The issue of social justice is a very personal one, though I wish it were otherwise. Speaking ideally, I believe it is an issue that concerns all individuals on this planet regardless of where they are on the political spectrum, and regardless of their conditions of origin. But that is something that we can only ideally conceive of, since I am not really sure whether it is fully understood, or much less whether others can be made to see it.
So I can only speak of what the concept of social justice means to me. To put things in context, I am not defining social justice, but am instead going back to certain basic premises that I consider fundamental to this position.
To begin with, the concept of justice is a moral concept, and this is inescapable. One cannot speak of justice without referring to the moral perspective that gives it value as such. And this being the case, I cannot help acknowledging that since social justice is a moral question, my appreciation of it is necessarily subjective. If we accept this inherent subjectivity, we must also recognize that it can be applicable to any individual.
In other words, one individual’s subjectivity is equal to anyone else’s, and therefore every individual may or may not agree with this. In any case, the important point is that every human being has their own subjectivity, and in that sense we are all alike.
The concept of justice takes on deeper meaning when we analyze the conditions under which any individual is born. Without speaking of anything of value, without assigning attributes of any kind, we can comfortably say that every human being is born in a given situation.
Nobody chooses to be born. We all come into this world without the ability to choose, and are born in a place on this planet that we never chose, in an unchosen city, town or region, in an unchosen cultural context and an unchosen social context. We are born into a family that we did not choose, with a name and surname that were imposed on us, or given, if the word “imposed” bothers us. In short, we are born conditioned to the max by the temporal and material circumstances of the historical moment in which we find ourselves.
Those unchosen conditions are what determine who I am, without my having anything to say about it, since I cannot even speak until almost a year or two after my birth. When I do speak, my first words will be in the language that corresponds to the region I was born in, and the objects I perceive and the music I listen to and everything that enters through my senses will be restricted to what that cultural, social and historical context will accept..
In saying this there’s no judgment of any kind. We are only “describing” the basic characteristics of the process of human development. It seems to me that this is the case for everyone.
The important thing about this analysis is to understand that it reflects an inescapable reality for every human being. Much has been said about what “reality” is, and our very vocabulary is full of references to the word “reality” and its derivatives. However, the determinism we’ve described is one of those realities that is impossible to escape, and it is important to come to terms with this. Doing so helps us comprehend that processes are highly determined by their conditions of origin, and that ignoring these conditions leads to confusion, fanaticism. and other not very interesting manifestations of our behavior.
In acknowledging the determinism to which my life is subject from the very beginning, I also acknowledge that although this determinism is equal for every individual born, the conditions themselves are not equal. This basic inequality of conditions – not of conditioning – is not without its social, cultural, ethnic and ultimately human consequences.
Being born under given conditions and subject to a powerful determinism, we cannot intelligently speak of “freedom” unless we are speaking of its absence. It is precisely the almost total absence of freedom that will characterize the beginning of every human being’s life. And in the best of cases, if someone had any freedom (real or imaginary) it would inevitably be subscribed to their initial conditions of origin.
In other words, it is only possible to “move to another culture,” or learn another language, or expand the horizons of one’s knowledge if one is born in a given situation where the material conditions allow for such possibilities. Put simply, if one has the means to do so.
Out of all these considerations concerning the general and immediate environment in which we are born, it is also important to consider at the same level of descriptive analysis, that we are born with a body that requires the constant input of stimuli of all kinds. In general, we can divide these stimuli into two categories:
- Those necessary for our immediate survival – such as food, air, light, water and everything that directly or indirectly contributes to the nutrition of the body.
- Those necessary for our overall survival – such as sensations (visual, auditory, tactile, etc.) and everything that contributes as a source of learning and knowledge.
The body also carries with it its own determinism, which is seemingly and for the moment inexorable. The body will grow, develop, decay and finally die. The body is the biological base on which the entire structure of the human being is assembled, and despite being endowed with extraordinary characteristics, it is in many ways limited and, why not say it, quite fragile. In our species this fragility seems to be well compensated for by an enormous intellectual and emotional capacity that is capable of generating all the necessary compensatory systems, not only for survival, but for going still further. But limiting ourselves to simply being descriptive, we will leave that for another time.
