Monday, December 4

Screw social justice

Actually, that title is just for impact. In a certain, very specific sense, I do agree with it, but in the sense that I'm sure first came to the minds of most people, I'm totally against it. Good grief. I go to a university where taking a class with a social justice requirement is necessary for graduation and am active in a number of groups who hold the concept of social justice near and dear. Most importantly perhaps, my friends are very much for this concept as well, and that statement could be one of the best possible if I desired to alienate them.

Offering my definition of social justice would no doubt help clarify my position. It is the ideal of making a more just world be it through economics or diginty or whatever. Aiding in the development of clean drinking water and reliable sources of food in the Third World is social justice. So is taking a hammer to concept that other ethnicities and races and sexes are inferior and don't deserve the same rights and potential as others. Short of believing that it's up to these people to raise themselves up, wholly on their own, I can see no way of arguing with this position.

My problem is with how I see this ideal pursued. Social justice is achieved by turning other countries and societies into the United States. A simple search on Google for ecological footprint ought to demonstrate the impossibility of that situation, (Maybe I should be a little less cavalier in that statement as Malthus was proved wrong.) but the greater problem, for me, lies in a different direction. Do other societies really want to be like the United States? Materially, we're doing very well for ourselves. We have indoor heating, cooling, plumbing, a veritable multitude of entertainment options, all manner of food choices, amazing transportation abilities, need I go on? Largely, our needs and wants are met and exceeded, but we aren't happy. Stress and obesity are epidemics of a sort that are hammering all members of American society. Blame it on marketers trying to cultivate a mindset that believes it will be satisfied once they make that next purchase or whatever. The problem remains. By and large, we are not content or happy people. Social justice will fail if it can make the American lifestyle attainable to every person on the planet (barring the current economic impossibility) but still leave them unhappy.

I do not dispute the necessity of improving the situations of people whose basic needs are not met. Yesterday a friend questioned why another friend would go outside in the sub-twenty weather in a T-shirt to meditate. He said it was to attempt and transcend the cold. She said his transcendence would be better served by putting on a jacket or coat or something. This whole debate and my own thoughts are worth a post in itself, but I'll let it stand here to say transcendence is fine for we who have the option to put on our jackets or go inside. Let's not force it on those who don't have options. That's what social justice should be seeking to accomplish, the meeting of needs and the creation of societies where all people are allowed to match their potential and are judged according to their merit.

The next step is breeding contentment with what we have, something we Westerners would do well to learn ourselves. I don't remember thinking of this until I saw City of God. Those people lived in a Brazilian slum. Their lives were led amongst squalor, but they were not miserable people. Frustrated and angry? Yeah but not whiny. My mom is fond of quoting some study that found the happiest group of people in the United States are old black women. Not my first I guess and I suspect not that of most people. Why is that? Because happiness is not dependent on possession. So much of our entertainment seems to me to be nothing more than a distraction. Hear some clever lines and see some flashy explosions or exotic landscapes and forget about whatever is really bothering us, more likely than not, that unscratchable itch being wanting more; power, prestige, money, stuff, whatever. That needs to be killed.

Before I end this post, something needs to be clarified. I do not believe that all discontent is bad. After all, it is what drives progress, and no person should be content with settling for less than their best or not fulfiling their potential. We simply must identify those areas where discontent is wasted.

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