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Saturday, July 01, 2017

Changing notions of Social Justice

Rationally Speaking | Official Podcast of New York City Skeptics - Current Episodes - RS 170 - Will Wilkinson on "Social justice and political philosophy"

"The notion of social justice that we have that was dominant throughout the 20th century was largely about economic distribution. Like, who gets how big a piece of the pie from economic production. In that sense, it’s kind of a zero-sum notion -- like if you get more, I get less. It plays into a kind of class war politics. The ideals of social justice throughout the 20th century were largely identified with a kind of soft socialism. The idea is dominated by the left partly because the right just conceded. The right just gave away the idea...

Our right wing ideas of injustice often have to do with different people being treated differently under the law. The equality condition is pretty easily met by a notion of equal rights, and equal rights carry with it an implicit requirement of equal dignity and equal respect. It’s worth pointing out that the classical liberal tradition in the 19th century was largely about this notion of equality of rights...

Now, in the 20th century, the idea of social justice became so deeply identified with socialism. And libertarianism as a particular ideology, historically, is a response to the threat of socialism. There’s a sense in which libertarianism is continuous with classical liberalism, but it’s also discontinuous. In some ways, as I put it before, libertarianism is like weaponized anti-socialism. It’s specifically calibrated to oppose socialism...

Julia: No, absolutely. The other way in which the current format of discourse, especially on social media, seems to make this hard is … I guess it seems like a coordination problem to me, where if you have multiple nodes or leaders of a certain cause, even if many of them are taking that Nelson Mandela, magnanimous approach, the vengeful or righteous approach is just so much more tempting and appealing in a lot of ways.

The incentives are such that the leader who’s going to take that approach is going to get a ton of followers. And even if he still is only a minority of the total conversation on the side of the social justice cause, still, that’s going to be the one that the other side is going to respond to, and feel threatened by. It just seems like not at all a robust system -- or like very fragile, is what I’m trying to say.

Will: I think it’s really hard to hit the … I actually think there’s a generational division of labor. The ethos of reconciliation that I’m praising requires this certain maturity that I just don’t think you can from college kids or 20 somethings...

Dune, there’s something so exotic about it, and it’s also one of the sources of my interest in politics. It’s a really interesting political work. It’s a work about economic redistribution or distribution. It’s about who controls this spice that’s incredibly valuable. It’s truly a book about the resource curse, about how conflicts over valuable resources can lead to really pathological social equilibria. I am not sure that’s how Frank Herbert was seeing it. He definitely did see it as a work of ecology. It’s super interesting, thinking about it now in light of global warming and power, how we relate to our environments"
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