The quest for “social justice” is not a new phenomenon. The history of political movements seeking to even out perceived inequities in the distribution of wealth, power and opportunity stretches back to ancient Greece, and has been at the forefront of politics at least since the 19th century. But the success of hard identity politics, as espoused by the modern leftist social justice warriors, is new – it has taken centre stage in global politics for less than a decade. In that time, however, it has managed to change political discourse quite a bit.
Now, safe spaces on university campuses provide a haven where those who have ostensibly come to be enlightened by new ideas can be shielded from opinions they disagree with, and serve as a signal that speech can hurt you. Unceasing accusations of racism are designed to demonise political opponents without having to counter their arguments. When the left compares even mainstream conservatives to 1930ies Hitler is it to justify action to silence “dangerous” ideas before they spread. Lately, the Antifa movement has added systematic violence to the mix. The demand is that everyone succumbs to the agenda of identity politics, and if you don’t, you are susceptible to be labelled as a pariah and shunned by respectable society. And the silencing of dissenting opinions is central to the operation.
What seems not to occur to the SJWs is how patronising it is to minorities to want to protect them from free speech, shielding them from things judged by their apparent superiors to be too much for their delicate minds to deal with. But they are deadly serious about it, accusing, for example, blacks who disavow the agenda of caring less about black people than they do. The implicit lesson in the opposition to free speech is that freedom is the enemy and that to be safe you need protection from people who think differently from yourself. The paradox in the idea that you protect the oppressed by oppressing others seems lost amongst the outrage directed at the expression of opposing opinions.
Free speech has, of course, historically been the friend of minorities and the oppressed, rather than their enemy. Totalitarian regimes throughout history have sought to control what citizens could legally say and do, because new ideas are the enemy of the status quo. Today, China is fighting a daily battle to prevent its people from undiluted access to the internet for fear of ideas of freedom spreading to its 1.4 billion citizens, while the North Korean regime exercises complete control over media and all other forms of communication in the country, ensuring that subsistence farmers living in abject poverty don’t get a taste for freedom or question the carefully crafted image of a brave North Korean regime fighting evil external enemies on behalf of its people.
The recipe which the left-progressives have been using to further their identity politics agenda requires victims; in fact, leftist ideology is based on the identification of winners and losers, and the premise that some are losing precisely because others are winning. With that in mind it is not difficult to understand why the left gets stroppy when minorities refuse to adapt to the victim role: the entire movement is in danger if people stop seeing themselves as members of groups which for some reason are oppressed, be that because of the colour of your skin, your gender or your social class – the very starting point for the socialist movement.
But it is simple: if you are against free speech you are on the wrong side of history. Future generations won’t look back on the millennials and their safe spaces, or feminism supporters in hats shaped like female genitalia, and see freedom fighters who stood up for minorities. They will see a repressive movement disguised as liberators of the oppressed; people whose patronising attitudes to minorities and other “disadvantaged” groups only serve to perpetuate an existing stigma: that such people are indeed not able to fend for themselves.