Prioritizing the fight for “social justice” or any other version of “justice” is a guarantee of unending warfare. Obsession with “justice” focuses on the past, on allegedly unjust deeds suffered by the party deeming itself a victim. That the past is long, and includes an almost endless number of actions that someone might claim victimized them, doesn’t lead justice advocates to hesitate.
As Bruce Abramson puts it, “Justice cannot prevail until every grievance has been addressed, adjudicated, and repaired. Justice looks backward to fix the past.”
A survey of the Middle East and Mediterranean, and of tribal peoples everywhere, the subjects of my research as a cultural anthropologist, illustrates the ongoing cost of justice fanaticism. Peace is considered secondary to justice; when justice requires violence, it trumps peace.
In the nomadic tribe I lived with and studied in Iranian Baluchistan, members of each kin group had the obligation to defend every member and to retaliate against any attack on anyone. Anthropologists call this obligation “collective responsibility.” In the case of an attack, a feud existed between the groups involved, and the victim’s group mobilized to retaliate against the group of the perpetrator.
In one case I observed, a dispute over a camel, which had eaten dates of a palm tree belonging to someone in a group other than the owner of the camel, led to unpleasantries and then an altercation. Further contacts between other members of the two groups led to assaults in retaliation. Large groups were mobilized to engage in combat. Attacks and counter-attacks between the group continued over eight years, and the feud was not definitively resolved even then. There was no security in peace during this period, and established relationships between members of the different groups were broken.
The balance of kin groups that sometimes serves as a deterrence to violence, but calls for retaliation and vengeance in response to attack, is characteristic of tribal life in the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere. Justice is seen as more important than peace, because the absence of a response in kind and its implied weakness is seen as an invitation for more violence. It’s believed that there’s no peace without justice.
Among Mediterranean peasantry, the same approach prevails. In highland Sardinia, where I lived and studied the local culture, assaults on property or person led to vendetta, in effect a state of feud between the victim and the perpetrator. Sardinian shepherds had to defend their herds and sheep stations, the sources of their livelihood, against encroachment by fellow shepherds from their own and neighboring villages. Anthropologists call this “self-help.” Vandalism on a sheep station or rustling of livestock would lead to a vendetta between the victim and the perpetrator. During my time in highland Sardinia, shepherds were shot dead in towns and in the countryside in retaliation for attacks.
It isn’t that Middle Easterners, Mediterraneans, and tribal peoples don’t care about peace. They value peace, but they prioritize justice because they think that not pursuing justice at whatever cost would leave them vulnerable to further attacks and seal their fates as victims. In these societies, and in every society, there is a wide range of desired values.
In the modern Western society of the 19th and 20th centuries, “liberal democracies” as they were then, values included freedom, equality, community solidarity, prosperity, individual autonomy, productivity, creativity, order, and beauty, among others. In some cases, two or more values were contradictory and in conflict, such as freedom versus equality, individual autonomy versus order, productivity versus beauty, and prosperity versus community solidarity. Each society, therefore, had to prioritize among its values. In “liberal democracies” such as the United States, freedom was prioritized over equality, individual autonomy over order, productivity over beauty, and prosperity over community solidarity, as well as peace over justice.
Contemporary Western societies, “liberal democracies” no more, have redefined our search for justice from individual acts, similar to the Mediterranean peasants, to collective categories of people, similar to Middle Eastern and African tribal peoples. There has been a paradigm shift in culture, from individual accountability to collective responsibility based on census categories of gender, race, sexuality, religion, and physical ability. The justification for this shift has been sympathy for “victims of oppression” and contempt for “oppressors.” Consequently, individual accountability and related criteria such as achievement and merit have been disregarded in favor of collective identities.
