The organisation that came to be known as Counterweight began a year ago in response to a massive surge of SOS calls. These came from people under siege from authoritarian Critical Social Justice (CSJ) ideology. This was at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests, to which many businesses responded by implementing CSJ-based policies and training programmes. Consequently, the majority of the people seeking help were blue or white collar employees and most of them were complaining of “Robin DiAngelo” concepts of whiteness and white fragility being imposed upon them. These “trainings” required our white correspondents to affirm themselves as racists. They most commonly objected to this on two main ethical grounds: firstly, that they abhorred racism and did not want to have to pretend to be racist to keep their jobs and, secondly, that assigning negative characteristics—like racism—to skin colour was, in fact, racist. Meanwhile, our non-white correspondents spoke of being expected to affirm their own belief in CSJ concepts of anti-racism which they objected to on two main ethical grounds: firstly that they actually had different views on racism and how to oppose it and did not want to have to pretend to believe in CSJ versions to keep their jobs and, secondly, that assigning belief systems to them because of their race was, in fact, racist.
We also heard from a significant number of people complaining of being expected to affirm a CSJ version of gender ideology. This included an expectation to declare their gender identity even if they did not believe themselves to have a gender identity and had ethical objections to the concept of gender. The two groups that found this demand to affirm a certain ideological position on gender to conflict most with their own ethical frameworks were feminists and religious believers. However, more people were neither and had no strong political or religious views about gender but were concerned about the new requirement to pretend to have one.
Some of the people who came to Counterweight were not employees. Another large group of concerned people were parents. At the same time that these workplace trainings began, parents reported that schools had also begun to increase the teaching of CSJ beliefs about racism. They told us their children were being taught to believe that they were inherently racist or inherently oppressed by racism via invisible power systems of whiteness that affected everything. This, they said, was increasingly replacing the teaching of more empirical approaches to understanding historical racism and how it still impacts people today. White parents were concerned about their children being required to pretend to have been socialised into racist beliefs which actually ran counter to the values they had been taught at home. Non-white parents were more afraid of the impact a belief in invisible racial power systems could have on their children’s confidence and ability to succeed. Parents of mixed-race children had a particular problem with their children becoming confused and upset and unsure how to think about their parents.
At the same time as we were hearing from employees and parents, we were also hearing from academics and students who found that CSJ ideology, already quite dominant in universities, was ramping up considerably. This was making it increasingly difficult to do non-CSJ scholarship and further intensifying the atmosphere of fear and self-censorship on campuses.
There were also many communications from people who were suffering the effects of the surge of CSJ ideology outside institutions. These ranged from people who had suffered social media dog-piles for expressing a non-CSJ view–one young woman was near suicidal over such an occurrence–to people whose friendship groups had broken down or whose families had become split over CSJ ideology.
We also heard from a number of people who suffered from anxiety disorders, particularly OCD, and they reported struggling with increased anxiety and fears that they were, in fact, racist and terrible people or that they could be believed to be. They had difficulty finding therapists who could help them gain perspective on this as therapy had also become deeply infected by CSJ beliefs. Meanwhile, people who were neurologically atypical–particularly those on the autistic spectrum–reported finding it very difficult to grasp the social requirements of complying with CSJ ideas and being particularly prone to accidentally breaking the rules. This, they told us, had caused them to become more anxious in social interactions and more likely to avoid them. This was a particular problem for neurologically atypical people who already faced significant challenges in this area and now felt even more isolated and lonely.
Therefore, those of us who had been publicly critical of CSJ ideas were suddenly being deluged with a huge variety of practical and psychological problems. They were directly caused by the authoritarian imposition of Critical Social Justice ideas on a vast range of individuals in all spheres of life and of all races, religious and non-religious beliefs, and cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. Helen Pluckrose, a writer on these issues, simply could not manage her inbox. Something clearly needed to be set up to remedy them and it needed to be done in the style of emergency triage. There simply was not time to create a structured organisation and so we began as a Discord server. This was built by Kevin Lowe, who used his skills in information technology to build a private Discord that people could be poured into. They could then be connected with each other and provided with support and information collectively while immediate emergencies could be triaged. Carrie Clark drew on her experience with the Citizens’ Advice to get a picture of the kind of help the members needed. She began to develop advice pathways and resource banks to provide the most relevant resources in the most accessible form and direct members to them.
Helen, Carrie and Kevin were thus the founders of Counterweight, which then gained a website, a YouTube channel, and a peer support service as well. We also formed connections and referral pathways with other organisations who could offer specific advice and support in various countries and in specific occupational spheres. The website was developed by Kevin. Harriet Terrill and Isobel Marston produced, facilitated and edited important educational media content that has now been used by thousands of people. Harriet and Issy are two brilliant and dedicated women who somehow manage to do all of that while working a full-time job (in Harriet’s case) or being in full-time study (in Issy’s). Meanwhile, Jennifer Friend rose to the occasion of trying to meet the overwhelming need for emotional support spectacularly. She brought her qualifications in social work and therapy to bear on developing a peer support team that offers individual and group listening services while also managing a demanding day job.
In addition to these wonderful, wonderful women (who have been denied any opportunity to edit out the descriptions of themselves), we have also benefited hugely from numerous volunteers, many of whom cannot be named for fears of their own cancellation. Of those who can, we are indebted to David Bernstein for his excellent networking, business and writing skills. Also to Obaid Omer, Benjamin Boyce, Ilana Redstone, Jennifer Richmond and Winkfield Twyman Jr. for their podcasting and video-making on important subjects. We owe a lot to Daniel Sharp, James Petts, Charlie Stanton, Mike Young and Laura Weaver for donating their reasoning, design and writing skills and Jevon Conroy for his legal advice to Counterweight. Our clients are particularly grateful to Aaron Kindsvatter, Leslie Elliot, Jeff Fullington and Justin Ceneviva for dedicating their time to listening and helping them through their anxiety, stress and social isolation.
Along the way we have been offered help and support by numerous other people with relevant expertise or contacts simply because they wanted to help people in trouble. Others have sent us small (or occasionally larger) one-off or monthly donations just because they want to help other people whom they do not know but whose freedom and well-being they care about. Very often, these people are on low income themselves but wish to help others on low income. Also, many of our clients whose situations have been resolved remained connected to Counterweight, offering us their practical or financial support. The overwhelming support we have received has been heartwarming and kept us going, encouraging us that what we do is important and that there are many people who see that.
We have had a remarkable first year even though it has involved a great deal of what is known as ‘flying by the seat of one’s pants’ on one side of the Atlantic with occasional bursts of what is referred to as ‘flapping about like a headless chicken’ on the other. Unlike most organisations that create their model and plan their structures and set their systems in place before inviting people to use them, we have had to build Counterweight around the people who came to it and what they needed. This has resulted in a highly individualised service in which we mostly receive people in trouble and take details of their situation and work out how we can help them through it both practically and emotionally.
In practical terms, we aim to help people address an emerging authoritarian CSJ problem in their organisation in the most effective way possible while minimising the risk to themselves. We do this mostly by helping them to write or to practice articulating their concerns in a polite and cooperative tone and in a knowledgeable and principled way and one that is proportionate to the policy or training programme being proposed. We provide people with accessible information and walkthroughs to help them strategise for addressing their issue knowledgeably and appropriately. We encourage them to take a calm but firm and persistent approach as this is the best way to achieve a productive, ongoing dialogue and a positive outcome. We cannot eradicate the risks, however, and we cannot guarantee a positive outcome, so we also help people consider their options and the likelihood of success and the potential consequences of failure. This helps them decide to what degree they feel able to push back. There are many levels of resistance that can be taken to authoritarian CSJ initiatives and there is no shame in being cautious and considering the need to be able to feed and house yourself and your family.
Sometimes people are so anxious and conflicted about the issue they are facing that they find it difficult to consider their options. They feel overwhelmed, isolated and afraid. In these cases, the peer support listening service we offer can be of great benefit. It helps people to feel heard, to articulate precisely what is happening and to think things through in a private and non-judgemental space. Many have told us how much it has helped them simply to feel free to speak. If one cannot speak, it becomes hard to think, gain perspective and consider options and strategies and it then becomes easy to feel overwhelmed and paralysed, afraid and isolated. Once their heads are a little clearer, we can focus on practical strategizing.
Often, we have been able to help people push back at authoritarian CSJ initiatives and protect themselves and their colleagues from being compelled to affirm beliefs they do not hold and have ethical objections to. Sadly, sometimes the best we can do is let people know they are not alone and that we see and hear them and can connect them to others to enable them to cope better with the stressful situation. Sometimes we can refer people to organisations that can offer more specialised assistance and we also receive referrals from other organisations. Very many of the people who come to us have ongoing issues with their employer, university or child’s school and so are long-term members of our community whom we advise and support through whatever new obstacle to freedom of belief and viewpoint diversity has arisen.
Our aim is to provide assistance that helps an individual address the problem in their organisation internally. Very rarely do we get personally involved but have occasionally written a letter from Counterweight attempting mediation or accompanied a client to a meeting for that purpose. In nearly every case that we helped bring to a successful conclusion the employer or organisation had no knowledge that the individual had sought advice from Counterweight. Because we operate largely behind the scenes it can be hard to show that we are actually doing anything productive and encourage people to support us so we are grateful to those individuals who were willing to share their experiences which we house in our reviews section.
Those reviews were from employees or people in vulnerable positions within universities or schools or organisations or industries. However, some of our clients are employers or people in positions of power in such institutions. We are glad to have been able to help them devise policies and protections for their employees and students that safeguard them from both hostility and discrimination on the grounds of their immutable characteristics and defend their freedom of belief and conscience. We know there are many employers out there who want to do this and we hope to increase the number who can and do.
Ours is a highly individualistic, patchwork approach to helping people by doing whatever we can one person, one organisation at a time, but it creates a groundswell and a community and it builds and grows. There is a hunger for a liberal pushback to authoritarian CSJ issues through which people can say:
I abhor racism and other bigotries and I recognise that we still have work to do to oppose them. I will support all ethical and evidence-based policies that further the goal of social justice. Critical Social Justice is not fit for that purpose and it is not ethical or effective and I will not pretend to believe it is.
Counterweight intends to help fulfill that need.
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