Criticizing Dogpiling vs. Defending the Target

English: Clachan Yell Looking North towards th...
Clachan Yell Looking North towards the summit of Clachan Yell. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In the typical social justice warrior dogpile one sees on the Internet, someone says something at which others take offense, and the the offended pounce. The rhetoric quickly escalates from "what you said was sexist" to "you are sexist" to wild accusations of "misogyny" and complaints that the target of the dogpile is an utterly contemptible person. This transformation takes no more than seconds.

What would it look like to defend someone being hit with such a dogpile? In the case of alleged sexism, one line of defense might be to argue that what the target said was not sexist. This might involve providing an alternative interpretation of what the target said in order to make the point that the statement, while perceived as sexist by some, may not have been intended that way and/or may not be perceived that way by many others. In essence, the person using this defense would be gently suggesting that the statement had been misinterpreted by the outraged. Of course, this defense might involve a more direct challenge of the claim that what the target said was sexist. Such a defense could flatly deny that there was anything even remotely sexist in the original statement. The point in both cases would be to challenge the notion that the statement was sexist.

A different sort of defense might aim to highlight the difference between what might have been a sexist statement and the claim that the person who made it is a sexist. That is, this defense would focus less on the content of the statement and more on the character of the individual who made it. One might say something along the lines of "I know this person, and I do not believe there is a sexist bone in his or her body." The defender might even acknowledge, "What he said was really stupid, but I don't think it makes him a sexist."

In the minds of many who participate in these dogpiles, anyone who criticizes them or their behavior is necessarily defending their target. This is not true. Suppose that Richard Dawkins was the target. One could witness him being dogpiled and criticize those doing the dogpiling while simultaneously despising Dawkins. I'm not saying I feel this way; I am saying that feeling this way would not stop me from criticizing the dogpiling. I could hate Dawkins while still having a problem with the dogpiling.

I don't condone appallingly poor behavior simply because it is directed at someone I might not like. I suspect I am not alone in this regard. Far too many social justice warriors fail to grasp this. Just because someone criticized their behavior when they begin to harass someone does not mean he or she is defending the target, values anything the target has to say, or even knows who the target is.

I have criticized evangelical Christians for spreading hate toward Mormons. This does not mean I am defending Mormons; I find much of what they believe both comical and destructive. Pointing out the hypocrisy of the evangelicals does not mean that I am somehow defending the Mormons. In much the same way, I have criticized social justice warriors for dogpiling on whoever is the latest to offend them. This does not mean I am defending anybody; many of their targets require no defense.