Social Justice Neurosis

Feb 18, 2012


          “Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don't mean to do harm; but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.”

“The Cocktail Party” by T.S. Eliot

         The following is an exchange that occurred in the AOTA OT Connections forum on social justice. The first post below was from a member with the psuedonym OTSTexas who took umbrage with a post in which I pointed out the lack of consistency in what social justice advocates claim to care about versus how they actually behave when they spend their own money. My comments were prompted by the postings of the OT professors in the forum. In my previous post that I did not list here and to which this member is responding, I referred to Professor Ron Carson as the “voice of reason” in the forum because he pointed out that people should be free to voluntarily help others with their time and money rather being forced to do so by the government.

          The second post is my response. I have edited the errors as well as expanded on the points I made in the original post. This version is meant to be the post I would have written if I had given the matter more time. You can see the original posting at:



          I think it should be to clear to most people today that what a "voice of reason" is totally depends upon how you were raised, your experience and your values.

          My mom is one of those "social justice types." She taught me about social justice as a kid and I did not know about again until I was an adult in college and became involved in helping others. My mom worked a full time job and a part time job and we barely got by, but she gave money every Sunday at church and fed the "poor" family next door once a week. She taught me that anybody (a person or the government) has the responsibility to give to those who need a hand up. Yes SHE and I favor some redistribution of resources. To me, not doing so in such a rich country is not only unreasonable, it is selfish and insane. But that is my opinion based on my values and how I was raised.

          We could go back and forth and argue about whose values are right and thereby whose code of morals (right and wrong) make sense but that will only break down into insults (by reading threads on here). Instead we can advocate and vote because as we are currently seeing, elections have consequences.

          I respect you and Mr. Carson having your opinion on things like taxes or big government, even though I think your opinions are unreasonable.

          I read your website. I think you could learn a lot from others about how to voice your opinions respectfully.

P.S. Thank you Mom for what you taught me about social justice.


Dear OTSTexas,                              

          I just saw your post. I am sorry for not responding earlier. I thought that the system was set up to send me an email any time someone posted to something I had posted.

          Your statement "I think you could learn a lot from others about how to voice your opinions respectfully" left me confused as to whether you were referring to my website or my comments here. Although you did preface your statement with "I read your website," the rest of your post suggested that it was my actual post in this forum that was the problem. Or perhaps you found both my post and website disrespectful. As regards my website, I think most people will find it objectionable no matter how I say it because what I am pointing out is an ugly truth, and it is human nature to blame the messenger for the message.

          As to my post here, I could have worded it differently, but the truth of what I said would not change a bit as I will explain in a second. One of the things you said in your response, however, is a clue to why I posted the way I did. You said that we shouldn't discuss who is right or wrong because "that will only break down into insults (by reading threads on here.)" I interpret this to mean that from what you read in the threads you noticed how rude people were being to each other and assumed that our dialogue would follow that pattern. If you noticed, I posted several months after the issue settled and the debate was over. That's when I came across the forum and read it. And I was surprised at the nature of the debate. It was filled with insults, intimidation, and deceptive argumentation. The key fact about all this is that it was done by professors – professors are the ones who set the tone of the debate here. It was in the spirit of the disrespectful posts that I read here by these OT professors that I wrote to Mr. Carson. If professors who posted offensive comments were offended by my comments, they have only themselves to blame for the example they set.

         The nature of the posts by the professors here was nothing new to me, though, because it was the same issue that my website deals with. And this forum showed me that the problem of intolerance by OT professors of those who have different political opinions is widespread in occupational therapy.

         As to the substance of my post, let me put it differently - but as you'll see, it really won't make a difference to how you receive it.

          I've noticed that those who say they are for social justice and want to help others, live their lives no differently than I do. Although they say "I want to help others," they do not really mean it.  They do feel it in their hearts and think it in their heads, but that is the extent of it. They do not mean it with their actions unless those actions involve some kind of social function where others can see them and they get credit for doing nothing more than socializing. What they really want is to vote for politicians who will take money from the productive and give it to the unproductive or take wealth from future generations to give to this generation. 

           As Audra Ray, one of the members in this forum, posted, nearly half of the people who file tax returns pay no federal income tax. So this bottom half of taxpayers are not giving to help others. The taxes they do pay, the FICA taxes, are meant to pay for their own social security and medical benefits, but even with these taxes they are only paying for half of their benefits, as corporations are forced to pay for the other half of an employee’s FICA taxes. A lot is lost when people use the words "we" or "us" when talking about who pays for stuff. As you see, the "we" and "us" excludes about 50% of those who actually work – and there are many others who do not work at all yet get government money.

