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The day of the social justice warrior

By Don Aitkin - posted Thursday, 25 March 2021

One of my sons has begun to refer to 'social justice warriors', and the other day I came across the short form: 'SJW'. The term applies to anyone who thinks he or she, or someone they like, has been hardly done by, and something should be done about it. Exactly what should be done is not always clear, but who should do it is always obvious: 'they', usually meaning the government, council, corporation or whatever. Sometimes it is an opportunity for the ceremonial wringing of the hands, as in 'we ought to be able to do better than this' and its equivalents. I am not a social justice warrior, partly because I don't know what social justice would look like if we actually had it, let alone how it might be accomplished. But I enjoy the satirical attacks on it from those of like mind, like me.

The following account, given to me by a brother, manages to cover a wide variety of people troubled by the lack of social justice, and/or who feel offended by the actions or lack of actions of others. Its origin is the United Kingdom.

The Snowman

Last night it snowed.

8.00am: I made a snowman.

8.10am: My feminist neighbour asked why I had not made a snow woman.

8.15am: I gave my snowman a sex change

8.17am: My feminist neighbour then complained about my snow woman's large bosom, saying that it objectified women everywhere.

8.20am: The lesbian couple living nearby threw a hissy fit, and said that I should have made two snow women, so I made a partner for my snow woman.

8.22am: The transgender man/woman/person asked why I didn't just make one snow individual with detachable parts.

8.25am: The vegans at the end of the lane complained about the carrot noses, as vegetables are food and should not be wasted in decorating snow figures.

8.28am: Black Lives Matter turned up and called me a racist because both snow figures were white.

8.30am: I used food colouring to make one of the snow couple a different colour to be more racially inclusive.

8.37am: I was then accused of an even worse offence, that of applying black-face to a white individual.

8.39am: The Middle Eastern gent across the road demanded the snow women be dressed in burkas for the sake of their modesty.

8.40am: The police arrived and read out the list of complaints that had been made against me.

8.42am: My feminist neighbour returned to complain that the broom that one snow woman was holding should be removed because it depicted women in a purely domestic role.

8.43am: The local Council's Equality Officer arrived and threatened me with eviction.

8.45am: A TV news crew turned up. I was asked if I knew the difference between snowmen and snow women. Jokingly, I replied 'snowballs'. The female news reporter denounced me as a sexist pig.

9.00am: I was on the morning TV news as a suspected terrorist, racist, homophobe and sensibility offender, bent on stirring up trouble during difficult weather.

9.10am: The police asked if I had any accomplices. My children were then taken into care by Social Services.

9.29am: Far-left protesters, offended by everything I'd done, marched down the street demanding my arrest for hate crimes.

9.45am: By now the story was all over social media. My boss called and fired me because of the negative association with his company.

10.00am: I cried into my drink because all I wanted to do was to build a bloody snowman.


Okay, it's fun, at least in part. But note that as the story gathers force it also gathers pain for the snowman builder. What was wrong with his desire to build a snowman? The critics are pursuing their own individual agendas, as though they have the moral high ground. Do they in fact have such a position? They think so, but should I? Does the builder of the snow man not have an equal right to have his creation recognised for its intent and purpose?

I think he does. A person can reasonably expect to be addressed courteously, but it is not reasonable to dictate what another person should be doing in some kind of creative endeavour. If you don't like what he is doing with the snow you can just go away. It will melt before long anyway. The snowman builder might well have said that there was plenty of snow (always supposing there were) and that the critic should simply build his or her own. What is being proposed by the critics is that there are only one or two valid, politically correct, versions of a snow person. In extreme cases, only one politically correct snow person.

I think we are getting close to this position in some of our contemporary debate. A couple of months ago I published an essay about passionate demands, and the critics in this humorous piece today are set up as cartoon characters, not as passionate demanders. Yet there's not much difference, is there. Those who want rainbow signs everywhere are quite close to the lesbian couple who wanted a second snow woman. The Council's Equality officer has her counterpart in suburban Australia. In fact, if the cartoon characters were not instantly recognisable the jokes wouldn't work.

Humour is the best defence against extremism, and we should use it as often as we can. A witty sally against the pretentious posturing of some forms of extremism does more good than indignant rebuttals of the extremists' demands. At least, that's my position.

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About the Author

Don Aitkin has been an academic and vice-chancellor. His latest book, Hugh Flavus, Knight was published in 2020.

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