Against PJWs

Fiat justitia, et pereat mundus
-Ferdinand I

Epistemic status: mostly just complaining about deontologists’ constant attempts to frame arguments on their own terms.
Also, a smart person once said never to use politics as an example of more general issues. This is excellent advice and you should not emulate my total disregard of it.

Let us consider Procedural Justice. It contrasts sharply to Social Justice, which concerns itself with creating a good society through consideration of people. Procedural Justice is concerned with with creating a good society through consideration of rules.

The SJW, or “Social Justice Warrior,” has become a modern archetype. I am now convinced that, unlikable as they are, there is a brand of keyboard crusader I like equally little or potentially less: the Procedural Justice Warrior.

Consider the argument:

In a free market, all trade has to be voluntary, so you will never agree to a trade unless you believe it benefits you.
Further, you won’t make a trade unless you think it’s the best possible trade you can make. If you knew you could make a better one, you’d hold out for that. So trades in a free market are not only better than nothing in the opinion of the traders, they’re also the best possible transaction you could make at that time according to your judgment at the time.
Labor is no different from any other commercial transaction in this respect. You won’t agree to a job unless you believe it benefits you more than anything else you can do with your time, and your employer won’t hire you unless she believes it benefits her more than anything else she can do with her money. So a voluntarily agreed labor contract must benefit both parties in their opinion, and must be preferable at that moment over any other alternative.

What, exactly, makes the society that results from such actually good? Well, it’s not that the people in it are happy, fulfilled, free to pursue their dreams or generally flourishing. One can imagine this being the outcome, certainly, but it’s equally trivial to imagine how anarcho-capitalist society gives rise to misery, malcontent, and oppression. After all, this has already happened, probably more than once. Even with a magical power preventing “use of force,”  this would happen with probability near 1, unless we populate the society with robot angels. No, the reason this society is Perfect with a capital P is because it was arrived at by following the right procedure. It’s good by definition! Why should mere facts be allowed to interfere?

As Weltanschauung put it:

When it comes to social liberalism, libertarianism says “do not use the legal system to favour or disfavour any particular lifestyle”. Neoliberalism says “work to make sure society is approximately neutral between different lifestyle choices”. These are very very different! Libertarianism is, in theory, comfortable with cultural discrimination if done through “legitimate” means (i.e. respecting personal and property rights). Neoliberalism wants anti-discrimination law—whether regarding religion, race, gender, age, sexual preference—enforced on private businesses, charities and the government alike.

(emphasis mine). Libertarianism is in fact comfortable with any level of awfulness, provided it is done through “legitimate” means. It is an exact reversal of “the ends justify the means.” Instead, the means are supposed to justify the ends.

Let’s try a change of tack. What about:

Eurosceptics often claim that the EU is undemocratic. They argue that the EU’s decision-making procedures make it difficult for EU citizens to influence policy. Due to their complexity, these procedures also seem inaccessible to the ordinary voter. EU citizens do not feel that they have an effective way to change the course of EU politics and policy. Public disaffection has been expressed in the low turnouts at European elections, which reached an all-time low in 2014 with an EU average of just 42%

(Or the inverse case, Trump being defended as being Democratic and therefore Right)

The idea of being democratic has been elevated above the idea of getting things right. The heuristic has become the whole and sum of the law.

The essence of procedural justice is the implicit belief that if you perform the right ritual, goodness will happen as an automatic result. The elegance and obvious-rightness of the simple rule or rules is simply too enchanting to resist.

Just as SJWs approach arguments for conclusions they dislike by calling them racist etc, likewise PJWs have a default response. Think about the intention of calling someone a racist. They will usually hurry to disprove the accusation, noting that they have done un-racist-y things, etc. This will not save them, but it concedes the critical point that whether or not they’re a racist is important. The PJW, on the other hand, challenges someone to find ‘where the badness comes from.’ Like finding a mistake in a mathematical proof, if one step in the procedure is flawed, all that stems from it is dead at the root and cannot hold. But the trick was always in the structure of the argument. By trying to meet the challenge, just as with the SJW, the arguer walks into the trap. They implicitly concede that the structure of a mathematical proof, where goodness flows from good axioms to good theorems, is the appropriate structure for determining what is good.

I am only mostly a fool: it is probable that you, the reader, are yourself inclined towards a Procedural Justice view. It will be very tempting to say that it’s just obviously true that if you start with good axioms and can’t find anywhere for badness to come into the situation, then the outcome, whatever it may be, is obviously the best. This is exactly the same feeling the SJW has – that it’s just so obvious that good is what happens automatically when you just get rid of all the Oppression.

I really don’t know how to communicate across the inferential gap, though. I can give analogies, knowing they’re flawed:

Suppose we identify that electrons, protons and neutrons are fermions. We say these particles are “fermionic.” Then we ask whether a helium atom is fermionic. Since it has 2 protons, 2 neutrons and 2 electrons, it must be six times as fermionic as any one of those particles. But that isn’t the case, because the property “fermionic” isn’t an abstract basic quantity, but rather a specific state of affairs that can be cancelled out. Likewise, just because any one voluntary trade of property makes both parties better off, it doesn’t follow that any possible arrangement of voluntary trades of property makes all involved parties well off.

But this is hopeless. It can’t overcome the intuition. The Chasm is deep, and full of terrors.

The important part is that I’ve found a way to feel superior to both.

I am not inclined to agree with Chapman’s conception of “metarationality.” It seems like the only reason for it is to attack a straw caricature of rationality while selling something that smells strongly of the old box-outside-the-box. But maybe he has a point. His straw-rationality seems to be strongly similar to the PJW archetype. His proposed solution doesn’t seem very, uh, concretely defined, but might be a step in the right direction – away from the idea that goodness comes from having the right system, and towards the idea that you must choose the right systems to produce goodness.

The thing to remember is that systems designed to produce good outcomes aren’t guaranteed to do so. Of course, this doesn’t mean we should throw the system away every time it gives a result we don’t like – sadly, there’s no procedure to decide when to do so. Sorry about that.

Against PJWs

4 thoughts on “Against PJWs

  1. jz says:

    i’m curious if you think Non-Condescension is a PJW approach (sounds like it is, but of course i think the association with SJWs is unfortunate and undeserved).

    Non-Con is a mix of praxeology and the NAP. rather than solely focusing on opposing aggression, Non-Con also suggests that it is incoherent to condescend to peaceful behavior (EVERYTHING that is not aggression: racism, misandry, liking Forrest Gump). In short, Non-Con is basically grammar nazi libertarianism. i’d love to hear your thoughts and if you want to take a deep dive then you can read @obamuh twitter feed for the month of march and watch it get fleshed out before your eyes.


    1. I couldn’t quite follow that… D:

      If there is really a philosophy which holds that any action not opposed to aggression is wrong, it seems like the relevant comparison (on my own more utilitarian ethics) is the perenial debate about how to justify not giving all one’s wealth to the global poor, into which I haven’t yet dipped my toes – both are taking a moral philosophy to a logical extreme that might or might not suggest flaws with the philosophy. But I don’t think that’s quite what’s being described here?

      I’ve entirely blocked out Twitter from my own life; best decision of 2017.


  2. jz says:

    i justify not giving my wealth away because i need to pay rent. heheh. non-con has served me well thus far but i admit i haven’t visited every extreme.


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