Monday, February 07, 2011

So Let's Stop Saying "Social Justice"

In a just world, SWNID would have time to post timely thoughts in a timely manner. But the world is not just.

And the concept of "social justice" is vacuous. That's the point made trenchantly by Robert Royal of the delightfully named The Catholic Thing. We quote for our gentle readers' stimulation, with emphasis inserted:

This whole question matters a lot because, besides the obvious urgency of supporting the poor, Catholics have been told for a half century that “social justice” is an equal part – alongside pro-life activities – of protecting all human life. And we should vote accordingly (almost always to the detriment of pro-life candidates). The problem is, it’s relatively easy to figure out how to protect babies in the womb: don’t abort them. How to help the poor is much less clear, especially in political terms.


Royal's point is that it does little good to hector people about embracing "social justice," since there's no consensus about how to achieve it, just a lot of unproved political ideology that gets slipped into the conversation without acknowledgment when people start throwing the phrase around.

We say it's about time to admit this, and not just in Roman Catholic circles. We spent some valuable SWNIDish time recently attending a most helpful workshop that still managed to waste a portion of the experience on useless exhortations to "become part of changing the system." Like voting for a higher minimum wage would make it all better.

7 comments:

Christian said...

What was the workshop?

Jon A. Alfred E. Michael J. Wile E. SWNID said...

If we had wanted everyone to know . . .

JB in CA said...

Well, we can't agree on what "justice" means either, but I certainly don't want the other side to have a monopoly on the term. Why not agree that we should seek social justice, but be careful to spell out what we mean by it and why we mean that?

Christine said...

JB,

You are right, we can't agree on what justice means. What is now often called justice used to be called charity or generosity.

Of course, the fact that the "social justice" side and the pro-life side think we can achieve our goals at the ballot box, is problematic from the start.

Jon A. Alfred E. Michael J. Wile E. SWNID said...

To clarify what we don't think needs clarifying: in common usage "social justice" is employed as a rhetorical trick to avoid discussion of the hard issues, namely, how does one actually go about improving life for the poor? And the trick is more often than not one that the speaker plays on herself.

People who do this know basically what they mean by "social justice": "the poor will have more" [optional but usually assumed: "and the rich will have less"]. What they don't know is how to get there without leaving everyone with less, leaving the poor in an even more intractable situation.

Dr. Love said...

This comes to mind: Recently I was reading up on the core "values" of the Iona Community as part of an informal foray into researching the Celtic Christianity revival. Among said values was a commitment to "peace," which they defined parenthetically as being, in addition to other things, an opposition and protest against nuclear arms, despite the proven success record of nuclear arsenals in maintaining relative global security (along with the economic emancipation and liberalizing effect of global Capitalism).

I've met an Ionian before. He was neither an idiot nor a lout. All the same...

Christine said...

"What they don't know is how to get there without leaving everyone with less."

Leaving everyone with less is OK with many advocates of social justice as long as the gap between the two is narrowed.