Social justice wars require self-mutilation

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There are many kinds of social justice. In this post I will be talking about naive social justice — Twitter mobs, wokeness, etc. The kind that creates "social justice wars".

Participating in a social justice war is a great exercise for doing at least one thing that you want — fighting. There are many sub-skills, e.g. loyalty, which you will also train. (Being loyal to someone is a thing that you want, which is easy to miss.)

However, social justice wars are also horrible for doing-what-you-want:

  • You want to express your emotions. Social justice wars teach you to repress emotions, and while they are focusing on specific emotions, the skill is generalizable. You will find yourself repressing emotions whenever it's the easiest way out.
  • You want to trust your gut. Social justice wars teach you to mistrust it. Again, only in some situations, but the skill is generalizable.

If you don't self-mutilate, eventually you will become an enemy of the "social justice" side in social justice wars. This leads to an easy check: are you an enemy yet? No? Then you're self-mutilating.

In general, naive social justice behaves as if people can be either beaten into doing good, or taught the right thoughts/beliefs. However, the right way to think about adult development is "training" and not "learning", with the key question being "by doing X, what skills are you sharpening in people?".

Let's apply this framework to the examples above.

Social justice wars train people to repress emotions

If you punish certain emotions (body positivity punishes disgust with human body, consent movement punishes resentment, etc), naive social justice assumes you'd get people who don't feel those bad emotions.

In reality, people won't feel those emotions because they learn to repress emotions. Then they will use the skill of repressing emotions everywhere else — including, incidentally, repressing emotions that are good for social justice causes (like anger at injustice, resentment of bullies, etc).

"What? There are many passionate people in the social justice movement."

Naive social justice does not turn people unemotional — it sharpens the skill of repressing emotions. You can use this skill or not use it. The problem is that you will use it whenever it's the easy way out — e.g. whenever the emotion is painful and there is no way to resolve it at the moment.

Sometimes it's subtle. For instance, social justice wars train people to shut off empathy, by demanding that they behave viciously towards bad people. You might object: "yes! it's right to be vicious and contempting towards bad people!". It's not how it works.

Everyone feels empathy. To be properly vicious, you need to shut off empathy. The skill being trained is not "being vicious" but "shutting off empathy". Once you get good at it, you will use it whenever shutting off empathy is easier than any other course of action — which is pretty often, and not limited to bad people.

A note on the consent movement: a huge problem with taking rejection well is that a lot of people don't get why they were rejected. They look and look and look and they still don’t know. So they blame others.

For instance, until very recently I couldn’t even understand why somebody would purposefully look sexy if they didn’t want to have sex. This understanding comes naturally the moment you dare, yourself, to look sexy. But people don’t teach guys to look sexy, or pay attention to how they themselves might dislike some people "for no good reason". People teach guys that blaming others is wrong and disliking people for no good reason is wrong, and when those guys feel resentment for being disliked for no good reason, they are hit even harder.

Imagine if a kid complains “everyone is mean and doesn’t play with me”, and your reaction is “okay, the most important thing for me now is to make [the kid] stop calling others mean”, instead of helping him be a more interesting playmate. This is what naive social justice does.

Social justice wars train people to mistrust themselves

What happens if you tell people all bodies are beautiful? Many things, some good, some bad. One of the bad things is that you teach them to mistrust their own thoughts and feelings. "I thought this was beautiful and this was meh and this was a bit disgusting, but apparently I'm just not qualified to judge and I should look harder."

Judging things — I think this is good, I think this is bad, I think this is beautiful, I think this is ugly — is a training ground for the skill of "trusting your own judgment". Without learning this skill, people will rely on the society's judgment. The problem is that if you've grown up thinking that the society is right about everything, being disliked even by a single person hurts like hell.

There are two ways out of this — either you develop a sense of intrinsic self-worth and "I will be the judge of whether I'm a good human or not, thank you very much", or you silence everyone who dislikes you for any reason.

This latter option is what naive social justice is doing. It's trying to give people external validation — "let's never hurt each other" — and not internal validation. From experience, it doesn't work. No matter how much people are trying not to hurt each other — if they are insecure, they still feel miserable.

An advanced skill is — internalizing that things can be both good and bad. Letting yourself feel "this is good" and "this is bad" at the same time. A single person can simultaneously do good things and bad things; show anger and kindness; be submissive and dominating; etc. Realizing this is essential for having good relationships with others, especially in a setting where the people come from different societies or "tribes". Again, social justice wars heavily discourage developing this skill, forcing people to pick sides.

A note on body positivity: people need to be taught how to have good relationships with your friends, partners, and the society at large, in view of the fact that some bodies disgust them. Instead people are taught that "disgust is wrong, period".

It’s possible to have a good relationship with your own body even if it’s not pretty; it’s possible even to like it and think it’s not pretty, at the same time. I think some parts of the body positivity movement try to do that, but I haven’t seen them do it well.

Feeling secure about your body is not a matter of simply being in a society where everyone hides their disgust — you will pick up on it anyway. It's similar to how gaining a feeling of self-worth does not occur simply because people around you like you.

Having gained security and a feeling of self-worth, it will become much easier to accept that others’ bodies don’t measure their worth.