Social Justice and the Weaponization of Empathy by Bad Actors

I think it’s time to end the current mechanism for “social change”.

Why?

Because it’s a form of weaponized empathy.

Even worse, it’s a form of weaponized empathy that is divisive, cruel, and only serves to split people into warring tribes and factions. It causes more social unrest than it brings good into the world of people who need help, acceptance or assistance.

And maybe worst of all? It’s easily manipulated by bad actors. Many of the loudest proselytizers are not trying to make the world a better place — they’re just using it for their own personal gain.

Most people will not read past this, particularly those who believe they’re on the side of right. If you keep reading, even though you disagree with me? Thank you. Please keep an open mind, and before you react, read and think.

Before you read any further, we should make something absolutely clear:

My own personal statement

I am not a right-wing conversative, or alt-right fanatic. I’m not a white nationalist. I’m not anti-semitic. I’m not a Russian agitator. I believe in universal healthcare for all. I believe in equal rights for all people, and I will stand up and fight for that belief. Gay marriage? No problem, bring it on — why should I care? Trans? I’m sorry for what you’ve had to go through that to find comfort in your own body. Use any bathroom you like — I honestly don’t care. I will treat you as the gender you feel comfortable as. Black? White? Hispanic? Asian? It doesn’t matter to me. Skin color is only skin deep, and genetically, the idea of race is absurd. But yes, historically, some people have had a raw deal — and I will listen to your stories and help where I can. Let’s work together to rectify everything we see that is wrong if we can, on a one-on-one basis, until everyone’s up on the same playing field. I’m an Atheist, but I believe that religion can play a good part in many peoples’ lives (it’s just not for me). Women are just as capable as men, and deserve to be treated equally and with respect.

These should all be obvious to most people. In fact, I suspect with the exception of very few assholes, they are.

However, there are some things that I can’t stand:

Manipulative people, those who abuse others for their own gain, and those who are hypocrites. Secret groups of people who work together to advance themselves, while pushing others down — making backroom deals purely for their own gain, while screwing everyone else. Journalists who can’t follow basic standard practices of journalism, or who publish for outrage and click-bait advertising revenue.

You know… sociopaths, or those who don’t have what we’ll call good character.

So my only ax to grind? I want to actually help other people, to help them get ahead, and make their lives better. But hey, if you’re reading this, and don’t already agree with me that social justice is off the rails, you’ll probably ignore all of this. Oh well, at least you’ve read this far.

How Weaponized Empathy Works

If you disagree with social justice’s proponents, you’re disagreeing against something which on the face of it, is broadly a force for good. That is, treating people as equals, treating others with respect, and treating other people well.

This is a laudable goal. It’s something everyone should strive for, and I can’t think of many people who’d disagree with it. Which, of course, is the whole point. This can be used as a lever. It’s strong ground — even better, strong moral ground — to stand on.

So now we’ve set the battleground, pick a side! You’re not evil, so better pick the right one! You’re good, right? So let’s be good together!

It’s amazing how closely social justice rhetoric follows traditional religious methods of control.

Okay, so you’re on our side now. (Because you’re not evil). Now we’re going to ratchet up our demands ever more, one small step at a time, and you’ll fall in line because you’re not evil, and it makes nearly as much logical and rational sense as the last demand. You’re still compassionate. Why not? It’s only polite, and etiquette demands that as long as it’s not a huge inconvenience, you should comply.

Now you’re on a staircase, and that staircase stretches to infinity.

A new demand? That’s just one logical step from the last one. You’re still not evil right? This one’s a little harder, but your discomfort is just because you’re privileged, a concept which started out as a useful analytical tool, but has since morphed to become a form of original sin (it’s oh-so-very medieval Catholic church). You should expect discomfort, you’ve been benefiting from abusing and taking advantage of the status quo. More discomfort will come later, but that’s okay because you’re atoning for your sins.

It doesn’t matter if they’re claiming that the Sun goes around the Earth, or that it gets dark at night because clouds eat the Sun, or the Sun and Moon are at war. You will listen, you will believe, and you will not question — or you will be tried in a jury of your peers, then reviled and exiled.

It’s amazing how closely social justice rhetoric follows traditional religious methods of control and manipulation.

So you’re still uncomfortable, but the staircase you’re on is stretching ever upwards, and now you’re getting more and more uncomfortable because some of these demands are starting to seem a little extreme and unfair. What you’re being told may seem extreme or wrong to you, and you’re a good person, so you can’t understand how you’re now so evil — but you’re still atoning — after all, you’re privileged, and you might even have been told that you’ve got no choice but to be racist, or sexist, or any other -ist you might imagine — it’s not your fault, it’s just automatic. It’s how you’re you.

You’re a compassionate person, so you’re complying. But by this point, you’re starting to question your faith, so you start to question the preachers.

You should never question the priest classes. They really don’t like that, and will punish you for it. You, being compassionate and a good person, who broadly agrees with the basic tenets of their arguments? You will — at least at first — accept their punishment readily as well.

How dare you speak out against a disadvantaged minority from a deeply intersectional subgroup?! I don’t care if that MtF trans person is speaking in tongues, or being nasty to someone else— they risk being abused, beaten or killed every day of their waking lives. I don’t care if that black lesbian person is off their antipsychotic meds and demanding that you shut up and not speak unless spoken to. They’re less fortunate than you by definition. You are not part of their class, so you are not as worthy as a human being as them. You have not lived their hardships.

You can’t possibly understand or relate to their life experiences, so you are not allowed to criticize the factual, logical or rational foundation of the arguments they’re putting forward.

