Exploring the non-recursive arguments for Social Justice, pt. 1

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For liberal laypersons, our justification of progressive social policies, as well as our defense for social justice issues in general is often recursive. I discussed this previously, in “I am right, therefore…”—a common pattern of imposing our beliefs on others is often to presuppose that they are right; an unconvincing argument to the other party, but often difficult to detect because the recursive presupposition is often hidden or implicit.

I would like to explore non-recursive arguments for social justice; be it progressive social policies, or ethical arguments of how to deal with others. In academia, of course, the literature is full with sound arguments and in-depth readings into modern questions of social justice. These arguments often to do not make it to the mainstream.

In this part, I have two patterns I would like to establish: First, that social justice questions are questions of compulsion; when is it right to compel others to do the right thing (government policies), when do we say that victims of the regressive system are compelled to do (or not do) something. Second, that questions of compulsion in general ought to be discussed in terms of power: the balance and distribution of power, and its implications on justice for society.

An incomplete effort

This post is an incomplete effort at removing the recursive argument. For now, I am merely widening the recursive nature of the argument. From:

“Discrimination is bad, therefore, discrimination is bad.”

to

“The livelihood of a person ought to be independent of their status as a member of a protected class. An imbalance of power endangers the livelihoods of members of society. Compulsion is a product of an imbalance of power. Compulsion always exists in society and must be managed. It is sometimes acceptable to compel those holding positions of power over others from giving equal access to their resources. Such resources include public spaces, food, medicine, and services rendered.”

This argument is incomplete because it still implicitly presupposes: Who are members of a protected class and Why. In this post, I discuss some protected classes but do not justify the choice of these protected classes. This, in itself, is an important debate between progressives and conservatives: which classes are worthy of playing this important role in society? I will attempt to discuss that separately in the future.

Social Justice as Questions of Compulsion

Compulsion is more often used by libertarians than social liberals, but I think it is indeed the most elegant way to discuss social policies. It is elegant because it grounds and humbles the liberal arguing for change, but, perhaps more importantly, allows us all to use the same language in defending our positions.

Libertarians often frame many government actions in light of compulsion. Taxation is compulsion; compelling individuals to give up their wealth (else they risk jail-time or other punishments) for social good—or worse—taxation is forced labor. Desegregation means compelling private business owner to admit people they do not wish to admit. Laws against discrimination in the workplace prevent employers from hiring and firing whoever they please.

Many lawmakers understand that, and attempt to limit cases of compulsion to enumerated cases. Protected classes, in anti-discrimination law, are enumerated. In the United States, these are often: Race, Color, Religion, National Origin, Age, Sex, Pregnancy, Citizenship, Familial Status, Disability, Veteran Status, and Genetic Information. Some states in the US include Sexual Orientation, and others also include Gender Identity (separate from Sex). It is understood that employers and business owner are allowed to discriminate against all other non-enumerated classes. The annoying, the loud mouthed, the rude, for instance, are un-protected classes that could be asked to leave a restaurant, or be denied a job.

Enumeration is powerful for many reasons, and is often better for protected classes than if they were not enumerated. Enumeration also admits that every time we disallow a private person from treating people differently (which we all do all the time), we are compelling them to change their behavior.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of Indiana should be viewed in this light. An interesting development in the continuing debate on compulsion for the sake of social justice: What are the limits of compulsion? What are the grounds for compulsion?

The liberal response is most effective if spoken in the same language.

Justifying Compulsion

Why do we justify taxation? How did we justify that it is right to compel a store owner of admitting people of all races?

I think the common thread tying all of these together is power and the distribution of power.

You see, when someone has so much power more than you, they in effect have power over you. Being denied power means that you become a victim of compulsion more and more often.

Compulsion is a two way street: compulsion takes place when a more powerful entity has control over a less powerful one. The Powerful Goverment™ compels the restaurant owner to admit people she doesn’t want to admit. Business owners, however, also have powers. Take restaurant and cafe owners, for example: they operate social spheres, areas where members of the public interact, network, manage and retain power, and seek it. Public and semi-public spaces are democratizing spaces. A pharmacy owner also has power over the health of her customers.

In a world of unlimited business-owner discrimination, compulsion is a clear problem. Think of the racist, segregated America of the 1950s. If you were part of an un-favored social group, then not only did you lose power (by losing access countless places with higher quality services), but you were often compelled to make choices you didn’t wish to do. Parties discriminated against are denied better livelihoods, and lose options that are entitled to others. They have worse medical options, worse transportation options, limited social spheres for networking, etc.

Compulsion is a balancing act. Whenever one sector of society amasses more power, it begins to compel sectors with less power. Continue reading “Exploring the non-recursive arguments for Social Justice, pt. 1”

No intent to negatively target websites, constructive criticism is welcome, government says.

