I don’t believe in “social justice”—at least not the all-inclusive, clear-cut meaning the phrase has adopted thus far in 2016. Don’t hate me, I’m all for pursuing legitimate social justice, but I think the present understanding of the phrase represents a hoax, a fraud; an illusion like those for which Karl Marx held such disdain. Let me explain why.
As a student in Professor Lisa Disch’s Introduction to Political Theory this winter, I’ve been intrigued by the lively in-class discussions about readings by authors whose views are in direct opposition. Typically, each side’s argument appears sound when examined independently; however, when juxtaposed, there is a clear disparity in how each party has been affected by the other’s decision-making.
With that said, let me draw your attention to The ‘Mudsill’ Theory, brought to you by James Hammond. Hammond insists that society must have a lower class (“mudsills”) to perform the menial labor that supports the upper class.
Since I was just as curious as you are, I Googled the reasoning behind his use of the word “mudsill,” which resulted in the following:
Unfortunately, I don’t think this sentiment has vanished along with the use of the word mudsill. From wealthy politicians praising the efforts of the “hardworking, everyday Americans,” (as opposed to the “weekday Americans”) to the dangerous, often undesirable jobs reserved for undocumented immigrants, it’s clear that those at the top justify their positions through some watered-down version of this argument. Even if it’s tempting, we can’t fully blame Hammond for corrupting America with this idea. He simply broadcasted his thought process more explicitly than many before him had chosen to do.
Think about it–justice for one group almost always implies a degree of injustice for another. I found myself coming to this realization while strolling through “Social (In)Justice,” a cleverly titled art exhibit. In particular, one piece stood out as a powerful commentary on the American Settlement. “Men of Iron,” by Willie Cole, beautifully depicts the paradox that is social justice. It illustrates a simple truth of human interaction: there are two sides to every story.
By imagining the settlement from a Native American’s perspective, a degree of depth is added to Willie Cole’s depiction of irons. Irons are used to make a clothing item’s texture even or homogeneous. However, irons are extremely hot, and heterogeneity isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The white settlers metaphorically ironed over Native American communities and culture, and they didn’t feel how that might burn because they were holding the safe, cool part of the iron.
So if society’s current understanding of social justice is just an illusion, what should we do about it? Ultimately, it comes down learning to look at the world from another person’s perspective. If we have any hope of achieving social justice in a non-utopian society, it must start with decisions founded on mutual benefit, respect, and understanding