The Injustice Of ‘Social Justice’
Oh look, another communal meltdown over supposedly dangerous manifestations of racism at a college, this time at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. A reader writes:
I’ve been following your column for some time now and after reading about DePauw it occurred to me that the exact same pattern is happening at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo right now. A student is accused of racism over a “blackface” photo, protests occur, and within a week horribly racist flyers are found around campus. Things are now escalating fast. I don’t think this is a coincidence.
In this case, there really was a frat boy photographed in blackface. The idiot and his frat were rightly sanctioned by the school (though they were also punished for “cultural misappropriation” for a photo in which they masqueraded as gang members). The offending frat boy publicly admitted error and apologized.
In a grown-up culture, that would be the end of it. But American colleges and universities are not grown-up cultures. At Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, SJWs and their administrative fellow travelers are not going to allow the opportunity to hit the fainting couches pass by:
She and her parents said they wanted to know whether she could expect emotional support and safety should Vaghefi decide to attend Cal Poly.
“This is pretty important,” Vaghefi said.
The question of what to say to minority students and their parents is one San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon said she has heard many times since the blackface photo emerged.
Harmon joined protesters at Santa Rosa Park, where they enjoyed a break from two days of lengthy marches across campus. She said she was there primarily to listen, and to weigh the possibility of a working group consisting of officials from the city, Cal Poly, Cuesta College, local business representatives and students to address the city and university’s “systemic problem with racism.”
“I have had mothers calling my office,” Harmon said. “They’re deeply concerned.”
While she acknowledged her own racial privilege as a white woman, Harmon said she would still answer yes to a person of color considering attending Cal Poly.
“The last thing we need is even less diversity on campus,” she said.
It’s like everybody just wants to be offended, and so offended that they become emotionally disabled, because that’s how they know who they are. I am offended, therefore I am. Not too long ago, to admit to being undone by the least little thing would have been seen as a sign of weakness, of feeble character. The man or woman who was able to endure all kinds of insults and threats to their lives — think James Meredith and Ruby Bridges — without desisting from their path were real heroes.
Now? The therapeutic mindset has triumphed so thoroughly that the faintest flap of a butterfly’s wing will cause an emotional hurricane within anyone who feels the air quiver. It’s the way to achieve power. René Girard foresaw that there is no limit to the violence we will inflict on each other in post-Christian culture, for the sake of protecting the supposed Victim.
Here’s why I fear and absolutely loathe the mob, especially racialized mobs. This really happened in my town. I know the identities of every white person involved (they’re all long dead), because one of them confessed on his deathbed to a friend of mine, who was shaken by the news. I do not know the name of the victim, and my attempts to discover his name went nowhere. None of this was publicly recorded.
Back in the 1940s, in my tiny Southern hometown, word reached the sheriff that a black man had been caught raping a white woman. The sheriff put out a call to some trusted white men to come help him track the rapist down and bring him to justice. The sheriff deputized two white men who showed up. They chased the black man through the woods, and upon catching him, bound him and took him back to the parish jail. There they lynched him. This was what they told themselves they had to do to protect the good order of the community.
A couple of days later, the truth came out: the black man and the white woman had been secret lovers. When they were discovered, she accused him of rape to protect herself. After his murder by the sheriff and his men, her conscience wouldn’t let her rest. She confessed all.
In their shame, the white family moved away. Of course no one — not the sheriff, nor his deputies — faced any kind of justice for their murder of an innocent man. That’s not how things worked under white supremacy.
The reason anybody alive today knows about it is because one of the murderers, as he lay dying decades ago, unburdened his conscience.
In a piece I wrote three years ago, “When ISIS Ran The American South,” I talked about what it was like to be a black person living under white supremacy, specifically in the sense of being powerless in the face of unaccountable power, a power that was eager and willing to inflict severe violence, even death, upon you. What prompted the comparison was the news that ISIS had burned a captured Jordanian Air Force pilot alive in a cage. I wrote:
No, the American South (and other parts of America where racial terrorists ran rampant) was never run by fanatical theocrats who used grotesque public murders as a tool of terror. But if you were a black in the years 1877-1950, this was a distinction without much meaningful difference.
I had the case in my hometown in mind when I wrote that. In that post, I quoted a recent report on lynchings in the American South, 1877-1950. One category of lynchings investigators identified:
Lynchings Based on Fear of Interracial Sex. Nearly 25 percent of the lynchings of African Americans in the South were based on charges of sexual assault. The mere accusation of rape, even without an identification by the alleged victim, could arouse a lynch mob. The definition of black-on-white “rape” in the South required no allegation of force because white institutions, laws, and most white people rejected the idea that a white woman would willingly consent to sex with an African American man.
