By Ben Brown
I’m a psychology graduate and I enjoyed my course at university. Fortunately, I never encountered any social-justice narratives in the teaching of my course. My lecturers were all lovely, humble, and entertained the discussions and ideas I sprung on them during their lectures. Discussions would sometimes end with them saying “I’ve never thought of that before”. They would resume the conversation with me the following week, having researched the topic we had previously been discussing.
The closest my course touched upon social-justice ways of thinking, was during a lesson that mildly touched upon social constructionism. The short-sighted conclusions of some of the social-constructivist types, caused a few giggles with a few of my lecturers during a little soiree with wine and nibbles that they provided at the end of my course. During this social, one of my lecturers spoke very highly of Jordan Peterson, as he felt that Dr Peterson’s way of lecturing is the perfect way to make certain topics more interesting and relatable.
I studied Personal Construct Psychology, during my second year. My eccentric-Auntie-like lecturer was very good at emphasising the important fact that different people construe reality differently. Personal Construct Psychology provided an academic framework that enabled me to understand how individuals construe empirical facts and how they relate to experiences and events, through their subjective lens. I became more open-minded and learned more about the importance of learning and utilising the language of others when conveying ideas to them. Especially when conveying ideas that they may have some misgivings about.
Back in December last year, I met with a friend of mine. She’d moved to California when we were still in primary school and we’d been in touch on and off for a while, but hadn’t spoken in almost a decade. As it happens, she was working on a psychology PhD, and has experience working with Facebook, Oculus Rift, and is quite familiar with the Silicon Valley environment. We met in the newly-renovated town of Bracknell for lunch. Conversation was polite, pleasant, and she had the same air of smugness that she always seemed to have on-and-off when we were kids. She was the type who’d sometimes talk down to others, but was also great fun to spend time with back in the day.
Conversation started to drift towards politics and I spoke about how social justice was starting to infest the things that I love. She responded with “what’s wrong with social justice?”, in my mind I thought, “uh oh, California, of course…”.
I explained about how I felt that social justice rhetoric around gender and race was causing people to live in a pseudo reality, where labels and categories matter more than just people being themselves: a divisive force that fuels outrage and victim complexes, resulting in tribal politics and conflict. The air of smugness increased, and she displayed what I can only describe as, a shit-eating grin.
I proceeded to ask what she thought, about the “gender is a social construct” types. I got the predictable response, “but it [gender] is a social construct”. I tried to unpack the ideas around how biology informs motivations towards behaviours, and that variation can exist within the behaviours of men and women; myself included as I’m often seen as a camp, metrosexual and people often assume I’m gay. She refused to go further in the conversation and kept trying to change the topic. ‘No matter’, I thought to myself, I’m being civil and just indulging in conversation and if she refuses to go further, I shan’t push her. However she seemed quite eager to keep eliciting more of my own thoughts on politics.
We decided to go for a coffee, while delving more into personal information; relationships, sex and so forth. I told her about how I was a fan of BDSM and about my relationship with my partner. She started to make it very clear she had multiple partners, hinting at having multiple boyfriends by subtly slipping different boyfriends into her conversations. Eventually I gave in and asked her about that. This is where she stated that she was polyamorous and was interested to know what I thought about polyamory.
I stated that my opinion was more against the concept of such a label, and that, in my view, she didn’t have multiple boyfriends. I felt it was more accurate to say that she has “friends with benefits”. Guys whom she is very comfortable with and loves to bits as people, but the relationship she shares with them, is not quite the same as a monogamous bond between two individuals. I stated that I pass no judgement against those who choose to sleep around. But as someone with a bit of a history myself, I felt that the type of bond you crave, once that loses it’s novelty, is something far beyond having multiple sleeping partners. She politely disagreed, and chose to keep trying to elicit my political views, whilst grinning and seemingly judging me for the rest of the time we spent together.
We moved on to a local pub, and our conversation started to resemble a constant game of cat-and-mouse, where I was the mouse that she wanted to keep playing with, silently grinning, instead of just going in for the kill.
