“Diverse” is a very good word to describe the range of people who come to Counterweight with problems. Our members are diverse in the sense of their race, sex or sexuality, in terms of their social class and level of education, in terms of their political, ethical, philosophical and religious views and in the kind of problems they are facing. We have so many cases and many of them are ongoing so that, rather than give detailed descriptions of a few individual cases, it will be more informative to give you an overview of some of the individuals we have met and the situations they have been dealing with.
The clients whose accounts follow have been given pseudonyms and some identifying details have been changed but the salient details have been retained. I shall try to group them together by outcomes in terms of successes, challenges and ongoing.
Some situations we have simply been able to help people resolve and this is always immensely satisfying, although there is always the possibility of the problem recurring in a different form, so we stay in touch with people and make sure they know we are still here if they need us.
Charles is a dark-skinned Latin American second-generation immigrant to North America. He came to Counterweight feeling very angry because his employer – a tech company – had begun to circulate emails saying that white employees needed to acknowledge and work to dismantle their white privilege and recognize the oppressed and subordinated status of people of color within the organization. This resulted in Charles receiving a flurry of emails from white colleagues acknowledging this.
Charles experienced this as deeply insulting as he held a senior position in the company and many of the emails came from his subordinates as well as his managers. He showed us a letter he intended to send. In it, he accused his employers of disrespecting his parents who had come to the country with nothing and worked hard to build a highly successful business and then send him to one of the best colleges where he excelled and then obtained an excellent job and rose quickly through the ranks. The emails from white people informing him he was in some way subordinate and inferior to them were insulting to him personally and disrespected his work and the value he added to the company. His language was, shall we say, less diplomatic than this summary suggests.
Counterweight helped Charles to edit his letter into one that essentially said the same thing but was more assertive than angry. It also spelled out more clearly that Critical Social Justice (CSJ) ideas about race were not universally appreciated by people of color and that, for some people from Charles’ cultural background, they were experienced as an insult to their honor, dignity and hard work. This subtle reframing of the letter to accord more with CSJ ideas about the need for cultural competence and the current initiative having spectacularly failed at it worked incredibly well- and quickly. Charles received an immediate apology and the company backed off from all CSJ initiatives. This is the only time a situation has been resolved so immediately and effectively! It usually takes considerably more work.
Janine is an American PhD student who had faced five years of ideological bullying because of her focus of study. She was the first of her family to go to university and did not fit easily into any political group although she leans left economically. Her area of study incorporated biology, psychology and spirituality, focused on women as a group without looking through the lens of any particular brand of feminism and without focusing on critical race, postcolonial/decolonial or queer theory. For this, she was bullied and hindered in her studies. Janine suffered largely from being too conciliatory and willing to compromise. She was also sympathetic to many arguments from within these theories and supportive of the scholars who used them. Unfortunately, they were not sympathetic to her and the campaign to push her out was relentless and took a great toll on her psychological wellbeing. It is significant that her greatest ally in defending her right not to study women’s experiences through a racial theoretical lens was an African American female academic. Nevertheless, Janine was outnumbered and demoralized.
After altering her manuscript dozens of times to accommodate the beliefs of her supervisors, Janine was left with something that no longer represented hers. At this point, she got tougher and determined to do her PhD her way and she contacted Counterweight. We were able to help Janine by assisting her with the framing of her letters to administration and practicing with her for meetings as well as providing her with a sympathetic listener. Janine felt this gave her strength although the credit for her toughness, persistence and endurance all goes to her. Few people would have been able to withstand such sustained bullying for so long without giving up and leaving academia. We were also extremely fortunate to have among our team an academic in the same field as Janine who was able to take an official supervisory role and genuinely support her. Janine will now, finally, complete her PhD, and she will go on to provide a service that will support many women through difficult times.
Jawhar is a scientist who migrated to a Western country to take up a position within a field of science that will save many lives. As a liberal, secular humanist previously living in a conservative Muslim culture, he had struggled somewhat to be accepted and had to keep many of his beliefs in liberal universalism, gender equality and LGBT equality to himself although he had supported female and gay scientists in his field and also opposed antisemitism. He had hoped that it would be easier to be a secular liberal humanist in a Western secular liberal democracy but he was surprised to find that it was not.
Jawhar found himself regarded as problematic and potentially Islamophobic for considering himself privileged (his family was wealthy), saying he had not experienced any prejudice as non-white immigrant with a Muslim name and espousing liberal humanist values and saying he was glad to be living somewhere where sexism and homophobia were much less common. He was bewildered by this, having not encountered Critical Social Justice beliefs in his former community, and turned to Counterweight to discover what he was doing wrong. We were able to give him a primer on the core beliefs of CSJ and provide him with some answers to questions that would be compatible with his liberal humanist beliefs but not enrage CSJ believers. Jawhar passed his second interview using these techniques. He feels a need to speak out more strongly in support of liberal humanism but will do so when more established in his career.
