Yes, Atheists Should Fight for Social Justice

Michael Luciano has an article in the Daily Banter entitled Atheists Don’t Owe Your Social Justice Agenda a Damn Thing. Both the title and the article are a perfect example of rather flamboyantly missing the point — several of them, actually. He begins with the usual “atheism just means a lack of belief in god” argument, which is really quite irrelevant.

There’s a weird trend that’s been slinking its way through the social justice community, whereby so-called New Atheists are being denounced for supposedly failing to embrace liberal causes such as diversity and equality. Apparently, atheism has a “race problem,” or maybe it should be called a “white male problem.” Whichever the case, it appears atheism also has a “shocking woman problem.”…

Did I sleep through some radical redefining of the word ‘atheist’? It’s always been my understanding that an ‘atheist’ is someone who simply lacks belief in deities. That’s it. Somehow, though, it’s suddenly incumbent on atheists to take up certain social and political causes, and that’s just silly.

No it isn’t. You didn’t sleep through anything, you’re just perceiving the situation on a personal level rather than a group level. Does any individual atheist have some obligation to fight for social justice as an intrinsic result of their atheism? No. It’s true that an atheist is one who doesn’t believe in a god or gods and that doesn’t require them to believe any particular other idea at all or to be an activist for any idea.

But we aren’t talking about atheism as a particular person’s belief but about an atheist movement, a collection of organizations and groups who are quite up front about their desire to change our society for the better by reversing some of the cultural, political and legal damage inflicted by those who have used their religious beliefs to justify bad public policy. And on that level, social justice issues are clearly implicated.

It should be entirely obvious that one of the damaging effects of religious belief is the denial of equal rights to women, to gay people and even to racial minorities. In all three cases, discriminatory policies are justified by the religious beliefs that atheist activists fight against. We cannot be effective in countering the negative effect of religion-based public policy (or more broadly, cultural norms and non-political societal structures) if we don’t take up those fights for equality.

So yes, I think there is a natural and logical link between atheist activism (as opposed to an individual atheist, who may not be an activist at all) and social justice activism. The fact that there are some conservative atheists who don’t share the desire to reverse those discriminatory structures in society only means that they’re wrong.

About Ed Brayton

After spending several years touring the country as a stand up comedian, Ed Brayton tired of explaining his jokes to small groups of dazed illiterates and turned to writing as the most common outlet for the voices in his head. He has appeared on the Rachel Maddow Show and the Thom Hartmann Show, and is almost certain that he is the only person ever to make fun of Chuck Norris on C-SPAN.

  • doublereed

    I tried to read the article but I found it so utterly boring. I find it so boring and nonsensical that people like talking about what they don’t care about. Does he find the idea of caring about other people to be a bad idea?

    This nonsense line stuck out to me:

    Saying “atheists” need to fight for liberal causes makes no more sense than saying conservatives who are atheists should do the same.

    Actually, it’s like saying “Christians should fight for liberal causes.” And there are plenty of Christians who think that and say that, regardless of how many conservative Christians there are.

  • eric

    Does he find the idea of caring about other people to be a bad idea?

    Yeah, the whole tenor seems somewhat selfish or self-absorbed. Reminds me a bit of a comment (I don’t remember who said it) about Ayn Rand’s objectivism: I find myself nodding along with most of it, until I get to the “be an asshole to people” part.

  • scienceavenger

    Having written a very similar letter to the Freedom From Religion Foundation years ago (sorry Dan), the problem with the author is that he doesn’t understand, or is loathe to admit, that many of his conservative positions that he thinks he reasoned his way to, are in fact religiously derived views. The notion that men and women have inherent roles to play in relationships for example, or that homosexuality is a flaw of some sort, or that man is powerless to effect the climate one way or another, have support only in religion and pseudoscience. Conservatives of the atheist bent give a lot of lip service to science, but the currency of their conversation is rationalizations of desires and/or religiously inspired views. The scientific literature is as untouched by them as it is by the unwashed fundie they feel so intellectually superior to.

  • Chiroptera

    …New Atheists are being denounced for supposedly failing to embrace liberal causes such as diversity and equality.

    Anyone and everyone should be denounced for not embracing these causes, in my opinion.

    I can see some professional/technical organizations structured so that they are confined to a very narrow purpose, but a movement that is already a social movement? If your social movement isn’t allying with and making common cause with other social movements, then, in my opinion, your movement is kind of useless.

  • DaveL

    A lack of belief in gods might have nothing in particular to do with sanitation practices, but that doesn’t mean it’s OK to crap on the floor, nor does it mean atheists and the organizations who represent them shouldn’t have a position regarding whether it’s OK to crap on the floor.

  • http://denkeensechtna.blogspot.com Deen

    I think people should fight for social justice, and that being an atheist doesn’t exempt you from that.

