More Words We Use
"Social Justice" is a phrase that warms the heart. It
conjures up images of a society in which no one feels left out,
left behind, or otherwise cheated by fate, people, nature, or the
There is a slight problem: such a society does not exist.
If millions upon millions have been deluded into searching for
"social justice," it is because social justice displays
the irresistible charm of the temptress and the armament of the
enraged avenger; because it adorns itself in intoxicating clichés
and wears the insignia of the highest institutions of learning.
Like a poisonous snake, it radiates brilliant colors. Like the poppies
in The Wizard of Oz, it lulls the mind to sleep.
The easiest targets happen to be civilized people who care about
the fate of others. Americans, especially, are famous for their
concern for fellow humans, and support of worthy causes. They have
fought two world wars to rescue Western Civilization, without thought
to material gain.
Advocates of social justice point to the downtrodden, the dispossessed,
the disenfranchised. Advocates of social justice insist that, in
order to demonstrate a "social" conscience, a person must
resolve to eliminate poverty, eliminate suffering, eliminate differences
among people. The assumption is that society can and will reach
a state in which all its members enjoy just the right quantity and
proportion of attributes, possessions, and good fortune in relation
to all other members-and to their own expectations.
The word "eliminate" is peculiar to the thinking of those
who advocate social justice. What are the practical implications?
In order to eliminate poverty, agreement must be reached on terminology.
Poor by what standard? Poor in Albania or Zaire is very different
from poor in Switzerland or the United States. Poverty, then, is
relative, and in relative terms, there will always be "poverty"
as long as some people have more and others have less. Two possibilities
arise. One is to establish the authority which will take possession
of all goods and distribute them evenly among the populace. This
would have to be a continuous process because the more gifted and
more industrious will keep accumulating more than the others. The
second option is to concede that it is all nonsense.
The elimination of suffering presumes even greater divine powers.
The worst offenders propose to eliminate suffering through various
government decrees and executive orders. These same people speculate
about "the elimination of differences," a truly disturbing
One possible answer may be an affliction peculiar to people who
apply the word "social" with great frequency. I will refer
to it as "Compartmentalized Brain Syndrome," or CBS for
short. Sufferers from CBS have more or less the same information
as the rest of us in the various compartments of the brain. But
traffic between the compartments has broken down. No connection
is made between two bits of data, even within the same subject matter,
such as tax rates and tax revenues.
By way of illustration, a United States senator recently complained
bitterly about the diminishing interest young people show in the
music of Johann Sebastian Bach. The same senator fully endorses
multiculturalism. Multiculturalism is code for the gradual elimination
of Western traditions. A person who fails to recognize the connection
between declaring the Western canon irrelevant, and the decline
in the appreciation of Bach's music, is suffering from CBS.
The same may be said of persons who speak of "the downtrodden,"
"the dispossessed," and "the disenfranchised"
in today's America. Clearly, no law in the United States would ever
create or permit any such thing. CBS sufferers nonetheless refuse
to notice that people are different, and that differences of abilities,
aspirations, family circumstances, and a variety of other factors
will always produce a wide range of results. Alternatively, they
view people in terms of conditions that existed in times past, as
if slavery or segregation were still with us, or women's suffrage
not yet adopted. Persons afflicted with CBS tend to hold opinions
that fly in the face of common sense, and the opposite of common
sense is nonsense.
The ultimate nonsense is the search for social justice. This is
not intended as an insult to the millions of highly respectable
persons who have been deluded into adopting social justice as their
goal. But they ought to recall all the vile deeds, all the horror
that have been brought upon humanity in the name of that search.
Also, if subjected to honest scrutiny, the very concept of "social
justice" defies both reason and experience. Worse still is
the presumptuous implication that, were social justice possible,
certain persons are better able than others to judge what it is.
(How does such an implication square with the doctrine that "we
are all the same"?)
Sadly, all attempted definitions of social justice amount to one
of the following:
(1) somebody should have the power to determine what you can have,
or (2) somebody should have the power to determine what you cannot
have, or (3) somebody should have the power to determine what to
take away from you in order to give it to others who receive it
without any obligation to earn it.
In the end, even Dorothy woke up to the fact that reality is this
side of the rainbow.