Perfection is the enemy of progress

There is no reason for “social justice” to be a pejorative concept.  A few weeks ago, I googled “SJW” after having seen this acronym used several times to insult someone.  Wikipedia defines it, in part, as follows:

“Social justice warrior” (commonly abbreviated SJW) is a pejorative for an individual promoting socially progressive views, including feminism, civil rights, multiculturalism and identity politics.  The accusation of being an SJW carries implications of pursuing personal validation rather than any deep-seated conviction, and being engaged in disingenuous social justice arguments or activism to raise personal reputation, also known as virtue signalling.

There is a lot to unpack here.  Based on this definition, persons who use this term as an insult must implicitly believe the following or some variation of the following:

  1. The advancement of the rights of all humans is not vital to the improvement of humanity as a whole and, in fact, rights for “all” is impossible since it inevitably means less rights for some. For example, if housing is a right, what about the landlord’s right to own land and charge fair market value for it?
  2. It is socially more popular to believe that rights for all is the gold standard because empathy is admittedly a virtue, but, in reality, rights for all is ultimately against your self-interest as per precept #1.
  3. Promoting rights for all in a casual way must simply be an effort to be socially popular by virtue of your virtue. Why else would someone act against their own self-interest?
  4. Persons who act against their own self-interest for the sake of popularity are sad and should be called out.

Self-interest may be king.  But even taking empathy out of the equation, self-interest should not lead to a rejection of social justice or progressivism in every case.  For instance, assume you never have, do not and are assured to never need government assistance to help you pay for food, housing and medical care.  To give away some of your hard earned money for the purpose of contributing to someone else’s food, housing and medical care is infringing upon your right to use your own money as you see fit.  But is it still in everyone’s self-interest to pay social program taxes and to have the government mandate the tax?  Most people like going to the ATM, taking out a whole bunch of money and not worrying too much about getting bashed over the head for it on their way to the car.  We do not want citizens to be desperate enough to do that.  It is in our self-interest to ensure that people in our community are not desperate.  We’d like to ensure our right to safety by ensuring other people’s right to food.

Self-interest may be king.  But it is possible to square empathy and self-interest such that self-interest should not lead to a rejection of social justice or progressivism in every case.  For instance, assume you are an American of Italian heritage and that you do not and never will have a friend or relative who is Muslim.  To outlaw discrimination against Muslims infringes on your freedom to employ or not employ (associate or not associate with) whomever you want.  But is it still in everyone’s self-interest to support the mandate against discrimination?  Most Italian-Americans like not having to worry about how the sound of their name on a job application may come across to employers.  We do not want to be on the receiving end of an ill-formed, pre-conceived notion.  It is in our interest to ensure that Muslims are not subject to discrimination.  We’d like to ensure our right to be judged for who we are by ensuring other people’s right to be judged for who they are.

My rights are king.  But so are yours, because they bear upon mine.  Nothing disingenuous about that.

7 thoughts on “Perfection is the enemy of progress”

  1. Interesting beginning, drawing us into the discussion about social justice through a specific term. I think you can make your post stronger by connecting this term throughout, especially by reminding us at the end how your argument relates to the term “SJW”.

    Most of the latter part of your argument depends on the statement “self-interest is king” being a valid, relevant and pervasive idea based on which we might be making decisions/forming opinions in the area of social justice. But you never say where you got this idea: has this statement been coming from the mouths of the group you are arguing against? did it come from your own assumptions about how society functions? is it a famous quote by somebody i was supposed to have read in an economics class at some point? I find it hard to follow the rest of your point because that premise – “self-interest is king” – was never presented in the article in a way that I find it to be a believable, or even relevant, statement to build your argument on.

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    1. Ah so you could not read my mind?! I see what you are saying. Will need to spend more time on this. Your comments definitely beat the comments my first boss gave me on my technical writing — “This. Is a piece. Of shite.” I shall improve!

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  2. I agree with krentner on tying the first half with the second half. I really liked your idea of writing a persuasive essay to show “Me First” voters how their rights are tied to everyone else’s.

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  3. I definitely appreciate your viewpoint here, as well as your attempt to argue the logic of social justice. I read somewhere that the way to convince liberals is to present the humanitarian benefits, while to convince conservatives is to argue for the bottom line. Even knowing that, I find it hard to argue for the bottom line when I see the most important part as being for humanity.

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    1. Yes my sister said something similar to me earlier today re: even making this kind of argument when your bottom line is humanity. It’s DEFCON 1 out there right now though so I’m testing out all sorts of ways to convert people.

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