I typically try to stay out of the inane squabbling incited by some conservatives against whoever they feel like labeling with the all-but-meaningless term “social justice warrior” (or SJW for short). But sometimes things need to be said. I won’t be focusing on the religious right, as I’ve already said plenty about their intellectual dishonesty, and the hate and fear that poison many of their beliefs. This is about the right wing in general, particularly those who may not be religious but have still fallen for anti-liberal propaganda. Instead of straw-manning their opposition as “devil-worshiping heathens”, they hide behind vague epithets like “feminazi” and “snowflake” and the aforementioned SJW.
Being pretty far left myself, as a libertarian socialist, I generally agree with these people on their (supposed) opposition to authoritarianism. I understand their worldview, even if I consider it terribly wrong and narrow-minded, because I used to be one of them. The irony, though, is that they are almost always authoritarians, whether they’re closeted or open about it, and that’s one of the reasons I abandoned my former right-wing beliefs. I’ve known a lot of feminists and leftists of all sorts, and few have turned out to be very authoritarian. On the other hand, I’ve debated and lived among many conservatives who plainly admit they want to impose their beliefs on others by force. The authoritarianism of conservatives is also backed up by hard data, as studies have shown that people become more authoritarian when they feel their tribe is threatened, and conservatism is heavily based on tribalism and fear of change, which makes them more suspicious of people who are different, and more willing to support oppression of out-groups. In general, the left wing is less authoritarian than the right, and less likely to become more authoritarian when feeling threatened.
I think most conservatives who fall for the incendiary propaganda are unaware that their straw-man view of the left has nothing to do with reality. They don’t know what we actually believe, and without an accurate understanding of the issues, Dunning-Kruger takes hold and they come to believe their own lies. This is quite obvious; almost every conservative who has tried to describe my position has gotten it very, very wrong, even after I’ve already explained it as carefully and clearly as I can.
Another of the reasons I fled the right wing was the prevalence of glorifying violence, and obsession with destroying “liberals” either socially or via a second civil war, because apparently valuing personal freedom is a disease that must be eradicated via oppression or murder. You may have noticed that the most sensitive armchair warriors are the people who fling pejoratives at anyone who defends civil rights, or expresses a negative opinion about traditions that are hurting people. You may have noticed that the people accusing every leftist of being a tyrant tend to be the same group calling for the deportation, imprisonment, and/or killing of people they dislike, and making excuses for blatantly oppressive policies. They are projecting their own insecurity and authoritarianism, like every other abuser that has ever tried to defend themselves. When they say that people you love should be oppressed and you call them out on it, they go crazy. They’re expecting you to wilt under their barrage of nonsense, and any display of the courage they lack bothers them so much that they become desperate to convince you that it’s you who is insecure and weak. As if the stronger ideology is the one freaking out about someone else having the rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. I have experienced this sadly predictable exchange over and over and over. When faced with a target that calls bullshit on their ridiculous claims, all they have left to offer is more verbal abuse.
There’s a term for an ideology focused on the freedoms of everyone involved, as opposed to one that focuses only on the in-group. It’s called liberalism. Conservatives who agree with it are conservative liberals, and this article is not about them. I know several who are wonderful people. But most conservatives I’ve encountered are in fact authoritarian, paying only lip service to freedom when it affects their own tribe while trampling on the rights of others. They’re easy to spot…they fling insults at people like me and project beliefs onto us that we disagree with. They don’t listen to others, they don’t listen to the people of color being oppressed all over our country, they don’t listen to anything but themselves and whoever agrees with them, because they think they already know everything. And anyone who dares to point out their ignorance must be a thought-policing communist.
These are major problems in religion, but aren’t unique to it. Every tribal group has these problems to some extent, some just have them to a greater extent than others. It’s easier to be an authoritarian asshole when your ideology isn’t based on protecting the freedoms of all people. Because the opposite of liberal is not conservative, it’s authoritarian, and that’s where you end up if you set yourself against liberalism. That’s why non-liberal conservatives are the most potent force eroding our voting rights; numerous Republican politicians have been caught explicitly admitting that their gerrymandering, closing polling locations, oppressive laws, and other shenanigans are intended to disadvantage Democratic voters. In the meantime, the left is trying to make sure voting is accessible to everyone. Of course it is, because it’s the progressive position (and progressive is the actual opposite of conservative). Too many conservatives want to preserve our long tradition of oppressing black people, probably because otherwise they would lose power. In fact, appealing to racist Democrats in the 60s and launching a “drug war” that specifically targets black people are two of the big reasons they managed to keep their power, despite demographics and social consensus moving in the opposite direction as the party.
The most worrying thing is that some supposedly centrist people, who claim to be liberals, have also fallen for the “fighting oppression is bad” propaganda. Unfortunately the “center” in America is now pretty far right, and it seems the farther right you are, the more difficult it is for you to understand nuance, and the more eager you are to hear “oppression should be met with equal and opposite oppression” when we have said no such thing. These people betray their lack of respect for liberty when they spend most of their time and energy attacking the people who are fighting for freedom and equality. Their valid criticisms of the bad tactics used by a few feminists fall flat when they defend the bad goals of the authoritarians that feminists are trying to stop.
It’s possible to call out the problems in a movement without attacking the entire purpose of the movement and defending the opposite. You don’t need to become a Nazi to criticize the bad tactics of a misguided anti-Nazi group. Yet that’s essentially how the anti-liberal movement operates; it gives a free pass to evil and focuses instead on tearing down the opposition to evil, because a few people within that opposition use bad methods and therefore the whole thing must be bad. You’re not fooling anyone but yourself when you defend literal Nazis while viciously attacking anti-Nazis because some of them are violent. Clearly, your concern is not that the anti-Nazi movement has a few violent extremists that should be confronted; your insistence on generalizing and attacking anti-Nazis proves you sympathize more with the Nazi position than the alternative. If the violence was really your concern, you’d be more focused on fighting the Nazis, whose ideology literally advocates genocide. Similarly, those who focus on tearing down feminists, while defending policies that hurt women, betray the fact that their real concern is not confronting authoritarian feminists but rather maintaining the systems that oppress women. And those who focus on attacking “social justice warriors”, while ignoring, excusing, defending, and committing actual violations of justice, prove they are more interested in protecting abusers than victims.
So when anyone uses an ambiguous label to straw-man leftists, all they’re doing is what religion has always done…demonizing outsiders. It’s tribalism at its most basic. It should be obvious that ending the oppression of one group does not mean the oppressors will then automatically become oppressed. But if they keep going as they are, fighting to oppress the very people who would protect them from oppression (liberals), they may bring it upon themselves in the end. The only way you’re going to keep your tribe safe is to protect everyone’s tribe equally. If you advocate for the oppression of another tribe, they will feel justified in oppressing you, and the cycle will continue. This warning applies to authoritarians anywhere on the political spectrum.
And my message to nominal liberals who think social justice and feminism are bad things is this: You’re not liberal. At best, you’re committing a fallacy of composition in order to lump anyone who disagrees with you in with extremists, in order to justify your opposition to justice. At worst you are intentionally lying in defense of evil. I would be guilty of the same sort of dishonesty if I claimed churches should be targets of violence because “Christians want to harm gay people”. In truth, a majority of modern Christians are fine with LGBTQ identities, just like a majority of liberals are actually liberal and support freedom for all. Only a relatively small number of extremists actually advocate harming people. If you can’t understand the difference between a general category of ideologies and the extremists who happen to fit into the category, then either put in some effort to learn or expect to be treated as the fool you are.