Jack is a white British man who works for the emergency services in a life-saving capacity. He became concerned about what he saw as attempts to divide the team by race and also to condescend to himself and his colleagues as ignorant of racism. Jack was, as are many men and women who are drawn to dangerous but vitally important life-saving professions, a plain spoken and action-orientated person. He did not mince his words when he declared that he had absolutely no intention of thinking about what color somebody was when acting to save their life. He also objected to the demonization of the police force alongside whom he and his colleague often worked to save lives. For this, Jack was threatened with disciplinary action and removed from promotional opportunities.
Counterweight was able to help Jack write his objections in firm but diplomatic language and to ask for clear information about what he was and wasn’t allowed to believe and say. We were also able to help him co-ordinate with his MP and a trade unionist. The results of this were that Jack’s superiors backed off from attempting to penalize him for his belief that race should be irrelevant and that racism is best overcome by team bonding activities and ceased to air politicised narratives on behalf of the service and compel Jack and his colleagues to pretend to believe them. Jack was offered the promotion that his years of exemplary service qualified him to receive. Jack also believes himself to now be better able to negotiate diplomatically but firmly and thus be a stronger leader within the emergency services.
Alex is a non-binary liberal humanist committed to freedom of belief and speech. Because they have never, in 40 years, felt either male or female, Alex uses the term “non-binary” and appreciates this experience being recognized. Because they are a liberal humanist, they do not object to people using other terms or concepts to describe this and also defend other people’s rights to hold and express different views on gender and sex entirely. Alex works in the charitable sector and is committed to social justice issues but very concerned about the authoritarian nature of Critical Social Justice approaches to issues of sex and gender and particularly the silencing of dissent and stifling of viewpoint diversity. They were very likely to lose their job at some point.
This combination of having a trans identity while being at odds with the CSJ approach to trans activism left Alex rather isolated and also at risk of being cancelled. Alex did not fit ideologically with gender critical trans people and so could not find a home there either. Counterweight found Alex’s situation unique and thus requiring of more thought. Our peer support team were able to provide a listener to help with the anxiety and isolation and by searching among our contacts, we were able to find a liberal LGBT group focused on the individual and sex-positivity generally who felt able to give Alex some support, a potential community and also consider them for a role within the organization. It is always likely to be difficult for Alex to find acceptance but they do now feel less isolated and more optimistic.
David contacted us concerned about his 12-year-old nephew who was entering adolescence and expressing doubts about his sexuality or his gender. David’s nephew was not sure at this time whether he was gay or transgender. David’s concern was that his brother and sister-in-law were inclined towards believing the child to be transgender and were also encouraging him to think about this and come to a decision. David had suggested to his brother that it might be better to just be open and supportive of his child and make sure he knew that he was loved and valued and that these questions were common in puberty, but without encouraging him to settle on a sexual or gender identity. David’s brother had responded with disappointment and interpreted David’s concerns as discouraging of his nephew’s potential trans identity.
David approached Counterweight because he was himself very liberal and keen to support his nephew if it turned out that he was gay or she was trans and he was concerned that his brother might be right and that he was being unsupportive. He asked us for a variety of books that he could read on the subject so that he could have a more informed and ethical view and also for advice about whether we thought he was being transphobic or whether he was right to be concerned. Counterweight provided David with some book suggestions and also reassured him that his concern that his nephew needed space and time to work out his sexuality or gender identity without any ideological pressure was a positive and responsible one. We encouraged David to spend time with his nephew just being supportive and having fun so that he had a space where he could speak to a trusted adult about these issues without being pushed in any direction. David appeared to be reassured by this and we felt glad that this adolescent had someone in his corner who would be a responsible sounding board.
Gareth is the father of three children whose elementary school had sent out an email saying that the school intended to begin focusing more on diversity, equity and inclusion issues. It used many of the CSJ buzzwords about whiteness and microaggressions and seemed to believe that unconscious bias training was a rigorous scientific way of combating prejudice. Gareth was very concerned about this and had a tendency to anxiety and so had begun to suffer from insomnia and panic attacks. He was very much afraid that an ideologically biased series of classes were about to be imposed on his young children but also that objecting to this could be mistaken for racism or could hinder genuinely inclusive initiatives to reduce racism. Counterweight connected him with a peer support listener who was able to help him talk through some of his circling thoughts.
