Comment on “The Latest in False Advertisement: Social Justice”

Maria,

This was a great post.  Your commentary on the nature of justice in society being inherently unequal was compelling, and the photos from the exhibition really drove home the point.

Though it was well argued, I have to say I disagree with your conclusion.  To me our society is based on preserving the freedom to act, and equality of respect in the eyes of the law.  It seems like the exorbitant wealth of the upper class you speak about extends beyond “justice” and impinges on the members of the “mudsill” class’ rights to respect.

I am not one to say that this is true in today’s society, but I think that it is possible moving forward for us to curtail the exorbitant riches of the few and use the profits to curb the injustices naturally present in lower circumstances.  Opportunity, and the right to a fair trial in society, are at stake here.

I agree that those at the top of society have difficulty feeling the heat from the bottom of the iron, and may find it hard to act in the best interests of those at the bottom, but I question whether the best solution is to ask more empathy of those at the top.  I would propose giving more autonomy and opportunity to those at the bottom, and let them rise to the top by their own volition, unencumbered by the unfair wealth of the few.

Comment on “Where to Invade Next”

Ethan,

What an amazing post.  Thank you for sharing your thoughts and research on this subject!

Your post really connected with me – especially because I spent a good deal of time traveling last year, and I was exposed both to efficiencies in other systems that weren’t present in our own, and to the anti-American sentiment that is present in a lot of cultures around the world.  I experienced the disillusionment you warn against in your concluding sentences, and I think I’ve come to realize why our country is special, even in light of its obvious flaws.

 

Comment on “Democratic, Christian America”

Anna, I first want to say that I’m posting my comment here because I couldn’t leave a comment on your post.  I implemented Ethan’s solution— hopefully it works!

I’d also like to say that I loved your post.  The idea of Islamophobia as a reincarnation of our tendency to exclude certain people from the rights we hold dear because of prejudice, racism, xenophobia or religious intolerance is a compelling one.  It seems that if we continue to narrow our definition of who an “American” is, i.e. who is entitled to the rights we espouse, we will find ourselves with the smallest subset of the least diverse cross section of our population.  Thinking in logical extremes like that helps me see that such a vision of an American would be absurd.

We’re a country of immigrants, and immigration is central both to our identity and our progress. Obstacles like xenophobia and racism are big ones, and I agree that it is critical for us to attack them at their logically bankrupt foundations if we are to succeed in annulling their effects.

The Latest in False Advertisement: Social Justice

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

Comment on “How Free is Life in Detroit?”

So, I’m putting my comment here because I’m unable to comment on the actual post. This can be changed by going to the post, clicking “Edit,” then going to “More Options” on the left-hand toolbar, then scrolling down and checking the “Allow Comments” box. I tried to do this with my own post (as well as this comment), but I don’t know if it worked. Anyways…

Alex, I had the opportunity to hear El-Sayed speak when I was in Detroit over spring break. He showed us a similar presentation with the convenience stores and talked about the lack of car ownership despite the fact that Detroit was a city designed for car-owners. I stayed in a house in the Boston-Edison (BE) district, a neighborhood of huge, once-great mansions that the likes of Henry Ford and Ty Cobb lived in. With the advent of the automobile, many residents of BE left for the suburbs, and this neighborhood was abandoned in the 20s and 30s, even before the white flight after the ’67 riots. Your post, especially the title, really made me consider how the freedom of Detroiters today, even the freedom to simply go from place to place, can be very limited. There’s a crappy bus system, and that’s about it. With the vast majority of citizens lacking access to a car, they have to rely on what’s close: convenience stores and fast food. I wonder, what do you think of the urban farming movement? Will it revive the food deserts of Detroit?

How Free is Life in Detroit?

by Alex Wilf

In the past months, I have attended two mini-lectures about the quality of life in Detroit, put on by the “Lunch with Honors” program here at the University of Michigan.  Though the lectures focused on different aspects of living in the city, they each caused me to stop and reflect on whether citizens of Detroit are really receiving the benefits of the American promise we all tout.  “Work hard, move up” is often said to be our country’s motto, but I’ve been learning more about how the cards seem to be stacked against the citizens of Detroit, and I find it difficult to see that the equality of opportunity we espouse is being provided, at least in this city.

