As you may know from the numerous threads in which I’ve gone about it ad nauseum, I’m a skeptic (an fallibilist, existentialist …sort of). Without boring you to death, here’s the short version. I don’t think you can know things. I mean know them, know them. Not feel them, not experience them…but KNOW them. We (humans) cannot (probably) be absolutely certain of anything.
There are a lot of reasons that Certainty, or at least certainty of the world outside ourselves, doesn’t work. There are the limits of human cognition. The limits of human perception. The unbridled arrogance of dogmatism. The centrality of certitude in the oppression of many, many people. But the one I want to talk about today is that dogma means that you stop learning, you stop listening to other people. In that sense I see certitude as antithetical to social justice.
Let me explain.
Central to my interpretation of social justice is the equality of dignity. That each person, and most importantly, each person’s perspective, is equality valuable and equality valid. That doesn’t mean that everyone is *right* or that everyone is entitled to do what ever the hell they want, simply that each person’s experience of their own life is valid or as true for them as our experience of our lives is true for us. More precisely, a person’s perspective is reflective of what is true to them in that moment.
One of the central problems of privilege and power in my estimation is that certain voices, certain perspectives that are shared among people in power are elevated beyond perspective to truth. Whether that perspective is the superiority of whiteness or the superiority of a Christian god or the superiority of Occam’s razor is irrelevant. The certainty that the dominant perspective is true, more valid than all other perspectives eradicates the experiences of others.
Often this transformation from perspective to truth also reinforces the existing power structure. The dominant narrative that whiteness (in the US) is superior does not exist because of random chance, but because those with power are white. The dominant narrative *justifies* the oppression of others. If marriage is between one cis dude and one cis woman, then we are justified in refusing to marry same-sex couples. If marriage is between two people (regardless of gender identity), then we are justified in refusing to marry polyamourous groups. Couples are consequently *entitled* to special privileges and special protections that society grants because we have accepted a definition of marriage that privileges some over others.
In my view, we can tear down all of the institutions, create perfect equality of resources or equality of opportunity, reshape the external world to our liking, but unless we reshape ourselves, address the underlying flaw in our understanding of the world and each other we will simply recreate the same power dynamics over and over again. One group will see their collective perspective as truth, as more valid than the perspectives of others, then they will once again attempt for force that reality on to others.
Which brings me back to skepticism. If we accept that we (probably) can’t know what is real, that as much as we consider, think, feel, explore we will (likely) never grasp the totality of truth, we are free to accept or learn from other people’s perspectives. We are free to accept contradictory perspectives, holding each as true for that person in that moment. We dismantle not just the current dominant narrative but also the very concept of a dominant narrative.
That to me is the goal of social justice.
(This is a follow on to an earlier conversation on the goals and journeys of social justice which is going on over here. There I asked people to treat each other more kindly. That request doesn’t apply on this post, so feel free to beat the crap out of this idea. If you’d like to continue talking about the goals of social justice in a more moderated environment, the other thread is open and I would love to hear from you.)