… and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. The social justice left rejects reality by their own admission, although they would not put it in those words.
On 25 March 2016, an article entitled “3 Reasons It’s Irrational to Demand ‘Rationalism’ in Social Justice Activism” was posted on Everyday Feminism. Two days later, on 27 March, an article entitled “4 Reasons Demanding ‘Objectivity’ in Social Justice Debates Can Be Oppressive” (by a fellow South African, no less) was also published. These two articles, in my view, illustrate brilliantly the rejection by the social justice left (i.e. not necessarily all leftists) of logic, reason, and rationality; or, in other words, reality.
Do note that this is not the first time the building blocks of reality have been rejected by these leftists. Indeed, it takes place often within academic circles. Blake Neff for The Daily Caller wrote on 3 July 2015 about Professor John Caputo of Syracuse University who said reason itself is a white male construct, for example. Postmodern relativism is, in fact, a cornerstone of the ‘social justice’ ideology currently prevalent especially on university campuses around the world.
Relying on a school of thought known as ‘black feminist thought’, Sian Ferguson, a South African feminist at Rhodes University, believes that ‘glorifying’ objectivity is both counter-productive and ‘oppressive’. Black feminist thought is described as “[centering on] the lived experiences of marginalized people. It argues that subjectivity is valuable because people’s lived experiences are valuable – because people’s spoken truths are, in and of themselves, truths.” This is clearly an example of postmodern relativism, which, to simplify, basically states that the truth depends entirely on your perspective.
Ferguson’s main argument is that ‘objectivity’ is simply a sign of privilege, or distance (from the effects of [insert adjective] ‘oppression’). ‘People of color’ (and other victim classes), the argument goes, experience racism (and other -isms) frequently, and, therefore, will react emotionally when these topics are discussed. To expect them to be objective is oppressive, and those who are ‘objective’ are in fact simply ignorant of the lived experiences of the victim class in question.
She goes on to essentially argue that no perspective can ever be objective:
“My perspective on gender is biased because I’m oppressed because of my gender. My perspective on race is also biased because I’m privileged because of my race. When it comes to mental illness, I’m biased because I’m mentally ill – and when it comes to cissexism, I’m still biased because I benefit from cisgender privilege.”
But she fails to make an argument for which standard of reason we must use when engaging in intellectual discourse. Why should I, as a white male, for example, take ‘white privilege’ seriously if those who accuse me of it are just as biased as I am? Who is to say that I really have white privilege in the first place, then? Without a mode of deciding who is correct and who is incorrect (a standard of reason), engaging in any kind of intellectual discourse, or any discourse at all, is rendered futile. This strikes at the very heart of the calls by social justice advocates for ‘open and honest’ discussion. They should mind the inconsistency.
Alex-Quan Pham tries to refute rationality (calling it ‘rationalism’) while at the same time making somewhat rational arguments (although they too are tainted by the ideas of ‘social justice’) against America’s ‘prison-industrial complex’. With the logic of Ferguson and Pham, I should reject this ‘argument’ because it is not objective nor rational. It is therefore of no use to me. But as a libertarian, I’m prepared to dispense with their silly logic and perhaps find an ally in my opposition to tyrannical government. Pham would characterize this as a bad thing.
Pham believes, like Caputo, that rationality was ‘designed’ in favor of the oppressor class (whites, males, cises[?], etc.):
“In the context of anti-oppression work, limiting ourselves to rational thinking means that we’re choosing to use the tools that make sense to our oppressors, which are usually tools made to hurt us.”
But this is obviously ridiculous. The author is making use of an argument to advocate against the prison-industrial complex. Why take the time at all, when rationality – i.e. having regard to facts and logical arguments – is rejected outright? There would be no reason to act upon the author’s activism, by their own logic. On what basis must the prison-industrial complex be abolished, then? It makes no difference if certain groups have been unfairly targeted by government – because why should it? Without that standard of reason there is no argument, and everyone who read this article and shared it on social media, was essentially doing nothing at all in a void existence.
What the social justice left is in essence telling their opposition – basically everyone except themselves – is that nothing they ever say can be construed as ‘wrong‘. To reject objectivity and rationality is to reject the basis upon which all intellectual engagement takes place. “We are right by default, no matter what” is what they hope to project to the world with their activism. They are trying to take away any basis which their opposition can rely on, while using fancy words and sophistry to create for themselves a new logic and a new reality.
We are often asked why libertarians criticize the ideology of social justice. Aren’t we supposed to concern ourselves with matters of government and force, instead?
Yes, we are, and we do. Social justice has been ‘leaking’ into public policy for years. South Africa’s constitution – our highest law – is often described as a ‘post-[classical] liberal’ constitution with social justice commitments. Draconian ‘anti-rape’ laws and even regulations prohibiting ‘manspreading’ have also come to the fore in the United States. Worst yet is that most of the West’s future political leaders are now being educated by curriculums tainted by this extremely dangerous ideology. The social justice left’s constant changing of the meaning of words – from ‘violence’ to ‘rape’ to ‘oppression’ to ‘reason’ itself – will perhaps be the most truly oppressive weapon in the hands of these future tyrants. Libertarian opposition to ‘social justice’ and a reaffirmation on our part of ordinary justice-without-modifiers is crucial to ensuring a free, peaceful, and rational society.
* Martin van Staden is the Editor in Chief of Being Libertarian.
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