Posted by: MC | May 21, 2013

What are the Barriers to Social Justice?

Foxgloves in Tryon 5-21-2013  mmc

On Friday I had the opportunity to speak briefly with a small group of friends and colleagues about social justice.  It was a time that qualifies for sure as a moment in the story of my life.  And the particular narrative of that time is transition – big transition – so big that I’m not yet prepared to write about it here.  Odd, since this is the place I write and write about Change – and about Listening.  Feels like listening is what I’m doing, still forming my understanding the change right here in my face (and heart and under my feet).  Stay tuned for more – and not to worry, despite having its agony this change is giving good indication that it is a strong one.

So, focusing instead on this phrase:  Social Justice.  I’ve written a lot in past years on how I’m concerned that we don’t really know what we’re saying when we speak those words.  Coming up on this talk, I felt no less unsure of what the phrase really means, but I do know it’s popular and gets lots of use.  So, for the first time it occurred to me to ask a question on facebook and see what people said.  My question, “Quick survey — What do you say are the barriers to social justice.”  Here’s what I got.  Pretty powerful ideas, seems to me.

WL, white female chef, Oregon –

That’s supposed to be a quick question? LOL!

MC, white female, me, Oregon — 

Yep, because it’s facebook … give it a shot, W!

WL — LOL okay here goes – Greed, hate, and our stupid lizard brains seem to the root of our problem.

MD, white male business professional, Texas –
Selfishness, displayed through an utter lack of empathy.

MC — Thanks, M — So would a modicum of empathy work? Does empathy matter if it’s felt but not enacted in socially recognized ways? I’m wondering how the barrier might be removed. …

MD — This is a deep well, so it may be a while before you hear the splash…I am an adherent, to some extent, of a social theory that defines liberalism and conservatism as a function of the comparative value or care we have for family versus strangers. Taken to an extreme, the trigger for social justice would be more sensitive for those where a member of their clan (family) is perceived as a victim than it would be for a stranger. The bigger the “clan,” the more likely that a critical mass would perceive outrage and be moved to action. Therefore, the ability to foster empathy by pointing out commonalities would be most likely to foster the outrage when social justice is lacking. When the issue moves past clan to those who have a more universal sense of empathy, things change. I think history illustrates this consistently. And this is me shooting from the hip, but I am certain there are more scholarly takes that make me look like an idiot.

BM, white female professor, Texas — 


PCF, white female lawyer, Texas —


MC — Thanks M — and maybe on the scholarship — but having been in school since age 3, seems to me those perspectives can perpetuate barriers – in largest part because they are so far from daily living. Seems you’ve seen what you’re writing about.

KCH, white female professor, West Virginia — 


JG, white male consultant, Arizona —

The reptile part of the human brain, which breeds fear…

MD — I think those perspectives ARE the barrier. If you perceive yourself as a member of the human race, as opposed to an American, a Democrat, a Southerner, a Texan, a redneck, or a Presbyterian, there are many more calls for social action to which you can march. Empathy is driven by the perception of the size of your clan.

WJL, Native American woman grant writer, Rhode Island —

lack of accuracy in education

MC — Thanks, W — any thoughts on what more accurate education would look like?

RNCW – white woman business owner, Texas 

I vs We

WJL —  it would start in kindergarten or 1st grade with that little wooden puzzle – the one of the states – with the little red handles that you could use to put each state ‘in its place’ in the United States – because that image – is the beginning of the mis-information – and myth-information making that leads to a variety of other ills. It teaches us that the “the United States is made up of 50 states” right? And everyone from K to Doctoral will usually nod their heads… yes… but unfortunately it is not right or accurate – that puzzle illustrates only 1/3 of the correct equation because the United States in fact equals more: United States = 50 States + 6 Territories + 566 Federally Recognized Tribal Nations… and until we begin teaching with a puzzle that included and illustrated all of those peer relationships… we just end up cleaning up after the mis-information that is engendered and fortified by the educational systems that we all travel through…

Thanks for asking Mary – it’s a topic I talk about often…  in hopes it might one day result in action toward inclusive accuracy being taken… by those with the capacity and/or authority to make the changes needed.

TW, Native American woman workforce specialist, Oregon – 

People don’t know what they don’t know…wealth and acquisition

DB, white male sustainability engineer, Oregon —

1. Debt and financialization 
2. Crony capitalism and the elimination of accountability 
3. Diminishing returns 
4. Centralization 
5. Technological, financial and demographic changes in our economy 
6. and time and impatience…  charles hugh smith-A Brief History of Cycles and Time, Part 1

 WJL — interestingly items 1-6 above can all be seen in many of the ‘original’ charters from England that ‘created’ (out of wholly imaginary legal constructs such as imminent domain, etc. – but hey they were written on paper…) any number of the first 13 colonies in the U.S…. for instance the royal charter of 1663 that ‘created’ the colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations is essentially a mercenary agreement for international trade development that provided such extreme penalties for failure to produce on the debt incurred to sail the folks over this way – that the extermination or enslavement of whole communities was essentially just a predictable and allowable within the agreement COGS (costs of goods sold) … yes it’s MBA lingo…

The same pattern can now be seen in any number of contemporary efforts… the Keystone pipeline, Monsanto’s seeking to control the worldwide food supplies, the development of the Amazon basin impacting the earth’s ability to produce oxygen for us all… to name some with high visibility – all can trace the process by which they may succeed and the manner in which they may gobble up property and livelihoods that are not logically or ethically theirs to take … to a pattern of treatments that indigenous populations have long suffered – that now also are or threaten to impact ‘mainstream’ populations…

MM – white woman water rights advocate, Alaska — 


MC —  People, humans, fear — a flawed and deeply socialized belief that we are separate from each other which leads to circumstances so powerfully described by Wanda, David, Marc, Wendy. Then there’s the way Tabitha’s “we don’t know what we don’t know” moves from being innocent to being insidious when privilege makes it so we don’t want to know. I too look for what Wanda describes as “inclusive accuracy.” Certainly our interdependence is with us whether we wish to see it or not. Thank you all.

