When I first heard the term SJW (Social Justice Warrior) I leaped for joy because, finally, there was a universally understood term for a concept I'd been struggling to articulate for a while: a kind of pushy, judgment-centered, and insufferable leftist activism that exists to play purity games and is centered around hair-trigger media outrages. The ultimate example of this was the doubling down on #CancelColbert that was unambiguously in the wrong.
Maybe it's because I live in a blue state (well, blue urban area), but I have been attacked by right-wingers a heck of a lot less than by other liberal ideologues for disagreeing with them by 3%.
To my friends (yes, my friends) who think of themselves as SJWs, I write this for you. Please keep in mind the following things:
Self righteousness is a drug you can get addicted to. I'm NOT speaking figuratively or metaphorically, here. I mean it literally. Righteous indignation, or believing you are absolutely correct and your opponents are malevolent, has been shown by neurologists to function on the brain the same way actual narcotics do. It produces a high in the brain that you chase and eventually become dependent on.
To quote David Brin: "a relentless addiction to indignation may be one of the chief drivers of obstinate dogmatism and an inability to negotiate pragmatic solutions to a myriad modern problems. It may be the ultimate propellant behind the current 'culture war.'"
Epistemic closure is bad. I am deeply concerned that our tools and social media technologies allow us to only surround ourselves with like-minded souls. Epistemic closure is a big problem in the digital age when it's more possible than ever to surround yourself only with people you agree with, and associations are so transitory they can be ended with the click of a button.
It's easy to criticize enemies for living in a bubble and not even commuting to reality (remember how dead sure all the Romneyites were that he was destined to win back in 2012?) but it's a lot harder to examine when we ourselves do it. I was once unfriended on social media by a friend of seven years for a disagreement. The fact we were friends for years mattered less than the fact I broke his closed bubble.
Why is this a problem? The first is the echo chamber effect: if you surround yourself only with people you agree with, you'll end up believing a more extreme version of what you previously believed. The second is that the ability to entertain a point of view without getting mad or shutting down is the hallmark of an educated adult.
Last and most importantly, ask yourself this: are you right all the time? Is anybody? How would you know if you don't expose yourself to the momentary discomfort of different POVs? Being open minded is (theoretically) a virtue in our society but we've forgotten why: because it moderates us, because no one is right all the time. In the long run, the discomfort of being exposed to a different view beats the pain of being wrong for a lifetime.
Don't shoot people down by saying "you're just saying that because of your privileges in life." Here's the thing to keep in mind: when trying to shoot somebody down as a wealthy straight white male first worlder who drives a BMW…even if true, it doesn't make him wrong.
People overuse the term "ad hominem" and take it to be identical to an insult. That's not what an ad hominem is. Insults usually have an advantage in that in that almost everything your enemy says about you is true.
For instance, lots of opponents of my pet issue, copyright reform, say that reformers are privileged first worlders who have childlike demands for entitled immediacy. The funny thing is, I think that's actually pretty true…but (and that is important) it doesn't make us wrong.
That's what an ad hominem actually is – not an insult, but shutting down the pair of your brain that examines claims by saying "you're just saying that because you're a (fill in the blank)
This is how to make an argument: (claim)
So, if you say "that's just your privilege talking," you're not actually responding to what the other guy is saying. In short, this is a way of breaking your own brain.
All of the above damages your ability to interact with the world. A lot of tumblr activism and SJW psychology reminds me of how cults work, in that cults damage your ability to interact with the broader world, make you insular and more likely to surround yourself with those you're in agreement with, teach you a language and jargon impenetrable to outsiders that damages your ability to communicate with broader society ("patriarchy" and "cisgender" sound right out of scientology), create umbrage and suspicion of a sinful outside society, and surrounds you with inviting people who share your beliefs…but who, at the same time, also police you by questioning your devotion.
One final note: if your reaction to this article is, "well, this guy's not a real leftist but is a conservative," congratulations, you're precisely this article's target audience because if I count as a conservative to you, that probably means you don't know any conservatives.