July 06, 2021
SOCIAL JUSTICE AND INEQUALITIES
A systemic problem that can no longer be ignored
Social Justice is a systemic concept that encompasses many spheres of the public debate. It has many causes, often correlated with each other, and many effects, that sometimes feed it by strengthening its causes.
It is a concept that embraces different areas: wealth and income inequalities, racial or gender discrimination, different access to fundamental rights suffered on the basis of religious belief, ethnicity, skin color, gender, sexual orientation, physical abilities.
When it is tackled with reference to the different opportunities for access to environmental resources and to the consequences suffered by the climate crisis, we speak of Environmental Justice.
We mostly talk about justice denouncing its absence, often addressing it in terms of inequalities and injustice and, above all, of the enormous imbalances of power that derive from it.
When we are born we become part of a family, in a specific social context, which randomly positions us in any value of the Gini index, without merits or guilts.
And then our life is largely devoted to the effort to maintain or improve this position.
If we look at the inequality of the distribution of income and wealth, keeping in mind the concept of randomness, we realize the profound injustices that characterize our society.
The 2019 Oxfam report reveals that the 26 richest people in the world (all male and white) have amassed the same wealth as the poorest 50% on the planet, or about 3.8 billion people.
The situation is aggravated by the fact that of these 3.8 billion people, we can count about 1 million living below the poverty line, that is on less than $ 1.9 a day, and 3.4 billion living on less than $ 5.5 per day.
This huge gap translates into an equally enormous distance in terms of power, that reflects the possibility of influencing any form of change at the systemic level.
Plato already discussed justice and power in the first book of "The Republic", written between 390 and 360 BC, correlating political power with wealth and access to resources, and indicating the use of debt (issued by large owners) as an instrument that creates the illusion of a situation of "equal opportunity" for all, when instead wealth and power were increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few.
In the last forty years, with the strong impulse of the neoliberal doctrine, this process has undergone an unprecedented acceleration. Thanks to an articulated mechanism that involved finance, economics, politics and culture in various ways. And that involved us all: debtors, investors, workers, consumers, voters, people with values based on a very specific cultural framework.
If this growing gap, defined Apartheid 2.0 by Jail Naidoo (South African politician and activist) in 2015, does not stir up our ethical or moral rebellion, we should worry at least for all the consequences related to the protection of our planet, the survival of democracy, the political and social stability of our countries.
High rates of social unrest, violence, crime, terrorist movements, wars, nationalisms, political authoritarianism, crisis of the democratic system, distrust in politics, criminal infiltrations are all symptoms of a sick system in which personal interest prevails over the collective one, in which concepts such as brotherhood and equality resound old memories of distant events studied at school and where fear, indifference, hate or detachment prevail.
Inequalities are a problem: this is now a consolidated and well-known fact. Everyone is talking about it: non-governmental organizations (NGOs), social movements, the United Nations, the World Economic Forum, the Pope and religious leaders, the international finance, the G7. In 2015, a new goal, the 10th, was included in the 2030 SDGs, which aims to reduce inequalities.
Recognizing the problem and putting it on the global political agenda is already a big step forward.
The solution of such a complex problem, however, requires a collective effort. Although certain remedies must necessarily come from a common political agenda, we can't reach long terms solutions without a collective effort. We are all involved: politicians, entrepreneurs, finance, human rights defenders, the media, cultural movements and also us, ordinary citizens.
It is important that we begin to collectively feel the responsibility for what we let happen every day. If we continue to normalize the presence of these enormous power imbalances, enlightened political leaders will not be enough to change the situation. Systemic change needs a bottom-up boost.
That's why we believe we need a civic and moral awakening, which involves us as people and citizens.
Maybe it's time to rewrite the dominant narrative of the last centuries of Euro-centric culture.
Adam Smith (philosopher and economist of the eighteenth century) in "The theory of moral sentiments" (1759) wrote: "this inclination to admire, almost to venerate, the rich and the powerful, and to despise or at least ignore the poor or of lower class, (...) is the greatest and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments".
And more recently the moral philosopher Jeremy Waldron, in the book "One Another's Equals" (2017) wrote: "This massive economic inequality can crack our adherence to the fundamental principle of equal value and equal dignity. (..) We could get used to economic inequalities (...) to stop recognizing those who are deprived of them (of wealth) as our equals. It could also become morally embarrassing for us to recognize them as such, because that would mean admitting injustice. Better perhaps to turn away".
We therefore believe that a change of perspective is also urgent; we should re-educate ourselves to recognize ourselves in others, and to grasp the beauty, value, dignity and strength of each of us. Starting with those who fight every day to affirm their dignity as human beings and to claim the right to a different future.
Those who do not stop believing in a fairer world, and that are struggling every day to make it happen.