A Rose Among Humanity

July 19, 2006 § 7 Comments

Ethics

A fair and just society is the goal of humanity. Yet the achievement of a fair and just society is elusive. For centuries philosophers have discussed the possibilities of equality among members of society. Historically great thinkers such as Plato and René Descartes posed questions to themselves and society to inspire interest in the various possibilities of morality and social justice. Today the question of social justice and equality is still posited however, because of the complex social structures of our present day society the problem of social justice is addressed in various forms of applied ethics such as: Business Ethics, Environmental Ethics, Human and Animal Rights, etc.

Although the elements of social justice as described in philosophical terms are addressed by applied ethics they miss the mark at a fundamental level; and we will examine this. Ethics rooted in the Greek word ethos implying ‘ones character’ in essence is the philosophy of right and wrong. Plato wrote that Socrates considered the “Father of Ethics” once said,

“But perhaps someone will say ‘Do you feel no compunction, Socrates, at having followed a line of action which puts you in danger of the death-penalty?’ I might fairly reply to him, “You are mistaken, my friend if you think that a man who is worth anything ought to spend his time weighing up the prospects of life and death. He has only one thing to consider in performing any action; that is, whether he is acting rightly or wrongly, like a good man or a bad one”” (Plato).

Plato writes in the Apology where Socrates was sentenced to death for upholding what we call higher virtues or morality today. However, Socrates places emphasis on action in light of morality and it is mans action which carries significance for our purposes here. The obvious dichotomy of right and wrong allows for a simplified analysis of the problem facing our present day society.

In our analysis we will view society from the top down in terms of socio-economic power, because in a society of capitalism socio-economic power is the highest position. Plato known as one of Socrates brightest pupils stood firmly against the sophist ideology of `might means right`. In other words Plato was against the idea that morality was determined by the social powers of the time. Interestingly, the sophist idea of `might means right` is similar to the unsaid position of capitalist interests felt nearly world-wide, self-preservation.

For centuries equality among members of society has been marginalized by the greater need for self preservation. But how can this be? Business interests should not preside over social equity, should it? The fact is that today there is a significant divide between haves and have-nots in the US, but more importantly on a global scale this divide between haves and have-nots implies that there is an imbalance in the development of political or business ethics and as a result the social ecology suffers. While the gains of the haves is made on the backs of the have-nots, the have-nots become embittered and frustrated unable to enjoy improve their way of life. For example in Jamaica Kincaid’s book A Small Place she describes her dissatisfaction with social injustice that she experienced growing up in Antigua as she roars,

“You have brought your own books with you, and among them is one of those new books about economic history, one of those books explaining how the West (meaning Europe and North America after its conquest and settlement by Europeans) got rich: the West got rich not from the free (free—in this case meaning got-for-nothing) and then undervalued labour, for generations, of the people like me you see walking around you in Antigua but from the ingenuity of small shopkeepers in Sheffield and Yorkshire and Lancashire, or wherever…” (Kincaid).

When social injustice exists there is usually a great economic imbalance which leaves much of the society very poor and a minority of very wealthy. For example according to the US Census Bureau, 35.9 million people live below the poverty line in America including 12.9 million children, of which children under age 6 living in families with a female householder and no husband present 54.8 percent. Meanwhile Bill Gate’s net worth totals nearly $50 Billion dollars or more. This example is only to illustrate the economic imbalance in our society. I do not claim that Bill Gates is responsible for the economic imbalance of this county, however I do claim that the governing body which allows for this kind of economic imbalance is responsible, as I alluded to in the essay entitled, A Common Truth when I wrote:

“The final solution for this [injustice] at a socio-political level lies in legislature. If the lawmakers are immoral and unjust group will they produce and uphold laws of a moral high-ground? Yet isn’t it our moral responsibility to follow the law?” (ibn Abdullah).

Yes… it is our moral responsibility to follow the law. However, in A Common Truth I suggest that the lawmakers themselves should be our “Champions of Justice”. But I stand corrected, the government will never be “Champions of Justice”, those whom will not compromise the Greater Good for a political ambition as Socrates points out when he says,

“The true champion of justice, if he intends to survive even for a shot time, must necessarily confine himself to private life and leave politics alone” (Plato).

In other words social justice will not come from within legislature, social justice will ultimately be lawmakers response to a true `Champion of Justice`.

white_roseIn conclusion, although the goal of humanity is social justice principles to support this goal must be applied. But if the underlying reality is that the people do not have a common set of fundamental principles the morality of society becomes abstract and manipulable. Such is the case with applied ethics, and as a result there is a economic and political imbalance at a global level. This in turn results in a demarcation between the haves and the have-nots. And in a capitalist society it is the haves that win the game. However, through the efforts of a “Champion of Justice”, efforts which inspire the people, social justice can be demanded. However, the with such a significant degree of inequality in the world today it seems it would take a revolution to make it happen.

