Problems In Understanding The Concept Of Social Justice

The biggest problem with the concept, the word, and the terminology of social justice, is that it doesn’t mean what everyone seems to think it means. Imagine you had a friend who came to you with a broken calculator. You proceed to ask what seems to be the problem with it, to which they respond, “every time I input this calculation, the answer I get is 42. ” You respond by asking what your friend typed to get that answer. “That’s not important”, says your friend “the problem is that 42 is not the number that I want it to say. I feel like it should be something else… like 50. You are a bit perplexed by this and ask, “how can you know that the answer is wrong or that your calculator is broken, if you don’t even consider what the inputs are?” to which your friend angrily responds “The inputs don’t matter, all that matters is that I feel that 42 is the wrong answer”. At this point, you might rightly start to wonder if the problem is with the calculator, or if it is with your friend…

Let’s take a quick look at lady justice. She is a metaphoric representation of elements that are intended to represent of a fair and equitable legal system. Most often, she is associated with the law and the courts, but the same components can also be used to exemplify any social system concerned with justice/fairness. The blindfold she wears represents impartiality meaning that justice should be blind in that it doesn’t favour any person or group above another. The scale she carries represents the weighing of evidence, since the determination of justice should be based upon the balance of the facts. The sword in her other hand represents the notion of consequence. Once all the evidence has been accounted for and meticulously evaluated, a result is meted out in accordance with those findings. Lady Justice is a rather beautiful metaphor when these three elements are present. We can express confidence in the system as being a just one.

Imagine your same friend with the calculator troubles comes to you and asks if you’ve heard the news about this man who was accused of this heinous crime being let off. You respond by asking about the evidence in the case, curious and sure that there must be a reason for this man’s release, to which your friend explains, “It doesn’t matter. I really want the guy to be guilty. So, the only possible explanation for his innocence is that the system itself must be broken. ” You’re taken back by this as it is the same reaction the problem your friend was having before. You explain to him that, much like the calculator, you can’t assume that because the results don’t match what you feel that they should be, means that there must automatically be something wrong with the system. You can’t evaluate whether a system is just based purely on the outcomes. You must also consider what that inputs are as well. Your friend replies, “Don’t you get it? Your notion of traditional justice is outdated and serves only to perpetuate the power structures that are already in place. The accusation that someone is guilty is proof enough that there must be an underlying problem. Where there is smoke, there must be fire. If we want true cosmic or social justice, we must start by looking at the outcomes produced by a system and then work to change it wherever it doesn’t match up with the results that we desire, until it does. The inputs don’t matter, only the outputs do”.

Hopefully by this point, you can understand and recognize the central difference between traditional systems of justice, and what is called ‘cosmic’, or commonly, social justice. Even though the same word of “justice” is being used, the intention is vastly different. In traditional notions of justice, the object is to create systems by which all people are treated equally by being held to the same standards, regardless of race, sex, religion or ability. The emphasis is on equality of opportunity and the inputs into the system are crucial for determining the proper outcomes. In this case, Lady Justice looks much like I described her as previously.

In what is called ‘Social Justice’, however, the object it to create systems that produce desired, statistical results. When viewed from a variety of demographic lenses (including race, sex, religion or ability), the emphasis is upon social engineering, not actual justice as we defined it. Ostensibly to create a more equitable society. The engineered outputs of the system are far more important than are the inputs. Under a social justice model, our Lady Justice now peaks out from under her blindfold of impartiality in the service of favouring some demographic elements over others, so that she can give the scales a little nudge. Nearly every social justice cause you could imagine originates from the subversion of traditional justice- such that the inputs into the system are downplayed or ignored in favour of emphasizing the demographic output. Those demographic outputs are then asserted to be inherently inequitable or wrong, and hence, the system itself is in need of some kind of correction.

10 October 2020
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