Death Note and Social Justice: The Paradox of Good Intentions Part 2

Written By Alexander Greco

August 3, 2020

This second and final part of my editorial analysis on Death Note and its comparison to Social Justice will primarily be comprised of a discussion on and criticism of contemporary Social Justice. The primary comparison will be between the morality of Light and the morality of a portion of Social Justice activists. If you haven’t read the first article, it consists mostly of a comparison of Light and L in the anime, “Death Note”, and much of this second part might not make sense if you haven’t read that analysis.

However, I will recap some of the important points of that analysis in the beginning of this article. But first, I want to explain what Social Justice is.

Social Justice in its current manifestation is essentially focused on gender, racial and sexual civil rights activism, though it has corollary and allied movements, such as environmental activism, animal rights and economic/political activism. Some of these corollary movements, particularly the economic and political activism, go hand in hand with the civil rights activism.

The main branches of Social Justice would be the Fourth Wave Feminist movement, the LGBTQ+ community and racial activism, such as Black Lives Matter. Social Justice is also heavily involved in pro-Socialism and pro-Communism politics, and one of the more militant Social Justice groups is Antifa, which brand themselves as “anti-fascists”.

Philosophically, Social Justice has been heavily influenced by Marx, portions of Hegelian philosophy and Postmodern philosophers such as Foucault and Derrida. The core philosophical ideas the Social Justice activists have incorporated from these thinkers include, though are not limited to: Marx’s theory of social hierarchy and class-based oppression; the Hegelian Master-Slave concept; Foucault’s ideas of historical oppression via power and that power is the fundamental source of human interaction in micro and macro levels; and Derrida’s Deconstruction of texts, concept of Phal-Logos-Centrism and theories on language as an arbitrary social construction of reality and language as a construction made by those in power.

There’s a lot to unpack here, but I won’t delve too deeply into these. This ought to provide at least a rough concept of Social Justice. Also, despite the infamy surrounding a number of these philosophers, I urge anyone interested in these topics to read their work, as they, and many associated to them, are incredibly interesting, broad and deep thinkers, despite their reputations.

Now, there needs to be a post and pre caveat to what I just said and much of what I’m going to say in this analysis. First of all, most Social Justice activists are not overly concerned with the underlying philosophies of the current Social Justice movements. In fact, most of them I don’t think could even really be called Social Justice activists. They are just normal people who are either rightly and justifiably concerned with social problems and inequalities, or normal people who are swept up in these movements.

Most people who could be identified as Social Justice activists, who are more involved at a moral and political level, are also normal people, and probably very good people, who either got involved in these movements via academics or personal experiences, or have developed a strong sense of Social Justice. Many of the Social Justice activists and advocates who are knowledgeable on the underlying philosophies are also normal and good people, and many of the underlying philosophies provide valid criticisms or at least interesting perspectives on social realities.

The primary group this article will be discussing are the Social Justice Warriors, though I don’t like this name. I think there are many “SJW’s” who are likewise good people trying to make the world a better place, and I think there are many “SJW’s” who might be misguided in their actions and beliefs, though they have good intentions. I think I want to call the group I will be discussing Social Justice Zealots, or SJZ’s, which can and should be differentiated from the rest of the Social Justice movements.

SJZ’s are a small minority, but an incredibly vocal and growingly powerful group of Social Justice activists who are whole-heartedly invested in their beliefs, to a point that they replicate religious zealotry in many ways. Their doctrines are unquestionable. Their actions resemble religious conversion on one hand and fundamentalist witch-hunts on the other hand. They refuse to listen to conflicting opinions, they refuse to do business with sinners and heretics, though there are possibilities for atonement.

These Zealots may include traditional activists, it may include organizers of activist events or groups, or it may include people at a macro or at a local scale who are influencing others—spreading the good word. They believe that through the healing graces and righteous inquisitions of their ideologies, they will make the world a better, brighter, more beautiful place—a utopia.