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§ 7 Responses to A Rose Among Humanity

  • BAP says:

    Thanks for you comments on my blog. I appreciate that you took the time to respond. I’m glad you’ve been personally dealing with the importance of ethical reasoning. People of all faiths should expend more effort doing that. However, I have to disagree with some of your statements.

    For example, I don’t think it is ultimately the goal of humanity to form a fair and just society. Humanity as an abstract composite of selfish individuals isn’t going to have the noble aspiration of justice as a fundamental goal. Rather, the social, economic, and political problems you’ve pointed out are rooted in the corruption of man. For a Christian, this depravity of man would be seen to be intimately related to the universal rebellion of man against his Creator.

    Actually, I was given the impression from this article that you assume the simplicity of the circumstances you struggle against. I think it’s too simple to assume that the West, meaning Europe and North America (mainly the United States), are at fault for all that has gone wrong in the world simply because of their relative material wealth. The world is complex rather than simple, and the problems are not really traceable to capitalism as such or to specific corrupt individuals, unless you actually identify all individuals. Institutions are mirrors of their constituents in a sense, as you’ve said, but they’re also embodiments of transcending ideals grounded in the divine. The dysfunction introduced by corrupt man affects all of his institutions and brings about the oppression of all, to be sure, but to be the victim of one man’s evil doesn’t render one innocent of his own corruption. Sin is a thoroughgoing corruption in that respect, as so many faiths recognize rightly.

    I think it’s interesting that the word lawmaker is often used of a legislator because it’s actually a misnomer. As the classical world conceived it, legislation was not the origination of law, the making of law. To legislate was to convey to man that which flowed from transcendent authority to govern man. Note the relation between legislation and relation, translation, etc. So law in Western civilization has been known to be rooted in the substance, nature, and character of the divine. That contemporary legislators fail to recognize this is to their shame and to the oppression of us all.

    Again, thanks for your comments. Feel free to stop by again to continue the conversation on that post or to join in the conversation on other posts.

  • [...] A Rose Among Humanity Abu Sahajj, writer of A Muslim-American Journal, shares a post on social justice, presenting evidence of the ubiquity of ethical disagreement, and a call to lawmakers to right the inequalities created by our capitalist society. [...]

  • JTB says:

    “Might makes right”?? That would seem to be the motto of totalitarian governments, not that of the free market. Remember, trade is a voluntary interaction between two parties, with each person gaining from the interaction. Everyone gains: What can be more moral or just than that?

  • Abu Sahajj says:

    Remember, trade is a voluntary interaction between two parties, with each person gaining from the interaction. Everyone gains: What can be more moral or just than that?

    Free trade in theory is fair and equitable! However what textbooks do not tell you is that “Everyone” is in fact a succession of families and individuals who in most cases were born into the wealth of parents… who then in turn repeat the cycle.

    I am not opposed to the wealthy staying wealthy (that would be unintelligent). However, what I am implying is that the wealthy have a monopoly on health, education and socio-political influence. As a result what I am asking is that lawmakers do something to balance out the distribution of these constituents.

    Note: keep in mind that this article was written with “Humanity” in mind in other words, a petition for Global Equity not just here in the US. We have made significant strides for an equitable society inside the US… and there are still miles to go, but the US is also part of a Global Community not just a few allies.

    wasalaam.

  • JTB says:

    Perhaps it is worthwhile to consider the source of one’s wealth as a means of judging the justness of it. Did the wealth come about through voluntary interactions (trading value for value)? Or was it expropriated from others (stolen, taken by fraud, granted via political pull, etc)? It would seem as questions like that would provide a better measure of justice than simple calculation of averages.

    The US of the 19th century had a saying: “Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations”. The productiveness of the grandfather yielded riches, which it would take two generations to squander. Maybe that is less relevant now, if the grandchild can call his buddies in Washington to enforce monopolistic privileges. But the blame should be on the type of politics that allows such corruption, not on the wealth itself or the trade itself.

  • Abu Sahajj says:

    Perhaps it is worthwhile to consider the source of one’s wealth as a means of judging the justness of it.

    Agreed.

    But the blame should be on the type of politics that allows such corruption, not on the wealth itself or the trade itself.

    Which is what I expressed in the post…

    “The final solution for this [injustice] at a socio-political level lies in legislature. If the lawmakers are immoral and unjust group will they produce and uphold laws of a moral high-ground? Yet isn’t it our moral responsibility to follow the law?” (ibn Abdullah).

    By-the-way these are excellent comments, jazakallah kheir (Best wishes).

  • Wa Salaam says:

    Christian Conformists and The Rose

    In my essay entitled “A Common Truth” I wrote about legislators and their responsibility to the citizens of this Nation. I wrote that in this responsibility is a part of a greater solution to the current conflicts which are hurting people …

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