A few months ago I had formed a useful metaphor about the underlying mechanisms at play when those concerned with social justice want to improve things for the greater good. This is nothing new, Bill Bonner & Lila Rajiva wrote an entire book on this called Mobs, Markets & Messiah’s wherein they examined the trail of wreckage left behind by what they called “world improvers” like Che Guevara, Pol Pot, Stalin, the list goes on.
As they saw it:
“The trouble with the big wide world is that it is never good enough for some people. They keep trying to improve it. No harm in that, you should always try to make your world a better place. Wink at a homely girl, or curse a bad driver. But the world improvers are rarely content with private acts of kindness. Instead, they want gas chambers and Social Security –vast changes almost always brought about at the point of a gun. Thus is was that central banks were set up and given the power to control what doesn’t belong to them, your money. Thus it came to be that we got regularly felt up by strangers at airports –and thought it normal”.
Bonner expanded on that further in “Hormegeddon: How Too Much Of a Good Thing Leads To Disaster”, where, with due props to Nassim Taleb for introducing the concept of hormesis into the public lexicon. Hormesis describes how some things that might benefit us in small doses, almost certainly destroy us as we amp up the volume.
The metaphor I came up with was this: all any of us can do in these mortal coils of ours is to play the cards life deals us as best we can. That’s it. We have no other control over anything else. If we try to exert control over anything else, we are assuring disappointment for ourselves and grief for others.
If we have a halfway decent ethical compass, we’ll try to refrain from playing our hand in a way that would unfairly penalize others: no aces up our sleeves, or peaking at the other players hands. We would play a straight up game, not cheat, and expect the other players to play the same way, and if they don’t, we would avoid playing with them.
That’s basically life, and the golden rule, in a nutshell. Some famous rabbi once remarked, “everything is The Golden Rule, all else is commentary”.
But there are those for whom that isn’t good enough, these are what Bonner and Rajiva called “The World Improvers” or what today we would call social justice warriors. They aren’t satisfied playing the cards they are dealt to the best of their own abilities. Because fate is unfair and luck is unevenly distributed they feel the need to:
1) Control the cards fate deals to the other players
“Now we’re getting somewhere” the social justice warrior might think. Life is unfair. If we can force life to deal the same hand to everybody, and then it’ll be fair. Then we can all play the game with the understanding that nobody is playing from an exalted position of privilege. Although sometimes, that can get tricky so you really have to monkeyhammer the deck to ensure that equality ensues.
Charles Hugh Smith’s “Inequality and the Collapse of Privilege” sheds some insight that I think is lost on many social justice warriors. Beyond the obvious point that equality of outcomes is impossible and what we should really be striving for is equality of opportunity, Smith also makes a distinction between advantage and privilege.
The difference is that an advantaged class operates from a position of earned benefit, while a privileged class operates from an unearned one.
When the Globe and Mail’s Margaret Wente wrote the think piece “How Privileged Are You? Take this Test and Find Out“, it is clear that this distinction is lost on her. My quip when I first read it was that the dilemma she identified as privilege could be completely alleviated if children simply refused to be raised by parents who made sound life choices. Problem solved.
Another example is that “What is Privilege” video you have probably had shoved in your face at least once on social media that has over 3 million views on Youtube. It enumerates 35 markers of ‘privilege’ (such as “If you came from a supportive family environment”, “If there were more than 50 books in your household”…)
What Wente, the directors of this video and others fail to differentiate is between those who, for example, are raised within the inner circles of the economic / financial / political elites, who can borrow newly created money at near-zero interest, use it to buy up assets and income streams, then get bailed out by the state if the wheels come off (privileged); versus, say, a double-income couple who tough it out through marital stresses, support each other through university, live below their means and save enough money and cultivate enough stability to give their kids a stable foundation in life. That’s not privilege, that’s advantage. Earned advantage.
That’s actually the way it’s supposed to work! Your parents are supposed to raise children with the added benefit of what they learned themselves, each generation becoming a bit wiser, healthier, and self-actualized than the preceding generation. When that happens we shouldn’t be telling these kids something is wrong, what we should be doing is looking at why so many parents are failing at the job of parenting.
As Chris Rock puts it, “Dads, if your daughter ends up on the pole, that means you fucked up”.
But to the social justice warriors, because of the uneven outcomes, those who plan ahead and think through outcomes, especially if they’ve been trained to do that by their parents who learned that from their parents, and so on, find that “problematic”. It’s unfair.
But not to worry, when the social justice warriors cannot control the cards life deals to all the players, there is always the next logical step, and that is to
2) Control how the other players are permitted to play their own cards.
Now we’re really getting somewhere. Because life, fate, history, geopolitics et al are unfair, we can still even things out for everybody by simply dictating to the other players what they must or must not do with the cards they’ve been dealt.
I got an example of this personally this week when I sent out my weekly #AxisOfEasy newsletter, and put in the following postscript:
The wholly contrived controversy around the song “Baby It’s Cold Outside” could only have been ignited by somebody with too much spare time on their hands who was on a mission to be offended. Nevertheless, it’s illustrative in that it gives us a microcosm example of the kind of neo-Jacobin Terrors we’ll all wind up under if we don’t vigorously challenge political uber-correctness like this. (Progressives frequently ruminate over the normalization of “hate”. What I worry about being normalized is being told what I can and can not like or think).
