• Social Justice: A Millenarian Movement

    fist3Popular culture loves an apocalypse, with special fondness these days for zombies, pandemics, and zombie pandemics.  (The 2012 thing is so over.)  There is another style of apocalypse, however, the good old-fashioned millenarian kind that is usually associated with cults and fundies, but which comes in some surprising forms.  And some of these forms, unfortunately, are current, widespread, and scarily influential.

    The pop-culture version of apocalypse is a cataclysmic event that destroys the world as we know it in some morbidly entertaining way—but  where this brand departs from classic millenarianism is in what happens afterwards.  “Post-apocalyptic” has come to describe something like a Mad Max wasteland  where the shattered remnants of humanity duke it out under the hegemony of psychopathic warlords; or the Walking Dead version of the same, where random survivors scuttle like cockroaches around the ruins of suburbia.  In the popular conception, an apocalypse leads to dystopia.

    Under the classic definition, however, the destruction has a purpose, and often a cosmic one.  The world/society is irredeemably flawed, corrupt, wicked.  It cannot be fixed; it can only be swept away by heroic measures and bloody upheavals, so that a pure and just system can replace it and everybody can live happily ever after—“everybody” being defined as the right-thinking survivors.  In the classic millenarian scenario, an apocalypse leads to utopia.

    Many millenarian agendas are instantly recognizable as such, because they involve some deity’s grand plan for purging and renewing Creation.   Jonestown, ISIL, the Crusades, the Taiping rebellion, the Rapture-Readies, Aum Shinrikyo, long lists of big and little cults and sects and doomsday communes, all have based their appeal on the devoutly desired purge of a wicked world, including all the mofo unbelievers who ever made fun of the faithful.

    But this yearning is not limited to religious nutters—there are secular eschatologies that are arguably  identical to the mystical variety in structure and aspirations.  Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, for example.  Free-market fundamentalism.  The radical activism of the Earth First movement.  Marxist and Fascist revolutions.  And now, I would argue, the phenomenon known as the Social Justice Warriors fits the pattern very well.  This becomes clear when you consider some classic features of millenarian movements, both religious and secular.

    1. Exclusive Ideology

    A good millenarian marker is an uncompromising belief system (philosophy, creed, manifesto, scripture, ideology) that stakes out a claim to ownership of all truth and especially all righteousness, and unifies the Elect under an attractive banner.  This banner, in secular millenarianism,  generally has to do with sweeping away injustice and wickedness and making the world a better place.  The ideology also specifies how “better” should be defined, which is not always how the rest of us would imagine it.  The premises and logic of the ideology do not bear close examination, but are sealed against criticism or rational testing.

    So how does this relate to the SJWs? Apparently, western society is a complex web of oppressions and injustices, constructed in such a way as to entrench the power of men, particularly white men, over the rest. Women are trained from birth to cling to their chains; men are trained to be entitled.  Most men actually hate women, except as sex toys. This is the essence of Patriarchy, the unfixable system that must be dismantled before a Just Society can be built on its ruins.  Crosscutting this is the concept of systemic racism, where all white people (and only white people) are racist, oppressing the rest from the peak of a mountain of privilege. This is the Holy Ideology of the social justice movement, an amalgam of critical theory and radical feminism, treated as unassailable truth rather than iffy postmodern truthiness.

    1. Demonization of Dissent

    Since the Elect are uniquely righteous, it follows that the unconverted are not righteous.  In fact, it is not fist2enough that the unconverted should be wrong; they must also be evil, hateful, and threatening, actively engaged in persecuting the Elect.  This goes double for apostates. And because the unconverted are evil, they have no place in the post-apocalyptic utopia; if they cannot be converted, they must be destroyed.    Thus, they are not worthy of compassion, and deserve every apocalyptic woe that comes their way.

    The demonization of dissenters is precisely the SJW pattern.  Questioning the hard gender-feminist line is “misogyny,” regardless of how the questioner feels about and behaves towards women, and regardless of the questioner’s gender. (Yes, women and other genders also get called misogynists.)  Reserving judgment on sexual assault accusations is “rape apology.”  Speaking out is “violence.” Expressing a dissident opinion in some venues will earn the label of troll, liar, or hater, and bring down torrents of online vitriol.  Opponents—gamergaters, slymepitters, men’s rights activists, equity feminists—are dismissed outright as hate groups, which allows the valid points they make to be ignored.  Online rape and death threats are trumpeted as evidence of persecution, though they are more likely to be demonstrations of the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory.  The fact that the SJWs’ opponents get similarly trolled is ignored. After all, since all such opponents are defined as lying, hate-filled, homophobic racist misogynists, they deserve to suffer.

