Over the last few years, the snide reference to people as “Social Justice Warriors” (SJWs) has become common. According to the authoritative source of Wikipedia, the term first came into use in the late twentieth century, and was deployed in a positive or neutral way. Soon after it was introduced, however, the label began to acquire a negative connotation. It was used to mock those who embraced identity politics and “political correctness”.
The negative connotation is now pervasive because many of the people advocating for social justice are becoming more aggressive in the dogmatic pursuit of their agenda. Whether it is “decolonization”, anti-racism, third-wave feminism or “trans activism”, it is constantly implied that there is a predetermined “correct” way to think about politics. It is even claimed that questioning how various oppressed groups see themselves amounts to “denying their humanity” and engaging in “hate speech”. As a result, SJW claims are shielded from scrutiny.
No matter how satisfying it is to castigate these activists as “SJWs”, however, referring to people in this way is a mistake. This is because the problem is not ardent support for social justice, which is a laudable position, but the fact that self-proclaimed defenders of marginalized groups support censorship and refuse to accept that there could be valid criticisms of their assertions. The advocacy for equality is being pursued through the dogmatic imposition of particular views on how to overcome oppression. This cannot constitute actual social justice, as achieving progress in this regard requires engaging with others to determine the most beneficial and efficacious course of action.
What “SJWs” are actually guilty of is Politically Correct Totalitarianism (PCT). PCTs are convinced that their view of the world is the “right” way to think about things, and anyone who disagrees is obviously “wrong” and should not be allowed to express their views. If discourse strays from the “correct” way to view things, PCTs argue, the coercive arm of the state should be used to ensure that other members of society are not adversely impacted by thoughts that are wrong or pernicious. “Hate speech” legislation is the endgame of this mindset.
Postmodern newspeak has associated PCT with “the Left” of the political spectrum, in spite of the latter’s historical support for freedom of speech and dialectical reasoning. In fact, it is right-wing ideologues who typically have been drawn to its authoritative dictatorialism. This is indicated by the first articulate defense of PCT, which was made in Pope Pius IX’s Syllabus Of Errors. Since the Pope was assumed to be infallible in this document, and his interpretation of Catholicism was considered revealed knowledge, the Syllabus Of Errors justified intolerance of “absolute rationalism” and non-Catholic religious beliefs. This is the essence of PCT reasoning.
The same kind of “error has no rights” mentality has been seen in other forms of right-wing PCT. Take, for example, the case of anti-communism efforts in the United States, particularly in the McCarthy era. During the 1950s, it was assumed that communist ideology was obviously harmful (i.e. “wrong”), and therefore no one should have the right to express this position. Laws were even created to make it a criminal offense to argue in favour of overthrowing a State by revolution, or to be associated with any entity that engaged in discussions about this. Even more draconian legislation was passed in some regions in the United States, where life imprisonment and the death penalty were instituted for propaganda deemed to be “subversive” and speech that supported the overthrow of the government.
More recently, right-wing PCT has reared its demagogic head in the context of criticism of Israel. There have been attempts to prevent Israeli Apartheid Week under the guise that opposing the existence of a “Jewish State” amounts to “anti-Semitism” – a bizarre proposition that ignores that both Jews and Palestinians are Semites. These demands for censorship have been given credibility by the Supreme Court decision in R. v. Keegstra in 1990, which opened the door for any criticism of adherents of Judaism to be interpreted as “willfully promoting hatred against an identifiable group”. In this case, a person was convicted of a criminal offence for publicly stating that Jews were evil and doubting the existence of the holocaust. While these views are reprehensible and nonsensical, they do not justify the PCT proposition that they should be illegal.
While cases of right-wing Politically Correct Totalitarianism make up only a minority of cases today, one can see that the claims put forward are very similar to those of “SJWs”. This is because it is not the content of the ideology that is significant, but the assertion that one’s views are obviously “right” and must not be challenged. The demand for censorship is made by those who are unsure of the validity of their arguments, and so they want to silence reasoning that is potentially more persuasive. The object of totalitarianism is to control the thoughts of members of society, and it is this characteristic that should be the concern of everyone who values freedom of expression. It is only by exposing PCT censorship that we can begin the difficult process of having open and honest ideological discussions about what is the best future for humanity.