The Four Fallacies of Critical Social Justice in Preventing Cultural Arguments

by David Bernstein

Essay originally from Counterweight.

Critical Social Justice (CSJ) operates to maintain a single explanation for disparity in outcomes and suchlike in our societies. It asserts that the only reason fit for public discussion – as to why some groups in society have more power, resources or education than other groups – is a rigged structure favoring certain groups and disfavoring others.

Proponents of CSJ want to prevent any other explanation from gaining ground in the discourse, especially cultural explanations. They maintain this monopoly of acceptable explanation by cancelling people who dare to offer alternatives — calling them racists and so on —  thus deterring others from doing the same. But most of us know intuitively that culture and systemic factors play a role in producing disparities among groups.

Here are four fallacies that CSJ is committing in its prohibition against cultural explanations:

  1. The Fallacy of Cultural Inadequacy: denying that culture is an explanatory factor in differentiation when it is such an obvious force on how groups behave. The prohibition on cultural explanations must be counterintuitive to nearly everyone. I imagine that even the most ardent CSJ ideologue would, if they took a truth serum, admit to the influence of culture. You mean to tell me that people all over the world or in a given Western country who live differently, view the world differently, speak differently, approach life and work differently, experienced history differently, and think differently about gender and sex—that none of this boundless variation—has any bearing on why certain societies are richer and poorer or why certain subgroups are more or less successful in a given society? The argument is absurd on the face of it.
  2. The Fallacy of the Dominant Culture: that it is absurd to argue that culture is a factor in explaining one group’s behavior but not another. Woke ideology treats all culture as irrelevant except that of the dominant culture. Structure cannot explain the behavior of the dominant class because the dominant class is at the top of the food chain. The only other explanation for how the dominant class behaves is culture. The woke do think it’s perfectly legitimate and even imperative to criticize the culture of the oppressor. It’s fine, for example, to talk about “white fragility” or “toxic masculinity”—the machismo culture of cis-men—or “rape culture.” But how can culture not be a factor at all for marginalized groups but be the sole factor for dominant groups? Do they believe that the dominant class fully set the culture of all subordinate groups to their liking? Are they really saying when structure comes to play culture goes away?
  3. The Fallacy of Selective Agency: that it is inconsistent to insist one aspect of a culture is fully determined by structural factors and not another. If structure really is an all-encompassing force, shouldn’t it also explain the vitality of the black community? As Thomas Burgess wrote in Quillette, “if whiteness is responsible for black vices, isn’t it also responsible for black virtues? Wouldn’t all culture be its creation, and not just the undesirable parts? This is the logical conclusion of this kind of thinking, and it is what happens when you cede omnipotence to the oppressor. When you create a puppet master, you create puppets missing some of the most basic attributes of being human.”
  4. The Fallacy of Differential Outcomes: that if differential outcomes among groups were really solely dictated by racism and white supremacy, one would expect whites to be on top of the society on all key metrics. But they are not. If “white supremacy” is truly the all-powerful force woke ideologues make it out to be, why do so many other ethnic populations substantially outperform whites? One would think that in a white supremacist society whites would be allotted such advantages as higher average incomes and higher levels of educational achievement than other groups. Many White Americans are, however, on average, not faring nearly as well as numerous non-white populations. In addition, some African immigrant groups that came to the U.S. under disadvantageous conditions have on average done better than American blacks and segments of the Hispanic population. Wouldn’t a white supremacist system subjugate African immigrants too?

Pointing out and dismantling these four fallacies can help make room for cultural arguments. Indeed it will help make room for argumentation itself to again reign free, rather than unquestioned dogmas. We just need to take the first step.

David Bernstein is a freelance writer and nonprofit executive. Follow him on Twitter at

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