In the case I’m talking about, the mob — in this case, the sheriff and his deputies, as well as the (false) accuser — did not require a dispassionate examination of the evidence in the case. The accuser’s word was enough. It was assumed by white Southern culture of the day that every black man sexually desired every white woman, and that no white woman was capable of sexually desiring a black man. Even black male desire itself was enough to merit execution; if a black man and a white woman had actually been caught in sexual congress, as in this particular case, that was even stronger evidence of rape. Or so that culture thought.
But again: white culture of that time and place was so racially paranoid that all it took was for white people to feel that a black man sexually desired a white woman for that man to be at risk of extrajudicial execution.
This is not a sin and a perversion unique to white Southern culture, 1877-1950. Nor is a different version of it unique to German culture, 1918-1945, or to a Russian version of it under the Soviets, or a Chinese version of it under Mao, or a Hutu version of it in 1994 Rwanda. It is universal in human character. The story of the Passion of Jesus Christ lays this bare. As Caiaphas, the high priest, said as an innocent man was being condemned to death, “It is better for one man to die than that a whole nation perish.” When members of the mob feel threatened, they will coalesce as a mob and justify any violence to preserve its sense of itself. This is why when Christians hear the Passion gospels during Holy Week, we are instructed to understand that every one of us is in reality a member of the Jerusalem mob chanting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
It is precisely this kind of thing that the rule of law is designed to mitigate. Human justice is imperfect (this, by the way, is why I oppose the death penalty; I believe that some crimes are so heinous that they deserve capital punishment, but I do not trust the state to be right all the time). We train ourselves to hold our passions at a distance in cases like this, and to subject them to rigorous rational inquiry. Again, it is not perfect — but what else do we have?
As longtime readers know, the way I talked myself into supporting the Iraq War still haunts me. As I’ve explained in this space before, I wanted revenge for 9/11. I should have known that Iraq had nothing to do with that mass murder; indeed, many, including the founders of this magazine, were saying precisely that. I didn’t want to listen. I took too much pleasure in my status as a victim of Arab Muslim evil. I wanted some Arab Muslims to suffer for what “they” did to me. I didn’t much care for precision in assigning guilt.
Of course I didn’t frame it that way in my own mind. Had I presented it to myself in that fashion, I might have resisted the march to the cleansing war, the war that would set accounts to right. Deep down, I didn’t want to avoid that war. I wanted the Arab Muslims to hurt and to fear as much as they had hurt us, and made us fear. It was primitive tribalism at work. I was an educated journalist working in New York City in the early 21st century, but deep down, in my heart of hearts, I might as well have been a tribesman on the plains of Africa, a Viking raider in early Europe, or any earlier iteration of crude, violent tribalism in the long human story. In fact, was this kind of thing not what drove the terrorists of Al-Qaeda to slaughter our innocents on September 11? To avenge perceived wrongs. To achieve justice. To restore honor.
Don’t get me wrong: sometimes war is just. Sometimes a grave injustice really has occurred, and needs to be set aright by violence. And so forth. But we must confront these things with deep seriousness and restraint, recognizing our own near-boundless capacity for passion-driven injustice. It is so great that even within the institutions and procedures of the rule of law, tribalism can triumph. Had that black man in my hometown been charged formally with rape and brought to trial, there is no reason to believe that he would have received a fair trial.
Still: what else do we have?
One of the greatest gifts that the Christian religion has given to the world is the idea that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. That is, every single one of us is imperfect, and indeed capable of great evil, because it is in our nature. Christians know, or should know, that all of us are sinners, blinded by our passions. There are times when we have to make judgments — no society could exist without doing so — but we should approach this task with introspective humility. You never see or hear these Social Justice Warrior mobs acknowledging this. As a matter of fact, their entire philosophy banishes humility as weakness and self-loathing. Go back and look at the communications from the faculty at DePauw, the letters to colleagues I quoted in my piece. Mind you, most of the letters I quoted come from white faculty. It’s pure SJW cant, mindlessly parroted by people who wield words and ideas as weapons to gain group power. This is the antithesis of what a university is supposed to be, which is why militant progressivism represents an existential crisis in the university.
If this notion of justice supplants the older, liberal version, then we are doomed to tribal war, which will only end when one group gains the power and the will to impress its hegemony on all others, as whites did to blacks prior to the Civil Rights Era.
Is this the country we want? Do we really think justice will be achievable in a polity like that? There is nothing just about “Social Justice” as conceived by the SJWs at DePauw and other places. It makes achieving real justice impossible, because it construes “justice” as solely a function of group power. We do not have to pretend that the US system produced perfect justice in the past, or that it will ever be capable of producing perfect justice, to affirm that as flawed as it is, was, and ever shall be, it is the best thing we have.
