Saturday, May 28, 2016

What is Social Justice?

In late 2015, I was working on a paper for one of my undergraduate courses, Western Religions in Society and Culture, and the topic I had chosen was the relationship between Christianity and social justice. The very first order of business I intended to tackle was laying a foundation for the meaning of social justice. I thought it would be a laughably easy task, and with a sly grin on my face I headed on over to Dictionary.com where I came across this result: "the distribution of advantages and disadvantages within a society" (n.d.). After I had read this, I was surprised to say the least. What is fascinating is that the definition suggests that social justice is multi-directional. It infers that both a fullness and lack of advantages make up social justice, that it is an entity that cannot exist without both components. I had expected that the definition would mention some utopian result, and perhaps, the process that reaches said utopian result. The definition does not render something so specific and remains quite general.

Somewhat recently, I visited the Wikipedia page for social justice. What resonated with me most was the criticism section, which, like the Dictionary.com definition, emphasized the ambiguity of the term. This quote from Polish libertarian conservative politician and writer, Janusz Korwin-Mikke, in particular, stood out to me: "Either 'social justice' has the same meaning as 'justice' – or not. If so – why use the additional word 'social?' We lose time, we destroy trees to obtain paper necessary to print this word. If not, if 'social justice' means something different from 'justice' – then 'something different from justice' is by definition 'injustice'" (Wikipedia contributors, 2016).


It's a noteworthy observation in light of the trendiness of the term, and I applaud Korwin-Mikke for his rhetoric. What the confusion boils down to is this: it is not clear what social justice refers to. As American Catholic philosopher, Michael Novak, says in his essay Defining Social Justice: "The minute one begins to define social justice, one runs into embarrassing intellectual difficulties" (2000).

Personally, I don't think this indicates that justice (or social justice - I've decided to use the two terms interchangeably) is not an objective entity. As a Christian, I believe that there are absolute moral values, and so it follows that I also believe that justice is something objective rather than subjective. Justice is moral rightness, specifically, moral rightness which is brought to situations of moral wrongness. This, however, is rather abstract. Again, what exactly is justice or moral rightness? And what is injustice or moral wrongness? Proper answers to these questions require further study.


Of course, theory alone is not sufficient because social justice transcends thought-worlds ipso facto. If justice is social that means it involves being performed in response to something other than the self or group that is initiating the justice (especially the ideas of the self or group). There is the opportunity that theory might lead to praxis. Those who are more in tune with feeling than thinking might even insinuate that mere theorizing about the matter is a classic case of wasting time in the ivory tower. I cannot blame the imagined critics for such a response, as I am apparently more inclined to act on feeling than thinking (which I always find surprising whenever I'm theorizing - which has been a lot lately - but that's not something I want to write about anymore here...).

That said, all individuals and groups seeking to engage in justice are faced with yet another problem, it seems: the responsibility they have in conveying justice. For a Christian, some initial questions might include the following: does God expect everyone to convey the same amount of justice? Does God expect the individual or group to directly search for injustice or to simply bring justice when they indirectly find themselves in the appropriate circumstances? Whether this is innocuous confusion or sinful inquiry is debatable. Perhaps this confusion begins with a question that German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, warns against in The Cost of Discipleship, that question being, who is my neighbor (1995:77)? Regarding Bonhoeffer's statement, I leave it open to consideration rather than taking the time to comment on it.

As far as I'm aware, there are no easy answers to the questions I've brought forth. And though they mean something (it's not theory for the sake of theory), the hazy nature of social justice makes proper fruition a rather arduous task, that is, for any individual or group interested in participating in this activity - whatever that activity may actually be.

Works Cited

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. New York: Touchstone, 1995. 77. Book.


