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The Problem with Social Justice Warriors

There are times when it seems that the old saying, “There’s no convincing some people,” needs revision, editing, shortening, whatever: “There’s no convincing people.”

As a lawyer, I see this as a troubling development.

Now, in all honesty, I don’t know if what seems to be the case really is the case. It’s entirely possible that the Internet, which can serve as a megaphone for all speech, regardless of quality of content, has simply made encountering the roadblocks to convincing people more obvious.

The problem is, for most people, the voice you hear first, and the most, is the one that determines how you will think. For reasons that would require at least a whole ‘nuther blog post, after that you don’t easily change your beliefs.

This is why so many work as hard, or harder, on silencing oppositional speech, rather than arguing their point: particularly the modern “social justice warrior,” or as they apparently are usually referred to these days, the “SJWs.”[1]

And when you’re busy shouting through a megaphone, the only voice you’re going to hear is your own – at best, since the crowd you hang with is typically going to be comprised of those who already agree with you, when you stop to take a breath, you’re just going to hear another voice echoing your own. If you happen to hear a contradictory voice, and you’re an SJW, odds are that you’re going to shift your fight temporarily to silence it – not to convince; just to silence.

On the surface, my being a lawyer – particularly my being exclusively a criminal defense lawyer – might lead one to think that I’d either also be an SJW, or at least that I’d have a lot in common with them.

One would be almost entirely wrong.

One of the key reasons centers on the word “justice.”

While I became a criminal defense attorney at least in part because I wanted to fight for justice, or at least fight against injustice, the truth of the matter is that “justice” doesn’t have all that much to do with what lawyers of any stripe – but particularly criminal defense lawyers like me – do.[2]

Not that I don’t still think about justice. Believe me, my thoughts on justice have already contributed to one heart attack, and far too many nights without sleep even after concern over the things keeping me awake was no longer warranted. I am, at times, far too close to what Scott Greenfield[3] calls “the passionate lawyer.” Becoming a better lawyer, believe it or not, requires me to constantly fight that impulse.

That’s because “justice,” in the avowed SJW sense, is not really what the law is about, in the end. The law is about a certain kind of social control, and while we hope that this serves the ends of justice, as laws proliferate, it turns out counterintuitively that it does not. Laws exist for the purpose of circumscribing freedoms. But when we create tools to circumscribe freedom, it should again come as no surprise to learn that some people are going to use them to do just that.

And it won’t always matter if their use of such tools is the “right” thing to do. Just like any other area that involves the motivations of individual humans, the law can be used either to promote justice, or to deny it.

SJWs, on the other hand, are all about the justice. At least as they see it.

Therein lies the problem.

As Scott Greenfield put it,

Lawyers work under constraints that advocates may not, such as the rules of evidence and the legal tests for setting forth and prevailing on a claim. Advocates can argue, and often do, that these rules that fly in the face of what they believe to be justice are stupid and damaging. They are sometimes right, even though they lack the background in how these rules and tests came to be, or how they can be used as shield as well as sword. But yes, when they stand in the way of perceived justice, they always look stupid.

Still, they are the boundaries within which the lawyer works if he hopes to achieve success. As many beefs as we may have with the functioning of the system, it remains the system. Ignoring it helps no one. Sometimes, we can fight it and hope to have that one in a million case that forces a major shift in the system. Other times, we can scream as loud as we can, or as long as we can, and will accomplish nothing.

The “advocates” of whom Scott speaks are SJWs.

From where I sit, the problem with SJWs is that they decide first what they deem to be “just.” Then they set about to make reality conform to that vision by any means possible. And if that requires the destruction of the rule of Law, so that they can silence, and imprison those who disagree with them, call them names, or issue statements that they can twist into threats, so be it.[4]

I understand this. I really do. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve sat in court, listening to the knee-jerk reaction of prosecutors, who seem to think their only job is to defeat my arguments, and condemn my clients, to the worst possible degree of punishment they can reach. Whether or not that punishment is “just” is irrelevant. The pain of the injustice is beyond my ability to properly voice. When a 14-year-old child, who never had a real chance in the first place, is sent off to adult court, whence he can then be given a life sentence rather than 8-10 years of rehabilitation in a juvenile prison as a maximum sentence, and when that is being done only because we either really don’t have much in the way of rehabilitative programs for juveniles anyway, and our lack of understanding of juveniles makes us think 10 years isn’t going to be enough time to sustain enough guards through to retirement, it hurts more than I can possibly say.[5] Oh, how I wish sometimes that the prosecution would just shut up!

But that’s not how it works in our legal system.

In the end, as much as I sometimes wish differently, it cannot work that way in our legal system.

Our legal system is built on the idea – an idea which, frankly, I think has driven all of Western Civilization (at least) since the Renaissance, and until recently – that the truth arises after an investigation, presentation of competent evidence, and argument of opposing viewpoints controlled by certain rules.