The first lecture I attended was with Abdul El-Sayed, an alumnus of the university, and the executive director of public health for the city of Detroit.

u1_Abdulrahman-El-Sayed.gif

 

El-Sayed showed a map of the city, dotted with red points that ceased at a horizontal parallel about two thirds of the way up the map.  After unsuccessfully attempting to elicit a correct guess from the audience, El-Sayed explained that the map represented the density of “Mom and Pop” convenience stores, which mainly sell unhealthy packaged foods, and that the line was 8 mile road, above which were wealthier neighborhoods.

Only 40% of Detroit residents have cars, he said, and since the city is so spread out (its area is greater than that of Manhattan, San Francisco, and Boston combined), it is cost ineffective for large grocery stores to locate in Detroit.  “It was a city built on cars” he said, and that the wealthy and politically influential automotive industry had effectively crippled any chances the city could have had at an efficient public transportation network.

The effects of this influence have been disastrous.  El-Sayed showed graphs, pie charts, and data sets, comparing the rates of obesity, diabetes, and other nutrition related illnesses between the residents on either side of 8 mile road, and the difference was shocking.

When El-Sayed finished his lecture, I was left with the sound impression that people in Detroit do not have the same access to quality nutrition that I grew up with, and that unsettled me.  Already thinking about these issues, I went to a second lecture, featuring Lyell Dungy, former sergeant in the Detroit police force, and Elizabeth Tarnak, another alumnus specializing in using data to prevent crimes.

Dungy and Tarnak spoke about targeting trends in behavior on social media to aid in predictive policing.  In their talk, they brought up many examples of the gang violence plaguing the city’s youth, and showed examples of their triumphs in bringing offenders to justice.  Though their intentions were noble, and their work may in fact be necessary, it left me with the feeling that the people of Detroit, especially the youth, were being closed in on from all sides—from gangs attempting to enlist them, to police attempting to catch them, to their health slowly eating away at them in numbers.

I don’t have an idea of how to tackle these issues yet, but I can say with certainty that the kind of freedom and equality I grew up believing in is not the same as the one people growing up have, only a few dozen miles from where I enjoy a world-class higher education.  There is a problem here.  If one group’s freedom is abridged, that threatens the stability of our whole system of government.  As El-Sayed said, “Detroit is the canary in the coalmine.”  Freedom implies equality.  It is the founding principle of our nation, and it is not being fulfilled, in at least one place.

 

“Democratic, Christian America”

It starts with the Pilgrims.  From the stories we learn in the very beginning of elementary school, the notion of religious freedom is drilled into our minds.  The idea and its effects permeate our education by way of history and civics classes, debates about “God” on our currency, and introductory science books that now discuss evolution.  Our national identity revolves so much around our ability to worship or not worship according to our beliefs that we sometimes fail to fully acknowledge violations of this liberty when they arise because, in our American mindset, they simply should not exist.

Before attending Student Voices Against Islamophobia, I was not completely oblivious to religious oppression within our nation, but I certainly failed to realize its reach and its repercussions.  The event began with a list of all the atrocities—verbal and physical—that Muslim Americans have suffered in our homeland over the past few years.  Immediately I was floored–how did I not know?  Three Muslim American college students in North Carolina were murdered last year and I had never heard about it.  Student stories poured forth of verbal attacks on the street, of threats against the entirety of Islam, and of ceaseless hours spent shamefully and silently wishing to hide hijabs for safety’s sake.  In a country that worships religious liberty and in schools that exalt its foundations, Americans walk around fearing the repercussions of their beliefs on a daily basis.

As I have learned just this week, Frederick Douglass’s speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”, beautifully illuminates the hypocrisy behind American Islamophobia.  While slavery and Islamophobia are problems separated by over a century, both are deeply rooted in a horribly outdated notion of what makes an American. Somehow, despite almost two hundred and fifty years of radical equality, social upheaval, and startling diversity, this nation is still trying to fit the description of “tyrant-killing, king-hating, people-loving, democratic, Christian America”.  We may openly preach religious tolerance, but the practices of certain citizens, some unfortunate politicians, and a widely ignorant society completely contradict our claims, criminalizing and polarizing a group of individuals solely based on their religion.  As Douglass puts it, “at the very moment that [we] are thanking God for the enjoyment of civil and religious liberty” many of us, including some of our government officials, promote a mindset that unfairly targets a group of fellow citizens and often excludes them from our national identity.

I have never experienced this or any persecution first-hand, and I fully acknowledge that I am one of the least qualified people to write on the topic, much less propose a solution.  However, I consider myself both a Christian and a Patriot.  As such, I hope to use my privilege to better this country that I and so many others love, hoping that soon the country may love every last one of us too.