Social Justice Parasites

The Parasite hates three things: free markets, free will, and free men.
Andrew Ryan in “Bioshock: Rapture” by John Shirley (2011)

An addendum to the posting quoting a chapter from Richard P. Feynman’s book “What do you care what other people think?”. One thing that really gets me is how easily movements for (originally) actually beneficial goals are infected by parasites. Sometimes, even movements which achieved their purpose get reanimated when these parasites take over — becoming a Zombie movement. And all this just for the personal benefit of the parasites — and on cost of the issue the movement was actually about.

You see it in a lot of moments that gain momentum and/or exposure. Penn & Teller did a “Bullshit” episode about how the environmental movement got taken over by “leftist”. But personally, I think that even movements like “leftists” fell prey to parasites. It’s not so much that these people are “leftist”, it’s that they are parasites who instrumentalize the movement for their own goals.

But let’s stick with an issue I frequently stumble upon: social justice.

There are people online who fall under the heading “Social Justice Warriors”. On the surface, this sounds like a positive designation. “Social Justice Warriors” might mean “people fighting for social justice”. What could be a nobler goal?

Well, the urban dictionary has this handy definition what the term actually means:

Social Justice Warrior
A pejorative term for an individual who repeatedly and vehemently engages in arguments on social justice on the Internet, often in a shallow or not well-thought-out way, for the purpose of raising their own personal reputation. A social justice warrior, or SJW, does not necessarily strongly believe all that they say, or even care about the groups they are fighting on behalf of. They typically repeat points from whoever is the most popular blogger or commenter of the moment, hoping that they will “get SJ points” and become popular in return. They are very sure to adopt stances that are “correct” in their social circle. justice warrior

As quoted, these people aren’t really interested in the actual issue. Thus, I think, the designation “Social Justice Parasite” is more suiting (I wasn’t the first to get the idea to name them this way, as a Google search pointed out — parallel creativity can be cruel ;-)).

Because these are people who infect movements for the sole purpose of personal advantage — whether it is power, political or personal influence, money (“Kickstarter, yeah!”), or personal validation (“My outrage is justified, I have a meaning in life, yeah look at these retweets!”). Hiding behind (or within) an otherwise “just cause”.

I mean, seriously, who is against equality (or against the environment for that matter)? Sometimes they claim to be fighting for a cause when the fight has long been won (like the legal battle for equality in the Western World). All the while they subvert an otherwise beneficial movement to do incredible damage to it. Which is in their best interest, as it either ensures that they can further misuse it for their gains. They (re-)create the conditions this movement strove to remove, keeping themselves in action. And if that fails? Nothing is easier than to jump to the next big thing if the old movement withers away, a distorted shell sucked dry.

Because the tactics they use — hey, they are universal. Ad hominems, social shaming, outrage — they work with any topic.

But actual arguments? Don’t get your hopes up. If you challenge them regarding the fallacies they use — forget it. These are people who throw around sentences like “Educate yourself.” or “Check your privilege!”, but don’t know the first thing about the issues. For example, how studies can be biased. That criticizing statistics in general is a moot point — because statistics are useful, but you need to know in which direction certain decisions bias the data and what makes good studies (not all statistics are created equal). And perhaps I’m unfair here, given that I actually did get some training in statistics (a diploma and doctorate in psychology certainly helped —  you don’t get critical and scientific thinking for free).

And if you do interact with them, it’s astonishing how easily you get called names — when you are just for rational thought and against parasites.

Let’s put it this way in the context of equality: There are people who think that only men can be sexist, and they are sexist when they criticize women. Yup, these people exist. Personally, I think sexist just means having prejudices regarding sex, bringing it up either as a positive or negative. Might be due to my training as a psychologist, but I care what individual people do. Yes, heuristics are very useful, they save thinking, but seriously, whenever we are dealing with relevant issues, why not invest the necessary amount of time to deal with an issue on an individual basis? And if this is not possible, why not move beyond a rather unhelpful category and look at the underlying attributes or behaviors?

BTW, funny thing, if you actually believe in equality, you feel a bit like Luther. Nothing is scarier to a movement than a person who really does believe — and scoffs at people trying to hide behind their gender. Because personally, I have seen enough capable women to simply expect the same from women as I would from any man — without lowering/raising my standards or allowing for excuses. I expect professionalism from professionals (starting as early as expecting pupils/students to do their job and learn), and character from people I spend my time with — no matter the gender or sex.

But yeah, back to the parasites, there are people who try to use movements for their personal gain. Who take over during the process or when the battle is won. And personally, I haven’t got the slightest respect for these people. But I don’t know how to deal with these parasites either. Given that they are not interested in the actual issue, they can’t be persuaded by facts, and they usually resort to emotional or ad hominem “arguments”.

So I can only warn about them. Yup, these parasites exist.  And, frankly, I hope, that more people do actually evaluate a situation critically before they make up their mind or show support — even when it’s ostensibly about a “just cause”. To really look at the data and arguments and the actual studies and how they were created. To listen to counter-positions and criticism with an open mind. And to move beyond our initial impetus to protect the ostensibly weak — because as noble as it is, it can be misused by parasites just claiming to be weak.

And perhaps, instead of being swayed by emotional heat and wet tears, to apply some bright light and cool thinking.