Monday, October 9, 2017

Peter Dorman — Social Justice: Debt, Solidarity or Care?

And there is a third way to think about justice. For this we can go back to Mozi, the legendary philosopher, political activist and opponent of offensive war who lived in China in the years surrounding 400 BCE. As he looked at inequalities of power and wealth, Mo argued that the core problem was “unequal love”, that people cared more for those in their own family or other social group than anyone else. In an extreme form, this led to wars of domination or conquest, since the rulers valued the soldiers and the population of the regions they were attacking less than their own kin. War, he thought, was obviously mass murder, and yet it was viewed as glorious. His remedy was to promote an equality of caring; given this, he thought, injustice could not be possible.
I realize there have been many formulations of this universalism in the intervening 2500 years, with greater sophistication over time, but it’s relevant that the equality-of-care basis for social justice goes back a long, long way. Perhaps more activists have drawn on it than on any other frame.
Universal love requires a high level of collective consciousness. While it is the ideal that perennial wisdom proposes, few individuals and groups achieve it, let alone entire cultures.

This is the Vedic ideal of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, "the world is a family." It is also found Buddha's emphasis on wisdom (prajna, panna) and compassion (maitrimetta). It is Confucius's ren, which can be rendered as "benevolence" or "humaneness." It is found in the Torah passages that Jesus quoted when asked to summarized the Law (Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Leviticus 19:18). It is the basis for the Golden Rule found in virtually all wisdom traditions.

This state of being in love is excluded by narrow individualism, although it is compatible with a liberalism recognizing individual good as bound up with the good of the whole. This is "enlightened self-interest." In Utilitarianism, this is expressed as "the greatest good of the greatest number."

Living a good life in a good society — achieving an ideal society of enlightened individuals — involves aiming to achieve this state of "being in love" personally and socially.

Social Justice: Debt, Solidarity or Care?
Peter Dorman | Professor of Political Economy, The Evergreen State College

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