  • alanb

    @ eric – You’re thinking of xkcd

  • http://Www.metalmischief.com YOB – Ye Olde Blacksmith

    Somehow, though, it’s suddenly incumbent on atheists to take up certain social and political causes, and that’s just silly

    So, causes like seperation of church and state or anti-atheist discrimination or teaching creationism in public schools? If all you are is a disbeliver in gods, then you have no reason to mess with those issues too, right?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=523300770 stuartsmith

    Absolutely. Being an atheist is all well and good, but what’s the point in trying to sell atheism to others if it doesn’t have some kind of beneficial implication. If this is all just about making our tribe bigger so we can be the ones oppressing them, then in the big scheme of things, who cares? Why is other people’s factual correctness, in and of itself, worth caring about? Atheism is worth promoting precisely because of the new light it shines on so many other things in our culture, not because it matters particularly greatly whether individual people believe in God or not. Though it would be nice to hear less about him.

  • pocketnerd

    Thus Spake ZaraMichael Luciano:

    There’s a weird trend that’s been slinking its way through the social justice community, whereby so-called New Atheists are being denounced for supposedly failing to embrace liberal causes such as diversity and equality.

    “Equality” is a “liberal cause” now? Or are you merely conceding that American conservatism is now implicitly anti-equality?

    I think being an atheist or agnostic is less important than why you’re an atheist or agnostic. If your starting point is “There’s no omnipotent, omniscient deity to figure it out for us, or if there is he’s not talking, so we have to figure it out ourselves — starting with reason, evidence, and an emphasis on humans rather than slavish obedience to the privileged spokespeople for inscrutable deities” you’ll wind up with very different conclusions than if you start with “There’s no God, and knowing that makes me waaay smarter than those dumb sheeple, so now all I have to do is pat myself on the back for being so very clever.”

  • pocketnerd

    Thus Spake Zarastuartsmith, #9:

    Absolutely. Being an atheist is all well and good, but what’s the point in trying to sell atheism to others if it doesn’t have some kind of beneficial implication. If this is all just about making our tribe bigger so we can be the ones oppressing them, then in the big scheme of things, who cares?

    One thing the Book of Matthew gets absolutely right: If it bears bad fruit, it’s a bad tree. If your atheism winds up adopting the same prejudices and bigotry of the religion it replaces, your atheism is not better than that religion.

  • Scientismist

    From the Michael Luciano article:

    Somehow, though, it’s suddenly incumbent on atheists to take up certain social and political causes, and that’s just silly.

    From scienceavenger @3:

    Conservatives of the atheist bent give a lot of lip service to science

    Having come to atheism through science, I have to be repeatedly reminded that there are many other routes to that simple “lack of belief in God” that suffices as atheism for many. This means that there are a lot of atheists who, having cut the cord to the invisible friend that told them what to do, still need some other authority to instruct them before they can tumble to the idea that other people might be of of some value. For those of us who take science seriously (some would say too seriously), diversity and inclusiveness, like truth-telling, are part of the ethical commitment that makes it possible to do science. Social justice is a necessary part of atheism, as it is a necessary part of the scientific ethic that makes it possible to construct a communal understanding of the world. From a scientific approach, atheism is not merely a lack of a belief in god or gods, but a recognition that the theory of gods is a failed hypothesis.

    It has been claimed that reality has a liberal bias. I don’t think that is the case, since human beings have a great talent for ignoring reality, taking the lumps that result from that, and learning nothing from the experience. The liberal bias comes in when humans make an effort to comprehend the natural reality that surrounds them. That this might entail certain social and political causes is neither silly nor sudden. It’s part of the commitment to making that effort.

  • Michael Heath

    deen @ 6:

    I think people should fight for social justice, and that being an atheist doesn’t exempt you from that.

    I’m with deen. To the point I find Luciano’s argument so idiotic it’s no worthy of consideration but instead immediate ridicule. (I didn’t read past the blog post title before I started reading Ed’s response and the comment threads.)

  • Michael Heath

    pocketnerd writes:

    “Equality” is a “liberal cause” now? Or are you merely conceding that American conservatism is now implicitly anti-equality?

    Uh, equality is a defining and founding attribute of liberalism. Conservastism is instead rooted in protection of the current order and the privileges they grant some combination of themselves or the authority figures they perceive as being part of their tribe.

    Liberals should never grant conservatives the label of being pro-equality until conservatives earn such a label. I don’t see that happening for at least decades, if ever (perhaps centuries).

  • abb3w

    pocketnerd:

    “Equality” is a “liberal cause” now? Or are you merely conceding that American conservatism is now implicitly anti-equality?

    It’s more accurate to say that emphasis on Equality to the de-emphasis of Authority, Ingroup loyalty, and Purity are liberal principles, as opposed to conservative granting co-emphasis to Authority et cetera.

