Social Justice — All About Advantages

Posted: July 12, 2013 in Economics, Environment, Philosophy, psychology

Social Justice, All About Advantages — Cecil Denney

What does it mean when one says they are an advocate for Social Justice? Surely they don’t mean social equality.

  • People are different.
  • Cultures are different.
  • Localities and their resources are different.
  • Opportunities for achievement are different.
  • Families are different. Etc.

The context in which social beings exist are therefore inherently different. In the historical and cultural systems of the United States, we like to quote such things as “All men are created equal” and in our flag pledge “… with liberty and justice for all.” Unfortunately, these foundational assertions fail to be incorporated into the fabric of our social systems and practices. The more disclaimed “greed is good” is more privately ingrained in us as individuals and our organizations. It seems that our personal well-being tends to trump other considerations. It is not that we are selfish, just that we are fundamentally human, looking out for number one. Total equality in all things does not appeal to anyone who enjoys the vitality of being alive.

Yet, we can not deny the impact of compassion. Confronted with the reality of pain and suffering, the mirror brain neurons experience the pain vicariously. If we see a child about to drown, most of us would jump in to save them at risk to our own safety. There is altruism to consider as well, a sincere interest in the well-being of others and willingness to share what material goods or advantage we possess so that others can be well too.

Contrary to some definitions, social justice is not really about equality or even liberty. Injustice is about advantage. It does not matter if the advantage is based on money, opportunity, intelligence, appearance, cordiality, race, ethnicity, sex, national origin, familial relationships, tribe, or in any other way that people can differentiate themselves from others. Injustice is about the misapplication of advantage or its misuse. Advantage can be written into laws, exist in cultural traditions or be prejudicial habits. Advantage is naturally sought by our competitive human nature, stemming from our historical competition for primary resources, for survival. Advantage is the basis for cultural class structures when consciously or unconsciously utilized for personal or tribal advantage.

So how does one seek social justice in the presence of a multitude of advantages unconsciously used. It begins with a recognition of ones own advantageous characteristics. As with most cultural wrongs in society, it is far easier to recognize injustice in others than in one’s self. (The beam in the other guys eye…) So, overcoming the detrimental side of advantage, whether individually or within a group of affiliated individuals, justice begins with self-awareness. Of course, that does not solve the problems of injustice, but it begins a process of recognition of injustice and being focused on one’s self or group, gives one person or groups of people the easiest place to begin to implement a more just society.

We can’t do away with advantages. We can decide how to ameliorate their impact. Equality is not the goal. Equal opportunity or more precisely balanced opportunity can create a more just social structure. In that structure, self-aware advantages are moderated by compassion, altruism and a desire for justice, a desire that one’s own advantages are not used to the dis-advantage of others. Justice dictates that advantage not be used to enhance ones own life while simultaneously operating to close off opportunities of those with fewer advantages. There is that obvious tendency to advocate that other people change as opposed to accept change in ourselves or our clan.

Sometimes social justice is couched in the cloak of “rights.” People have a right to… you name it. Some definitions equate human rights and social justice. Yet, Social justice is experienced in the context of giving just opportunity as opposed to getting ones rights of opportunity. We might say this or that is not right, but the beginning of social justice is in recognizing our participation in what is not right and sincerely seeking ways to respond accordingly. In the earliest written expressions of social justice in the Western world, the ten commandments, it is clear the emphasis is on our responsibilities, not our rights.

Social Justice is not the same as charity. Social Justice does not yield to quick fixes. It is larger than an individual, a committee, a church, a neighborhood. But, Social Justice can be practiced at each one of these levels to improve the social contract of living together fairly and with compassion for lack of advantage. Experiencing Social Justice comes first in stories, the story of real people and the struggles they experience in an unjust social context. It also comes in personally experienced relationships with the disadvantaged.

Being an advocate for Social Justice is complex and difficult. Yet, social justice is not something abstract, something out there, but something inside of us, reflecting the deep aspects of our spiritual self. We discover how to be a net asset to the world, not just another liability. All of us will have to think more deeply about our advantages and how we use them to dis-advantage others. How do we make unconscious choices, that are seemingly private choices within the social context where many are impacted, maybe not noticing the drowning disadvantaged right in front of us? How do we choose what to do as opposed to just talking about it? How do we organize ourselves to work collectively for a more just society? Where do we put our energy to be most effective?

Then, if we can address this complex topic of Social Justice, just maybe we can find others who also want to engage with us in this complex challenge.

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