"El que mayor virtud pretende, necesita ser sufrido"
-Mi Muy Ilustre AbuelaSummun ius, summa injuria
“ The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen. ”
- Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
The following proposition is, I am sure, bound to be controversial and ignite outrage; after all, telling people to re-conceptualize their paradigms often brings with it that guttural resistance that only fear can bring.
Today I have an immodest proposal: I ask you to consider that the Left needs less Social Justice and more compassion.
What would drive me to say such a thing? Isn't Social Justice the bottom line of progressive movements, the very fiber at the center of what we do? The answer to that is: well, sort of. Social justice movements and the people who have tirelessly work in them are at the epicenter of what has made the US as a nation flourish; everything from anti-slavery to Stonewall to the Civil Rights Movements have developed better living spaces for those of us still in this country by choice, circumstance or necessity. My respect to everyone who fought and to everyone who suffered through these injustices, and to everyone who still carries this shared sense of hurting; praise be to every Black man lynched atop a tree whose image ended in a greeting card; praise be to every person who has traversed the Sonoran desert when the Coyotes left them stranded in the middle of the journey; praise be to every Puerto Rican Islander who got sent off to fight in the name of a president they never had the right to choose; praise be on every body that has endured the dripping attrition on the soul of enduring poverty, systemic disempowerment, persecution, shunning, shaming or trauma: if I have any Fellow Travelers, it is you, the ones who society left behind. I am an old-school Catholic, you see, and like Miguel de Unamuno posited in his seminal work, On the Tragic Sense of Life
, that suffering provides us with the lexicon of love, that we recognize a shared sense of hurting that create the bonds in which love compassion can blossom.
However, "social justice" at the present moment has become less about compassion and more about integrating "diversity" into the ever-increasing self-regulated docility that Michel Foucault extensively wrote about. It is less about understanding others and their contexts and more about policing our own communities for "excitable speech". This self-monitoring and regulation of "oppressed" communities, this aptly-embraced self-cannibalization, squeezes out the very ambiguity and contingency that makes a marginal life marginally livable. Canonizing and categorizing the spheres of affect and speech that "we" will allow each other to inhabit is a reproduction of the mechanistic docility of wider social patterns; everything suo jure
I, for one, refuse to accept a project of otherness predicated on rubrics. I refuse to engage in 'social justice' under the jurisdiction of self-regulative systems of collective indifference to nuance. I choose instead to be compassionate; to make a conscious effort to relate to others and understand them from where they stand, not from where I do; I choose to allow a space for ambiguity, even if I am not always comfortable with it; I elect to try to see how other ways of thought are possible as opposed to reading for intentionality or blame.
We need more kindness and less self-righteousness. We need more forgiveness and less anger. We need more patience and less belittling. We need to genuinely care for people beyond the concepts we believe they can embody (or not). We need less postmodern word games, less concerns for taxonomy and more concerns about alleviating our collective sufferings; after all, perhaps it might be that the people with the 'right' to try to speak about 'social justice' are those that try to ameliorate the precariousness of our own disadvantages and those of others. The rest of us are voyeurs, whether or not we mean to be.