Now, we’ve discussed Social Justice. Let’s recap some of the main points of the previous article, as well as add a few new points:

  • Light believes he is above the law and morally justified in being above the law.
  • L subordinates himself to the law and morally justifies his actions through principles he is subordinate to.
  • Light wishes to kill criminals without trial or due process because he wants to make the world a better place by ridding it of evil.
  • L wishes to arrest Light because Light subordinates the law to himself.
  • Light wants to recreate the world in his vision of a utopia.
  • L wants to maintain the traditional structures of the world, but nonetheless make the world a better place by rooting out sources of evil.
  • Light is arrogant and narcissistic, with little to no introspection or reflection on his actions, except from a strategic standpoint.
  • L is far more humble, or at least is constantly inflating his ego, and is far more introspective and reflective of his actions and ideas.
  • Light derives his conviction from his sense of self-righteousness and grandiosity.
  • L derives his conviction from ideals and principles that he holds above him rather than below him.

There are a number of layers of differences between Light and L.

  1. Light is killing people deemed to be evil criminals. L is trying to stop Light.
  2. Light uses the Death Note to kill criminals in the name of Justice, though also justifies killing innocent or even good people with the Death note in order to continue killing criminals. L wants to capture Light in the name of Justice in order to uphold Law and Order, and to keep one individual from lording a god-like power over a society.
  3. Light does not reflect on the morals of his actions or from the collateral damage his actions inflict on others, nor does he reflect on his own ideals or beliefs. L subordinates himself to higher ideals and principles, and constantly reflects on his own ideas and beliefs, possibly to a fault.
  4. Light destroys many relationships with those around him, manipulates friends and family members, and lies and deceives nearly everyone he comes into contact with. L withholds information at times, including his identity, but is otherwise almost completely honest with others, and the only time he burns bridges with others is when he gives people the option to forsake the Kira investigation for their own security.
  5. Light ultimately loses because he arrogantly and narcissistically places himself, his ego and his own intelligence above his belief in Justice. L ultimately wins, despite dying, because he sacrifices himself and his ego, and constantly questions his own knowledge and intelligence, for the sake of higher principles.

Death Note at its finest is an exploration of one of the deepest moral quandaries humanity has ever struggled with—still struggles with, in fact. It is the fundamental conundrum of Dostoevsky’s genius novel, “Crime and Punishment”. How do we decide what is good and evil? How do we even define what is good and evil? And what source of knowledge and wisdom can possibly dictate what is good and what is evil?

And so, how does this relate to Social Justice and, more particularly, Social Justice Zealotry?

Well, how are Social Justice Zealots and Light the same?

  1. Social Justice Zealots and Light both hold themselves above the law because they believe the law to be corrupt and they wish to subvert the law in order to make the world a better place.
  2. SJZ’s and Light both use their “Death Notes” (I’ll elaborate this later) to exact their Justice onto evil-doer’s, but they extend this definition of evil-doers to people who question them or get in their way.
  3. SJZ’s and Light do not reflect on their morals, their actions or the negative outcomes of any of their actions because they think their intentions are so morally righteous that they are infallible and unquestionable, and therefore the ends justify the means.
  4. SJZ’s and Light both use untruths, mistruths, deceptions and manipulations to get their way, though, in many ways, they “believe” these mistruths, and these mistruths are ultimately self-destructive.
  5. SJZ’s and Light inevitably cannot win because their utopian visions are founded on a false, fabricated conception of reality, and they self-righteously and hypocritically hold themselves above their own principles, above scrutiny and above the law.

So, let’s elaborate on each of these points, more specifically for the SJZ’s

Above the Law and the Subversion of Law

Much of the SJZ’s political activism is aimed at overthrowing Western Civilization, or at least gaining power over it and transforming it into something new. They believe Western Civilization—including things like Democracy, Free Market Economies and legal privileges such as Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Assembly and Freedom of the Press—is inherently an oppressive, patriarchal system, designed specifically to empower certain groups (particularly straight white males) and disempower every other group (non-whites, non-heterosexuals, non-males).