WL — great discussion! I still feel it can all be traced back to greed and the lack of unconditional love for one another. If unconditional love is too warm and fuzzy – then let’s just say respect. Humans have a beautiful giving side too, but we’ve not been cultured to foster it as much as we have been taught to place value on power and money (greed). It is a huge mess to untangle and it starts with us at the “bottom” deciding to be better and raise our children to value love and respect over money and power, to treat each other with love and respect in all that we do and to fight our urges to step on each other for the sake of money and power. Grow a garden, recycle, help your friends and family do the same. Drive less, walk and bike more. Enjoy the beauty around you and all the blessings you have – it is contagious and helps us move past “lizard brain.” I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir here – so we all have to find ways to sing our song to the others who are still asleep. Bless you all you beautiful people!

WJL —  As Wendy is touching upon – that was always a puzzler to me when studying ‘traditional western’ economic theory – which is based upon the concept of ‘self interest’ (only) trumping all interactions… it all struck me as so non-reality based – after all if self interest (only) always trumped all interactions none of us would be here – as the care and feeding of newborns (ask any bleary eyed first time parent) definitely requires something other than pure self interest to accomplish… of course people can and do act from a loving or respectful sense of relatedness to one another and sometimes even to all of the earth and livingness, all the time – and to say OF COURSE  that is and should be the basis for economic theory and investment moving forward – is an idea that I believe – whose time has come…

So what are some of the ideas of putting a practical application of those principles in place… I like very much what the young adults are doing in pressuring the universities who’s tuition dollars they pay – to divest of all fossil fuels as a start… so important… I also like any other small individual actions any of us can do… thoughts?

… I also like the concept of tithing as anonymously as possible…

And though I don’t know a thing about this company – here is an example… of an action that could be taken — Divestment – Fossil Fuel Free Investing 

Also, here’s what some students are doing in San Fran – and recently some students at RISD in Providence did similar actions with similar results…

VA, white woman clinical social worker, Oregon – 


MM — Mary, I think a major shift needs to occur in colleges and universities but I don’t know how simple it would be to make that happen. Big business is moving into education and as long as economics inadvertently (or not) teaches a culture of greed, improving social injustice will continue to take a back seat as it appears that money/profit is more important than people. Seems theology schools would be an easy place to begin this shift but I often think the greediest humans are the ones controlling the churches by way of building them. 
The Vatican comes to mind… 
Boy, I’m opinionated this morning.

MC — Such thanks to all of you! This afternoon I’ll be trying to articulate some of this under the title ADDICTION TO THE DRAMA – AND OTHER BARRIERS TO SOCIAL JUSTICE. Responding to Wanda’s query about what can be done — I’m seeing a really challenging necessity for finding some wise balance as the basis for action — that is, knowing the reality of all the injustice (from inconceivably horrific to daily microaggression) while at the same time working from unsung bases of strength. The most challenging thing in all of this may be organizing and directing the massive brilliance and goodness in those bases. And I’m not just hoping it’s there — In my 09 and 12 road trips I seen and heard it —

TA, white male professor, Oregon – 

I had to think about this for quite a while! Still not sure at all, but I think maybe one of the main barriers is that we humans don’t realize how much all that we think, feel, and do is caught up in a giant matrix of symbols and practices that constrains our ability to understand what our situation really is and how we might go about improving it. As examples of how profound this alienation is, I have in mind Plato’s allegory of the cave, the notion of “maya” as illusion, and the movie “The Matrix”.

BGB, white female businesswoman and homeschooling mom currently driving her kids around the country…! North Carolina —
Fear and inaccurate information that perpetuates that fear.

WJL —  “…And yet success, including the creation of wealth, has always been considered to be a process that requires hard work, and it is often considered to be at the expense of others. We need a more spiritual approach to success and to affluence, which is the abundant flow of all good things to you.  With the knowledge and practice of spiritual law, we put ourselves in harmony with nature and create with carefreeness, joy and love.”  — Deepak Chopra  

MiC, white male photographic artist, Oregon –

Fixed views seem to get in the way of seeing; I know, having caught myself once or twice. But we can learn to see the signs and probe deeper sooner.

BP, white female geologist and activist, Idaho – 

Destructive perspective of “progress,” self-interest, greed, myopia…

I have to say, I was pretty amazed at the response.  WL, the chef, was right when she commented on the quality of the exchange.  We need to talk about this phrase, about what it means in all aspects of our living together. 

In the meantime, here we are on this side of the tornado in Oklahoma.  Those of us far enough away to be both astonished with concern and baffled once again about how to help can surely enact the antidote to injustice that weaves through ever one of these comments – kindness.  Kindness that comes from knowing we are related.  To that, of course, I add listening because my idea of what is kind may not match what a person who is hurting knows and needs and recognizes as kindness. 

More to come on social justice, but for now it just doesn’t hurt to practice kindness toward the survivors in Oklahoma and anyone else who crosses our path.

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