July 10, 2015

How Social Justice Warriors will (literally) kill us in their war on the truth

Irene OgrizekRebel Blogger

Being a social justice warrior comes with perks. For young men there’s the romance of rebellion, making them cooler than their less engaged peers. For young women, there's the scintillating company of rebels and a clear sense of purpose.

What’s not to like?

The problem usually starts on campus, a place intended for the intellectually adventurous. It's where established knowledge is taught and new knowledge auditioned. It's also where ideologies confront one another, generating rich and ongoing dialogues that produce, if the Greeks are to be believed, a sort of golden mean, wide swathes of knowledge where ideas co-exist in balance if not always in comfort.

So the current chill on campuses, where hypersensitivity dominates, is troubling. This isn’t to say collective enlightenment isn’t advancing, but we’re stuck in some pretty thick sludge: instead of substantive conflict and free speech, social justice warriors have become obsessed with monitoring others, forcing all of us to reflect and deflect ideas in increasingly shallow pools of thought. The effect is radiating outward, causing consternation among those less concerned with ideology and more concerned about personal freedom.

While it is progressive to heighten our awareness of injustices done to minorities, it’s a strand of progress that for most minorities in the west is on the wane. Far from being abandoned, however, an emergent group of the self-marginalized, interested in shortcuts to power, use its accoutrements to undermine the foundations of bedrock institutions.

There are casualties, of course. Some of the finest minds among us - Nobel Prize winner Tim Hunt being one - have been cast out for committing minor faux pas. In Hunt's case, he had the misfortune of telling a bad joke in public.

How are these changes happening? One way is through rhetoric. Purdue professor Fredrik deBoer describes a phenomenon common to much recent persuasive writing. These articles are written,

…in the default code of today’s online social progressives, which I like to call We Are All Already Decided. This is the form of argument, and of comedy, that takes as its presumption that all good and decent people are already agreed on the issue in question.

Since I write about assisted suicide, I'll use it as an example. In places where its decriminalization is being debated, supporters use this strategy frequently. That is, not only do they assume their readers are on board, they also write with bustling exasperation, the message being that the slow-witted are holding up progress and forcing the gravely ill to suffer.

The title of a recent Huffpost article, co-authored by Juliet Guichon, Ian Mitchell and Christopher Doig, exemplifies this: Canadians Need to Take Action on Physician-Assisted DyingWritten in response to the Harper government’s request for an extension (to draft legislation), they say:

This matter is urgent. Many Canadians feel vulnerable in the absence of clear rules on physician-assisted dying, and others, who are grievously and irremediably ill, expect that on February 7, [2016] they may actualize their constitutional right to physician-assisted dying.

The references to urgency are dishonest in two ways: first, it’s contrived. The Supreme Court, chaired by a chief justice enamoured of the procedure, arbitrarily imposed the deadline, creating a limited time-frame in which a momentous shift in doctor-patient relationships will be determined.

Secondly, the pressure the article describes doesn't exist. Suicide was decriminalized in Canada in 1972. There is nothing to stop a Canadian from killing herself in response to a bad diagnosis. As a matter of fact, most notaries will tell you it happens all the time.

Refusing to be victims of a flawed ideology can mean refusing to be rushed. How does that work here? Many progressives who support assisted suicide also support sex education in elementary schools and “consent” classes at universities. The University of Michigan has a very clear definition of consent, describing it as:

 ...a clear and unambiguous agreement, expressed in mutually understandable words or actions, to engage in a particular activity. Consent can be withdrawn by either party at any point. Consent must be voluntarily given and may not be valid if a person is being subjected to actions or behaviors that elicit emotional or psychological pressure, intimidation, or fear.

If we use this definition as a guideline, opponents of assisted suicide, like myself, are merely exercising our right to proceed at our own pace: we don't want to be pressured into legislation we don't want. Most of us also want the opportunity to challenge a liberal bias in our media, one that has convinced Canadians the procedure has widespread support.

It's hard to credit, but many journalists in this country have abandoned objectivity and relied on statistics from special interest groups. (Dying with Dignity reports that 80% of Canadians support assisted suicide.) That means opponents like me are frequently hectored with the implicit accusation: Most Canadians want this so what's your problem? Here's my answer: when polls come with an explanation of the risks, support rests uneasily at around 61%, two percentage points below the 63% of Canadians who want to see the return of the death penalty.

Another way political correctness circumscribes free speech is through accusations of racism, misogyny or homophobia. Witness Bahar Mustafa of the University of London. She is a Goldsmith campus diversity officer at the university's student union. She started the hashtag #KillAllWhiteMen and barred white male students from a campus social event.

She had the temerity to claim: I can't be racist because I'm an ethnic minority woman. (She also identifies as queer and disabled, although the nature of her disability is unclear.) While the backlash on social media has been substantial, Mustafa isn't the only woman causing a stir on campuses.

Christina Hoff Sommers has made a career out of debunking statistics used by feminist professors. On her recent visit to Georgetown University, Sommers was met with protesters and her event inspired a rash of trigger warnings and claims of incipient PTSD. During her lecture, troubled students were encouraged to go to a "safe space," a soothing room complete with blankets, stuffed toys and a therapy dog.

