why is this so hard?
Freddie deBoer

“Why do people insist we all be loyal soldiers at precisely the time we need robust internal debate the most?”

As the above commenters have stated, online social justice communities experience many attacks in the form of concern trolling, as well as many right wing types who try to talk over them under the guise of “I’m just engaging in rational debate!” and “I’m allowed to say what I want no matter no offensive it is because free speech!”

This happened at the same time in which the discussions about microaggressions and subconscious biases were gaining steam. It also started up during the Obama era, in which the administration was ostensibly committed to progressive goals but in practice did not do very much to reach them.

So there was a feeling (probably justified) that liberals didn’t really care or didn’t care enough to help, which, combined with the concern trolling and the discussions about microaggressions, created this belief that anyone not 100% behind the social justice movement was secretly harboring racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic/whatever thoughts.

This belief was not combated. Most of the people in these groups used them as a social / support group, and the rest were liberals who felt guilty and hence wouldn’t argue with the “actually oppressed” members of the groups.

This in turn created an opportunity for authoritarians and dogmatists to take over.

Over time, the draconian standards became less about defending the community and became more like goals in and of themselves. Because the rest of the world was awash in racism and sexism and homophobia, the social justice groups stated, they were engaging in radical resistance by creating environments in which discrimination was not permitted. Because electoral politics had produced no results, they reasoned, the only way to change society would be to make all of society follow their rules, via social shaming and economic pressure.

This is of course, a bunch of BS. If you’re oppressed by someone, they will not care if you socially shame them, and its very likely they’ll be the one economically pressuring YOU. In terms of politics, the actions of social justice groups make no sense.

But the social justice groups aren’t actually political organizations; they started off a support / social groups with a political dimension. Loyalty and insularity and the like aren’t good at changing the world. But they’re great for getting status in a group! So we have a situation wherein blind dogma is rewarded, nuance and internal discussion are seen as a sign of secretly hating the group, and the group is suspicious of all outside influence on the grounds of the outsiders being concern trolls. Constantly increasing militancy is inevitable as the groups close themselves off from the world and compete to see who can be the most loyal to the Cause.

In any environment other than the internet, this wouldn’t be that big a problem; the groups would probably relax their standards or break apart over time. Online, however, the ideas can spread at the speed of light, anyone burnt out the social justice discourse is quickly replaced by someone seeing the group in an internet search and joining it on their own, and most importantly, there are an endless supply of alt-right trolls that will attack these groups and allow them to justify their behavior as self-defense.

Icing on the cake? A lot of people have their first encounter with left wing ideas in college and college students have a higher than average internet use, so for many people, online social justice groups will be the first place they encounter left wing ideas. Then, even if they don’t like the social justice groups (I know I didn’t!), they will stay with them because they see no other alternatives.


Right wing trolls attack social justice groups, social justice groups respond with siege mentality, unscrupulous individuals take advantage of siege mentality to impose draconian standards, right wing trolls keep attacking, unscrupulous individuals use presence of trolls to keep draconian standards in place. All of this is completely politically useless, but nobody in the groups care, because the groups exist for social / support reasons, not political ones.

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