This video gets me (and I’m sure all of you) every single time… I feel completely awful for not picking up my phone and calling the number on my screen immediately, yet in a few minutes time I’ve completely forgotten about the cause. What would Thoreau say to this? Am I justified for “washing my hands of the situation”, or am I damned for not taking immediate action?
In discussing Thoreau in class today we had a very interesting discussion talking about when people need to take action against an injustice. To give a thoughtful answer, one must concretely define what exactly an “injustice” is, as opposed to an annoyance or a pet-peeve. For instance, is blowing spitballs at the nerd in class an injustice? Is eating meat and injustice? There are groups in the world who would argue that, yes, these are grand injustices (ie the nerd or vegetarians), but the fact of the matter remains that other groups would very clearly say they are merely annoyances. What happens then, when you talk about slavery? Some saw it as an injustice, some saw it justified, and others saw it as a nuisance. Who today in their right mind would say that it was not an injustice? Following the meat eater vs. vegan logic, is the concept of injustice held in the eye of the beholder?
Enter the social contract. It is here I believe that we can find our definition for injustice.
Can we all agree that government, at its most basic form, exists to preserve the security of its people? We have entered into a social contract and in doing so, we have entrusted the government to clearly define what constitutes as our property, and what happens to those who endanger it. Government ensures that nobody breaks this social conflict through its rule of law, its branches of enforcement (police), and its system of incentives (kill and be locked up for life). We call this system just, seeing as it strives for the preservation of justice. Therefore, we can surmise that injustice will occur when one’s safety and/or property is threatened and/or harmed.
Is eating meat an injustice? Looking at the facts, there are certainly some troubling aspects of doing it; it harms the environment, animals are treated cruelly, etc. But is the environment or animal’s part of the social contract? No way José. Injustice busted. Is slavery an injustice? Although atrocious, it can be argued that for its time slavery was not an injustice. African Americans were not considered part of the social contract, so as abominable as it was, slavery was not infringing on the safety of the white males who dominated the system. It wasn’t until African Americans were finally considered human and a part of the social contract that their rights were put into consideration. Slavery was morally wrong, but for its time it was not an injustice. Today it is morally wrong, and an injustice.
Do you agree? What would Thoreau think? Would he agree or would he also be Thoreau(l)y disgusted with this argument?