• Social Justice is So Easy

    I am not a fan of social justice. In almost every example I have been witness to, I have seen people who have no idea what is going on throw terrible tantrums which results in real harm coming to someone else. These harms result whether the person involved is “guilty” or not. It has become almost normal that people lose jobs, have stalkers at their homes, and their families threatened due to simple misunderstandings (or lies) that are magnified by social justice.

    First, let me explain what I mean by “social justice”. [1] This is the use of an internet or, more rarely, another media platform, to promote an incident about which the poster feels that something must be done. In general, these kinds of things become an outrage of the week type of scenario and just by following a few people on twitter or facebook, we can watch the shifting tides of outrage.

    I should also point out that many of the people use social justice not to actually promote the idea of justice, but to promote their own ideals. Which are generally not “justice”, but more of “I have a platform and a large following and here’s what I think you should be angry about.”

    Everyone remembers the outrage sparked by the shooting of Cecil the Lion. This is an excellent example of the phenomena and also shows how to (mostly) effectively deal with it. Everyone remembers that some dentist from Minnesota went on a hunt and ended up shooting a “friendly” lion. The interwebs were abuzz with calls for justice. Some suggested he be sent back to Africa for trial. Some suggested he should be tried here. This included not a few people volunteering to hunt the dentist with a crossbow. But, after a few weeks, the furor died down and there is almost nothing on the various social media sites about the incident today.

    Six weeks later, the dentist reopened his office and returned to work. There were some protesters, but certainly not the volumes that vandalized his office six weeks prior. What happened to the murderous rage that instilled the population since then? Well, they forgot about it. There’s been new outrages. Most recently, the social media uproar over the shooting in Oregon. Before that a 17-year-old boy was sentenced to be crucified (yes, the old way) in Saudi Arabia. And before that, a county clerk refused to do her sworn job. That was a big one with people on both sides.

    Everyone (almost) forgot about Cecil and the Dentist (sounds like a mid-80s buddy detective series). And the world has moved on. There was actually very little harm done. Some vandalism, some dental hygienists were out of work for a month or two, but that’s not important because there’s social justice to be done.

    But this stuff can harm people. It is said that a lie will travel around the world, while the truth is still putting on its shoes. And nothing shows that better than another example of social justice. Dr. Tim Hunt made a speech. In that speech, he made a joke. That joke, taken out of context, was broadcast to the world. He lost his position and his reputation before the flight home. In fact, Dr. Hunt was one of the major supporters of women in science. But the lie spread and people didn’t check (or didn’t care) and “justice” was done.

    But this too has died down in social media. Most people don’t know that his comments were a joke. Most people don’t know that the audience thought it funny (they knew the truth about Dr. Hunt). Most people don’t know that the evidence suggests that the original reporter either purposefully misconstrued the statement or couldn’t separate her personal beliefs and the event that was happening. She didn’t even talk to him about it. Just tweeted outrage and all hell broke loose.

    I’ll give one more example, which will bring me back to the title of this article. A librarian at Mansfield University of Pennsylvania banned a book. It was a book with violence and sex. Local press contacted the author within 20 minutes of the announcement (on the libraries facebook page). In a day, a protest facebook page was created. The outcry in this small school of some 3,000 people was “deafening”.

    Yet, with all of that social outcry, only 8 people contacted the librarian to ask why the book was banned and what could be done about reversing the ruling. Only 8 out of the entire range of people decrying the librarian’s banning bothered to find out…

    it was an experiment. The librarian, with full consent of the (local) author of the book, announced the banning during Banned Books Week. A panel discussion about banned books only had 6 attendees. But when social media found something to be outraged about, the response was much stronger.

    Why?

    I have a hypothesis and I’m sure that this has been studied by appropriate social science people.

    The first part is that social media is easy. One click done. “I have participated! I have contributed to this issue by making my circle aware of this issue! I am a good person!”

    It’s easy to share stuff. It’s much, much harder to study an issue. Especially one in which there is no clear answer. Only two people know what happened to Trayvon Martin and one of them is dead. But social media was in an uproar… on both sides.

    This is one reason I don’t participate in such social outcries, at least until I know that I understand the issue and have determined there is sufficient evidence to have a position.

    But with social media, people don’t have to think about things. In our society, with politicians who routinely lie to gain power, where we know that advertisements are bullshit, and we as a society have trust issues,  people still promote memes and calls for social justice without checking first. It’s easy.

    The second part is that people are even lazier than the first part indicates. People, I think, share this kind of thing because they hope that someone, anyone, will see this issue and do something. But, in general, the people can’t be bothered to do something themselves. The people who are outraged by X are sitting in their comfy chairs, in their air conditioned homes in the suburbs, drinking German beer on their Apple laptops and can’t be bothered to get off their asses and actually so something.

    It’s hard work to figure out who one’s legislator is, much less actually pick up the phone and call them.

    Further, there is no fear of consequence. The herd mentality suggests that the vast majority of people calling for justice are safe from any form of reprisal (until it’s their turn to be the target for social justice, because the mob always cried for fresh blood and they will turn their own in a heartbeat). But most of the people clicking the “share” button will never deal with the loss of job, reputation, future career opportunities, and depression caused by social justice.