Thus we have two basic conditionings: the environment and the body. Every human being is born with a given, genetically conditioned body, in a given environment that is conditioned socially, culturally and economically. Finally we are born in a given historical moment, which also conditions our development.
When I use the verb “to condition” I do so in the broader sense of the word, and once again, without making the possible judgment that might be deduced from the use of such a verb. Descriptively there are no good or bad conditions, just conditions. What is optimal is something that would have to be defined later, but for now I’m just describing.
Just as the body has its conditioning, it also has great flexibility and enormous power to adapt to various external conditions. These characteristics give it a “feeling” of power, of an ability to break through imposed limits. Not only will we try to push the body to its most extreme limits, we also are inclined to modify it through technology and science.
Parallel to the development of the body we have the development of the psychism, which is as inescapable as the body itself. Our external and intrabody impressions are also determined and have their rhythm and their tendencies.
If we could abstract the “mental” from the “physical” we would say that there are not two basic conditionings, but three. The environment, the body, and the psychism. Curiously, the design is the same for all three, or for both if we are only considering the body-environment structure. This design or inherent characteristic is the conditioning that we have been talking about from the beginning of this discussion.
This conditioning is decisive but not absolute. In other words, no matter how difficult it is, it is possible to overcome our conditions. This idea that is so simple and at the same time so boundlessly complex is at the very root of the concrete possibility of a social transformation.
The history of the human being is the history of the effort to overcome the determinism of the psychosocial structure by including the body within this structure. We include it because it is unavoidable and because the body constitutes the physical basis necessary for the development of any human potentiality. By including the body we include determinism, and we also include the ability to overcome it. Obviously physical laws dictate the behavior of the material; and inertia, gravity and dependence on light, characteristic of all objects in existence, also apply to the human body and the social environment. We accept this, we understand it and almost instantaneously we are “impelled” to modify these conditions.
Thus we refuse to accept disease or any of the limitations imposed by ANY of the physical laws that we keep discovering in our development. We arrive at the 21st century with the ability to fly through the air without having wings, to sail the seas without being fish, to cross the land at speeds undreamed of for our physical capabilities, to conquer diseases, to extend life and to modify the organism itself. In short, we have managed to overcome all conditions imposed by physical laws, and through these “prostheses” or extensions of the body, we are leaving our limitations behind.
This extraordinary development, or “progress” as it is traditionally called, is not uniform, and its fruits do not reach humanity as a whole. On the contrary, humanity as an entity receives only an infinitesimal sampling of this enormous abundance of possibilities. That is how, paradoxically, we halt social transformation and the overcoming of social conditions, even though in all fields of human endeavor these are obviously our priorities and objectives as a species.
Why do we impede such transformation?
That is a good question and it deserves a good answer.
The path toward overcoming psychological conditionings in the same way that we overcome physical and material conditions is not very clear for the human being. We are obviously aware that we have an “inner” reality, since we feel and think, love, hate, enjoy, feel moved, and get angry. Yet even though we create, invent, and sometimes feel ecstatically that the world of our “fellow humans” is “our” world, such states of mind almost never have permanence or continuity.
Our situation in this regard is not very different from that of our ancestors who longed to fly as they watched the birds winging through the sky. At that point they had neither the determination nor the interest necessary to turn their longing into a vital project. All this came much later, with the advent of certain internal comprehensions that can be defined as “moral understandings.”
Earlier we talked about morality, values and subjectivity. All of these have to do with the internal development of the human being even when they are externalized in beliefs, laws and precepts that in turn become codified as cults, religions, societies, groups, etc. The deeper the understandings, the more force they give these values, and the more we recognize that we are not an island but a whole. A complete and extraordinary whole.
