How To Avoid Another ‘Anti SJW’ Backlash
Today, I want to talk about a rather controversial topic: the so-called anti-SJW movement that existed between approximately 2012 to 2018. The anti-SJW movement has been credited, or blamed, depending on your angle, for some of the important political events during that time, most notably the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump. According to some analyses, it could also have slowed down or confused certain social justice movements. Therefore, it was indeed an important part of recent Western politics. While that movement is certainly over by now, I think it is important to revisit it to learn some lessons, to see how things can be done better in the future.
Personally, I have mixed feelings about that movement, as it had both more reasonable people as well as outrightly reactionary people in it. The first group were mainly liberals or moderates who expressed skepticism about certain things social justice activists were pushing for at the time, and the second group were basically the kind of people who were against any and all change. My focus is on the first group, why they had the reaction they had, and what lessons it can teach us about social change.
Let’s face it. The Anti-SJW movement was basically a backlash to the demands and tactics of the social justice activists at that time. Given that the backlash to certain social justice movements is still on the increase, there is real worry that there could be a much bigger backlash wave against all demands for progressive reform, in the not too distant future. Many people, including even moderate conservatives, are now truly worried that the pendulum would swing too hard the other way, leading to a period of severe reactionarism the likes we haven’t seen in the West for many decades. To prevent this outcome, I think we must study what has caused the backlash, and what needs to be done in order to calm it down.
I don’t deny that some people involved in the Anti-SJW movement, and the broader backlash to social justice recently, are truly racist, sexist, homophobic, or otherwise bigoted. However, many anti-SJWs clearly didn’t fit this description. Instead, they appeared to be worried that important parts of the long standing social contract of Western society were being eroded. These included things like free speech, freedom of conscience, and most importantly, individual moral responsibility. The Western moral code is based on an individualistic view of moral responsibility, and any moral collectivism, for example labelling an entire race or gender as oppressors, is inherently incompatible with this. It only makes sense that people would staunchly defend our individualistic morality, because a culture’s moral code is a long term development that cannot be easily replaced. Once a civilization’s long standing moral code has been compromised, it could lead to a complete collapse in morality itself. Real social justice can only be achieved by respecting the fundamentals of our moral code, and this excludes oppressor vs oppressed theories based on collective responsibility.
Another problem with some recent social justice demands is that they are antagonistic to long-standing social norms, even where they don’t need to be. There is sometimes a deliberate attempt to challenge, invalidate, or otherwise subvert many social norms, even where it doesn’t clearly lead to more social justice. I think this is due to the heavy influence from radical academic theories like social constructionism, deconstructionism, and postmodernism more generally. I believe this approach is fundamentally misguided. It is based too much on abstract philosophy, and not on real world practicality. In the real world, social norms are an important part of social life. Using a functionalist sociological lens, we can often see that they fulfill important social functions, particularly around integration and pattern maintenance. Without these norms, social cohesion could fall apart. Hence, most people value social norms, and will defend them from unjustified attacks. I’m not saying that social norms don’t need to be changed or updated from time to time. What I’m saying is that, this must be a careful and well justified process. The mass deconstruction of social norms leads to potential instability, and would naturally be met with backlash. Instead, I suggest a much less invasive approach: only the social norms that actually adversely affect minorities should be changed, and they should be changed to the least extent needed to resolve the problem.
In conclusion, while the anti-SJW movement did have some bad people in it, there was also a genuine concern from many good people, about the way social justice activists were operating. This was because social justice activism became heavily influenced by academic theories based on abstract philosophy, that disrespects the fundamentals of the Western moral code, as well as the many social norms that keep our society functional. This risks creating massive backlash, and is clearly not the way to pursue social justice. Instead, we should aim to build a broad consensus for any necessary social change, and this consensus can only come about if we respect the foundations of the society we live in.
TaraElla is a singer-songwriter and author, who recently published her autobiography The TaraElla Story, in which she described the events that inspired her writing.
She is also the author of the Moral Libertarian Horizon books, which argue that liberalism is still the most moral and effective value system for Western democracies in the 21st century.