Critical Social Theory in Organizational Policies
The current trend of organizations adopting social justice policies is under the pretence of doing what is right. That can be appreciated. However, there has been a cultural shift of the Overton window in acceptable discourse. This is what is of concern. The consistent and persistent peer pressure in society to take on such directives is increasing. Any initiatives that implement ideology based off of critical social theories must be questioned.
Critical social theory is a broad term used herein to describe critical race theory (anti-racism), de-colonization theory, queer theory (pronouns and transgender ideology) and antifascism theory. It can also encompass any concept with the added prefix of “anti”. For example, anti-harassment or anti-discrimination. Inclusion, diversity and equity statements are also included under this theory. Another useful term to describe this ideology is Wokeness or Woke.
When organizations incorporate policies such as the above, though, the outcome leads to more tribalism and less amelioration. In fact, organizations tend to become overwhelmed with aspects of what is called critical social justice theories. When that happens, they deviate from their intended mandate and begin to pursue the untenable goals set forth by the social justice policies listed above.
This all may sound quite strange. Obviously, racism, harassment and discrimination should be condemned. While inclusion, diversity of thought, and equal rights should be praised. It is not the colloquial use, nor the legal use, of the above terms that should be found to be concerning. What is troublesome is the social justice approach. Social just activists have taken these terms and applied additional meaning to them. Instead of a workplace or organization having a harassment and discrimination policy, it now must be an anti-harassment or anti-discrimination policy. There is a stark difference between using the term “anti” and not using the term “anti”.
Ibram X Kendi, author of How to be an Anti-racist, states that the opposite of racist is not being not racist. The opposite is actually being anti-racist. Therefore, it is no longer acceptable to just be not racist. If you do not declare that you are anti-racist, then you are considered to be racist. No longer is it innocent until proven guilty, but guilty until proven innocent. To be anti-racist means that you actively condemn racism. There is now a requirement placed on ho one should speak and behave. In effect, you are being coerced into making a moral statement about your character through your words and actions. Either you are with us, or you are against us.
Robin D’Angelo, author of White Fragility, states that it is not if racism occurred in any such situation, but how. She literally perceives all interactions in life through a lens of racialized categories. The implication that all interactions should be viewed racially creates a conceptual reality rather than describes what is actually occurring. In D’Angelo’s work, it can be quite apparent that she is projecting her own racist tendencies onto the public consciousness. When you consistently talk about race, directly compare that to inequities, describe reality in an oppressed/ oppressor dichotomy, there is a tendency to create pseudo-realities and ignore other facts that may have a vital role in explaining complex situations. This is not meant to diminishes the reality of racism or inequality. But if you do not look at the underlying factors and describe them accurately, while instead claiming racism, the problem will never be fixed. It will continue. And white supremacy will be the claim.
These two authors are mentioned because of the consistent use of their works in organizational trainings. They are popular to be used in discussion about race, whiteness and privilege. These are not the only two works used though. There are many books, trainings and variations upon social justice themes in mentioned at the beginning.
Critical social justice theories have evolved into a quasi-cult like entity that is referred to as Wokeness. Being Woke means ascribing oneself to the ideology of critical social justice theory. In this groupthink, the ‘work’ is never done. There are always inequities. White supremacy is to be blamed. You must check your privilege and self flagellate. Racial categories are fixed and you must be identified by heritable characteristics. Gender is fluid, and can change as one sees fit via self ID. These are just some of the tenants.
Virtue signals can be found in policies labelled inclusion, diversity and equity statements. These concepts are presented as being harbingers of truth and fairness. They not only sound harmless, but beneficial and needed. The apparent disconnect and divisiveness in our society demands it. This is stoked by propagandistic fear mongering via corporate media and political punditry. Not-for-profits, education systems and common day activities are slowly being infected with this so-called social justice cause.
Inclusion, diversity and equity is a facade for: Identify, divide and equalize. The directive is to categorize persons based off of immutable characteristics. Divide them into their tribe and place them in the social (in)justice hierarchy scale. Then they may either respective benefits if they are lower in the hierarchy, or have benefits removed, if they are in the upper echelons of the hierarchy. They will be equalized accordingly.
Empty rhetoric abounds, but especially pernicious is Woke social justice. Never quite understanding where you stand within a group until you define yourself, ie: identify yourself. What are your pronouns? Are you cis or trans? What is your racial background? Are you privileged? Do you suffer from whiteness? Confess your sins.
In fact, organizations are now using the term whiteness to describe what was once perceived to be commons sense ideas, for example being on time, correct spelling or obtaining the correct math answer. To defend such bourgeoisie concepts is considered aspart of ones privilege and is associated with whiteness. In some places, they are trying to institute segregated teachings around this. Obviously this is complete nonsense. But these ideas are being taught in schools. And parents are fighting back.
Safe spaces is another issue. In any work setting, a clear harassment and discrimination policy is a wise idea. What is to be considered under those headings, how to deal with such instances, and a signature to state you have read and understand them should be included. However, instead of naming the policies above a “harassment policy”, there is a suggestion for the need of an “anti-harassment policy”. This suggests that no longer is not being someone who harasses people good enough, but that you must actively denounce harassment, call it out at every instant and even seek it out. The point is the difference between a common sense harassment policy and an ideological narrative of an anti-harassment policy that may cause unforeseen circumstances.
The above preamble was required to set a foundation to assist in describing the potential outcomes from implementing such policies. Those will follow below. First, it must be asked, is this something an organization truly wants to adopt? The concept of social justice is a noble endeavour. True social justice is an imperative for society to function. If critical social justice on the other hand, infects organizations, missions statements may be derailed. Instead, the new prerogatives will become quotas based on identities, diversity programming and statements about equity.