In an uplifting turn of events, Samih al-Ma`ayta, political adviser of the prime minister and one of those assigned to work on the implementation of the Cassation Court’s ruling on Websites and the Press and Publication law, said earlier today that the government welcomes coordination and constructive criticism, according to AmmonNews.

There is no battle between the government and the electronic media, and the government welcomes constructive criticism and values differing opinions on the matter, and will not seek any form of the law without the consultation and approval with publishers of online journals, and welcomes the cooperation with all concerned parties to achieve the fitting formulation. We are committed too coordinate with those who disagree and no one-sided decision will be reached.

I happy. Now lets hope that the electronic press committee itself isn’t corrupt. I hope the Jordanian blogosphere also takes advantage of such statement and makes sure that the blogosphere itself will be engaged in a healthy dialogue with the government.

Source: http://ammonnews.net/article.aspx?ArticleNo=53067

Dear Jordanian Blogger, Don’t Change—Not yet at least!

I know the whole talk about inclusion of websites in the press and publication law can indicate some very bad scenarios, chief among them is self-censorship, fear of writing critical high-quality articles, etc. My only message to the Jordanian blogosphere is: don’t change.

There are a lot of things we don’t know yet, and unless there’s direct evidence that says that we should worry, we shouldn’t. That is not to say that we shouldn’t care about the issue, but we shouldn’t let it change our attitude towards whatever it is that we do.

First, there no clear evidence that the ruling applies only to media sites/news agencies (i.e. alghad.jo, ammonnews.net, ammannet.net, etc.) or blogs as well; so bloggers don’t need to worry from now.

Second, there is no indication of how things will work. As it has been mentioned earlier, there is a government committee trying to figure out how to apply the law to the web; requirements about identity vs. anonymity, trade unions, having an editor-in-chief, etc. most likely won’t apply to blogs. Similarly, some of the restrictions on information in news articles (who are there to portray facts), might not apply to blogs (who are there to portray opinion).

So go about your business for now and write freely; if a government spokesperson drops a bombshell, its another story. When fighting the decision, speak as honestly and freely as you always have. If you have a critical post in store, share it and educate us all. Criticize the government, and hope they’ll be open minded and strive to improve. Act as if its some sort of utopia, and if a decision or announcement tells us definitely that its not, you’ll have time to go back and self-sensor your past posts or something.

Reblogged: Websites & the Press and Publication Law @ 7iber

Earlier today, 7iber.com published an article that I had contributed regarding the inclusion of internet websites under the definition of the press and publication law.

You can view the article in its original location here. Or, alternatively, continue to read it in this same post:

Websites and the Publication Law: The Hour’s Reality and What Should have Happened Instead

Perhaps the talk of the moment in the Jordanian blogosphere is the decision of the Court of Cassation of Jordan (also known as the Supreme Court) [1] to categorize Internet websites as a type of “publication” thus extending the controversial Press and Publication Law to govern websites as well. The decision was met with fierce opposition in the Jordanian Blogosphere; the Jordanian free and alternative media was now to be under the same governing legislation that many believe brought Jordan’s traditional media to its supposed demise. Indeed, it is a common view that the Press and Publication Law restricts journalists in exploring alternative news sources, as well as voicing their opinions freely in editorials.

The Court’s ruling, however, occurred in a different light. The ruling was a result of a court case by journalist Ahmad Salameh, currently an advisor for the crown prince of Bahrain, against Samir al-Hiari and Sakher Abu `Antara, who operate Internet news websites, over a case of public defamation. [3]

(See Ammon’s article on Salameh’s case against Omar Kallab, listing Salameh’s accusations against Mr. Kallab as well as the Ammon website: http://www.ammonnews.net/article.aspx?articleNO=13047)

The ‘Press and Publication Law’ provides clear anti-defamation codes for journalists, and thus was used by Salameh to argue for his case. In that case, the writers as well as the editor-in-chief of the publication are accountable; and false information or personal attacks on individuals are prohibited. The court ruled in favor of the plaintiff, and the verdict was appealed until reaching the Court of Cassation, which had to establish whether the basis of the case was lawful to begin with, and thus, establish whether the Press and Publication Law can be a governing document for articles on the internet.

Supporters of the ruling also view ramifications in the same light: writers on the internet are accountable to what they say, baseless attacks are prohibited, and information integrity is promoted.

While such view is well-founded, supporters are perhaps oblivious to the other ramifications of using the law as it stands to websites. For instance, the law prohibits writings offensive to religion, prophets, or other people, which might prove to hinder some of the healthy debate going on.

Continue reading “Reblogged: Websites & the Press and Publication Law @ 7iber”