Some people are confused……confused about “social justice” and what it is.
I am not seeking to define it. I am seeking to carve some intelligence into the word, term, concept, action.
So much of the US notion of social justice is from within the reality of living in the Empire.
It is a crumbling empire, no less. But it is empire.
When Americans think of people who are “activists,” they think of a whole array of people who seem to be shouting out for things that they feel are morally right, necessary, necessary for their particular concerns and people and political persuasion.
Disconnectedness—it is one of the main effects of extreme individualism. Individualism, is different from empowered individuality. Individualism is somewhat of an ideology, something made superior.
With US concerns for individual freedom, communities suffer. Since most white people and wealthy people in the US, as well as a good portion of the middle class and the homeless, do not think of themselves as being part of any community, it even gets more precarious when working with struggling for a different world. The legal structure and the institutions in the US, provide legal freedoms to some degree, for individuals. For groups, communities, there is very very very little, if any, recourse. Case after case is thrown out in favor of 5000 individuals having to file individual claims to right a wrong done to a whole community. In most cases, these individual cases are drawn out over years. For the economic and social underclass, funds run out and energy is sapped and the three jobs they may have to go to becomes priority. The cases become weaker. Or the powers hire the attorneys that are high-powered and block any power that the underclassed individual may have.
Disconnected individuals (a fair amount of “normal” and not-so-normal people in the US especially–and increasingly in all first-world countries) tend to sabotage works and solidarities and political commitments that could be good for everyone, or at least a larger population of different kinds of people of differing socio-economic, ethnic, cultural, genders and sexual orientations, etc., feeding into division and conflict, violence and rupture. They become “identities” which are separate from other “identities.” So goes the ongoing disconnectedness. But I do think there are those forces that create these isolations need rupturing.
And when we speak of activism, those people wanting their “rights” to privileges, and the right to maintain them, are put on equal footing with those fighting for difference, for survival. Fighting to MAINTAIN PRIVILEGES is NOT social justice. Privilege and how it operates, makes invisible and priority, over those who have and are considered less, must be looked at and actions taken in regards to what is seen and realized, for a “social justice” to actually happen. In other words, as many US Americans seek to access privileges of something that is defined as the “freedom to get, the freedom to be….” social justice is diminished because privileges cannot afford an “other.”
Here, we see the link between what many Americans call “Freedom” and the middle class ideals. As I’ve mentioned before, people often confuse the access to middle-class, European elite (white), masculine and militarized material, emotional and spiritual values, as “freedom.” Then this gets confused with “Liberation.” Going on vacations, to “get away from reality” and “rest”—which are bourgeois leisure ideals made socially dominant as a desire in life by elites during the colonial days between the 17th to 19th centuries, becomes somewhat like the popular confusion about “liberation” these days. Social liberation means, in this scenario, some kinds of escape. And then guess what? Things deemed “in the way” of this escape, is deemed as some word exaggerated and confused with non-liberation. We learn to block anything that stands in the way (or seen as standing in the way) of our disconnected and individualized freedom to escape, as needing to be disappeared, violated, jailed, tortured, maimed, stopped, killed. Psychologically, culturally, intellectually, with the variety of arms and weapons of mind, heart and body that we have learned in the system of continual disconnection and valorized individuality (above solidarity, community, living with difference).
So in these ways of thinking and thrusts of behavior that I have mentioned above, social justice is suffering. It is definitely not dead or gone. It is in pain. It is in pain because fewer and fewer people have the inclination, desire, time, and/or energy, to struggle with self and community enough. Fewer and fewer people have the creative thinking enough to get out of the box that the Empire holds us in. As the social-political forces that we have all internalized, confuse us and run our bodies as “spectacles” —as Guy Debord (December 1931-November 1994, French postmodern philosopher) has pointed to for us, we have a harder time interpreting the difference.
It is made worse by the crash of cultures, values, times and places that are incoherent. Incoherence is NOT THE PROBLEM!! It is our inability to not do violence to incoherence that is the problem!!!! We incorporate, assimilate, violate, manipulate, imprison, sequester, make sick, make knowable–and therefore no longer that thing itself but our own other interpretation of that thing–person–place–time) that we create. Now the world seems smaller and more alike. Less diversity.
Put them away, make them criminals, make it hard on them, annihilate them, torture them, jail them, make them sick, control those people and those communities, feel sentimental about it after they are dead, it makes us good and holy. On and on. Refugees from ourselves—as we see refugees and the stateless, as if all of us were states. It’s a joke. But we have definitely internalized the state. There’s no escape. How about starting with a realistic assessment and then assessing how we may do things differently?
The reactionary definition of “community,” in the eyes of many individualists, is that communities are like herds of cattle and animals, without minds, aimless and not able to think for themselves. This dualistic notion of community has been developed through years and centuries of learning that the communities our ancestors killed or destroyed in order to create the wealthy “global” in favor of an individualism that was able to “capitalize” on making money for itself (not others). And furthermore, when we try to make communities and join them (because we sense our loneliness, disconnectedness and isolation), we (US Americans) tend to get very very uncomfortable with the differences, the conflicts, the games, the political jostling, and general psychological violence that is practiced in groups, no matter how lofty. If we don’t feel those things, it is usually because we have learned to ignore–or perhaps learned to become oblivious because no one is bothering “ME–THE INDIVIDUAL” and this asserts a “satisfaction” in the name of escaping the difficulty of being together with others of differences, and also the higher position of being alone and therefore “trouble-free.” This is an illusion.
Mourning but knowing that there are so so many in this world who understand enough and care enough about this in the world, to begin steps and to empower toward social justice. It is arduous and difficult and tedious, but must be done. Individual heroes will be squashed. Communities of difference, across different backgrounds of histories, etc. must learn to come together without the escape mechanisms we have all learned well. Empowering toward social justice is tedious, arduous, precarious, uncertain, not attainable in a finality, but is a pathway that is immensely more loving than the loneliness of dieing in an old folks’ home somewhere in a desolate urban landscape. Some are working now and we must work together, learn how to. The rest will most likely just wait for those few to do the work while they enjoy the fruits of empire, and maintain global injustice.
This is a very thoughtful discussion, and I appreciate the way you express our conflict between our dual urges for individualism and community. I do not believe a culture of violence is immutable, and I do believe that social justice can be achieved by people of good will uniting in community and nonviolent activism. People in power do not give it up voluntarily and they will protect that power with violence if necessary, but I must continue to believe that nonviolence is “A Force More Powerful,” as Ackerman and Duvall show in their book by this name. I look forward to reading more of your posts.