          When it comes to how social justice advocates who claim they want to help the poor spend their money, they live exactly as I do. I do give money to two charities but I do so selfishly - that is I give to help my friends' kids who have disabilities, not for social justice or altruism – but to show support for friends I love. To strangers I give nothing. And I can prove it. For example, I have a car, but if I were truly committed to helping the poor I could use the bus and train for transportation instead and give the money I spend on the car, gas and insurance to the poor so that they could buy food or get medical care, even though the poor get most if not all of their health care for free in this country. But I don't do that. I’d rather keep my car. I don't see it as my or the government's responsibility to do that. (And to be clear, when you say it is the government's responsibility to do something, you are saying the government must take money from those at the top to fund whatever program is required to fulfill its responsibility).

          But if you are committed to the poor, unlike me, then I assume you don't have a car because you are using that money for the poor.

          I also have a laptop at home and pay for internet connection. The laptop was about $700 and I pay $480 a year for the internet connection ($40/month).  That’s $1,180 total for my laptop and the yearly internet connection, both of which are pure luxuries. I don’t need them. The school and public libraries offer both computer and internet service for free, so I could forgo my luxuries and use what I need at the library. I don’t, though, because that would really interfere with my lifestyle. I like to type at night and on my couch close to the refrigerator.

          That $1,180 is a significant amount for a social justice advocate, however. It is the amount that could roughly save the life of two people according to a Princeton philosopher named Peter Singer. Professor Singer wrote a book called The Life You Can Save that gives the names and contact information of organizations that work helping the poor and truly oppressed of the world. He reports a calculation that showed that for every roughly 400-500 dollars you give one of these organizations you could save somebody's life either through providing medical care, nutrition, nets that protect children from malaria, etc. I have never given to any of these organizations. As I mentioned, I use the money for my car, gas, insurance, my lap top and internet connection, not to mention a smart phone with an internet and texting plan.

          If you were different than I am, that is, if you were a morally better person according to your moral values of social justice, you should not be living as I do. But my guess is that you probably have all these things or will get them as soon as you start working. I'm sure that professors have all these things too, even professors who talk about helping the poor and advocate for social justice. In fact, my analysis is substantiated by the book I mentioned, Who Really Cares by Dr. Arthur Brooks. He reports that whether you are talking about blood, money or time, the typical conservative donates more than the typical liberal. But considering how caring and compassionate liberals imagine themselves to be, even if the numbers showed a tie, liberals would still lose based on the inflated sense of themselves as compassionate people. You now see the pathology: social justice types imagine themselves to be morally superior to non-social justice types based on their belief in social justice, but in their real-life behavior they are actually inferior. It is a sickness.

          So there is a massive disconnect between what social justice advocates say and how they will spend their money on the poor. And instead of getting upset with me for pointing this out, what social justice advocates should do is put their energies towards helping the poor. They should express their compassion for the poor through their actions, not their indignation at me for my words. Their first thought shouldn't be about expressing anger towards me, but of buying Peter Singer's book to see how they can give money to save someone's life. But they won't. Social justice advocates will not buy the book. They will try to forget it exists. They will not give up their cars, just as I won’t. They won't give up their laptops either, just as I won't. And they won't give up any of their other conveniences for the anonymous poor and needy just as I won't.

          But you can rest assured that many of the social justice advocates in this forum will use their laptops or their smart phones or their ipads to write each other and say what a bad person I am. They will put their energy to writing "I can't believe he wrote that," "he sounds evil," "he should be labeled as crazy,” and so forth. That to me seems to be an odd state of affairs. They should actually be thanking me for recommending Singer’s book that shows how simple it is to save someone’s life. But instead these social justice types will be angry with me. They will resent that I have shown them that they can actually help someone rather than just talk about it as they always just talk about it.

          What explains this behavior? The only name I can think to give it is Social Justice Neurosis: it is the belief that just having the belief in social justice makes you a good person even though you live exactly like those who oppose it. That to me is unreasonable. If you have a better description for this circumstance I would like to hear it.

           There is a book by a philosopher I recommend that explains this phenomenon. His name is David Stove and the book is titled What's Wrong with Benevolence. Although I think Stove conflates benevolence with altruism, his point is very interesting: it is that the way people go about expressing compassion started to change around the Age of Enlightenment. Part of the reason for the change was a philosopher named Rousseau who made the public expression of compassion an intellectual fashion, like wearing a hot pink tube top in the 1970s. The result was that instead of doing things themselves to help others and looking to those actions to judge whether they care for others or not, they started to just have opinions about how society should be run and those opinions began to substitute for their own caring. This approach to social relations, which promoted egalitarian utopianism, had many ill-effects on societies, the most notable disaster being communism. Stove noted three features that warn us to the likelihood of this kind of benevolence, which he termed  “dangerous benevolence.

          One was universality – that whatever it was that the utopians wanted, like happiness, they wanted it for all. This makes it dangerous because no one single person or group of people would normally have whatever it is that the utopians want all to have, so the result is they promote government force to get what is needed through redistribution.

          A second feature was disinterestedness. This is that the utopian advocates will never say they are doing something for themselves. Instead, they say that they want it for others. This is dangerous because people are often more demanding when they claim to be doing things in the name of others. If you ask for something for yourself, you are more likely to be humble about it. But, when you see yourself as the crusader for the downtrodden, demanding that someone do something for these downtrodden, you are likely to be unreasonably demanding.

          The third feature was externality. If utopians wanted to bring about happiness for all, they would seek to change not the people themselves, but their surroundings.

          We see these three features with the advocates of social justice. They claim that what they want they want for all and they want all to have it equally; they claim that they are not making these demands for themselves, but because they are lovers of humanity – (though they are quite comfortable lovers of humanity, with automobiles and all kinds of electronic gadgetry); and they want to do it by changing all of society. I do think that Social Justice Neurosis is the kind of dangerous benevolence that Stove warned about.

          Another author whose insights are incredibly informative on this issue is Theodore Dalrymple, a psychiatrist who spent his career working in the slums and prisons of Britain. He writes about sociological issues such as crime and poverty as well as about how the liberal intelligentsia responds to them. In one essay he wrote that one of the main concerns influencing the thinking of liberal intellectuals is to be able to express something that makes them seem especially compassionate in the eyes of other liberal intellectuals (see “The Starving Criminal” in Our Culture, What’s Left of It, p. 216). I think this ties directly into Social Justice Neurosis. The main concern of the social justice advocates in this forum is not really the cause of helping others. As we have seen, if that were their true motive they would have already forgone many of their luxuries for the sake of the poor. Their public support for social justice, then, is not the moral stance of people with altruistic integrity, but an instance of moral exhibitionism by a group of people unwittingly exposing their vanity.  Dalrymple is a brilliant essayist and I highly recommend his essays “Seeing is not Believing“( see here:, “The Roads to Serfdom” (see here:,  and “What is Poverty” (see here:

          Economist and Senior Fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, Thomas Sowell, also provides useful insights into the thought processes of  left-leaning intellectuals. Although all of his books are brilliant and most of them do address issues of public policy and how liberal intellectuals think about them, in this case the book I would recommend is The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulations as a Basis for Social Policy. The anointed are left-leaning intellectuals, basically the group that makes up the core of social justice advocates, who imagine themselves morally superior to others due to their views on public policy. Their vision of society is one where the government goes about rectifying all of the injustices in the world, real or imagined, no matter how big or small, taxing and taking whatever power is necessary to accomplish their vision of the ideal world. What Sowell points out is that this vision is not just about society. It is a vision about the anointed themselves, a vision of their moral stature and importance in the world because it is their ideas that will allegedly make a better world by rescuing the oppressed and forcing the greedy to pay their fair share. It is also a career enhancing vision as the anointed imagine themselves influencing or directing the government policies that must be instituted to help the poor, oppressed, marginalized, disadvantaged, etc.

          One of the more interesting chapters is titled “The Vocabulary of the Anointed.” The language of the anointed is meant to (1) preempt issues rather than debate them, (2) set the anointed apart and above, both morally and intellectually, from those who disagree with them, who are the benighted, and (3) evade issues of personal responsibility. The term social justice is used in this way. Rather than debating the issue of whether this or that public policy is just or efficient, the term sets up a difference, a moral difference, between those who are for social justice and those who are against it. So the issue is preempted rather than debated. The term also differentiates between the class of well-intentioned, smart, anointed intellectuals from the ignorant and ill-meaning, anti-social justice types. And, of course, it ignores the personal responsibility of those who are obese, infected with HIV, drug addicted, or never-married mothers, etc., as well as the personal responsibility of those who say they care for them and want to help them.

           There are other books expressing these ideas, but the points made by Stove, Dalrymple, and Sowell are enough to explain Social Justice Neurosis. I think much of the mania current intellectuals have for social justice is that social justice is a way to feel important and make them seem like caring, sophisticated people, while in fact they are none of these things. Theirs is just a different kind of avarice, an avarice for self-importance and social prominence rather than dollars. It also gives them the intoxication of a moral high. But like all highs, the emotions aren’t generated by contact with reality. Whatever their feelings for the poor, their covetous behavior regarding their material comforts will not change. Yet, they will express demands that the government do everything for others and use those opinions for government action as the reason why they should consider themselves morally and intellectually superior to someone like me. This is Social Justice Neurosis.



(Ed. by Miss Kimberly Mason)