These diverse voices can be seen as foundational to the intellectual and moral arguments for a Social Justice Reformation. Each voice promotes in its own way the principles of openness, inquisitiveness and fairness and calls us to understand that the best chance of gaining the knowledge that is necessary for attending to the problems and promises of the world we all share is to set aside ideology and look more deeply into what is actually here around us and between us.
1. THE REGRESSIVE LEFT: History, Theory, Methodology
This ten-part essay is one of the best online resources for understanding the Social Justice Ideology (SJI) and its increasing radicalization of people towards the Manichean (us-against-them) mindset. In Chapter 9, the writer defines “regressive” in the following way:
EXCERPT: “[Regression happens] when a member of any other closed social system or maybe even an extremist believer in a political ideology, seeks to regress back to a child-like state wherein an omnipotent parental figure is in complete control. Maintenance of this illusion requires epistemic closure: an insulation of the belief system and its adherents from external influences that threaten to undermine it.Thus, outsiders and dissidents are demonized and ideological conformity and groupthink is made paramount.”
This essay and the Alternative Left website are highly recommended for people who wish to pursue knowledge about the theoretical underpinnings and overall goals of the SJI movement and to acquire the necessary tools for “the revival of the democratic humanist tradition”. Another essay that echoes the insights of this piece is called “With Allies Like These: Reflections on Privilege Reductionism”.
2. THE INSTITUTIONALIZATION OF SOCIAL JUSTICE
This essay from Quillette describes the formal and ritualized way in which social justice as an ideology has become institutionalized in the media, educational institutions, and even corporations that have embraced a highly codified orthodoxy that threatens conformity through mechanisms of shame, public call-outs and humiliation, enforced thought-conformity, and widespread censorship.
3. POSTMODERN RELIGION AND THE FAITH OF SOCIAL JUSTICE
This Areo Magazine essay by James Lindsay provides the perfect companion piece to the essays above. In it, he explores the almost-religious nature of the institutionalized movement of Social Justice Ideology (SJI), along with its rituals for salvation (soteriology), epistemic claims about all of social reality, and its pursuit of institutional power. Although an increasing number of writers and thinkers have begun to grapple with the real world impact of postmodernist philosophy and with the postmodernist foundations of SJI, few have tackled the issues involved in “applied postmodernism” in the way that Lindsay has. Of all the pieces included in this collection of proposed canonical works, this one builds the strongest case for a Social Justice Reformation.
As this particular essay attempts to analyze SJI in a comprehensive way, the following seven articles – also from Areo Magazine – can serve as extensions and further elaboration on several of the themes touched on in James Lindsay’s piece.
Teaching to Transgress: Rage and Entitlement at Evergreen College
This essay offers a breakdown description of the specific beliefs and practices that led to the racially charged implosion of Evergreen State College in the Spring of 2017. It was written as an entry way to the disturbing and documentary series on these events by Mike Nayna.
My Apostasy from the Church of Critical Theory
This essay provides insight into the main ideological assumptions about human beings and all of reality that are taught in today’s higher ed institutions. In a highly dogmatic way, the author explains, critical theory, critical race theory (a branch of it) and other deconstructionist theories are inculcated into students as the only way to analyze the world and is systems.
What Thomas Sowell Taught Me About Being a Dissident Feminist
This essay explores the ways in which the more dogmatic variety of social justice activism punishes and demonizes those whose ideas and discoveries do not conform to the ideologically pure version of SJI.
The Progressive Case Against White Privilege
This essay begins with the following statements: “The arguments against the existence of white privilege are stereotypically represented as originating primarily from right-wingers and grounded in conservative notions about American meritocracy. But there is a stronger argument against the concept, which comes from the very philosophical tradition that its supporters claim as their intellectual heritage… White privilege is a flawed paradigm, which ascribes racism to a process which does not contain it. But, more importantly, it’s an ultimately self-defeating notion, which negates some of the most fundamental principles of equality and human rights.” This opening statement echoes the insights discovered in a recent study published in Greater Good Magazine, which found that whites who have embraced the concept of white privilege developed a marked drop in empathy for poor Whites while experiencing no change in how they felt towards the plight of People of Color.
The Epistemological Problem of White Fragility Theory
This essay along with a follow-up Areo essay on the proselytization aspect of White Fragility Theory in practice examines the dogmatic assumptions behind “fragility theory” and how it distorts conversations about bigotry and undermines relationships between demographic groups. A major insight is that this theory pre-supposes the secret inner thoughts and feelings of individuals who belong to out-of-favor groups, which sets up a dynamic in which those who belong to “marginalized” groups can claim moral superiority based on the presuppositions.
Racism Does Not Equal Prejudice Plus Power
This essay describes the history of this designed equation, which was originally set up in the 1970’s as a political tactic to reverse perceived power differentials between different demographic groups (originally the white population). The idea was that by making bigoted “isms” only possible for people who are said to be in power, those who are perceived to be out of power are then free to be as hostile and power-seeking as they wanted, as long as they are “punching up” against “the oppressor”. For an academic-style video treatment of this argument, click here.