For those of you interested in the underlying philosophy, much of this is derived from Marx and Foucault, and this last point is derived from Derrida’s Phal-Logos-Centrism, which is the idea that Western Civilization is focused (Centrism) on masculine (Phal/phallic) notions of rationality and reason (Logos) that have been derived from male dominated cultures, such as Ancient Greece and European Christianity (also Logos (double-entendre)).

Because of this—because society is inherently oppressive across dimensions of race, gender and sexual orientation—they are justified in undermining aforementioned principles of Western Civilization, subverting the laws of a country (including committing acts of vandalism, theft and violence) and over-throwing the current economic and political systems of Western Civilization in order to achieve their goals.

Their goals include:

  • Gender, race and sexual equity, meaning people of all genders, all races and all sexualities should have equal representation in all sectors of society.
  • An end to any offensive language or ideas that could possibly oppress or disempower anyone of any gender, race or sexuality (except straight white men).
  • An end to economic inequalities, but, more specific, economic inequities, which would be economic disparities between genders, races and sexualities.
  • An end to all systems that perpetuate or have been derived from systems that perpetuate Western philosophy or intellectual tradition (which include psychology, physics and biology), or Phal-Logos-Centrism.
  • Equality of Outcome (everyone has the same things, everyone has the same social status, everyone is treated like everyone else) VS. Equality of Opportunity (everyone has the same opportunity to acquire better things, everyone has the same opportunity to achieve higher social status, everyone has the same opportunity to be treated better or worse based on their actions and beliefs).

Their vision of a better future is: a society without economic inequality; a society without gender, racial or sexual inequities; a society without offensive or oppressive language or ideas; a society without any of the systems that could perpetuate gender differences or gender stereotypes; a society where no one has the opportunity to alter the circumstances of their lives, but everyone has the same resources, the same social standing and the same access to services.

Now, as a final note, there are many valid criticisms inlaid into these ideas, or at least interesting ideas and concepts. There are also some ideas that are intended to be criticism, but highlight things that might not necessarily be evil (Freedom of Speech and Democracy being prime examples).

There are many things within the SJZ beliefs, goals and vision that could be deeply criticized—and have been—but there are also many justifiable criticisms of society. There are many problems brought to light in Social Justice activism that are indeed problems our society should be worried about. There are many things the activists are trying to accomplish that are noble, just as what Light is trying to accomplish—the eradication of Evil—is a noble goal.

Extended Definition of Evil

I mentioned, or at least implied, earlier that the SJZ’s (and many Social Justice activists, for that matter) have their own version of the Death Note.

Here, I’ll have to elaborate on that, because it is an important part of understand the problems of contemporary Social Justice activism.

Light’s Death Note allows you to write down the name of someone and kill them.

The Social Justice Death Note allows you to call someone a racist, misogynist, homophobe, transphobe, islamophobe or some other derivation of “bigot” (alt-right, neo-nazi, oppressor), and ruin their lives.

The SJW’s and SJZ’s target people by using their philosophy and their language games to twist and contort your ideas, your beliefs, your actions and your arguments into some category of “hate speech”, “perpetuation of oppression”, “micro-aggression” or “ignorance/bigotry”. Anything and everything you say that doesn’t follow the doctrines of Social Justice can be viewed as hateful, oppressive and bigoted.

And now, we live in a culture where your life can effectively be ended if you make a sexist, racial or sexual comment that doesn’t jive with Social Justice. This, in many ways, is probably a good thing.

I mean, you don’t want to work with someone who’s sexist, do you? You don’t want to be friends with a racist, do you? You don’t want to buy food from a restaurant run by owners who don’t like homosexual people, do you?

In short, if you are “evil” under the doctrine of Social Justice, your life ought to be ruined. You ought to be banished from social media. You ought to be strung up and burned at the stake on some blog or news channel for all to see. You ought to lose your livelihood, lose your possibility of getting another job, and lose all friends and family (because they obviously shouldn’t associate with someone like you).