    This shouldn’t be news; Haidt’s research results have been circulating for several years.

  • freehand

    Let’s try this on some of my other activities:

    .

    “Somehow, though, it’s suddenly incumbent on gardeners to take up certain social and political causes, and that’s just silly”

    .

    “Somehow, though, it’s suddenly incumbent on computer geeks to take up certain social and political causes, and that’s just silly”

    .

    Yeah, no, it isn’t sudden. It’s always been incumbent on people to take up social causes. Now, I am leery of folks saying I should do particular activities or make certain sacrifices of time or other resources for social justice, but that’s at least one other conversation.

  • pocketnerd

    Thus Spake ZaraMichael Heath, #14:

    Uh, equality is a defining and founding attribute of liberalism. Conservastism is instead rooted in protection of the current order and the privileges they grant some combination of themselves or the authority figures they perceive as being part of their tribe.

    Thus Spake Zaraabb3w, #15:

    It’s more accurate to say that emphasis on Equality to the de-emphasis of Authority, Ingroup loyalty, and Purity are liberal principles, as opposed to conservative granting co-emphasis to Authority et cetera.

    I don’t disagree with either of you. It’s just rare to see conservatives admit they’re anti-equality, even in so roundabout a way as to sneer at it as a “liberal cause”.

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    Does any individual atheist have some obligation to fight for social justice as an intrinsic result of their atheism? No.

    Wrong answer. Every human being has a responsibility to fight for social justice – to the limits that their current situation and reasonableness permit. Aka what Deen says in 6 and Michael Heath in 13.

  • http://www.shiftlessbum.com Marc

    Dictionary atheists, I just don’t get it. Did you become an atheist by reading the dictionary? Did you just wake up one day, see the definition of atheism and decide that’s what you were, period, end of story?

    I arrived at my atheism through much soul searching, reading, thought, etc. and it impacts and informs my worldview. It’s not a stand-alone thing that has no affect on anything else but something that defines who I am and how I think and act in the world. It has inspired my belief in social justice (btw, I’m totally OK with being called a Social Justice Warrior I’m fine with being defined by the things I “fight” for), equality, science based education, secularism in the public sphere, etc., etc.

  • lancifer

    “Social justice” is a non-sequitur. Justice is measured one person at a time.

    Society isn’t just if the number of people wronged in each superficial category are balanced.

  • lancifer

    The term “social justice” is to the “progressive” left what “family values” is to the religious right.

    An empty slogan used to show that you are part of the tribe.

  • dingojack

    Lancy – citations required.

    Dingo

  • lancifer

    Dingus, You really need a “citation” to know that justice is a quantity meted out one person at a time?

  • dingojack

    So your contention is that social justice is an empty slogan? That’s a large claim and requires a large amount of evidence.

    Dingo

  • lancifer

    But since you asked…

    social-justice.politics.ox.ac.uk/materials/SJ017_Lister_MirageofSocialJustice.pdf

    In the 2nd volume Law, Legislation and Liberty, published in 1976, Hayek called the

    idea of social justice a “mirage.”

    3

    In case there might be any confusion about his view, he

    also called social justice a “will-o-the-wisp” (I: 142; 67; II: 99)

    4, an “empty formula,”

    5

    “strictly,” “necessarily,” and “entirely” “empty and meaningless” (II: 68, 69, xi); a phrase that “meant nothing at all” (II: xii, 33), that “has no meaning whatsoever,”

    6

    a vacuous concept (II:

    64, 97); “a quasi-religious belief with no content whatsoever” (II: xi

    -xii), a “primitive anthropomorphism” (II: 62, 75), or “atavism,”

    7

    a “superstition” (II: 66), like believing in witches or the philosopher’s stone (II: 75), or a “hollow incantation” (II: xii), like “open sesame” (II: 67). He thought that social justice was a particularly dangerous superstition,

    describing it as “that incubus which today makes fine sentiments the instruments for the destruction of all values of a free civilization” (II: xii), leading to “the destruction of the of the indispensable environment in which the traditional moral values alone can flourish, namely personal freedom” (II: 67, also 62). The phrase had become a source of “sloppy thinking and even intellectual dishonesty” (II: 80), a “dishonest insinuation… intellectually disreputable, the mark of demagogy and cheap journalism which responsible thinkers ought to be ashamed to use because, once its vacuity is recognized, its use is dishonest” (II: 97).

  • lancifer

    But of course vacuous sloganeering is your raison d’être.

  • dingojack

    Hayek claimed,,,, any evidence?

    Dingo

    ———

    “But of course vacuous sloganeering is your raison d’être.”

    Can you spell PROJECTION, boys and girls?

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    @lancifer

    I don’t know what planet you live on. On my planet, the phrase “social justice” is understood to include fighting against racism, sexism, other kinds of bigotry. It also often includes fighting against severe and unfair distributions of wealth in the population. It is not an empty slogan.