So, how does this get applied to policies in organizations? Board requirements, use of pronouns, land acknowledgement and policy directives are a few examples.
Boards currently feel the need to diversify their team. Diversity does not mean diversity of thought. It refers to diversity of identity based off of immutable characteristics. Gender, race and even sexual orientation identities are examples of diversity. The idea behind this is that people from different backgrounds have different ways of thinking. This is certainly true. However, that does not mean that people from the same background have the same thinking. And, sometimes people from different backgrounds find commonality with each other’s thinking. The concern when hiring someone based from a diversity requirement is that they will be a ‘token’ hire, that they are filling a quota and will be mismatched with a position. More troubling is if they are a diversity hire with the intent to bring social justice activism into the organization.
Pronouns seem like an innocuous request. It’s easy to assimilate into your language and behaviour. The desire for stating your pronouns most likely stemmed from people who identify as non-binary. They use they/them pronouns. Although, there is a multitude of other gender identities with their own pronouns. I believe the desire to state your pronouns is to not to single out persons that use pronouns outside of the binary he/she. People have manners and wish to be accommodating. However, there are unintended consequences. Such as the appearance of compelled speech; when persons are required to state their pronoun in front of a group, and thus be identified and categorized into some form of social hierarchy. The apparent claims to confusion that one cannot assume a person’s pronoun if they do not proclaim it, does not rest on biological and linguistic reality. Altering societal norms that are based on biology can have deleterious effects. Allow people to state their pronouns if they so wish, without the added aspect of requiring people to do so.
Truth and reconciliation is an imperative for ‘western’ society. It must become a milestone in our culture. A honour to be viewed upon by all, including new comers. To see that our society can reconcile past tragedies and continue to work together as individuals within a community for the betterment of us all, will be a crowning achievement. Land acknowledgements have their place in society, like being played along with the national anthem at the start of school. Indigenous languages being taught in schools to all children may also be a benefit. Encouraging more indigenous culture to be present throughout society, particularly on national days, is also a move towards reconciliation.
The concept of de-colonization divisive. It sets the stage that something must be separated and removed. A policy that promoted including a statement that land and waterways are to be repatriated to indigenous people is an aspect of this. There are a wide variety of nations throughout ‘western’ countries that were developed through colonization. Some nations cross borders. Who exactly will be the benefactors of such repatriation? Why should people born into into these nations lose their property? Why is there the thought that indigenous people would be better stewards of the land? Indigenous folks are human beings like everyone else. They have their virtues and their flaws. It is not true that only indigenous teachings provide a wise path to the relationship with the land. Capitalism and the industrial revolution have had a direct impact on resource management. Both positive and negative. However, technology and stewardship is overall increasing in a more environmentally friendly way. That comes form being a richer country through the use of inexpensive fossil fuels. Indigenous teachings do have a place and indigenous folks should contribute in all aspects of society to help guide our path forward. But this will not be achieved through de-colonization. It will be achieved through reconciliation.
With the technical and legal underpinnings of harassment discussed above, the concept of safe spaces still exists in a more esoteric format. This is the unwritten rules in play in one of these spaces. Where a certain way of speaking, who is allowed to speak, whom should defer to whom, is played out in a social justice hierarchy of conventions.
The concept of a ‘safe space’ is not only a misnomer. It creates the assumption that nothing untoward will occur in such an environment. This is creating a false sense of security. When this is breached and a person experiences ‘harm’. Instead of amelioration through conflict resolution, there may be an expectation that the authorities should step in and arbitrate the matter at hand. Not only that they should, but that there is a legal requirement for them to do so.
The desire to create policy directives that are in line with the current trend of critical social justice is not surprising. There is a constant barrage of attacks by Woke social justice bullies on both liberals and conservatives. The reason why they are so successful with the more liberal leaning persons, is because they tend to be more open and willing to accept new and controversial ideas. It is the job of the conservative mind to act as a bulwark of sorts against ideas that go too far.
The problem arises when the social justice policies conflict with the mandate of an organization. If an organization is dedicated to education about the environment, and social justice states that climate change is due to white supremacy, is this something the organization would be willing to teach children. This is not make believe. This is an actual belief in the Woke ideology. Climate change is due to white supremacy.
The last part seems too far fetched. On the surface, society proclaims that diversity statements and equity policies are making their companies and organizations a better palace. And at first perhaps they do. Perhaps the well-meaning people are convinced by the more radical activists that this is all that is required. Be more diverse in your hiring practices. Be more aware of social injustices. But I continue to see a push beyond what is reasonable.
This is the issue with critical social theories. Not because there are injustices in the world that do not need to be fixed. Not because change cannot occur. Not because our history tis riddled with failures and atrocities and we should remain blind to them. But because there is an ideological movement that is using liberalism, a tool for evaluation, against itself. These wokerati are sneaky and intentionally trying to disrupt, dismantle and deconstruct western culture.
Freedom of speech is an inalienable right. Critical social justice calls this right into question. The theory ascertains that there is a pre-determined space for allowable discourse. If that safe space is breeched, those who dare to challenge the prevailing narrative, will be cast out. Shunned. Universities have been lost to the Woke mob. Professors lose jobs, students lose opportunities, public speakers are cancelled. Stating the fact that a man cannot be woman is considered anathema. Only black people can voice black cartoon characters. How is this free expression?
The inclusion of critical social theories into the polices and thus the structure of institutions with have a corrosive effects. They will eat away at mandates, create shortages of employment, create suspicion amongst the staff, waste time and resources. The unnatural implementation of coerced policy directives can only be implemented through dictatorial style leadership. One strike and you’re gone. The include is to disclude any who do not agree with that practice. This is not discrimination based on merit. It is discrimination based on conscience.