It bemuses me to see people in the atheist community casting the phrase “social justice warrior” as an epithet. I don’t think it’s all that common for people to think social justice is a bad thing. I don’t think there are even that many who think it happens all on its own, without anyone fighting for it.
Seriously, it’s a bad thing to fight for social justice? When did that happen? Or is it just bad for atheists to do it as part of a community of other atheists?
I know there are atheists who aren’t concerned with being part of a movement, or with forming communities with other atheists. I can totally understand that; it doesn’t match my set of priorities, but mine aren’t everyone’s. “I’m an atheist, and that’s all there is to it.” It’s a perfectly logical, self-consistent position; atheism per se is only a statement of belief about what is, not what ought to be. The people who used to puzzle me are the *militant* dictionary atheists, insisting that you’re not allowed to care about anything else and get together in a community of other atheists to do stuff together about those other things.
I came across a lot of those during the attempt to launch Atheism+, which wasn’t so much stillborn as it was beaten to death in its receiving blanket. It puzzled me that people were so violently opposed to the idea of a group of people who cared about atheism plus other things of a social justice nature calling themselves Atheism+. Sure, it is a pairing that sort of has a label already, secular humanism, but that label wasn’t doing all that the proponents of A+ wanted it to do; it didn’t sufficiently encapsulate the importance of the non-faith-based motivations of the group for one thing. Since theists can also be both secular and humanist it’s a very soft label, secular humanism, and that’s okay for some purposes but not for others. A+ was just a branding for the people who wanted to promote social justice and make their atheism clear as well.
A certain segment of atheists got downright angry, waving their dictionaries and shouting angrily that the pairing would somehow “dilute the meaning of atheism” by giving people the idea that caring about social issues was part of atheism. It seemed to me a ridiculous argument then and it still does. It’s not that hard to figure out that “atheism plus” means there’s something besides atheism in there, and frankly with the amount of time we spend explaining that atheism doesn’t involve worshipping Satan or wild debauched parties catered by raiding the local daycare center for meat, persuading people that we aren’t about being *nice* either is and was the least of my worries.
It’s become clearer over the years since that virtually no one actually was that passionately concerned about that horrible possibility of the word atheism being diluted. A very few might have genuinely thought there was a possibility of confusion, but those weren’t the angry ones. Rather, it was mostly about a very vocal segment who were opposed to one very specific type of social justice, feminism. Almost every one of those militant dictionary atheists later turned out to hold some sexist attitudes. A few more were simply caught up in the drama of it all and some simply subsumed the actual issues into personality clashes, but the overlap between the most vicious opponents of A+ and the membership of misogynist sites made for a pretty strong correlation, and in the penumbra of that were people who aren’t actually misogynist per se but simply don’t think that sexual equality issues are very important at all. That’s how I see it, anyway; I’m hard pressed to think of any feminist activists who were strongly opposed to A+.
That same crowd seem to be the ones who regard the phrase “social justice warrior” as an insult, and again the particular form of social justice that raises their hackles is feminism; they tend to be out and out misogynists like TJ “The Amazing Atheist” Kincaid, or people who consider sexism (at least in the Western world) as a trivial and unimportant problem that doesn’t need much if any addressing, one saddening example being Richard “Dear Muslima” Dawkins.
Maybe there are some who think, as many a religion teaches, that the moral arc of the universe automatically bends toward justice without any effort required on its behalf, that the zeitgeist just naturally moves that way because there’s a destiny that compels it to, but even then it would be hard to argue that actively trying to make things better is going to slow that process down, or that speeding it up is a bad thing. Even the fatalist who thinks all such efforts are futile has no reason to become angry or oppose the effort.
It isn’t a logical or rational thing to rail against people who are trying to make the world better. If you oppose the “social justice warriors” in that attempt, the only reasons I can think of to do so (feel free to suggest others) are that you are not being logical and rational, or that you think the methodology is so wrong as to be counterproductive to that end, or that you don’t actually agree on what constitutes a better world. I suspect that latter category is a well-populated one; it certainly seems that most of the people who have used the phrase “social justice warrior” derogatively are pretty damned comfortable with the status quo, or are profiting mightily by sucking up to those who are.
As for me, I am pretty damned comfortable in the world too. Other than not being Christian and not being born wealthy, I have all the characteristics that make getting by in my world easy. I’m not a racial minority, I’m not gay or trans, I’m not a woman, I’m not disabled. I’m a citizen, I speak English as a first language, I’m decently educated, I’m gainfully employed, and of course I’m smart and funny and devilishly handsome. Go me!
I could just kick back and enjoy all that, but I’d rather use my privileged position to help level the playing field for others.
Social Justice Warrior? Sure! I’ll take that.Uncategorized