Skip to comments.A Political Glossary: Part III (Thomas Sowell)
Posted on 06/25/2012 12:49:55 PM PDT by jazusamo
If there were a Hall of Fame for political rhetoric, the phrase "social justice" would deserve a prominent place there. It has the prime virtue of political catchwords: It means many different things to many different people.
In other words, if you are a politician, you can get lots of people, with different concrete ideas, to agree with you when you come out boldly for the vague generality of "social justice."
Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said that a good catchword can stop thought for 50 years. The phrase "social justice" has stopped many people from thinking, for at least a century and counting.
If someone told you that Country A had more "social justice" than Country B, and you had all the statistics in the world available to you, how would you go about determining whether Country A or Country B had more "social justice"? In short, what does the phrase mean in practice if it has any concrete meaning?
In political and ideological discussions, the issue is usually whether there is some social injustice. Even if we can agree that there is some injustice, what makes it social?
Surely most of us are repelled by the thought that some people are born into dire poverty, while others are born into extravagant luxury each through no fault of their own and no virtue of their own. If this is an injustice, does that make it social?
The baby born into dire poverty might belong to a family in Bangladesh, and the one born to extravagant luxury might belong to a family in America. Whose fault is this disparity or injustice? Is there some specific society that caused this? Or is it just one of those things in the world that we wish was very different?
If it is an injustice, it is unjust from some cosmic perspective, an unjust fate, rather than necessarily an unjust policy, institution or society.
Making a distinction between cosmic justice and social justice is more than just a semantic fine point. Once we recognize that there are innumerable causes of innumerable disparities, we can no longer blithely assume that either the cause or the cure can be found in the government of a particular society.
Anyone who studies geography in any depth can see that different peoples and nations never had the same exposure to the progress of the rest of the human race. People living in isolated mountain valleys have for centuries lagged behind the progress of people living in busy ports, where both new products and new ideas constantly arrive from around the world.
If you study history in addition to geography, you are almost forced to acknowledge that there was never any realistic chance for all peoples to have the same achievements even if they were all born with the same potential and even if there were no social injustices.
Once I asked a class of black college students what they thought would happen if a black baby were born, in the middle of a ghetto, and entered the world with brain cells the same as those with which Albert Einstein was born.
There were many different opinions but no one in that room thought that such a baby, in such a place, would grow up to become another Einstein. Some blamed discrimination but others saw the social setting as too much to overcome.
If discrimination is the main reason that such a baby has little or no chance for great intellectual achievements, then that is something caused by society a social injustice. But if the main reason is that the surrounding cultural environment provides little incentive to develop great intellectual potential, and many distractions from that goal, that is a cosmic injustice.
Many years ago, a study of black adults with high IQs found that they described their childhoods as "extremely unhappy" more often than other black adults did. There is little that politicians can do about that except stop pretending that all problems in black communities originate in other communities.
Similar principles apply around the world. Every group trails the long shadow of its cultural heritage and no politician or society can change the past. But they can stop leading people into the blind alley of resentments of other people. A better future often requires internal changes that pay off better than mysticism about one's own group or about "social justice."
Just FYI: The term ‘social justice’ was coined and propounded from within the Catholic Church.
Thanks for the ping to another great column by Dr Sowell
Instead of leaving that as some kind of factoid, why not prove it?
Or was just committing a drive-by what you really had in mind?
Search engines are your friend, especially because one shouldn’t trust random posters, even on FR.
Thanks for the ping jaz.
“Envy plus rhetoric equals ‘social justice’ “- T.Sowell
The Constitution remains the supreme law of the land. That Constitution prescribes the only method of amendment of its limitations on our representatives in government and its protections for the individual lives, liberty, rights (including property rights) of its "only KEEPERS" (Justice Story), "We, the People."
At this point, and until further amended by "the People," that Constitution disallows the Executive Branch of the government any power arbitrarily to change its provisions, protections, and limitations on that Branch's duty to uphold its laws.
It is time for each citizen to study the the documents of their liberty by searching out for themselves the original speeches and writings of those who framed, debated and ratified that Constitution.
The explanations of the Constitution contained in the 85 essays of THE FEDERALIST were designed for newspapers to be read by upstate New York farmers. Surely, they would be enlightening for today's citizens as they approach the most important election season in the nation's history.
A grifter conned enough voters to put him in the WH and it's evident now the Constitution means nothing to him, November can't come soon enough.
That is probably the prime definition of social justice. It is also "whatever justification you can dream up for looting and stealing whatever you want". The antonymn is just what my father told me, "nobody owes you anything in life".
Theodore Dalrymple reports the same about intelligent people (mostly white, sometimes Indian) in the slums of England. Their culture, including their schools, has no place for a person who wants to learn.
A smart, poor boy like Richard Feynman, from a culture that valued intellectual achievement, in a school system that rewarded ability with more challenging work, became a great physicist. A smart, poor boy in an anti-intellectual culture, with schools that pour resources onto the least able and the least motivated, is likely to turn criminal or deeply depressed.
Once I asked a class of black college students what they thought would happen if a black baby were born, in the middle of a ghetto, and entered the world with brain cells the same as those with which Albert Einstein was born.He might grow up to be a Thomas Sowell . . .
It’s from the book of James.
He might, but it's harder now than it was when Thomas Sowell was a boy. His grandparents were uneducated, but they wanted better for him and pushed him to achieve. By his own admission, he didn't understand why he should get an education until he worked the kinds of jobs you get without an education.
Today, those jobs aren't available to American teenagers with no skills, and neither is the motivation to work for food.
Thank you for three great pings to three brilliant essays by Dr. Sowell, an American treasure.
You’re most welcome, TOL. They’re 3 good ones for sure. :)
From just having read “A Personal Odyssey” I don’t recall Sowell having much contact with grand parents. In fact he was not raised by his mother, but by an aunt as I recall who didn’t let him know that she was not his mother until he was in his teens. He was passionate about education as a youngster, seeing it as advancement and competition of an enjoyable nature.
He literally dropped out of high school in Harlem. Plain hard work and inate intelligence got him to his doctoral level and clear thinking and lack of fear did the rest. He claims that unlike younger kids that followed a decade behind him he had no built in inferiority complex nurtured by a fear of white people — he fought and beat up a white kid at 12 and his last one at 34 — so he knew they were just people like him.
I have read a number of his books and countless columns and articles, but reading his biographical book gave me a fresh understanding.
He makes it plain that he isn’t a registered party member and does not normally even vote. He is unsatisfied by almost all political involvement he has had, would be the impression I took away from the book.
Okay, it’s been a while since I read the book. Aunt, not grandparents. I knew it wasn’t his own parents. Clarence Thomas was reared by his grandparents.
You are right on the money and it is interesting how there are some simularities between these two big thinkers.
Walter Williams was brought up by his mother following his parents’ divorce. All these men are proof that there is nothing about being black that precludes academic success, and that less than ideal family situations are not the end of the line if the adults in a child’s life value discipline, diligence, and intellectual achievement.
It is interesting that Sowell knew the younger two very early in their careers.
Shelby Steele is another Hoover institute giant.