Social justice causes such as anti racism and feminism have a natural appeal. What arguments could reasonable and conscientious people make against equal access to educational and employment opportunities? Who in their right mind would be supportive of barriers to success based on such arbitrary characteristics as race, gender or sexual orientation? As a culture, we are very fond of stories from our past about how basic rights and civil liberties were won by hitherto discriminated against people. Vietnam war era rallies, protests and riots in opposition to unjust and costly wars abroad and discrimination and bigotry at home have become cornerstones of the identifying mythology of the western world.
The appeal that these movements have for people today, even half a century after their occurrence, should be obvious. But are the movements against sexual and racial discrimination we see today, especially on college campuses and on social media, truly the successors of their summer of love era progenitors?
There are some similarities and areas of overlap. Just as earlier periods of civil rights struggles produced its share of unhinged extremists. But the differences between the civil rights era and what have been called the regressive left and the social justice warriors of our time go much deeper than that. It is not just that current year has just happened to produce more moonbats and nutjobs than times past, though many factors are conducive to that happening, or that you're just able to hear more about them due to social media. Beneath the veneer of social justice, the so called progressivism of our era is fundamentally different, and in ways that are decidedly unprogressive, compared times past.
Oppression has been defined as the exercise of authority in a burdensome, cruel or unjust manner, unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power, a situation in which people are governed in an unfair or cruel way and prevented from having opportunities and freedom and as prolonged cruel or unjust treatment or exercise of authority. Given these definitions, are many of the causes taken up by the regressive left social justice warriors of our time really anti-oppression struggles?
Some questions to ask ourselves, and things to think about:
Are people who are oppressed, as defined above, typically given legal recourse against those who they deem to have defamed the group to which they belong, as is the case of hate speech laws?
Are the penalties for crimes against oppressed peoples greater if hatred of the group to which the victim of the crime belongs is deemed a motive for the crime in question, as is the case with hate speech laws?
Are members of oppressed groups able to seek and win elected office, sometimes the highest executive office in the land, as was the case in the United States of America in the 2008 - 2016 time frame? Typically, oppressed peoples are barred from public office, as black people were in the days of apartheid and segregation.
While peoples suffering from genuine oppression can have enlightened benefactors among the more privileged elites otherwise profiting from their marginalization - and good for them when they do, would oppressed peoples enjoy the level of government funding and corporate sponsorship that their claimants enjoy today? Would advertisers fear to be associated with a brand that did not sympathize with "marginalized" groups? Would social justice provide not just meaning and purpose for its activist cadres, but lucrative careers in bureaucracies in the public sector, in education at all levels, in both entertainment and informative media and media watchdog groups, in non-profit advocacy, in law, with lobby groups, in politics and numerous other fields? I would hardly expect advocacy on behalf of truly oppressed peoples to be institutionalized to even a fraction of the extent that it is in western cultures today.
Radical left protest, up to the point of rioting or even terrorism has historically targeted institutions of government and corporate power. This was the case up to the time of Occupy Wall Street. Today, anti-racist groups claiming to oppose police brutality protest in a manner that obstructs the lives of ordinary, workaday people surprisingly far removed from positions of power. Wouldn't it make more sense to picket a police station than to block traffic or obstruct the progress of white students to their classrooms on college campuses? What does it tell us when movements like intersectional feminism and black lives matter spend much more time and effort attacking individuals who happen to be white and male than they do the actual "structures" and "systems" to which they attribute ultimate responsibility for oppression?
Speaking of college campuses, is there no difference between the campuses of fifty years ago, that required court orders to even admit black students at all in some cases, and campuses today, infamous for their immediate and thorough capitulation to endless rounds of demands for courses, entire dormitories and study halls, curriculum content and even convocation ceremonies exclusively for black and other minority students?
Stories of speakers deemed offensive to minority sentiments being no-platformed, disinvited from college campuses or even provoking campus riots abound, and virtually always with little or no academic discipline or legal consequences following for the offenders, abound on social media. More astonishing still is the fact that the scripts that these protesters are reading from were written in the very academic institutions they're protesting, and the protests themselves often enjoy at least the tacit, if not open support of college administration and faculty. If this is oppression, it is certainly the strangest form of oppression I've ever heard of.