Gareth then returned to the practical advice department where we asked him to set out what his concerns were and what his principles were. We then formed his (already quite good) letter into an even stronger one in which he primarily expressed support for teaching about racism but raised some concerns about the texts and ethical framework that would be used. He pointed out that the language in the email was very much that of an American framework that might not be inclusive of his ethnically, religiously and culturally diverse school community, none of whom were American. He detailed some of the ideas that could be unsuitable for young children and those with different worldviews. The school responded positively saying that he was more knowledgeable about these theories than they were and that they welcomed his feedback and suggestions for books. It seemed that in this case the school was simply repeating some fashionable jargon and that Gareth had been able to intervene and provide information that prevented it from uncritically importing a book list and teaching programme that would have been highly biased.
Armando was a white British researcher who worked both in industry and academia. He had converted to Hinduism as a young man, and most of his life outside work was focused on studying and training in the spiritual practices he learned from well-respected teachers in India. He lived for some time in India itself, studying directly with his teacher as well as teaching at the local university. Returning to the UK, he wrote an academic paper arguing for the value of some central tenets of an ancient holy text for use in research practice. His faith community and university colleagues approved of the paper. However, the paper was aggressively challenged by some academics of Indian origin whose primary belief system was CSJ approaches to decolonial feminist theory. He was accused of having done harm by supporting patriarchal religious texts and also having done so while being a white man.
Counterweight encouraged Armando to respond through a simple, direct statement of his faith position, and to assert his right to refuse to adopt actively atheistic, anti-religious worldviews as a required lens. Counterweight helped him understand the emotive double meanings of words used in the CSJ-based critique – such as “critical” and “harm” – and thus avoid falling into the trap of defensive self-justification. Once Armando understood how the CSJ academics were trying to manipulate his paper to be a vehicle for CSJ, with Counterweight’s help, he was able to put his position across with authenticity and calm assertiveness that seemed to make the problem go away.
Chloé is an indigenous woman who worked as an administrator in a psychiatric hospital. She had become increasingly concerned about the encroachment of CSJ ideas within her organisation. She already had a strong understanding of them. In particular, she was concerned about the concept of “whiteness” becoming dominant as an explanation for non-white people’s psychiatric conditions and the efficacy of identity-based theories generally for organizing patient care. She contacted Counterweight to talk through her plans for a meeting with her manager.
Counterweight practiced with Chloé for her meeting and found her to already be a confident and eloquent speaker who could address issues in a principled, knowledgeable, calm but assertive way. We discussed ways she could argue for including a greater diversity of worldviews and recommended that she ask for some specific reassurances that viewpoint diversity would be allowed and that neither staff nor patients would be required to identify in any particular way or consider their identity to be important if they didn’t view it as such. We recommended that she followed up this conversation with an email summary. Chloe reported back that the meeting had gone well and that she had received the assurances she sought and also been able to recommend alternative reading.
Sadly, some of our clients have experienced situations that have not worked out well and looking at what went wrong and why is valuable. We continue to offer them moral support and community.
Simon was very concerned about some strongly CSJ based meetings going on at his workplace. Although these meetings were voluntary, he feared that the culture of the workplace would be affected by them. Simon wanted the meetings to be stopped but we could not support him with that as they were voluntary and so did not constitute an imposition of CSJ on anyone. We could support him in expressing his concerns about the impact such strong ideological ideas can have on team cohesion and in seeking assurances that different views could also be discussed, disagreements offered and that nobody would be pressured to attend these meetings.
Simon was very well-read on CSJ theories and very familiar with many examples of them having damaged or destroyed an institution. This had led him to send long emails and have lengthy meetings in which he imparted a great deal of information on these subjects. He was not wrong in anything he said, but the effect was rather overwhelming for his managers who were considerably less informed on the subject. Counterweight recommended Simon to slow down, provide simpler and more accessible information and try to work with his managers to a greater extent. Unfortunately, this did not work, and Simon’s managers are refusing to communicate further with him on the subject. We think this situation could have worked out better had a simpler and more co-operative dialogue been established from the start. See our Guide to Assessing CSJ Problems.
Tom was a white American man who worked for a children’s charity. He got along particularly well with one of his colleagues who was not white. He asked her out on a date while being very clear that if she was not interested, he would never bother her on the subject again. She said that she was not interested in him romantically and he never broached the issue again and the friendship, though awkward at first, soon resumed and became comfortable again.
