News reports tell us that the National Football League is now attempting get players to stop kneeling for the national anthem by creating an owners fund dedicated to "social justice."
The problem, of course, is that nobody (including the players kneeling on behalf of it) has ever bothered to explain what social justice actually means, such that we could know it when we saw it.
The term sounds rather nice, with the "justice" and the "social" parts in there, such that those among us perpetually on the search for means of signaling their virtue can readily get on board, but what would a socially just world actually look like? What would it consist of, so that we could chart our progress toward it and know when we had got there, as the NFL owners fund is presumably intended to bring about?
Alas, such sloppy thinking, usually flowing from sloppy, ill-defined language, has become the rule rather than the exception in what passes for our public discourse.
Racism, for example, once meant something clearly understood by most people--to discriminate against others because of the color of their skin.
It now apparently means much more than that, potentially all kinds of systemic and institutional disparities and gender-based privilege and "disparate impacts," to the point where it even includes opposing racial preferences that discriminate on the basis of race (thereby essentially inverting the original meaning).
Indeed, one of the great ironies of our politically correct age is that those most obsessed with combating racism have made the challenge vastly more difficult by defining the concept so broadly and ambiguously as to permit its discovery just about everywhere, and thus, at the same time, nowhere.
As the saying goes, if everything and everyone is racist, then nothing and no one is; indeed when manifestations of a concept become so subtle as to be undetectable to the reasonable observer, the concept has become meaningless.
More to the point, if we assume that all morally enlightened people would like to see a non-racist world, what, precisely, would that world look like? What indicators could we monitor in order to know whether we were winning (or losing) the battle and could at some point declare victory or accept defeat?
In a similar manner, it is claimed that income inequality has increased in recent decades, and perhaps it has. But if we assume that at least a certain amount of income inequality is inevitable in a free society with a market economy, what would an acceptable degree of such inequality consist of? And how can we logically bemoan an increase in inequality over a particular time period, between time A and time B, if we don't agree on that acceptable amount of income inequality beforehand?
The cynical among us might be forgiven for believing that those obsessed with income inequality will always claim that whatever level exists at any point is too much, and will never be satisfied until there is none whatsoever, which of course will be never.
Going further, climate change is said to be the great threat of our times (or at least up there somewhere with racism, sexism, and inequality) but, apart from assuming that any human impact on climate is inherently bad, how much sense does it make to talk of the danger of a warming climate if we don't first agree on what an optimum global climate would be?
If the earth's climate has been constantly changing throughout time, why would any given increase (or decrease) over a particular period, regardless of cause, be considered good or bad? And how do we know that the projected increase in global temperatures due to CO2 emissions won't produce a climate better suited to human flourishing than the one we currently have?
More than a half-century ago, Lyndon Johnson committed our nation to an ambitious "war on poverty" as part of his vision of the "Great Society" (presumably one in which there was no poverty), without ever actually defining what poverty means.
Does poverty mean lack of a roof over one's head, insufficient daily caloric intake, and unsafe drinking water; that is, the kind of conditions found in Third World settings where large portions of the population subsist on less than three dollars per day?
Or does poverty simply mean, as seems to be the case in affluent, post-industrial societies like ours, some people having less money than others? And if poverty is defined in such purely relative terms as having less than others, how can we ever substantially reduce it, let alone create a society in which it is eradicated altogether?
Our great political problem is not Donald Trump, as some claim; rather, he is simply a symptom of something broader--a dumbed-down society that can't think straight about the problems facing it, or, forgetting that something for which there is no solution can't be a problem, misidentifies intrinsic aspects of the human condition as problems.
In 1983 a presidential commission on America's failing public education system warned that we were a "nation at risk," raising the question of what would happen if we failed to heed the warning.
Are we now finding out?
Freelance columnist Bradley R. Gitz, who lives and teaches in Batesville, received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois.
Editorial on 12/11/2017
Print Headline: Dumb thought and politics