The Canadian Imagination

What it means to be Canadian; examining and reworking Canada as a nation.

Monday, June 07, 2004

One understanding of social justice

Social justice is not about protecting the poor from the rich, or the minorities from the masses, or even any disenfranchised group from a dominant one: although in some specific contexts it can be either, or all, or something else entirely. Rather, the concept of social justice arises directly out of reactive (protective) response to the use of power over others, by those whom a society has granted power over others, to mould that society further into the image of those wielding that power at the expense of others. It is the specific system of government selected by that society which determines in which specific ways any attempt to approximate social justice within that system must express.

At one extreme, nothing changes, ever. Everything has its place within the power hierarchy, everyone knows their place within the power hierarchy, no one attempts to challenge that place in any way whatsoever ... or indeed even sees the need. These societies tend to function tightly and smoothly right up until the point when an external influence redefines the rules.

At the other, the attempt to establish social justice within a society which has long taken for granted a specific structure of dominance may take the form of affirmative action: which, since it only attempts a top-down enforced shift of relative power without any basic alteration of the society to support such a change (within a democratic society, such shifts tend to translate solely into relative numbers at different power levels), will almost inevitably provoke backlash both from those accustomed to holding the power and from those accustomed to the existing power structure. (Once more into the status quo, dear friends ...)

Rationalisations, to justify structures which cannot but be accepted on faith. Rationalisations, equally to justify change of those structures toward specific directions desired by activists seeking that particular change (but, interestingly enough, no changes that would in any way challenge their idealised power hierarchy).

Rationalisations ... to justify interactions which are no more rational at their base than is psycho-mythology? which would make the concept of social justice itself nothing more than a clash of dominance of different faith-based structures?


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