Perhaps unsurprisingly, somebody who saw the newsletter did take offense to my postscript, and emailed me:
Please don’t advertise your community with such a trashy song. It seemed like you had good motivations for making your mastodon instance. But then you throw in a song that’s basically AT BEST trivializing daterape, and it makes you sound like a real piece of MRA shit.
Let’s pause here to observe the fact that if you examine the lyrics to “Baby It’s Cold Outside”, what is clear is that it is not “AT BEST trivializing date rape”, it is doing that only at worst, and only if one really shoehorns their own misanthropically biased interpretation into it. You really have to work to get there because it comes down to a single line in the song that has at least 3 or 4 other, more soulful interpretations off the top of my head.
I am belabouring this for a reason, and I am choosing this example because what happens next is the perfect illustration of how world improvers think things should work, as opposed to how the world actually works:
I wrote him back:
“with all due respect, it’s a song with innocuous lyrics, what that song means to any given person is a matter of how they choose to interpret it, and completely at their own discretion. That song happens to be very meaningful to my wife and I and we remember it fondly and romantically. I will not be told to feel bad for that or to abandon the memories, the meaning or the love that a song invokes, or otherwise disavow a deeply personal experience by those who would be hell bent on imposing their own hyper-moralistic tunnel vision on everybody else.
Also I don’t appreciate being called an MRA shit, next time you want to take an issue up with me keep it clean and be civil.”
to which he replied
Calling for civility is the refuge of those who wish for no judgment or consequences about their words and positions, and it’s a poisonous seed that grows into the flaming misogynist neonazi trash heap. I understand you disagree and have your own fond memories of the song, but in return I ask you to understand that your own nostalgia may cloud your vision.
I’m breaking this exchange out in excruciating detail because it presents a textbook example of how world improvers and social justice types frame conversations and are incapable of accepting what they see as non-conforming views.
What his response amounts to is that he, the social justice warrior, is permitted to hurl verbal abuse and profanity at me, and I am not allowed to object to that. By doing so I am somehow shirking my responsibility toward him. Further, it doesn’t matter if I am offended by what he said to me, what matters is that he is offended by something that might be going on in my head. Finally, despite my own feelings toward a song that has nothing to do with him, it’s my vision that may be clouded, and should by extension be re-educated, not his.
This type of exchange is typical of attempts at dialogue with the militant progressives, and they all follow a typical arc:
- The social justice warrior seeks out, and purportedly finds some innocuous or misunderstood issue to be offended about.
- The SJW then defines the terms of the dialogue so that any opinion they have about it is relevant and meaningful, while anything you have to say about it is out-of-scope and problematic. They may invent some neologism to neutralize your logic (i.e “Thomas Sowell is alt-right-adjacent, so nothing he ever said counts”) or they may just fall back to the old stand-by’s of calling you a Nazi and a racist.
- (Also, the SJW has full license to behave with rudeness, treat you with sanctimony and derision, and resort to ad hominem attacks)
- Finally, especially if this taking place on social media, when SJWs find themselves boxed into a corner, bounded by their own contradictions and hypocrisy, they’ll just block you. (Kissinger: “Declare victory, then withdraw”).
As Thomas Sowell once wrote:
“One of the most pathetic – and dangerous – signs of our times is the growing number of individuals and groups who believe that no one can possibly disagree with them for any honest reason”
The obvious solution here is…
This post’s title is a riff on Frank Zappa’s “Shut Up and Play Yer Guitar”. In 1986 Zappa gave testimony before the Maryland State Legislature about a proposed bill that would have expanded the definition of pornography to include music:
It is my personal feeling that lyrics cannot harm anyone. There is no sound that you can make with your mouth, or word that will come out of your mouth, that is so powerful that it will make you go to hell.
It’s also not going to turn anyone into a ‘social liability.’ ‘Disturbed’ people can be set off on a ‘disturbed’ course of action by any kind of stimulus. If they are prone to being antisocial or schizophrenic or whatever, they can be set off by anything, including my tie, or your hair, or that chair over there.
You can’t point to the statistics concerning ‘people doing strange things in the vicinity of rock music,’ because all you’ve got to do is look around at all the normal kids who listen to it and live with it every day who do not commit suicide; they don’t commit murder [ or date rape – markjr ], and they grow up to be, in some cases, legislators.
Anybody who feels “Baby it’s Cold Outside” is an affront to their decency can go ahead and not listen to it. To that end, the same day my exchange took place, CBC radio, the network that started the entire #BabyItsColdOutside debacle by removing the song from their Christmas playlist, reversed it’s course in the face of overwhelming public outcry and reinstated it, with the comment:
“Appreciating not everyone interprets lyrics the same way, listeners may wish to skip the song as we understand not everyone will agree with this decision.”
In other words, CBC is telling one and all to “Shut up and play yer own cards”.