Unfortunately, this was not accepted by a third colleague who held strong CSJ views and Tom was reported as a sexual predator to his manager. When the manager asked what the inappropriate behaviour had been in Tom’s approach to his colleague, he was informed that the problem was that Tom was white and the colleague was not and that this produced a power imbalance that was oppressive. Asking someone out while white did not break any rules so this complaint was dropped. However, everything Tom did after this point was problematized by the activist colleague until the manager was pressured to require Tom to attend racial sensitivity training. Tom refused to do this on principle as he believed his record of working well with underprivileged children, most of whom were black, and his consistent opposition to racism should speak for itself. Tom was fired. There is very little Tom could have done to avoid this situation apart from not to have asked out a woman of a different race to himself. Counterweight cannot advise people to avoid interracial dating as this is racist, illiberal nonsense.
Ivy is a small business owner and a feminist who has posted some gender critical views online and also condemned pornography as dangerous to women. She encountered trouble when offering work to a trans individual who was also a CSJ trans activist. Ivy was well aware that the individual was trans but offered them the job and a friendly work environment because their work was good and because her gender critical views do not lead her to believe that it is ethical to be unkind to or discriminate against trans people. Unfortunately, the individual who had been offered the work then searched Ivy’s name and discovered her gender critical views. Ivy was then accused of transphobia and disrespecting and hating the existence of trans people despite having offered the trans person in question work and continuing to commend their work and to hold the offer open after being subjected to such accusations. Ivy was also condemned for cultural appropriation because her businesses provided Latin American food while she herself is of European descent.
Ivy became the target of a social media dogpile and calls to boycott her business to which she responded by inviting the critics of her gender critical views to have a conversation with her about them. She remained warm and friendly throughout the exchanges and appeared calm and confident although she was in constant contact with Counterweight throughout these exchanges and was, in reality, very distressed by the abuse and afraid for her business. She was right to be. At the current time of writing, her business has decreased by 50% and, if this continues, she will be unlikely to be able to stay afloat. Counterweight could only offer Ivy moral support and encourage her that her dignified and civil approach was commendable in the face of such abuse and the campaign to destroy her livelihood. We hope to help her raise support in her local area.
Sarah is a white scientist who supported CSJ approaches to anti-racism. During a lecture, she made a comment that she then thought could have been a racist microaggression and apologized for it. She was fired and sunk into a deep depression. Counterweight was contacted by Sarah’s friend and colleague who asked us if we could help Sarah. The friend was an African American liberal leftist who told us that systemic racism remains a huge problem in the United States but that neither Sarah nor her comment were manifestations of that problem. She was worried that Sarah was too upset to defend herself and needed support.
Counterweight reached out to Sarah and offered support. Sarah responded and said she was ashamed and heartbroken and accepted the offer to be referred to our peer support team and meet with a listener. However, she did not accept any practical support and we have not heard from her since. We hope that she will come back to us at some point and we can help her strategise ways to rebuild her life.
Very many of our cases are ongoing because authoritarian CSJ initiatives, particularly in workplaces, once set in motion, tend to pop up in different forms repeatedly, leaving the CSJ resister within the workplace often feeling that they are playing ‘whack-a-mole’ by addressing one problem after another. This was the case for one of our very first clients who is now a central member of our team and responsible for creating, facilitating and editing much of the media content you see on our site.
Harriet (her real name, not a pseudonym this time) became concerned about the emergence of CSJ ideas in her business nearly a year ago when plans for mandatory Unconscious Bias Training (UBT) were announced. Harriet had been aware of and worried about the growth of CSJ for some time before this but now felt she had a moral imperative to address it. This caused her some anxiety as she could not afford to lose her job. She contacted Counterweight which was, at that time, simply a Discord server and sought support.
Counterweight helped Harriet to draft a polite, cooperative, but firm letter to her employer requesting that the UBT training be made voluntary. In it, Harriet stressed her principled opposition to racism and her concerns about both the efficacy and ethics of UBT. This resulted in months of email exchanges and meetings during which Harriet was cajoled to comply and finally threatened with disciplinary action if she did not undergo this unscientific and intrusive form of mind retraining. We supported Harriet every step of the way but her unflinching, calm, polite persistence is largely due to her own determined and consistently principled character (which is why we wanted her for Counterweight and a large part of why Counterweight is thriving as it is).
Harriet underwent a very stressful investigative process during which she continued to calmly detail the problems with UBT and its tendency to increase racial tensions rather than decrease them. She addressed course materials specifically, referred her employers to the Equality Act and stressed her willingness to engage with and complete more ethical and productive diversity initiatives and courses. So calm and persuasive was she, that not only was the case against her dropped, but she was invited to join the Diversity and Inclusion committee, where she now offers guidance on training programmes and succeeded in having made all future D&I training voluntary. It took Harriet eight months to achieve her goal and she will continue achieving it both in her day job and for Counterweight.
