Joshua, I appreciate both where this post is coming from and where it may lead, but may I suggest a slightly more radical move?
Rather than figuring out where the dividing line between SJWs and others are, why don’t you stop dividing the world into SJWs and others? I’m not saying not to judge people’s actions, and not to speak up when you see someone who seems to have an axe to grind or whatever, but the thing is, “SJW” is mostly an externally applied label. Oh, sure, there are people on Twitter and Tumblr who now take it as an ironic badge of honor, but the label started off as a pejorative. I’m not saying you consciously use it this way personally, but for a lot of people, once they’ve applied the label to someone, they stop trying to understand where they’re coming from and even paying attention to what they’re saying. It’s like labeling a sentiment “Political Correctness” — the main effect is that it lets you write someone off.
If I tell you that trans rights are important to me, I’m telling you a thing about myself. If you care enough to, you can listen to what I’m saying or ask me questions or just try to imagine the world as I see it. Empathy is possible.
As soon as you decide I’m an “SJW”, though, you can no longer try to understand my perspective because I no longer have my own perspective in your head. I’m one of those wacky “SJWs”. I think whatever SJWs think. One time someone you called an SJW said all men should be strangled at birth, so I must think that. Some people who are SJWs don’t believe anything but are just trolling for attention or PC Cred Points or revenge on society. Once I’m labeled an SJW, that’s me, too.
And the thing is, an incredibly large and diverse amount of people and belief and attitudes all get swept up together as “SJWs” and then treated as a monolith. I’ve seen people on Tumblr talk about us supposed “SJWs” as a group that includes vegans, radical feminists, and trans women like myself. I’m not vegan, and most vegan extremists who know who I am hate me. Radical feminists actively work to subvert trans rights, and so we have no love lost for them. But I can go to any number of posts on a Puppy blog like Brad Torgersen’s, and know that I will find someone stating with perfect confidence that radical feminism informs the tenets of everything I do and believe, because Ess Jay Double You.
And once I am established as an SJW… well, believing is seeing.
Imagine that you saw me talking about how I think that racism and sexism are endemic to the fabric of society and as no human being is perfect, no human being has perfect self-awareness, we are all susceptible to its influences, in the same way we’re all susceptible to advertising and other ubiquitous messages. It doesn’t control our minds, but it influences us, and we’re ill-equipped to see it, particularly as the human mind rebels from the thought that it is not a completely independent entity.
Now, you can disagree with that! But I think you could also probably recognize that it’s a reasonable point of view. If you did disagree, I imagine it would be at the premise level: that racism and sexism are endemic in society. But even in that case, I’d hope that you’d recognize that the line of thinking makes sense for someone starting from those premises, and then we’d have something we could talk about.
But if you decide—or you’ve been told already—that I one of those Social Justice Warriors, we probably won’t get there. Because you see me talking about racism and sexism as ubiquitous social forces and oh, boy, there goes one of those SJWs again, saying everybody and everything is racist and sexist. I just accused you of being racist and sexist just for being born! Are you gonna stand for that? No you’re not!
You might see another “SJW” talking about racism in terms of outcomes rather than individual personal intentions and decide the same thing. And please understand, when I say “decide”, I don’t mean to imply that you sit here going, “Well, you’re saying this thing, and I could argue with it, but instead I’m going to call you an SJW and just ignore it.”
The decision is to see people as “SJWs” or not. Everything else follows from that. The purpose of the label is to rope people together and then write them off. That’s all it does.
I have seen people who were just blogging about their lives—their own personal struggles—on their personal blogs get discovered by people who have an axe to grind against “SJWs”, and because they said something that is not politically correct by the anti-SJW crowd’s standards, they get labeled an SJW and hounded to heck and back. “YOU CALL YOURSELF AN ACTIVIST, BUT YOU’RE REALLY JUST A SOCIAL JUSTICE WARRIOR!” the hounds say, but the person never called themselves an activist.
And yeah, I said politically correct. I don’t know how it became codified that political correctness only exists on the left. There are people waiting to pounce on anyone who spouts the “wrong ideas” on every side of every political spectrum, and the attitude that this is just a leftist thing means they have more free rein on the right.Nobody’s guarding against “political correctness” from that side, because it’s only used to refer to the infiltration of knee-jerk leftist versions of sensitivity.
Anyway, my point is that dividing the world between “SJWs” and “everyone else” is not how you get to the world you’re describing as your goal. On the internet, calling someone an “SJW” is tantamount to declaring open season on them and then writing off anything they might have to say as being noise.
I know you probably feel like that’s what “SJWs” do when they label someone as racist or whatever. I’m not going to argue the point, mostly because in my experience it’s the people who just zealously look for any ripe target to attack in situations where we’re talking about racism or sexism are also the ones who inevitably have an epiphany down the line where they realize that’s not really justice and then become the most zealous crusaders against “SJWs”. Most people on the other side from you don’t actually “ride out under a banner of Social Justice”, as I’ve so often seen it described… and those that do, it’s the act of riding out under a banner that’s important to them. It’s the twin rush of getting to go after someone viciously while simultaneously feeling like they’re the hero. The cause doesn’t matter, only that they have one. And because the cause doesn’t matter, there’s about the same number of people on any side of an argument.
