Social Justice Sophistries

The tenor is smug self-righteousness, the absolute certainty of being on the Right Side of History. Even some liberals are starting to find it a bit hard to take, the way in which their family and friends talk about Those People. The Deplorables. The Racists. The Misogynists. The Xenophobes. The People With the Wrong Opinions about Immigration, the Relation Between the Sexes, the Welfare State, and Islam. You know. The ones who read Breitbart, vote for Donald Trump, and listen to Milo.

It can get a bit wearing, even at a distance. It takes real stamina to be able to meet it head on, as Milo has done this past semester over the course of his Dangerous Faggot Tour. Quite frankly, I don't know how he does it. I get weary just watching the protests. The name-calling. The unwillingness to listen to what he actually says. On the other hand, the tactics rarely change, which makes them possible to list. And if we can list them, we can prepare for them. These are the weapons that our opponents will try to use against us if we are conservatives. As the Boy Scouts say: "Be prepared!" 

Here based on my observations of their responses to Milo's talks are the primary tactics the Social Justice Warriors (SJWs) use: 

1. Take jokes literally. I have already written extensively about this tactic. Cathy Newman used it to withering effect in her Channel 4 interview with Milo. It is the weapon of first resort for SJWs: to see everything through the lens of offense and grievance, such that nothing can be funny any more. 

Counterattack: Laughter. As the SJWs come for you, stay cheerful at all times. Remember what Milo likes to say: "Nobody can resist the truth wrapped in a good joke." The thing the Devil hates most is laughter, and the thing that the Grievance Brigade cannot stand is not to be taken seriously.

2. Weaponize compassion. "I find that really offensive." "Don't you know how hurtful that sounds?" "You can only say that because you don't recognize your own privilege." If the accusation itself is not enough, there will be tears. A voice choked with emotion. Threats of self-harm and suicide for which you, the conservative, will be blamed. Every instinct that you have to care for the wounded and weak will be triggered. You will want, like Professor Nicholas Christakis, to apologize for having given offense. You didn't realize how hurtful others would find your words. You did not mean to cause anyone pain.

Counterattack: Do not apologize. Stay calm. Listen patiently. This will be hard, but any effort you make to defend yourself against the accusation or to apologize for your unintended offense will only add fuel to the fire. At this point Milo would most likely tell his opponents: "Fuck your feelings!" But not all of us can be Dangerous Faggots, nor do we all need to use the same counterattacks. The attack is intended (consciously or not) to make you feel as anxious as the speaker, much as a toddler having a temper tantrum is trying to get the adults to react. Remember: feelings are not arguments. The speaker almost certainly is feeling the feelings she or he is using to lash out at you, but you are not responsible for her or his feelings. You are responsible for staying calm and steering the argument back onto the facts.

3. Shift the meaning of terms in the course of the argument. For example, "feminism." If, like Jessica Valenti, you are a SJW who happily claims to bathe in male tears, when someone like Milo comes along and calls this kind of language misandrist, you will insist that feminism is not about hating men, but equality. (Cathy Newman used this move in her interview to try to get Milo to admit he is a feminist. Which he is, insofar as he believes in equality of opportunity for women and men, like any normal person in the West.) Conversely, "nationalism." Perhaps, innocently enough, you, the conservative, believe that "making America great again" means living up to the ideals on which this country was founded: equality of all persons before the law, property rights, free markets, respect for citizenship, representative democracy as described in the Constitution. Champion "nationalism," however, and a SJW will substitute "national socialism," and, viola!, you're a Nazi.

Counterattack: Define your terms. Repeat as necessary. Do not waver in your definitions. Repeat as necessary. Even if they do not know it, your opponents are using classic sophistical techniques. They are trying to trip you up by catching you in a contradiction by means of equivocation, using the same term to mean radically different things, and then forcing you to accept the changed definition. Do not accept their redefinitions. Define your terms. Repeat as necessary. Do not waver in your definitions. Repeat as necessary. Call them out when they try to substitute their definition. Repeat as necessary.

4. Insult the speaker. Here is where things get really nasty, but even more predictable. We all know where the insults go: more or less instantly, if you confront a SJW with facts and are firm in your definitions, the next move he or she makes is to call you a racist. Or a sexist. Or a homophobe. Or an Islamophobe. Or a Nazi. Or a Breitbart-reader, which is even worse. For those familiar with the classical fallacies, this is called an ad hominem attack. It is an attack on the character of the speaker, rather than on the structure or evidence of his or her argument. This fallacy may be extended to include guilt by association, as for example when the student at Miami University attempted to make Milo out to be a white supremacist solely on the basis that Milo supported Trump; the student couldn't quote anything actually racist or white supremacist that Milo has ever said, but it was enough, he tried to suggest, that Milo supported Trump. Cathy Newman and other reporters did the same thing with Milo and Steve Bannon, more often than not on the basis of Milo's satirical headlines (see Tactic #1, above).

Counterattack: "Prove it"--as Milo challenged the student at Miami--is a good first move. The chances are that your attackers have no idea what you have ever actually written or said. If they have resorted to insult, they have nothing on you but their sense of your reputation as a conservative, which in their minds is sufficient. When they can't prove their accusation, you have a number of options. Milo's response to James Cook in an interview for the BBC was particularly good. Cook asked him, apparently innocently, "Are you a white nationalist?" And Milo called him on it: "I'm talking about culture, not race, and it's typical of somewhere like the BBC to try to conflate the two." If they persist, well, there is only one response, which Milo finds easier to say than I do, but it is the only one that is actually appropriate: "Fuck you."

5. Project your feelings onto your opponent. By this point, you, the conservative (or libertarian) have stepped Through the Looking Glass into Wonderland. It doesn't matter what you say because your opponents will twist it to conform to their distorted vision of you. But--and this is important--the only reflection they can see in the Looking Glass is their own. They call you hateful--because they are. They worry about you putting their names on a list--because they want to put you on one. They claim that you will make students uncomfortable in your classes--because they do. They call you divisive--because they are. They are afraid of you--because they are certain that you will behave towards them exactly as they behave towards you. It is inconceivable to them that you might have motives different from their own.

Counterattack: Nothing. At this point, they cannot hear you. Even Jonathan Haidt, the great champion of heterodoxy, falls into this trap. He cannot see that his description of conservatives as endorsing "the group-focused moral concerns of ingroup loyalty, respect for authorities and traditions, and physical/spiritual purity more than liberals do," with liberals focusing more on "compassion and fairness" is already a Looking Glass projection. Liberals, that is, academic liberals are all about "ingroup loyalty," "respect for authorities," and "physical/spiritual purity." Just try being a tenured professor at a prestigious university and going against the group. You will learn very quickly how much your colleagues value compassion and fairness.

6. Shift the grounds of the argument. Once it is clear that you are not going to budge and cannot be shamed into apologizing for things you have never thought or said, do not expect your opponent to admit that maybe you have a point or that they have misunderstood your opinion. If you have been talking about the relationship between the sexes (and been called sexist), suddenly you will be accused of racism. If you have been talking about the rise in the murder rate in Chicago (and been called racist), suddenly you will be accused of intolerance. If you have been talking about the cultural differences between Christianity and Islam (and been called Islamophobic), suddenly you will be accused of mischaracterizing the conversation entirely, that it was never about sexism or racism or religious tolerance, but in fact about social justice and the minimum wage.

Counterattack: Do not take the bait. Call attention to the change of topic. Refuse the conflation of different forms of social interaction under the rubric "oppression" or "rights." Insist calmly but firmly on the original terms of the argument. Laugh.

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