It doesn’t matter if they’re claiming that the Sun goes around the Earth, or that it gets dark at night because clouds eat the Sun, or the Sun and Moon are at war. You will listen, you will believe, and you will not question — or you will be tried in a jury of your peers, then reviled and exiled.

This, for what it’s worth, is how the Jehovah’s Witnesses treat people. The punishment of going against the Church’s teachings is being disfellowshipped. Which means that you lose all of your friends and family overnight. You will be a non-person.

(The concept of intersectionality, while having some use as an analytical tool and originating as a good concept, has been manipulated and perverted to act as a way to give insanely more weight to a person’s differences than should be merited, even taking intersectionality into account. We are all humans — our lived experiences are all unique… but there are also huge similarities).

How dare you tell a woman anything! They’ve personally been putting up with this for millenia! Their innate situation means that if you go against what they’re saying, no matter how crazy, illogical, irrational, or just plain made up for personal gain? You’re obviously evil!

You believe no matter what anyone does, if someone else attacks them or hurts them or abuses them in any way, that they’re the victim? That even if they deliberately put themselves in harm’s way, pointing this out is victim blaming? “That heroin was cut with fentanyl… They’re clearly a victim here, because if it wasn’t cut with fentanyl, they wouldn’t have died… Saying that they shouldn’t inject themselves with heroin is victim blaming.”

… and so it rolls.

(For what it’s worth, I’m a strong believer in safe needle exchanges, and state-provided rehab programs).

It might be an easier hole to fall into if you’re a newly-minted atheist, who used to be a person of strong religious faith and belief — or even if you didn’t believe, but were raised in a household where you were part of a strong religious faith. That belief? It left a hole. It’s a hole that others can fill. It responds to similar religious behaviors. You didn’t lose your belief — its focus just changed. And that leaves you open to manipulation from people who use the same tactics as religion, just under a different label. Religion isn’t a person hanging from a cross, or a crescent, or a six-pointed star. It’s a behavioral mechanism, and it can take on many forms. Manipulative people know how to exploit that mechanism too.

Manipulation is Easy, Healing the World is Hard

Bad actors know how to play this game, and exploit it. Not everyone is a good person. Some people are highly manipulative and honestly don’t give a damn about their fellow human beings — all they care about is trampling over the next body to get ahead.

What’s worse is that the mechanisms they use — amplifying and pointing out differences at every opportunity — are hugely divisive and fracture society into tribes, cliques and warring factions.

In an ideal world, you focus on similarities first. Then you accept differences. That’s how you build trust, how you get people to work and live together, harmoniously.

You never check the hill you’re standing on for bad guys. You always check the hills on the horizon.

Focusing on differences always fails. People are suspicious of different. They work on stereotypes at the best of time — very few actually pay attention, or try to work against them. (Stereotypes are a mental shortcut). And it’s easy to ascribe evil intent or personal troubles to the actions of the different person. After all they’re different, and thanks to parts of our brains that are less evolved than we’d all like, differences are attention-drawing, and bring suspicion.

And that’s how you end up with the holocaust. Or war. Someone will pick up on the differences, and start to rile people up. All it takes is a few gentle nudges in the right direction. The people pick up their pitchforks, and are manipulated into attacking their fellow humans. Not because they’re evil. Not because they’re bad.

Because they’re convinced that they’re on the side of right, and that it’s the right thing to do to protect and help the fellow members of their tribe. Their families. Their friends. Their loved ones.

They’re convinced that the others — the ones who are different — are the evil, bad people. Whether those others are bad or different is irrelevant. It honestly doesn’t matter.

This is why fascism is pernicious. We have to keep an eye on it, because as humans we all have these levers that can be manipulated, and buttons that can be pushed.

Fascism is even worse in many respects, because many of those who stand up to fight fascism can become fascists themselves in their pursuit of righteousness.

(For any language-lawyers reading, replace fascist with fascistoid… I’m using the vernacular).

The problem with fascism is that everyone assumes that they can’t be fascist. Fascism doesn’t arrive wrapped in cartoon Nazi-flags and armbands, jackboot-marching its way to your front door shouting Seig Heil! It doesn’t need to arrive wrapped in an American flag, carrying a copy of the Bible. All it takes is the belief that one group of people is evil and you are good, and that you never question it.

You never check the hill you’re standing on for bad guys. You always check the hills on the horizon.

My Concern for Our Future

When I first started traveling the world, I noticed how similar every culture was. How the people all had similar problems, similar worries — at least in Western society.

It was comforting.

My concern is that our new priesthood are dismantling everything we’ve gained for equality, equity and social advancement over the last 50 years (or longer), and it will lead to the breakdown of society if they continue. They’re fomenting the very discord that leads to inequality, schisms and factions.

It’s good to treat others with compassion. It’s okay to help others up. In fact, as a human, it’s pretty much required to be a civilized person. But the priesthood exploit that very basic human need, and twist it. And unlike the older religions, they’ve not yet learned how to coexist peacefully and symbiotically with their host.

You never do it by focusing on differences and reducing people to stereotypes. You always have to do it by focusing on similarities, and then fixing the differences.

Let’s focus on how we’re similar to one another. Let’s help each other, and let’s do it by lifting everyone up, not setting people at war against one another, and not by shoving people down and stepping on their faces.

If we don’t, the next twenty years will be brutal, bleak and harsh, and many people will be hurt.

You’re a compassionate person. I don’t think you want that on your conscience.