Dictionary.com. "social-justice." n.d. Dictionary.com's 21st Century Lexicon. Web. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/social-justice

Novak, Michael. "Defining Social Justice." 2000. First Things. Web. http://www.firstthings.com/article/2000/12/defining-social-justice

Wikipedia contributors. "Social justice." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 25 May. 2016. Web. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_justice

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Summer Reading and Music List

Here's what's on my summer reading / music list. Whether I will complete the reading and listening is not guaranteed - although I do plan to finish The Man Who Was Thursday by tomorrow ... being Thursday. And yes, I will be using original publication dates for the literature even if you literary critics think my versions have been anglicized to the point where they aren't "authentic enough". How pretentious of you.

Reading:
1. G. K. Chesterton - The Man Who Was Thursday (1908)
2. Francis Schaeffer - True Spirituality (1971)
3. Tertullian - De Spectaculis (197-202 AD)
4. Saint Augustine - Confessions (397-400 AD)
5. Dietrich Bonhoeffer - The Cost of Discipleship (1937)

Music:
1. The Apprentice - The Epic Struggle (2004)
2. Classical Masters - Best of Beethoven (2009)
3. Various - The Best of Classical Piano Favorites (1995)
4. Various - Great Composers - Bach (1988)
5. M83 - Junk (2016)
6. Wheat - Per Second, Per Second, Per Second... Every Second (2003)
7. Various - Cathedral of Sound: Global DJ Experience (2002)
8. Moby - Wait for Me (2009)
9. mewithoutYou - [A→B] Life (2002)

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Ethics of Self-Expression

You've heard it before: "X is important because it's an opportunity for self-expression". What does it mean for something to be important? "Marked by or indicative of significant worth or consequence: valuable in content or relationship", so reads the definition courtesy of Merriam-Webster. Anyone with a remote understanding of human life also understands that consequences follow from self-expression. But what is to be said about the moral implications of those consequences? To say that self-expression is 'important', I suspect, is not at all to suggest the linear idea rendered by the definition of the word, but rather, is to implicitly replace the term with 'virtuous'.

But is this replacement successful? The simple answer is no, the replacement is not successful. Why not? The replacement fails because the term 'important' solely deals with fecundity. The term 'virtuous', on the other hand, transcends fecundity and has to do with a particular moral status, in this case, moral goodness. Because of this fact, the statement of something being important merely due to its encouragement of self-expression becomes questionable.

Is it virtuous for an alcoholic to express their intoxication by means of violence? Is it virtuous for a thief to express their coveting by means of stealing their neighbor's property? Is it virtuous for a murderer to express their disdain for the other by means of the revolver? I think most would agree with me that none of these consequences are worth being expressed, are not virtuous, and are therefore not important (here referring to the imposter sense of the term that was included in sentence one - forgive the pleonasm).


At this point I think it is apt to take a short detour into a common problem of self-expression as it occurs in the arts, what I shall call the freeze-frame dilemma. Though it's not often seen as a problem, this dilemma ought not be overlooked. To be clear, most exemplars of art utilize the freeze-frame approach. A painting remains in its frame, a song is four minutes worth of sound and will never be anything more, a drawing remains on its page, and so forth. What I intend to refer to with the freeze-frame dilemma is something more particular, that is, the expression of one's problem(s) through any artistic medium. While many remain content to praise freeze-frames of this sort for the perceived artistic freedom they provide from personal burdens, it is not without its flaws. The problem with expressing one's problem(s) through art is that such expression becomes recorded. This means that it can be referred to in the future, making an individual vulnerable to repeatedly studying an archetype of their woes (or, what the psychologist might consider rumination). What is intended to rid someone of their problem(s) can easily turn into a constant reminder of their problem(s).

No, self-expression is not necessarily important if what we mean here is that it is virtuous. Importance and virtuousness are not one and the same. Not all self-expression has good consequences. The importance (in the true sense of the term) of self-expression says nothing of a certain consequence's moral goodness, but only the degree to which self-expression has impact. The sentiment of self-expression being virtuous in itself is meaningless dross disguised as being yet another golden rule.

