Monday, March 3, 2014

The Faith of the Social Justice Warrior

This is the almost-final-draft of a section from a book about social justice warriors, identitarianism, and mobbing. For more information and links to other chapters, see How to Make a Social Justice Warrior.

"Faith, n. Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel." —Ambrose Bierce

"Rosa Parks didn't refuse to give up her seat to a white person so she could be chauffeured in a limousine. She just wanted to be treated the same." —Melissa Thompson, “Privileged Problems”

In hierarchal societies, religion comforts the exploiter and the exploited. It assures exploiters that if they observe the proper rites and treat the exploited with some consideration, they are good people who may enjoy the rewards of exploitation. It promises the exploited that if they observe the proper rites and serve their exploiters well, they are good people who may hope for better lives someday. Traditional religions for hierarchists were taught by priests in palaces, but the faith of the social justice warriors is taught by priests in ivory towers.

For social justice warriors, the most important act of faith is to check their privilege. Like Christians confessing their sins, they list their privileges to be absolved. Then warriors of privileged identities know their economic privilege is forgiven, and warriors of oppressed identities know their economic privilege is a just reward. In both cases, the effect is to make the economically privileged feel entitled to their economic privilege.

Like Buddhism, the way of the social justice warrior is nontheistic—it does not require a belief in any god. Like Unitarian Universalism, the way of the social justice warrior is pluralistic—it’s not restricted to any one religion. Like all religions, it has a founder who had disciples and apostles who never studied with him, but who promoted and transformed the faith—Derrick Bell’s most famous disciple is KimberlĂ© Crenshaw and his apostles include Tim Wise. It has articles of faith—all white people are racist and all men are sexist. It has sacred texts, the best-known being Peggy McIntosh’s “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”.

The only thing that separates the faith of the social justice warrior from all other religions, so far as I know, is that it uses different names when it addresses different issues. On race, it’s called Critical Race Theory or anti-racism. On sex, it’s third-wave feminism or intersectional feminism. Perhaps it should be called Anti-ism, because it constantly redefines itself by what it opposes in any given instance: anti-imperialism, anti-ageism, anti-ableism… Or perhaps it could simply be called Anti-privilege, though that would be as misleading as any other name since social justice warriors include capitalists and rarely address economic privilege.

The faith of the social justice warrior is not a universal faith. Like Anglicanism and Unitarian Universalism, it best serves the needs of the upper classes. It does not speak to white conservatives, but it soothes white liberals who see slavery, America’s "original sin", a sin of white people rather than a sin of rich people. As for black believers, Adolph Reed Jr. gave an example of one in an interview with Bill Moyers:

ADOLPH REED: …among the reasons that I know Obama's type so well is I've been teaching at elite institutions for more than 30 years. And that means that I've taught his cohort that came through Yale at the time that he was at Columbia and Harvard. I recall an incident in a seminar in black American political thought with a young woman who was a senior who said something in the class. I just blurted out that the burden of what she said seemed to be that the whole purpose of this Civil Rights Movement was to make it possible for people like her to go to Yale and then to go to work in investment banking. And she said unabashedly, well, yes, yes, and that's what I believe. And again, I didn't catch myself in time, so I just said to her, well, I wish somebody had told poor Viola Liuzzo before she left her family in Michigan and got herself killed that that's what the punch line was going to be, because she might've stayed home to watch her kids grow up.
BILL MOYERS: This was the woman who on her own initiative went down during the civil rights struggle to Selma, Alabama to join in the fight for voting rights and equality, and was murdered.
ADOLPH REED: Right, exactly. I'm not prepared to accept as my metric of the extent of racial justice or victories of the struggles for racial justice, the election of a single individual to high office or appointment of a black individual to be corporate CEO. My metric would have to do with things like access to healthcare—
BILL MOYERS: For everybody.
ADOLPH REED: For everybody, right.