Praxis Circle interviews cover a wide variety of worldview topics, ranging from politics, philosophy, religion, and beyond. In under a few minutes, our Contributors will provide a balanced overview of social justice as a concept using featured clips and corresponding transcripts below. As a disclaimer, these clips express the momentary thoughts of our Contributors only. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Praxis Circle, and they are intended merely to offer food for thought.


Social justice: What is our responsibility in helping the exploited?



Anne Bradley:


Social justice, this is another one of those terms that I think has a lot of different meanings. So I think what I will say is my understanding is what I observe from people who claim to be advocates of social justice. I mean, first, let’s say I’m not anti-justice. But, what does justice this mean from a biblical perspective? It means getting what you deserve. I’m not sure we all want justice all the time. I think social justice is a conception that’s more broadly trying to articulate what are our social responsibilities for people who are excluded, left behind, marginalized, exploited.


That said, I think that there’s really important things that people in the social justice movement are talking about. There are people alive today who are permanently exploited and are poor as a result of it and we need to think about what it’s going to take to get them out of that situation. Where I might disagree with some of my social justice contemporaries, if you will, is the means by which we do that. In many cases, social justice pioneers and advocates really want redistribution. It’s what we talked about before. Do they think that the best way to care for the poor is to just redistribute wealth?


Because the notion there is that Bill Gates by being rich is taking away from poor people. Okay. So it’s a zero sum game. In economics, that’s how we would talk about it. It means I only win if I take from you. So whatever I gain is lost from you. That’s not the world of free enterprise. In fact, the world of free enterprise is Bill Gates only gets rich if we buy his stuff. And so his stuff needs to be what we want at the price we can afford to pay at high levels of quality. And so I think the social justice narrative around the solution for poverty and oppression and exploitation, which are real issues that we need to concern ourselves with as Christians.


I think that’s where I would disagree with them is what is the best means? I think the best means are markets. I think that’s what liberates us.

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Social justice: A needed change in tradition?



James Hall:


First point is we are not unfamiliar in the US today with the notion of that there is such a thing as social justice, and that the concept of social justice that maybe we grew up with as children, which was we’re on top, we’re in charge, and everybody does what we say, and that’s justice by definition. That is undergoing radical and deep change, and it is exceedingly threatening to a whole lot of people. Some quite innocently, it’s threatening to them because that’s simply it challenges an uncritical worldview that they’ve occupied and lived in all their lives.


Some of them, on the other hand, because they have a vested interest in keeping things the way they are, or the way they were, or the way they imagined that they were. Traditions are important, but traditions can change. They can, and sometimes they must. Now, I personally think traditions have a very vital role to play in society. Traditions operate as a warning sign, a caution sign, a yellow light, if you please, to discourage us from making radical changes too fast without calculating the cost and taking into account what it really implies, taking a step back and being reflective.


Tradition gives a certain inertia to keeping doing things the way we’ve done. But if what you’re doing is demonstrably dysfunctional and destructive, and is demonstrably contradictory to the principles that you claim to be operating on, then I think tradition has to give way. Now, how do you do that? Law. Interesting in our country, how often it takes to Supreme Court decision. Threats and wars and rumors of wars over Constitutional Amendments to undo what the courts have done. The passage of time, a lot of time. Habituation into new patterns. And education.

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Social justice: Working towards equity?



Jonathan Wight:


I think so. I think I do agree with that.


So when I think about the issue of what you mentioned in your question about equality, I’m not a fan of worrying about equality. I’m a fan of worrying about what’s equitable. And what’s equitable is not necessarily equal. And I’ll tell you a quick story that brings that out.


One of the most interesting experiments in economics today is something called the ultimatum game. In this game, a researcher has $10 to distribute between two players who are facing each other on a computer screen. They’ve never met each other, they will never meet each other, so they’re playing anonymously. And when the researcher randomly picks who the proposer is, the proposer gets to say how they would divide the $10 as in, “I’ll keep six from me and give four to you.” Well, the person on the other end of the computer screen is the responder. They get to say, “I accept,” or, “I reject.”


And in that kind of a setting, what standard economic theory would say is, well, anybody who’s in a parking lot of a building, you look down and you see a dollar bill lying on the ground, wouldn’t you bend over and pick up a dollar bill?” “Sure.” “So that’s all it’s going to take for me to get you to agree with me is a dollar bill. So if I’m given the choice of how to divide $10, I’m going to offer to you, Doug, I’m going to give you a buck. And because you’ll bend over to pick up a buck, you’ll press on the computer screen, “Yeah. I want a buck.” Because if you don’t agree, neither of us gets anything. So you’d rather have a buck than nothing.


Except experiment after experiment all over the world has found people won’t go along with that. Their moral sentiments are enraged, their feelings about right and wrong. That when this money comes from heaven, like manna from heaven, from the researcher, then something closer to equality is the right thing to do. And in experiments, most people end up dividing it up 50/50.


Now, so that gets to basic human nature about equality under certain circumstances. And if you’re two teenage boys and your parents give you a raise, an allowance, that’s higher than mine, that’s not equal and I’m going to be enraged. I’m going to be really angry.


But let’s change the scenario in the ultimatum game. Suppose instead of the researcher randomly picking who’s the proposer suppose that you, Doug, have to go out and do some work. And as a consequence of your hard work, you earn the right to be the proposer. Well, now we’re not expecting 50/50, you earned that, right? So something more like $8 for you and $2 for me now sounds a lot fairer. And that’s what people respond to. And they will, in fact, in the experiments go along with that because you earn that right. Just as two brothers and one of the brothers goes out and mows the grass, of course, they should get a higher allowance. So in thinking about economic justice or social justice, it isn’t equality that’s really the fundamental issue, I don’t think. It’s about equitable nature of the division.


On another level, it is about of opportunity, which is a whole nother thing because we talk about infants or children being innocent and not able to demonstrate any of the virtues of hard work or saving or anything that would be expected of them. And yet infants need food, medicine, education, all of these kind of things. So there is more of an instinct for equality when one of these groups is in a different situation like that.

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Social justice: A surrogate for higher things?



R.R. Reno:


People intuitively sense this. And typically what they do is social justice becomes a kind of surrogate. And when I was teaching at university, this was often put forward as a kind of a higher thing. I’d never objected. I mean I objected substantively. I thought they had the wrong view of social justice often very extreme left in their understanding, but be that as it may, but that’s horizontal if you will. That’s about changing the world. We also have to have this vertical dimension because we’re never going to get rid of suffering. We’re never going to get rid of death and people need to be able to think about those inevitable realities, which are not going to be solved by welfare programs. They’re not going to be solved by diversity seminars. They’re not going to be solved by Black Lives Matter marches. I mean think what you want about those things positive or negative, but you have to say that the reality of suffering and death are not going to be solved by those measures.


And I think that vulnerability that all of us have as human beings it’s a source of our solidarity at a deep level. I mean, we share that. We share, we all know that we’re kind of in this together, so to speak and to be able to think about that is I think if we don’t give that ability to young people, however imperfect our answers may be however partial they are. When I propose these philosophy things my friends say, oh, well, but they’ll be taught by people who… They’ll just turn it into some, whatever Sartreian whatever thing. I say, look, something is better than nothing.

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