Below is the first part of a four-part guest essay by Richard Cocks about Social Justice (and also, of course, Social Justice Warriors).
Social Justice: An Analysis
by Richard Cocks
Cosmic justice: infantile and nihilistic
Social class, home environment, genetics and other factors all contribute to differences between individuals. People differ in looks, height, income, social status, morality, various kinds of intelligence and athleticism, musical ability, industriousness, discipline, and every other human characteristic. Differences in culture, history, and geography generate differences between groups. Being born into a culture that emphasizes hard work, education, conscientiousness, and thrift is a tremendous advantage.
“Social justice” advocates describe the resulting disparate achievements as “inequalities” with the suggestion that these represent some kind of injustice. Unequal achievement is treated as though it must be the result of discrimination, “privilege” or some other unfairness, while it is in fact the inevitable consequence of differences between individuals and groups. These differences will exist no matter how a society is organized, barring a race to the bottom where the laziest, least talented individual set the bar and every achievement that surpasses that pitiful measure gets confiscated and distributed — removing any incentive to do anything much at all.
Very young children and even some animals have a sense of justice or fairness. In humans this starts out with an intuitive perception, later gets modified by reflection and culture, which in turn influences what gets perceived as just or unjust. Iain McGilchrist describes this as right hemisphere perception, left hemisphere mid-level processing, returning once more to the right hemisphere.
An egocentric child, without prompting, can perceive that receiving a small ice cream while his brother gets a large one is unfair and unjust. However, he is also likely to think that the fact that his older brother has fewer restrictions on what he can do than he does is unfair. Both cases generate resentment. However, only one is justified.
In the second case, being older and thus a little wiser, the older brother does not need as much supervision. He is more capable, self-sufficient and responsible, and therefore has more privileges. These privileges might seem unfair and unjust in some “cosmic” sense, but they are in fact perfectly reasonable. His parents are not being unjust at all. It is merely that age and experience are on the side of the older brother. To harbor resentment at the parents is unreasonable, unfair and unjust. They are blameless. To resent the brother is also ridiculous. There will always be an older sibling as long as siblings exist. The protest is misguided.
Part of the maturation process is learning to distinguish between events that are due to favoritism, attempts to solicit elicit sexual favors, or some other inequity and occurrences that are the result of relevant differences between people. To feel resentful towards someone merely because he is better in some way, such as in looks, status, wealth, or popularity, is in some sense natural. It is also puerile and undeserved. It is a sin in the literal sense of missing the mark. Certainly the envied person is not at fault simply for being superior. The defect is in the heart of the malicious resentful one.
It is true that even a relatively happy, mature person will almost inevitably suffer occasionally from this kind of inappropriate resentment, but he recognizes that the fault lies in his own breast, not in the other person.
By failing to distinguish between deserved resentment and inappropriate hatred towards someone or some group simply for being superior in some way, “social justice” returns people to an infantile inability to differentiate between resentment based on actual unjust treatment, and resentment that is generated simply by the desire to have or be what someone else has or is.
If the universe itself can be considered unjust in some way, due to the unequal distribution of admirable characteristics, it is not the fault or responsibility of man and it is not in man’s power to fix. It is certainly not the fault of “society,” which the phrase “social justice” implies. Justice and fairness appropriately considered enter the picture only with regard to human institutions and rules.
To reject inequalities is to rebel against reality itself. All people bar two are superior to some and inferior to others in any conceivable characteristic. To reject that fact is to renounce the character of existing at all.
One response to existence and Being is to reject it; to decide that it is better never to have lived and then, having lived, to end it as soon as possible. Mass shooters act out the intention not just to end their own lives, but to kill as many as they can in a rejection of Life itself. Social justice warriors are engaged in a similar kind of nihilism. Scapegoating and killing the “kulaks” in the manner of Stalin has no logical end. Since differences of achievement are unavoidable, the logic of social justice is the complete destruction of the human race. By encouraging undeserved resentment against individuals and whole sectors of society, “social justice” activists ramp up intergroup hatreds that promote internecine conflict and, if unchecked, will lead to more horrible violence than simply one individual picking up a gun. Once the scapegoated group is murdered, differing levels of success within the persecuting group remain, and the process will continue.
To reward merit or productivity?
