Being a Virtuous Social Justice Activist (or at least a pious one!)

Right. So: we’ve established that harangues are not debates. You don’t persuade somebody of the error of their ways by shouting at them. They are unlikely to get beyond feeling terribly hurt, and so resist the attacks, which will alienate them further, and further radicalise their existing opinions. I’ve mentioned before how we appear to have lost the magnificent Lionel Shriver to the dark side (i.e. The Spectator.)  Imagine what a formidable ally Jordan Peterson would make, if we could just reach out to him…

We know this does not much concern the modern pioneers of Justice. The movements are inward looking: self-identifying, self-regulating, self-congratulatory. They are chanting the creed (“I Believe In The One True Faith…”) to demonstrate commitment and solidarity, to reinforce their own identities, and to convince their own doubters. 

Far from being part of a paradigm shift in attitudes, activists are manifesting deep-rooted cultural practices and constructs which sometimes exist in agreement, harmony and mutual support with other ancient practices and the attitudes, and sometimes in tension or contradiction[1]. For example, the Abrahamic religions have always stressed duty to the community. However, for Christians, especially the protestant faiths, virtue comes from sincerity of belief not good works. Good works are just evidence of such sincerity. Being good is an internal state not an action. 

The protest movements (not Protestant, though the etymological link is interesting) demonstrate this dual mindset exactly: by protesting, you are establishing your sincere philanthropic belief and you vaguely feel that, by some hidden mechanism, this will lead to the betterment of your community. The good someone adds to the world seems to come from just standing there being virtuous, radiating goodness and sincerity into the air, like a heater.

The pre-occupation with personal virtue leads, unfortunately, to an obsession with guilt and complicity. That is its flip-side, also inherited, presumably, from Christianity. If activism consists of simply existing in a state of virtue and integrity, then those who are not activists must all be existing in a state of intentional evil. You, yourself, are susceptible to corruption if you have doubts, or intrusive, impure thoughts.

Thus the interiority, the obsession with integrity makes Social Justice fundamentally accusatory. Activists, like their guilt-ridden Christian forebears, advertise the goodness they hope they embody but (probably) secretly doubt they do. They are virtue signalling, absolving themselves of blame by passing it on to others.


[1] Do you accept the existence of a benign, omniscient and interventionist God, supremely well organised, who has arranged every aspect of life to coordinate in the pursuit a single coherent plan and project? If not, there is no reason to suppose that any aspects of the intellectual life will not be at war with any other. 

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