I happen to agree with that view.

Ironically, when there is similarity between what lawyers do, and what SJWs do, our legal system fails. Above, I said that “the law can be used either to promote justice, or to deny it.” I add that my definition of “justice,” is “fair, impartial, conforming to principle” – and while I hope the principle is good, whether it is or is not, it must at least be fairly applied in Law. Another definition that works is “conformity to truth, fact, or reason.”[6] Unfortunately, it is not always applied fairly. Our system is geared towards conviction and punishment of those who have been arrested. I described the reaction of some prosecutors above as a knee-jerk reaction because in the end, conviction and punishment are all that matter to them. Once you’ve decided on that in a system that does not control for the impartial application of fair-minded principles to all involved parties, then our legal system fails. It fails because, at the very least, we’re no longer presenting all competent evidence.

And so we come to what matters most, and to what is “the problem of social justice warriors.” Apparently concerned that they cannot win in an environment that requires investigation, presentation of competent evidence, and argument amongst opposing viewpoints, or perhaps just concerned that they cannot win fast enough, they want to subvert the system that requires investigation, presentation of competent evidence, and argument amongst opposing viewpoint-holders.

For advancing their own point of view, they want a lower burden of proof. We see this in our schools, particularly in universities where people carry mattresses on their backs to complain about the unfairness of having to prove their cases, or where due process is obliterated – replaced with the idea that once an accusation has been made, the party is quite literally over, and the target party is decimated for life. We’re seeing it on the Internet, where anyone who opposes some tenet (major, or minor, it matters not) of their dogma is labeled with some pejorative term, and dismissed – blocked, where possible – rather than debated. We see it when protesters attend forums in which someone with a position they do not wish to hear, only so they can disrupt the forum, and prevent the speaker from being heard. Because above all else, they want anyone who opposes them to shut up. After all, if theirs is the only point of view people ever hear, it will become the controlling point of view; anyone else is banished to the nether regions of our society, at best.

And now they want to bring these strategies into the Law. Because somehow those who are banished not only manage to continue to lead somewhat-satisfying lives, they sometimes manage to make themselves heard. So banishment is not enough.

We must convict. We must imprison. And, as prosecutors well know, if you follow the Law as currently written a successful prosecution – still (mostly)a prerequisite for long-term imprisonment – is difficult.[7]

This is why SJWs push for more laws: to make it easier to charge someone with a crime, particularly if the laws are poorly-written so that they are malleable to the needs of the SJWs. This is why SJWs want lower standards for what counts as competent evidence (but only for the prosecution; see California’s Proposition-8-inflicted “Truth in Evidence” laws): so they can more easily press those charges to a successful prosecution.

The problem with SJWs is that they fight for an Orwellian future where the United States of America is a police state where every thought, every speech act, and virtually everything a free person could ever possibly want to do, would first be vetted to ensure it conformed to “justice” as conceived by the SJWs.

And there’s no convincing them that this is wrong, because they – and they alone – both define, and fight for, “justice.”

Anyone who disagrees must be a bad person.

More importantly, anyone who disagrees can just shut up.

  1. Not that it matters, but in my prior tendency to ignore the buffoonery, and lack of intellectual capability usually found in “social justice warriors,” it took me a minute to realize that they were now being called “SJWs.” So I thought that, even if I can’t convince anyone of anything any more, I could at least maybe educate a few who, like me, were unfamiliar with this acronym. (Unless I can’t even convince you of that!) In any event, SJW is easier to type, and avoids having to use any of the three words that have no application to those who fall into this type in order to describe the type. [↩]
  2. It also turns out that fighting for justice, and fighting against injustice, are not necessarily the same thing, but that’s a discussion for another day. [↩]
  3. By now, you should know this has become a de facto requirement of a post on my blog. [↩]
  4. This should not be taken to mean that real threats – proven under the long-accepted tenets of our legal system – should not be prosecuted, and should not result in proper punishment. When someone says they want to kneecap Zoe Quinn when she shows up at a gaming conference, that’s a serious threat which should be punished in a court of law. But I’ve seen far too many words that could not reasonably be taken as actual threats treated by SJWs as if they were real threats. However heinous the words “I’m going to rip off your head, and shit down your throat, after I rape you” coming from a 14-year-old in Connecticut might be, this cannot seriously constitute a threat to someone opposing the objectification of women in Los Angeles. Vulgar, disgusting, vile – call it all these things and I’ll agree with you – but it’s not a real threat. [↩]
  5. I honestly do not know what motivates sociopaths to believe that life in prison is a just sentence for a child, so this statement is the best with which I can come up. [↩]
  6. You can find these in the definitions listed in the dictionary under “justice.” [↩]
  7. Not impossible, mind you; just difficult. The police do not always arrest the wrong person, and the prosecutors don’t always overcharge. And juries are always more willing to convict than to acquit. [↩]

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