This is a mighty and fearsome power. It’s ruined many people’s lives—some people who may have deserved it, and some people who may not have deserved it.

The problem is that some people may not have deserved it—either because they are innocent, or because they are actually good people raising arguments or trying to solve a problem in a non-mainstream way—and the problem is that this social targeting is under the power of no law or higher authority.

The power to ruin lives is in the hands of emotional, egocentric, fallible individuals, and anyone who questions these people becomes the next target of social damnation. These individuals get to decide what is considered Good and Evil, and they get to ruin lives based on their own conceptions of morality. So, what do they consider Good and Evil?

Let’s start at the basic conception of “Evil” in the perspective of Social Justice.

It comes, ironically, from very Western ideals, many of which were derived from Christian and Enlightenment values.

Ignorance and Prejudice are both evils. Therefore, racism, sexism and sexual bigotry are all evil.

Therefore, the systems that perpetuate racism, sexism and sexual bigotry are all evil.

Therefore, anyone who defends these systems or questions the actions and beliefs of social justice are evil.

There is a solid logic to this, just as there is a solid logic to Light’s worldview. However, these worldviews are incredibly simple and narrow, and they ultimately lose any and all nuance as they evolve. If you say, “Bigotry, ignorance and oppression are evil, and all systems that perpetuate these are also evil”, and then if you loosely define what would constitute these evil systems, or constitute them in a self-serving or disingenuous way, you get an enormous list of “evil” institutions.

  • Meritocracy is evil, because it creates inequalities/inequities and hierarchies
  • Capitalism and Free Market economies are evil because they historically have disproportionately benefited a minority of people
  • Science is evil because it is male-dominated, and because it can make factual claims about the world that run counter to the Social Justice narrative
  • Sports is evil because of the division of gender and the higher popularity of male sports teams and divisions
  • Any workplace that doesn’t have equal representation of gender, race or sexual orientation is evil
  • Any movie, show, book or news source that doesn’t have equal representation is evil
  • Any sector of culture, society, business or academia that doesn’t have equal representation is evil
  • Any provider of goods, services or entertainment that does not have an equal representation of consumers is evil
  • Any business, organization, group, community, member of a community/group/organization that has made any offensive statement is evil
  • Anyone who has created music, art, creative writing, film, etc. that is deemed offensive is evil
  • Any person who makes any statements that could be taken as offensive to any member of any non-white, non-male, non-heterosexual group (and the definition of what counts as offensive is purely subjective and relative) is evil
  • Anyone who questions Social Justice is evil
  • Anyone who speaks out against Social Justice is evil
  • Anyone who takes actions against Social Justice is evil
Lack of Self-Reflection

And these are, of course, all justified because Social Justice is infallible and unquestionably good and righteous.

There is no point in questioning one’s actions when one’s actions are undoubtedly good. There is no point to questioning your own motivations when your motivations are making the world a better place. There is no point in considering the consequences your actions have when you have good intentions.

The SJZ’s don’t stop to consider what they are doing might be destructive, counter-productive or hypocritical. They don’t stop to even thing about the basic assumptions of their beliefs and question their own principles or the complexities and nuances of their principles.

In fact, to do so—to question Social Justice—is heresy. It is a sin to question this doctrine. It would be like defying the Word of God.

Deceit, Deception, Manipulation and Untruths

One of the biggest problems of having an unquestionable doctrine of faith is that it will inevitable be wrong in many ways, and if your system does not allow for internal error correction (correction of the doctrine itself), then it must rely on external error correction. This means that if your ideology cannot account for how reality works, then you must alter reality for it to account for your ideology.

There are many examples of this. One is the 1619 Project.

If America is an evil, oppressive, authoritarian, government, then how could America have been founded on one of the most successful revolutions in our planet’s history, which was a revolution centered on freedom from an oppressive, authoritarian government? How is that possible?

