Being a pensioner, thus not very bright by definition, when I first heard the acronym ‘SJWs, I thought it referred to “Single Jehovah’s Witnesses”. I imagined this to be a dating website where optimistic young ladies could find young gentlemen with a similar religious persuasion. But, no. Somebody put me straight, obviously. There’s something grandiloquent about the notion of “social justice warriors”, something apparently praiseworthy, to be emulated or at least admired since the current tidal wave of public opinion runs inexorably in their favour – for the moment. The sight of a climate change protester being forcibly removed from the roof of a London commuter train by those simply wishing to get home was both cheering and indicative. The 17th century mathematician and theologian Blaise Pascal wrote “Justice is as much a matter of fashion as charm.” How richly such a truth is demonstrated in our times. Seldom have the demands of (social) justice been so manifestly faddish, blown hither and yon by the caprice of public opinion, relentlessly fuelled by social media, any dissent being asphyxiated by an avalanche of protest. We now talk endlessly of climate change. Not Tibet, or the Yazidis or Christian persecutions any longer. Being identified as a victim of injustice, in the present case, the entire planet, is short term, until something else flits across the screens of public consciousness.
SJWs are intolerant of criticism. The suggestion that some of the primary propositions upon which their protests hinge are plainly wrong is rejected as reactionary thinking, worthy only of ridicule, the more public the better. Overthrow the prevailing power structures, and injustice will simply vanish is both the strategy and the creed. Anyone who questions this vision is not just wrong but evil. Plenty of activism, disruption and days out in the city, with the thrillingly illicit possibility of arrest and hence vindication is the driving force. Solutions are sparse, perhaps non-existent, but, of course, that doesn’t really matter – others will find those.
At the heart of so many SJ initiatives is the overarching theme of equality (good) and merit (bad). These imperatives are inescapably locked in either competition or conflict, both practically and ideologically. A society that was perfectly just by meritocratic standards would be quite unjust in egalitarian terms. Some injustices may be worse than others, but no world is imaginable in which all the demands of social justice are fully realised.
For example, income and wealth distribution are partly random. But so is the distribution of genes. Some have to manage with a pair of sixes, others get four aces dealt them. Gross disparities in educational opportunity are accepted as long as they cannot be defended in terms of merit. Selection by ability such as in UK grammar schools is rejected by large swathes of progressive opinion; people seem to find it less objectionable to send their children to schools where selection is by parental income.
There’s a hypocrisy here. Hypocrisy requires a measure of self-awareness, and there is little evidence of that in the sunny uplands of certainty that the SJW inhabits. When people buy an expensive education for their children, perhaps they are in fact sidestepping the whole uncomfortable notion of meritocracy. No doubt egalitarians who send their children to private schools, buy in private tutors or are well-heeled enough to buy a house in a catchment area containing a socially selective comprehensive are stacking the life-chances of their offspring against those of the majority. But why should any child be denied the good fortune of having progressive parents?
Extinction Rebellion, the apotheosis of egalitarian thinking, will of course go ‘the way of all flesh’ eventually, the irony being that its primary support base is derived from those who have benefited most from a meritocratic worldview. We remain hopeful that at the very least they won’t do too much damage.
When it does not lead to tragedy, the pursuit of social justice can quickly turn comedic. There was something darkly amusing about the short shrift given to the people who climbed on top of the trains and, perhaps, rightly so.