Social Justice and Gold Stars

While i am extremel pro-equality, I disagree with many beliefs that are held by the ideological cluster Social-Justice-Tumblr-Feminism (obviously not all people who talk about social justice and feminism on Tumblr believe these things). One relatively minor idea that is held by Social-Justice-Tumblr-Feminism that I disagree with is the concept of Gold Stars. That when a person does something that helps an oppressed group they are not deserving of praise and are merely fulfilling the bare minimum requirement of being a decent human being.

My first problem with this is consequentialist. When someone has told me they did something positive (relative to the alternatives they could have done) my reaction to them will likely affect how they act in the future. If I give a positive reaction like “Good job for doing that Good Thing, High five!” it will likely reinforce the behaviour, making them associate the behaviour with positive emotions and reinforce that a member of their social group approves of the behaviour. If I react with “You did a Good thing? What do you want a gold star? A cookie? Good job meeting the minimum requirements for not being a horrible person” it will likely have the opposite result. So on purely consequentialist grounds if what we actually care about is people doing the positive things than we will want to react to people in a way that encourages that action.

My second problem is that drawing a line at some point on the moral spectrum and declaring that anything above that is merely a decent human being and undeserving of praise is arbitrary and I think makes a moral error. No person in there entire life has made 100% correct moral decisions (given their knowledge at the time) and no one ever will. No one has done all the good they could possible do. Even if someone is completely in compliance with every social justice rule, the still need to give all of their surplus income to the most effective charity possible. So declaring that here is a minimum standard that everyone has an obligation to be higher than seems to make less sense than simply promoting the pursuit of getting as close to perfect as possible. Because of this any step upward should be encouraged.

Steel manned counter arguments:

Firstly giving people praise may not actually encourage them. If they think they have done their one good deed for the day they may do less to be good in the future not more. Secondly while there is no objective way of drawing the line people may respond psychologically better to having a line that he need to be above (that we slowly raise at roughly the same pace as the social average but set higher) rather than a general direction.

These arguments ma be right, I’m not sure, I will need to think more about it. There are also some areas where I definitely endorse a No Gold Star attitude, for example if someone is using the fact they did one Good Thing as an excuse for not doing other Good Things. I have a fairly strong feeling that friendly encouragement is better in general for a social movement than sarcastic mocking (Effective Altruism movement vs Tumblr Social Justice) but I may just have a very large difference in opinion and emotional reaction to those two groups.

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