The Meaning of Social Justice


The Radical Conservatives of today in the United States love to link social justice with socialism, communism, radical Islam, and some sort of effort to take over the world, install a dictatorial regime that denies basic human rights, does injustices to the wealthy and the previous ruling class and raises mayhem generally.

Glenn Beck linked social justice to leftists, and Christians who hid behind them like Jim Wallis of Sojourners. He advised his millions of listeners and viewers to “run” from any church where the word “social” was linked to justice. Wallis became such a threat to Beck that he vowed to literally destroy Wallis and all those who are members of Sojourners. A lot of ordained ministers of the Christian Gospel, their parishoners, and ordinary Americans, are going to die, be imprisoned, ruined financially, or by reputation when Beck puts the hammer down on Sojourners.

The demons of the right are many. It may be Van Jones one week, ACORN, Planned Parenthood, President Obama constantly, The Tides Foundation, or just about any organization that may have some interest in doing to others as you would have them do unto you.

Shirley Sherrod, NPR, ACORN, and more have been ambushed, and the good they do and the ideals they stand for edited out to suit enemies they do not know are lying in wait for them. Is this justice?

In the case of the Tides Foundation, a man who watched a steady diet of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and Fox News concluded that both San Francisco’s Tide’s Foundation and the local branch office of the ACLU deserved to be shot up with gunfire. Only a traffic stop by police followed by a legitmate shoot out with the gunman prevented an even greater catastrophe. The gunman made it plain that Beck and Co. had inspired him.

What is so unholy, dangerous, wrong, evil, and sociopathic about attaching the word “social” to justice? Are we not social animals? The word “human” for humanity might be attached in place of the social but it remains good old justice.

Just what does Struggles For Justice stand for? What is justice?

It may be catching those engaged in criminality, judging them, and then inflicting punishment all the way up to the full measure of the King’s Justice: drawing and quartering. Nasty business that.

Retribution is a powerful principle and connected deeply to human emotion. Keeping order in human society is a worthy and necessary goal. But we sense that how justice of this sort is applied and to whom and why, and that this brand of justice, cannot in isolation bring us the good and moral society human beings instinctively strive for.

A learned Jewish Rabbi points us to his holy scriptures, Deuteronomy 16: 20 where the command is given to do:

“Justice, and only justice you shall pursue; so that you may live and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”

The use of the Hebrew word for Justice twice like that in the original text, we are told, lends greater weight to the teaching. When asked just what does justice mean, the Rabbi replied simply:

“Doing the right thing.”

The prophet Isaiah, helped further delineate what doing the right thing is:

“learn to do good:
seek justice,
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.”

While it’s true that social justice as term did not originate until 19th Century socialism and the kind of leftist agitation that drives the Radical Right mad and into a frenzy, the very suggestions made here all make it implicit if not explicit that a human being is social.

To rescue the oppressed is a big job. You can’t do it all alone and it does not involve the oppressed person rescuing themselves in an atomized society where no one is obligated to do anything for anyone else. In that kind of world humility, compassion, and love may exist but if they are not shared or extended to others as a “social” act or obligation, it means nothing.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once wrote that “. . .I am cognizant of the interelatedness of all communities and states . . . Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

The old Knights of Labor slogan of “an injury to one is an injury to all” could be the best shorthand for social justice yet proclaimed.

Social justice then, is mutual, it is shared, it is intimately human, it is the empathy for others, it is the obligation to others with no gain to yourself, it is compassion, love, caring, kindness, and a mindfulness of others that is profound.

We live as part of a broader community of persons who are not atomized individuals with no responsibility for anyone else. This communal, shared, and compassionate stance in doing justice is what radical right-wing conservatives fear most. It keeps them up nights. If it does, then all to the good. Those that insist and protest that there are not enough workhouses for the poor in any age ought to be visited by the demons of their own inner consciences.

In fact Dr. King’s method of social justice made awakening the conscience of the entire body of a community to an injustice against a portion of it that was harmful not only to the injured party but to the whole as well was central to his work and the movement he led.

Justice, human justice, social justice, community justice, shared justice, responsible justice, obligatory justice. You pick the term. It is the same thing.

So Glenn Beck, you can buy all the Goldline Gold you wish and hoard it. But it will not save you. It will not bring your conscience to rest or leave you with a moment’s peace. We all do admit that money is damn convenient much of the time. But as an end in itself, without the greater good, the civic good, social justice, compassion and empathy for others all the Gold in the world cannot buy what we need.

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2 thoughts on “The Meaning of Social Justice

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