In thinking about economic success, Thomas Sowell recommends simply jettisoning the notion of merit. He argues that “the concept of merit brings an insult to misfortune and arrogance to achievement.” It is impossible to separate how much achievement is the result of talent, for which a person can take no credit, and how much is the result of industriousness. On the face of it, hard work seems meritorious. However, even industriousness tends to be highly affected by familial and cultural influences; an unearned advantage. This means that it is not possible to assess merit. What can be rewarded — what is known how to reward — is productivity.
Rewarding productivity creates an incentive to be productive, and all tend to benefit. They benefit because rewarding productivity encourages using the latest technology and most effective methods, raising the quality of products while reducing their cost. Simply rewarding effort would not be optimal for that reason.
Asian Americans are the most successful group in America. They outperform all others in educational and occupational attainment. They are in no position to discriminate against anyone, being a small minority, and neither are they the beneficiaries of racial preferential treatment; quite the reverse. This means that an expectation that each identifiable social group will find itself represented in the workplace or educational institutions at the proportion to be found in the general population as a whole is erroneous. Differences of result are not evidence of a nefarious, evil conspiracy. Certainly, no one has ever provided evidence of an Asian plot, or even imagines one to exist.
In practice, SJWs reserve their hatred to be used in the scapegoating of white males; this despite the fact that the order of success as groups in the US is Asians, Jews, whites and blacks. The irrational arbitrariness of this is worth thinking about. It points to the social justice movement as a sacrificial cult. Such cults are a way of achieving social cohesion via shared hatred. If scapegoating white men and bonding in shared hatred were banned, subjects such as women’s studies, black studies, and post-colonial studies could not and would not exist. They would be unrecognizable if they became instead devoted to the positive celebration of women’s, blacks’, and post-colonial cultural and economic achievements.
Identity politics encourages exclusive concern for intragroup well-being, and intergroup hatred and “social justice” are inextricably bound up with it. The world is divided between the saved and the damned and the latter are regarded as irredeemably evil. The moral obnoxiousness of this becomes apparent when white people engage in identity politics which becomes white supremacy or white nationalism. White men in particular, as the scapegoated group, might start to feel the need to bond together out of some belated sense of self-preservation. White male liberals are forced to hate themselves as male, and white, oppressors, regardless of their personal behavior, and self-hatred is no basis for a healthy and productive approach to life.
Many white people’s jobs and social standing are now dependent on social justice and identity politics, particularly in education, government and the media. Hatred thus becomes their bread and butter and the end of hatred would terminate their careers. Many politicians base their election prospects on scapegoating whites and depicting themselves as saviors, and are thus invested in reinforcing sacrificial attitudes.
Logically, some kind of John Brown-inspired rebellion seems an appropriate response, with all white people, men, women and children being murdered. If any whites were to protest that they are some of the “nice” white people, this would hold about as much water as a slave owner claiming to be one of the good ones. There is no such thing. The whole point of identity politics is that individual virtue or lack of it is irrelevant. It is race-, class- and gender-membership that determine where a person stands in the moral hierarchy; an overtly racist, misandrist and classist taxonomy.
If people were instead to be judged solely on the basis of their character, then race, class and gender would be irrelevant — but that of course is the only legitimate way of judging anyone.
Sacrificial thinking and scapegoating is the default mode of human organization. René Girard argues that Christianity properly understood instituted a unique moment in human history when the scapegoat mechanism was revealed for the first time. Jesus’ disciples risked their own immolation by defending the innocence of Jesus — the victim of a lynch mob. The crucifix centers attention on the fact of the innocent murdered by the mob and stands as an injunction not to repeat sacrificial behavior. For the first time, the religious story takes the point of view of the victim against the mob.
Many serious thinkers have correctly claimed that mankind arguably seems incapable of living an entirely non-religious life. People want something to worship and a larger meaning in their lives. By rejecting Christianity and its prohibition on scapegoating, many people revert back to the “natural” perspective — namely, the point of view of the mob; the many against the one. In this way, the social justice movement is a religious one and returns us to pre-Christian modes of behavior. Social media facilitate the mob by providing an instantaneous means of rapid mob formation and an easy way to promote intergroup hatred.
Social Justice and Equality of Opportunity
Lyndon B. Johnson argued in the 1960s that “you do not take a man who, for years, has been hobbled by chains, liberate him, and bring him to the starting line of a race, saying, ‘You are free to compete with all others,’ and still justly believe you have been completely fair.”
