Social Justice, Uncategorized

Social Justice Diplomacy

Epistemic status: Mixed. Part of this post is purely my opinion on strategic considerations in social justice activism. These statements accurately represent my opinion at that time, based on my own experiences and on general background knowledge. Other statements about the causal role of social justice activism in deciding the 2016 election, specifically, are more speculative, and are probably overconfident as written.

(CW: race, privilege, Trump)

I think social justice activists deserve some of the blame for Trump.

I also think they are correct about their most important points, and often have good justification for their actions.

As I said in my earlier status about my forays into pro-Trump sections of the internet, many Trump supporters are very angry at social justice activists. Some of this anger is genuinely ‘whitelash’, the discomfort of white people being forced to confront their privilege. However, some of it results from a confusion of language that is perpetuated and even celebrated by SJWs and their allies.

A common definition of ‘racism’ as used in America is something like “conscious revulsion or devaluation of people not of one’s own race”. This (or something similar) is the definition Trump supporters almost universally accept (which is why they can’t possibly be “racist” if they are married to a person of color, or are themselves a person of color). Social justice advocates of my generation use a very different definition; for them ‘racism’ includes the above, but is expanded to include unconscious biases, cultural appropriation, unacknowledged privilege, unwitting microaggressions, and (sometimes) tolerance of these things in others.

Trump supporters (AND ALMOST EVERYONE ELSE!) are completely unaware of this highly expansive definition. They see activists make allegations of ‘racism’ and are *JUSTIFIABLY* confused and angered. After all, an 18 year old college student wearing face paint and a head dress for Halloween is not evidence of “conscious revulsion or devaluation of people not of one’s own race”.

Social justice activists have done virtually NOTHING to address this confusion. Instead they double down on the need to disrupt and challenge ‘racism’ wherever it appears. Demands that they clarify this point are met with anger and defiance by activists. Activists will say things like, “It is not my duty to educate you about my experience, you should accept that you will never fully understand and make efforts to educate yourself”, or, “Asking me to explain race and privilege to you is to ask me to relive all of the trauma that I have been subjected to because of the white supremacist culture.”

In making these responses, SJWs embrace a very reasonable, common-sense *NON-CONSEQUENTIALIST* moral principle. They don’t explain, because they have no duty to do so. It is harmful and unfair for the privileged to ask the disenfranchised to relive trauma, just so they can understand injustice better. I think SJWs are absolutely justified on these grounds. ****BUT ENDORSING NON-CONSEQUENTIALIST MORAL PRINCIPLES CAN HAVE REALLY REALLY BAD CONSEQUENCES.****

There are also more subtle dynamics. Requests for explanation by privileged folks are often actually covert demands for justification. “Explain your experience to me, black queer person, so that I can critique your experience, challenge your inference, and ultimately deny your conclusions.” Privileged people are defensive and guilty and often not really interested in good faith discussion. They demand higher standards of justification for claims about social justice than about other issues. They change the subject when they are on the defensive, they make uncharitable interpretations of SJ arguments and hammer on them. They are shitty conversation partners, and marginalized people rightly don’t want to deal with it.

There are also tactical considerations. Some SJW believe that the best way to gain attention and support for their cause is through disruption, confrontation, and demonstration. Some privately hold more moderate beliefs than they express publicly, but think the best way to get to their preferred position is to anchor with a more radical view and then compromise to a better midpoint. Some have seen the effectiveness of radical activism (maybe they were personally influenced by such tactics). Some are just angry and want to publicly express their fury.

I don’t claim to have the answers, but I DO claim that the answers will be complicated. I DO believe that many SJW have subtle, sophisticated, and largely TRUE positions on how race and privilege work. I DO believe that racially privileged folk unfairly challenge and undermine good faith attempts by marginalized groups to communicate. I DO believe that Trump supporters are wrong, and cruelly-so, to deny the bigotry of their candidate.

But I don’t think that social justice can progress without cleaning up its act. Social justice needs *DIPLOMATS* as well as warriors. We need a more-moderate arm of this movement.

Misc., Uncategorized

Hot Showers, Dairy, and Offsetting

Epistemic status: Mixed. The opinions in this post accurately reflect mine at the time, but I’m not sure I would endorse everything I said here now. In particular, I wouldn’t now be comfortable making the claims in the last third of the post without better sources. 

I really like this post by Jeff Kaufman.

