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On the Internet, Toxic Irony Abounds

SJW Behaviors That Hurt Social Justice

Deconstructing the Good Nuance from the Assault on Nuance

Sara Lynn Michener
Feb 27, 2017 · 14 min read

While the term Social Justice has been around since the 1840s, Warrior wasn’t added to mean a specific kind of actively progressive person until the 1990s, when it enjoyed a short-lived decade or so as a term solely of praise. Somewhere in Obama’s first term, during the early stages of this particular strain of racially-charged social justice backlash, it became pejorative on the Right and overwhelmingly associated with online behavior rather than the activism of the non-digital world. Now its meaning wholly relies on intent and interpretation rather than anything more specific, and therefore useful. The language surrounding how we describe SJW activity tends to be layered in-joke semantic luxuries that were fine during the Progressive Camelot years of Obama, when we had the upper hand. Now that human progress in the form of basic civilization is hanging on by its fingernails, some restraint is appropriate not remotely as any kind of concession, but indeed as a needed bulwark for the resistance.

Thus, some leftists have begun distancing themselves from the more ridiculous interpretations (not beliefs) of online SJW thought. It’s a sticky subject, and rightly so, because most SJWs are out there doing the lord’s work and the acronym is a badge of pride among many progressives, no matter how hard the Right tries to make it an insult. Conservatives are terrible at coming up with insults. Nevertheless, She Persisted was Mitch McConnell’s doughy flesh possessed momentarily by Athena; a massive gift to the Left. Bleeding Heart Liberal and Social Justice Warrior just mean you have been accused of caring. Oof. Harsh, bro. Those who sling it as somehow a bad thing don’t seem to notice how proudly those badges are worn.

But with everything, there is a spectrum. Social justice is not exempt, and we can improve fighting the good fight if we admit that those on the front lines can get a little overzealous, especially since they tend to mean well. Understand, I am not here to critique any of the movements of social justice. I can’t think of a single one that isn’t valid and important.

But after an election that brought us an Anti-Intellectual Orange Emotive Toddler partially in response to PC Culture backlash, it’s not going to help anyone to pretend that some criticism of that culture isn’t fairly warranted, just because the majority of that backlash is clearly a mix of white systemic ignorance, xenophobia, and hatred. There are indeed embarrassing aspects of SJW or PC Culture; those who care about the right things, but in the wrong way and to a fever pitch bordering on ridicule. They also tend to be overwhelmingly young, female, and white; yet with bated breath, overuse terms like White Feminism, expressed to distance themselves from other women who look and behave exactly like them without the slightest hint of irony. (Fellow white ladies, use its positive antonym, “Intersectionalism” instead, I beg you).

I was pretty careful in writing this because of the fear it would be usurped by anti-SJW groups. And I think this, too, is part of what makes it paralyzing for leftists to critique the behaviors that separate good SJW thought from the more fringe interpretations. When it happens, the response from most leftists has been to simply look away, or discuss it privately among themselves as a phenomenon they are ashamed of, but don’t want to touch. When the distancing is public, it tends to rely on a kind of humor that goes a tad too far itself in order to make its point. Bill Maher made the scathing case recently that democrats have gone from being the party that protects people, to the party that protects feelings. I strongly agreed with about 60% of his rant, but his rebuke is “So, fuck you” (literally) instead of “This is why that can be counterproductive” which conversely is my aim here.

At this moment on the internet there are three uses of the term SJW, and with new terms coming out of Tumblr every day, there is no excuse for that kind of vaguery:

  1. The derogatory variety as seen by conservative beholders: always used as a blanket insult whether or not the SJW in question happens to be correct, and is being polite and nuanced about it.

Below is my attempt to list the behaviors that come clinging like barnacles to otherwise valid social justice issues. Progressives should identify these patterns to both better avoid them, and more specifically and constructively censure those who have gone too far.

  1. Disproportionate Punishment
    Someone has made a legitimate mistake, and there are calls by CSJWs to essentially have them drawn and quartered, thereby eclipsing the original offense and opening it up further for ridicule. Example: it is true that the British astrophysicist who wore a shirt covered in B-Grade Vargas Girls to an event of international significance (that would have had impressionable science-loving little girls in its audience) made a poor wardrobe selection that day that also spoke volumes of the negative experiences of women in science and tech. But verbal abuse or calls to have him fired, rather than specifically explaining the harm caused, were counter productive and fuel for the opposition. This rule also applies when the person who erred apologizes, but the apology is deemed insufficient (often not because it was deemed insincere, but because more than a sincere apology is what is being demanded) and calls for the proverbial pound of flesh continue until the vultures move onto another body.

Post Edit PSA: About 10% of this piece was inspired by events in my own life, and the only examples I was personally involved with were noted as such. The rest is stuff I’ve witnessed/observed over the past decade of being online and actively concerned with social justice issues.

Human Development Project

A disruptive digital storytelling project supporting…

Sara Lynn Michener

Written by

Writer. Maker. Feminist. Internet Curator. Spitfire. Ravenclaw. Trekkie. Social Justice Apologist.

Human Development Project

A disruptive digital storytelling project supporting humanitarian initiatives, freeing shackled minds, and amplifying the voices of the oppressed.

Sara Lynn Michener

Written by

Writer. Maker. Feminist. Internet Curator. Spitfire. Ravenclaw. Trekkie. Social Justice Apologist.

Human Development Project

A disruptive digital storytelling project supporting humanitarian initiatives, freeing shackled minds, and amplifying the voices of the oppressed.

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