  • lancifer

    EL,

    The first three things you mentioned “fighting against racism, sexism, other kinds of bigotry” are universally agreed to be beneficial by all but the most malignant of society and require no endorsement of a “progressive” framework. Even “paleo-conservatives” will agree with “fighting bigotry”. It is the “means” of doing so that is defines the words “social justice movement”.

    The next thing you mentioned is closer to the ethos of the words “social justice”; “fighting against severe and unfair distributions of wealth”. It is a cover phrase for statist policies designed to instigate class and racial divisions that can be exploited at the expense of individual liberty and dignity.

    You should read Hayek’s The Mirage of Social Justice if for no other reason that to understand the rational objection to an idea you see as a benign and universal positive. If you are honest, you will admit that is an empty phrase used by progressives the same way that “family values” is bandied about by religious conservative.

  • lancifer

    Excuse the errors my computer is not allowing me to use the preview feature.

  • pocketnerd

    Thus Spake Zaralancifer, #29:

    Even “paleo-conservatives” will agree with “fighting bigotry”.

    You did notice the part where Luciano sneered at equality as a “liberal cause,” right?

  • lancifer

    P’nerd,

    He didn’t “sneer” at it. In his article he even calls the Moving Social Justice group’s agenda a “good thing”.

    His point is, “It’s silly not because equality and diversity aren’t worthy causes, but because there’s no inherent connection between not believing in god and liberal politics.”

    He is simply making the point that conflating atheism with a politcal philosophy, even one with which he apparently agrees, is counterproductive to the actual goal of promoting atheism in the wider society.

    As an Atheist that is NOT a progressive I agree, and I resent the attempted hijacking of the “atheist movement”, if there is such a thing, by the so called Atheism Plus faction.

    Perhaps you should read his entire article, which Ed links to, before popping off again.

  • leni

    …universally agreed to be beneficial by all but the most malignant of society …

    Are you willing to put money down on that statement?

  • Michael Heath

    dingojack to lancifer:

    So your contention is that social justice is an empty slogan? That’s a large claim and requires a large amount of evidence.

    lancifer responds:

    But since you asked…

    social-justice.politics.ox.ac.uk/materials/SJ017_Lister_MirageofSocialJustice.pdf

    In the 2nd volume Law, Legislation and Liberty, published in 1976, [Friedrich von] Hayek called the idea of social justice a “mirage.”

    3

    In case there might be any confusion about his view, [Hayek] also called social justice a “will-o-the-wisp” (I: 142; 67; II: 99) 4, an “empty formula,”

    5

    “strictly,” “necessarily,” and “entirely” “empty and meaningless” (II: 68, 69, xi); a phrase that “meant nothing at all” (II: xii, 33), that “has no meaning whatsoever,”

    6

    a vacuous concept (II:

    64, 97);“a quasi-religious belief with no content whatsoever” (II: xi

    -xii), a “primitive anthropomorphism” (II: 62, 75), or “atavism,”

    7

    a “superstition” (II: 66), like believing in witches or the philosopher’s stone (II: 75), or a “hollow incantation” (II: xii), like “open sesame” (II: 67). He thought that social justice was a particularly dangerous superstition . . . [and on]

    This isn’t evidence. Your response is mere assertions by a person other than yourself. This is the intellectual equivalent of a scientist asking for evidence of creationism and the creationist responds by quoting the Bible as evidence.

    Why am I not surprised you demonstrate perfect ignorance regarding the difference between assertions you happen to like and actual evidence?

  • dingojack

    Well MH, to be fair, I strongly suspect that argumentum ab auctoritate is all the evidence he’s got (or needs) in this particular case.

    Dingo

  • lancifer

    MH,

    The concept of “social justice” is hardly an empirical fact that can be measured and proved or disproved.

    The link I provided has citations (as requested by Dingo Jack) from Hayek’s extensive writings on the subject. Of course I’m not surprised that you conflate political opinions with scientific evidence, since that is your usual behavior.

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    @lancifer

    You defeat your own argument: You argued that the label “social justice” is empty, but then admit that it contains the idea of government redistribution of wealth, which means the label is not empty. You have now moved the goalposts: you now argue that “social justice” is a misnomer like “family values” is a misnomer. That is a fundamentally different position than your first claim.

    We seem to have a basic problem. I strongly favor government action to redistribute wealth. You do not. I think that your position is silly. We can go into details if you want. This is one good reason why I identify with the label. I think that “social justice” is a perfectly appropriate name for the goals and means of government action to redistribute wealth.

