I can answer this question in a few ways. One is by pointing out that SJWs approach social justice through what we called "applied postmodernism," aka grievance studies. A second is that they exhibit strong traits of authoritarianism in their approach. 1/ https://t.co/SHVOBlxuJH— James Lindsay (@ConceptualJames) February 24, 2019
Authoritarianism is something I was studying--from a psychological perspective--before I got embroiled in the whistleblowing effort now called the "Grievance Studies Affair." It has a number of traits, and it shouldn't be regarded as relevant on any one side of politics. 3/— James Lindsay (@ConceptualJames) February 24, 2019
Authoritarian aggression is an attitude that one can and a willingness to use aggressive behaviors, including violence, doxxing, "canceling," dogpiling, bullying, etc., to create conditions that coerce people into accepting one's views or to silence their dissent. 5/— James Lindsay (@ConceptualJames) February 24, 2019
Authoritarian submission is the willingness to submit oneself and ones views to those held by authorities who are deemed to be legitimate from within the ideology at play. It is often coupled with authoritarian aggression to extend that will to submission outside the in-group. 7/— James Lindsay (@ConceptualJames) February 24, 2019
For example, consider the critical race and education thought leader Robin DiAngelo (author of White Fragility). She is considered authoritative, obviously, but if even a single black woman spoke up and said her views are offensive, DiAngelo would submit to her authority. 9/— James Lindsay (@ConceptualJames) February 24, 2019
Conventionalism is the belief that one's social worldview (normative morals) should be conventional to everyone. It is the anti-secular belief that one's in-group morals should apply to everyone. This is obviously a trait of SJWs. They devote most of their energy to this. 11/— James Lindsay (@ConceptualJames) February 24, 2019
So, I'd conclude that the difference between a Social Justice Warrior and someone who believes in social justice is a combination of using an applied postmodern approach to identity politicking and exhibiting clear authoritarian traits with regard to that set of beliefs. /end— James Lindsay (@ConceptualJames) February 24, 2019
It looks like there are three main ways of viewing this radical group
- quasi-religious cult - a science of religion frame
- authoritarian group - a social psychology frame
- adaptive group - a biological frame
I'd suggest the science of religion frame is probably the most useful. The literature on authoritarianism is interesting and very informative. As James points out, you have to combine a few different authoritarian concepts to get at the whole thing. The quasi-religious lens is basically more of a sociological frame. Rather than looking at individual psychologies, you're looking more at the group level. Thus, authoritarianism is more of an individualistic perspective while quasi-religion is more of a sociological perspective (in the classical technical sense of that term).
The biological frame, fully represented by D.S. Wilson's Darwin's Cathedral, mainly deals with the adaptive benefits of group behavioural wells. It provides proximate and ultimate reasons for authoritarianism, including its internal and external group dynamics.
I think the religion lens basically lays at the intersection of the adaptive and authoritarian frames.
The science of religion lens takes into account adaptive evolutionary perspectives. For instance, it looks at the role of moral group agents, the value of sacred values, norms, rituals, costly commitment displays etc. These are all things that are associated with sustainable adaptive groups. Adding in a moral element modifies adaptive group dynamics a bit. It exaggerates certain components. Specifically, the components it exaggerates are those related to authoritarianism. This includes the heightened role of group agents (moral big brothers), appeal to authority, and norms & in-group out-group gradients. These are the salient points James highlights with respect to the authoritarian literature.
The main difference with quasi-religion is its extraordinarily large focus on transcendent values, and supernaturalism. Basically, the quasi-religious lens postulates individuals act out authoritarian behaviours because it's an ideal solution to growing and sustaining adaptive groups. Thus, authoritarianism isn't simply a reflection of people's cognitive dispositions for oppression, it's a reflection of their tendency for forming groups which rally around something of transcendent value or meaning. Note that the adaptive group frame generalizes this more. It postulates that group formation and its associated behaviours occur due to adaptive benefits. It makes no claim on transcendent values. That is a sub-set: a particular type of adaptive group.
Thus, the question between authoritarianism and quasi-religion is settled on the question of whether social justice zealots are primarily motivated by power or transcendence. Both are obviously at play. But, what was the vector?
I know which one I lean to, both in terms of historical trajectory accuracy, and in terms of likely future directions...