OPINION: Eye-for-an-eye social justice hurts innocent people


Connor Hughes

Many people, be it in person or on LinkedIn, like to describe themselves as” social justice advocates,” because it sounds good to stand up for something bigger than themselves. 

App State demonstrates a dedication to the concept of social justice. The University Sustainability Office has an entire web page dedicated to social justice, as does University Housing. Housing goes a step further with the social justice advocate position on Hall Councils. 

The phrase “social justice” sounds inherently wonderful, but what does it mean? Casually, some refer to social justice as a way to remedy wrongs committed against marginalized groups, using equitable policies to achieve equality, such as reparations for slavery. Is there something wrong with wanting justice, particularly on a large scale? 

Social justice operates under the best intentions but relies on flawed logical and philosophical arguments that conflict with the most core principles of our country.

In particular, the group-oriented nature of social justice is where the concept falls apart; justice cannot be generalized at the group level, as justice is tied to the notion of individualism. For example, when asked to define justice, many people say justice is about getting what you deserve — emphasis on the “you.”

Historical injustices vary greatly within oppressed groups. For example, if someone’s ancestors were marginalized in 1619, looking at the numbers, the injustices they have faced are different than someone whose family was marginalized in 1719.

Additionally, differences exist between forms of marginalization within groups. For example, during the Jim Crow era, black people faced different levels of oppression based on their surroundings. Consider how different Alabama was from Maryland in the 1960s.

Attempts to say all members of marginalized communities have the same experiences ignores the reality that individuals, by definition, have unique points of view. Oversimplification does not speak to every individual’s treatment within that group. In many cases, it is possible their treatment could be worse than the average group member’s. 

Let’s take the concept of social justice a step further. If groups, collectively, are understood to deserve retribution for past harm, then the opposite must be true, as some groups must be held collectively accountable.

Consider the following example: say my great-great-grandfather murdered someone else’s great-great-grandfather. The impact of losing a relative can be devastating and deeply consequential — this is undeniable.

What if, flying back to the present, a portion of my paycheck went to the descendants of the victim; would you consider that to be truly just? After all, a group I am part of, my family, is responsible for a grave atrocity with generational effects. 

As it is unfair for a victim’s family to suffer, it is equally unfair to hold people accountable for actions they did not commit. The basic tenets of our nation are clear: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Are individuals truly free when their ancestor’s past actions constrain their current or future opportunities?

Similarly, people from marginalized groups may also experience limits based their ancestors identities, which is also a grave injustice, as the effects reverberate today. However, the solutions lie in individual justice, not out-of-date applications of injustice against innocent individuals.

The classic eye-for-an-eye approach to social justice is also irrational. The only way to make up for an act would be the act itself. Do we want a society that swaps historical injustices?

Historic injustices are unique because they are impossible to define in monetary terms. What is the price tag of marginalization and mistreatment on the mind? It is literally priceless — no attempt at compensation will ever fully equate the horrors committed.

Individual justice is a worthy cause to pursue. It is the beating heart of our country, and any injustice committed is an abomination that needs to be fixed.

Group justice, however, is something different. A backward concept that relies on radical oversimplification to hold individuals accountable for acts they did not commit. It changes the direction of the country from looking forward to gazing at the horrors of the past that no one wishes to relive.