Although I should also point out that the “sides” aren’t as clear cut as all that, either. Again, the label of “SJW” tends to minimize differences and paint people as a monolith. You guys have formed camps and ran campaigns. You’re organized. You can describe everybody who disagrees with your premises, goals, or tactics as “anti puppy”, but there is no Anti-Puppies. Pretending there is distorts your view of everything.
I mean, we’ve had David Gerrold insisting that everybody must be welcomed warmly and treated honorably at the Hugo awards ceremony and Connie Willis backing out of presenting because she doesn’t feel she can do that. That’s two individuals both expressing an individual view. But if you insist on seeing them not as individuals but as facets of an Anti-Puppy faction, then Gerrold’s words seem hollow, and can only be read as sarcasm or a veiled threat. And so many Puppies did exactly that. But objectively: if he wasn’t serious about what he had said, why would Connie Willis have backed out?
When people in either Puppy camps bother to spell out who they think is in the clique that they imagine congrols the Hugos, some of the big names they put out there don’t even get along. I’m not going to name examples because it’s not my place to air dirty laundry or speak for other people about who they do or don’t like, but honestly, a lot of it’s been very public. A lot of the people assumed to be super influential really aren’t. It’s all the view from outside, seeing connections where there aren’t any, extrapolating things to explain away results that the viewer can’t otherwise make sense of.
There’s this really weird bit of cognitive dissonance that goes on where people look at everyone to the left of them (I don’t know where you’d say your politics lie, so I won’t say you’re on the right, though I imagine you’re to the right of me) and see us both as marching in lockstep with one another and constantly turning on each other. This happens when one insists on seeing a monolith where none exists.
Over in another culture skirmish, I’ve tried to explain to people in Gamergate that some people really like video games but have different tastes and priorities, and we would just like to be able to read reviews that speak to our needs, and so it’s distressing to see them label such reviews as “unethical” and try to hound them out of existence. This conversation never goes anywhere because the answer is always something like, “Oh, yeah? If you like video games, why did you censor Grand Theft Auto V in Australia?”
I’m not in Australia, of course. I have a feeling that many of the moral guardians who signed the petition to get GTAV pulled from the shelves of Target would also protest any game that represented my ~*lifestyle*~, as they would call it.
Yet because of the magical transformative value of the label SJW, I am responsible for the actions of those moral guardians, and no further conversation is possible.
This is also how so many Puppies ended up demonizing Mary Robinette Kowal for a post where she basically endorsed the loftier versions of the Puppies’ stated goals (open the gates, widen the conversation, let everyone in) and then ran a fundraising effort to randomly distribute voting memberships to any interested takers, regardless of their tastes and political views. If you see her as a member of the Anti-Puppies, and you see Anti-Puppies as SJWs, and you see SJWs as two-faced extremists who will say whatever is most advantageous while doing whatever they please… then you basically have no choice but to regard the whole body of her post as honeyed sarcasm or bald-faced lies and call the random membership giveaway drive “buying votes for her side!” as so many did.
(Though in fairness, many Puppies also recognized that what she was doing was a good step towards the world they wanted.)
I know this a long comment, so I’m going to wrap it up with pretty shortly. Just two more things.
Up above, Ian says he’s seen both the Puppy slate and the “liberal recommendations”. I know he’s not saying the “liberal slate”, but just the fact that he has to phrase it that way kind of puts paid to the Puppy party line that there’s a single clique of liberals that has been acting together to control the nominations, doesn’t it? I’ve seen people on the Rabid Puppies side say that the “SJW side can’t even fix an award competently,” hence their ability to steamroller the nominations with ease. Isn’t the more likely answer that it was never fixed to begin with?
Maybe you’ll read this and think I’m talking nonsense. Maybe you don’t think there’s anything reasonable in the views I described as getting subsumed under the label of “SJW”. Maybe you even think that I’m one of those vicious people who rides out under a banner to feel like a hero while attacking people. I have certainly had unkind things to say about the people leading the Puppy charges.
But even if I am completely wrong about almost everything and als the worst person in the world, you would still have nothing to lose by excising the “SJW/everyone else” division from your way of looking at the world. Judge people as individuals… don’t sort them into a box and judge them against everyone else you’ve put into the box. If you see someone arguing in poor face or browbeating someone or adopting extreme rhetorical poses in an obvious bid for attention or whatever, just label what they’re doing as what it is. You don’t need the word “SJW” to call them out for that, and in fact, it makes it harder because then you’re talking about everything that everyone is doing, not what this one person is doing.
If you want to take the first step towards a kinder, gentler, more tolerant discourse, start by putting down the “SJW” label. It only exists to burn people, and you don’t want to fight fire with fire.