    1. Ideology Trumps All

    Millenarian ideologies are typically draconian, uncompromising, and demanding, requiring  their adherents to see everything through ideology-coloured glasses.  Words and actions are scrutinized for correctness, on a pass/fail basis and with no allowance for charity, compassion, or nuance. This makes it easy for outsiders (heretics, infidels, newbies) to offend unintentionally, but it also turns discourse inside the movement into a minefield.  The effect is that the movement frequently eats its own.  Both insiders and outsiders who do not fall in line with the interests of the ideology are disposable.

    Secular ideologies can just as harsh on outsiders as religious ones.  The Other is literally a necessary evil, a convenient stable of foes and scapegoats, and the focus of moral panics.  Think of Ayn Rand’s looters and moochers, and Hubbard’s SPs; the kulaks, intellectuals, and reactionaries on the wrong side of Marxist or similar revolutions; the Jewish conspiracy envisioned by Hitler; the poor and unemployed as viewed by free-market fundamentalists.  In SJW terms, the prime enemy is white males, plus anybody who does not engage in knee-jerk demonization of whites and males.

    1. Denial of Progress

    Because the world is hopelessly corrupt/in thrall to Satan, any apparent progress it makes towards virtue is a snare and a delusion.  Furthermore, anyone attempting to fix the world is only perpetuating the evil, thus maliciously delaying the advent of utopia.  Compromise or cooperation with the existing world/system and its proponents is similarly wicked, equal to making deals with the devil. The only solution envisaged is destruction and renewal along the correct ideological lines.

    I hardly need to comment on something so obvious, but I will.  The enormous changes in Western society over the last fifty years, the great strides toward equality of opportunity, mean nothing in SJW terms.  So long as the dreaded Patriarchy is in place, progress is both illusory and irrelevant. Only the destruction of (white) Patriarchy will serve—“Patriarchy” being, I suppose, the gendered term for what we used to call “The Establishment.”  I have no idea what this particular apocalypse would entail in the real world, and I don’t think the SJWs do, either.  Since “Patriarchy” is not a thing, but an unfalsifiable ideological construct, it can never actually be destroyed. Whatever progress is made, the SJW faithful will simply  continue to move the goalposts.

    The joke is, the advent of an actual SJW Utopia would put all those gender-studies and critical-race-theory mavens out of a job.  On the whole, though, I think I’d prefer a zombie apocalypse.

    Category: AtheismFeaturedSecularism

    Article by: Rebecca Bradley

    3 Pingbacks/Trackbacks

    20 comments

      1. Ed

        Joss Whedon is bailing from twitter, not the movement per se, it seems. In fact, I read that as a reaction to his critics.

        Furthermore, Shevinsky argues now for a free market approach to tech gender equality.

        I’m sorry, but the free market is shit at arbitrating morality.

        http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/2015/02/03/on-the-skepticism-of-free-market-economics-part-1/

        This comes down to what your morality is wrt positive descrimination or, in pragmatic terms, the Rooney Rule: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rooney_Rule#Impact

        You may argue that, for example, the Rooney Rule appears on the face of it descriminatory, but if it acts in the long run (ie consequentialism) to bring about great equality of opportunity, then it is a good thing.

        Morality is complex, and problematic whatever model you adopt (hence moral nihilism is the only coherent approach!). I would argue for Shevinsky’s original point: that there needs to be more people involved in tech if a desire is to have more gender equality in the industry. I would argue this is a no brainer.

        I suppose, then, one might look at whether one does want that equality, and whether one accepts minor bads to achieve greater goods.

        JP

        1. I’m sorry, but complexity and difficulty in the source material is not an argument for moral nihilism, which is basically the philosophical equivalent of ‘math is hard, let’s go to the mall.’ You may want to look up Julia Annas and Lawrence Becker, et.al., who appear to have achieved fairly good results. Stoicism appears to have been confirmed.