The topic moved on to ‘privilege’, and I asked her whether she felt she had ‘white privilege’. She spoke about how she felt she did despite of the fact that I know that she’s had a really horrible time since she moved to the states. Her parents divorced, not too long after the family uprooted themselves and moved to the states. Her mother had a relationship an abusive boyfriend, and had a child with him. She went from living in a family with a reasonably comfortable income, to living in an apartment with little money. She just wouldn’t accept that maybe, her “whiteness” didn’t benefit her in any way. She thought that I, a working-class kid whose father managed to pull his family up to lower-middle class by working hard, despite having no qualifications and dyslexia, and died when I was 16, somehow was guilty of the original sin of being born in the skin I live in. She didn’t like the way I framed this point. Needless to say, Buzzfeed’s privilege checker said that I am not privileged!
From then on, she continued to withhold any thoughts beyond disagreeing with things I stated, like my feelings on the behaviour of Black Lives Matter, cultural issues within the USA and other factors that contribute to the problems that she would define simply as being the source of racism, my thoughts on sexism and so forth. Every time it was me giving my view and her stating that I was wrong, like she somehow was more enlightened than I.
When I’d ask for her to give her views, she said she didn’t want us to stop being friends over politics, as her political views were different to mine… this was her way of excusing herself. She kept declaring that if I read the studies she had, then I would know what she knows, but she never backed anything up. My response was always, “I can be friends with anyone, even those I disagree with, because I care about whether someone means well, not that i agree with them.” Little did I know, her stating that she “didn’t want to stop being friends over politics” was actually her way of saying that she practices the cult-ish practice of “disconnection”. But we’ll get to that.
After a month or so, when she was back in the USA, she shared an article on her Facebook, stating that the “polyamorous community didn’t feel welcoming to black people”. I read the article and commented on her Facebook post. I asked her, “Why is your community so intolerant? How is it intolerant? How do you treat black people?” She sent me a private message, after having deleted my comment, telling me off for asking her these questions publicly.
Instead of answering my questions, she acted flippant with me, “what do you think it means?” being her response. I spoke about the minority of people within the USA who identify as polyamorous (around 4-5%), the numbers that you’d be expect if you wanted perfectly statistical representation at an event and so forth. I explained that, if you are talking about a convention of 100 polyamorous people, you’d expect 1 (Montana) to around 50 (District of Columbia), to be African-American. I also pointed out that the article only spoke about states that have an African-American population that is less than the percentage of the total US population (less than 13%).
Alas, this is when she decided to talk about our personal relationship, and how it was a shame that I’m no longer the nice boy she remembered when she was growing up. Apparently my “ignorance” was too much for her, and so she could no longer be friends with me. I wasted no time and responded with a picture of a peasant, stating that I am just so ignorant and she’s right, and I’ll go back to my simple life now.
What struck me about all of these issues was her lack of empathy, and inability to acknowledge her own struggles. She minimised her own life experiences and categorised herself in a manner that seemed to make sense to her. She spoke to me as someone who was superior, but on the flipside she minimised her experiences when she wanted to virtue signal about the plight of the BME people she clearly categorised in a very narrow way. It was like she wanted to flog herself and others, for not being victims like those she’d conceptualised in her head. She’d intellectualised her reality, to the point that she’d lost touch with the whole of actual reality, if she ever had it at all.
The reason I speak of this story, is because it seems that where my experience of psychology and university, taught me to be open minded and question ideas; her experience seems to have resulted in the signs of indoctrination. There was no smugness from my lecturers. We had passionate professionals who knew their fields and were more than happy to entertain a conversation and help you to develop your ideas, or ask you helpful questions when they felt you were missing something. In England, we often laugh at people with the “holier than thou” way of making people feel small. It’s like peacocking, and to act in such a fashion, often results in childish sniggers behind that person’s back.
My friend, seems to have been sold an ideology, one that makes her see herself as above those who do not share the same views or have the same experience as her. But on the flipside, this makes her feel guilty when she has to acknowledge the plight of the victims she’s been taught to feel bad for.
Perhaps intellectualising their own struggles and claiming to fight for those who they perceive to be struggling, is their way of helping themselves.