Nora Berenstain, an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Tennesse, is also a hardcore advocate of social justice ideology. Let’s have a look at her FB posting from last year that berated Rebecca Tuvel, an assistant professor of philosophy at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. Since I see no reason to think that Berenstain’s thinking is atypical among her social justice colleagues (in and out of academia), it will provide us an opportunity to analyze how social justice advocates think.
As I read through Berenstain’s essay, various themes emerged.
First, there is tribalism. Berenstain not only demonstrates tribalistic thinking, but seems to revel in it:
A lot of folks are currently discussing Rebecca Tuvel’s recent article in Hypatia, “In Defense of Transracialism.” The article contains egregious levels of liberal white ignorance and discursive transmisogynistic violence. Unfortunately, many white philosophers have centered their responses to the public discussion of the article around concerns that the anger and criticism directed at Tuvel will have a negative impact on her career, suggesting that this would be bad given that she is a junior woman in philosophy. White feminist philosophers have a tendency to rally around other white women when we enact harm.
Here, she is hyper-focused on Tuvel’s race.
levels of liberal white ignorance….. many white philosophers….. Whitefeminist philosophers
This is very significant to her because Tuvel’s tribe is set against various other tribes:
Tuvel doesn’t cite a single woman of color philosopher, nor does she substantively engage with any work by Black women, nor does she cite or engage with the work of any Black trans women who have written on this topic…… epistemic violence against trans people, against people of color, against women of color, against Black women, against trans women of color, against Black trans women.
All of this makes sense given that postmodern ideology (expressed as “social justice”) is rooted in pure subjectivity. The subjective essence of this ideology thus works to elevate and enshrine tribalism, as each tribe is, of course, the expert on the subjective reality of that particular tribe. Thus, it looks like postmodern, social justice philosophy is largely about determining the pecking order of various tribes where feelings of oppression are the metric for such a hierarchy.
And that gets us to the second theme – feelings.
With her thinking rooted in subjectivity, it becomes clear to those of us on the outside looking in that emotion has become an essential component of postmodern philosophy. This is easily detected by the way Berenstain conflates words with actions. Consider the sheer number of examples where she equates words in an essay, published in a peer-reviewed journal, with harm and violence.
White feminist philosophers have a tendency to rally around other white women when we enact harm. Tuvel enacts violence and perpetuates harm in numerous ways throughout her essay……I think we need to situate Tuvel’s harmful, violent, actively ignorant work within the broader social context and acknowledge that it is the default disposition of cis white women to commit epistemic violence against trans people, against people of color, against women of color, against Black women, against trans women of color, against Black trans women……. Cis white women have a special ability to enact this type of violence because of our presumed innocence and fragility….. Well-respected, and well-intentioned cis white women in philosophy have done and continue to do an extraordinary amount of harm…… Cis white women need to deeply reflect on the ways we constantly create and maintain unsafe spaces for those who are already marginalized and subject to violence in our discipline. (emphasis added)
Berenstain lives in a mental reality were words are violent. Where writing a peer reviewed article is an example of enacting violence. Yet, those of us who value critical thinking recognize there is no empirical evidence that Tuvel’s essay qualifies as violence. Nor is there any empirical evidence that the words have caused real world harm. The only way to make/defend those claims is to situate them in the realm of subjective feelings. The words were “harmful” because they hurt someone’s feelings (so we are to believe). And thus they are violent because they are harmful (i.e., hurt someone’s feelings).
- Feelings hurt –> Harm –> Violence
So now it becomes clear why social justice advocates oppose free speech and defend censorship. In their minds, guided by feelings, words are the same as violence. And since a civil society does not allow citizens to freely commit acts of violence, it makes sense (in a twisted sort of way) they believe we should likewise not allow citizens to freely speak. For them, we must shut down speech that they subjectively deem as violent.
So postmodernism is simply about letting ones feelings and urges take control. Reason plays a subservient role that comes in afterward to rationalize the feelings, justify the feelings, and select the appropriate target for outrage and retribution. Perhaps one of the reasons postmodern thinkers seem to be enamored with exotic terminology (“transmisogynistic ,” etc.) is it creates the illusion that reason is playing a central role in such a deeply emotive approach to reality.
Finally, it’s becoming clear why it is that the social justice people obsess about “white supremacy” and claim to see in all aspects of life, even down to the level of “microaggressions.” When the postmodernists represent nothing more than a coalition of “oppressed” tribes that is founded on emotion, the necessity of a “common enemy” becomes glaringly obvious. For without the Common Enemy, the emotive foundation of postmodernism would soon have the “oppressed” tribes at each other’s throats. In other words, the social justice advocates are emotionally and psychologically invested in the need for White Supremacy. They need it to exist and they need it to be The Primary Problem. Even to the point of finding it in some obscure journal article written by some obscure assistant professor at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee.