One of the many flaws with contemporary leftist thought is the blind favoritism for underdog causes and the assumption that intersectionalism is a good way of accounting for where someone stands on a privilege chart that determines the legitimacy of someone’s critiques of those above them. When punching up at some supposedly more powerful people is always to be accepted, it is forgotten that every effort to punch up at someone on one dimension is simultaneously punching down in another dimension. In fact, I would like to posit that every single conflict between different people or institutions or ideologies is done with a desire to punch down on some dimension and to frame a conflict so that one is punching down rather than punching up. What has made matters different in contemporary times is that it has become necessary to disguise and to fail to admit the aspects in which one is punching down because it makes one appear like a bully, even if the framing of disputes and the avoidance of fair dealing in contemporary conflicts makes it clear that punching down remains a vital aspect in seeking victory in any contest. The fact that contemporary leftist thought does not account for these multiple dimensions is yet another aspect in which supposed social justice fails ultimately to be just or accurate in its reasoning.
How is it that combatants simultaneously punch up and down in their conflicts with others? How is it that “oppressed” minorities act in the contemporary world? Well, they seek to corrupt institutions, engage in brutally violent protests and intimidation efforts of their supposed enemies, seek to gain institutional power to shape policy and delegitimize their critics and rivals, and so on. None of this is punching up. All of it is seeking some sort of advantage vis-a-vis others. Nor is this isolated. Plaintiffs shop around for favorable courts to file in so as to gain an advantage in their lawsuits. Throughout history armies with quantitative deficiencies have always appealed to or sought qualitative advantages to even things out or reverse disadvantages into advantages. So it was that Confederates thought that one rebel could whip ten Yankees when in fact they could not prevail against 2 to 3 Yankees in the Civil War and found their logistical weaknesses and backwards slaveowning society decisive disadvantages. Hitler found out similarly that German technology could not prevail against Soviet superiority in numbers aided by American lend-lease. And on and on the examples will multiply themselves through history.
Indeed, if we look at our own hostile interactions with others, we will see that much of our efforts is spent in seeking to fight our fights on our strongest territory. How we choose to resolve our conflicts with others and throw our weight around is indicative of what strengths we believe that we possess relative to our rivals and opponents. For example, if we tend to fight our debates using logic and reason, we are punching down in the sense that we view ourselves as more intelligent and better informed than those we are arguing with. If we seek to throw around institutional power, we trust in our political sense and powerful allies rather than in the justice of our case. If we make appeals to justice and fairness and equity we believe that we are dealing with those who are less righteous and just than we are and seeking to punch down on the level of moral authority. It does not strictly matter in terms of our calculations whether we are right or not, for often we find ourselves surprised if we underestimate our opposition, but rather it is worthwhile for us to remember that the very existence of a conflict depends on multiple parties not only differing in terms of their judgments and opinions but also on the way that they wish to frame and resolve those disagreements in a forum that is most favorable to them.
Why is this so hard for us to realize and admit? If people wish to be viewed as underdogs engaging in a heroic struggle against powerful bullies, as is common in the contemporary world, it is uncharitable and damaging to our own self-image to admit that we are engaging in selective framing to our best advantage so as to turn a disadvantageous struggle into something approaching the ease of clubbing a baby seal. To admit that our framing of debates and our characterization of others and the way that we view and treat others is self-serving and often hypocritical and full of double standards and gross misrepresentations of others and ourselves is, in our minds, to concede too much to people who are unworthy of respect and dignity and honor. Victory matters so much to us that we often forget what happens to us when we seek to win unjustly. In viewing ourselves through the point of view of victims and disadvantaged people we forget the way that we can easily become bullies ourselves to others, while failing to recognize that we and our enemies are not so different after all, except that we can see the worst of others clearly while denying the fallen human aspects of our own perspective and behavior. If we could see the troll in ourselves we would be more amused and less offended by the trolls all around us, and we would be less quick to accept every claim that someone was being oppressed, when we saw the way that we like to seek conflicts when we perceive an advantage, and could then figure that others were doing the same themselves, only proving that we are all human alike.