Sunday, September 17, 2006


A Principle of Justice

This is probably too little, too late for me to link to this petition (as if enough people read my blog that I could have made an impact linking to it earlier), but I am bringing it up now, because I finally figured out why I was so disturbed by the particular duplicity against which this petition rails: it violates a fundamental principle of justice too few of us lefties understand: "Neither shall you favor a poor man in his cause" (Exodus 23:3, and I believe restated in Deuteronomy).

On the face of it, it would seem that all liberals, and also the Prophetic and Deuteronomic traditions are keen on favoring the poor. But really what the liberal, Prophetic and Deuteronomic traditions are after is the leveling of the playing field. As we saw, e.g., in the aftermath of Katrina, poverty can be re-enforcing: lacking resources places you at a disadvantage in even obtaining further resources. So even by insisting on the sort of equality of the law, which Anatole France skewered in his famous quotation on the law in it's majesty, is not merely not favoring the poor but rather de facto disfavoring them and favoring the rich. Which is wrong.

But, while even in criminal matters, there are certain benefits of the doubt which we must give to the poor (e.g. regarding motivations, etc), we cannot in general show a reflexive favor to the poor over the rich. And that is what asking for reparations for Lebanon and not for Israel does. Of course, Israel can afford better the damage to it than Lebanon can afford the more severe damage to Lebanon. But by not even requiring a token sum be paid to Israel, the UN demonstrates that it is profoundly injust and unfair. And they wonder why Israel tends to ignore even their just resolutions?

Indeed, an attitude of supposedly favoring the poor sometimes does the poor no good. If the poor cannot obtain proper legal defenses, is it sufficient or ok for a judge to just let any poor defendent go free? No, some of those defendents may actually be guilty moreover it causes people to think that the poor do not need adequate legal defense. And while sometimes patch-work solutions are necessary (and it is bad for the supposed advocates of the needy to undermine those solutions, cf. my earlier post on unions), it is often important to find more durable solutions than patches (although we should not be, again cf. my earlier post, reflexively anti-patch -- sometimes ad hoc solutions really are the best).

Also, even if a social construction like a "healthy weight, level of exercise and diet" is un-obtainable to the poor, it is wrong to "favor" the poor by saying that what indeed is a social construction is necessarily bad because it excludes the poor. Just because something is a social construction doesn't mean it's not desirable: many things are social constructions that primarily benefit the privaleged but even the most extreme of liberals would support those constructions, just that they be expanded to benefit all people. Healthy diet and exercise are, social construction of health or no, desirable -- and efforts should be made so that the poor can afford to eat healthy and exercise rather than to "favor" the poor by claiming this social construction is wrong.

Oddly, sometimes even the most out of touch lefties understand this principle of justice. Many lefties support expanding the institution of marriage, e.g., to include gays and the institution of the family to include what actually are traditional families. But sometimes many on the left have selective blind spots of "favoring the poor". And it is these selective blind spots that often get us lefties into trouble, especially with those who are struggling not to be poor and whom our policies will help, but they see us so much as favoring the rights of icky people to do icky things it sometimes seems we ignore the plight of Joe and Jane Sixpack.

So let us lefties consider the message of Exodus and ask "are we working to level the playing field and eliminate de facto favoring of the privaleged [which is part and parcel of economic justice and hence has far more to do with morality than, e.g., the awesome tempting powers of the Clenis] or are we favoring the poor?" (which perverts justice).

In the words of the last parsha on which I blogged (sorry for the lapse -- I guess I shoulda considered that one at Slichos last night): "justice, justice shall you pursue". This is what liberalism is about; and that is what, practically, is the strength that wins us elections. But have we liberals really pursued justice or have we lost our way?

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Deleted comments are blog spam -- don't worry, I'm not censoring anybody ... 'cept spammers.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?