The social justice steamroller: a pervasive and profound attack on citizenship
Political scientists Eric Kaufman and Matt Goodwin, in a recent online dialogue, discussed how centre-right parties have not found a language to deal with the current woke surge. There is language available: it is the language of citizenship. For the woke surge is, by its nature, a profound attack on citizenship.
Do you belong to an organisation that passed a crucial motion at the end of the meeting with very little debate? Was such a motion cast in such a way that dissent was treated as immoral or otherwise contemptible? Did the motion pass itself off as anti-racist, a matter of social justice, or something similar?
Congratulations, you have experienced the social justice steamroller in its most complete form, the critical social justice steamroller.
The basic premise of the critical social justice steamroller is that any pushback to social justice is itself just replicating oppression, and the discourses of oppression, and so is inherently oppressive and illegitimate. As error has no rights, not only should such discourses of oppression not be given any expression, things should ideally be arranged so they have no chance of being expressed.
And everything that does not endorse social justice is a discourse of oppression.
All versions of error has no rights are profound attacks on citizenship. All of them: hate speech, political correctness, wokeness, critical race theory, critical social justice …
They are all profound attacks on citizenship because citizenship rests on the status to speak.
From the status to speak we build the social and political bargaining that makes democracy work.
Bargaining requires voice, and democracy requires bargaining
People think that democracy is about elections. They are half right. Democracy is about social bargaining where elections make the social bargaining matter.
To engage in social bargaining one has to be able to express one’s concerns. That is the crucial element of citizenship: the status to speak, to discover common voices, to cohere with the like-minded. It is the status to speak, and to discover common concerns, plus a vote that (collectively) matters that generates the ability to bargain about the future of one’s community and society.
Without the status to speak, elections just become rituals.
Bargaining plus elections creates democracy:
democracy = bargaining + elections.
Social and political bargaining require voice, it requires the status and ability to speak in public and in private. To seek to drown dissenting voices is to block the ability to bargain, to block participating in the political life of your community and society in any open and effective manner. Without the ability and status to speak, politics is just a game of approved insiders and elections are just rituals.
Elections without bargaining are just rituals:
elections - bargaining = ritual.
That’s how the ritual elections of totalitarian societies work. Official propaganda drowns out any other public discourse,* and forces public acquiescence to the supporting narratives the dominant regime wants to push. Only approved organisations or groups are permitted in the public and political space. All bargaining is blocked and all one is left with is the legitimating ritual of elections that express the dominance of the regime.
No voice = no bargaining.
No bargaining = no effective citizenship.
No effective citizenship = no democracy.
We are in the midst of a pervasive campaign to deny citizens their voices. People are afraid of getting sacked if they say the wrong thing. This fear of losing one’s job is a form of job terror. It is a profound denial of your status as a citizen and of your ability to be an active citizen.
If you can control what people feel able to say, you can control the public spaces, and even private spaces. You stop the ability of people to express their concerns, to find and cohere with other people who share their concerns.
Such conformity, enforced by Twitter mobs, and other social media pile-ons, seeks to replace citizenship with social dominance by mobilised conformity.
The public rage by so many progressive voices at the Brexit vote in Britain, or the election of Donald Trump in the US, is the rage of frustrated social dominance.
The logical next step, of course, is attempt to block the ability to vote the “wrong” way. For votes “in error” have no rights either. But blocking the ability to express concerns is more easily managed. Online media can and is used to block online access by those deemed not to possess the status to speak.
The apologists for political correctness claim it was just about being kind to people when you speak. Just as the apologists for wokeness say it is about protecting the vulnerable.
Except, in both case, it is the PC and the woke who get to define what counts as kind, what counts as protecting the vulnerable, and who counts as vulnerable, who counts as people to be kind to.
The entire approach, in whatever form, harnesses the wish not to hurt others, the care/harm moral foundation, as a mechanism of social dominance by enforcing the boundaries of what counts as care/harm and when.
All of it, even the it-would-be-nice-if-everyone-was-nice-version, is an attack on citizenship.
No social reform worth having was built on just being nice, on not offending. Which is why the wielders of PC and wokeness reserve the right to be shreikingly offensive to anyone they disagree with.
Other citizens have the right to tell fellow citizens when they are being an obnoxious jerk. Even when they are being a stupid obnoxious jerk. (Lots of people on all sides of politics can be amazingly obnoxious jerks.)
A right to speak is not the demand to be agreed with. That is what the enemies of citizenship push.
It is the denial of the legitimacy to speak that is the attack on citizenship. It is the claim to set the boundaries of legitimate discourse, of legitimate talk, which is the play for social dominance.
It is an attack on citizenship because it is an attack on the status to speak. Not the status to be agreed with, or not to be criticised, but the status to speak.
The new taboo-and-dominance Brahmins
In his very revealing assembly of data (pdf) on postwar elections in the US, the UK and France, French economist Thomas Piketty writes about modern politics having become a contest between the Brahmin Left and the Merchant Right.
The term Brahmin Left is brilliant, because what did the original Brahmins do? They organised rituals, systems of taboos and they sought to grant and deny legitimacy. What interactions were legitimate, what were not. What foods were legitimate for whom to eat, or not, and when. And so on.
This, in new forms, is exactly what the modern Brahmin Left, the Brahmin progressives do. They seek to grant and deny legitimacy. To say what concerns are legitimate to express and what are not and how they it is legitimate to express them and how it is not.
That is why modern political talk has become so full of -phobe and -ist terms. It is all about granting and denying legitimacy under the guise (above all to themselves) of protecting the vulnerable.
It is an attack on citizenship, on denying the status to speak to anyone who dissents in what they say or how they say it. On maximising the level of vulnerability of anyone who dissents.
The social justice Great Awokening is not a fight for social justice. That is just a legitimating story they tell to themselves and that they present to us, and themselves, as an approved public narrative.
We can tell it is not a fight for social justice by all the things the shrieking modern Brahmins ignore, downplay or obfuscate.
Such as the surge in homicides in African-American urban communities that followed the 2014 Ferguson riots, the surge in anti-police activism and the surge in highly selective media coverage over which deaths by violence get covered and how and which do not.
Or the failing to notice, the failing to get outraged over, the serial rape and sexual exploitation of thousands of underage girls in Britain, the Netherlands and Finland by overwhelmingly Muslim gangs, and the priority given to discourse management to avoid noticing that they are overwhelmingly Muslim gangs.
Or that we are supposed to believe in white supremacy when people with low melanin counts have become just about the only racialised group one can safely denigrate. Or in the pervasiveness of patriarchy when men have become the only sex one can safely denigrate.
The social justice steamroller is a fight for social dominance, and it is a fight for social dominance that represents, and requires, a profound attack on citizenship.
It is by the language of citizenship, and the defence of citizenship, of the status to speak, to express concerns as citizens and to, bargain over them, that an effective counter-attack against the self-righteous drive for social dominance using the guise of social justice must be mobilised.
* Political correctness is communist propaganda writ small. In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, not to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to. Theodore Dalrymple.