The reference to chains and liberation by LBJ is presumably an allusion to slavery. Slavery was truly, not “cosmically,” unjust, because it was a human institution that violated “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” which is based on reciprocity and fairness. LBJ seems to have been trying to play on white voters’ feelings of guilt, getting them to agree to new rules for a special target class of people, even though all the participants in the institution of slavery were dead.
Sowell points out that one feature of the quest for cosmic justice is to treat people as group abstractions rather than concrete individuals. Only in this way does it make sense that a harm done to certain concrete people can be rectified by doing a good to some other group of people. With affirmative action, actual people who have not participated in discrimination will be discriminated against to benefit members of another group who also were not the victims of past discrimination.
This means people who did no wrong pay a penalty for something they did not do, based on their skin color and ancestry, and people who have not been wronged themselves will be compensated, again based on skin color and ancestry. Since relatively few black people in the US have no white ancestry, this further complicates the situation. In those cases, part of them is mad at another part of them.
Correcting historical injustices requires a time machine. They cannot be rectified. Attempting to do so just creates new injustices against living people who are guilty of no wrongdoing.
If the idea of restitution is to make up for past historical wrongs by putting descendants of that group of people in an economic situation that they would have been in had slavery not existed, then this class of “victims” should be returned to economic conditions of the African country that they would now be living in which would most likely be worse than their current level of prosperity.
With regard to LBJ’s reference to “chains” hobbling a person’s chances of success, the evidence suggests that the residual differences between the white and black population are not in fact related to slavery.
In 1920, for instance, black marriage rates were slightly higher than white; black unemployment was lower than white, and black poverty rates were steadily declining up through the beginning of the 1960s.
Percent of those never-married among 35 and older by sex and race, 1890 to 2010. SEHSD Working Paper Number 2012-12: Diana B. Elliott, Kristy Krivickas, Matthew W. Brault, Rose M. Kreider (US Census Bureau).
The Racial Unemployment Gap in Long-Run Perspective: Robert W. Fairlie, William A. Sundstrom, The American Economic Review, Vol. 87 Issue 2 (Papers and Proceedings of the Hundred and Fourth Annual Meeting of the American Economic Association) (May, 1997)
The decline of black marriage rates and the marked increase in black crime and incarceration came after changes instituted in the 1960s. If black employment and marriage rates were actually higher closer to the time of slavery, then the remaining differences between blacks and whites as groups must be due to something other than racism, unless racism is imagined to be getting steadily worse for the last hundred years and especially after the 60s. See “Thomas Sowell in Intellectuals and Race.”
It cannot be that simply because some kind of disparity exists between people, real equality of opportunity does not exist. An inferior athlete loses the race. Just one person wins. That is not a reason to initiate a commission of inquiry or start a witch hunt. Each athlete does not bring to the event the same level of talent and dedication to training. However, so long as the same rules apply to both, the event is fair.
One way of characterizing the demands of “social justice” is the requirement not for equality of opportunity, but equality of result.
Kurt Vonnegut’s satirical novel Harrison Bergeron depicts a dystopian future in which equality of result is rigorously enforced. Any person caught thinking at a level beyond the mediocre is blasted with a deafening sound until his thought pattern is disrupted, the beautiful must wear masks and the athletic are loaded with weights. His point is that “equality” is an impossible nightmare, not a desirable reality.
Just having an interest in a physical activity, an area of study or artistic endeavor will produce differences of achievement. Any benefits that result from this interest would thus become illegal in a world of forced equality.
Social justice and the free market
Nassim Nicholas Taleb writes that “of the 500 largest U.S. companies in 1957, only 74 were still part of Standard and Poor’s 500, 40 years later.” Given how hard it is to stay in business, irrational behavior is likely to be terminal.
Currently, some are claiming,  for instance, that companies that have boards that include women are more competitive than ones without them. There is even a claim of 66% higher returns. This has become part of a social justice campaign. However, if this were true,  there would be no need to campaign for anything. Companies without women board members would simply cease to exist as they failed to compete in the marketplace. Competition is cutthroat. If businesses were to continue as usual without changing the sexual composition of boards, then the SJWs were wrong. Likewise, if businesses made irrational hiring and promotion decisions based on irrelevant criteria, such as skin color or sex, they would tend to fail. No company needs to be perfect. It just needs to be less irrational than its competition. This economic natural selection process will have a ruthless effect over time.
