Friday, July 12, 2019
I have the great privilege of spending this week talking about justice and society with a lot of very smart, conscientious, justice-minded people from across the American political spectrum. It's refreshing and good and reminds me of some very important lessons for our democracy and society.
First, we must absolutely remember and hold in mind our outright interdependence on each other. Like gravity and the atmosphere, we cannot opt out of it. Everything we do individually and collectively has an effect on everyone else, so we must measure everything we do individually and collectively with a moral sense of our place and relationships. If we ever begin to believe that we owe nothing to anyone else, we will die, individually and collectively.
Second, the only way that works is to acknowledge the dignity and capacity of everyone, even our adversaries and rivals. We must extend benevolent assumptions to our neighbors, even in competition. If we believe that everyone who disagrees with us is evil or stupid, we devolve into a horrible state of nature and rhetorical violence that fractures our culture. Love your neighbor. Love your enemies. Give them the benefit of the doubt that they mean well, until they demonstrate otherwise.
Third, compromise is an essential American virtue, a necessary ingredient to our enterprise. Principles are, too, but to advance those principles requires working toward compromise with well intentioned, principled rivals. If we don't, we either make no progress, or we invite total war and domination by one side over another. If I would not be dominated, so I cannot seek to dominate. If we are going to live together - and we have no other choice - then we have to work together. We cannot work together if we are unwilling to compromise and seek common ground.
This requires a faith, the hope in things unseen, that most people, however much they disagree, are doing their best and trying to do good. This requires some humility and empathy. This is not soft, and it's not a surrender. It's the hardest thing of all, and it requires real, genuine toughness and discipline. It requires courage and guts to trust our counterparts and rivals, but trust begets trust.
By all means, let's advocate and agitate for justice. Let's protest and fight, and let's do it well. Vilifying and destroying a rival or political counterpart can seem like a tempting option, but it does not ultimately advance justice. We have a duty to fight for freedom, and we have a duty to win. We don't have a duty to destroy and eviscerate. Our own dignity depends on everyone else's. True justice resists all oppression and will not oppress.
The other options are tyranny or anarchy, so we must do all we can to bring every voice to the table so that we can ensure inclusion, diversity, dignity, and resilience in our society and democracy. We cannot permit anyone to be excluded from our national, political, social, and community discourse and decision making. Law is only legitimate if the people whom it governs have a voice in the lawmaking.
Last, if our goal is the full dignity, justice, and flourishing of everyone in our interdependent, complex, diverse, and prosperous democracy, we will make very different choices than if we are only interested in our own, individual profit, comfort and power. The trick is that we will profit most individually when we give great care to our interdependent world.
It is very easy to embrace all of this, then give ourselves a pass when the "other side" acts up and is difficult, but extremity begets extremity, and it is very hard to walk ourselves back to a peaceful pace of progress together. We might have to turn another cheek or walk an extra mile, but we reap what we sow. This does not mean submitting to abuse but insisting on our own dignity by demanding the dignity of all the others.
We cannot sit still with injustice, but destroying norms and exploding relationships does not help the cause. Unless we will risk anarchy and tyranny, we must tend to these relationships with discipline so that we can build better worlds together. Our democracy is at stake under threats of a demagogue and the extreme voices he provokes. Our calling can only be to resist the temptation to rise to his hatred and cling fiercely to love for each other.