The Evolution of Black Heterodox Thought
This essay by Samuel Kronen was written about the changing conversation in the Black community. In it, he explores the emerging influence of several Black intellectuals and moral philosophers, including Glenn Loury, Professor of the social sciences and economics at Brown University and host of The Glenn Show @ bloggingheads.tv., John McWhorter, linguistics professor at Columbia University, Coleman Hughes, author at Quillette Magazine, Thomas Chatterton Williams, author of “Losing My Cool”, and others.
4. FIRST CHURCH OF INTERSECTIONALITY
This essay from a journal on religion and public life describes how the belief system called “intersectionality” forms the basis of an almost church-like doctrine and how the intersectionalist worldview divides the world into enemy camps.
EXCERPT: “In demonizing non-radical political views, white men, and tradition in general, intersectionality theorists make precisely the same mistake they so vehemently abhor: They classify people in terms of names and characteristics that they often have not chosen, and then write them off as enemies. The intersectional project of oppositional, activist scholarship demands it, for nothing brings people together like a common enemy. When that enemy must be eradicated in a quasi-religious movement of destruction, we are in for a long and bitter fight.”
We’ve chosen to highlight this piece because of the religiosity and totalist mindset
of the Intersectionality framework, but we also want to recognize the contribution of another essay published in Quillette, which presents a concise and meticulous rebuttal to the intellectual and moral claims of Intersectionality Theory.
5. IDENTITY POLITICS DOES NOT CONTINUE THE WORK OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENTS
This piece, also from Areo Magazine, was written by Helen Pluckrose (the current editor) and James Lindsay. While both Pluckrose and Lindsay gained wider recognition for a 2018 experiment in which they collaborated with and philosopher Peter Boghossian to expose the theoretical over-reach and support for abusive practices in postmodernist/social justice academic journals, they have been laying the groundwork for understanding Social Justice Ideology (SJI) for several years. For a more in-depth examination of the intellectual tradition and impact of applied post-modernism on Western culture, click here.
6. KILL ALL NORMIES BY ANGELA NAGLE: Online Culture Wars from 4Chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right
This is a PDF of Angela Nagle’s recent book “Kill All Normies”, which covers the differences between the punitive and puritanical aspects of modern social justice activism and the reactionary “culture of transgression” that has given rise to the hyper-polarization of the Trump era. This book has its critics, but it is an informative resource for those who want a brief and reliable introduction to the culture wars.
7. #MeToo: ON PERSPECTIVES, LISTENING AND RISK-TAKING
This essay by Diane Musho Hamilton is best summed up with the final words of the essay itself. In an age of condemnation, the redemptive qualities of healthy, open exchange can show us the way in, out, and forward. Hamilton has developed models for what she calls “Inclusion 2.0” in response to the increasingly abusive atmosphere of communities that have embraced SJI.
EXCERPT: “When there is the freedom to truly exchange perspectives, when we can practice listening better and hearing more, and when we can risk with each other, offering up new, sometimes dicey points of view, there is potent potential for learning and for compassion. We become capable of navigating through these perspectives in a way that honors the truth in each of them, but still creates a hierarchy of perspectives which offers best and the highest for everyone. That’s not an easy thing to do. But it is far more interesting, informative, and helpful than insisting there is only one way to see things, and therefore, only one way to act.”
8. THE RACISM TREADMILL
In this essay, Coleman Hughes, a young black philosopher, argues for a more holistic approach to diagnosing the causes of disparities in outcomes between different racial groups. Hughes is currently studying philosophy at Columbia University, and he has been developing a framework for understanding and reconciling the competing visions of anti-racism versus humanism. Some of Coleman’s critique of Ta Nahesi Coates and Critical Race Theory are reminiscent of the views of Dr. Cornel West of Harvard University.
“I submit that the Racism Treadmill, and the dogmas that motivate it, account for much of the progressophobia of the activist Left on the topic of race. The Treadmill shows itself in the way progressives appropriate the tragedies of history in order to summon rhetorical gravitas in the present. Carceral policy is not just bad, it’s the “New Jim Crow”; posting reaction GIFs on social media that portray black people is “digital blackface”; and, even though three separate analyses have found no racial bias in police shootings, such shootings are said to be “reminiscent of the past racial terror of lynching,” as a United Nations report put it. It seems as if every reduction in racist behavior is met with a commensurate expansion in our definition of the concept. Thus, racism has become a conserved quantity akin to mass or energy: transformable but irreducible.”
9. THE BUDDHA WAS NOT ON THE LEFT (OR THE RIGHT)
As two the prominent SJI frameworks of Intersectionality Theory and Critical Race Theory have become increasingly influential in Western religions, including their formal adoption by the American Southern Baptist Convention and by various schools of Buddhism in the West, this essay offers additional insights that can balance perspectives and practices related to group identity, oppression narratives, personal responsibility, and open inquiry.
The essay also explores the theme of what the ancients called “idiot compassion”, which wisdom traditions have rejected as sentimental and lacking in insight into the unadorned and sometimes harsh realities of life and human nature. Victimhood culture, the demand for purity and perfect “goodness” from ourselves and others, and the constant striving to impose control on society to eradicate the inevitable pain, discomfort, suffering, loss and ambiguities of living are increasingly valued by the Social Justice Ideology (SJI) that has been embraced by the modern left.