    They click that button and feel like they have done something useful. Getting the issue more notice, whether it deserves that notice or not. Suddenly it becomes a trending topic, which means more people see it… then it finds someone who will do something. Like vandalize a business or start an online petition (which is also super easy to click to support without fear of consequence). Then an organization starts getting those letters and petitions and calls from reporters and feel they have to move quickly (when evidence suggests that if they just sit tight and wait for the facts to appear, nothing will happen). And thus social justice happens.

    The mob feels empowered. They have called for “justice” and it has appeared. What next can they affect. The instashare clicking has become an effective means for them to express their outrage… and it’s so easy.

    With almost no effort at all, a group of people (who generally have no clue what is actually going on) has ruined a career, a life, a family, a business, or (more scarily) the entire concept of justice itself.

    No social justice warrior will ever have access to the details of a police or government investigation… at least until long after the details become a moot point and no one cares anymore. This means, very simply, that social justice is not justice. It’s a mob mentality that destroys because it’s too hard to think first and no one cares about the consequences anyway. These social justice people don’t have to hear about the damage to people done, in part, by their actions. I’m not totally convinced that most would care anyway.

    Social justice in the past was hard. I mean, just erecting a guillotine took some effort. But now, all that has to happen is just scare someone who can do something about it and watch them do all the hard work.

    And it can be done with less effort than it takes to open a bag of chips.

    ________________________________________

    [1] I have been asked to add that this is different from previous definitions of “social justice” that are based on concepts like a fairer distribution of wealth and equality for all regardless of gender, skin color, or any other physical or cultural traits.

    In this case, the people involved in the activities I talk about have co-opted the term and made it their own.

    Category: CulturefeaturedLifeSociety

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    Article by: Smilodon's Retreat

    • Søren Kongstad

      A note about Hunt. Most people knew it was a joke, but it was an inappropriate joke.
      The fact that the but of the joke was women in science, rather than black people in science is,I think, why some people think it was OK as long as he said ‘just kidding’

      He only lost an honorary position, which was mostly a pr position.

      When you are the public face of an institution you should think about what you say

      • ronmurp

        I think the butt of the joke was Hunt himself. It was self-deprecating humour making himself to be one of the crusty old dinosaurs.

        When you have to think about what you say to the extent that you have to second, third, fourth guess how SJWs might misrepresent you, then we are already lost to Big Brother.

        Hunt wasn’t prepared for the outrage, and he caved too soon, shocked by the response, too quick to produce an expedient apology.

      • SmilodonsRetreat

        People are too easily offended… in general about the wrong things.

        Should we be concerned about the under-representation of women in STEM fields? Of course. It’s a legitimate concern and one that I take seriously.

        Is THAT a reason to destroy another person’s career? Hell no.

        Will attacking Hunt, for any reason, help resolve the problem of women in STEM fields? No. In fact, it will probably end up harming women in STEM fields. Because 1) Hunt was a huge believer in letting women be equals and 2) Now everyone thinks that women do have a problem and the only way they can deal with it is whining until the object of their attention is fired. (Whether that is real or not… can’t have your cake and eat it too (Note that this is not an attack on you personally)).

        Which is the entire point of the article. Social justice is not justice. It is revenge for slights (real or imagined).

        • Søren Kongstad

          Well as a honorary position is in effect a PR position, I fail to see why it is a problem that the university decided to sever ties.
          If a PR spokesperson had made a racist joke the same thing had happened, and people wopuld still have complained that the problem of minority underrepresentation in STEM fields is not helped by them whining about a single watermelon joke at a major conference.

          • SmilodonsRetreat

            I never said it was helpful. What I asked was, is it right to fire a person who has helped more minorities get into STEM fields than almost anyone else because a comment was taken out of context by a person trying to make a name for themselves in journalism?

            • Søren Kongstad

              Weren’t we in agreement it was a joke? So it was a sexist joke told a conference for women in STEM.
              How would a racist joke about black people be in context at a conference for minorities in STEM? How is as sexist joke in context?
              Adding “just kidding” does not negate the joke – it’s like saying “I might be politically incorrect but..” before saying something racist or sexist.

              Besides, when asked about the particulars of the message in the joke the next day, he again repeated the message that women in labs is indeed a problem. He has every right to the opinion that women and men do not mix in labs, but actions have consequences, and the consequences of his actions (speech) was a severing of ties as a spokesperson.

            • SmilodonsRetreat

              citation needed

            • A sexist joke would make women the butt of the joke, reinforcing rather than subverting sexist stereotypes. Do you think that is what Tim Hunt was trying to do?

            • nicky

              Spot on, Damion, it was not sexist, but clearly sarcastic and self-depriciating. In good taste, I’d say.
              Soren clearly did not get that at all – note, I think SWJ’s often have a lack of sense of humour.
              That being said (the witchHunt being neither here nor there), would a social media storm have been justified if he had really made a sexist joke? That is the question, methinks, and personally I think there are better (ic. worse) things to get wound up about.

            • If he’d made a sexist joke about how women are more well-suited to childrearing than doing science, I’d be far more understanding about the institutional response.

    • I can remember when “social justice” meant grassroots activism for a more just and equitable society, rather than social media public shaming gone viral. Ah, well.

    • Graham Martin-Royle

      Most of the atheist, western internet society condemns mob justice when it happens in places like Pakistan/Bangla Desh etc. but, apart from the fact that people there that are subject to this mob-rule mentality tend to end up dead, what really is the difference between that and the actions of SJW’s?