In our contemporary culture there has been an increasing emphasis on oppression. The current fight for social justice demands an end to oppression and discrimination. The core of the matter is certainly understandable, if not admirable, and many followers have good intentions in legitimately wanting to decrease the occurrence of these vices, but as I see it, too much of this drive today is based upon a fallacious and even dangerous narrative.
Collectivism’s Main Fallacy
The “movement” or group most commonly associated with the term “social justice” today is united under the ideology of identity politics. What is identity politics? It’s the collectivist mindset based heavily upon the philosophy of intersectionality, where people are judged by the stereotypical rate of oppression people are expected to receive based on their ethnicity and other genetic and environmental characteristics.* (For a more in-depth explanation on intersectionality, see Ben Shapiro’s great video on the topic). The obvious fallacy one can recognize by this is that it is based fully upon generalizations and is ignorant of the bell curve of normally distributed characteristics in a population. To illustrate, the bell curve of oppression among a black population at some area may be further to the right on a graph measuring oppression than the white population, which would make the former have a higher average than the latter, but there would naturally still be white people in the distribution who are more oppressed and black people who are less oppressed than a great amount of people in the other category.
The Dangers of Intersectionalist Ideas
I’ve delineated the fallacious part briefly above, but there are two problems with the philosophy that I think goes so far as to even make it dangerous: ignorance of social identity theory and placing those who hold the philosophy into a deterministic mindset without room for self-improvement.
When you point out people’s differences more often, people will think and act more in accordance with them. This is the essence of social identity theory. In an article on the Sarah Jeong controversy, Jonah Goldberg argued that “Racism Begets More Racism” because “the more often people make these arguments, the more they are making white people think of themselves as white people [his emphasis].” I argued similarly for a couple months ago that the emphasis on the left-right spectrum makes people think of themselves more in terms of those categories, increasing polarization and the dehumanization of the other side of the aisle.
What consequences does this ignorance of the social identity theory entail? As Goldberg writes, when the difference between white and black people are pointed out, people will think more of themselves in terms of their respective skin color. It’s the same with gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, country of origin, relative income/wealth, disability, etc. Few will doubt that people may have more difficulty in life if they’re naturally disadvantaged in such categories by no fault of their own and that they thereby have more challenges to overcome. One may wish such oppression and unfairness to be alleviated, but pointing out people’s differences only intensifies these vices. They’re shooting themselves in the foot, so to speak. It’s a mystery how the philosophy of intersectionality has gotten such a foothold in the social sciences in the United States and abroad when the social identity theory is such an important part of the field, but you still see practices based upon it such as implicit (unconscious) bias training. Unsurprisingly, studies investigating this issue have confirmed that such testing and training only increases the bias.
Furthermore, the philosophy of intersectionality fuels a sense of determinism in those who follow it. It tells us: You cannot escape from the oppressed/oppressor metric. Your identity is based upon it. There’s nothing you can do about it. No matter how well you may think that you treat and think about the oppressed, you’re still oppressing them simply by the fact of the demographic category that you were placed in from birth, or alternatively that you have climbed the hierarchy through hard work or/and luck.
It isn’t difficult to see that this is self-destructive, but offering criticism without offering a solution isn’t necessarily very helpful either, so what’s the alternative? I answer this in detail in my article The Root of the Stoic Philosophy: Opportunity Cost, but the message cannot be repeated enough. I don’t think I can be any more direct with this than by quoting Epictetus asking “how long are you going to wait before you demand the best for yourself?” Really, why are you not living up to your potential? Why are you constantly looking for excuses? The oppression narrative is just another one of these excuses. They are hindering your self-improvement, they are hindering your abilities to be further developed, and they are hindering you from making a change for the better in your own life and the people you’re acquainted with. And the fact that other people may have set larger barriers for themselves than you through the adoption of such deterministic ideas like intersectionality ought not to be a further excuse for yourself to act below your potential!
In the article mentioned above, I go over how the concept of opportunity cost is not only important as a concept in economics, but also as a mental model for self-improvement. Every second of your life could be used in another way than you currently spend it, so what return on investment do you currently have in comparison to what you could have if you had used your time differently? Could it rather have been used in another way which you would find more productive? How much more of your life do you want to go to waste, on procrastination and destructive habits? Is it time for a new you in 2019? Don’t wait. Start now. I can refer you to countless great motivational videos and articles, and exceptional motivators like Tony Robbins, Jocko Willink and Evan Carmichael to give you an immediate boost, but unless watching those videos make you change your behavior, you’re actually procrastinating by only passively consuming information without making it result in anything.
Leonard Read, a brilliant author and an active fighter for liberty, pointed out that “ideas rule our lives. People are led in the wrong as well as the right direction by ideas.” What motivates us, what leads us, is the beliefs we hold strongly enough to act in accordance with them. When your conscience tells you that you feel guilty about something you have done, or that you shouldn’t do something, you should probably hear it out. Deep down, you know what you really should be doing. What would happen if everyone would follow this mindset? Johann Wolfgang von Goethe writes, “Let everyone sweep in front of his own door, and the whole world will be clean.”
What kind of you will you create in 2019? Make it a first step to make yourself better today than you have been in 2018, and then make yourself better tomorrow than you were today, and so on. Sean Parrish illustrates the significance of this compound effect in his article Why Small Habits Make a Big Difference on James Clear’s new book “Atomic Habits”. The illustration below tells it all:
Happy new year, and a happy new you!
*Although still a collectivist ideology, identity politics can certainly be found among people who self-identify as “right-wing” who do not hold, and may even despise, the intersectionalist philosophy. Though this article is mostly directed against the “left-wing type” of identity politics, I think most of my points and arguments could also be used generally about collectivism and thus apply to the former as well as the latter.
Recommended further resources for a better you in 2019 and beyond
Farnam Street (Shane Parrish): https://fs.blog/
Ryan Holiday: https://medium.com/@RyanHoliday
James Clear: https://jamesclear.com/articles
Thomas Oppong: https://medium.com/@alltopstartups
Daily Stoic: https://dailystoic.com/