The Social Justice trend has appeared in recent years, and has rapidly gained momentum.
It appeared first on college campuses, where students accused a professor or, indeed, another student, of making a statement or using a word that was deemed socially unacceptable. The premise by the accuser was that a campus must be a safe space, where people should not be exposed to comments that may possibly make anyone feel demeaned or uncomfortable.
The accusers have earned the name “snowflakes,” as they tend to melt down at the slightest provocation. However, the Social Justice trend has given snowflakes considerable power, a power that’s often used recklessly.
Importantly, whether the offensive comment is correct or incorrect is not an issue. The “offense” is that the speaker has stated something that should not ever be mentioned, as it might upset the listener in some way. The “justice” that takes place is that one or more people file a formal complaint with a person or body that holds power over the speaker and demand that he be punished for his “wrongdoing.”
This has led to teachers and professors being warned, suspended, or fired from their positions, based merely on the existenceof a complaint. In addition, “offending” students have been warned, suspended, or expelled, again, without what might be regarded as due process.
A related form of Social Justice is the vigilantism seeking to destroy those who are prominent. Former Miss Americas demanded that the entire board of the Miss America Pageant be dismissed for making disparaging remarks about pageant contestants. Several have been forced to resign in disgrace.
And, of course, we’re seeing the rise of complaints against actors, politicians, and other prominent individuals regarding alleged sexual denigration of women, even if it’s merely verbal. In each case, witnesses are “bravely coming forward,” en masse, although they often were silent for decades (if, indeed, the individual incidents ever occurred at all).
Whether a given individual has actually committed a crime or not seems immaterial in the new Social Justice trend. The focus is on vehement condemnation of an individual, usually by a host of others. Importantly, regardless of what process is used to prosecute (or persecute) those accused, a general assumption of the Social Justice trend is that, once someone is accused, he’s guilty and punishment must take place.
But, in fact, this trend is not new. Rabid groups of accusers appear throughout history, generally during times of existing social tension.
The Salem Witch Trials: 1692-1693
In 1692, several young girls claimed to be possessed by witches and group hysteria ensued. Some 150 men, women and children were ultimately accused and nineteen were hanged. Governor William Phips ordered that an end be put to the show trials in 1693. In the process, his wife was accused of being a witch.
The Nazi Sondergerichte: 1933-1945
In Nazi Germany, kangaroo courts were held for those deemed to have committed “political crimes,” resulting in 12,000 deaths. Germans were encouraged to report on each other. (If your neighbor annoyed you, a good recompense was to report him as being disloyal.) The persecution only ended when Nazi Germany was defeated.
The Great Soviet Purge: 1936-1938
Joseph Stalin ran many successful purges against clergymen, wealthy peasants, and oppositionists, but the foremost of them was the Great Purge, which included anyone with a perceived stain on his record. Denunciation was encouraged. The purge was highly successful and, although the show trials ended in 1938, the threat of accusation remained until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The Red Scare – McCarthyism: 1947-1956
US Senator McCarthy accused countless people in Hollywood of being communists. Thousands lost their jobs. McCarthyism ended when he accused the Protestant Church as being a communist support group. He also attacked the US Army as having communists within it. The Army lashed back, exposing McCarthy as cruel, manipulative, and reckless and the public fervor against communists subsided.
The Spanish Inquisition: 1478-1834
The Spanish Inquisition lasted for over 350 years. It was originally conceived by King Ferdinand II as a way to expose and punish heretics and suppress religious dissent.
It was preceded by the French Inquisition and spread to other countries in Europe. At its height, it investigated, prosecuted, and sometimes burned alive some 150,000 people. The last execution was in 1826 – for teaching deist principles (deism, not Christianity, was the predominant religious belief of America’s founding fathers).
Crimes committed included blasphemy, witchcraft, immorality, and behavior unbecoming to a woman. (A woman’s role was seen as being limited to raising a family.) False denunciations were frequent and defendants were only rarely acquitted. The auto-da-fé, or public punishment, including groups of people being burned alive, provided an effective demonstration and satisfied the public’s desire for spectacle.
The inquisition finally ended when King Ferdinand VII and others came to regard the church’s power as being a threat to the government’s power and abolished it.
Others that used the Social Justice approach to great effect were China, Hungary, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Egypt (as recently as 2014), and Turkey (as recently as 2016).
And there are many more examples, far too numerous to mention.
In 1970, Monty Python did a series of sketches in which Michael Palin plays a cleric, saying, “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.”
And, of course, this is true. The Spanish Inquisition, the Salem witch trials, the McCarthy hearings, and the present Social Justice trend, are so over-the-top that their very existence is clearly absurd.
However, historically, whether it be a political leader like Stalin or Hitler, or a religious organisation, like the Catholic Church, or the present-day, self-styled “Social Justice Warriors,” such campaigns begin through the desire for power over others. What they have in common is that anyone can be targeted, group accusations carry greater weight than individual accusations, and the punishment invariably exceeds the level of the offense, if, indeed, there is any unlawful offense at all.
The objective is to create fear. The initiative begins with finger-pointing and mild punishment, such as the loss of a job. But it evolves into a circus that often grows to include more serious punishment, sometimes including execution.
Vigilantism grows out of troubled periods when frustrations and resentment run high. Because it’s emotionally driven, not logic-driven, it almost invariably morphs into irrational victimisation… and is always destructive in nature.