Well, actually, that part of history isn’t true, according to the 1619 Project. America’s history is actually a history centered on slavery, and the story of revolution, freedom and political evolution is actually a post-hoc rationalization for a society predominated by slave-holders and white supremacists. America was not a trail-blazer for freedom and liberty, they were a nation of slavery.

Many legitimate historians have discredited this narrative for many reasons, and you are free to delve more deeply into this if you want, but the truth of America’s history is complicated and nuanced. The following statements are both contradictory and true:

  • The founding of America was one of the most revolutionary moments in world history, and it was an event founded on notions of freedom, equal rights and liberty.
  • America’s history is filled with slavery, the oppression of women, the corruption of businesses and government, the abuse of ordinary people, and the deaths of millions of innocent people by the hands of those in power.

The truth is complicated, but there is no room for such nuance for Social Justice Zealots.

Another difficult and nuanced reality. Women and men are biologically different.

The vast majority of humans born with XX chromosomes are capable of childbirth, have relatively large amounts of estrogen produced by their bodies, metabolize and store fat in particular way, and, psychometrically, are typically higher in trait agreeableness.

The vast majority of humans born with XY chromosomes produce sperm, have relatively large amounts of testosterone produced by their bodies, have larger and denser bone structures, and, psychometrically, are typically lower in trait agreeableness.

Men and women are similar in almost every way. We are far more similar than we are different. However, the differences between us do in fact make a difference.

Men physiologically are on average stronger and faster than women. Women typically have wider hips and a different center of gravity than men. Men are on average more interested in objects and things. Women are on average more interested in people and social activities. Men are more likely to score above average or below average on IQ rather than average scores. Women are more likely to have average IQ scores rather than exceptionally high or exceptionally low scores.

Men are more likely to be homeless than women. Women on average earn less than men. Men have a lower life expectancy than women. Women suffer more sexual abuse than men. Men are more likely to have autism and schizophrenia than women. Women are more likely to experience anxiety and depression than men.

Women are more likely to attempt suicide than men. Men are more successful at suicide than women.

These are all facts about men and women. Statistically, physiologically and psychologically, there is far more overlap between the two genders than there are differences. However, there are indeed differences between men and women on many dimensions. These differences can be accounted for physiologically, biologically, psychologically, evolutionarily and sociologically. For the SJZ though, there is only the sociological dimension.

Any and all differences in statistical outcomes between men and women must be a result of societal oppression of women by men. There are no other options. Biology has nothing to do with it. Psychology has nothing to do with it. Evolution has nothing to do with it.

In fact, any science that shows biological differences between men and women is just another expression of the oppression of men over women. Therefore, science is oppressing women.

Proportionately, African Americans are more likely to be shot by police than White Americans. Proportionately, African Americans are more likely to experience poverty than White Americans. Proportionately, African Americans are more likely to be arrested and imprisoned than White Americans.

Obviously, we must live in a racist, white supremacist country. Obviously, African Americans are targeted and oppressed by a system designed to empower whites and disempower non-whites.

However, African Americans are more likely to commit violent crimes than White Americans, and these violent crimes are often Black-on-Black crimes. On top of that, African Americans are more likely to be brutalized or shot by African American police officers than White American police officers. Many African American communities have higher crime rates, poor education systems, few job opportunities, and less community structure.

In addition, African American children are more likely to grow up in a fatherless home, and, more particularly, in an environment with less father figures in general.

This fact—that African Americans are more likely to grow up without a father and without a proxy father figure—accounts for much of the increased crime, as children (especially males) who grow up without any kind of father figure are more likely to enter into a life of crime than those who had no father figure.

So, do these problems for African Americans and African American communities stem entirely from racism and white supremacy? Or are there also issues with African American communities, issues with the development of African American children in these communities, and then issues perpetuated by generations of patterns of behavior?

Must the problems of African American communities be solved by abolishing the police and ending Capitalism? Or, could they also be solved internally, by building stronger communities, providing more economic opportunities and better education, and by reinforcing the family unit within these communities?