        2. I think that’s a superficial view of what happened with Whedon that ignores important details. That he just bailed on Twitter is also the narrative the dumped want everyone to believe, which is a good reason you should at least be skeptical of it.

          I know little of Shevinsky, but I think it’s more a poor choice of words than anything else. I took the article as saying that we can self-regulate (a term that has no necessary economic component). And this does work in society quite often. There’s no law saying you have to tip a waiter, form an orderly line at the bank, or give two weeks notice when you quit a job, but almost everyone does these things anyway. Not every problem requires (or even can be remedied by) dictates from government or other authorities. Naturally, the wisdom of any proposed remedy depends on the details.

    1. They’re like the 9/11 Truthers undermining genuine progressive movements with their conspiracy theories.

      Truthers might have opposed the ‘War on Terror’ but the last thing the anti-war movement needed were crackpots claiming George Bush blew up the towers with alien technology.

    2. Absolutely dead-on. Congratulations to Rebecca on this article. There’s a perspective here that I don’t think I’ve often seen covered elsewhere. Usually, people are tied up in the details of the argument, so to speak, but this rather pinpoints something entirely disturbing and ridiculous about the radical SJW movement.

    3. Nice job showing that Social Justice Warriorism is nothing more than secular cult. It really rankles me that there are so many irrational and non-critically thinking secular people, and it really really rankles me that these blinkered dogmatists seem to be going out of their way to provide evidence for those Christian fundamentalist who insist that “atheism is just another religion”.

    4. I loved your post. You get to say so much without writing a treaty-lenght post I almost envy I had written a post like this myself.

      I have shared it all over my social media and I will translate your post!

      Cheers, Rebecca.

    5. JP. I don’t see how affirmative hiring implements equality of opportunity. It probably does the opposite in many cases. The Scandinavian experience shows that when basic necessities of life are guaranteed by the state and people are free to gravitate toward professions that suit them, you end up with a more pronounced traditional gender split between the professions than in patriarchal cultures like Pakistan’s. Affirmative hiring in the tech field often ends up replacing people who are really dedicated to a career path, and may well have spent many years preparing for it, with people who feel entitled to work in the field without doing the groundwork. You see this a lot in the IT industry where there is some effort put into fast tracking women into areas which are traditionally staffed by geeks who’ve lived and breathed the work since early teens. The only fair policy that I can see is to remove discriminatory practices so that anyone is free to pursue the career they want without facing prejudice.

    6. “In SJW terms, the prime enemy is white males, plus anybody who does not engage in knee-jerk demonization of whites and males.”

      While I think you’re generally right here, it’s worth noting that ‘white male’ in this context does not always contain the literal meaning. Indeed, a lot of the most prominent SJWs are white males themselves. Instead, it’s something that I guess you could call the concept of white male, the embodiment of the various postmodern critical theory oppressive systems that SJWs view as their true enemy (patriarchy, white supremacy, capitalism, etc). “Some kind of original White Male after which all white males have been woven, marked, copied, colored, curled, and painted, but by unskilled hands, so that no copy turned out to be a correct, reliable, and faithful image of the original form.”

      It is still very much an Other, but if any given white male speaks in the right language and assails what is presumably his own race and sex, then they are in no way a substantive part of the issue. On this same note, never mistake this signaling process for self-criticism or introspection: it’s the same outgroup dynamic you see anywhere, except with a few extra layers of BS on top.

      A much better rundown is here, and it helped to kind of break me out of this way of thinking: http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/09/30/i-can-tolerate-anything-except-the-outgroup/

      I’m still very much on the left but this stuff is poisonous and needs to be called out more.

    7. Oh god.. I wish I had seen this article just a few days ago..

      I just had a friend of 13 years get swallowed whole by this cultist movement.

      I’m now an “evil misogynist harasser” and doubt I will speak to him again.

    8. Really glad I found this.

      Myself raised in the evangelical Christian world of the 1990s, I believe if there’s one thing I’m good at spotting in the world, it’s apocalyptic, fundamentalist ideas, wherever they may reside. Clearly Rebecca Bradley has a similar eye for these connections.

      One thought I had jumping off from this article is that this particular cult is responding to something very real. We often think of cults as living in a complete fantasy world — the ones that believe we have a spaceship waiting for us outside our solar system or the ones who believe in planet Xeborb.

      The mention of Earth First and free-market fundamentalism that Bradley makes, however, are the sort of cults responding to what may begin as very legitimate observations about the world.