In the post, A tries to convince B that B should stop taking hot showers because of the impact of heating the shower on climate change. B responds that he would rather donate $5 a year to offset his energy use than take cold showers, and that the donation would probably have a much greater impact on climate change than taking cold showers. The conversation between A and B mirrors comments on another of Jeff’s posts about the value of eating a dairy-free diet. (I have one small gripe about this post, which is the use of AMF as an index-charity. I think cross cause-area comparisons are controversial enough that we should avoid them if not talking about cause prioritization, so for the rest of the post I’ll assume cold showerers are only maximizing climate change improvements, and that ethical vegans only care about animals.)

In general, I think that the direct benefits of donations to high impact charities often outweigh the direct benefits of difficult lifestyle changes, and that cash donations will often be less invasive and less painful way for people to have an impact.

However, I don’t think B is factoring the signalling value of lifestyle changes vs. small donations correctly in this exchange with A.

A: Your numbers look plausible but you’re ignoring the communication value of giving up warm showers. I’m skeptical of your assessment of donations to effective charities vs. personal consumption changes because it seems to ignore many of the important effects of personal changes like signaling your disapproval of the energy system, especially when that signaling is coming from a particularly influential person (which I think the average EA is). If you tell your friends, and they follow your lead and tell their friends, we can reduce emissions a lot.

B: The per-person benefit of cold showering is still very low, and nearly everyone would prefer to donate $5/year than give up warm showers. And your donations can inspire others just as your consumption changes can. So people should donate to effective charities, and not worry about the showers.

I don’t think that donations inspire others in the same way that lifestyle changes do, and I think A might prefer B to take cold showers rather than offset his consumption even if cold showers don’t directly help the environment very much. I think A’s preference for B’s action should depend on:

1) How much better high-visibility lifestyle changes are for movement-building around a cause area vs. offsetting donations. (I would guess much better)

2) The number and severity of costs resulting from the pursuit of ineffective lifestyle changes for faster movement building. ( I expect it would vary a lot among lifestyle changes. I think the potential costs of vegan diets are much higher than cold showers. )

Per 1) I think it’s likely that high-visibility lifestyle changes are much better at generating connections between activists than offsetting donations. If I start attending cold shower meetups with other people who take cold showers every morning, we have an unusual shared experience and an obvious common interest. If I attend an offsetting donation meeting, we still probably have common interests, but our only determinate shared experience is having a bit less money than we would otherwise. This effect is more obvious with more invasive and more public lifestyle changes. I’ll use veganism as my example from here on, but most of what I say will be about lifestyle changes as a class.

Most of the value of vegan diets (and some other purity-focused behavior changes) plausibly comes from creating social in-groups through signalling. Activists who are connected to one another through shared activities, and a shared public identity, might be more likely to become motivated to take action for the cause, and more resilient to fatigue/defection. I think it’s also likely that tight knit groups are better at attracting new members, and that tangible sacrifices like avoiding milk or taking cold showers might be better at promoting group cohesion. Coupled with the well-trod fact that successful movement building multiplies the efforts of an individual exponentially, and I think we have the outline of a case for preferring the lifestyle change over an offsetting donation.

Per 2) Vegan diets don’t seem to be very good at at promoting resilience, but the vegan label has been effective at creating tight-knit groups and motivating people to be more active in the animal rights movement. I also expect that the efforts of vegans, as a class, are generally pretty ineffective, and this is potentially very dangerous for their cause. As a general rule. outcome-insensitive, highly-persuasive social groups are a bad thing.

On the other hand, its possible that the benefits of bringing more people into the movement and motivating them to act might outweigh that. One scenario where this would probably be true is if vegans are more likely switch from ineffective to effective animal-focused interventions than non-vegans are to take highly effective actions in the first place. The deciding factor here is probably the cost-effectiveness distribution for interventions within the target cause area, though there might be weird signalling costs associated with converting from ineffective to effective interventions.
I think it’s likely that not-obviously-effective lifestyle changes have most of the traits above, most of the time, but I’m really uncertain about how large these effects are. I also expect that many of the above advantages in movement-building could be gained with fewer costs by other social movements more focused on effectiveness. Earning to Give is plausibly a lifestyle change that weds the best of both worlds. Still, I think there are a lot of uncertainties in the value/feasibility of movement building vs direct donations, and I don’t think the comparison between cold showers (or eating dairy) and offsetting donations is straightforward.