You are probably in favor of justice and also of social justice. How could anyone not be in favor of all kinds of justice?
Unfortunately, justice and social justice are not always compatible. Sometimes, we can have justice, or we can have social justice, but not both.
Justice refers to how individual human beings are treated. Social justice, as I understand it, is basically a statistical concept that applies to groups of people rather than to individuals.
Social justice is based on an assumption that members of a group should be represented in important organizations, and in the distribution of good and bad things in general, proportionally to their numbers in the population. "Racial justice" is one possible example of social justice.
An excellent example of the difference between justice and social justice can be found in professional symphony orchestras.
Decades ago, critics noted that these orchestras were predominantly or even entirely made up of white musicians. Seeking racial justice and assuming discrimination was going on, the critics demanded that the orchestras put up screens to prevent the judges from seeing the race of musicians auditioning to join their ranks.
The judges could hear how well applicants behind the screen played, which after all is what top orchestras look for. This was such a reasonable demand that a number of symphony orchestras began conducting blind auditions.
Although the groups demanding blind auditions were seeking racial justice, the procedure they recommended was also well-suited to deliver justice, treating each applicant on the basis of individual merit.
Several decades later the results of this experiment were very interesting. The number of musicians of color in these symphony orchestras did not increase much, but the number of women increased very substantially.
Since women are a group, blind auditions clearly did promote social justice. Apparently before there were blind auditions the people judging performance at auditions consciously or unconsciously discriminated against women and they were unable to continue doing so when applicants played behind a screen. For women, the blind auditions promoted both justice to individuals and social justice.
But what should we make of the fact that the number of musicians of color did not increase much if any in these symphonies? Since the blind audition made it impossible for the judges to discriminate on the basis of race, or any other characteristic, the applicants as individuals were treated justly.
But the fact that people of color remained grossly underrepresented in these orchestras meant that racial justice was not brought about by the blind auditions.
Therefore some of the same critics who had demanded blind auditions changed their minds and began demanding that orchestras stop doing blind auditions. Their logic was impeccable: it was apparently impossible to get proportional representation of people of color among the musicians if the judges couldn't see the race of each applicant.
But as we already noted, justice was already being guaranteed by the blind auditions. This means that, in this particular instance, treating individuals justly on the basis of how well they performed on their instruments was incompatible with racial justice — proportional representation of the races.
If one can't have both justice and social justice, which is more important?
From the point of view of the musical excellence sought by professional symphony orchestras the answer is clear: Justice is more important.
I would also argue that justice to individuals is more important than social justice from any reasonable point of view. Everyone lives and works as an individual.
This does not mean that striving for racial justice must be abandoned. There are many places in society where the musical talents of people of color could be encouraged, beginning with the public schools, and more resources could be devoted to music lessons for youngsters without regard to their race.
Paul F. deLespinasse is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Computer Science at Adrian College. Read Professor Paul F. deLespinasse's Reports — More Here.
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