A simple question helps determine the moral validity of calls for “progress”: Who gets stuck with the bill? Any social movement worth its salt replies, “Whatever the cost, we will pay it, taking the whole burden upon ourselves if necessary.” That’s what people who believe in their cause do. Understandably, they may not want to sacrifice more than others, but they’re willing to do it because they think that the authentic good (as they see it) is more important than their comfort and security. It’s the sincerity test—and it’s one that the moral crusades of our age are failing with unctuous panache.
Take, for example, the D.E.I. (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) movement. D.E.I. is predicated on the belief that every institution in society, both private and public, is infected with “systemic racism” in the form of “white supremacy.” In response, corporate, university, and civil leaders have collectively dumped billions of dollars, including taxpayer funds, into creating departments and bureaucracies whose sole charge is to impose racial “equity” in the workplace. However, you’ll be hard pressed to find even one white D.E.I.-touting CEO, president, provost, dean, or other higher-up who has voluntarily vacated her/his position and offered it to someone occupying a lower tier in the wheel of power and privilege (a staple “teaching” aid in many D.E.I. trainings). Mass resignations shouldn’t be too much to ask: if “whites” have too much institutional power, then, by D.E.I. logic, the most just and efficient course of action would be for those with the most power to bow out, which would certainly include CEOs, over 88% of whom are white. But that oddly hasn’t happened. Despite signaling ardent support for the cause, the C Suites are funneling the policy’s real costs downward.
The “Defund the police” movement displays a similar allergy to abiding by the consequences of its rhetoric. Perhaps the most egregious example comes from the founders of the Black Lives Matter political action group, who, while calling for drastically downsizing and even abolishing police departments throughout the nation (and calling those who question the wisdom of the policy “racist”), spent millions of donated funds to purchase a mansion in Studio City, one of the most exclusive—and safest—parts of southern California. Congressional members Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Cori Bush (often referred to as “the Squad”) have also been vocal in the “Defund the police” movement. Yet they are among the biggest spenders for private security in the federal government—security that individuals in their respective congressional districts could never afford, even as they endure a nationwide spike in violent crime. It is ultimately the poor—those who cannot afford to move to safer communities—who pay for this posturing.
“Climate Justice” rounds out the triad of hypocrisy. Former president Barack Obama, who famously promised that his election would mark the moment “the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal,” owns two mansions within his property portfolio, one in Martha’s Vineyard, near the ocean, the other in Maui—right on the ocean. Al Gore, of An Inconvenient Truth fame, also has a mansion, one that uses twelve times more energy than the average home in the area. The high-profile Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg once flew out a specialized skipper from the UK to the US to pilot a catamaran taking her to a climate conference in Spain, which completely erased the emissions savings of the nautical stunt. Just recently, Spain’s Minister of Ecological Transition exited the private car porting her to a European climate conference to ride on a bicycle the final one hundred meters to the destination—followed by her car. (She also broke Spanish traffic laws, including going the wrong way down a one-way street and not wearing a helmet, but was not fined for the infraction.) Meanwhile, the policies these and other cultural elites are pushing have resulted in artificial energy scarcity that has caused the price of heating and cooling to skyrocket across the world. Once again, it is the middle class and poor who end up paying.
None of this is an indictment of social justice itself. Properly defined and executed, the pursuit of social justice is good in and of itself and necessary for maintaining a stable, flourishing society. It’s also important to recognize that there have been and continue to be principled advocates who have practiced what they preach and willingly absorbed the cost, people like Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez, and Nelson Mandela. It would also be a mistake to conclude that sincerity, by itself, is sufficient to make a cause authentically just, as every suicide bomber horrifically attests to.
All the same, the presence of widespread hypocrisy in a sociopolitical movement remains a reliable indication that both the salesmen and their products are up to no good. A prudent response to any person or group demanding you sacrifice income, job security, mobility, physical safety, or anything else on the altar of their pet cause is and always has been: You first.