The body gives us a sense of identity, but it is the psychism that gives us the feeling of belonging and complementation. The body moves for its own survival and thus generates power mechanisms that do not necessarily end in what is objective, but unfortunately extend to other human beings. It is in this tendency toward bodily survival that we are caught in the paradoxical “bestiality” that has accompanied our development for thousands of years.
The interesting thing is that now we can understand it much better than before, because we are in an historical moment without antecedents. We have taken our material development to the point where we experience globality as a daily reality. This situation of interdependence makes it clear that the construction of a social whole is now part of our survival as a species, but this has not yet become a psychological reality for the entire world population, much less for those who hold power.
At the root of every qualitative process that overcomes its original conditions, we will find an internal decision to “leap” into the void. Let me explain. When the human being decided to fly, he also decided to risk his life and his body, until at last he managed to stabilize the desire-object structure. When he discovered the infinite possibilities of electricity, it was not without passing through hard times in which many lost their lives until the process of domestication of those forces was stabilized.
Fear is at the base of ignorance. The more we fear, the more ignorant and the more prejudiced our perception of reality becomes. Fear is one of the body’s instinctive resources for self protection and projection into the future. In the body-environment context, fear has its “reason for being”; but once that context stabilizes and some order appears, fear no longer has any “reason for being.” To put it another way, the fear infused in us by darkness disappears with the light of the new day. This is not because the light has some magical power to cure fear, but because the references that become evident to the senses allow us to analyze and understand the phenomenon intellectually. But those senses do not work the same in the dark, and that is where the body responds with primordial fear.
Fear has a physical origin, but its reality is psychological. It is “recorded” psychologically, and if we are to better understand our insufficiency in promoting social development, that is an extremely important point to register.
The social is not only the aggregate of bodies, but also the summation of psychic attributes, a summation of enormous diversity. When we speak of a social group we need to carefully consider that this group is made up of a collection of individuals who, in addition to their bodily identities, carry with them their psychological baggage. Using the word “intention” to synthesize everything psychological for now, we can say that all these bodies together have “needs” and “intentions.”
A society, then, is made up of individuals who find themselves in a similar external situation of determinism, with certain needs imposed by the body, and with a series of intentions also imposed by the psychism, which in turn depends on the body. Those are the intentions that can make us cure epidemics or burn people at the stake. Those are the intentions that will make life into a song or a tragedy. Those are the intentions that will either overcome obstacles and create new possibilities, or only take refuge in fear and darkness, responding mechanically and doing the bare minimum just to survive.
Those intentions will either take over the intentions of others because fear and ignorance are at their base, or they will leap over possessiveness and discover that flying is not something so extraordinary, but merely the application of knowledge and emotion toward something that benefits others.
There is no way to overcome fear if we do not understand that it is an internal phenomenon of possession. To the extent that we begin to break our mental bonds, to the extent that we begin to direct our lives towards others, discovering that it is much more interesting to give than to receive, fear recedes and life advances.
I say “life” because the absence of fear generates growth, and growth gives rise to life. Life expands thanks to the intentions of those who, understand things in this way, intend in this direction.
In this process of generation we unavoidably reach the conclusion that “the other” is nothing but an extension of “oneself.” This is the moment of rupture with our ancestral fear, and the moment we understand that the moral value of “treating others as one wants to be treated” is the beginning of the realization of a social justice that will be made concrete not by force or just out of agreement with the idea, but in response to a human need, as human as the need to improve oneself and overcome one’s conditions of origin.
Social justice is necessary for the evolutionary development of our species. It will become a reality to the extent that the fear “of the other” recedes thanks to conscious effort or to intention directed toward personal improvement. It is necessary to build concrete bases of support for these ideas and beliefs. An economy and a politics will be interesting tools for carrying this desire forward. A personal practice that keeps reinforcing positive registers can generate an enormous force for accelerating this process. All war and all efforts to appropriate physical and human resources go in the opposite direction to these proposals and generate suffering and contradiction. Nevertheless, as we contemplate the evolutionary process of the human being we can only marvel at the enormous achievements and efforts that have been and will continue to be made for the benefit of humanity.
April 20, 2021