In my last article, I noted how the social justice movement incorporates a modified version of Marxism based on culture. Whereas Marxism claims human history is controlled by the economic elite who use the means of production against the workers for the elite’s benefit, the social justice movement claims that human history is controlled by the social elite who use culture against minority groups for the elite’s benefit. This cultural alienation of minorities leads to oppression and hamper’s social progress. It becomes necessary to revolt and tear down this system of privilege and inequality.
In order to succeed at this revolution, it is necessary to unmask this social privilege and the oppression that it generates. As a result, the social justice movement has adopted a particular philosophical method known as Critical Theory. This theory originated from the Marxist tradition of the Frankfurt School. These scholars sought to emancipate humanity from social slavery and oppression so that people could fulfill all their needs and desires. Domination of particular ideologies, groups, or powers must be decreased, and freedom in all areas must be increased. This master theory has spawned other subsidiary theories, but they all share the same qualities. A critical theory must explain what is wrong in society, identify who can change society, and provide the means and principles to enforce that change.
There are many different critical theories active in America’s intellectual and social arenas. Feminism, critical race theory, queer theory, and others all claim that certain groups have been oppressed by privileged social groups and the cultural ideology that these groups enforce via their social power. They have crafted society according to their ideology, perhaps even unknowingly, such that it privileges them at the expense of minorities. This analysis leads to the notion of intersectionality: where a person is oppressed on multiple levels, such as being both female and a lesbian, which increases oppression as well as power over minorities through cooperation by different social groups.
Using Critical Theory, the social justice movement has launched a crusade to expose what it considers to be the privilege of certain social groups and the hegemonic power that they supposedly wield over society. A recent example is Washington D.C. changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. This change is necessary, it is claimed,because Europeans like Columbus instituted violence against indigenous Americans and asserted European cultural privilege over them. As a result, these minorities have suffered for centuries while the crimes of Europeans like Columbus have been “whitewashed” and ultimately celebrated.
Another recent example of the use of Critical Theory by the social justice movement involved the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants. University of Washington professor Holly Barker published an article claiming that the cartoon show was guilty of racism, colonization, and cultural appropriation. Barker equated the show’s fictional “Bikini Bottom” with Bikini Atoll where indigenous people were removed in order for the US government to carry out nuclear experiments. She also complains that almost all of the characters on the show are male and live what she considers to be an American culture in a non-American environment. While Barker does not believe the creators of SpongeBob intended this promotion of violence and hegemony, she still argues that it is detrimental to indigenous people and to the children who watch the cartoon because these children will be unintentionally desensitized to the violence of colonialism.
As the examples indicate, critically assessing people and events exposes the social privilege and oppression of certain groups, which shifts the social and political power to minorities who proceed to tear down these groups and assert their own power over society. While it may seem that Critical Theory is concerned with righting historical wrongs and establishing equality among social groups, that is not the objective at all. Rather, the objective of Critical Theory is always to revolt against those who are perceived to be in power and to seize that power for one’s self or group. It is a political maneuver, not a moral one.
This fact can be seen by closely examining the two instances of Critical Theory I gave earlier. While Columbus did commit atrocities against indigenous Americans, it is self-defeating for people in the social justice movement to claim that celebrating Columbus Day is a celebration of racism and violence. If one follows this chain of reasoning, then celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a celebration of human sacrifice, cannibalism, and slavery, which were atrocities committed by various groups of indigenous Americans. In other words, celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day is just as bad (if not worse) as celebrating Columbus Day.
Further, Barker’s claims about SpongeBob are completely lacking in evidence or rational support. There is nothing to indicate that what happened at Bikini Atoll is connected to SpongeBob in any way. The fact that Bikini Atoll and “Bikini Bottom” both have the word “bikini” in them is not sufficient to establish a connection between the two locations. Barker is falsely equating two different things by asserting a false relationship between the two things. Further, complaining about American culture in a non-American environment is also self-defeating. Should we deny minority cultures access to cars, computers, the use of the English language, or even natural rights since all of these things are from American culture? Why is cultural appropriation only bad when Americans or westerners engage in it? Lastly, “Bikini Bottom” is a fictional place where the indigenous culture of the characters is like that of American culture. Who is Barker to criticize the characters for engaging in their indigenous culture as established by their world?
In each case, the true goal is to tear down one social group and raise up another, not to establish justice and equality. In fact, Critical Theory actually promotes division, hostility, and even vengeance between social groups because that is what Critical Theory was designed to do. As a result, the social justice movement wields Critical Theory like a weapon. Such an outcome is not surprising when reality is reduced to an individual’s perspective and quest for power. Summarily, all of the philosophical foundations of the social justice movement can be wrapped up in one overarching philosophical worldview, which I will discuss in my final article in this series.
Graham Floyd, “The Philosophical Foundations of the Social Justice Movement: Marxism,” The Ethics and Political Economy Center, https://epecarticles.com/2019/09/26/the-philosophical-foundations-of-the-social-justice-movement-marxism-graham-floyd-ph-d/, accessed October 17, 2019.
James Bohman, “Critical Theory,” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, March 8, 2005. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/critical-theory/; accessed September 6, 2018. See also Graham Floyd, “The Incoherence of the Social Justice Movement,” The Ethics and Political Economy Center, https://epecarticles.com/2018/09/17/the-incoherence-of-the-social-justice-movement/, accessed October 17, 2019.
Leila Fidel, “Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples’ Day?” National Public Radio, October 14,2019, https://www.npr.org/2019/10/14/769083847/columbus-day-or-indigenous-peoples-day, accessed October 17, 2019. It is ironic, however, that the crimes of indigenous Americans, such as human sacrifice and cannibalism, are completely ignored. Whitewashed one might say.
Katherine Timpf, “Professor: SpongeBob SquarePants Promotes Violence Against Indigenous People,” National Review, October 14, 2019, https://www.nationalreview.com/2019/10/professor-claims-spongebob-squarepants-promotes-violence-against-indigenous-people/, accessed October 21, 2019; Nate Day, “SpongeBob’ is ‘violent,’ ‘racist’ Colonizer Says University of Washington Professor,” Fox News, October 11, 2019, https://www.foxnews.com/entertainment/spongebob-violent-racist-colonizer, accessed October 21, 2019.
This revolting and assertion of power stems from the philosophy of both Marx and Nietzsche, which are also part of the social justice philosophical worldview. See Graham Floyd, “The Philosophical Foundations of the Social Justice Movement: Marxism,” The Ethics and Political Economy Center, https://epecarticles.com/2019/09/26/the-philosophical-foundations-of-the-social-justice-movement-marxism-graham-floyd-ph-d/, accessed October 21, 2019, and “The Philosophical Foundations of the Social Justice Movement: Power,” The Ethics and Political Economy Center, https://epecarticles.com/2019/07/29/the-philosophical-foundations-of-the-social-justice-movement-power-graham-floyd-ph-d/, accessed October 21, 2019.
See Graham Floyd, “The Philosophical Foundations of the Social Justice Movement: Power,” The Ethics and Political Economy Center, https://epecarticles.com/2019/07/29/the-philosophical-foundations-of-the-social-justice-movement-power-graham-floyd-ph-d/, accessed October 21, 2019.