Day 94: Town days & reading on social justice movements

Road to Saldara. June 2020


Day 94

The block of villages in the region is dotted with reservoirs. All of them have different appearances owing to the landscape and settlements around them. For now exploring these for cycle rides and future runs has been a useful way to spend mornings. Though, a 30 km drive one way does seem to be a stretch on some days. Today, rode up to another reservoir that is nestled in a semicircle of low rising hill range. The nearest village from here is about two kilometers away. This gives the reservoir an isolated setting, with sharp reflection of the treeline on the banks on an unbroken surface. The morning stillness and calm waters is a soothing sight. It is for these moments that the rides feel totally worthwhile. This is the new ‘coffee point’ where the ride stops and coffee carried in a flask is enjoyed with birdsong and morning’s silences. These rides have become a defining aspect of the current days. I couldn’t have imagined this routine of cycling and exploring a little bit of the region everyday if it was not for the altered work and travel situation triggered by the pandemic. It has been worse out there in the cities. The countryside remains least affected as of now. There is no clue on how all this would end. Will the pandemic claim more lives or subside and wither away? These questions felt difficult in the city. Out here in Wardha, the pandemic looks distant in its effect and unfolding. The remainder of the day was spent in watching short videos on cycling, new attempts and adventure. 

Among other readings, I read David Brooks opinion piece today on the five crises that America is facing. But his problem seems to be more about the current form and content of Social Justice movement in the US and its lack of a theory of politics. He writes –

The Social Justice activists focus on the cultural levers of power. Their most talked about action is canceling people. Some person, usually mildly progressive, will say something politically “problematic” and his or her job will be terminated. In this way new boundaries are established for what has to be said and what cannot be said.

The Social Justice activists sometimes claim that if you don’t like their tactics then you are not fighting for racial equity or economic justice or whatever. But those movements all existed long before Social Justice affixed itself to them and tried to change their methods.

The core problem is that the Social Justice theory of change doesn’t produce much actual change. Corporations are happy to adopt some woke symbols and hold a few consciousness-raising seminars and go on their merry way. Worse, this method has no theory of politics.

This diagnosis of methods preferred by social justice activists are seen not only in the US. It suffers the same problems – canceling people, entirely rooted in cultural differences and war of words, and above all a lack of future direction for realization of the change that the movement rallies for. 

Brooks asks the same in the piece – 

How exactly is all this cultural agitation going to lead to legislation that will decrease income disparities, create better housing policies or tackle the big challenges that I listed above? That part is never spelled out. In fact, the Sturm und Drang makes political work harder. You can’t purify your way to a governing majority.

The Social Justice methodology is ultimately not a solution to our problem, it’s a symptom of our problem. Over the last half century, we’ve turned politics from a practical way to solve common problems into a cultural arena to display resentments. 

Movements need a lot more than just showing up, for them to be successful in achieving what they set out for. That it turns politics into a cultural arena is a point well made. As long as movements for any cause do not take the effort of articulating the change that the movements seek, and more importantly work without antagonising the state, there is hope to see the change that the movements seek. But, it seems a tall order right now because going after statutes and pulling them down is an easier way to register a cause but not effective enough to realistically move towards fixing the problem.

Again, I agree with Brooks’ observation that – 

Dealing with these problems is going to take government. It’s going to take actual lawmaking, actual budgeting, complex compromises — all the boring, dogged work of government that is more C-SPAN than Instagram.

Symbolism has its limitations. Movements can do better than wanting to tear down a statue based on a reported past. Any action beyond the symbolic acts will require careful and detailed thinking. Movements and their supporters do not seem to be at a life stage where they understand that inequalities need to be addressed systematically and more decisively there than rallying people to clean up streets and public spaces from the reminders of a past. 

We are not there yet!

3 thoughts on “Day 94: Town days & reading on social justice movements

  1. I agree too. This is a topic I could talk about for days, especially because the “social justice” extreme fosters an equal and opposite reaction that is volatile and just as intolerant. My son, through his internet connections, has been known to spout such views leaving me caught and speechless in the middle. The reality is much more complex, including all that messy, boring day to day business. It seems that dialogue and a willingness to allow people to be educated, evolve and grow in their views is less possible now that we can bury ourselves in our own bubbles and shut out any beliefs we disagree with.

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