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On Social Justice and the American Dream
Social and economic mobility, rather than social and economic equality, remains the far more feasible goal in a free society.
Social justice has not had a consistent definition over the last century. I have found that modern political arguments, especially ones related to social conditions, are often built upon premises that are cantered towards one or another type of worldview while falsely claiming objectivity.
It is easy to see injustice in society and call for social justice reform. It is far harder to define what social justice looks like and what kind of reform would actually lead to it. I believe that social justice has less to do with the idea of social equality and more to do with social mobility. Government policy and cultural norms that empower individuals are the most effective to help individuals.
Social equality is not impossible. However, it is highly improbable. Usually, only small communal groups united by a strong religious or ethnic bond, in which full participation remains voluntary, can achieve such a difficult socio-economic goal.
In other words, for a communal society providing social equality to exist, there must be a strong sense of group identity that can override unique individual passions. Its members must be free to enter the community or leave it so that discontents do not disrupt the system (forcing a member to comply introduces an inequality by assigning the power to enact such force).
This reality is largely responsible for failures to enact policies towards social equality at a national level. The force necessary to demand compliance creates positions of power and influence, which leads to graft and corruption. But, while social equality is exceptionally challenging to arrive upon, it is far more feasible to establish the idea of equality in the eyes of the law.
If we choose to not look at equality solely through the lenses of finance, but through the lenses of rights and liberties, we can approach the idea that justice has less to do with what is in the pocketbook and more about allowing individuals to be answerable to their hearts and minds and the capacity to receive the just effects of their decisions.
This is the foundation of what was traditionally called the American Dream; the idea that government should simply provide an atmosphere where its citizens maintain equality in rights regardless of financial success and that those citizens can, through their rights, attain for themselves social mobility and gain reward through their own individual industry.
Notionally, the theory was that no matter the circumstance of birth or the situation of our lives, we still maintained the rights and privileges afforded everyone under the US Constitution. A poor man could, through force of will, rise to whatever heights he desired. While a rich man, through foolishness and recklessness, could fall to the depths of depravity.
I do not believe the American Dream is dead, nor do I think that its foundation of equality in the eyes of the law and upward mobility through individual initiative has fallen out of the grasp of the American citizen.
But, I think a large portion of Americans have come to believe they stand no chance and have embraced their supposed existence as victims of a society that has left them behind. This mentality often becomes their very identity and the most impactful acculturating foundation they pass to rising generations.
The best and most liberating thing we can do is combat the growing trend of nihilism and cynicism in our country. Ultimately, too many people have decided their decisions don’t matter, and their actions have no real consequence in the direction of their lives and the lives of those around them.
Social justice will not arrive suddenly upon the doorsteps of the downtrodden wrapped in a bow with the best regards of politicians in Washington. It will arrive in the hearts of individual citizens when they once again believe they can seize liberty and justice for themselves.
The best thing for each of us to do for our society is to first believe in ourselves, shed off the cloak of victimhood that holds so many of us down, and find success with our own unique talents and understandings. Only then can we light a way for others to follow and offer hope to those who think all is lost.