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Sunday, 28 June 2020

Definitions And Their Uses

If we can agree on anything right now, we can say that the current sociopolitical situation in this country and abroad is in...

...let's say, turmoil.

This has led to some phrases and terms being used, and unless you engage with this stuff on a daily basis, you would be forgiven for not necessarily knowing what they mean - or are implied to mean.

So let's take a look at three phrases, that I have seen tossed around recently: Virtue Signalling, Social Justice Warrior, and Identity Politics.

Virtue Signalling



This phrase came about in the early 2010s; and at the time it was used to imply feigned outrage. Usually it was used against people demonstrating actual outrage; the implication was that the person espousing the point didn't truly believe in it, but was simply trying to make themselves look more virtuous. It is, also, a useful way to not actually address the point that the alleged virtue signaller has made.

If presented with the statement:

"I think that we should allocate some centralised national resources to helping the homeless more."

The accuser can say:

"You are virtue signalling, you are trying to make yourself look good to the people, and you don't actually believe in what you are saying."

It's a lot less damaging to their credibility than saying:

"I believe that the homeless shouldn't be helped, and so I disagree with you."

It is notable that virtue signalling isn't often deployed against statements like "I think we shouldn't prevent the UK arms industry selling bombs to the Saudis explicitly so they can kill more Yemenis". Mostly because I suppose there isn't a virtue being displayed, there. There's SOMETHING being displayed but we don't tend to doubt their intentions at all. Perhaps that is unfair; perhaps the government would really LIKE to not arm the Saudi military, but they are somehow forced to.

Maybe by some kind of unelected faceless bureaucrats somewhere. I don't know.

Unless you are very good at spotting a liar, or you have some kind of external evidence, it's usually hard to tell if someone means what they say. We, as human beings, are programmed to take most conversation at face value unless we have an underlying reason to not trust the speaker. (We as human beings have also managed to concoct a near-infinite number of reasons to not trust people, a lot of them very bad ones.)

There are, of course, plenty of examples of people and corporations performing actions that are made to make them look good, and try to align that action with a particular current event, often without taking any effective action. A specific example of this would be the creators of the Simpsons making a statement that from now on they'd use actors fitting for the ethnicity of the character they are voicing - without addressing the big old elephant in the room of the actual racist depiction of several characters in the Simpsons, or the fact that it shows on Fox, whose record I don't feel I have to explore further for you to understand the implications.

In British politics, however, there is one very easy way to see if a particular MP means what they say. Whenever a vote takes place in Parliament, the votes are a matter of public record. We can all see them. Websites such as They Work For You are great for seeing how a specific MP votes.

Which means that I can pull a literal example of a far more striking form of virtue signalling, which probably simply qualifies as just "hypocrisy" or "lying".



I know, there might be further context, I know, the Left do it too, I know, it's not just Tories, I know, I know, I know. It was just the most recent example I had to hand.

Still. Let's move on.

Social Justice Warrior



I admit, for devilment, that I have used a picture of a Cleric rather than a Warrior.

The Oxford English Dictionary definition for the term Social Justice Warrior - or SJW for Twitter shorthand - is that it is a perjorative term, used to refer to a "person who expresses or promotes socially progressive views".

This phrase came into common usage pretty much after GamerGate, which was - in essence - an online harassment campaign against three women, that was conducted under the apparent banner of there being some kind of collusion between the press and progressive movements. It is - like our previous example - used to discredit, disparage and dismiss people for their views or actions.

One might say:

"I think that a lot of game design is discriminatory against this specific group, and while it has improved over the years and there are notable good examples that are significant industry successes, there is still a lot of negativity surrounding this group as they are presented in video games."

The response to that can be:

"You're such a social justice warrior."

Which is easier, quicker, and less incriminating than:

"I don't care about how this group are presented in video games, and would rather imply that the fault lies with you for the statement you just made than examine the statement for truth."

Of course a lot of people bear the term quite proudly. If someone has been accused of being an SJW, it means that they have tried to be progressive in their actions or their words, and have encountered people that take exception to those progressive actions or words. It means that the people that they have upset with their words see them as upsetting the apple cart, rocking the boat, expressing views that are counter to the way that they wish to see the world.

You rarely see the term applied to those calling for deportation of immigrants or erosion of social protections for vulnerable people. I'm not sure why that is.

And finally, we come to the biggy:

Identity Politics


This one has been around a lot longer than the former two examples; it dates from 1977. In a simplified form, it is a form of politics wherein someone forms political alliances and moves in political circles around an aspect of identity - race, religion, class, gender, sexuality, health or disability status - rather than adopting a more everyman approach.

It is often used in a rather critical way, to disparage someone's political activity or views - usually by someone that isn't part of the specific identity that is being discussed at the time.

One might say:

"This aspect of my identity is mistreated habitually within this specific arena and I feel that we should address this."

The response can be:

"That's identity politics, surely we should look for a bipartisan approach to improve things for everyone."

Which, again, reads better than:

"I don't share that aspect of your identity, and don't see why we should do anything about this specific problem, regardless of whether or not I see it as a problem."

Now I can see why this gets brought out as a point of concern. If someone spends a lot of their time, energy and political capital in supporting causes that are primarily centred around their identity - lets say their sexuality and their race, whatever they may be - then another individual might wonder if this person would become involved in things that don't directly affect either their sexuality or race. Could they be counted on to pay attention to an environmental or business concern?

Well - yes, frankly, because people are more than capable of paying attention to multiple things at once. The Black Panthers, for example, could have been said to be a form of identity politics that centred around the black community; but they engaged in local politics and activism in far more areas than just race. Food programs, education, self defence. It shows just how broad a movement can be, and where its interests and influence can diverge into, even if centred around a single aspect of identity.

I talk about this often, but - people don't like thinking about politics being important to, or having a serious influence on, most (if not every) aspect of their lives. It's another thing to think about. It doesn't take much thinking on the topic to realise that Skunk Anansie were right when they told us that Everything's Political.


We all have an identity. We are all composed of parts, belong to different groups (some chosen and some not), and we all feel that some of those are more important to us than others. It's unrealistic to think that we should vote as a single grey formless mass, who have no divisions, and who are all treated the same by the society we live in - because that is patently false.

It's an expansion on the oft-repeated, well-meaning and short-sighted trope of "I Don't See Colour". It sounds, on the surface, to be very positive - a lack of discrimination based on skin tone - but it dismisses the notion that, just maybe, people should be allowed to have a different skin tone but still not be treated worse for it. It is similar to a woman describing how she was discriminated against for years in a male-dominated profession, and replying with "I Don't See Gender". I mean. That's great, but this woman's bosses do, and they pay her less because of it. If you can't see that pattern because you "Don't See Gender," it leads to a lack of awareness of a specific structural discrimination against a specific identity.

Identity politics is often unavoidable, because everyone has an identity - and a significant proportion of those identities are politically or socially disadvantaged. I think that often identity politics is attacked in order to try and undermine a point or movement to bring more equality (or social justice, fnyar) to a specific identity.

It is also prevalent on both sides of the political spectrum - Black Lives Matter is identity politics, but so is white supremacy. So is male chauvanism, and heteronormativity. So is every brand of nationalism.

Is it good or bad? Neither. It's in its execution that we find its moral worth, and I think most people can agree that "Please Murder Less Black People During Non-Violent Police Encounters" isn't quite as...let's say, iffy, as "Women Are Literally Worse Than Men And Deserve To Be Treated As Such" or "Fuck Everyone That Wasn't Born On This Land Mass".

There you have it; now you know why a Social Justice Warrior might be accused of Virtue Signalling and dismissed for engaging in Identity Politics.

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