The people who make up the social justice movement are more heterogeneous on closer inspection than its advocates and detractors will have one believe; the agendas that the movement contains are similarly varied.
So far I have written about identity politics first here, and somewhat here, and the dishonest value neutrality I complained about here relates to identity politics, as well; I shall write about it more in the future, with briefer and more targeted posts, similar to this one. Together with Simone Weil, I see obligations as prior to rights, and so any movement that clamors for the priority of rights instead of the priority of our mutual obligations to one another is bound to be divisive and, in the end, unhelpful. One should consult Mark Lilla’s expansive and inclusive notion of citizenship in his The Once and Future Liberal for a good sketch of this kind of ethic of mutual obligation.
I study at a university that seems to advocate for many of these ideas across many of its schools, and, I think, does the students a disservice in doing so; thus, it seems to me that my attention is obligated to understand this phenomenon. There are many laudable goals that social justice warriors have — if you aren’t interested in justice, if you don’t want to create an environment in which people feel cared for, if you aren’t interested in struggling to find ways in which those who are marginalized could belong, and which advocates for an ethic of caring, and which fosters sensitive engagements with people who are from cultures and contexts that are alien to you; if you aren’t interested in these things, you’re probably not part of a different ideology, but just a jerk. That said, the models of justice and the remarkably un-nuanced watchwords of the identitarian left seem to undermine most of the goals that the movement seems to have. The actual forces in play within workplaces and in society seem to be completely ignored by the naive idealism involved in the university-based advocates of identity politics, too, so it is helpful to strike a note of realism to redirect the energies of this movement.
Here, we’ll consider one way the movement seems to shoot itself in the foot, and that’s by championing the priority of impact over intent.
There will be four parts. First, here, a recent event that occurred at my university.