In this way, the business world has very little room for falsehoods. Eric Gans has called the free market a truth generator. Of course, marketing is mostly erroneous and intentionally manipulative, but thanks to the internet, it is easier and easier to get reasonably high quality information about most products and services.
However, the three areas of modern life most permeated by notions of social justice are impervious to reality and truth. These are education, the media and politicians.
Søren Kierkegaard commented that journalists see it as their jobs to tell the public what to think, not to neutrally inform it of the facts, and Taleb comments in Antifragile that academics, journalists and politicians typically pay no price whatsoever for being wrong. They have no skin in the game and being wrong costs them nothing at all. In fact, if political correctness and social justice are morally wrong and based on confusions and lies, then denying reality becomes a matter of career survival. A good rule of thumb espoused by Scott Adams, the writer of “Dilbert”, is not to trust any opinion, including scientific ones, when there is a stiff political, social and/or economic price for not upholding it.
Taleb would like to see any economist or financial advisor have to act on his own advice and predictions. If he advises buying stocks, then he must buy them, too. If money markets, government bonds, or putting money in a bank account are the recommendations, then that is what the person must do. Taleb’s suggestion would align the prognosticator’s words with his actions, and therefore his interests with those of the people listening to his opinions.
If it is claimed that companies that have large numbers of women on their boards do better, then the person or institution making this assertion must invest only in those companies and withdraw funds from companies that do not conform to this notion. If they have no money to invest and therefore no skin in the game, they should be ignored.
Journalists who wrongly predict the outcomes of elections, for instance, are still asked for their opinion on the next one. Economists who failed to see the housing crisis coming and who even said it would not happen are then asked to give an analysis of why it occurred. Journalists who have contributed to misinformation that leads the country to an unnecessary war, such as the second invasion of Iraq, still have their latest opinions published in venues such as the New York Times.
In natural circumstances, Taleb comments that being wrong leads to an exit from the gene pool. Mistaking a bear for a rock might be the last error someone ever makes. But talking heads who do not actually do anything but merely talk can be wrong forever. This is particularly true when nearly everyone colludes in the falsehood. It even pays for someone to contradict himself over time, because when confronted with his errors he can point to the publications where he made the opposite claim.
Coming up in Part 2: Tough love vs. mother love
Richard Cocks is a commentator whose work has been published by Orthosphere, Sydney Traditionalist Forum, and University Bookman.
|1.||www.youtube.com/watch?v=meiU6TxysCg, Capuchin monkey fairness experiment.|
|2.||Iain McGilchrist The Master and His Emissary, Ch. 3.|
|3.||Notice this is still egocentric. The brother with the larger ice cream is unlikely to complain on the other child’s behalf, just as the capuchin monkey getting the grapes continues on obliviously.|
|4.||Thomas Sowell equates social justice with what he calls “cosmic justice” in his book The Quest for Cosmic Justice upon which major portions of this discussion are based.|
|5.||Jordan Peterson, 12 Rules for Life, p. 147.|
|6.||Kulaks were comparatively affluent Russian peasants. Characterized as leeches, they were exterminated by the millions. Killing anyone productive enough to be able to afford to hire other workers is economically ill-advised.|
|7.||Sowell, The Quest for Cosmic Justice, p. 26.|
|9.||On a trivial level, some who reject Christmas as religious, embrace the Winter Solstice, or New Year’s Eve instead, apparently not realizing their religious origins. Even if they did recognize it they would be likely to prefer anything pagan to something Christian without realizing that their preferred celebrations would have historically involved human sacrifice.|
|10.||Sowell, The Quest for Cosmic Justice, pp. 11-12.|
|11.||Taleb, The Black Swan.|
|12.||www.catalyst.org/media/companies-more-women-board-directors-experience-higher-financial-performance-according-latest — They do not actually claim causation — just correlation.|
|13.||www.forbes.com/sites/kimelsesser/2016/06/23/the-truth-about-womens-impact-on-corporate-boards-its-not-good-news/#4a9425105ecb — It seems richer companies hire more women. Women are not why the companies are richer. In fact, evidence suggests they make no difference or that they hurt performance.|
|14.||“Joseph Stiglitz, with two colleagues, the Orszag brothers (Peter and Jonathan), looked at the very same Fannie Mae. They assessed, in a report, that “on the basis of historical experience, the risk to the government from a potential default on GSE debt is effectively zero.” p. 387.|
|15.||E.g. Paul Krugman.