This is in response to Sommers' belief that "trigger warnings are creating a hostile environment for critical thinking and free expression,” and is one reason the university felt she needed armed guards to accompany her to and from her lecture. The irony of armed escorts wasn't lost on Sommers, although it clearly was on her detractors.

I mention these events because the left typically goes silent when their activists, like Mustafa and Sommers' protesters, behave outrageously. And while Sommers has support for her critiques of conventional feminism, that support is not coming from the left, but rather centrists and conservatives. This silence is important, especially in Canada, where left-leaning politicians claim to be supporters of diversity, but are wily about using it to shape policy.

Turning again to the example of assisted suicide, a 2011 special report, commissioned by the Royal Society of Canada, simply ignores the issue of diversity. It's a notable omission, especially in a country full of immigrants.

It's also important that in a frequently cited poll supportive of assisted suicide, commissioned by Toronto's Forum Research and published by the National Post, pollsters surveyed mostly those who identified as Christians (categorized as Christian, Evangelical Christian, Catholic, Protestant, Other and None) and did not, apparently, poll many minorities, visible or otherwise. In fact, the bulk of their sample, it seems, was composed of white Canadians of Anglo-Saxon origin, the group most determined to see the procedure decriminalized.

The fact is that most religious groups, and not only devout Christians, oppose assisted suicide. Jewish and Muslim clerics frequently assert their opposition, via opinion pieces, in places where the possibility of decriminalization comes up. Aboriginal Canadians, with their high rates of suicide, often voice their opposition too.

That assisted suicide has become a pet cause of the political left - the turf of social justice warriors - points to the movement's growing irrelevance: it's shifted so far from its origins that its core beliefs, like cancerous cells, have divided themselves beyond recognition.


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commented 2016-01-10 23:32:26 -0500
This is fine as long as we define social justice advocates as what is being done at the rebel, while social justice warriors are defined as hypocrites who pretend to fight for social justice….it would have been helpful to begin this post with a clear definition of what the writer thinks a SJW is, because the term is used so loosely these days for anyone one wishes to insult.

As for doctor assistance for suicide, since this is clearly against the oath doctors take, it should be made clear by the courts that no doctor will ever be forced to assist anyone in their own demise. Surely the present legalization of suicide is all that is needed…why should any one be ‘required’ to help another commit suicide? This is just an appalling abuse of power by a state and a state enforced command to require a citizen to commit murder; entirely too dangerous a precedent to set.
commented 2015-07-17 01:34:55 -0400
Thank you Irene. As a personal anecdote, I took a course called “Philosophy of Science” during my undergrad. For the most part, it was extremely interesting and educational. That changed one day when the professor spontaneously added a new requirement to the syllabus: viewing Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”. What struck me was how the professor introduced the film to the class, as though it presented the “truth” about anthropogenic global warming. He advocated it as somehow being evidence that the “science is settled” and no one disagrees except right-wing “neo-cons” (these were his actual words). I was absolutely alone in raising my hand to question his characterization of the film. I didn’t object to watching it (as I already had, which began what is now my 12-year fascination with the politics surrounding the issue), but I did object to being required to watch An Inconvenient Truth, and I did object to the professor’s description of it as unquestionable “fact”.
In the face of my objection, the professor relented, somewhat, and said he would dig up something for us to read that contained an alternate perspective on global warming. At the start of the next class, he handed out copies of Patrick Michaels’ piece, “Is the Sky Really Falling? A Review of Recent Global Warming Scare Stories”. But, his introduction to Patrick Michaels consisted of describing him as an “American, Republican polemicist” who worked for a “neo-con think tank called the Cato Institute” (again, those were his exact words.)
This time, I raised my hand and let him know how disappointed I was in his preamble to this new required reading, in front of the entire class. He painted Al Gore as an enlightened saint whose film was beyond question, while casting Michaels as a right-wing idiot who wrote highly-questionable essay denying the “truth” of anthropogenic global warming. Unfortunately, he didn’t take my criticism well, and got back at me by giving me a low mid-term grade. After going to him and asking to see his marking rubric (which he didn’t have), pointing out that my answers mirrored his lessons and our textbook, I had to threaten to take the matter to the department chair for review of his unfair grading. Only then did he agree to re-mark my exam. My grade improved from a B- to an A, an increase that is impossible to reconcile simply by his justification of the “subjective nature of marking”. I can’t prove it, but I still believe my artificially low grade was intended as punishment for making him look foolish in front of the other students.
Universities have been like this for a long time, and they’re only getting worse.
commented 2015-07-13 01:52:21 -0400
Assisted suicide is a trap. Giving that kind of power over to the gov. is crazy! White privilege, Christian blaming, gender shaming, it is the left bashing to raise doubt and gain control. I don’t know about you, But I am not that insecure. Political correctness be damned.
commented 2015-07-11 15:15:55 -0400
The pendulum has swung way left since we imagined the wonders of ‘free love’ in my youth. I would not want to return to that world but the paroxysms of the extreme left are just as unbearable. Surely, the pendulum has swung to its limit in a drunken acceleration of excess. And, inexorably back we will go to the straight jacket of the extreme right. Can we not find a middle way?
commented 2015-07-11 00:45:18 -0400
Thank you for your insight , research and references .