A Sea Change on the Left?
The Response to "Confessions of a Former SJW"
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Your Thoughts on “Confessions of a Former SJW”
I expected Confessions of a Former SJW to elicit strong reactions, but what I didn't expect was for the response to be almost universally positive. Out of 24 comments, emails and messages I received, only one expressed strong disagreement with the content of the essay. I’m sure that those who agree with me are more likely to write me a message than those who don’t, and not every supportive message expressed total agreement. In the lingo of social science, what I have is a very tiny number of anecdotes.
However, as I read through your commentary, a number of themes emerged:
Many of you found the essay deeply relatable.
Most of you are troubled by the fanatical social norms I described.
Many of you feel unable to express your disapproval publicly.
Many of you noticed your life improve when you rejected this mindset.
Most of you desire an open and honest leftist discussion about the harmful and ineffectual behaviours of this subculture.
I was wracked with nerves in the lead-up to publishing this essay, but once I’d done the deed, a new emotion flooded me: relief. It took me years to make sense of my time in this subculture, and even longer to become ready to speak about it publicly.
It remains a risk to do so, because those who remain true believers will experience this essay as threatening and harmful, perhaps even violent. They consider any type of behaviour against a perceived ideological enemy to be justified, and they are well-practiced in inciting mobs of people to participate in doxxing and smear campaigns. Unfortunately, they succeed with notable frequency in damaging a target’s reputation beyond repair.
Nevertheless, I remain hopeful, because it feels to me like the tide is turning, and a number of your messages said as much. It’s becoming increasingly undeniable that language invoking power, privilege and oppression can be used to control, punish, manipulate and distort. Once you’ve been through this subculture and come out the other side, you can spot from a mile away the people and groups who use buzzwords like “justice” and “accountability” to try and disguise anti-social, anti-democratic behaviour.
To be clear, it is incorrect to interpret my essay as saying that all people who believe in or work with anti-oppression frameworks or intersectional feminist philosophies behave in this manner. There is way too much variety and depth within these bodies of work for me to ever make such a claim. Many of my dearest friends are social workers, therapists, public health nurses, legal advocates, frontline workers and anti-poverty organizers, and they use tools from these frameworks to inform how best to support the members of our society who are struggling most profoundly.
Here’s the thing: many of the people I’ve just described are the same people who privately thanked me for what I wrote. Those who have messaged me are not right-wing reactionaries—they are people who share my desire for a reinvigorated Left that is powerful enough to deliver wins to the working class, the poor and the otherwise disenfranchised.
I am so grateful to each and every one of you who wrote to me, and please know that I plan to reply thoughtfully rather than quickly. The response has been truly overwhelming. I am sorry so many of you could relate, but I am thrilled that you’re here. We may have lost the plot, but don’t worry—it’s got to be around here somewhere.
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So, personally, I think the sea change happened around six years ago, when criticism of this behavior started going mainstream.
In a society where 100% of the population is racist, nobody criticizes racism.
In a society where 0% of the population is racist - and, well, see, here's the thing: I can't actually say nobody will criticize racism, particularly if that society had racists in the past. But I'd guess to actually achieve 0% racism, racism has to be irrelevant to society, so I'm going to kind of handwave here and say that, for our purposes, a society with no racists doesn't criticize racism.
So the peak criticism of racism does not happen when there are the most racists, 100%, nor when there are the least. Where exactly would we expect criticism of racism to peak?
Naively we might say when 50% of society is racist. But I don't think this is right, because if 5% of society is racist, that gives society enough racists for criticism of racism to make sense, while being close to maximizing the number of people who -want- to criticize racism.
That is - the preponderance of criticism of an ideology must be inversely proportional to the actual popularity of that ideology, but temporally proximal to peak popularity. (Eventually people move on to something else to criticize.) So, looking around, it appears to me that we're not just post-peak-social-justice, but also post-peak-criticism-of-social-justice. Queue up the next thing everybody gets mad about.
Also- interesting what you said about the epithet ‘right wing reactionary.’ I’m not a right wing reactionary. I have always been left of left- which *left* me feeling lost and confused when people started calling me a right wing reactionary. It’s just another way of saying ‘shut up, I’m not prepared to listen to what you have to say because I never listen to anyone I don’t already agree with.’