  • Michael Heath

    dingojack to lancifer:

    So your contention is that social justice is an empty slogan? That’s a large claim and requires a large amount of evidence.

    lancifer responds @ 25 with bald assertions by an ideological hero of his. A hero who is famous (infamous?) for avoiding empirical evidence when arguing those who base their conclusions on facts:

    But since you asked…

    social-justice.politics.ox.ac.uk/materials/SJ017_Lister_MirageofSocialJustice.pdf

    In the 2nd volume Law, Legislation and Liberty, published in 1976, [Friedrich von] Hayek called the idea of social justice a “mirage.”

    3

    In case there might be any confusion about his view, [Hayek] also called social justice a “will-o-the-wisp” (I: 142; 67; II: 99) 4, an “empty formula,”

    5

    “strictly,” “necessarily,” and “entirely” “empty and meaningless” (II: 68, 69, xi); a phrase that “meant nothing at all” (II: xii, 33), that “has no meaning whatsoever,”

    6

    a vacuous concept (II:

    64, 97);“a quasi-religious belief with no content whatsoever” (II: xi

    -xii), a “primitive anthropomorphism” (II: 62, 75), or “atavism,”

    7

    a “superstition” (II: 66), like believing in witches or the philosopher’s stone (II: 75), or a “hollow incantation” (II: xii), like “open sesame” (II: 67). He thought that social justice was a particularly dangerous superstition . . . [and on]

    I point then out that lancifer’s above claim that he responded with evidence to dingojack’s challenge is false, i.e., a lie:

    This isn’t evidence. Your response is mere assertions by a person other than yourself.

    lancifer concedes he was lying by moving the goal posts:

    The concept of “social justice” is hardly an empirical fact that can be measured and proved or disproved.

    The link I provided has citations (as requested by Dingo Jack) from Hayek’s extensive writings on the subject. Of course I’m not surprised that you conflate political opinions with scientific evidence, since that is your usual behavior.

    So which lancifer are to believe? The one that falsely claims he has evidence @ 25? Or the one @ 36 that claims claims that the observation of social justice is a mere opinion? Or the one @ 20 that claims:

    “Social justice” is a non-sequitur. Justice is measured one person at a time.

    So here we have at least three lancifers. Hey! That’s just like the trinity! Where this trinity is just as incoherent the more famous one.

  • lancifer

    EL,

    With all due respect, because I think that you are one of the few posters here that maintains an open mind, I think you have missed my point. To be fair I didn’t prepare my remarks with the care that I would have if I felt that they would be given an honest reading.

    The term “social justice” is a non-sequitur because justice is a quantized quality of human interaction. A society is hardly “just” on the basis of people in (mostly unscientific and irrationally determined) groups having the same amount of money.

    Equality of opportunity for each individual should be the metric, not equality of outcome.

    In fact coercive efforts of governments, to ensure equality of outcome, are inevitably “unjust” and counter-productive to the rights of the individual.

    Hence the term “social justice” is an amorphous term that can be used to excuse all manner of unjust behaviors.

    If you really want to understand what I am saying I, again, urge you to read Hayek’s

    The Mirage of Social Justice. I’m not implying that you will immediately agree with me after reading it, but at least you will understand the ideas I am trying to express.

  • lancifer

    Look Heath, what part of “social justice” being a concept and not an empirical quantity did you not understand?

  • dingojack

    In fact coercive efforts of governments, to ensure equality of outcome, are inevitably “unjust” and counter-productive to the rights of the individual.

    Hence the term “social justice” is an amorphous term that can be used to excuse all manner of unjust behaviors.”

    Who knew ‘each individual’ is “… mostly unscientific and irrationally determined… “?

    In respect to the bald assertions quoted above — and your body of evidence to back up these claims is….?

    Dingo

  • Michael Heath

    Lancifer moves the goalposts again:

    Look Heath, what part of “social justice” being a concept and not an empirical quantity did you not understand?

    Nothing I’ve written in this thread has revealed my thoughts on social justice. Rational thinkers can easily discern this.

    All I’ve done in response to your posts is point our both your dishonesty and complete dependence on rhetorical fallacies when challenged. E.g., your false claim @ 25 that you responded to dingojack’s challenge to provide evidence with evidence. My pointing out your “evidence” @ 25 was merely bald assertions, where @ 36 you contradict your claim @ 25 that observations of social justice are merely opinion. In spite of originally claiming your provided evidence @ 25.

    Logical people’s minds are now spinning. I’m also laughing at a bloviating buffoon.

  • Michael Heath

    Me @ 42:

    Nothing I’ve written in this thread has revealed my thoughts on social justice.

    I need to correct this statement, it’s not true. @ 13 I agreed with deen that atheists should, “fight for social justice”.

    What I didn’t do was opine on lancifer’s definitions on social justice. For the very same reason I have no desire to parse out Sarah Palin’s thoughts on foreign policy beyond using her structurally defective arguments as an opportunity to ridicule her.