In the identity politics class struggle, females, BIPOC (blacks, indigenous, people of color), LGBTQ2S++ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, queer, two spirit, etc.), Muslims, and the disabled are regarded as now and forever victims and labeled “marginalized and underserved minorities.” Justification for this characterization rests heavily upon historical victimization and the demand for “social justice” to raise up the oppressed. The current solution is to flip the intersectional hierarchy of victimhood in order to benefit the alleged oppressed and marginalize the alleged oppressors.
The cultural lubricant of the fight for social justice is “virtuous” hate directed against the oppressors, hate encouraged by “progressive” governments, by race, gender, and sexuality activists, and now by just about every institution, from K-12 and university education, the mass media, to some churches.
Whites are seen as having an essence, “whiteness,” which is unalloyed evil, being commitments to such heinous racist characteristics as promptness, courtesy, science, logic, correct answers, and hard work. Males are denounced as “toxic” for masculine virtues such as assertiveness, risk-taking, and engagement with the physical world. Heteronormativity is also evil, and LGBTQ2S++ are celebrated while children are encouraged to try out various sexualities.
Whatever has been the case in the past, females, BIPOC, LGBTQ2S++, Muslims, and the disabled are today not oppressed but favored and privileged. In the name of “social justice,” whites and (astonishingly, Asians), males, heterosexuals, Christians and Jews, and the able-bodied are subject to systemic racial, gender, sexuality, and religious discrimination and even attack, verbal and physical. It’s the official policy of “progressive” governments, generally framed in terms of “diversity, equity, inclusion,” to exclude whites and Asians, males, heterosexuals, and Christians and Jews. (Asians and Jews are small minorities who have suffered grievous discrimination and persecution in the past, but they have unforgivably performed at a high level of merit and succeeded educationally, professionally, and economically.)
For over 50 years, the official policy of the United States has been “affirmative action,” which means discriminating in favor of BIPOC at the expense of others with stronger qualifications. Today, university admissions and funding, and public and private jobs advertise for applicants who are females, BIPOC, LGBTQTS++, Muslims, and the disabled, all of whom are considered “diverse,” while whites and Asians, males, heterosexuals, and Christians and Jews are not regarded as “diverse,” and are excluded from consideration.
Even when members of a category are heavily “overrepresented” in relation to the general population, the favored categories are still preferred and benefitted. For example, females make up the large preponderance of government workers, and dominate in universities (60 percent females, 40 percent males), but are still preferred candidates.
Furthermore, in the name of “equity”—equal results for members of all categories—high achievement is suppressed so that everyone is more equal. Standardized examinations are no longer used because members of some categories do better than others. Advanced classes and specialized schools are closed down because members of some categories don’t succeed in them. Achievements such as merit awards are hidden from students because other categories of students didn’t receive them.
Anyone who spoke out against the anti-white racism, anti-male sexism, the grooming of children, the cancellation of merit and achievement as “racist,” the fashionable antisemitism, and the religious bigotry was crushed by powerholders in universities, professional regulators, the media, and governments. “Diversity” of skin color, gender, and sexuality is much loved, but diversity of thought is not only hated but forbidden. Every institution has hired battalions of “diversity and inclusion” officers to suppress “wrong-think,” by re-education or expulsion.
Who decided that hatred and conflict between members of different racial, gender, sexuality, religious, and ability categories was beneficial for the United States and Canada? Or is this the right question? Perhaps the right question is, Qui bono? (Who benefits?) For whom does race hatred, gender hatred, etc., fragmenting the population, bring benefits? Who does the tribalization of the population leave in charge? It isn’t really a mystery, is it?
It’s the government that gains power when the population is fragmented and community civil society is undermined. It’s for the same reason that governments stoke fear in the citizenry, fear of disease in a pandemic, and fear of the Earth burning in climate change. It’s clear that governments, particularly “progressive” governments, look down on the citizens and don’t work to serve them, but rather see citizens as dupes who they can manipulate in order to advance their own interests, with no concern for the costs to the citizens.
Philip Carl Salzman is a senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. Originally appeared in Epoch Times.