What has happened to social justice warriors recently? Every campaign seems to fail, the latest being a cack-handed attempt to police Twitter in order to win the Gamergate saga (turn to p194 for details).
Gamergate is one of those things that a couple of years ago would have been resolved quickly, going into the narrative as part of the great struggle against the ‘isms’. Instead it goes on and on, and SJWs seem to be losing the battle.
It’s not the only one. Take, for example, the ‘This is what a feminist looks like’ T-shirt campaign, which one would have expected the core group of online SJWs to win. Instead the campaigners looked like the aggressors; to make matters worse, it turned out that these luxury items (£45 for a T-shirt – being a SJW ain’t cheap) were made by people on 62p an hour.
Likewise the campaign to illustrate the problem of street harassment, which instead descended into an argument over race – as anyone who has ever visited the Planet Earth could have predicted. Social justice campaigns about sexism and racism will inevitably clash, but it’s amusing to see how some SJWs try to square this.
Even manufactured outrage seems to fail these days. Labour’s attempt to misconstrue Lord Freud’s words ended with booing on Question Time, while last year a similar effort at construing anger about an adviser’s comments on education and IQ met with a lot of resistance.
SJWs are a powerful but small group, and they depend on the good will and tacit support of a far larger number of social liberals. If they can win their backing then social change really is possible, even if it’s change that ignores prevailing evidence and which most people think is a bit nuts.
Social liberals inhabit what I think of as the ‘nice left’ and don’t like to confront issues where conflict is about the lesser of two evils, or which raise uncomfortable truths. People on the nice left will tend to support anything that a) makes them feel like they’re one of the good guys and b) doesn’t make them look ridiculous or unintelligent. Educated men in particular don’t want to seem unkind, but they can’t stand looking stupid.
Social justice warriors have been pretty successful over the past two or three decades, but they seem to be losing their touch. Perhaps this is because there has been a certain democratisation of opinion in the media; newspaper commentators, who for some reason take themselves as moral arbiters, tend to side with SJWs, but their monopoly of the pulpit has long faded. SJWs work by making disproportionate noise, but with the decline of the newspaper comment monopoly enough people with enough clout can see that, for example, Dominic Cumming’s word on IQ and education, or Lord Freud’s words on disabled workers were being twisted, or that the street harassment campaign didn’t quite fit the SJW narrative.
Compare the situation today with that of 20 years ago, during the greatest social justice warrior victory of all, the controversy over The Bell Curve – a big event in American and by default British cultural life. While the scientific community said one thing about Charley Murray and Richard Herrnstein’s book on intelligence, the political-media elite said another, and the public followed the latter’s lead. If The Bell Curve was published today it would be much harder for the modern-day Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to attack it.
The Bell Curve ‘war’ was an important issue in itself – as an opportunity to counter America’s growing inequality was lost. But it was also significant because it confirmed the idea that anyone who came to a controversial conclusion (in this case supposedly ‘racist’) could be ostracised, name-called and in the current parlance ‘shown the door’. That sort of ideologically-justified bullying is a key tactic of the social justice warrior movement, but when exposed as such can work against them. The nice left, after all, don’t like to be seen siding with self-appointed policemen of debate.
Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.