    When it comes to lancifer in this thread, my motivation above is focused solely on criticizing and ridiculing his idiotic and dishonest arguments, which occur well prior to a reasonable person needing to consider his conclusion. I.e., there’s no compelling reason here to consider a conclusion when the premises are fatally defective or in lancifer’s case – premises that contradict each other and therefore are demonstrably dishonest (@ 36 contradicting @ 25).

  • lancifer

    Heath you are something else, you launch into two rambling self-indulgent, insult laden rants and then call me a “bloviating buffoon”.

    You used to get under my skin, now I just feel kind’a sorry for you.

    Why don’t you go read Hayek’s The Mirage of Social Justice and then respond with a reasoned and thoughtful post?

  • lancifer

    Hmm, must have left an open tag in there somewhere. Need to fix my browser so I can use the preview feature.

    Oh, well. I think you get the idea.

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    @lancifer

    A society is hardly “just” on the basis of people in (mostly unscientific and irrationally determined) groups having the same amount of money.

    Equality of opportunity for each individual should be the metric, not equality of outcome.

    And I think you’re a privileged, privilege-blind, elitist ass.

    I am for creating a society where most people / everyone are happy, safe, free, materially wealthy, have self determination, and the other values of well-being. This is commonly called humanism. I want a happy society. I don’t want a society where people can sometimes obtain happiness, but where most are not happy. I want equality of outcome. Outcome is what matters, not opportunity.

    For example, I often say that if it was within my power, I would ensure that Hitler would have a perfect eternal afterlife, where I could make him as happy and content and fulfilled as possible, because every human being deserves that. (Assuming I could do so with zero danger to others, little to no cost to myself, and without possible loss of deterrence effects.)

    Inevitably, justice is not about equality of opportunity; justice has to be about equality of outcome. Inevitably, we measure justice by outcome. I consider it plausible that it could be shown that any proposed policy would result in a manifestly unhappy society, or a markedly inferior society compared to some alternative – inferior by the measure of humanism. No matter how strongly you argue that this hypothetical system is just by equality of opportunity, I would see the lack of desirable outcome, and I would always choose the alternative system with less “fairness of opportunity” in order to achieve better desirable outcome.

    However, I recognize that capitalism and free markets are an indispensable tool for generating material wealth. I accept some degree of wealth disparity in order to raise the material wealth of everyone in society. Some degree of private property rights are a requirement for the specialization of labor which is what leads to the increased material wealth ala capitalism 101. However, you don’t need absolute private property rights to accomplish this. Specialization of labor, planning for the future, and capitalism 101 can still function in the presence of progressive income taxes and progressive death taxes.

    Further, money is power. Great disparities in money in a society mean that there are great disparities of power in the society, and that is dangerous and destructive towards a functioning democracy.

    PS: Not that it matters, but this was also the view of Adam Smith, and many of the US founders, including for example Thomas Jefferson:

    “A power to dispose of estates for ever is manifestly absurd. The earth and the fulness of it belongs to every generation, and the preceding one can have no right to bind it up from posterity. Such extension of property is quite unnatural.”

    @lancifer

    In fact coercive efforts of governments, to ensure equality of outcome, are inevitably “unjust” and counter-productive to the rights of the individual.

    Citations please.

    You are using a different meaning of “justice” which I do not recognize. I fail to see how progressive income taxes and progressive death taxes are inevitably unjust. I fail to see how absolute private property rights trump the natural right of equal access to material wealth that everyone has (see above quote in italics).

    I fail to see how progressive income taxes and progressive death taxes are inevitably counter-productive.

  • lancifer

    Enlightenment Liberal,

    Well, so much for you being open minded.

    I find it rather ironic that you call me elitist while professing typical liberal elitist ideas.

    I also note that your little self-righteous manifesto lists “free” among the “rights” you graciously grant all humans while at the same time advocating a system designed to ensure “equality of outcome”.

    These two goals are clearly in extreme tension, but in your fairytale world there can be a system that has the power to ensure that no one has more stuff (or even happiness) than anyone else but somehow it allows for individual freedom.

    I fear you definition of freedom may be somewhat different than mine.

    This is the kind of arrogance that is typical of liberals that think they should be allowed to tell everyone what they can do and even what should make them happy.

    The most disturbing part is that you puff it out with such disdain and moral derision. Also, you assume that I am opposed to a system that prevents wealth to be attained by unfair means. I am in fact a geolibertarian in complete agreement with your example of estate disposal, at least as it pertains to the land and other examples of “The earth and the fulness of it…” .

    I am also not opposed to the concept of progressive taxation, although in practice it can be quite unjust.

    In your zeal to portray me as a neo-con caricature you have completely evaded the heart of my objection to the nonsensical term “social justice”, its reliance on the metrics of ethnic tribalism. That is the problem with this corrosive idea not that it seeks a more egalitarian society.

