On what can we blame the sudden rise to popularity of social justice? If I’m judging the political leanings of this site’s dozen of readers correctly, you probably spend some time complaining about the loud, the offended, and the vitriolic subculture we call social justice warriors; I’m guilty of the same. But can we explain its appropriation by the mainstream from a completely neutral, etic point of view? Probably not: My distaste for the culture is likely too ingrained in my head for me to study it in a way that doesn’t paint it as malicious. That being said, I will damn well try.
Many people on the capital-R Right talk about the Frankfurt School, and indeed it would be foolish of me to not reference the interplay between bourgeois academia and their ironic endorsement of Marxist cultural analysis in a discussion of social justice. But high-minded and cushy philosophical and social theories seldom permeate popular culture except indirectly. The average person has not heard of Gramsci or Horkheimer or whoever else you want to namedrop, and indeed the archetypal “SJW” encountered online is either not a leftist, or is simply bad at being one. Critical theory is, in theory, critical of how “””capitalist””” institutions affect culture, and as a die-hard capitalist, I must say that corporate media, and the PR and marketing wings of many a large business, has had a field day with social justice, to which it poses no threat.
The Austrian [in birthplace, not school] economist Joseph Schumpeter explained that anti-capitalist academics rely heavily on capitalism for their livelihoods – they would be sent to the mines or collective farms under socialism, or shot for coming from bourgeois backgrounds – and that the propping up of these academics by corporate interests may (but hopefully won’t) fuel the erosion of what little capitalism exists in Western society and its switching out for hyper-regulation and a social democratic hellscape. Many in libertarian circles would argue Schumpeter’s dystopia is already upon us, but the point of this essay is not in that assertion. On the contrary, I feel many megacorporations, lips firmly wrapped around the government’s huge, leaky tits, would benefit from a more corporatist economy, much like Wal-Mart gets an advantage over small businesses from minimum wage hikes. Imagine a world where Raytheon or Halliburton no longer have to keep up the pretense of market competition in the blatantly monopsonistic defense industry. State violence is and always has been a threat to honest market transaction because it continues to attract sycophant leeches.
To the point: Businesses latch on to where the money is, and the money is in hating not only capitalism, but other lefty boogeymen, namely: the Testosterone Illuminati Patriarchy, the social theory that all men are in cahoots with each other and plotting to rape you into becoming their resident sandwich-machine. One reason I don’t consider social justice crybabies very good at being leftist is that they look at these various power structures they perceive and lament that they are not on top of them. If the Illuminati were revealed to be a real thing one day in the near future, the normal people would go “you shouldn’t exist” and the feminists would cry “where are the women of color, dudebros?” Which is why social justice can never be a threat to any evil and oppressive corporate status quo: it is so heavily dependent on thse old corporate power structures that its authenticity as a movement to support “marginalized” groups (like fat people, all those oppressed fat people) is too easy to put into question.
Take into consideration the vast, sweaty number of people identifying today with social justice that are the spitting image of its greatest enemy: cis, straight, white, men. The Shitlord Quartet. Joss Whedon recently opined that the upcoming Jurassic World was sexist because, as far as I remember reading, the female character has an uptight, workaholic personality while the male lead was easygoing. Whedon later apologized for the comment, not because a female character that isn’t whacky and fun-loving is probably not sexist at all actually, but because, as anyone in the entertainment biz knows, it’s “bad form”, as Whedon put it, to criticize another’s work because you may be working with that other person at any future time. Another article of note is that Joss Whedon is a cis straight white man (one who looks like a thumb, but still). We can tell that Frankfurt School whining and classic New Left fetishization of racial and sexual minorities has been coopted by opportunist media corps because it has also been coopted by men. There have, I don’t think, been this many male feminists – at least those whose involvement with feminism has been more active than a passive positive gesture towards abortion rights or something – in any other period in history. When a prominent male thinker was a feminist in the past, it was a sidenote to the meat of his intellectual career. Now anyone can get an article on HuffPo for wagging their finger at manspreaders, or – dare I mention it – the Great Satan out of 4chan, the Voldemort of Twitter, the very name of which renders women infertile and spreads pestilence and misogyny with its shrill cry of “maybe video game journalists should act like adults maybe”.
What it goes to show is that, there is nothing new about social justice, or at least its adoption by the mainstream, because the mainstream is definitively not where cultural or economic innovation can occur. Mainstream culture, in modern times, has been constructed piecemeal by media companies out of the dried husks of other cultural movements that were shat upon relentlessly prior to their adoption, in the hopes of feeding watered down equivalents of those cultures’ values and virtues to a much wider audience. And one immutable rule of appealing to a wide audience is to not offend people. We see now, among the troves of pampered male feminists and assorted social justice advocates, a growing desire to avoid making people upset in a similar manner. It’s arguable whether or not this is a defining feature of critical theory or cultural Marxism, what have you, but I know it is, for sure, is an offshoot of the sensationalist “think-of-the-children-ism” that has permeated mainstream mass culture since before most of the people reading this were born. Metal music and Dungeons & Dragons promoted Satanism, the Grand Theft Auto games promoted violence, and now, in the progressive and not repressed at all 2010s, something as simple as a shirt can be said to have kept millions of women out of science and technical jobs, a claim that was recently debunked thoroughly.
Social justice can agree with the Ku Klux Klan that white people should stop appropriating black culture, with the Christian Right that video games cause violence, and with neo-reactionaries that “not all _____ are like that” is somehow fallacious reasoning. As a movement, it has shown the viciousness of McCarthyism and the virulence, avarice, and popularity among wealthy celebrities of Scientology. It romanticizes non-white cultures, as white people have been doing for centuries. It is, in my opinion, the final destination of populist leftism in Western culture. For fans of Giambattista Vico, they are welcome to view SJWs as harbingers of the Barbarism of Reflection, where the irony-rich Democratic Age leads to a decay of moral thought and selfishness reigns. Not the selfishness leftists whine about, though, and so it may approach free of society’s notice. I’m not that pessimistic. Social justice is another permutation of the social protectionist attitudes that have driven mass culture so far; the only change is that these attitudes are now wearing a “FCKH8” sticker. The left is now assuming its role as the new socially repressive and alarmist element of society that hears the Devil’s roar in every vinyl record. It can be tough living in an age where so many people have come to attack free speech as “hate speech” while making excuses for violent acts, even if the pretense for condemning hate speech was that it leads to those violent acts. What I am saying is that: it has always been this shitty, and you must fight this element of society and keep it far away from your children. The cognitive and creative elites, by their nature, never serve as springboards for true innovation in the entrepreneurial spirit of the word as Schumpeter understood it. Mainstream culture does not thrive on scoped-out, rational arguments. In 2015, it thrives on snarky one-liners that are less than 140 characters and webcomics where neckbeards say the darndest things. But those remembered by history are never populist ideologues. Social justice is the status quo, unequivocally.