Guest Commentary / February 4, 2022

‘Social Justice’ Is Actually Injustice

If social justice warriors were to redirect their energies toward solving real problems, that would actually bring relief to poor people.

By Richard McDonough

“In hatred, envy, malice, and desire for revenge, the resentment of the impotent person speaks of justice that he himself does not possess. … Reactive feelings employ justice as a façade in order to procure for the impotent a spurious feeling of power.” —Karl Jaspers, Nietzsche (Book 2, Chapter 2)

We are constantly assailed these days with calls for “social justice.” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-NY) campaign page currently displays the banner: “The fight for social, racial, and economic justice has never been more urgent.” This demand suggests that ordinary justice, the sort that has been practiced in America for about 250 years, will not be tolerated any longer. We now need a different, and better, kind of justice — “social justice.”

Unfortunately, social justice warriors never really define precisely what they mean by “social justice.” For example, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) explains that social justice is the view that “everyone deserves equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities.” However, if this is taken literally, then it is transparently false. Ted Bundy, who killed about 40 women, did not deserve the same economic, political, or social rights as normal peaceful people. Similarly, someone who is offered the opportunity to get an education but fritters it away on drugs and alcohol does not deserve the same rights as someone who makes personal sacrifices in order to improve him or herself. This is why the call for social justice usually dissipatse into empty platitudes like the NASW’s statement that it would be nice if everyone had equal rights and opportunities. Indeed, it would. It would also be nice if everyone had a chateau overlooking Lake Tahoe, but that doesn’t mean this is really possible or even desirable.

It is also instructive that the statement of the NASW goes on to explain that in order to achieve “social justice,” lots of “social workers” will be needed to “open the doors of access and opportunity for everyone, particularly those in greatest need.” The government will need to hire many social workers and see to it that they are well paid for the great work they do saving the world. That is, the program to bring about social justice will be very good for social workers who will become very important and better paid. But that does not mean it will be good for everyone. Why should taxpayer money be spent sending social workers to help someone who smoked weed all through high school instead of doing their homework — that is, to help people who won’t help themselves? This illustrates one of the general problems with “social justice” programs. Since nothing is free, resources that could have been allocated to one area, i.e., people who work hard and deserve to be rewarded, will be sent instead to other people who did not — which is unjust both to the taxpayers and to the more deserving people who worked hard to improve themselves. That is, “social justice” is actually injustice under another name!

This illustrates the fact that social justice is not, in fact, about making the world a better place in general. It is about moving financial resources from one politically disfavored group to some politically more favored group (often the social justice warriors themselves). To put it bluntly, despite all the high-sounding words about justice, equality, and compassion, social justice warriors want money and power for their side of the aisle.

The problem with social justice, however, goes even deeper than this. One must pay attention to what social justice warriors say. AOC recently stated that in order to “create justice” (which sounds almost Godlike), one must start “abolishing things” like ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and the death penalty. However, although abolishing ICE will be very nice for the Mexican drug cartels that move narcotics into the United States to kill American children, it will not be very nice for the families of ICE workers who will lose their livelihoods, nor will it be nice to the families of children killed by these drugs. Similarly, abolishing the death penalty will be very nice for the murderers on death row, but it will be unjust to the families of their victims and the taxpayers who will need to subsidize the cable TV and medical bills of these murderers until they pass away peacefully from natural causes.

AOC also stated, following the November 2020 election, that an archive of “Trump sycophants” should be created so that they can be held accountable for supporting Trump and so that their past speech can be “deleted.” However, AOC’s petty desire to punish people who disagree with her politics might be seen as justice in the old Soviet Union or in contemporary Cuba or Venezuela, but in the United States, which has traditionally been seen as a tad more civilized than those places, that kind of punishment of political opponents is seen as injustice. She will certainly see punishing political opponents as injustice if it is ever done to her.

Another vociferous social justice warrior, Rashida Talib (D-MI), following the fatal shooting in Minneapolis of a black man, Daunte Wright, by a policewoman who claimed that she meant to fire her taser rather than her handgun, stated that policing in the U.S. is “intentionally racist” and “can’t be reformed.” Naturally, given her greatness, Talib divined all this long before the presentation of evidence under oath in a trial and even in the early days after the shooting before any real investigation at all. Talib made her statement on the basis of emotion or political advantage (or both), and that is injustice. She does not appear to understand that if one wants real justice, as opposed to revenge, one must do these old-fashioned things called “investigations,” gather this old-fashioned thing called “evidence,” and put people under oath in one of these old-fashioned things called a “trial” before a judge and a jury selected to ensure neutrality. Unfortunately, the last thing Talib wants is real justice.

The moral is that social justice is not justice at all. Most social justice is actually injustice, sometimes pursued for base motives like envy, revenge, or hatred, or sometimes for crass political advantage. The United States has a well-developed system for achieving genuine justice. For example, the officer accused of shooting Daunte Wright was found guilty of both first- and second-degree manslaughter. That was justice, but that is not what Talib wants.

One might reply that these arguments are insensitive to the problems of disadvantaged people in the inner cities. Surely these people need some help. Indeed they do. But what they need is genuine justice, not social injustice masquerading as justice. If social justice warriors were to redirect their energies from the pursuit of social injustice toward solving real problems, like removing the piles of trash in many of our large cities that provide homes for rats, insects, and disease, that would actually bring some relief to poor people. In fact, with some determination, real progress could be made on this kind of project fairly quickly. Of course, that would involve real work — organizing people to shove the trash and trucks to carry it away, finding safe places to dump or recycle it, etc. But none of that is very glamorous.

It is much easier, and makes one feel much more powerful and important, to hyperventilate while spouting hyperbole about abolishing the “unjust system that cannot be reformed.” One doesn’t need to know anything at all to do that. In fact, it is quite obvious, and one does not need a German existentialist philosopher/psychiatrist to point it out, that what social justices warriors are really concerned about is themselves. As a consequence, the trash, rats, and disease will remain in our inner cities while ambitious social injustice warriors look for the megaphones and TV cameras in order to enhance their own careers, bank accounts, and self-esteem.

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