    Perhaps if you read the book I have repeatedly cited, The Mirage of Social Justice, by F.A. Hayek you would actually understand my position.

    Sadly, you seem to prefer preening your liberal feathers in the mirror of your own self-important, moral superiority.

  • abb3w

    @40, lancifer

    Look Heath, what part of “social justice” being a concept and not an empirical quantity did you not understand?

    I’d suggest specifying an “ought concept”.

    I’ll also note that the problem isn’t at “social”; once you have an initial linear ordered empirical measure, it’s pretty easy to aggregate an ordering relationship over a population via summation — EG, going from the mass of one person in kilograms, to the mass of the society as a whole in kilograms. (That the resulting concept may be silly and useless is incidental to whether it’s empirical.)

    The problem is at agreement to the definition of an empirical measure of “justice”; in particular, at an ambiguity between equity and reciprocity.

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    I find it rather ironic that you call me elitist while professing typical liberal elitist ideas.

    How is it elitist to argue that everyone deserves not a chance at a happy life, but actually deserve a happy life? How is it elitist to say that the rich and elite do not deserve protections of their vast wealth when it comes at the expensive of the happiness of others? It’s like you’re channelling Orweil. “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength”.

    These two goals are clearly in extreme tension, but in your fairytale world there can be a system that has the power to ensure that no one has more stuff (or even happiness) than anyone else but somehow it allows for individual freedom.

    I went to extreme lengths to dissuade anyone of the false apprehension that my ideal system requires everyone have the same amount of stuff. I thus think you didn’t actually read what I wrote all that closely. Again: I state that everyone deserves to live a happy life with material wealth, and that filthy rich people deserve no protection if it comes at the expense of that goal. I also recognize that wealth disparities are a necessarily state of affairs to employ the tool of capitalism, which is indispensable for generating material wealth.

    There is more to freedom than amassing massive amounts of material wealth. Only someone stuck in capitalist consumer culture which be blind to that.

    This is the kind of arrogance that is typical of liberals that think they should be allowed to tell everyone what they can do and even what should make them happy.

    I fail to see where I wrote anything that could honestly be misconstrued that way. At no point did I say that I will tell people what to do to make them happy. In fact, I proposed policies that likely will annoy some people, namely: I proposed policies that will take large amounts of money from otherwise filthy rich people, in order to give that money to the poor, for them to use at their discretion. I am empowering the poor to do as they will by giving them additional money, and I am hurting the rich by taking some of their money – that is the exact fucking opposite of telling everyone what to do and not to do for their own happiness, which is itself generally a conservative trait rather than a liberal trait.

    The most disturbing part is that you puff it out with such disdain and moral derision.

    Evil people and people advocating evil policy are worthy of disdain and moral derision. Only by that method can I change the culture to share my values, in order to change policy, in order to make the world a better place.

    It is simply evil to say that equality of opportunity is what matters, and not equality of outcome. It is hugely evil. And it is right to attack evil ideas as evil. Deal with it.

    In your zeal to portray me as a neo-con caricature you have completely evaded the heart of my objection to the nonsensical term “social justice”, its reliance on the metrics of ethnic tribalism. That is the problem with this corrosive idea not that it seeks a more egalitarian society.

    Perhaps if you read the book I have repeatedly cited, The Mirage of Social Justice, by F.A. Hayek you would actually understand my position.

    Sadly, you seem to prefer preening your liberal feathers in the mirror of your own self-important, moral superiority.

    Simple strawmanning. Please point out where I talked about race. “Poor” is not an ethnicity nor race. I have no need to read that book, and now I will actually avoid it like the plague (thanks!) because it probably commits the same strawmanning that you engage in here. Apparently, it will attack a caricature of my views and the views of liberals at large, rather than their actual views.

    Also, you assume that I am opposed to a system that prevents wealth to be attained by unfair means. I am in fact a geolibertarian in complete agreement with your example of estate disposal, at least as it pertains to the land and other examples of “The earth and the fulness of it…” .

    I am also not opposed to the concept of progressive taxation, although in practice it can be quite unjust.

    Georgism? Oh god. The stupid. It burns.

    Again, I don’t care about fictions like ownership and property. These fictions are mere convenient tools to achieve my desired results, which is actually making people fucking happy. If I had to destroy all property rights to make people happy, I would. Property is a means, not the ends. Elitist, privileged asshats like yourself never seem to realize that.

  • lancifer

    “Again: I state that everyone deserves to live a happy life with material wealth…”

    “Again, I don’t care about fictions like ownership and property. ”

    I would respond to your post, but you seem to be having a fairly spirited argument with yourself so I’ll just leave you to it.

    I’ve got evil ass-hatting to attend to.