The writer of this essay explores why the Buddha and the ancient teachers from other non-dual wisdom traditions- would have questioned this.
10. TRUTH AND DISFAVORED IDENTITIES
This essay explores the current atmosphere in which people from disfavored identity groups can have their personal reputations, livelihoods, and future prospects destroyed, not only for making mistakes but simply for being misperceived or intentionally characterized as having engaged in wrong doing. Another related piece can be found in this Atlantic Magazine article, in which the journalist publicly apologizes for getting the Covington Catholic MAGA hat incident wrong and encouraging public humiliation and personal destruction of these high school kids. Click here for the full video of the incident released by the attorneys representing these students in their lawsuit against the Washington Post. Another video which goes into more detail about how the media and activists distorted the truth of this event can be found here. And, to get a sense of the personality of to Nick Sandmann, the 16-year old boy at the center of the controversy, we recommend this interview from the TODAY SHOW.
EXCERPT: Weaving comprehensive narratives about society from isolated cases (even cases in which the facts militate against those narratives) and engaging in moral preening targeted at entire identity groups is always dangerous. But in our current climate, it is deemed acceptable even so, so long as the objects of hatred hail from disfavored backgrounds… The unfortunate fate that the boys encountered and the Orwellian dishonesty and public Two Minutes Hate that followed hew to a broader and increasingly familiar trend of exacting revenge on historically privileged groups for the secularized original sin imputed to their unalterable characteristics, without regard for truth, consequences, or even simple human decency.
11. A LIBERAL DEFINITION OF THE ALT-LEFT
Podcaster, writer and cultural critic Keri Smith has written this essay about the the cult-like beliefs and practices of contemporary social justice activism. The essay is written in the language and style of today’s youth culture and as a former insider of what she alternately calls “the Alt-Left” and “SJW”-ism, Smith is able to translate the dark side of this culture in a way that is accessible to all. The term “SJW” is an abbreviation of the term “Social Justice Warrior”, which was coined in the early 2000’s and popularized in a 2014 book called “How to Make a Social Justice Warrior” by science fiction writer, and self-described Marxist and universalist, William Shetterly. To learn more about Smith’s experiences inside the world of social justice activism, her well-known breakout essay, “On Leaving the SJW Cult and Finding Myself”.
EXCERPT: “I am of the opinion that a lot of well-meaning people have become converts to the Alt-Left ideology without even realizing it. Like the parable of the slow boiling frog, if you had told me at the beginning that one day I’d be expected to perform mental gymnastics in order to defend censorship and violence in response to speech, I would have leapt from the pot. Instead, I was conditioned to accept as gospel each new tenet of SJWism over a period of twenty years. I believed in the essential goodness of the ideology, and in my own essential goodness in preaching it. When facts about the direction it was taking me made themselves known to me, I rejected them because they did not fit the frame. As the ideology became more noticeably toxic, hypocritical, and authoritarian, so too did the tactics of the true believers. Whether in academia, in the media, at Google, or online — the message is clear: dare to step out of line or express an independent thought, and a mob of zealous SJW zombies will come for you. The fear of losing one’s job, status, friends or personal safety is a strong motivator in forcing reasonable people to remain silent.”
12. HOW CAN I CURE MY WHITE GUILT?
This piece from The New York Times begins with a letter by a person claiming to be burdened with white guilt. The language and assumptions in both the letter and the responses to the letter by those considered experts demonstrates the shame-orientation, reductionism in thought, and ideological conditioning of adherents of SJI. This is an example of mainstreamed political cultism that disallows the practice of considering multiple perspectives and variants and actively encourages a totalistic worldview. For more about ideological totalism, we refer you to Robert Jay Lifton’s book, “Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism”.
13. JORDAN HALL: Situation Assessment (of where we are)
In contrast to the above article, Jordan Hall’s Situational Assessment series offers a multi-perspectival, sober, disciplined and hopeful assessment of the critical juncture that Western Civilization finds itself in. Over a series of essays, Hall discusses what his colleague Jeffrey Quackenbush has called the crisis in sense-making and the emergence of decentralized, collective intelligence as the way forward through the “new culture war”, the Trump Insurgency, and the rise of alternative media. The Assessment series also challenges individuals to participate consciously in the process of change that is occurring from the perspective of liminality rather than ideology.
EXCERPT: “From my perspective, then, the resolution of Culture War 2.0, and the broader War for Collective Intelligence, settles into a simple choice. We either endeavor to make sense and choices on the basis of our existing cultural toolkit and, ultimately, battle into self-extinguishing chaos as lived reality accelerates beyond the bounds of those tools. Or we listen to our deepest humanness and allow ourselves to become sensitive to creative liminality. From here (and, I propose, only from here) we are capable of a coherent collective intelligence that is fully adequate to the novelty and magnitude of our present reality… We already have what we need. We only need to step away from that which doesn’t serve the future and re-member that which does.”