I would expect "oppressed" to be a descriptor of people who are denied access even to basic education, let alone access to the most prestigious post-secondary institutions in the world, even in preference to more qualified applicants who are not members of the supposedly oppressed group. Oppressed groups would not be granted their own whole fields of study, such as black studies or women's studies, and the works of these fields would not be exempted, at least by taboo if not by institutional policy, from scrutiny or criticism from their peers. Oppressed is most certainly not the descriptor I'd use to describe those whose mere disapproval or offense could ruin the career of otherwise distinguished professors and make entire college faculties quake with fear.
Oppressed groups and their representatives do not typically enjoy near universally favorable media bias, nor do they enjoy a near complete absence of scrutiny or criticism of claims they make in academic or media environments. When's the last time you've seen or heard a credible journalist not associated with an explicitly conservative or libertarian news source openly challenge a core doctrine of feminism or a leading feminist theorist or critic?
Issues of concern in intersectional social justice circles have a remarkable way of arising quite suddenly and simultaneously in multiple media outlets, framed in the same way and couched in the same terms with the same talking points. Observe, again and again, how quickly one manufactured issue after another appeared very suddenly and dramatically, supported almost universally across multiple media outlets or on multiple college campuses, while opposition and criticism to the "progressive" stance on this issue is developed and disseminated only slowly, and articulated primarily in the comments sections of mainstream corporate media outlets. Would oppressed and marginalized groups have access to the money, resources and skills needed to conduct such apparently professional and well coordinated media campaigns?
Oppressed groups are not typically successful in their efforts to block the efforts of their supposedly more privileged counterparts to bring to light instances of when the "non-oppressed" group suffers domestic partner or sexual violence. It would be logical not to expect oppressed groups to be capable of marshalling vast mobs on social media to harass, dox or even get fired from their jobs individuals who happen to criticize the orthodox political and social opinions favored by the oppressed group. The logical thing to expect would be for victims of domestic and sexual violence to be silenced and swept under the carpet if they belonged to oppressed groups. Could it be that this is, in fact, actually happening, just not in the way, and against the groups that conventional media narratives would have us believe it is?
Demands on behalf of an oppressed groups for the elimination of due process for members of the oppressor group where allegations of rape are concerned would most certainly not be taken seriously, at least in mainstream, agenda setting media, and would not animate policy on college campuses. If a member of a privileged group were to compliment a member of an oppressed group, I highly doubt that offense or even allegations of harassment would ensue in response, if the recipient of such attention were indeed oppressed. Extreme flattery would be a much more logical response. The privileged would be enjoined by stringent cultural norms and social mores from speaking well at all of the groups they oppress.
Would truly oppressed peoples really object to their oppressors adopting elements of the culture of the oppressed group, and would an oppressor group who had really adopted widespread attitudes of bigotry and disdain towards the people they're oppressing "appropriate" their culture? Or would it be sternly frowned upon within the elite, domineering group to adopt any aspect of the oppressed group's culture? When the dominant group begins assuming certain cultural forms of oppressed groups, is this a mark of oppression or, perhaps, a veiled expression of sympathy?
The real canary in the coal mine, however, is the disposition of protest politics and social justice movements towards the concept of free speech. No group who ever sought a more inclusive, just and liberal society ever advocated censorship or the silencing of its opponents. That the protest politics and social justice movements of today very explicitly advocate censorship and the judgement of people by the color of their skin rather than the content of their character should tell us everything about their nature today as opposed to their nature - the odd fanatic notwithstanding - back in the glamorized 1960s.
None of which is to say that women, minorities and so on do not have legitimate grievances or that they are not still treated unfairly and discriminated against. But the worm has turned in many key respects.
Rather, this is about the appropriation of the historical struggles of marginalized peoples for political purposes much more related to the consolidation of power for a class of people whose resemblances to the truly marginalized and oppressed are literally only skin deep.
They are, perhaps, better compared to the clergy of medieval Christendom, for whom the works of Christ and the Apostles were more to legitimize their own privileged position in the feudal hierarchy than they were examples to be followed. Perhaps this is more about that summer of love mythology described above that so many people love so much, and are increasingly turning to now that the clergy of Christendom seem to be receding from their former prominence in largely similar roles. The clergy of social justice - itself originally a Christian concept, interestingly. Social justice, or state religion?
Whatever the politics of the regressive left are, they are not politics on behalf of oppressed peoples.