Stefan is a teacher. He was concerned about information circulated among the students which recommended affirmation of transgender identity among trans youth as well as using much language from queer theory approaches to trans activism. He responded by sending a polite email suggesting that if the school were going to provide information about gender identity to adolescents, that they take a more balanced approach and include the advice of relevant researchers in the field who recommended a supportive explorative approach and also the existence and experiences of detransitioners.
Stefan’s suggestion was rejected by the administration and an official complaint was made against him by a member of staff who was themselves trans. The complainant claimed that Stefan’s suggestion had harmed them, made them feel unsafe and unable to come to work. Stefan was a pre-existing client of Counterweight and so he ran a responding letter by us in which he pointed out that he had been very supportive of this colleague and made many efforts on their behalf to make them feel included and valued. It currently seems likely that Stefan will receive an official warning. Stefan remains stoical about this and determined to fight it if necessary. He believes he has solid grounds on which to do so. Stefan is likely to repeatedly need to act as a brake on CSJ initiatives at his school and intends to do so. We will help him.
Calvin is a black British engineer who is facing repeated attempts to introduce racial diversity training programmes into his organization. He has had some success at resisting being compelled to attend any of these largely because it is difficult to accuse him of white fragility or wanting to preserve his white privilege. Nevertheless, he continues to be negatively affected by them in a number of ways. Firstly, plans to factor in compliance with EDI plans into performance reviews is likely to directly affect his pay. Secondly, he argues, initiatives that benefit middle management from racial minority backgrounds are likely to undermine recognition of their own achievements by their own hard work and ability including those who, like him, achieved that position before the initiative. Thirdly, being one of very few non-white employees in his company, Calvin finds the burden of being the one to have to constantly address the issue arduous. His white colleagues are generally too afraid of being thought racist to do so. This gets in the way of him advancing in his career.
Calvin came to Counterweight with various problems of these kinds as they arose and we supported him with the writing of letters and with connecting him with related organisations and individuals who could help as well as offering him moral support and strategic advice. Calvin finds our support to have been valuable, but again, the person doing all the work with calm, patient, principled persistence is Calvin himself. He is particularly good at taking a universal liberal approach and consistently objecting to CSJ approaches to anti-racism for the harm they do to black people and other racial minorities, for the racist assumptions they make about white people and for their overall failures to be either productive or ethical. We think Calvin will win eventually. If anybody can, he can.
(Note: we have two other engineers going through almost precisely the same process. In one case, a mixed-race technician is likely to leave his job unless they stop sending him emails about how he thinks as a “BAME” individual and creating a hostile work environment by having constant CSJ antiracist meetings which are voluntary but nevertheless causing significant damage to team cohesion. He regrets this but knows his skills are in demand so is not fearful for his future security. In the other, an autistic white engineer seems likely to continue being largely ignored but is determined to persist anyway and hopefully make a dent. We intend to help him. He is also invaluable for keeping meticulous records of everything that is happening in his organization which is a public service and thus answerable to the public. As the evidence mounts, it will become harder for his superiors to brush off his concerns and easier to persuade local authorities to intervene if necessary.)
Emma is studying to be a therapist. She is concerned about the damage being done to talking therapies generally by CSJ theories because they focus on identity groups and political power dynamics instead of the individual, their unique experiences and their particular difficulties. This focus, she told us, also significantly reduces the extent to which a therapist can empathise with and be allowed to understand people with different identities. She is far from alone in being alarmed about this and the group Critical Therapy Antidote was formed to address precisely this.
However, because she is still studying to be a therapist, Emma faces a dilemma. If she pushes back at CSJ ideas during her studies, she is unlikely to qualify and society will lose a therapist who still engages with individuals and their unique experiences and problems. If she does not challenge the ideas within her studies and write papers she can believe in, she will lose her sense of integrity and her passion for therapy. Therefore, Counterweight continues to help her to walk this line by looking at her essay plans and research proposals and helping her to produce work that will not create a flashing neon ‘problematic’ sign over her head but that still has rigour and integrity. This can be quite a challenge but Emma is up for it and so are we.
As should be clear from the case studies listed here, Counterweight exists to help anyone – regardless of race, gender, sexual identity, political or religious beliefs – suffering from the imposition of an illiberal and unethical ideology. We were not created to help, and do not only receive requests for help from, any particular demographic because CSJ does not actually serve to uplift or speak for any one demographic. We will keep supporting – and fighting for – the many principled and courageous people who have asked for our help to defend the freedom necessary for a functioning liberal society from the ground-up.
Helen Pluckrose is the Founder of Counterweight and co-author of Cynical Theories. She is a liberal humanist.