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.