  • lancifer

    abb3w,

    The problem also lies in deciding on a weighting system to determine when a quantity of injustice done to one group by another is balanced by some measure of justice rendered unto it by the same or related groups.

    Then there is the temporal phase space to consider. At what point in time and to what degree are past injustices to be redressed with reparations by members of various groups and factions.

    The whole thing is a poisonous fiction.

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    @lancifer

    Oh noes! The asshat takes my quotes out of context in order to pretend I was contradicting myself! Whatever will I do?

    On the off chance that you are serious:

    It’s a coherent possibility to have materially wealthy people without property rights. Or so claim the various flavors of anarchists, including communists, anarcho-capitalists, etc. Imagine a world where we have lots of stuff sitting in community piles, and when you need something, you go take it out of the pile. Here’s a picture of a society with material wealth and no concept of property ownership.

    I cannot a priori say that this society cannot be. Only by analyzing human nature, sociology, the incentives at play, etc., can I make an informed opinion that it’s a pipedream.

    Further, imagine what if we got Star Trek style replicators and very cheap energy sources. It may well be possible to have that society where there is no legally enforced ownership of stuff in any conventional sense, but everyone is still materially wealthy.

    This is clearly what I meant in that earlier post when I said – in italics even! – “Property is a means, not the ends.”

    I again suggest that you read for comprehension instead of merely skimming and taking stuff out of context. You’re currently ranking pretty low on my scale of honest engagement. You’re sitting right around the standard Christian creationist right now in terms of intellectual honesty and reading comprehension. If you want to pretend to hold the high moral and intellectual ground, at a bare minimum, you have to be able to read what your opponent is writing and be able to engage without misrepresenting your opponent’s position. Thus far you are failing to do that.

  • lancifer

    Enlightenment Liberal,

    This thread was about “social justice”. My posts were in regard to the meaning, or lack there of, of that term.

    You attempted to define the term with some vague concepts that even you can’t encapsulate in any meaningful way. Then you digressed into a moralizing,self-contradictory, insult laden screed.

    Since you refuse to address the references I presented to back up my point I think we’re done here.

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    I have not been self contradictory. I was very explicit in how it was not a contradiction the first time, which you failed to read, and then I explained it again in even further detail, which you also failed to read. Here it is a third time: It is not obvious a priori that you need property rights to be materially wealthy. I care about making people happy and materially wealthy, and property rights may not be required to do that. (They probably our for level of technology, but it’s not a priori obvious that property rights will always be required.)

    I have defined and “encapsulated” the concepts in a clear, concise, and meaningful way. You just don’t like the answers. Again: Social justice is about making the world a better place. It’s not about making the world into a place where people have the possibility of being happy and materially wealthy. It’s about making the world into a place where people are happy and materially wealthy. Currently, I believe this best done with a system like our own, except with massive progressive estate taxes on all property, and heavy progressive taxation, plus some government programs for the poor like free education and free health care.

    Ridiculous ideas are deserving of ridicule. And Georgism is a ridiculous idea. If you don’t like the heat, then stay out of public policy debates. You expect me to treat your ideas with respect just because they’re your ideas? Please. Next you’ll be saying I have to respect religion next too.

    As for not responding to your references. It is ridiculous that you expect me to read a book for a blog discussion. It is not me who refuses to engage. It is you. It is your job to present the defense. Citing a book is nice – I do that all the time with Sam Harris and The Moral Landscape – but I also do a complete and clear job describing the points of the book. The book is presented as a reference, not as the argument which you try to do here. You talk as if I decided not to have a conversation, when actually you are the one who has decided that you are not going to personally defend your ideas.

  • lancifer

    Enlightenment Liberal,

    You have not defined “social justice”. You have only listed some platitudes, and a few policies, of a society that you feel would optimize “happiness” for all people.

    This is similar to what people on the right do with the words “family values”. It is just a phrase that resonates with their tribe just as the words “social justice” resonate with the left.

    In fact your description leaves out the entire concept of “justice”. It just attempts to put forward some utopian ideal based on what you think would be the best system of government.

    But I will concede that I have not presented my point as fully and clearly as I could have. When I have time, later this weekend, I will write a post that explains why the words “social justice” are meaningless.

  • dingojack

    See — now you’re claiming it, any evidence to back up that claim?

    (It’s OK, I don’t mind following the circular argument around another revolution).

    Dingo

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    @lancifer

    I defined “social justice” more or less as the movement and philosophy to make the world a better place ala the values of humanism. How is that not crystal clear? Are you saying that well-being and humanism are ill-defined?

    It just attempts to put forward some utopian ideal based on what you think would be the best system of government.

    Yes, and? What’s wrong with trying to make the world a better place (“utopia”)? What’s wrong with identifying certain policies which you think will get there, and advocating for those policies? What’s wrong with attacking the policies of others which, under analysis, will make the people worse off?