However, any narrative that runs counter to the “America is a nation of white supremacists” is deemed to be racist. To say that a part of the problem might be inherent in these poverty-stricken, crime-consumed neighborhoods, rather than a problem stemming from the economic and political system they are embedded in, is a racist statement.

One cannot discuss nuanced and difficult facts, one can only have conversations within the allowed confines of Social Justice.

Within the Social Justice community, particularly among the SJZ’s, there are constant manipulations of narratives, constant use of bad information or bad research, and a constant silencing of any counter-narrative research or statements.

Intentions, meanings and motivations are turned on you.

If you are called a bigot and you claim that you are not a bigot, the very fact that you claimed you are not a bigot shows you are in fact a bigot.

If someone calls you racist, or homophobic, or Islamophobic, and you say, “But, my friend is black/gay/Muslim,” that actually confirms your prejudice.

To say, “Maybe a man who takes hormone blockers after they’ve been a man for 25 years shouldn’t compete in women’s sports,” is transphobic. Why? Because if someone transitions into a new gender, they’ve always been that gender, and to say anything contrary to that is transphobic.

To say, “All lives matter,” is an act of white supremacy, because it subverts and denigrates the Black Lives Matter movement.

To say, “I don’t want to get involved,” is an act of oppression, because if you aren’t actively involved in solving racism, sexism and sexual oppression, then you are a part of the problem. You must do as you are told, you must join the movement, you must become an ally, or else you are an enemy.

Reality is twisted, contorted, and, at times, obliterated in order to make way for the brave new world.

Utopia

The problem with the brave new world in the final analysis is the fact that it puts itself above reality. The doctrine holds itself to be the one, universal truth, and reality is shaped to fit the narrative of this doctrine. Except, reality cannot be shaped. No one can actually play God.

The Utopia will inevitably be self-destructive, as it can only be successful through lies, manipulation, violence, death and tyranny. There is no other way to create the Utopia.

How do you make sure everyone has the same quality and quantity of resources? You take away everything from everyone, you give them back what you believe they deserve, and you kill anyone who doesn’t want these things taken away from them.

If history provides a complex and nuanced account that runs counter to your perception of reality, what do you do? You destroy history and replace it with a history that fits your narrative, which also destroys all examples of ways that societies have historically triumphed or perished.

If biological differences constitute at least a portion of the differences between the jobs men and women choose, whether or not they choose to even get jobs, and how successful they are at those jobs, then how do you overcome gender inequities? You force men and women to take the jobs you want them to take, you force them to work the same number of hours at those jobs, with no overtime or vacation, and you force them into positions whether or not they are qualified for them.

If there are inherent problems in certain African American communities that perpetuate disparities and inequalities, then how do you solve those problems? You tear down anything that could be considered oppressive, you destroy any system in which these inequalities are present, and you replace them with your own fair, equitable, infallible systems.

The Paradox of Good Intentions

There is no problem with seeking Social Justice. There is no problem with wanting to make the world a better place. There is no problem with trying to solve gender, racial or sexual problems and inequalities. There is no problem with trying to fix errors or corruptions in our judicial, political and economic systems, or rooting out evils in our society. These are all noble goals, among many noble goals one could pursue.

But, there is a problem with the narcissism, the arrogance and the tyranny of playing God.

The ends justify the means, even when the means are manipulation, violence and destruction. This is the Paradox of Good Intentions: the conviction that what you are doing is so morally infallible, so unquestionable, so righteous that you will commit any act of evil for the sake of good. You become a monster for the sake of fighting monsters.

There is no perfection.

There is no absolution.

There is no final solution.

There is no God, mortal or immortal, who will give you all the answers and guide us like a light in the dark to a more perfect existence.

There is only the endless marathon of small discoveries and small victories. There is only the gradual shaping of ourselves and others through good deeds. There is only the constant questioning, the constant reformulating and the constant development of oneself through humility, introspection and self-reflection.

Do not be so arrogant to believe you know all the answers to all of life’s questions, and that you can faultlessly discern right from wrong, or good from evil.

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