Did you know February 20 was Social Justice Day? Neither did we, but as lawyers, the word “justice” makes us pay attention. “Social justice,” however? What does that mean?
And more importantly, why should we care?
First a definition, because even the name is confusing. Traditionally, “justice” refers to the idea that you get what you deserve based on your behavior. Ideally, the legal system delivers justice. Lawyers give karma a nudge.
Social justice, however, is a philosophy of egalitarianism. It refers to the idea that people deserve the same rights, opportunities, and access to resources simply by virtue of being human. In other words, all people are created equal and should be treated as such. Ring any bells? Declaration of Independence? That’s about as American as it gets.
Or is it?
A National Debate
That’s the question, friends. That’s why social justice matters, because we’re in the middle of a national debate. Pick an issue– income inequality, tax breaks, social reform—and politicians disagree about the government’s role in promoting equality. Typically, the left wants to legislate more opportunity for historically disadvantaged groups, while the right argues that such programs unfairly take from some and give to others. Should our nation strive for greater equality, or is “social justice” a toxic ideology that’s driving us apart?
We are not going to attempt an answer.
But science suggests we, as a nation, should try. In their 2009 book The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always do Better, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Picket examined 23 wealthy nations and all 50 American states. They found a strong correlation between income inequality and a variety of social ills including rates of imprisonment, physical and mental illness, drug abuse, and homicide. In short, the higher a country’s income inequality, the greater its social problems. Their work suggests a nation’s well-being is not dependent upon its national income, but rather on where its people are in relation to one another, economically.
Or, as Wilkinson quipped in a TED talk, “If Americans want to live the American dream, they should go to Denmark.”
Ouch. Let’s hope he’s wrong, because Denmark is not going to adopt us. We have to figure this one out ourselves, people. But we can do it. We’re Americans!
Finding Middle Ground
More importantly though, we are all humans. It’s not like we have to hold hands and sing Kumbaya, but we could, maybe, listen to each other. Ask any lawyer– finding a middle ground is not the same as losing. Bargaining and mediation are often the way to the best possible win.
America, we love you. Here’s to liberty and justice for all.
Article by Molly Fuscher