Updated: Sep 29
How can we tell if we are moving toward a climate of justice? What are the signs we should be looking for? There are signs we are moving toward legal justice. Over a thousand people who broke into Congressional buildings have been arrested. Trump faces 91 indictments, and the trials are coming. But are there signs of a desire for a climate of justice?
When we look at our social climate as a social system, then we could consider its positive and negative feedback loops. Positive feedback loops reinforce any system’s direction. As they say: Nothing succeeds like success. Negative feedback loops function as a drag on a system’s movement.
This not only works for social systems, but also for individuals. When Trump gets away with telling lies and learns that his followers increase their support, then he is encouraged to tell more (and bigger) lies. On the other hand, if there is an increasing impact from the negative consequences of lying, then the negative consequences might shut him down. I certainly hope that the courts and the rule of law will shut him down. We will find out in the coming months.
Trump is not a social system, of course, but he does represent or express a social movement that has gained momentum in the past decades. Even though it has recently experienced negative feedback, it’s unclear if the dynamics indicate a change in direction or some kind of stalemate. Remember that we have never corrected the climate of injustice that emerged from our establishment of a slave colony on Indigenous people’s land, so a stalemate leaves us with a climate of injustice.
No reason to despair though because we are not alone in wishing and working for a change of climate. A clear majority do not want the future the Trump gang envisions. A majority believe that the planet cannot support his world. So, maybe we can block this social movement from determining our future.
Blocking the increase of injustice, of course, is not the same as promoting justice. Sometimes, fighting against injustice may be a sign of justice or at least a sign that justice will not be denied. The UAW strike against the three automobile companies, for example, signifies a desire for justice: for a more equal distribution of company profits and protection of worker’s right to work. We need to remember, however, that justice resides in relationships. If corporate leaders refuse to cooperate in finding a just settlement, and only relent to striker’s demands as much as they must to protect their privileges, then the worker’s demands may be met, but not in a climate of justice.
As I argued in A Climate of Justice, the empowerment of the vulnerable most clearly signifies a breakthrough to a climate of justice. Especially when it transforms the relationships between the powerful and the powerless. The transformation must be reciprocal.
Reciprocity does not mean treating everyone the same. Differences are recognized, but the relationships are based on truth-telling, repair, and cooperation. Everyone lives in the same house, so to speak, and together they sort out who does what chores. A household based on reciprocity prevents some from gaining at another’s expense, and when that has been the case, repairs are necessary.
As we now recognize, that has been the case in all our social systems, which has prompted the call for reparations. The demand for reparations signifies justice, but it will only become a sign of a climate of justice when civic leaders develop cooperative relationships with the opposing parties.
Finally, cooperation is also necessary in the UAW strike. To enable such cooperation, corporate leaders must relinquish what Jefferson Cowie calls in his book, Freedom’s Dominion, the “freedom to dominate.” Cowie focuses on the long tradition of white Southerner’s resistance to Federal power, but his analysis also applies to corporate leaders who resist any curtailing of their freedom to control “their” corporation.
Once corporate leaders acknowledge that their “freedom to dominate” is determined by organizational relations, not individual capacity, then it becomes clear that changing their relationships with workers entails relinquishing this socially constructed freedom for the sake of cooperation. If this occurs, then cooperation among different parties would be a sign of a climate of justice, as well as a move toward creating the conditions for reversing the current trends toward an unsustainable future.