Reading Time: 5 minutes By Dean Hochman from Overland Park, Kansas, U.S. (arrows) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Reading Time: 5 minutes

I had an impromptu Tippling Philosophers session last night in the pub with some TPers. One of the main conversation topics we had was Social Justice Warriors (SJWs) and the issue a few of them had with them. Broadly speaking, everyone at the table was liberal with an interesting array of backgrounds. One TPer has an avid interest in Jordan Peterson and feels like the Left is in a precarious position. I took on the role of defending SJWs from some pretty consistent barrages.

I would like to set out this debate and what my thoughts are. My main points are as follows:

  1. SJWs aren’t quite whom people attack them for being (or, more accurately, people attack them for being something, but show no evidence for this).
  2. There are unrealistic expectations for what SJWs should be doing.
  3. Critics can be hypocritical in their attacks on the SJWs.
  4. They overestimate the power and number of SJWs, tarring the whole left with the SJW brush.

The first issue was in defining SJWs. As ever, half of philosophical debates end up being about the labels themselves.

SJWs, as pejoratively defined last night, are keyboard warriors who make bold claims about morality (social justice) but do little or nothing to actually back up those claims. They are all talk and no action. They sit on Reddit moaning and attacking others, whilst doing no real action towards attaining social justice in the real world.

My first issue with this is how do they know this is the case? As with so many debates, there is an awful lot of supposition on the part of many arguers such that, in all probability, straw men are consistently built. How many social justice warriors do they know? Have they asked what they do outside of the realm of keyboard warrioring? I would want some kind of evidence for this rather than projecting their imagination on the world.

They asked me if I knew any SJWs. Two came to mind – Jeremiah Traeger who writes here at ATP, and Dan Arel who used to write at Patheos. Dan left Patheos to concentrate more heavily on his political and social activism. You know, actual social justice activism. Whether or not you agree with him and his attacks on, say, Sam Harris or Ricky Gervais or Lawrence Krauss, he puts his money where his mouth is. Jeremiah writes consistently and with care about his beliefs and the causes associated with them, being actively involved in such movements. It may only be anecdotal, but I think this idea that SJWs are universally all talk and no action is problematic. At the very least, let’s see some evidence for the claim, otherwise it is mere baseless assertion and supposition based on an imagined caricature.

Furthermore, there was this completely unrealistic ideal mentioned last night that they should get off their keyboards and go to Russia and sort out the LGBT issues first hand, or some such thing. Of course, this is patent nonsense – they would not expect any other person professing claims about morality to do such things.

Indeed, if an equivalent person on the far right was expressing such claims on the internet, would they be expecting them to go abroad and back up their keyboard claims with direct far fight action? Maybe going to Israel to persecute some Jews…

I think there is a case of double standards here.

This is also the case in moaning about SJW Twitter or social media types who supposedly harang anyone to their right, arguing how annoying or this or that they may be, as if the right doesn’t do this and more. I did get a little shirty about this and asked that they actually go and hang out at Breitbart, The Blaze, or the Daily Mail forums for a week and see the sheer torrents of abusive proclamations with their moral dimensions. If you incessantly focus on something, it becomes a much larger issue than it actually is in reality. I have hung out at those forums and the shock at the disgusting comments and views perpetuated there really should put SJWs into context. I feel there is a much larger, darker and burgeoning community of the alt-right than people realise.

My challenge to my fellow TPers will now be repested, formally: I urge you to hang out for a week on Breitbart and put your annoyance with SJWs into proper context.

The claim was made that SJWs pick low-hanging fruit, rather than concentrate on these greater ordeals and significant imbalances in social justice. I think in criticising SJWs, critics are themselves picking low-hanging fruit – see my point above about the trolls and sources of the right. Do critics of SJWs themselves get out and use their time more wisely, picking on more than low-hanging fruit.

The question is, are SJWs as problematic as critics imply? How many laws do they bring about? Is political correctness really such a real thing as they claim? I cannot tell you the number of times I have corrected relatives who claim, “I can’t say X – it’s political correctness gone mad.” In most cases, they can say X, they just imagine they can’t because everything these days is some distorted, straw man version of reality. We believe the hype and confuse it with reality.

A further point that was made is SJWs complaints are taking the biscuit since life used to be properly hard. The sheer ingratitude if you compare our lot with the lot of, for example, the Victorian working class. The liberty and good things we have, under the system that has enabled them, is brushed aside. They are almost biting the hand that feeds them.

This is a common potentially fallacious move. I can’t complain about bullying at school because, you know, thousands of years back, children used to die in battle, or some such logic. Things are relative, and we no longer have children working down the mines. Just because act A with a moral dimension may not be as wrong as act B, it doesn’t mean that A isn’t wrong at all, or not worth fighting for. There is no need to make an unnecessary dichotomy here.

From the critic’s standpoint, and certainly of a few last night, they see the left as the good guys whereas they already dislike the hard right. As one of them said:

“I have a strong distrust of the pontificating self-righteous types who see the problem in everyone else, especially those more successful than themselves. I suspect the spirit of Cain who despised and murdered his brother in fratricidal envy. It’s the type of person that looks to excuse their own failings on the system because it’s so much easier to do nothing to change oneself.”

And there might be an element of self-righteous preening in some, with virtue signalling and identity politics playing a part. But again, how many people are like this? Are critics over-representing these voices amongst those on the left? People that shout the loudest are necessarily the most numerous. And do these people really enforce change or have any sort of power, imposing themselves on others?

Excuse the rambling, but I thought it worthwhile to commit these thoughts to virtual paper.

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...