Works Cited
"Important." Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 23 May 2016.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Of Dusk

In a field of wheat at dusk. My knees painted deep by strokes of flaxen brush. My feet tremble from the cold glow of moon. In darkness, nothing's coming for me soon. When the light's emptied out, what remains? In the night, I think about my days. By a chance of sight, I see some florets crash. Crash to the ground like soldiers and aeroplanes, the ones who felt the fate of chance. When I think on the times I crashed, there's a catch in my throat. What resonates, a single note: I have always returned to dusk.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

What Does it Mean to Grade Art with a Perfect Score?

It appears that the question at hand mostly pertains to either written works or music, at least, beyond the walls of academia. The foremen of academia will put their fingerprints on anything: essays, research, photography, poetry, sculptures, paintings, you name it. And although art competitions do exist outside of the academic setting (the often unmentioned Darwinian mode of existence that students must participate in - that's not even an indictment, by the way), the free artist has a choice of whether or not to submit their work to such competitions. In short, academia requires competition while art done out of free choice does not.

First, why infer that written works and music are the sole substances that are graded beyond the academic setting? Perhaps I am biased since I repetitiously take into account reviews for written works and music, but I don't think that other forms of art are judged in the same way. At the very least, other forms of art (I'm especially thinking of visual art), are not reviewed at the same rate.

Okay, so I'm naive. A quick Google search shows that popular media outlets like The Telegraph publish visual art reviews. Though nothing I said above completely contradicts this, I don't wish to be so naive as not to point out my own naivety.

All of this is a distraction from the question anyway. The question is not about who reviews what and in what way, nor is it about whether any art deserves a perfect score, but it is about what the meaning of the perfect score might possibly be.

Some of the possibilities that come to mind:

1) The reviewer does not detect any flaws whatsoever within the art

2) The reviewer recognizes some flaws, though they are not serious enough to distract from the general quality of the art

3) The reviewer takes into account the particular purpose of the art and believes that this purpose was achieved to the maximal degree

4) The reviewer is convinced that the maximal degree of the particular purpose of the art was nearly reached

I should like to now explain these four possibilities in greater detail. Regarding the first, it presupposes a general state of quality and that it is possible for a human creation to be without any flaws. The art has achieved that possibility. The second also presupposes a general state of quality. In this case, the art has not outright achieved the possibility of perfection, but labeling it as anything other than perfect seems like a disservice to the reviewer. With respect to the third possibility, it is more subjective than the prior two. No general state of quality has been established, so the reviewer must recognize a specific purpose that the art itself intended to fulfill. The art met this purpose without flaw and is therefore perfect. Finally, possibility four, like possibility three, also rejects a general state of quality for all works of art, though it makes room for considering the specific purpose of separate works of art. Though the particular art being examined is not without flaw, like possibility two, the faults are not so great as to render the art as being anything other than perfect.

It seems to me that possibilities three and four are used most often by art reviewers. If I am right, then perfect grades for art only indicate that these works are perfect within particular boundaries. The importance of such boundaries will vary from person to person, too. For instance, an avid consumer of modern art might be quite pleased with a single blue square on an otherwise empty canvas. But for an advocate of realism in the arts, this will be a case of the Emperor's New Clothes.

Monday, May 9, 2016

A Short Note on Editing/Design

Less than a half hour ago, I began the arduous process of capitalizing every letter that requires (and some that don't necessarily) capitalization. The charm of all lower case letters has worn thin by this point and considering that the content of my writing gets better with time, I don't find it useful to be so negligent toward basic orthography. Also, I don't consider myself a hipster, so there's no point to making myself vulnerable to that suspicion. I should be finished updating all the posts within a couple of days. That said, the title (and header) of the blog will continue to be all lower case, simply because, I think it looks cool. I'm also thinking of updating the background and possibly the layout of the blog. Though I like the image of the cats on the fringe, I wouldn't mind some new scenery.

 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Door


You said you'd come for me when the sky turned blue. I remember when you told me that. The sky was grey and I saw a door under the lukewarm sun. Every day I waited, as a new cloud would fill the space. It took a year for the white to erase everything. By the end, it felt like nothing. I continued to return to the days of absence. You continued to bask in the fullness of your hiding. The door was gone and so were you.