the term ‘alt left’ be applied to Berniecrats, to IdPol progressives, to leftists who aren’t democrats, and so on. ]
However, the term ‘SJW’ (‘Social Justice Warrior’) seems to be fairly consistently applied, although it is not easy to give a precise definition of an SJW. And this does not make the term useless. We have many terms which are hard to define precisely (Wittgenstein spent much of his philosophical career trying to understand this fact). The classical example is ‘a pile of sand.’ We all agree that a ten foot tall mount of sand is a ‘pile,’ and a single grain is not. But when does it become a ‘pile?’
(I am a technicalist, and a mathematician. I maintain a ‘pile’ is when there are enough grains of sane so that at least one is stably raised off the supporting surface. The minimum number to do this is 4, but it requires the correct geometric setup to make it happen.)
However, the point remains: it is hard to distinguish between ‘some grains of sand near one another,’ and ‘a pile of sand.’ So, terms which are a bit fuzzy can still be very useful.
What, then, is an SJW? What characterizes such a person?
When I first engaged in social media, as a naive tweeter, I thought to myself, ‘SJW must be a pejorative used by conservatives to smear liberals. Who could possibly oppose social justice?’ How soon I learned my mistake. I liked a few statements by SJWs and followed them, and then, as soon as I dissented in any way, I was swarmed with attacks. I quickly realized that their form of ‘Social Justice’ differed from real social justice (i.e. providing equal opportunity to everyone, providing educational opportunities to everyone regardless of their birth conditions, and creating a society where people were judged on individual merits instead of their group identity), and I understood why even liberal people would condemn the SJWs.
So what is an SJW? Well, again, it is a bit of an amorphous term. But these are some telling features of SJWs. Some SJWs just have one, or a few, of these characteristics. However, we should remember it is a bit of an elastic term.
In its most general form, an SJW is a person who advocates for social justice as understood by postmodernist collectivism, as opposed to individual fairness. They may or not be explicitly aware of how their notion of justice differs from the notion of justice in classical liberalism. This can manifest itself in many different ways; the following is a very incomplete list of some of the forms it can take:
- If you believe a person’s individuality is defined by their demographics, you are either an SJW or basically a nazi. SJWs tend to have an approach to identity which assumes that all people of Demographic X are interchangeable. As an example: while we might argue against the James Damore memo, his claim was merely that more men are interested in/skilled at coding than women. He did not say that the women who worked as coders at Google were unworthy of being there, or were tokens, or that women should not be hired. However, I saw many people claim that Damore’s memo claimed that women are not coders, do not like coding, and are not as good at coding as men! This was not at all what the memo claimed, right or wrong. It suggested only that there are fewer women who are interested in coding and highly skilled at it than men, and that this could explain hiring gaps.
To give an analogy, I might say ‘Men are taller than women.’ But of course, there are many pairs of one man and one woman where the woman is taller than the man. There are just more pairs where the man is taller than the woman.
But for SJWs, it is often the case that all individuals in a given group must be interchangeable. Therefore, if someone asserts that there is a difference in averages between groups A and B, they must be asserting that everyone in group A has that difference from everyone in group B, since all members of group A are interchangeable, and all individuals in group B are interchangeable.
So, one way to be an SJW, is to assume that group members are (implicitly) interchangeable.
- Of course, individual members of a group are empirically not interchangeable. However, some people claim that members of an ‘oppressed’ group, who disagree with the postmodernist-leftist narrative, are co-opted victims of the oppressors. Thus, blacks who think racism in the US is limited are ‘uncle Toms.’ Women who disagree with 3rd wave feminism, or who fight for sex workers’ rights, have ‘internalized misogyny,’ and so on.
This sort of logical error is a weird mix of an ad hominem argument and a ‘no true Scotsman’ error.
- ‘You can’t understand Y because you are X.’ The notion that people cannot empathize or sympathize with members of another demographic is a common SJW theme.
- Differentiating bigotries based on who is bigoted against whom: Everyone would agree that if a white man refused to sell a car to a black woman, this was racism, misogyny, or both. But if a black woman refused to sell to a white man: ‘This might be prejudice, but racism and sexism can only occur to the “oppressed!”‘ is the SJW way of looking at things. In this view, bigotry becomes bad, or at least worse, solely by virtue of being a prejudice by a member of an ‘oppressing’ group. Thus:
– A women-only space is oppressive when it is created by white christian men, but not when created by Arab muslims.
– A ‘blacks only’ space is fine, but a ‘whites only’ space is racist segregation.
– A ‘men only’ space is misogynist, but a ‘women only’ space is fine, as long as they allow self-identifying transwomen with penises (otherwise, they are evil TERFs!).
- ‘Prejudicial behavior against oppressors is okay.’ This could sort of make sense, if it meant ‘prejudice against individual people who support oppression is okay.’ But for some SJWs, it means: ‘If a black man, whose parents immigrated to the US in 1995, disses a white man, that is okay, because it is payback for slavery, even though that white man is an immigrant from Poland who came to the US in 2014.’ Again, relates back to point 1, where all members of a group are interchangeable – in this case, despite demographic differences. So if one person in the white demographic can be deemed an oppressor – in the last 600 years – it justifies oppressing any white person you see, since they are interchangeable with that oppressor. (Note: this does not apply to Arabs, who engaged in a great deal of oppression themselves – they are oppressed and thus it is not okay to be prejudiced towards them!)
- Pretty much anything based on ‘critical theory.’ This includes gender studies, race studies, etc., as practiced by postmodernists.