To resist the SJWs on campus, and in corporate America, is to fight for old-fashioned liberalism. There are many aspects of liberalism I see as unsustainable, and am not sorry to see go. But the broadly liberal concept of justice, which entails the equality of individuals before the law, is perhaps the most important facet of liberalism. It is endangered now, and will be even more endangered as the educated young people corrupted by these progressive elites in college move into positions of power throughout our culture.
A society in which people believe that virtue inheres in groups; a society in which loyalty to the group is more important than loyalty to truth; a society that is emotivist (that is, one in which truth is determined primarily by feeling and sentiment instead of dispassionate reasoning) — all of these things are societies that can only be less just than what we have now.
That’s enough for tonight. I’ll stop here. I’m reading Amy Chua’s new book Political Tribes: Group Instinct And The Fate Of Nations.So far, I’m finding it very good, but actually chilling, given what we’re seeing on campuses, in corporate America, and beyond. Nobody is innocent here. Nobody — not whites, not blacks, not Hispanics or Asians, not gays, not straights, and so on — is innocent. I’ll be writing more on it in the days to come.
It’s important to me to say one more thing here. Back in the summer of 2002, I was reeling from rage over 9/11, and over the Catholic sex abuse scandal. I was so overcome by it that I had to see a dentist to get a mouthguard made for wearing at night, because I was grinding my teeth so fiercely that my wife couldn’t sleep. She was so worried about what was happening to me on the inside. I couldn’t rest. The injustices of these two catastrophic events was eating me alive. She compelled me to swallow my pride and go see a therapist.
The therapist was a Catholic, and, as it turned out, a quack. Long story. But he told me something in that first session that was offensive and painful to hear, and that I furiously rejected. But years later, I came to see that he was right.
What he told me was this: “You need to accept that under the right circumstances, you could have been flying one of those planes. You could have been Mohammed Atta.”
No effing way! I said. No way! I refused to admit that I have anything in common with that monster. What is wrong with this guy? I thought. What kind of relativist is he?
He was right about that. I do, in fact, have that capacity for evil within me. So do you. So do we all. Not too many of us are the kind of sociopaths who choose evil for evil’s sake. We first dress it up as good — as justice, perhaps. Read the final words left behind by Atta. This is a man convinced that he was acting for the sake of God, of justice, and his tribe (Muslims), against infidels, which at one point he described as “animals” to be slaughtered. It is one long rationale for mass murder as an act of high and selfless virtue.
If you don’t think you have it within you to write the same sort of testament, you don’t know yourself as well as you think you do. Nor do you know history, or the human heart. The men of my town who lynched that innocent black man slept peacefully every night for the rest of their lives — except for the man who, in his final days on this earth, confessed to his wicked deed, in preparation for meeting the great Judge. But they all escaped justice on this earth, because they were all living under a system that held the maintenance of white supremacy as justice itself.
What progressives advocated in 1964 was progress. What they advocate today is not progress, but returning to the older corruption, this time with different supremacists in power. It is still unjust. It is still evil. It always will be. The Social Justice Warriors and their fellow travelers in power at universities, in corporations, and even in government (see Mayor Harmon above), are summoning up demons that they cannot control.
The challenge that Christians among those spitefully mistreated by the power-wielders face today is in loving those who do them wrong. This is because love, in humility, is the higher justice, according to Jesus Christ. That thought is alien to fallen human nature, but it is the only thing that can set us free from our passions. Believe me, I’ve lived through that. It’s a lesson that I will have to keep learning over and over again, all the days of my life.
I read this short story the other day in The Guardian, about contemporary exorcism. The journalist who wrote it interviewed Father Cesar Truqui, a Catholic priest who is also an exorcist. Excerpt:
Truqui also spoke at length about Satan, who he described as a pragmatic foe. “The devil tempts the holy man in his holiness and the sinner in his sin,” he says.
While he is at pains to point out that he does not believe Pope Francis is possessed or vexed by the devil, he says that the devil would know that Francis would not be tempted by lust for a woman. Instead, he would prey on Francis’s sympathy for the poor, and tempt him to ignore the affluent.
The great temptation that I have faced, and do faced, is to love justice so much that I fall into contempt for the unjust, and ignore or deny my own very great capacity for blindly inflicting injustice on others. I invite you to reflect on whether this is also true for you. One thing I know is true: the kind of demonic passionate intensity that fills these SJWs and their allies can only be sustained in the absence of love and humility. They willingly annihilate their individual responsibility for the narcotic pleasures of tribal membership. For them, it is better for one innocent man to die — figuratively or literally — than for the whole nation’s idea of order come into question.
This is the logic of the lynch mob — and lynch mobs come in all kinds. You know this, don’t you?