Six Ways Critical Social Justice Undercuts Liberalism

by David Bernstein

Essay originally from Counterweight.

I’ve heard from friends lately who say “yes this woke stuff can go too far, but it’s really not that dangerous. Give me a break, it’s no threat to liberalism! You should fight against something more important, like Republican efforts to undercut voting rights.”

While I agree that people should stand up for voting rights, I also strongly believe that the imposition of Critical Social Justice (CSJ) is, in fact, a real threat to liberalism. By liberalism, I am referring to the basic operating system in society that permits the free expression of ideas. Liberalism allows ideas to be aired, debated, rejected or accepted. It enables scientific inquiry and open debate and discussion. And while we may take it for granted like the air we breathe, liberalism, like air, requires that we vigorously protect it from those who would do it harm.

Here are six ways that CSJ threatens to undermine society’s liberal values:

1. CSJ undercuts knowledge production in universities

The primary purpose of universities is knowledge creation, be it current knowledge creation in the research undertaken by faculty, or future knowledge creation by the students that are taught there. The imposition of CSJ has increasingly undercut both. Today, higher education, particularly schools of education, have become complicit in the spread of ideology, rather than learning and research, at every level of society. Too often, they teach students what to think rather than how to think. Research in the social sciences is also corrupted, addressing social issues with a preconceived ideological bias and serving as an echo chamber for critical ideologies rather than a testing ground for cutting edge ideas.

2. CSJ prevents us from effectively addressing thorny social issues

CSJ proponents assert that white supremacy and systemic bias are alone responsible for society’s social ills. They crowd out of the discussion other potential factors, such as the effects of poverty, fatherlessness, and the legacy of past racism. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt calls such ideologies “coo-coo,” not because they are crazy, but because, like the Cuckoo bird, they force the eggs of other birds out of the nest. When you misdiagnose a problem, you can’t properly address it. If society’s main focus is on reducing racism, we may fail to address other likely causes of disparity and may make matters worse.

3. CSJ corrupts the scientific process

With the onset of “equity” requirements and “research justice”, scientific institutions are hampered in doing, well, science. Scientific research is increasingly determined on the basis of whether it advances or detracts from racial equity. Some journal articles now have to quote minority scientists in proportion to their percentage of the population. Society should invest in the long term development of minority scientists and create a pipeline through which they can advance from school to academia, not impose equity in the here and now in a way that distorts the science itself.

Research Justice

4. CSJ squelches intellectual curiosity

CSJ establishes the one true way of looking at the world and raises the stakes for expressing alternative views. It prevents people from openly discussing sensitive issues and stifles intellectual curiosity. Dynamic societies encourage curiosity and incentivize it. Static societies punish it. Without curiosity, there’s no growth in knowledge. Society becomes stuck.

5. CSJ exacerbates identity politics on the political right

CSJ insists that only people adversely affected by oppression have the standing to speak about it, cutting out of the conversation anyone who disagrees with them on matters of race and racism. This naturally breeds resentment. Furthermore, the charge of privilege does not go over well with many white people who are suffering from their own adverse circumstances. Leftwing identity politics exacerbates rightwing identity politics, which has manifested itself in two American elections. The populist surge on the right only further compromises our liberal society.

6. CSJ corrupts mainstream media outlets

It is very clear that mainstream media outlets, from the New York Times to National Public Radio (US), have adopted to some extent or another “a racial equity lens.” This may sound fine at first blush. But what it’s really doing is filtering news through a pre-decided ideological lens. Reporters are then incentivized to misreport issues like disparities in healthcare between black people and white people, which may actually be a function of class not race. It may cause these news outlets to leave out heterodox voices who see things differently. As the media is the lifeblood of a liberal democratic society, it is never good when it becomes tainted and we no longer have a shared picture of the truth.

Yes, liberalism is on the line on the left as well as the right. Now is a fine time to do something about it before it gets worse.

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