Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
March 12, 2001
Barriers to a just society can be overcome
Special to the WCR
"Never doubt that a small group of people can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has."
Every one of our primary institutions of social control — political, corporate, social, legal, educational, the commercial media, etc. — is anti-democratic in spirit, design and operation. All are hierarchical and hierarchies mean inequality of power and resources. The important decisions are made by a tiny number of people - the ruling elites.
In our capitalist "democracy," the system works for the few at the expense of the many.
However our politico-corporate masters don't use direct force to coerce us as in official dictatorships. Instead, they rely on sophisticated systems of professional persuasion — the media, schools, cultural propaganda etc. — to win and keep the "consent" of the population for their elitist policies.
The mainstream media are owned by giant corporations and are financed by equally large advertisers. They engineer public consent by establishing the boundaries of discussion, making sure certain agendas (mostly corporate) are followed while others never or rarely get to the table.
They select their own sources of official information, while ignoring others, and use their power to decide what constitutes and makes the news. They are disciplined by well-funded corporate think tanks and other like-minded organizations that also have ongoing campaigns against those favouring socio-economic democracy.
These limits restrict meaningful debate on issues of social importance. As a defence, people generally internalize conventional — and usually wrong — assumptions and the winners' values. Not surprisingly, most believe that they are thinking and acting freely.
But you'll have to work to develop an independent mind and be committed to a humane and peaceful society. Your highest social value must be the common good, not the "free" market values of organized greed and hypocritical charity.
If you want a better, more spiritual life, you'll have to participate in the decision-making that affects you and the lives of the marginalized — those rendered even more passive and obedient than yourself.
It's not rocket science. There's nothing mysterious about how society works and information on it is relatively accessible. What it takes most is honesty. Look at all of the available evidence and trust your decent impulses. You'll soon see through the deceit in which you are ensnared, and start to think independently about the kind of society in which you live.
Social justice activism essentially is simply challenging illegitimate forms of authority and domination — telling the truth and exposing lies.
You learn by trying. You can't start with current comprehension and say, Let's design an egalitarian and just society. You have to gain the insight and understanding that allows yourself and others to move step-by-step toward that end.
As you do more, you learn more. When you associate with others to support a movement or create an organization, out of them comes new issues, new strategies, new tactics. These things interact.
Intelligent people ask, What's the solution? What is the general strategy for overcoming authoritarian institutions? Questions like that are usually asked by those who don't want to become engaged.
If you tell them "Pick your cause and go volunteer for a group that's working on it," that's not the answer they want to hear. They want a magic key that will solve everything quickly, overwhelmingly and effectively. There are no such solutions.
There are only courageous people in a few places and with extremely limited resources working on issues. They know there is no justice, there is only love. A specific plan for abolishing evil would delight everyone, but it hasn't been invented.
Social justice advocates need to be long distance runners, not sprinters. Yelling "Kill the umpire," when you don't know the rules of the game won't work. Violence makes no sense where there is no solid social base upon which to build and when you have relative free speech. But you can't just blame people in power, you have to use all of your possibilities.
People dealing with problems in life under extreme repression of harsh conditions may simply give up. That could be a rational response to a hopeless situation. But many struggle effectively to bring about changes. Since received assumptions amount to propaganda, even to question them publicly is itself a victory.
There are many issues — poverty, discrimination, protecting medicare, education funding, environmental degradation, energy price gouging etc. But you don't have to go back very far to a time when people were trying to gain rights for labour, for women, for natives, for prisoners, for gays and others.
There has even been the occasional big victory, the cancellation of the MAI treaty for example. However, it's easier to protect rights gained than trying to get them in the first place.
Human rights are the result of popular engagement and struggle. If there's another way to secure them, it's been kept a secret by those who own and control the country. Unfortunately, magic answers don't exist for those who want to get the job done fast.
(Doug Schill is a former member of the archdiocesan Social Justice Commission.)
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