      Every day, we hear more and more news about human-driven destruction of our planet’s atmosphere, waters, land, and organisms. This is relentless, unprecedented, and arguably those who deny its reality are the ones living in a fantasy-land cult. To look at American politicians standing in front of a TV camera and claiming that global warming is a hoax, it seems the whole world is taking crazy pills. So: enter Earth First.

      I’d argue this sense that “the whole world must be taking crazy pills” is at the heart of the modern, secular cult, and quite often this notion is seeded with a hard-evidence backed observation of the world.

      With free-market fundamentalism, it is hard to argue against the notion that the world’s poor who, in 2016, often have smartphones and microwaves, have not benefitted radically from the free market. But we still live in a world where many people care more about fairness, about making sure everyone is equal even if they’re miserable and poor, rather than seeing everyone benefit a little bit even if a few outrageous billionaires exist. Enter the American GOP with its more strident conservipedia types, wanting to reimagine Jesus as the original venture capitalist.

      With an SJW read of the world, only the most far-right would argue that white male identity and culture has not been privileged over everyone else in significant ways, both historically and presently. Given that slavery and Jim Crow and redlining and police brutality are all well-documented things that happened and are happening in the world, to totally dismiss this would seem crazy. Enter a confederation of SJWs across the globe with its most strident proponents spouting rhetoric reminiscent of the Khmer Rouge, that a cleansing must take place and only the most marginalized and poor are worth saving.

      All of these secular occults are observing real problems, but here’s where I think the jump into cult-land happens: these incredibly complex, nuanced, and poorly understood problems become “The Problem.” To do so accomplishes many tasks, but here’s 2 major things it accomplishes: 1) it simplifies, it whittles the world down to a manageable, human scale, and 2) it moves the human heart, whereas diving into deeper levels of complexity and nuance usually leads to less clarity.

      In place of complexity and nuance, when it becomes The Problem we get “just so” explanations — humans are a cancer on the earth, regulation stifles innovation, white male privilege and patriarchy have created today’s inequalities. To examine or question these in any way puts you in bed with their most unlikable opponents (to even use the term SJW would likely label you a men’s rights activist of the most regressive order, for example). In place of admitting there is a lot more to understand, we get endless assertions that the chosen members have a perfect understanding and you are in need of education.

      So they observe this massive problem: that’s the first step. Crucial to forming a secular cult, there has to be a massive opposing force that seems completely insane, completely out of step with reality. The nascent cult may very well be right. We live in a world with powerful climate deniers, so that produces Earth First. We live in a world where some would still pursue a communist utopian ideal of miserable fairness, even after the 20th century happened, hence free-market radicalism. We live in a world with white supremacy and a Republican candidate who even retweeted them, a visible symptom of the sickness that’s infested American culture from the get-go, so SJWs see a need to right the ship.

      In many ways, what they are doing is following a logical thread to its conclusion. I don’t think most of us buy that anyone joins a cult for reasons besides a sense of power, belonging, and believing they are better than everyone else — the old-fashioned reasons people might join the outer space cult, reasons that have been studied thoroughly — but logic is crucial to these secular cults and that’s usually not brought up in discussions of cults.

      If you believe that the nervous system in humans is similar, mostly identical, to the nervous system in most animals — and how could you deny that? — then it makes sense to be a vegetarian. And if you think it’s wrong to enslave and torture people for their labor, combined with the idea that animals’ nervous system’s are basically the same as ours, how could you arrive at any conclusion besides veganism? Keep following this logic and, strictly from a logical perspective, it’s rather insane to be anything besides the most militant of vegans in Earth First, blowing up animal testing labs and killing ranchers.

      That the vast majority of vegans in the world don’t go down this route, even though they logically should be brought to that place, speaks to a poorly understood but intuitive notion of balance and propriety most of us possess and rely on every day. Getting back to the idea that we have a very poor understanding of life, in contrast to a cult’s understanding of it as totally understood, this is an intriguing question: what keeps people from following the logical threads that suggest they should destroy their “oppressors?” We all know the stories from history of the groups that went there, that actually turned to real violence, but what about the thousands that didn’t? What was stopping them? I tend to be optimistic about SJWs and believe it’s this poorly understood barrier that will cause the vitriol of this moment to fizzle out like so many others.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *